NANFA-- Day1 Snorkle Post Huntsville
Tue, 1 Jul 2003 11:12:35 EDT

A 3 day post NANFA Huntsville snorkel wander...

Day 1

After spending a lot of time and energy in preparation for the convention and
all the activity including my leading 2 trips, setting up and taking down the
signage, banners and displays i was eager to settle into some calming water.
I enjoyed the convention, meeting new folks and old friends and hearing the
lectures but my first motivation during travel is snorkeling with native fish. i
very much enjoy the peace and adventure of exploring clear water.
I had urged Bruce to scout the Shoal Creek area near Florence in
consideration of a NANFA trip. Upon his return he spoke of washed out bridges and stripped
river bottoms from the recent storms and subsequent flooding. I was eager to
see it and planned to approach the site from the west. Twice i had visited
Shoal Creek at the Goose Shoals bridge and tried to snorkle it to no avail. This
was a be third attempt. The visibility however, again was marginal at best so
i headed upstream to check out a site that had pleased me the two times
before. It was very clear, a beautiful stream. Scott Mettee had lead me here years
before on a return trip from Memphis. A bewildering detour had found me at this
stream, which i now understand is a well known historic site. A nearby wooden
railway trestle serves as the backdrop for Lynyrd Skynyrd's Nuthin Fancy
album. I saw no candles and presumed the coast was clear to get in the deep water
of reverence. Clean gravel flows w/ deep pools, excellent diversity, beautiful
landscape. I donned my gear along the early morning streamside. I've taken to
wearing a full body suit along with a fleece liner, a beanie hood which also
helps seal my mask and keeps cold water out of my ears, neoprene socks w/ felt
soled boots and recently have added webbed gloves to swim better and protect
my hands. This keeps me pretty comfortable, snag, stab and leech free. How i
use to do it in just a shorty and tennis shoes wonders me. The excitement and
adrenalin kept me motivated but the shaking chills often overtook my body
leading to long stretched out lizard behavior on nearby sunned rocks.
I eased into the clear flow and immediatly saw all my old acquaintances.
Streamline and Blotchside Chubbs, Gilt, Redline, TN Snubs, Logperch, Rainbow
Darters all made quick appearances. After dragging that siene during the previous 2
days on the Flint it was a real joy and pure relaxation to lay in the water
and see hundreds of fish at complete ease. Seining is hard work and demands
skill to be successful. Trying to keep a lightly weighted line on the bottom and
maneuvering thru all kinds of torrents and boulders and snags without tripping
or twisting your knees is outright work. Snorkeling is sheer pleasure and
full relaxation in clear, beautiful water. These next 3 days were going to be the
best and most intense experiences i have had yet to this day.
The creek was perfect. Tennessee Shiners in a variety of oranged hues danced
about my hands as i disturbed the substrate. I let the water carry me thru
eddies and down long flows to calm pools. I passed a school of striped bass
resting in a deep pool along with Redhorses and a massive black Carp. No
floundering about, i just drifted downstream letting life pass by. A few areas the water
was so shallow i would have to get out and carefully walk so as to not
disturb the substrate. I often would walk back upstream to resnorkel an area of
interest or to explore areas i had bypassed during the first pass.
A small spring flowed and dripped from a layered bluff wall covered with
ferns and moss. Cooler water but lush with many species of fish. Rosyfin, Stripe
and Mountain Shiners rested in the quiet cove. A tuberculed Bullhead type
Minnow slide by me through the reeds his mini horns pointed straight out ahead.
Black Spotted Topminnows lounged just below the surface causing me to arc my neck
to observe them. I eased out of the flow and back into the warmer water and
allowed it to wash me downstream into a deep flowing pool. I thought how a Gar
would find this a nice home and i altered my presence to stay calm and
motionless. Sure enough at the flows end and in the reedy vegatation off to the side
lay a gar... a Spotted Gar about 2' long. I could tell from the spotted
markings on his head and snout his specie rank. I had eased up to within a foot or 2
with minimal motion on my part. Closer and he responded by easing upstream
where i gently followed him. He turned and returned to his site and allowed an
even closer inspection this time, down to me studying the detail in his eye and
the pattern through it which matched his full lengthwise stripe. Very
impressive was this stealthy hunting machine. He eventually tired of my cautious
attempts to touch him and he eased off into the distant misty pool. Very cool, one
of my few close real encounter with a Gar while snorkeling. I had seen some
