NANFA-- BigSouthFork report...very long!
Tue, 3 Jul 2001 16:58:38 EDT

Hello to all those interested...
This is an account of my 3 days wandering up highway 27 of which one day was
spent with fellow NANFA members near Big South Fork...

Everyone else planned on spending saturday only in the water but i got an
early start by leaving friday morning so as to explore and scout the waters
on my way up. I followed highway 27 stopping at just about every bridge
beyond my normal range for a quick look. Dave Neely had told me about the
Emory River a few months ago and i had kept a copy of his e-mail in my
gazateer. This was a river i have been keen on snorkling. At Harriman i took
a look but it was slow flowing and deep green. I decided to detour off 27 by
running up 326 to Oakdale for another look. It was much more inviting but i
decided to continue on to Camp Austin. Here i found a nice sandy beach about
a 1/4 mile off the main road and bridge crossing. Folks had been camping at
but it was not to trashy and felt safe, comfortable so i put on my new full
body poly skin w/ my old shorty wetsuit over it and waded in. Immediately i
saw Tangerine Darters. Dave said there were bucketloads and that there were!
By far the most visible darter there. I did not see the intense orange color
ive witnessed in the Tellico or Hiwassee. It seems as if ive been told by Ed
Scott that they are much redder in the Emory but i did not see this. In fact
they seemed paler. Perhaps the breeding colors were not in full bloom yet...
i think the most intense color ive seen on Tangerines has been in Tellico and
Hiwasee during late summer, early fall?
Anyway i first eased into a backwater area and found several large Longear
Sunfish guarding their nests or trying to get in. Several of them had ears
that were much squarer than ive seen around Chattanooga. I wonder if ear
shapes vary a lot w/ this species? Their colors were quite beautiful,
certainly one of the prettist fish ive seen in my regional wanders. I did not
see any eggs or fry tho and i looked closely into the nest, even gently
stirring the surface. I was tempted to try and catch one of the square eared
but already have 3 regular Long Ears back at home. I also caught a 6" Midland
Spiney SoftShell Turtle who was cruising the silty sand who was quite eager
to bite me. Ive been told they will tho all the little ones ive caught have
never tried to bite me. Animated Flapjacks is the funnyist description ive
heard of these interesting characters.
The rocks were all covered w/ silt... very unpleasant to look at but the
Tangerines were everywhere and with them were Gilt Darters... just like
family members they stayed alongside the Tangerines. Several males were in
full gaudy breeding colors. I like this darter much better in its regular
color but they are not trying to attract me! They are always interesting to
see tho.
I worked my way up to some riffle rapids... here the stones were clean and
the water flowing. I turned and postioned myself feet upstream and began to
clear smallish rubble from the substrate. Within seconds dozens of shiners
were swarming all about my face. Whitetails mostly with 2 or 3 males in
breeding form. The colors were not near as pretty as the pearlescent spectrum
i see on the males in the Little Sequatchie ( just a week ago was the most
recent ). They were still impressive however in form and tuberculed head. I
began to pick out other species but could not ID anything, i still have so
much trouble iding fish and am constantly struggle with it. Dave had
mentioned lots of Turquoise Shiners and i was trying to see anything w/ that
color. I had been watching for several minutes when Wow! there it was... in
the distance, sometimes getting closer then Flash!... the sun would strike
just right and every feature would be outlined in brilliance, blues and
whites... hints of emerald. It is a truly beautiful fish. This is the spotfin
chubb ive always wanted to see...and was featured on the cover of the
Tennessee Aquarium's Riverwatch Quarterly a few years back. Its new common
name must be the Turquoise Shiner? I spent 15 minutes in this spot just
watching these guys. A move from me and they would be off in the distance
again. Patience was important here. Ive never seen any fish so beautiful, but
i tend to say that quite a bit! ...and probably will the more places and
systems i explore! In Etnier's book he says they are difficult to catch w/ a
siene... and i can see how. They seemed more wary than the other shiners that
come to play in my disturbances. Historically they were just upstream from
Chickamauga Creek, which is in my own backyard. Now, however there nor many
other places they have been lost. It would sure be nice to see them return,
and i will certainly watch for them. I know J.R. Shute and CFI is doing their
part. It seems like i heard they are trying to return them to the Conasauga?
That is a different river system. Were they found there as well?
