NANFA-- Fun in the water in Texas

Denkhaus, Robert (DenkhaR_at_Ci.Fort-Worth.TX.US)
Sun, 23 Sep 2001 12:33:35 -0500

I had the opportunity to take another group of novice fish folks out into
the water yesterday. The group, 20 folks in all, is the newest installment
in the Cross Timbers Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalist program and
yesterday's activities were a field trip designed to introduce them to some
basic aquatic/wetland field ecology. The weather was absolutely perfect
with temperatures just getting into the 80s and a cloudless sky.

We started by visiting an ephemeral pond site, now dry, to examine wetland
vegetation and soil structures. We then visited an area of the Refuge known
as Lotus Marsh where we investigated emergent plants and more water
saturated soils. The participants then did dissolved oxygen tests and
measured turbidity (they were amazed to see the secchi disk disappear at 15
inches! - no snorkeling here Casper). They also wetted a few dipnets and
came up with water scorpions, glass shrimp, predacious diving beetles,
whirligigs, fragonfly and damselfly nymphs, and a variety of other immature
insects. No fish were caught which is not unusual as the Lotus Marsh had
gone dry for about a three week period in August.

We then climbed into 4WD vehicles and headed up an abandonned road into an
area where I had taken a few people earlier this year which was reported on
this list. The road had not improved at all and this time I was hauling a
trailer stacked with 8 canoes and all of the associated gear. After
reaching our destination without incident (although we thought that the
canoe trailer was going to topple over a couple times while climbing over
some large rocks), we set about putting canoes in the water. The first
canoe was in and the occupants had paddled no farther than 20 yards and
spotted a 3' long alligator which cooperated long enough for everyone to see
it. Half the group was to canoe a portion of the river (West Fork of the
Trinity) immediately below Eagle Mountain Dam and look for evidence of the
effects of flood water release and how it changes the overall aquatic
system. The rest of the group was to go seining and dipnetting along the
edges of the river and in some small sloughs.

The alligator sighting caused some to ponder prior to wading into the water
but eventually everyone was standing knee deep and looking around them
commenting that they didn't see any fish. The first seine haul brought up a
large number of sunfish, mainly bluegill, a few Gambusia, and a beautiful
freckled madtom...the first that I had found in this particular area (more
about the madtom later). Everyone was suitably amazed at seeing so many
fish come out an area that they thought was devoid of fish. They were
astounded by the irridescent colors on the sunfish as they reflected the
sunlight. None had ever heard or, let alone seen, a madtom so they were
excited at this discovery. The madtom and a couple of small sunfish went
into the collecting bucket.

Now that they had all seen a seine operated, I encouraged them to spread out
and use the two seines and all of the dipnets that I had brought along.
Thoughts of the alligator kept the people clumped until new discoveries
elevated the excitement level and soon pairs and individuals were scattered
throughout the area in search of new finds. Nothing really surprising came
up; more sunfish, a large number of blackstripe topminnows, gizzard shad, a
nice bigscale logperch, a few small largemouth bass, red shiners, etc. but
everyone was thrilled with their finds. Some voyeuristic folks in a canoe
also happened across a pair of mating watersnakes.

I had kept a few things in the collection bucket which in this case was a 2
gallon clear plastic candy jar with a screw-on lid complete with handle.
Its size and the presence of the handle make it very easy to carry even
while seining. Being clear plastic, it's unbreakable and handy for showing
people what we have caught. One of the participants who is known for his
outgoing and vociferous nature and who has a penchant for making grand hand
gestures was holding the "bucket" and making one of his grand statements.
As his hands began to tremble in an attempt to gesticulate, we watched in
dismay as his grasp on the bucket loosen and it fell into the water. In his
attempt to grab at the falling bucket, he dislodged the lid. He managed to
grab the bucket, turn it upright and quickly pull it from the water and lost
only one fish...the madtom...the only fish in the bucket that I really
wanted! Oh well, how does that saying go? What doesn't kill us only makes
us stronger or something like that?

All in all, chalk up another 20 people who have a new appreciation and
respect for our native fishes and their plight. Now if each of them tell
two friends, and each of them tells two friends....

Rob Denkhaus
Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge

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