NANFA-- Texas Native Fish Weekend Report - really long

Denkhaus, Robert (DenkhaR_at_Ci.Fort-Worth.TX.US)
Wed, 19 Jun 2002 15:58:08 -0500

Over the weekend of June 14-16, members of NANFA and the NFC embarked on the
first of what will hopefully be many native fish forays in the state. This
event was held at the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge (FWNC&R), which
contains a long and relatively natural stretch of the West Fork of the
Trinity River. This is our story...

Friday, June 14
The event started out slowly as only Rob Denkhaus (NANFA host for the
event), Charles Anderton (NFC host for the event) and Charlie Anderton
(Charles' son) were in attendance at 6:30 p.m. for Steve Campbell's
presentation on Cottonmouth behavior and avoidance. Instead of having a
regular presentation to such a small group, we chose to just sit around
talking fish, snakes, and everything else while waiting for others to
arrive. Steve Campbell is an Aquatic Education Specialist for Texas Parks &
Wildlife (TP&W) and has an extreme interest in both herps and fish. Steve
remarked many times that he was thrilled to find that there are groups of
non-academics who are interested in nongame fish! The possibility of
cooperative activities between TP&W, NANFA and NFC were discussed at length.
Steve promised to join the organizations in the near future. While we
talked, Matthew Fisher (Katy, TX) called to say that he was sitting on
Interstate 820 with a flat tire and would be staying at a friend's house
before coming out in the morning. Our group was beginning to grow!

It was well after dark when John Bongiovanni pulled into camp. He and his
wife had made the long journey from Tyler, TX to find the original four
sitting at the campfire enjoying a cold libation or six. John works in
Athens, TX home to the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center. He and Steve had
some friends in common who work there and we discussed a group visit to the
site at some future date. The calls of barred owls accompanied the
crackling of the fire as we shared fish tales and discussed the next days'
activities before finally turning in sometime after 2 a.m.

Saturday, June 15
The day started early for some. Charlie was first up and had the fire
burning brightly since it was surprisingly cool and damp for a Texas June
morning. John had to run his wife over to a relative's house in Dallas.
After a bit of breakfast, we headed up to the interpretive center to meet
the rest of the group that was coming in for the day.

At the interpretive center, FWNC&R staff members John Shaffer and Travis
Tidwell joined us. John is a junior high school science teacher most of the
time but has worked as a seasonal naturalist for many years. He runs the
FWNC&R canoe program and is intimately acquainted with the local waters.
Travis is a summer intern who has been on the job for a week. He was told
to come prepared to get wet and really had no idea what was in store for
him. Also joining us were Dan Northcut (Dallas), a new NANFA member and
president of the Dallas chapter of the Texas Master Naturalist program, and
Karen Green (Keller, TX), a member of the Friends of the Nature Center who
had seen an event notice posted in the interpretive center and just thought
that it sounded like fun. Dan, it should be noted, is also an environmental
science teacher at St. Marks School of Dallas and has several native tanks
and an outdoor pond on exhibit at the school. Matthew Fisher also caught up
to us and John B. got back before we left. Our group now numbered 10 as we
loaded up into a caravan to head to the first site.

We started on the south end of the Refuge in an area known as Greer Island.
The Greer Island area is at the head of Lake Worth, a reservoir that was
constructed in 1914 to provide drinking water for Fort Worth. Greer Island
was originally a wooded hilltop along the West Fork but is now an island
that is accessible via a causeway. Our intent was to sample along both
sides of the causeway and along the adjacent shoreline.

After some initial hesitation at wading into the murky waters of the West
Fork and a bit of instruction (for the novices) in how to operate a seine,
we plunged in. The first run with the seine pulled up a beautiful
orangespot sunfish and everyone was hooked.

The species list for this area included:
Orangespot Sunfish
Redear Sunfish
Longear Sunfish
Largemouth Bass
Gizzard Shad
Inland Silversides
Big Scale Logperch
Red Shiner
Freckled Madtom
Creek Chub
Long Nosed Gar

Non-fish fauna observed or encountered included: Glass Shrimp, Dragonfly and
Damselfly nymphs, various crayfish, water scorpions, various diving beetles
including Belastomatids, and one unidentified water snake which Charlie
wisely did not scoop up into his net.

One of the highlights of our time at Greer Island was having a news crew
from the Fort Worth city cable channel in attendance. Rob Denkhaus was
interviewed regarding why the event was happening and what we hoped to find.
John B. was interviewed to apparently learn why someone would drive so far
to look at fish. They promised to give a copy of the feature to the nature
center when it's finished and hopefully this will be available for viewing
at the convention in August.

By chance, while they were filming Charles and John B. were making a run
with a seine through water that suddenly became deeper than they were tall.
As Charles tried to save his cigarettes from floating away, they managed to
hang onto the seine and regain their footing. When they brought the seine
up they had caught one of the most beautiful longears and the first redear
sunfish known to be collected on the Refuge. The camera was able to capture
the vivid colors of the fish and the excited reactions of the participants.
In addition, Dan had managed to catch an 8-inch gar complete with all the
frills on the fins.

Before leaving Greer Island, Karen, who had come along because she thought
that it might be fun, had learned how much fun it really is and Travis, who
was told to be prepared to get wet and so had brought waders, had
experienced the joy of not being able to stop sinking into the muck bottom
as the water reached up and over the top of his waders.