After spending some time in the riffles i floated down stream along the
bank's rocky edge with willow grass holding the rubble in place. Another
unique shiner was here and i think it was the Spotfin Shiner in color. Nearly
every fin was tipped in hot white. They seemed to enjoy the calmer flowing
water. Sometimes all the species would be together downstream of my activity
but more often the school would be dominated by one species... which was
usually the White Tails. They are always quick and real intense on any thing
you expose while turning stones. If i can find any small asian clams i will
sometimes crush them and the shiners will go into a frenzy tussling with the
i probably spent 4 hours snorkling here and about a mile downstream... all
together i saw...
Tangerine, Snubs, Log Perch, Gilt, Greenside and Redline Darters. a couple
other darters i could not ID.
Long Ear, Red Ear, Red Breast and Rock Bass... along w/ typical bass which i
have not learned to ID properly.
Hog Suckers, Stone Rollers, River Chubbs and a redhorse type sucker which i
cant ID. The dorsal fin was red edged.?
White Tails, SpotFin and Turquoise Shiners. Probably many others.
There were about another dozen species that i could not ID. Bluntnose
minnows, drums, shiners... speckled darters? I try to memorize their
features, return to David's book and then im befuddled again! Im slowly
expanding my reckoning but it is difficult for me. Sometimes its best just to
relax and enjoy the life. I do try.
I stopped at a few other creeks on my way up... scooped up a net full of
shiners in a nice vegitated stream... from looking at David's book i would
say they were Sand Shiners. This water was in the Cumberland drainage, but
again... my ID could be wrong. I sure see why they pickle them but i dont
have the heart to but it would sure make it easier to ID. I didnt want to
fuss with keeping anything at this point so returned them to the stream after
studying them thru a plastic bag and dripping it all over the shiner pages of
my Tennesse book!
I got a motel, meal and studied the days viewing w/ The Book, made some notes
and fell asleep.
The next morning i drove up to Steve's campsite which was crowded w/ tents,
cars, family and a little dog tied and twisted around a post. :) Ive never
liked camping in "Camp Grounds" proper. It always seems like your camping in
your own front yard, waving to the neighbors! BTW...the site i snorkled on
the Emory would be a great place to rendevous and camp in the future. I
hot-footed it back down to Leatherwood Ford and meet up with Geoff. We talked
a bit and i got my gear on for a underwater look around.The water did not
appear clear in the early sunlight and the visibility was only about 2 feet.
Not exciting... i was expecting far more after such a long drive to the
fabled site. We did see the Blue Breast Darter right away... which i had
remembered from my first visits years ago. Tough, fast and dark fellows
living in the fast current beneath large rocks. Beautiful vermillion spots on
their sides. Lots of YOY Greensides... about 1 inch long. I kept thinking
these others were channel darters but im thinking now they may have been ashy
darters... but i did not see the large 2nd dorsal. Schools of White Tails
again. I always see Logperch just about everywhere i go, but never see little
ones... well here they were. Dozens. Downstream of the rapids in a shallow
graveled flow they were. Cute as a Logperch could be!
Something that was odd was darters i kept seeing w/ bright blue white
crescents behind their eyes and a blue white line at the dorsal base. Was
this some kind of fungi? The more we looked the more irregular the marks
appeared... like a fungus. It was my first time to see anything like this.
Steve showed up in his garage sale $30. full body wetsuit. He was looking
fine and ready! What a deal! I told him he should mark his calander and go
shopping on that lucky day every year. The 2 boys got in and promptly stained
their t-shirts with rock slime but they were wide eyed! I promised them the
next site would be spectacular. Geoff got in and watched the blue breasts and
shiners. After Arizona this is paradise. He is getting the hang of this and a
welcome member.
President Bruce showed up from his 5.5 hour maddog nothern run up to see the
Cumberland waters. We have a dedicated bunch of guys here. All eager to go
anywhere to see what we can find. Two more outing are planned before this
summers NANFA meet.
We all played around in the Big South Fork for a hour or two, stripped our
gear and made plans for clear water. We continued waiting til after 1pm
wondering if Klaus was ever gonna show up. A Ohio van was there but niether
Klaus nor a note was so time was being wasted.
Promising great visions beyond we loaded up for a 4 vehicle caravan to
Wionna... higher up and clearer water to be promised. J.R. had told me of
this place and it was only 30 or 45 minutes away. And thus began the great
saturday trek of disappointment! And i am sorry to say i was leading the
way... looking for greener grass i mean clearer water. Just over the next
rise, next stream. Chocolate milk water was the norm. Steep poison ivy banks.