massive ones in the Little River but they kept a 6' mimimum distance which did
not allow any close study, and to be certain their 5 or 6' length put me
somewhat at unease. I had also snorkeled a sinkhole in Florida where two Gars
resided but they had been trapped by the receeding water.
I continued on down the stream and began to study a vegetated area along the
bank. Lots of Sunfish and little Turtles both Musk and Sliders abounded.
Beautiful Longear Sunnies dashed in and out of the cover, both curious and evasive
to my attempts to get a closer look. They are such a beautiful Sunfish, i
never tire of seeing a full glory male. I drifted and downstream a blur of spotted
movement caught my attention. I worked my way downstream slowly through the
reeds and saw an unusually patterned darter, a Blotchside Logperch. This was
not the typical habitat i had previously observed them in but sure enough he was
going about flipping small pieces of wooden debris with his well worn nose.
Very alert and quick to dart off if i made any sudden movement. It is best to
slowly drift alongside a wary specie you wish to observe, dragging a toe or
touching a branch to slow your movement or to reorient your position. This
technique allowed me to get a full broadside close view of the Blotched beastie.
Fine intricate patterns laced his back. The picture in Scott's book is of a cute
puppy juvenile and a bit misleading The adults develop more spots, have
intricate patterns lacing their back and are much longer. It is always a treat to
see one of these rare Logperch.
Further downstream i found a shallow riffle run which i layed in. Tens of
very intensely orange throated Gilt Darters swarmed about my hands reminding me
of the time in the Pigeon River with Ranger Bob, but these i could see due to
the water's crystal clarity and they were hot and intense. Delicate marking
adorned their bodies. Gold trimmed and gilded bodies. The Gilt Darter. I lay with
them a while and decided i had ventured far enough downstream. I began to
work myself back upstream and found a deep flow i had overlooked. I eased into it
and a silver flash went by and then returned rapidly downstream. Back and
forth the large fish raced, and closer it ventured with each pass. It dartered up
and snagged unseen fish from the surface and raced upstream and back again.
Sleek and fast, silver and sported a forked tail trimmed in black. An odd up
swung mouth. I had never seen anything like this before and its racing behavior
impressed me. I tried, as usual, to burn the image into my memory so as to
refer to books during the evenings. At first i considered the Mooneye but i
believe it to be a Skipjack Herring. A discussion with Scott a few days later leads
me further to this conclusion. This was another specie of fish that i had not
seen before. The third trip here yielded 3 new species for this locale... the
Skipjack, Blotched Logperch and the Stripped Bass, two of which are entirely
new to my experience. All together i counted 36 species and along with a few
unknowns and the dusky darters as i had seen in the past yields a big reckoning
of diversity, well over 40. A very impressive specie count. One site, maybe a
half mile in length. Thinking now, i should have lead a NANFA snorkling foray
here as a saturday option.
i worked my way back upstream to the railroad bridge and then a few hundred
yards beyond. I returned by speed snorkling past barking dogs and locals at the
swimming hole. I had enough by now and the sun was headed low so i stripped
to my swim shorts, rinsed my gear and dried in the sun's last rays. I netted
out a few Northern Studfish and Topminnows rescuing them from a pool beneath the
bridge that may eventually dry. At the same time i wondered if this isolated
pool offered refuge for the many fry i observed. Was i helping or interfering
with the natural course of nature? Seemingly nature can be cruel but there are
many unseen rhythms and reasons beyond my knowledge. However i have often
been heartbroken to return to a dried pool only to find carcasses, bones and Blue
Herring and Raccoon tracks.
I loaded my gear, no fish to care for having returned the two species of
fundulatus to a shallow flow of the stream, and studied the map. I had reasoned on
venturing North to a site i had visited years before but as i moved from my
Alabama to my Tennessee gazateer i noticed posted field notes from a
conversation with Dave Nelly. I would be crossing right through a region he had remarked
to as being a "legendary" site. Another note posted Rainbow Shiners well out
of their range. A bait bucket introduction? I was intrigued with this
possibility along with a "legendary site" and altered my plans. I headed North for a
small town called Waynesboro to find a room. A nice town, clean motel, a
substandard chinese restaurant and a convergence of several clear riffled streams.
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