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North Chick Gorge

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#1 Casper

  • NANFA Fellow
  • Chattanooga, TN alongside South Chickamauga Creek, just upstream of the mighty Tennessee River.

Posted 10 August 2016 - 04:41 PM

North Chick Gorge   July 19 2016
What a difference a thunderstorm makes.  I returned to the Mill Site and scouted 3 other locations.  At all 4 sites the water was higher, sluggish and green.  Very unappealing, and disappointed i was.  Remembering another option i headed for the higher water in the Gorge.
Some call it the Blue Hole, others the Pocket Wilderness.  It use to be unsafe to park your car here as you had high odds of returning to a broken window.  Today it is used by many and on weekends staffed by TWRA officers, and being observant i saw no sign of fresh glass in the gravel.  Properly it is referred to as the North Chickamauga Creek Gorge, directing the water's flow off the plateau to the valley below, be it steeply, cutting a cascading gash into the mountain's side.  After parking one can follow the bouldered creek downward a short distance or hike upstream for a mile to the Blue Hole or further tieing into other trails.  I was content to check out a short length today, convenient and offering near all i would see otherwise.
I arrived about 11 am and noted about 6 or so vehicles already parked.  I followed a trail heading downstream to avoid any activity as most folks hike upstream to the blue hole.  The water was clear and comfortable.  Silt covered the rocks of the first pool i laid in but i was pleased to see a couple nervous Stonerollers, a species i do not recall seeing before in this steep stair stepping series of cascading pools.  Kayakers love North Chick because when the Winter's floods come, with adrenaline they ride the rushing torrents to the valley below.  They call it "Creeking" and do not show up for work when these conditions present themselves.  Today it was quiet but i could see the current higher water level marked on the rocks, maybe an additional 6" above a silt line.  there must have been an isolated thunderstorm recently.  In addition to the Stonies a Logperch appeared flipping stones in the clean cobbled run, another pleasant surprise.  6 species of Sunfish showed themselves... Bluegill, Redbreast, Green, Rock Bass, Smallmouth Bass and Longears.  Several of the Smallmouths were juveniles sporting their bright yellow tails.  I am told of Hellbender DNA in the water but officially none have been found.  I suspect there is a nice tributary stream on the plateau that offers a small population refuge.  In severe droughts many of these pools dry with most of the water flowing underground, beneath the boulders and cobble.  In fact in the valley below the first few miles of stream bed are often dry.  Being limestone though this helps buffer out the harsh chemistry as years ago large areas on the plateau were strip mined.  Northeastward, near my parent's farm, there use to be green pools in the gray slate mounds of high alkalinity that in our youth we swam in.  But i have also heard acidic, so i am not really sure what the chemistry is / was.  A bit of research would tell for those interested as there is a North Chickamauga Creek Alliance just as there is one for South Chick.  Another surprise was a Rainbow Darter peeking out from under a stone.  On a previous visit i had even found a pair of Yellow Perch which mystifies me as to their ability and motivation to ascend the Gorge.
I explored 200 or 300 yards, cautiously rock stepping from pool to pool.  It was a wonderful day, blue sky with a couple gentle showers breaking the sunlight.  When my first battery expired i returned to the van and noted an additional 20 or so vehicles had arrived.  When i returned again at 4 pm there were even more.  It is a great place to cool off and many folks take advantage of it during these hot Summers with no school.  The only disappointing element is the trash some carelessly leave behind.
Here are a few photos...
Guiding the way in.
Lens already wet, looking downstream towards the valley floor.
The inviting view up the gorge.
Caution!  I have never seen hornets build there nest against rock like this.  2 nests were found, identical in their orientation.  You better be able to run fast if you ever disturb hornets.  I would take a plunge ASAP and hope my snorkel baffle works as advertised.  Another good reason to wear a hood too.  I can think of nothing worse then mad hornets.
Silt level line 6" below current surface.  Small Smallmouth a passing blur.  The pockmarks are from the Stonerollers i suspect.
Redbreast cruising over the 1st pool's silt.
Longear, ear trimmed bright white.
I pulled a few stones from the muck and stacked them enjoying their clean reflections.  This gorge is filled with round rocks, tumbling down smooth during every rugged storm flow.
Shot above and below.  The lens is only about 1/2" x 1" and difficult to gauge, however fun to experiment with.  I always enjoy seeing other's split screen shots.
Yellow tailed Smallmouth Bass cruising over the stones after i swept away the silt, checking for any tasty goodness exposed.
Looking upstream a small cascade is exposed, churning oxygen into the water.  Most of the Gorge's watery flow is beneath the tumbled stones.
A pair of Loggies working the bits of cobble.  Once they are in a pool they are trapped and must hope that particular pool does not dry.  Nature can be harsh and the patrolling dinosaur relics, the Blue Herons take full advantage of any fish trapped in the shallows.
Small pools and runs linking each to the larger.
The biggest pool had a stone stack assembled by one of the many who visit these pools to cool in the sweltering Summer.  Some reject them but the creek has its way ultimately and there is little here to disturb.  Interestingly the bigger pools, those with more human activity seemed much cleaner, free of any silt buildup, i suspect it being washing down to the next smaller pool such as the one i first lay in.  I like the reflections of this image as the top third is a reflection.  This water is very clear and i am fortunate this site is so close to my home.  In the valley last week, several twisting miles downstream, Rob and i counted 26 species in 3 hours.  In this rugged gorge i counted about 10 today, a very different habitat.
Species for the day:
Sunfish: Bluegill, Redbreast, Smallmouth, Longear, Rock Bass and Greens.
Stonerollers, Logperch, Rainbow Darter.  That be 9 and i have seen a few others in the past.  At other similiar regional gorges i see more minnows such as Telescope Shiners.  Always a treat to put your mask on and see what is to be seen at each different site.
The most interesting activity i observed today was the nest guarding Green Sunfish.  There were 3 distinct males each at their own nest, and each male was distinctly colored.  This is the first male and he was very silver white, trimmed in white and quite nervous.  But very, very beautiful.
The 2nd Green was more brassy and easier to photograph.  His nest was located just a few yards away.
The 3rd Green was the proudest, boldest and even nipped my pinky a few times.  Well reasoned as his nest already had eggs to guard.  Greenies are often looked down upon and can be quite invasive, washed down from stocked farm ponds above.  But these were proud and beautiful fish to see on such a fine day.
It was nice to see a large herd of Stonerollers in the largest pool, flashing bright mirrored sides in the sunlight as they graze.
A last view, artfully blurred by a wet veneer on the lens.  How does one snorkel with a dry towel on hand?  I keep thinking to try a bit of shammie ™ lanyard'd handy to my camera.  My day was ending, as i needed to pickup my youngest from driving school.  
A bit of a surprise as i recently discovered a touch of Louisiana just a few miles from North Chickamauga Creek and my old HS.  They have been open one year now, and this week half price specials!  Besides the tastiness i enjoyed the hand painted folk art signs on the walls.  One is passing along a nifty invitation for you Fishheads to visit Chattanooga and the Tennessee Aquarium.  I might consider taking the well mannered amongst you to some clear water.  I will be doing so this weekend for a small group gathered by a NC man of knowledge, plunging them into the crystal clear and cool Conasauga.  Nowhere better to be during these high 90's swelterin' days.

