NANFA-- Flint River, AL, collecting trip

Bruce Stallsmith (
Fri, 21 Apr 2000 09:35:28 EDT

I did my first "whitewater" seining trip yesterday. The Ecology class at UAH
went on a field trip to where the Brier Fork of the Flint River joins the
main river, in eastern Madison County, AL, east of Huntsville. This is
really a mountain stream, with exposed shelves of rock along the banks and
dense woods coming to the edge of the bare rock. Bob Lawton teaches the
class, but is a plant ecologist and as I discovered doesn't know the aquatic
fauna (and doesn't pretend to). The water in the Brier Fork is about
mid-thigh deep in the main channel, and moving fast. Our approach was to
have 2 students hold a seine open, and several others lift up rocks and
scrape the bottom with nets just upstream, then see what washed into the
net. The most common catch was crayfish and hellgrammites. In 45 minutes of
"hard" seining we only caught 4 fish -- a small mottled sculpin, a large
lamprey and 2 darters, Eth. duryi I think, pending looking at them again
today. Nobody else on this trip had any idea what any of these fish were, it
took explaining on my part to convince the students that the lamprey wasn't
an eel. Even to Bob, who works with local Land Trusts and is generally
knowledgeable about local ecology, could only refer to the darters as
"minnows" and was favorably impressed to learn that sculpins are the
freshwater branch of the stonefish family. This brought home to me how deep
the need is for NANFA and others to educate the broader public about native
fishes. This class of 12 students enjoyed the trip, and no one was seriously
hurt (luckily!). I did my preaching to the unconverted just describing
lamprey life history and taxonomy to everyone. I only kept the darters, the
lamprey was so robust and healthy looking I couldn't bear to keep and
preserve him. And as we were leaving Bob spotted and grabbed a Queen snake,
much to the amazement of the students; it was like Wild Kingdom as he jumped
into the edge of the river to grab it as it dropped out of a bush and made a
break for it.

It all made me realize in a very clear way that we in NANFA are the
hardcore; few of us would have thought twice about wading into a spring
flood mountain stream to seine for who-knows-what, or about chasing down a
snake on the stream banks (but don't tell my wife about the snake chasing!).

--Bruce Stallsmith
Huntsville, AL "where the rivers can _really_ rise!"

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