NANFA-- Wekiva River

Al G Eaton (
Thu, 18 Jul 2002 06:26:37 -0700 (PDT)

It doesn't happen often, but late last week, I had the
opportunity do some collecting while on a business
trip to Florida. One of my business contacts required
I attend a training session in Orlando last Thursday.
I asked for a day of vacation on Friday and then I
booked a return trip home for Sunday. I had
originally planned to go to Talluhah "Bankhead" Falls
with the seine and snorkel group, but the lure to
dance with the gators in Central Florida was just too
great. I landed in Orlando shortly after one on
Thursday, rented a car, and dashed for my session
which began at 2. I didn't take any supplies with me,
as I knew I would not have time to wait for carry on
luggage and still make the training session on time.
So, when the session ended at 4:30, I pointed the car
in the general direction of North, where I knew the
Wekiva River could be found west of Sanford.

While driving around, I kept a lookout for bait shops,
walmart, kmart etc. I would have to buy my own dipnet
to collect fish. I have the Binkley Perfect Dipnet,
but I was afraid to pack it in my carry on luggage as
it might be considered a weapon. After a fruitless
search at walmart and a sporting goods store, I found
a shrimp net at a bait and tackle shop just south of
Sanford. It had the right size Ace netting that I
like so much, and a very long handle. Unfortunately,
it had a very deep pocket, which would make it
difficult to remove captured fish quickly, and result
in additional stress and damage to the captured fish.
The sporting goods store did have gator buckets, a two
piece bucket, the inner one has perforations and is
removable. A nifty idea for housing your fish and
allows for making water changes without removing the
fish..... really cool. At a convenience store I
bought two styrofoam ice chests. This was beginning
to get expensive!!! I ran across a Sams, Sams has the
best prices on Delorme atlases that I know of. The
Florida one was only $10.99. Once I had those things,
I felt prepared to go collecting.

When I asked last week for collecting places near
Orlando, I got a request for some of Central Florida
pygmy sunfish, thought to be unique enough to be a
separate species, and wouldn't I please catch some.
With that thought in mind, I began searching for
access points and likely collecting localities along
the Wekiva River. A quick scan of the Delorme was
intriguing. Almost no roads cross over the Wekiva
River!!!!! and the area is largely undeveloped. I
knew it would be useless to look at the spring head as
the hard water in springs usually don't have any
Elassoma species, but hard water fish like mollies and
rainwater killies. I saw on the map where a large
part of the river ran through state property. My
requestor in Wisconsin mentioned SR 46 as a likely
collecting locality.

In the warm Florida sunshine, fleecy white clouds
danced across the sky as I drove through Sanford and
then west across SR 46. I still get excited everytime
I near a new place to collect and the Wekiva was no
exception. I could see a dip in the road ahead and
knew that meant a stream, the water table in Fla is
very high. I was both disappointed and gladdened by
the 12 foot high fence I saw spanning the bridge on
both sides and then cordoning off access to the river
along both banks. I was sad to be unable to make the
trek down to the rivers edge, the state had put up no
tresspassing signs. A quick look upstream and I could
see the river dart in and out of low islands, chocked
with emergent and aquatic plants. I really wanted to
try my hand here, but if the state was serious enough
about protecting the Wekiva River from passing
motorists and curious fishermen, I knew I should
respect that and be happy that such a wonderful
pristine environment was being protected. I drove
south along a short stretch of road that follows the
west bank for less than a mile, where I happened upon
a local, who was going about the daunting task of
chopping down florida's quick growing weeds. So I
chatted with him a few minutes about the stream in his
backyard and I asked him if there were any public
access points downstream from the springhead. He
recommended Katies Landing, a few miles farther down
the river. So I took off for the east bank road north
of sr 46. When I arrived at Katie's Landing I found
the gate padlocked and pretty aggressive no
traspassing signs posted all around the property.
Katies landing went out of business this year and the
state was now the proud owner of their property too!
I didn't want to give up so easily, so in the late
evening's failing light I drove farther downstream,
following the Wekiva down an unpaved road. I finally
came to a boat ramp and boat rental place. I chatted
with the owner, who seemed almost amused when I told
him about Nanfa and NFC and my interest in native fish
that I keep in aquariums. He invited me back for
Friday and said I could collect all day long. A
little tired but happy, I strode to the water's edge
and watched as a few killies and livebearers fled from
my shadow.

I am happy to say that all the colorful hotel
characters were in TN making big bucks for that
weekend, and my little hotel was incredibly quiet.
Friday morning I snarfed down breakfast and headed
from the hotel to the Wekiva. The sun was up and
it was partly cloudy. Temperatures in the 80s.
Humidity around 95%.

The owner wasn't there, but a young mostly toothless
lady manned the little shed that sold all kinds of
fishing and boating supplies and snacks to the weekend
boaters who frequent the Wekiva. I bought a soda and
explained I wanted to collect along their boat haven.
She thought a moment and decided it would cost me 50
cents to fish.

I took a swipe of the net and caught Least Killifish,
green sailfin mollies and bluefin killies, and grass
shrimp in the very first swoop. As I suspected, it
took forever to unfold the deep cavity of the net and
transfer fish to the collecting bucket. The shore was
overgrown with aquatic plants. Species of Ludwigia,
Bacopa, Salvinia, Hydrocotle, Water Lettuce,
Valisneria, and water Hyacinths abounded in the brown
water. From a distance the Wekiva looked almost
black, but if you looked at a cupful of water, you
could tell it was a deep brown. I continued to sample
the Wekiva. I ran my net under the water lettuce and
then shook the leaves. I knew that Elassoma liked to
hide out in plants and I was hoping some would drop
out from the roots of the many Pistia stratiodes that
bobbed along the shore.

