There is a dead man in the creek.
Clear water beckons.
Last week i had told visiting Rob about the Rock Creek experience and he promptly drove off the mountain a few days later to check it out for himself. His response was "Stellar!". Now i do not use that word often and we determined to meet up there Saturday about noon and see if things had changed during the last week or so since my visit. I was the first one in and was soon mystified as to why i was not seeing near the quantity of fish i had on my recent visit. The water was flowing a bit more but only by an inch or two over the log jam. The water was still clear but only a few Snubs were seen in the sloping sand run and no Duskys appeared though i looked long and hard through the woody debris.
Fleeing Caudal Spots
Around here we have two forms of Snubs, Tennessee Snubnose Darter and the Black Darter. A trained eye has difficulty discerning the two species and i have given up long ago. Something about a frenum and the two center caudal spots fusing. Blacks are more common in plateau streams and smaller urban springfed streams. You tell me, and you can clearly see the two center caudal spots are NOT fused. As for a frenum they gotta be dead done gone. They are the most common species encountered around here and seem to do well in a variety of habitats. They are most handsome in the early spring when the water is cold cold.
A bit blurry but many are home.
Off to the side i reapproached the Redbreast nest and again the male fled. I studied the textured surface but could see nothing unusual but snapped a few photos anyway. After looking close at the blurry photos on my studio monitor i can see many transparent globes with tails, larval sunfish! This Daddy was not doing a good job of protecting his offspring!
Rob headed a good ways downstream while i played near the bridge chasing Rainbows and Bigeyed Chubs. When he returned and reported nothing but more log jams, stagnant water and a few Hogsuckers we decided to wade upstream as he had done alone a few days before. Crossing above the log jam i soon saw where the larger schools of Chubs and Shiners had moved to, i suspect using the slightly higher flow allowing the transition. After patrolling the quiet log jam pool we waded upstream and found a nice graveled run, long and deep enough for us to snorkel crawl up to the head. Ideal in its structure and full of life but too shadowed for photos, i did catch a quick glimpse of some type of juvenile Sucker adding another species to the growing list.
Continuing on we came to the spring seeps i had recalled from years before. Gentle multitudes of little geysers danced sand particals into tiny plumes. Sand boils welled up from the clean sand amongst the lush mossy growth covering the larger stones. The water rippled in the sunlight where the cold spring water mixed with the warmer water flowing from upstream, creating a shimmering effect. This is where the creek gets its steady flow from, making ideal snorkeling conditions downstream. Tracking down spring locations is a rewarding activity in this region. Not surprisingly many springs are found erupting from the rock bones of streams
We will snorkel just about anywhere clear.
Rob beneath the crackly wires and in the tingly water.
After 2 or 300 yards we arrived at the railroad crossing where another log jam was pushed up high against the massive timbers, redirecting surging storm flows to the right which had washed out the land from under several railroad ties and now progressing into the road as well. Surely this track is no longer used and authority's eyes are observing the situation. I would think a team of railroad chainsaw wielders would set upon this woody jam and relieve the pressure upon their investment. But for now, water clear and a bit warm gently flowed out from under the jam as a beautiful narrow rivulet filled with a variety of fish whom were gathered in the outflow.
Rob wanted to continue on beyond the bridge but i thought better of it and stayed behind to tease out photos and enjoy the site below. I eased into the outflow as much as comfortable and twisted my head to see a school of Stonerollers grazing on the algaed rocks to my right. Twisting a bit more i could see Gambusia at the surface. To my left were Bigeye Chubs mixed with Striped Shiners, and directly ahead were the Darters. I moved the poking rocks from my belly and cleared away a few bigger stones directly ahead of me and flushed out the bits of silt and debris. Soon this little concave wash was being visited by Rainbows and Snubs hunting the freshly exposed substrate for teeny tiny morsels. I hoped to see a Redline, a specie that i recalled from years before but after about 30 minutes none were observed.
The same with a pair of Snubs.
I moved down stream to a nice log to rest and remove sharp gravels from my Keens, an awkward affair. I eased back into the water and rested my chin on the slick log and could clearly see all manner of fish swimming just below the surface on the other side of the log. I relaxed, near motionless and let time pass marveling at the Sunfish school made of Bass, Redbreasts and Bluegills clearly defined as they passed to and fro. Mixed amongst the Sunfish was a lone Hogsucker swimming back and forth as if he too was a Sunfish. I could clearly observe every detail on his body from his black flag dorsal to his sucker mouth and various patterns on his back and sides. And with the fish was a large lone Stoneroller, also swimming with the Sunfish school. I considered it odd and thought they must feel lost from their kind, but trying their best to fit in.
I noticed a saucer nest just up from me and straddle crossed the log and eased back in and up to the nest's edge. Sure enough out of the haze the Redbreast came forward to see the big eye before him. I eased a finger in and he backed off just a bit but stayed close. I teased the sand and he came forward to inspect the activity and nudged my finger. I diddled in the sand a bit deeper and he nipped at my pinky. The longer i gently teased the more aggressive he became and was soon not only pecking at me but outright biting and then biting hard and holding on tight! I looked up to see Rob clammering down from the railroad log jam and figured i had one good chance. The next time the Robin bit and held i would push is chin into the gravel and sweep my other hand over, cup and catch him for a real live action photo. Quicker than me he slipped out in a flash and that was enough for him and me. While i told Rob of the affair and caught up with his upstream adventure the Robin did not make a reappearance. A nice hand photo would have made the story better indeed.
Rob had interesting news as he found a series of bouldered pools above and reported a Spotted Sunfish being the apex Sunfish, a dark whiskered Catfish deep in the shadows and most surprisingly, a Yellow Perch. We only rarely see Yellow Perch here and they are always associated with cold water be it springs or minimal flow dam releases.
The Robin Bites
By now we had stirred the water up quite a bit and returning downstream we just slowly waded through the cloudy water. My pinky needed a bandaid and Rob was sunburnt red in his Farmer John yet shivering from the chilling spring water so we decided enough was enough and drove back to St. Elmo for some Mojo Burrito and fresh made guacamole.
Rob has been using a digital SLR in an underwater case. Viewing his edited photos on his laptop has been impressive indeed. Hopefully he will share some of them and i will add those photos to this account along with the CNF Conasauga outing he accompanied me on.