by Rob Carillio
I have always loved the kinds of streams located in Ashtabula County, Ohio,
mainly for the interesting geological features, but one in particular tha
thas always been an enchanting memory, is Phelps Creek, located in the
deepest S.W. corner of the Amish influenced county.
With its highly visable evidence of "natural artwork" sculpted by glacier
activity, Phelps Creek boasts thick and healthy riparian zone and is
undoubtedly one of the more healthy and scenic streams in North East Ohio.
The medium-sized tributary is a major tributary of the State Scenic and Wild
River, The Grand River, and is part of the Lake Erie drainage.
The particular site I would visit on a beautiful early October afternoon,
welcomed myself, Trumbull County Metroparks Board Member Bill Flynn, NANFA'S
Nick Zarlinga and his wife Linda, and of course, the best wild bird sound
imitator I have ever heard, Lake County MetroParks Naturalist, Jeff Rebe. We
gained access to the stream near the old 1863 covered bridge, which had long
been closed off due to liability situations. Since we couldn't cross it, we
had to literally climb a steep embankment of rocks down to the creek bed.
Although a little challenging, this only added a spice of adventure to the
Taking just a moment, I feel compelled to comment on the wonderful historic
coverd bridge at the acess point This bridge was well over 40 feet above the
stream and supported by large sandstone block columns! Oh well, in any
event, this covered bridge alone was worth the trip to at least get some
post card perfect photos! The trees in Autumn colors of red, yellow, brown
and green coupled with the rocky cliffs and Phelps Creek lazily flowing
below, was a stunning sight to behold near the bridge! Summer's end was
evident as the waters of the creek were very low.
Since it was almost 6pm, we obviously weren't going to have much daylight,
so we started wading the stream!! Outdoor temperatures were in the high 60's
to low 70's, water temp was around 65 degrees. Nick, Bill and Jeff were the
primary fish seekers, as I basically handled the buckets! Hey...I'm for
hire.. Do all of you hear that? HA! We all suddenly heard something raising
a ruckus in the hemlock trees high above the gorge. Look up in the sky! Up
in the forest canopy. What did we see?? No, not Darterman... BUT...
approximately four wild turkeys! This was quite inspiring, seeing that in
recent history, these birds were absent from Ohio!
Another impressive sight was the small waterfall up stream a little way. As
we were hiking the strembed searching for nice sampling spots. we were
becoming lost in our own little world, when we were informed by a woman
atop the gorge banks that we were venturing on private property! Nick
Zarlinga took the liberty and explained to the wary property owner that "her
stream" was the subject of high naturalist interest, and that we were just
trying to see what species inhabit the diverse habitats in the stream! Nice
Finally findind some nice sampling areas, Nick, Bill, and Jeff, were able
to sample various pools. These were the only habitats available due to the
low water levels. By the way, Linda Zarlinga, who in recent days has not had
much luck with hiking in natural areas (she broke some bones on a recent
trip!), found a safe solitude on a large stream rock that made a perfect
sitting spot! Linda had the right idea, as she knew how slippery the stream
rocks were! I almost fell twice!!! Now the fish finding would begin! Using
various methods taught by "The Nick Zarlinga school for the INSEINE" we were
able to locate in a couple hours only about 10 species. This was largely due
to the nets getting caught on large rocks.
Although Phelps Creek boasts a diverse assemblege of native fishes, on this
late afternoon, our inventory read like this: Johnny Darter, Rainbow Darter,
White Sucker, Common and maybe Striped Shiner, Blacknose Dace, Bluntnose
Minnow, Central Stone Roller, Mottled Sculpiin, Northern Hog Sucker (a big
fella!), Creek Chub, Sand Shiner, Green Sunfish, Fantail Darter, and some
various Crayfish. (Roger Thoma, where are you?)
As darkness began to cast foreboding shaddows upon Phelps Creek Gorge, we
thought is best to pack up the gear and begin climbing out. I thought this
was difficult climbing down with empty hands. (Try climbing UP, with buckets
full of fish and water!) Phelps Creek Gorge, in the early evening, can
appear quite spooky! This was fitting for October, as I now know what
Ichabod Crane felt like when he was riding his horse fearfully slow heading
home from Sleepy Hollw! I hope to return to this extreemly picturesque
stream, perhaps in the Spring time, when water is a little higher, and
fishes are in full breeding color. This is a "best kept secret" kind of
place in North East Ohio, and I think anyone would find the trip worthwhile,
even if just to enjoy the scenery of this enchanting place! It's a natural
gem, amidst the highly populated north east portion of Ohio!
Thank you Nick and Linda Zarlinga, Jeff Rebe, and Bill Flynn for attending
this small but quality gathering. And thank you Nick for your hospitality as
we ventured back to your home to unwind, examine what we caught, eat, and
just talk fish! . Oh., by the way, I can't forget to mention what a great
native tank you have!
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