This report covers the last day and a half of the Okefenokee Swamp trip:
While on our way to a site a few of us had visited Friday evening, we passed a borrow pit evidently used to dig out sand for roadwork. I dropped off the tail of the caravan and backtracked for a quick look. It was heavily vegetated along the edge and very clear. I walked the waters edge sinking deep into silt and clouding the water behind me. I could see plenty of bass, and sunfish, and netted a few topminnows to bring home. I was keen on snorkling it the next day in hopes of seeing what else had populated this manmade pond by flooding. If I carefully entered the water, I would have had excellent clarity to poke my head into the reeds and bushes and maybe see some of the little fishies we had collected that morning. Coby and I loaded up and headed back to the group with intentions of returning.
At the busy highway roadside we discussed other possibilities, thanked Steve for his organizational work, and waved bye to a few folks wanting to get back to the motel for a demucking shower call. After Steve and his boys hit the road for Atlanta, I studied the map for one more stop before the evening came on us. A small tributary of the Satilla River was just down the road a bit and just a slight detour back to the motel. As it was named Cox Creek, I could not resist it. So Geoff, Martin, Chip, Dustin, Coby, and I drove down to it.
As we were working our way down a sandy, gravel road we crossed a swampy area with cypress knees sticking out of the water and Spanish moss hanging from the trees. It was very inviting, so we pulled out the dipnets and seines for a quick look. Nothing new, but a lot of the same critters from our first stop that morning. I think it was a typical lowland swamp for that region.
A bit further we crossed over the main highway and bounced down a rutted sand road to the rivers edge. From here we could see, both upstream and downstream, the many inviting sandbars and even an old bridge foundation out in the middle of the river. Perfect. We got out Martin's 20' seine and made a couple of quick pulls. In the growing twilight we could see flashing colors... new colors! We quickly gathered up a few for the bags, bottles, and coolers but the lack of good light made it very difficult to tell what we had exactly. Some we knew... brook silversides, sunfish, taillight shiners...all with lots of color but some "unknowns" too-- minnows, shiners, new sunfish. Geoff got into a seining frenzy and we had to talk him and Dustin back to the bank through the darkness. Dripping wet, we all planned a for sure return the next morning. I was very excited. The site was close to Waycross, easy to seine, full of fish, and visually inviting.
Back at the motel we made our rounds, got our fish together, had a meal that couldn't be beat before resting up for our 8 am Satilla River return. Refreshed, the next morning about a dozen of us worked our way back through town heading NW on the road to the site. Multi-vehicle caravans are tough with top lights, laggers, and missed turns, but a great trick Joey and Geoff brought were walkie-talkie radios. One leading the way and another herding the backside-- that was the ticket. Don't let a caravan leave home without two!
Shortly, we were back in the river pulling seines again. With 2 groups working their seines together we were able to really herd the fishes in. I dont think any of us had ever seen brook silversides like these. Like pieces of candy-- intense yellowish green with a chrome yellow stripe running down the length and a big red Rudolph nose at the front. What a fish! I never imagined they could look like this, but sure enough, in Peterson's Field Guide they described these very same breeding markings. Taillight shiners in color were pulled out, a very beautiful fish, and an unknown shiner...Martin suggesting ironcolor, Dustin thinking coastal. Beats me! We also caught pirate perch, warmouth, bluespotted sunfish, maybe bluegill, maybe red ear, chain and redfin pickerel. I can't remember if we saw any lined topminnows here. I don't remember what else we collected...oh yes...mosquito fish.
One of the oddities on this entire trip was that none of us collected any least killies. I run into them all over the Florida panhandle. Several of us were wanting a few. I've got some at home in several tanks. Cool little guys...and very prolific. The diversity was not quite what we had expected from the exciting night before but it was an interesting site, and an excellent compliment to the first site on Saturday where we had collected so many calm water swamp fish...bluespotted and pygmy sunfish, fliers, pygmy killies, lined topminnows, and swamp darters. We broke into groups and started wandering up and down the river.
Geoff and I waded upstream to a swampy backwater tributary barely flowing into the river. I reckon now that this was Cox Creek, probably draining the cypress swamp we had dipped the evening before. So-called creeks look very swampy down in those parts! It was tough pulling the seine through the muck, cypress knees, and gator holes but we collected a few more taillight shiners and brook silversides. Nothing new at that point.
Most of us had had enough mucking about and we proceeded to gather our gear, swap a few more fishes, and plan our next adventure. We had an excellent group-- lots of smiles and playful activity. A few of us headed back to Waycross for showers and a late checkout. Coby and I decided to skip the snorkeling as a long drive awaited us.
As a personal observation, I've learned not to transport pygmy killies with bluespotted sunfish. I only had one female left when we got home! As of one week later only one silverside has survived and he is in my cement pond, hopefully still swimming and awaiting a snorkel confirmation. The lined topminnows I collected in the borrow pit all succumbed to fungus...a result, I think, of too many changes. The good news is that the one flier, several bluespotted sunfish, one of Dustin's SC blackbanded sunfish, and 5 lined topminnows from the first site are doing well in a planted 55 gallon Florida tank. The single pygmy killie, 2 swamp darters, 3 of Dustin's SC bluebarred pygmy sunfish, and 2 of Doug's FL bluefin killies are all doing well in a 13 gallon glass jar full of least killies. The Okeefenokee or Everglades pygmy sunfish, shrimp, tadpoles, 2 more of Doug's bluefin killies, and a few more bluespotted sunnies are in an outdoor pool along with some of Dick's least killies that he passed on to me. I hope to move them to the cement pond when the protective vegetation is better established. The shiners, taillights and unknowns, along with some cricket frogs are in a 29 gallon vivarium set-up. Their beautiful color has receded but all appear healthy and are eating flake food and bloodworms.
I wish we had had more time, bigger seines, and a genuine gator encounter. I had hesitated about going, but by combining a couple more days and activities, my son and I had an excellent time. Thanks everyone for contributing!
Back to Part 1 of the 2002 NANFA Okefenokee Outing