2002 Southern Ohio NANFA Gathering
On 8/17/02 I had the pleasure of spending an excellent time collecting with some of NANFA's best in Southern Ohio. On rather short notice, Mark Binkley put together a very interesting itinerary that included parts of the Mad River and Little Darby Creek. I very much enjoyed the '01 NANFA Convention in OH, and I was eager to see more of the waters in that part of the state. My daughter in Dayton, OH, flew me up for the weekend. She was well aware of my fish addiction, and provided me with a vehicle to go and meet with Binkley & Co. on what turned out to be a very pleasant Saturday.
The day dawned with an overcast sky, threatening rain that never really developed. The sun did break through at times, but gray clouds pretty much had their way. Air temperature was in the 70s with a slight breeze. It was also Woodstock weekend, so magic was in the air. Ten of us, including Mark Binkley (Wooster, OH), Nick Zarlinga (Cleveland, OH), Kathy Duffey (Cleveland, OH), first time collector Eric Massengill (Toledo, OH), Geoff & Julie Kimber with their three boys Daniel, Noah, & Samuel (Lexington, KY), and I assembled at the Mad River.
That first site of the day was near Urbana, OH, just off Route 68 on Lippencott Road. We were there only briefly, as several net pulls revealed very little. We saw brown trout (Salmo trutta) and crayfish.
Moving slightly north to where Sullivan Road crosses Mad River we waded in again....well, after a brief delay. I quickly became aware that the "wierd factor" that accompanies all good collecting trips in the South was in effect in OH as well. How it pans out is usually a question of attitude, not geography.
Arriving at the bridge, which was bordered by corn fields, we discovered two freshly constructed parking lots on either side of the river. One simply had a "No Parking" sign. The other had a rather official looking sign that informed the reader that while the land was privately owned, access permission and parking passes could be obtained at the "Farm Store." Unfortunately, no Farm Store was in sight...only corn fields. Just as we were discussing how we should proceed, an OH ranger pulled into the lot, blocking the drive with his vehicle. As he got out, looking a lot like Richard Dreyfuss, he seemed unsure of whether to be friendly or authoritative.
After unsuccessfully trying to get a handle on just what sort of fisherfolk we were, he repeated most of what was written on the sign for us, emphasizing the part about the passes at the Farm Store. "Where is the Farm Store?" Nick asked. "Right over there," he replied, gesturing behind him. We all stared blankly into the corn field. It took us another moment or two to convince him that we really couldn't see it, before he helpfully mentioned that it was up the road about a mile at Route 68. Then, he further confused us by first stating, "I really don't enforce the laws around here," then asking to see the contents (there were none) of Geoff's collecting cooler.
At this point, we discovered that Mark had locked his keys inside his Honda wagon...with the motor running...very low on gas. Just when we thought we had found a way for the officer to really be of some assistance, he decided it was time for him to leave...and no, he had neither a spare coat hanger, nor a slim jim, etc. Pausing at the open door of his vehicle, he gave us his best ranger look and said, "If you see any violations, be sure to give me a call." We assured him that it would be foremost in our minds and waved goodbye.
Mark is one of the most laid back guys I know, and I was quite impressed with his composure about the locked up keys. To me, that would have warranted a stomping fit at the very least. I felt fairly certain that I could get into his vehicle with a coat hanger, although many manufacturers of modern cars insist that they are pick proof, but nobody present could come up with one. In the meantime, we dutifully made the short ride to the Farm Store, picked up the required passes, and scored a coat hanger too. Returning to Mark and his Honda (still quietly idling), I set about employing long dormant street skills.
The car door had thick, close-fitting molding at the top with a channel that tends to divert coat hangers down into a side channel, and away from the lock. Using our fingers (not without a few pinches), we created enough of a gap at the top for Nick to insert the beveled edge of his tire tool as a prop while I inched the coat hanger toward the lock button. It did have enough material to grasp for a very patient person, but the Honda may have ran out of gas before I succeeded that way. We opted instead for the door handle. I enlarged the loop, and was actually able to pull out the handle quite a ways. It just wouldn't quite spring the lock.
Just then, Geoff brought me one of those shiny, collapsible fishing rods. With that, I could barely reach the electric window button. After a couple of bumps, the window slid down, and Mr. Binkley's ride was restored to him. With the wierd factor safely behind us, we got down to the business of collecting fishes. However, for the rest of the day everyone kept asking, "Got your keys, Mark?"
