Last weekend (9/6-7/02), at the invitation of NANFA MS Representative D.
Martin Moore, I had the pleasure of collecting in NE Mississippi with some
of NANFA's finest. I left Kennesaw, GA, about 9AM on Friday, and headed
west through AL. AL is one of my favorite places, so driving the width of
it all in the same summer day was a real treat. Daytime temperatures had
been hanging around the 90F mark for many days, but the heat was slow to
build on that morning. I took full advantage, rolling along with the
windows down instead of using the air conditioner. I popped a homemade
compilation of heavy metal into the tape deck, reminding myself to watch
the volume going through small towns.
Turning north on AL Highway 35, it was very difficult not to stop at Little
River Canyon to re-visit that little slice of paradise. Just beyond it lay
Ft. Payne (the official sock capital of the world) where the locals have
built a shrine to the memory of Chris Sharpf's fallen jeep. (-; Later, I
picked up US Highway 72 West moving in the direction of Huntsville, AL,
site of the 2003 NANFA Convention (be there!). To get there, I had to cross
the Paint Rock River, and once again had to resist the urge to stop and
collect. That was even harder than passing up Little River. I suppose I
could have avoided this torture by taking another route, but then my
curiosity about the new streams I passed would have been nearly as
difficult. So much water...so little time!
I reached Hunstville around noon. I wanted to get in touch with NANFA
President Bruce Stallsmith, who resides there, to see if he wanted to do
lunch. I stopped near the UAH campus and dug out my address book, only to
discover that I had written his number in my desk directory back at the
office, but not in the one I was holding. Phooey! Instead, I wolfed down a
snack and continued west toward MS. Just before I reached the border, I
turned onto the Natchez Trace Parkway for the last leg of the outbound trip.
This beautiful stretch of road is very nicely maintained. The entire length
of it is like a park, and the slower rate of speed helps motorists notice
the abundant wildlife. Right away, I began to see birds I didn't recognize,
a lone fox (four-legged variety), and buzzards with the widest wingspans
I'd ever seen. I passed several little springs. I knew that Casper had
mentioned Cave Spring, so I stopped to check on it. It was nice, but it
lacked one key element...water.
Just as I crossed into MS, I ran through what looked like a brief rain
shower. (We haven't seen much of that in GA this summer.) Martin's
directions were good, and I soon pulled into the gates of Tishomingo State
Park just as the rain graduated into a storm. I drove down the narrow lane
beside the lake, looking for the camping area. All too soon, the rain
changed into pea-sized hail. I pulled up under meager shelter beneath some
tall trees, but the wind quickly started to gust coming in from the lake.
At that point, the trees didn't seem like such a good idea.
I made one complete circuit through the camping area when I noticed a
familiar-looking truck. Sure enough, it turned out to be Martin Moore
(Jackson, MS) and his wife Kay. The campground was nearly deserted, being
the weekend after Labor Day, so we tentatively selected a campsite and
waited out the rain. I knew I wasn't going to camp out, so I motored up to
the nearby town of Iuka, and booked a room for the night. When I returned,
the rain had vanished. Martin & Kay already had their tent up and fully
equipped with all the best toys. We had about an hour to visit before
Casper Cox (Chattanooga, TN) and Ranger Bob Culler (Kingsport, TN) joined us.
The new arrivals wasted no time erecting their tents just as the sun was
setting. We still had the place pretty much to ourselves except for an
English couple in the spot next to Ranger Bob. Later on, he confided to me
that they snored with British accents. (-: Less than a mile outside the
park there was a wonderful little restaurant. Steaks and ribs quickly
erased the fatigue from the long drive as we swapped anecdotes and fish
tales from past trips. Seated at a large table among the locals, the food
was good, and the talk was better. The best part was that Martin generously
picked up the tab!
Returning to the camp, the tales continued for an hour or so as we enjoyed
the mild evening temperature, the campfire, and the sort of twisted humor
that seems to always attend NANFA gatherings. Beverages were drained as we
planned the itinerary for the following morning. I took my leave about 11PM
just as the park ranger was making his nightly visit to collect the rent.
I returned the next morning to find breakfast in the camp well under way.
As we waited for latecomers to arrive, we drove around checking out park
attractions that included a log cabin with an excellent beaver pond just
beyond it, some interesting rock formations, and a swinging bridge that
spanned Bear Creek. At the main lodge there was a reunion of the Civilian
Consevrvation Corps (CCC) attended by some of the same folks who helped
build the park many years ago.
