NANFA-- Day2 Snorkle Post Huntsville
Tue, 1 Jul 2003 11:13:22 EDT

Day 2
The water was inviting the following morning and i almost chose to suit
myself up there in Waynesboro. I decided that though it merited a prolonged visit,
i should head on to the sites Dave had suggested. Scouting suitable sites can
be tiring, studying the map, getting lost and reoriented and seeing "No
Tresspassing" signs. I had had enough of that in the previous weeks scouting for the
conference. Fortunately a nice site yielded up pretty quick. As i stood on
the bridge feeling the morning sun and peering into the beckoning clear water
below i was mesmerized by a swirling flock of chirping birds. They were some
type of bridge swallows i reckon. I began to see the birds in a different light
of observational skill. As they raced around me i could focus on individuals
and make out markings and unique characteristics and behavior. I thought how
some of my fish acquaintances are also avid birders. The same trained eye for
observing fish while snorkeling also yields to the fast flighting movement of
birds. Binoculars required i bet in many cases when they are far off and perched
on a limb! Blessidly when one snorkels it is as if a big magnifying glass is
strapped to your head! A built in visual enhancer courtesy of an optical
natural wonder. A farmer limped out of his home across the way and i greeted him. He
was friendly and gave me permission to park along the roadside in a stretch
of soft grass on his property. Very soft when you could be hopping on one bare
foot dodging stones while trying to pull on a cold wetsuit! I quizzed him on
his youthful fishing days and the recent ravaging flooding of this region. He
pointed out the bank across the creek he had just releveled with a bulldozer.
He told how it had been stripped bare to large boulders. Im always concerned
when i see heavy equipment next to a stream but it looked to me like he had done
an acceptable job. It seems like we are always trying to keep a river or
stream were we want it, as opposed to where the river desires to be. I despise the
straight line channelizing and ditching i often come across in my wanders.
I put my gear on which seems to take longer each time, first the liner, then
the suit, oops... forgot the socks. Ok, oh... gee back to the van for my
gloves. Oh no... i forgot to take a whiz. Finally as i head to the stream i ask Mr.
Gobbel how i look. He smiles and asks if i will get wet? I must be a sight...
i get all kinds of comments when i emerge from some dark water, trailing
green vegetation and pass by or though a campsite filled with little children. :)
Into the water i went, catching my breath as the cold water raced down my
spine. Brrr... but it quickly passes. Again im swarmed with Shiners; Rosefins,
Tennessee, Stripes and Mountains. I drift into the edge margins and Southern
RedBellied Dace greet me. A nice welcome as i often do not see them near my home.
I drift downstream. Lots of Rosyside Dace appear, again welcome as they are
uncommon for me. Crystal clarity, the substrate yielded up little silt or
debris as i touched or walked through it. A nice change from the Flint River where
every step released a red cloud of drifting silt. I suspect this gravel was
washed clean by the recent floods and the fields and forests upstream must be
managed well. Beautiful, cobbled or sandy substrate stretched in both
directions. I stayed alert to the possibility of rainbow shiners and wondered if there
was a possible isolated population in the stream. Was it just in a small
stretch or near a spring? Being a fairly long stream, i thought to have requested
more explicit directions from Dave as to the exact location. I began to observe
the Tennessee Shiners more and how much they resembled the Rainbow Shiners in
shape and somewhat in these enhanced breeding colors. The Tennessee's sported
a range of red, orange and translucent gold specked hues. Very beautiful, i
had never witnessed them in these colors before. Usually the sole identifying
mark on this normaly silver shiner is a rectangle mark at the base of the caudal
fin. They can also be hard to distinguish from the Telescope except by the
smaller eye of the Tennessee. Now they appeared near to resemble a Rainbow. I
reflected on this and thoughout the next 2 days. Steven had mentioned finding
Rainbow Shiners in the Paint Rock... also well out of their range. Could they
have been these heightened, colored Tennessee Shiners? I dismissed the thought
and went downstream and then worked my way up a raging chute flow and glimpsed
an unusual Darter. A Blenny Darter... another first. It reminded me of the
Varigated Darters i had seen in Ohio and Kentucky. A bit of Snubnose but deepened
body and Sculpin marking. Very unique. They were difficult to approach and i
got only but a fleeting glimpse of a large male. Later i read how beautiful
the large breeding males can be and wish i had pursued him to more observe his
distinct markings. The water was flowing intense and it was difficult to
postion myself without flailing about. I released myself and let the flow carry me
downstream. More fish greeted me as i settled in a shallow riffle. Again the TN
shiners swarmed me and i thought of the pulsing red orange orb mentioned in
Scott Mettee's Alabama book. These shiners were pretty and eager to go at the
substrate i disturbed. Hum, again wondered.