Barking Dogs. NO Trespassing signs. Stagnant back waters. Moo mowing cows .
Well... i was in for a lynching. It seems rain had fell on this land all the
previous week... but this day was pretty. We eventually settled on a creek
named Paint Rock Creek in the gazateer. A glimmer of hope. A remembrance of
our last trip to the Paint Rock River in Alabama beckoned us onward. Missing
the turn on the first pass we backtracked to the... well... it was a...
well... it had accessible water in it and thats all we needed at this point.
We grabbed our gear and tumbled down the steep bank to the water... and began
to look at each other with twisted nostrils. What is that smell? After this
experience we were looking forward to a good swim anywhere! However being the
dedicated enthusiasts our little group is we proceeded to see what could live
in a place such as this. Johnathon immediatly jerked up a Creek Chubb w/ his
hook and line. Some yelps of excitment were heard downstream from Geoff. A
siene was run from one end to the other. a riffle was kicked. All and all
found living in that flowing, rural, farm, septic draining ditch of a creek
we collected amazingly a yellow catfish, white sucker, stone rollers, creek
chubbs, stripe shiners, breeding colored rosy fin shiners, rainbow darters
and a very speckled darter which may be parasited with shell larva ( we could
not find it in et's book ), red breast sunfish and a unknown shiner...
perhaps the sand shiner. 10 species or more. All common at home in
Chattanooga urban streams. We were amazed that they could survive here. After
we climbed up the bank and began to try to ID the odd specked darter a local
drove up and warned us not to get in the creek. He had a crooked smile and
twisted his nose. He pointed us down the road to the local swimming hole and
off we went with Bruce saying he had had enough and was headed home!, well
almost...:) Well off we went with a new navigator at my side. After a couple
wrong turns we were looking at a unfordable crossing to deep to drive a
borrowed museum van thru. In we waded into this supposedly local swimming
hole. Im beginning to think is there any good water in these hills? Plenty of
monsterous pollywogs and lots of red spotted newts. Another Rainbow Darter.
The same shiners, a few unknowns. Lots of vegatation downstream but the water
was to deep, log jammed and murky to wander up or downstream much. We did get
to rinse off most of Paint Rock Creek tho... even murky water felt clean
after that bit of wading.
We loaded back up with promises of a better day in the near future. I think i
will disavow any leadership roles on the next foray! I know this area has
great potential but what a fiasco this day was. Bruce got some stonnies for
his students, Geoff was just eager to see after living in a desert for years,
and Steve got a few fish of interest to free from the cesspool to his bedroom
of clean tanks. Myself... i had experienced the glory of turquoise the day
before... and i was headed back that way tomorrow. We said our byes with
Geoff heading north and Steve and the boys back to Big South Fork for a night
and early morning breakcamp. Myself... i headed south to Wartburg.
Arriving late afternoon i grabbed a map at the Obed ranger station and
headed toward Captain Nemo's crossing. In the distance i could hear the roar
of massive engines. Country stock cars... good old boys driving fast. Clay
track, a vast pit in the ground. For 14 bucks you can pull your car right up
to the edge of a multi terraced hillside and look deep down into a smoke
filled arena as they battle their way around the track... sliding thru every
turn... roaring back out for another lap. Crunching metal and flying sparks.
Ive never seen anything like it! I think the entire town of Wartburg had
arrived to view this extravaganza. Fireworks were promised and i bet it would
have been a full blown cultural experience... but i was after fish... and i
was told they were another 6 miles down the road. I got there just as dusk
was filling the sky and rain was falling... but the water looked fairly clear
and i had had a full day of murkyness behind me and tomorrow's promise lay
before me. Back to a motel, a sour kraut ruben and salad, more book review,
attempted education and hot shower... not in that order!
Sunday morning i woke to church bells, breakfast at Angies and a trip back to
the Obed Ranger Station. A beautiful rangerette named Kim was womanning the
station. Cheerful and with knowledge she showed me a tank in the center of
the center filled with shiners and darters. Emerald, Blue Breast, Ashy,
Greenside, Speckled... Hog Sucker, Buffalo... Rosy Fins. sand? shiners. A
very nice tank put together and maintained by a Ranger Rob who was on
vacation. Kim feed them some typical fish flakes and we enjoyed the frenzy
activity. That was cool, i like seeing a ranger(s) that really goes all out
in their work and it showed with Rob's tank and her interest, knowledge and
enthusiasm. Frozen blood worms kept the darters healthy. I had been studying
the maps on the wall and only one stream was marked excellent and was noted
as a reference stream. Inquiring about it she said it was in Frozen Head
State Park... just 5 miles in the opposite direction. She had never been
snorkling and i did my usual motivational speak without the arm waving part.