Next, we moved up river to another causeway which divides the West Fork from
an area known as Lotus Marsh. This site offers easy access to two very
different habitats. Now that everyone was experienced in seine operation,
we spread out more and worked both sides of the causeway.

The species list for this area included:

Orangespot Sunfish
Longear Sunfish
Black Crappie
Largemouth Bass
Blackstripe Topminnow
Blackspot Topminnow
Big Scale Logperch

Non-fish fauna collected in the area included: damselfly and dragonfly
nymphs, dobsonfly larvae, various crayfish, and glass shrimp.

One of the highlights of the area was watching a large clubtailed dragonfly
nymph catch and consume young Gambusia. Dan wanted to keep the invertebrate
predator for his classroom tank but when it went after one of Charles'
topminnows, Dan wisely released it.

The news crew had followed us to the site to finish their filming. Proving
that they were not true outdoors people, the reporter tried to film his
intro and conclusion while standing on a fire ant mound. Since he was
wearing sandals, we recommended that he wade into the water to rid himself
of the biting pests but he refused saying that he didn't know what might be
in the water...

Young Travis also encountered a biting pest as he learned how not to pick up
a dobsonfly larva. When Dan pulled the invertebrate from the net and asked
what it was, Travis volunteered to take a look and received a painful slit
in his finger for his trouble. The offending larva later became food for a
hungry fish.

Also in this area, Karen showed that she has the right stuff to be a true
native fish conservationist as she single handedly cleaned up a huge pile of
beer cans that some *^&%^^%# had left along the shore.

Before finishing up in the area, Rob challenged anyone to seine a
particularly thickly vegetated backwater slough on the river side of the
causeway. The vegetation, primarily hornwort, makes seining difficult but
provides plenty of cover for fish and invertebrates. Not wanting to pass up
a challenge, Dan and Charles waded in. The area proved to be full of
crappie and other sunfish. Keeping any required a gallant effort on the
part of Karen who fought her way through shoreline brush and an aquatic
jungle in order to get a bucket to the intrepid fish collectors.

After Dan and Charles had climbed out of the slough, we headed up to the
interpretive center to sort the catch and have some lunch. Charlie A. and
Steve C. had to say goodbye because of other commitments but Dr. Lou Verner,
Urban Wildlife Biologist for TP&W, then joined us. Lou had recently removed
the tropicals from his 125 gallon tank in preparation for going native!

We then moved northward into an area that lies below Eagle Mountain Dam and
is the area where alligators are most commonly seen on the Refuge. Rather
than walk the 2 miles to the site, we all loaded into a 4wd S-10 pickup
(yes, 10 of us) and made the long journey complete with having to stop and
move trees out of the way and using the 4wd to get through mud holes and
over rock piles.

No alligators were seen but the fish were plentiful. The area's species
list included:

Orangespot Sunfish
Redear Sunfish
Largemouth Bass
Gizzard Shad
Red Shiner
Blacktail Shiner
Blackstripe Topminnow
Blackspot Topminnow
Inland Silversides
Longnose Gar
Black Buffalo
Bluntnose Darter
Big Scale Logperch

Non-fish fauna observed included: glass shrimp, dragonfly and damselfly
nymphs, water scorpions and crayfish.

The highlight of this area was catching a 2-feet longnose gar and an
approximately 2-pound black buffalo while seining. Seeing a big fish in the
net was quite a thrill for those that had never experienced it. Another
highlight was finding the blacktail shiners as they had not been recorded
for this area before.

After returning to camp for a quick and refreshing cold drink, we reconvened
at the interpretive center to sort the new catch. Lou claimed a number of
fish to stock his 125. Dan claimed one of the 8" gar and the 2 lb. buffalo
as well as others to put in a 240-gallon tank at school. Karen chose not to
take any fish...yet. Matthew had to go but promised to return in the
morning. John S. and Travis, having put in a full day's work, left for
home. Our group was down to Rob D., Charles A. and John B. and we still had
our speakers for the night!!

Once again, because of the small group, the presentations became more like
conversations. Dr. Tom Hellier, of the University of Texas - Arlington,
spoke with us about the impact of exotic introductions on natural systems
and a variety of other interesting topics. One unrelated, yet fascinating
story that Dr. Hellier related was that he was the person who first
introduced Archie Carr to sea turtles. Dr. Carr then went on to become the
foremost authority on sea turtles.

Our second speaker was Armin Karbach, former curator of fishes at the Fort
Worth Zoo. Armin discussed some of the history behind the now defunct zoo
aquarium and how it operated. He also discussed some of the projects that
he had been involved with in both the US and in Mexico.

After the speakers, we retired to camp where shortly after we had retreated
to our tents, a mighty storm blew in. Rob's tent was lifted and twisted and
finally demolished by winds that were reported to have reached 80 mph. Rain
fell and lightning flashed as the intrepid fish enthusiasts cowered in their
tents. When morning finally dawned, it was as if nothing had ever happened
during the night. Deer were wandering around the edges of camp. A Carolina
wren was busily working on a nest under the cover of the picnic shelter and
barred owls continued to call throughout the morning.

Worn out from the previous day's activities and a restless night, the
remaining three, Rob, Charles, and John B. decided to call it a weekend and
all returned home but not before making tentative plans to do it all again.

Rob Denkhaus
Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge
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