I walked back upstream beyond the bridge and stumbled down a cobbled bank and
into the water. As i regained my composure i peered at an object, thinking it
to be a portion of a sturgeon's body with all the bony structure. Odd to be
sure, a Sturgeon here? I was engrossed in the objects detail and gazed upward
and saw that it was firmly attached to a Snapping Turtle's body! Oh my it was
big and looking right at me, obviously impressed with the quick recovery from
my stumble. He slowly began to crawl away from me and speeded up as he
approached a slab crevasse. I grabbed his tail with a high attentive alert and pulled
him back gently. He peered back at me with no ill content and i eased him and
myself into a better viewing position. A massive creature yet seemingly
docile. I kept my eye to his eye and touched his shell, legs, toes and eventually
the top of his head. I know they are vicious andmighty snappy out of the water
but i had heard they are not so in the water. Caution will still be urged but i
saw no ill mannered behavior in the beast. I released my grip from his tail
and let him drift beneath me, a bit nervously on my part. Another encounter
with the beasts of the deep. Back to the bridge i again observed the Redbellied
Dace as this was the only section of the stream i had seen them in. Drifting
out to the bridge structures foundation i sought out some large red eyed Rock
Bass, plenty i had seen during these last few days. Handsome fish, boldly
patterned and intense red eye. Along the buttress a swarm of white hot blue headed
Mountain Shiners danced in the flow only to flee and quickly return everytime
a large Bass lunged out from the shadowed overhang. Why they returned each
time i dont know. I feel sure the bass was making a success of it based upon his
continued behavior. This was the largest grouping of Blue headed Mountain
Shiners i have ever seen. I usually only see one, 2 or 3 in tandom. They seem to
like deep flows when they have these white blue heads. I dont know how they
breed and did not see any definite activity, yet tomorrow i will witness a new
knowledge of shiner breeding behavior that will provide future viewing
techniques. I suspect a slow motion camera is required. When i first started snorkeling
i enjoyed observing darters as they generally rested in place. Now im
fascinated by shiners and the fast eye that is required along with the patience for
noting repeating motions.
This day i did not keep count of species observed. I feel sure it was a wee
bit less and i began to get overwhelmed with... "did i see it here... or
there?" I chose to just observe and passively enjoy what was offered. A wonderful
site which will merit a return to the region and hopefully to explore the Green
River in Waynseboro as well. Tennesse, though my home state, offers so many
areas i have not yet explored. I think i will be eternally motivated to seek out
new sites.
Back to the van, no fish to tend, and on to the legendary site Dave had
A lot of disorientation, drive bys and no tresspassing signs finally got me
to the very green Buffalo. Several familes played in the water upstream and the
wreckage of a shredded bridge structure lay out in the deep flowing water
with less than 3' visibiliy. Not much to beckon me in. I followed a side trib up
the road. It flowed reasonably clear and touched the Buffalo just upstream
beyond the swimmers. I drove up a way and introduced myself to a man tending his
garden. He allowed me to park on his property and warned me of snakes and
stated there were not many fish in the water. Im always warned of snakes and
sometimes wonder if this is some folk's method of trying to move you on. He was
pleasant though and i told him i had been told this area was special and seemed
very beautiful from the layered bluff rock i had been noticing. I climbed down
below the bridge and settled into the water. Again the beautifully colored
Tennessee Shiners i had seen so many of before, now at the 4th site, all shared
the same behavior and color range as the previous three locations. Again i
considered the Tennessee Shiners and how easily they could be mistook for Rainbow
Shiners. Their shape, though a bit more slender and the colored markings
similiar to the northern tribe of Rainbow Shiners i find just south of my home.