The Mad River was very nice. The water clarity and temperature would have been ideal for snorkeling, but I was already enjoying conversing with the OH gang so I opted for the waders instead. Nick had a brand new seine that he and I put to immediate use working one bank while Mark and Eric worked the other. The Kimber family took the opposite direction on the stream to better be able to herd their three little boys while they collected. Kathy searched the stream for amphibians and also helped chase shiners into our waiting nets. In spite of it being his first time out, Eric caught on quickly and really seemed to enjoy it.
The stream had a gentle current with clear water running through shallow pools and over widely scattered riffles. The bottom alternated between sand and moss-covered pebbles with some areas of solid stone beneath it. The vegetation grew all the way down into the water on both banks, providing cover for many sculpins and large creek chubs. Some of the sculpins were among the largest I've seen. Submerged mats of plants appeared here and there, swaying in the current, providing shelter for yet more sculpins. Nick gathered several of these, some more than once. He practiced an unintentional catch & release program when his bucket overturned in the water.
Mark has excellent ID skills and it's a good thing, because one fish we encountered soon and often was the state endangered tonguetied minnow. The Richard Dreyfuss ranger had assured us that the tonguetied minnow lived elsewhere, but Mark knew better. I knew that this fish lacked an illustration in the Peterson Field Guide, so I made sure we got several good shots of it, including detail of the unusual mouth.
Taking photos proved to be another slight adventure, because the flash element on my camera had failed right after my last trip and still wasn't fixed. The overcast conditions made it impossible to take some shots, and required moving to better lighted spots in the stream for others. Still, I was quite pleased with what we managed, and most fishes repeated often enough that we didn't miss many. At that location we collected/observed/jacked:
Heading SE from this location, we stopped where the Little Darby Creek runs under Route 29 near Mechanicsburg, OH. A huge drainage pipe beneath the highway belied the size of the tiny, weed-choked stream running through it. Observing it from above, as Kathy decided to do, it was hard to imagine that many fishes lived there. Wrong! We had to ram the seine up under the overgrown banks and stomp down the weeds to find them, but when we did, we hauled in huge white suckers, creek chubs, and hoardes of sculpins. We also found orangethroat darters (the target fish), but only females.
After we finished there, the Kimber family departed to begin a leisurely return to KY, and Eric took off for Toledo, intending to join the OH fish clan on future outings. At that location we collected/observed:
The remaining four of us took off to another place on the Little Darby near Irwin, OH, at the corner of Route 161 and Axe Handle Road. The stream was much wider and considerably deeper at this point, running under a picturesque wooden covered bridge. The scene was quite tranquil despite the whiff of the neighboring cattle & hog farm. I was not tempted to snorkel! The bottom was mostly mud, some very hard to withdraw from, which turned the water brown in no time. Nevertheless, we encountered 25 species of fishes. Kathy (aka The Frog Chick) steered us away from a gathering of American toad tadpoles.
The current did not appear too strong until we tried pulling the seine against it in deep water. After a full day, I was starting to fade a bit. Nick came to the rescue and took over my side of the seine, freeing me up to take some of the best pix of the day. The sun made a long appearance through the broken cloud cover, and that helped as well. We observed/collected:
Finally, needing to meet up with my family back in Dayton, I reluctantly said goodbye to my OH friends and drove off into the sunset. Thanks to Mark Binkley for putting it all together, and to the rest of the OH folks for making it happen. When these people come to the South, I gotta' remember to treat 'em really good!
The next day, I was scheduled to fly back to Atlanta, but through some unusual circumstances, I found myself driving home instead. After passing over several very inviting streams in Northern KY, I could stand it no longer. I had to stop and see what was there. Since all I had with me was a makeshift dip net, I chose a shallow, heavily vegetated stretch of Eagle Creek (River?) one mile north of Sadieville, KY, under I-75. It was nearly dark by the time I got my gear on and made it down to the stream. I used the last rays of the sun and the rising of a 3/4 moon until I was totally guessing about everything. I had to wait until I got back in the light to see what I caught. I collected/observed:
Fantail darter (Etheostoma flabellare)
Special thanks to Fritz Rohde, Wayne Starnes, & Bob Jenkins for ID help.
Respectfully submitted to the OH NANFA Region,
Steven A. Ellis