Ranger Rob does and im gonna give him a ring for my next return trip.
Debating i decided to detour to this reference stream. This is a term i
learned while helping with the urban stream survey in Chattanooga. Basically
it signifies a stream in its pure, unaltered state! Along the way i passed
James Earl Ray's last residence. Plenty of barb wire but it was visitor's day
and the picnic tables were full of family's having a few hours together. Kim
had said the stream was to small to swim in but if i can lay my body down and
raise my head that is all i need and am often blessed when i do. I asked bike
riding Ranger... oops ive forgot his name... and he pointed at a deep pool
just across the street... where 2 streams joined. I asked him what could be
seen and he said a dace and some local standards. I pulled out david's
book... the Tennesses Dace was found here. What a picture that is. Ive been
trying hard to see a Red Bellied Dace of late with some success as well as
the recently described Laural Dace ( which i snorkled with a few years ago
)... But the Tennesse Dace... oh my! Getting my gear on in the parking lot i
crossed the street and eased into the water. Immediately there they were. Not
with blazing color but marked so as their full potential was obvious. What a
beautiful aquarium fish this would make... tho very listed and not to be had.
In the same pool were cruising Rainbow Trout deep in the center, i presume
waiting for anyone to wander too close for a quick snack. Creek Chubbs, Stone
Rollers, Stripe Shiners, Sunfish. Oddly no darters were seen. I wandered
upstream on what would have been very slippery rocks. Let me say now that
anyone who has not tried felt soled shoes should and should soon. My old pair
of velcro tennis shoes blew out the duct tape for the last time. My friend
has the same size feet attached to his legs and lent me his trouting footwear
for the weekend. He may not get them back! Ive been worried about really
twisting my bad knee or an ankle while rock hopping or hyper siening with
some of these young bucks... ive been well over due for a good hurting. These
felt soles are great and im trying to purchase a velcroed version found at a
Dick's Sporting Goods Store. The brand is but i cannot get them
to respond to my emails. :( Anyway it was a pleasant suprise to witness those
Dace and the water was very clear. I was keen on making it back to the Emory
for great diversity.
I got there about noon but already families were showing up for picnics and
wadings. I headed upstream to get away from the gawking and silt stirring
body flounderings. A series of riffles and a quiet pool lay ahead. The only
new fish i saw was a couple Warpaints cruising with the White Tails. Lots of
silt, i began to get concerned wondering if i would ever see pristine flows
in this life again. The Conasauga however, certain stretches have vast moss
cushioned architectural boulders, canyons and flows. Full of life and glory.
Here was not much vegitation... just stands of willow grass. i headed back
downstream and submarined past the frolicking tubers and floaters. Deep and
dark beyond, visibility had been reduced in the 24 hours i reckon by the
inflowing rains upstream. I could only see what was directly in front of
me... maybe 2, maybe 3 feet. The locals i talked to said visibility was
usually to the bottom... which i will someday return for. Downstream i came
to some intense rapids, 3 foot drops. Kamakazee canoe stuff. Dave Nelly had
told me about Olive Darters in raging, torrential current. I held on and
stuck my mask in places i should not have. All i saw were RedLInes and
Tangerines. No Gilts, no Turquoise, no Olives. Pretty dissapointing. I
started playing human surfboard making a few downstream runs when i caught a
glimpse of a fishing rod in the depths. By the time i was through i had
pulled out 3 fishing rods, a roll of duct tape and a fully geared tackle box!
Why i might could have financed my whole trip with this stuff at a resale
shop! I kept the duct tape ( you know that is always handy! ) and gave
everything else to a young fella on the bank who was playing with his little
boy and his wife that day 9 month due. I could fill a sporting goods store
with the stuff ive found snorkling... its a treasure hunt down under!
I had had my fill of river water for a few more days, got to see some new
cool little colorful beasties, learned a bit more about whats under there,
visited with my fellow Fish Heads, made some new contacts and got return
plans for the near future. I think i will give Ranger Rob a call a bit later
Hey! i hear the water is gonna be clear at the sipsey! Lets go!

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