NANFA-- Little River, AL, trip

Bruce Stallsmith (
Sun, 11 Jun 2000 19:17:47 EDT

On Saturday, 10 June a group of NANFA members including Casper Cox, Bruce
Stallsmith, Jonathan Massie, Steven Ellis, Patrick
Vinas, and Dave Neely converged on the Little River, Cherokee Co., AL. The
Little River Canyon is a National Preserve, flowing
for about 18 miles through a 300-400 foot deep canyon as it runs off of the
Appalachian Plateau towards the Coosa River
(well, now Weiss Reservoir). The river picks up little suspended material in
the canyon, so water clarity is exceptional. A
series of large falls in the canyon restrict fish movement upstream, so the
fish community in the upper river is not
particularly diverse, characterized mostly by green sunfish, stonerollers,
and creek chubs. In contrast, the river below the
canyon has a fairly diverse fauna, including one of the best populations of
the Federally Threatened blue shiner (Cyprinella
caerulea). The canyon itself is reason enough to visit, but the snorkelling
is exceptional.

A park at the canyon mouth provided a nice rendezvous point, but as with all
National parks, collecting is illegal without
an additional special permit (Look, but don't touch!). The nice Park Service
ranger was happy to just stop Steven & Bruce as they netted; don't collect
in National parks! We snorkeled the deep pools at the canyon mouth for an
hour or so,
seeing several large longnose gar (to 2m!), three Cyprinella taxa in full
breeding splendor (Alabama, blue, and tricolor
shiners), Mobile logperch in great abundance, and some large freshwater
drum. The full species list totalled 18 species.
This was Jonathan's first time snorkelling, and he seemed rather enthralled
to check out the diversity below. Water
conditions were perfect, even with just a shorty wetsuit.

[One warning to other people who might want to visit this spot- it seems to
be a popular spot with many of the locals. This
in itself is not a bad thing... except some of these folks should not be
allowed to wear bathing suits in public. Bleech! I
wasn't aware they even made them in such large sizes...]

We then drove down to the AL Hwy 273 bridge, just below the park boundaries,
where we seined for an hour or so. Lower "big
fish" diversity, but many more darters and minnows. Bronze darters (Percina
palmaris), Mobile logperch (Percina kathae),
greenbreast darters (Etheostoma jordani), and speckled darters (Etheostoma
stigmaeum) were all in abundance. We were
assisted at this site by a large dog who helped chase fish into the seine,
and only ate a few of the minnows.
The highlights of this site were a large southern studfish (Fundulus
stellifer) in dazzling nuptial coloration, a couple of
blue shiners which were quickly released, and a tuberculate male Alabama
shiner. We drew our second check from the law at this site; while we were
seining a sheriff's deputy stopped and asked some other people who we were.
We had identified ourselves to them earlier as scientific collectors (true,
we both have Alabama collecting permits), and the deputy left without
directly questioning us. Make sure your licenses are in order!

We then scouted for sites along Big Wills Creek, hoping to find some sculpin
populations for Dave. The mainstem was deep,
muddy and slow, so we backtracked to Little Wills Creek in downtown
Collinsville. This tributary had extensive watercress
growths along the margins, and fairly clear water so we decided to give it a
shot. Casper saw some minnows which he thought
looked like rainbow shiners (Notropis chrosomus)- an ID which was verified
with the first seine haul. In fact, they were
relatively abundant here, along with some boldly patterned sculpins (Cottus
sp. cf. carolinae), stonerollers, Coosa darters
(Etheostoma coosae), green sunfish, and both spotted and redeye bass
(Micropterus punctulatus and M. coosae). Steven tried
out a backpack electrofishing unit for the first time, with much success
(Bruce will soon have slides of this).

After preparing a couple of coolers with tank fish for the ride home, we
parted ways, with the unanimous agreement to do it
again really soon. A great time was had by all. Thanks, Casper. And it
appears that we have a Tennessee Valley NANFA region.

Dave & Bruce

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