I set out for NJ early on the 22nd, braving blowing snow, high winds, and
bitter cold to try to get mud and blackbanded sunfish for photos. I arrived
at the first site, on the Salem/Cumberland Co. line, at about 2pm. The river
was high, flooding surrounding vegetation, and with ice around the margins
and in slackwater areas. I sampled this site until my hands got too cold to
function anymore. No target species, and the only really cool critter was a
single banded sunfish (Enneacanthus obesus).
Relishing the warmth from my van's heater, I drove north to the heart of the
Pine Barrens, in Ocean County. This site looked really good- clear, slightly
tannic water and lots of coarse woody debris in the stream. The area
upstream of the road was backed up and frozen over along the margins. I
headed downstream, and immediately started getting blackbandeds- they were
very common here, but mostly large adults! The only other fish I collected
in ca. 50m of stream was a single swamp darter! It was starting to get dark,
and my glasses kept on fogging up, so it's possible I shocked mud sunfish,
but did not see them. I decided to try upstream, and started to walk through
knee-deep water, breaking ice as I went. The next step proved substantially
deeper- I never touched bottom! As I fell forwards, I spread-eagled and held
the shocker anode horizontally to try to try and spread my surface area over
the ice. I broke through, putting my head and body underwater, but saving
the shocker... I struggled out, gasping as the icewater flooded down my
waders, and headed for the van. Luckily noone was around- I changed in the
middle of the road, jumped in the van and turned the heat on full blast.
That pretty much ended collecting for the day.
I packed up and examined my maps- the road I was on was classified as
"dirt," but the 3" of snow made it difficult to tell. I decided to head
north, where the map indicated I would run into a highway...
The road got progressively narrower and bumpier, but there were tracks from
other vehicles, so I kept on going, flushing a deer across the road as it
got dark. The stars were incredible, no lights anywhere that I could see,
and nothing but pine trees and snow! After several miles the road that I'd
been following seemed to come to a dead end. I got out and looked closer-
the wind had pushed drifts across the road, obliterating the trail. I
couldn't see any trace of a road ahead. I turned around and tried another
road. Same thing. Two hours later, I finally made it to a highway, and
headed for I-95. Lesson learned- next time, I'm getting a NJ DeLorme atlas
I drove south to St. Michaels, MD and stayed with my cousin and her husband.
My plans to let Bob Bock know what was going on were forgotten in my fatigue
from the drive, and in trying to get my clothes and waders dried for the
next day. This proved a serious error. The next day, I drove an hour north
to the Bay Bridge where we were to meet... called Bob, and discovered
everyone had cancelled. Wusses! ;)
I drove back south to the first planned location, a small trib to Marshyhope
Creek near Federalsburg, MD. This area is unique in having a population of
strange-looking sculpins that I am working on. There's very few places where
you can collect sculpins on the Coastal Plain- this is one of them. They
were very abundant at this site, as were lots of grass and chain pickerel,
sunfishes, tesselated darters, American eels, least brook lampreys,
mudminnows, and creek chubsuckers. Notable absent were madtoms- I expected
both margined and tadpole here. While it was bitter cold, in the river
bottom the riparian vegetation cut the wind making it acceptable. I still
had to stop every 5 min and warm my hands, but I sampled here for almost an
I then sampled the outflow of Chambers Lake, in Federalsburg. Back in the
late 50s, the lake was treated with rotenone for "fisheries improvement."
Over 300 mud sunfish were collected, leading to a 1957 paper by Mansueti and
Elder in Chesapeake Science (the best age and growth data available for this
fish!). Unfortunately, it may have eliminated mud sunfish from this
drainage- to my knowledge, none have been taken since. American eels were
incredibly abundant here- I released 100s of them, along with lots of
lamprey, pickerel, sunfishes, largemouth bass, creek chubsucker, and brown
bullhead. Not a particularly diverse community, but at least as the day
progressed, it got considerably warmer! I also got a single sculpin here, a
new locality for this fish!
I headed for the Bay, to discover that much of the shoreline along the
eastern side was still frozen solid! I found a small area of unfrozen marsh,
put my waders on, and went to get the seine out of my van...
only to remember that I had taken it out of the van at the Pine Barrens site
the previous day, and left it by the stream in my rush to dry off and warm
up! It's perhaps a good thing no one else was there, because the stream of
obscenities I uttered would have made grown men faint. Any of you NJ folks
want a nice 4'x6' nylon seine?
I headed back west, stopping at Bob Bock's house to drop some fish off for
shipping and see his fish room. Thanks for your hospitality, Bob.
All in all, a fine way to spend a couple of days, and by all means a
successful trip. I'll try for muds again when I'm up for the ASIH meetings
at Penn State this June. I might also sneak out tomorrow afternoon and try
to find open water in western Maryland... what a great way to spend the
Tuscaloosa, AL (but currently in Cumberland, MD)
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