Day 2, Sunday May 22, 2016 Little River
After a relaxing evening at my brother's home, with him and Vee hosting and smoking BBQ, with all the fixin's, for my family and fellow Fishheads; Ed and Lance along with his lady friend Sarah, we were ready for an early morning plunge into the chilly Little River. I have a favorite spot there that i like to call "Star Bridge", so named for the imbossed stars in the structure's concrete. I first discovered this place years ago when Chris Scharpf was visiting and we went looking for clear water snorkel sites. The bridge has long been closed to vehicles but offers snorkelers convenient access to the river with a nice view from above. While standing on the bridge and looking down over the next few days we could see Chub mounds, swirled over with Tennessee Orange, patterned Hogsuckers, cruising Redhorse, crawling turtles and even identify crisply marked Warpaints. Next to the bridge are shaded picnic tables and a store that will fix you a Slaw Dog or Hillbilly Taco so just about everything one could need is on hand. Usually the tables are filled with bikers enjoying the beautiful winding highway leading to Gatlinburg but sometimes they lean out and yell things like... "What the hell are ya doing?".
I layered up with 2 suits while Lance outfitted Sarah in his dry suit. He had a thick wet suit but my brother only had a shorty and soon complained about body parts going numb. I think i got a reading of about 58 so he had about 15 minutes before going blue, chattering incoherently. I found a spot in the sun and called in the minners with my own chubby chub mound construction while Lance and Sarah headed upstream and my brother returned to warming dry land. I began to slow crawl downstream alongside the water willow patches as the flow was still running a bit high and turbid. I visually marked the depth on a vertical stone for later reference, much of the water willow had been bent over by the recnt higher water flow. I proceeded down as Redlines and Bluebreasts were dislodged form their lairs, all sporting their spawning attire. Blotchside Chubs, so nice to see and often rare in my wanders, were fairly common but too fast, shimmering green in the current, for my camera. All the Warpaints, Whitetails, Striped Shiners, River Chubs and Stonies one could expect to see. Even though it flows through a good bit of human activity all the way to the Smoky Mountains, this is a healthy river.
Sarah and Lance chillin' in the Little.
The gang after the first round, all but the outermost two braved the cold today.
Dave arrived and we had a warming lunch in the sun or shade and discussed options for our 2nd half of the day. My brother and his friend decided to head off for a wandering drive while Dave wanted to scout way beyond upstream looking for active mounds while Lance hoped to do some fishing upriver for a River Chub. I was content to stay here and make the most of what the water willowed riffle run offered.
Tennessee Snub flushed out with my downstream crawling disturbances. I like how is 2nd dorsal is marked, as the sand particals fly by
Sculpin, Mottled i suspect as a red band can been seen in his dorsal. Bandeds don't have bands, Mottleds do. Please tell, can that be explained with logic?
Looking down on a Bluebreast. I took multiple shots, relying on the camera's super macro mode and auto focus. The lack of a depth of field is beginning to trouble me, with only the pectorial fins being in focus. Super macro is nice to leave in mode as it allows a field of focus from 1 to 24". Oddly, when the LED light is activated it narrows to only 3 to 8". Still though, the lack of a reasonable depth of field is an issue.
A nice side pose, but again the lack of a crisp focus frustrates me. And this is the best of several snaps.
Looking down upon the Redline. They are so handsome... brightly colored, sharply defined with crisp marking.
These were their neatest poses, fins flared out, holding tight for a moment in the swift current, illuminated by the sunlight. You only have a brief opportunity before they would dart to another shadowed crevase. The picture does not capture the intense flow that Redlines inhabit, and holding the camera steady is impossible unless you can get close enough and plant the camera tight to a stone. It is best to stay downstream and work upstream flushing them into the light, minimizing all the grainular debris that one stirs up. Turning around you will find the Shiners, Chubs and Minnows looking for the tiny critters you dislodge.
I like this shot of another Redline peeking out at me, considering himself somewhat safe from predators. Note his intricate detail and coloring, though again i am disappointed that this camera is not tightly focused and does not offer a reasonable depth of field. I have tried many brands and models but these point and shot camers, though cheap and waterproof, do not seem to be sensative enough for these low light water world conditions. I may be wrong but i keep trying. I am tempted to spring for the latest model of Pentax's WG series.
I kept running across Blotchside Logperch, one of my favorite encounters, mostly downstream. Sometimes they quickly flee, not allowing a near approach. Other times you may get fortunate, especially with younger individuals as they flip stones and feed. Dave and i had been talking about them earlier his observations of their spawning behaviors. He said the female will find a nice spot, nudge, dig and push into the substrate with a shimmy wallow. I suspect she would be trying out the substrate's conditions for potential success. Sure enough i found a plainly marked, medium sized, Blotchside doing just that. I backed off and in a bit a bull male, his red banded dorsal fin flared broad, swam in, saw me, and promptly fled away. I held steady and continued watching the female's activity and again the male appeared, but seeing me he fled away, as before. Well it was obvious that his interest was hormone driven and i settled in for a patient wait as Dave has illustrated to me on numerous occasions. To my advantage the female was content working one small area, so i found a comfortable position to photograph from. Again the male returned, ever wary, but this time would edge closer and then back out, but now staying within sight. Repeating this behavior he would stay a bit longer each time, sometimes even mounting her briefly. Then my camera flashed... "Battery depleted".
This was the best shot, you can see the female below him. Even though my battery was exhausted i stayed with them, edging my camera ever closer, just seeing how close i could get. Eventually the both of them were doing their shimmy shake spawn. And that is how days sometimes end.
Lance and Sarah, and later Dave returned, waving the double arm signal from the distant bridge. After stripping my wetsuits, warming in the day's last rays and catching up on our activities we headed back to my Brother's where Vee had prepared a Greek meal special for us, all laid out to make our own Gyros. We sat outside, enjoyed the sky, and shared the day's highlights. Later inside we viewed some of our images on the twin TVs and Dave showed us some of his video work with Freshwaters Illustrated. Wonderful, dream inducing images we closed the day by.