Casper Cox
Chattanooga, near the TN Divide on BlueFishRidge overlooking South Chickamauga Creek.

#2 Chasmodes

  • NANFA Member
  • Central Maryland

Posted 11 August 2016 - 04:27 PM

Awesome report Casper, just like being there.  Not many reports leave me feeling this hungry though :biggrin:

Kevin Wilson

#3 dsuperman

  • NANFA Member

Posted 11 August 2016 - 07:45 PM

Very nice report. Lets eat O:) !

#4 MtFallsTodd

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  • Mountain Falls, Virginia

Posted 12 August 2016 - 03:24 AM

Really enjoyed the sunfish pics, thanks for sharing.
Deep in the hills of Great North Mountain

#5 Casper

  • NANFA Fellow
  • Chattanooga, TN alongside South Chickamauga Creek, just upstream of the mighty Tennessee River.

Posted 12 August 2016 - 06:10 PM

I appreciate the responses fellow fishheads.


It was a fine day and i have taken advantage of several more since then.


A few days later, 4 to be exact,  NC's Steve Fraley was in town for a family reunion.  He asked me to take some of his first time snorkelin' cousins to somewhere nice.  North Chick fit the request perfectly being convenient, scenic, crystal clear and with comfortable temperatures.  The bonus were the rock flipping Loggies, grazing Stonerollers and a world of Sunfish.  A bit disappointed though i was, as all 3 of the previosly nesting Greenies had been displaced by rocks reworked by folks deepening the pool.  I could find none of the nest guarders, hoping to get some of those cousin's pinkies bit, always a good show and tell!  We had a nice time for a couple hours and they headed to places far away while Connie and i went to the mill site to check on the conditions.