I had observed breeding Northern Studfish at all the previous sites, though
often difficult to see while snorkling due to their typical behavior of
occupying very shallow water. Usually i observed them from a bank or bridge with
binoculars. Here i saw the largest Northern Studfish i have ever seen. I had
followed the stream down to the Buffalo in hopes of being able to snorkle at the
conjucture of the two flows. The green of the Buffalo quickly overtook the clear
water of the creek and i waved to the wide eyed children as i went back
upstream. I could hear the calls to their mommas of a big skin diver man that was
just here! Momma, Momma! At the first deep flowing pool i relaxed in and eased
myself upstream. Before me, caught unaware, were 2 massive Northern Studfish
on high presention to one another. Circling with full finage displayed in a
inwardly bowed body they were doing a mighty dance. The water was about 2' deep
here and they were on the bottom stirring up the silt. Caught up in their
intense activity they were unaware i was peering at them. Circling on and on about
each other, the bigger male flushed out the area below his throat and made the
most impressive image. Females were higher in the water column caught up in
the spectacle i presume. All were oblivious to my near presence. What a show.
When they did catch on to my nearness the larger male seemed unfalterd in his
promotion. Acknowledging me he continued to flaunt the smaller yet near equally
impressive male. I had seen the Southern Studfish spawn with a female in the
LIttle River a year or two ago just inches from my mask. But i have never
witnessed such an incredible display of male Studfish showmanship. What the heck
also goes on down there when no one is looking!
After this 10 minute episode i eased myself upstream... a wiz of red flashed
by and then another, TN Shiners, the brightest yet. Something is going on. I
thought to look upstream and at the crest of the riffle outflow shimmered a
swirling mass of pulsing orange red. Whirling vibrant hues glowed as if
illuminated from within. In the center swished and sashed a massive, spawning, full
pearlescent Stripe Shiner. Oblivious to the orange swirls he chased other sub
male Stripes away and hyper quickly would clasp and open jaw gape any female as
she entered his nest. Hordes of beautifully marked crayfish dug in the cobble
below seeking out eggs i presume. Overhead Mountain Shiners hovered and dashed
down intermittently. Rosefin Shiner males raced into the center and sandwiched
females quicker than the eye could relate back to the mind. An intense
breeding and feeding frenzy, everyone was caught up into the full hyperation act. I
gazed beyond wondering if a horny headed River Chubb was nearby. I never saw
one but know they are often shy and will lay in the distance awaiting my
departure. I had seen several at work building nests decorated with fishing lures in
the Little Sequatchie and witnessed Striped Shiners breeding in it also.
Today i had finally seen the holy grail that was described in Scott's book. For
years i have been hoping to see such a wonderful gift. From above the water it
is very mysterious, pulsing orange and red with the rippling surface it is
hard to imagine what it could possibly be. I wonder what the indians thought of
such a thing. A beautiful witness to spring and the creator of all.
Finally i moved upstream where i saw a fleeting glimpse of another possible
Blotchside Logperch. This was turning out to be indeed a fine site... legendary
for me as my first witness to a Tennessee Shiner spawn. I decided to walk
along the stream bank upstream and marveled at the jutting layered rock
formations along the steep banked side. The road was high above and i could hear the
crunching gravel as cars passed. Various shallow pools offered themselves and i
lay in the water catching glimpses of fish including a large Blotchsided
Logperch and a smaller one later. Three for this site. Never as common as Logperch
but this trip had presented me with 4 sightings.
Lightning and dark clouds began to sweep over. Rain pelted the water's
surface and milky, silted waterfalls began to drop from the road high above. I took
this as the opportunity to rinse my gear and rest under the bridge until the
thunderstorm had passed. Another full day of snorkeling though several hours of
sunlight were still available. I headed north to another small town, found a
chinese restaurant to make up for the previous lacking chinese meal before and
reviewed my books, notes and gazateer. On north to Bucksnort and I-40. I got
a room at an indian run motel but had to force bargain the advertized $26.95.
I still had a bit of daylight so i thought to do a quick scout for tomorrow. I
got confused after the first site and made a long disorienting 10 or 15 mile
wander before a kind person in a jeep had me follow her out to the freeway.
Whew... it was getting dark and i was stopped at an unmarked intersection with a
near zero idea of which way to go when she drove up. A relief to get back to
the motel and a bowl of Rudy's homemade banana pudding to end the day.
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