I thought about taking some Pistia with me, but I had
gone over the regulations just before I left home and
read that although Pistia may be cultured for out of
state sales, it is not permitted to be harvested from
the wild. So I left the Pistia in the water.

I ran the net between the moored boats and along the
shore. Still no Elassoma, but I caught my first
sunfish. A spotted sunfish. I glanced across the
river looking for the ten foot gator that likes to
hang out there, but like the Elassoma, he was nowhere
to be seen. I ran the net through a Bacopa bed and
nestled into the folds of the net I espied the first
Elassoma, light colored and spotted, it was a female.

In about an hour I had as many least killies, green
sailfin mollies, and bluefin killies as I wanted, but
only two Elassoma sp. aff. okeefeenokee. So I decided
to work my way upstream out of the haven along the
grass banks. I began to catch more pygmy sunfish.
The first males appeared. So dark they looked almost
jet black, with light metallic blue barlike spangles
on the sides of the body. The fish reminded me almost
of Cynolebias nigripinnis in size and shape. What a
wonderful diminutive fish!

I continued to sample and found more species. Two
inch long alligator gar. Blue spotted sunfish,
Fundulus chrysotus less than an inch long. Suddenly, I
found something with bright red fins in the net. It
was the first taillight shiner I had ever seen alive.
Notropis maculatus is found as far north as the
Bootheel in Missouri, where it is protected, I hoped
to get it home alive so I could photograph it.

I found an apple snail egg mass on top of a Cyperus
sp. spike. In grass, but underwater I found a rather
largish hole my toes fit into. In the net was a 3/4
inch plecostomus.

By now I was sopping wet even though my shirt and
shorts had never touched water. The clothing seemed
to soak up moisture from the air. I changed the water
in the gator bucket and tshirts. I began putting fish
into zip lock bags I had purchased at wall mart. I
find the ez open style of zip lock bags where you
slide a plastic tab along the closure to be a lot of
help for housing a few fish while collecting.

All in all, I spent about five hours collecting and
sorting fish. The last hour I could hear thunder in
the distance and a light rain fell from time to was actually refreshing, and I didn't mind
as my clothes were already sopping wet from the
humidity and sweat.

I sorted out the fish, and found I had quite a few
pygmy sunfish for my friend and myself. I packed the
car and headed to St Augustine, to visit Paul Sachs of Along the way
I found a store that sells packing supplies and I was
able to purchase a box to enclose the styrofoam cooler
I had purchased earlier. Paul grows fatheads,
bannerfin shiners, mummichugs, heteroclitus, daphnia,
moina, unicellular algae and a lot of other things
commercially. Many of his customers are environmental
labs around the country.

Paul helped me graciously sort my fish and boxed up
over 20 Elassoma to be mailed to Wisconsin. I
included three young Lepomis, thinking my friend might
like those also, but a little concerned that they
wouldn't survive the trip because they hadn't had time
to empty their system yet of food. We packed all the
fish with oxygen, including the ones I would be taking
home. I knew I couldn't take any more fish, so I
gave my dipnet and gator bucket to Paul.

The next morning, I headed out. The plan for the day
was to attend the Suncoast Killie meeting in St
Petersberg, on the gulf coast. As I made the long
trek, I decided to return to the Wekiva briefly to
take some pictures in the bright sunshine. The
weather report for the rest of the day wasn't very
promising. Thunder showers...and lots of them. I
wasn't able to take pics the day before because of
rain, but I definitely wanted some. After a few
minutes I had a dozen or so shots.

Back into the car to run the gauntlet along I-4 past
all the Micky Mouse Land traffic. I-4 had been
described to me as a parking lot. The description
ominously proved to be only half accurate. When cars
are moving, far too many drivers want to go 85-90 in
the heavy traffic, tailgate, and weave in and out of
traffic, regardless if its raining or not. Just a few
minutes past the Champions of Golf exit I got stuck in
a three hour traffic jam. Ambulances and police cars
drove past. When I finally reached the scene of the
accident, I saw at least three bodies along the median
and berm with white sheets covering them. Several
dazed survivors sat in the grass in shock. Badly
mangled suvs, cars and minivans littered the ditches
in the median and past the berm. Who knows, the brief
stop to take pictures may have kept me from being in
that accident.

I arrived at the killie meeting well over two hours
late. Charlie Nunziata and the crew had graciously
saved the program until I came and it was a true
pleasure to see him again and to visit with a such a
vibrant group of fish hobbyists. Charlie and several
other members have published a Florida collecting
guide. The hard bound loosepage notebook is loaded
with high grade pictures of florida fish, maps and
text. Its well worth the $20.

The group was extremely gracious and provided a four
foot long sub loaded with lunch meats, cheese and
veggies, drinks and various snacks.

Except for the few minutes I took pictures earlier in
the day, the sun had mostly disappeared and tropical
showers and thunderstorms had taken its place. I
drove back to Orlando that evening and saw several
more serious accidents, along the way.

I made one more trip to Walmart to purchase some
check-in type luggage so I could get my jewels home.

It stormed all night long. The next morning I got up
early and packed the fish into the suitcase. By five
Sunday evening I arrived home and began putting fish
away. I had some losses, but not too many, most
likely from handling damage due to the deepness of the
net and the fish being out of water for so long.

I reflected on the events and contrasts of the
Thrilled by the beauty and pristine images of the
Wekiva River dancing through my mind, as well as dark
brooding images of the horrible accidents I had
seen. I counted my blessings to be home safe and
sound again.


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