Tennessee Valley Region
June 2000

In early June, Casper Cox, Bruce Stallsmith, Steven Ellis, Patrick Vinas, and Dave Neely converged on the Little River, Cherokee Co., Alabama. The Little River Canyon is a National Preserve, flowing for about 18 miles through a 300-400 foot deep canyon as it runs off of the Appalachian Plateau towards the Coosa River (now Weiss Reservoir). The river picks up little suspended material in the canyon, so water clarity is exceptional. A series of large falls in the canyon restrict fish movement upstream, so the fish community in the upper river is not particularly diverse, characterized mostly by green sunfish, stoneroller, and creek chub. In contrast, the river below the canyon has a fairly diverse fish fauna, including an excellent population of the federally threatened blue shiner. The canyon itself is reason enough to visit, but the snorkeling is exceptional.

A park at the canyon mouth provided a nice place to rendezvous, but as with all National parks, collecting is illegal without an additional special permit. (Look, but don't touch!) The nice Park Service ranger was happy to just stop Steven and Bruce as they netted. The group snorkeled the deep pools at the canyon mouth for an hour or so, seeing several large longnose gar (to 2m!), three Cyprinella taxa in full breeding splendor (Alabama, blue, and tricolor shiners), Mobile logperch in great abundance, and some large freshwater drum. The full species list totaled 18 species. This was Jonathan's first time snorkeling, and he seemed rather enthralled to check out the diversity below.

After a drive down to the AL Hwy 273 bridge, the group seined for an hour or so just below the park boundaries. Bronze darter, greenbreast darter, speckled darter, and Mobile logperch were in abundance. A large dog helped chase fish into the seine (and ate only a few of the minnows). Highlights at this site were a couple of blue shiners (which were quickly released), a tuberculate male Alabama shiner, and a large southern studfish in dazzling nuptial coloration.

At Big Wills Creek, rainbow shiner were relatively abundant, along with some boldly patterned sculpin (Cottus sp. cf. carolinae), stoneroller, Coosa darter, green sunfish, and both spotted and redeye bass. Steven tried out a backpack electrofishing unit for the first time, with much success.

After preparing their coolers with tank fish for the ride home, the group parted ways, with the unanimous agreement to do it again really soon.

From American Currents, Summer 2000