Finally, we loaded up the gear and took off for the first collection site
of the day. After a couple of false starts, we sampled a tiny spring-fed
stream that emptied into Lake Pickwick. That one was on private property,
but the owner kindly granted us access. After a steep descent, we reached
the clear, cold water, which immediately yielded up southern redbellied
dace, creek chubs, and darters that I thought were blackside snubs,
although Casper and Ranger Bob expressed doubts. (After examining a photo
of one later, an expert guessed them to be Tombigbee darters [Etheostoma
Along this stream we also observed several Eastern box turtles. Following
the flow of the creek, we emerged from the woods on the shore of Lake
Pickwick. Among the fishes we found there were assorted sunfish and
silversides. Casper felt sure they were inland silversides. If they were,
this would be a range extension according to the Peterson's maps. After a
steep climb back up to the vehicles, we put Martin's new fish photo tank to
good use as we examined our catch. Casper treated us to some sort of new
Our next site (after much driving, map reading, and a change of navigators)
was on Indian Creek, just north of Iuka, MS, upstream of the TN River. That
stream was split into at least two channels in the area where we entered
under double bridges. The first side was narrow, but had some deep pools
broken up by logjams. The bottom was a mixture of sand & mud. Downstream
from the bridge we used the seine with fair results, hauling in striped
shiners, weed shiners, and an assortment of sunfish. Working upstream from
the bridge, Martin and I switched to dipnets, which worked a lot better as
the stream became smaller. Blackstripe topminnows were abundant, and easy
to catch. Martin caught one fish that appeared to be a creek chubsucker,
and we turned up lots of golden shiners. We disturbed a large snake, but I
couldn't tell what kind. It refused to hang around long enough for a photo.
Before long, we heard Casper hollering, so we followed his voice over to
the other channel. This one was considerably wider with a bottom composed
of sand and large gravel. A number of riffles looked promising. We kicked
up several types of darters (Casper found a single rainbow darter), but
mostly speckled. Casper and I netted a lone harlequin darter (very cool
fish!). We also got some sort of redhorse.
Martin and I found a tiny, spring-fed branch that opened into the main
creek. Following it back, we discovered a double oxbow before this
tributary became two distinct runs. One side apparently only flowed when
there was storm runoff. On that day, it was little more than a series of
semi-stagnant pools. The mud grew increasingly more treacherous as we
progressed. I finally began backing up when I reached an area that
resembled quicksand. (been there once...don't wanna' do it again!).
The other fork was cold spring water running over light colored sand. It
was narrow enough to step across in most places. In the shallow pools we
found juvenile SRBDs, stonerollers, and creek chubs. For the record, Casper
and I wore waders, Martin & Ranger Bob did not. Ranger Bob was the
overwhelming choice of mosquitoes at that site, so figure. He had
volunteered for a test case of West Nile virus the night before, so perhaps
they had just come out to accomodate him. (-; We spent quite a while in
that location before we moved onward, searching for rosyside dace.
Late in the afternoon, we arrived near the headwaters of Indian Creek where
it flowed under US 25, north of Iuka. After crashing through tall weeds at
the roadside, we found the stream coming out of two large culverts beneath
the highway. In the pools we found sunfish (one beautifully colored
longear), juvenile bullhead (yellow & black), madtoms, striped shiners, and
several types of darters, including speckled, stripetail, and more
Tombigbees. Weary, hungry, and pleased, we took our cue from the
lengthening shadows, and began the return trip to the camp.
Miss Kay had promised to cook us an evening meal, and she was as good as
her word. While she was preparing it, we had a chance to visit with Stott
Noble (Birmingham, AL) who had arrived at the camp earlier in the
afternoon. The food was excellent (perhaps NANFA wives should compile a
field cookbook!)...meat and vegetables done Southern style, followed by a
slice of watermelon. Ranger Bob demonstrated his talent for toasting
marshmallows while the rest of us kicked back, partaking of various types
of liquid refreshment. The talk was good, ranging from music, to the pros
and cons of WalMart, and wierd fish names. Unfortunately, I had to work the
next day, so I bailed out about midnight and returned to the motel. I'll
leave it to the others to fill you in on Sunday's activities.
Thanks to Martin Moore (and Kay) for putting together a great trip! Also,
special thanks to Dave Neely for ID help with the fishes.
Respectfully submitted to the NANFA MS Region,
Steven A. Ellis
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