Distant Cousins ready for a clear water submersion.



9 days later Connie wanted to take a couple of the boys she had been nannying during the Summer, so Connie and i, a friend and her son bringing along the 2 brothers all rendezvoused at the parking lot and walked down to the favored swimming hole.  The boys were sharp eyed and spotted several water snakes and added a hefty Hogsucker to the Gorge's fish list.  The bonus was finding another Greenie vigorously guarding fresh eggs.  I met a family visiting from California and the young son was intent with some sunfish.  I took him to the Greenie for a good finger nipping.




Holding their breath.





Queen Snake.





Green Sky.





The Spark of Life.



Just a couple days later Jeremy and Dave were visiting and needed a relaxing break from their film projects, so sans camera gear we headed to the North Chick Gorge.  Even though it was a weekday the parking lot was already full by early afternoon.  We hiked down to my favored pool and found it occupied by a couple Grandmothers and their rock hopping, splash happy Grandsons.  After a bit they left and were replaced by a family and their black leather cowboy hatted Pa intent on entertaining all the pool's and the neighboring pool's visitors with a loud juke box.  Being neither Death Metal, Hip Hop Rap or Corn Pone Country i eventually kinda enjoyed it, seemingly fitting to the day.




This Small Mouth reminds me of the Coosa, Redeyed Bass of the Conasauga.  Perhaps a transplant.





Redbreast taking a peek.





Aqua Blue Reflections.





Hammersmasher teasing the Coal Bender.








As the afternoon ended we headed back to the house where Jeremy took drone footage of the Cement Pond, South Chick and the Swinging Bridge by sunset and they treated me to a late evening dinner at the Cracker Barrel.




Casper Cox
Chattanooga, near the TN Divide on BlueFishRidge overlooking South Chickamauga Creek.

#6 Matt DeLaVega

Matt DeLaVega
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  • Ohio

Posted 12 August 2016 - 10:31 PM

Coal bender is quite artistic. Like it

The member formerly known as Skipjack

#7 gerald

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  • Wake Forest, North Carolina

Posted 13 August 2016 - 10:50 AM

Does Jeremy have horizontally split pupils like Anableps for viewing above and below water?

Gerald Pottern
Hangin' on the Neuse
"Taxonomy is the diaper used to organize the mess of evolution into discrete packages" - M.Sandel

#8 mattknepley

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  • Smack-dab between the Savannah and the Saluda.

Posted 14 August 2016 - 08:13 PM

Fantastic looking site. Love those tiny mountain headwaters. I know the legalities can be an issue, but it still surprises me Lepomis sp. aren't more popular with the cichlid-loving set.
Matt Knepley
"No thanks, a third of a gopher would merely arouse my appetite..."

#9 Casper

  • NANFA Fellow
  • Chattanooga, TN alongside South Chickamauga Creek, just upstream of the mighty Tennessee River.

Posted 15 August 2016 - 11:01 AM

I mentioned the DNA studies going on in search of the Hell Benders.  I understand it has been confirmed that is a Coal Bender and another oddity, Dave Herasimtschuk.

I might make it back once more this year but i have three Conasaugas this week.  Things are different over there.  Summer historical average is about 100 and currently it is 40, perhaps puddles only.  

Edited by Casper, 15 August 2016 - 11:43 AM.

Casper Cox
Chattanooga, near the TN Divide on BlueFishRidge overlooking South Chickamauga Creek.

#10 Isaac Szabo

Isaac Szabo
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  • The Ozarks

Posted 17 August 2016 - 04:34 PM

Nice photos. It looks like a very scenic place to snorkel. 

#11 Casper

  • NANFA Fellow
  • Chattanooga, TN alongside South Chickamauga Creek, just upstream of the mighty Tennessee River.

Posted 18 August 2016 - 02:07 PM

Nice photos. It looks like a very scenic place to snorkel. 



Remind me on your next visit, but your not gonna wanna be wearing that weight belt.


It is mostly for quiet bliss when the wireless juke boxes and weekend splashers are at a minimum.  Very scenic, walk slow, save your knees.

Casper Cox
Chattanooga, near the TN Divide on BlueFishRidge overlooking South Chickamauga Creek.

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