Okefenokee Outing, April 2002
The Okefenokee expedition was met with excellent weather and even better participants! Seventeen people from 7 different states converged on Waycross, GA, beginning the afternoon of 3/29/02. Some may still be down there! It was a hard place to leave.
AL sent the largest group including NANFA President Bruce Stallsmith & First Lady Ruth (Hunstsville), former NANFA President Dick Stober (Mobile), David Smith (Mobile), Charles Ray (Auburn), and Jody Schnurrenberger (Auburn). From TN, we had the TN Regional Rep. Casper Cox & son Coby (Chattanooga), and Lamarr Eddings (Chattanooga).
From SC, we had Chip Rinehart (West Columbia), and Dustin Smith (Newberry).
MS was represented by MS Regional Rep D. Martin Moore (Jackson).
From FL, we had Doug Dame (Interlachen).
KY sent us Geoff Kimber (Lexington) who brought along his whole family, although Madame Kimber and the little Kimberlings opted not to go collecting with us.
As the GA Regional Rep., I was proud to bring along my stepson Jonathan Massie (Marietta), Joey Gullo (Marietta), and myself (Kennesaw).
For the kick-off of the season, this was an incredible turnout considering the great distance some had to travel. Ironically, severe thunderstorms hammered most of the home locations we left behind while we enjoyed warm weather and mostly clear skies. In fact, one member of the TN group went home sporting quite a sunburn. I wisely left Atlanta just as the Final Four traffic was arriving. Can I pick 'em, or what?
I think my group was the first to reach the motel on Friday, followed closely by the SC boys who collected all the way down to Waycross. Others trickled in later until we decided to make a brief run up the road to Perch Creek, the place I scouted a week before. As the sunlight vanished, we collected some pygmy killifish, Okefenokee pygmy sunfish, Everglades pygmy sunfish, juvenile pickerel, bluespotted sunfish, lined topminnows, and gambusia. Under the cover of low-flying bats, we made our way back to the vehicles and returned to Waycross. By the time we got cleaned up, most of the AL party arrived, and about ten of us went out to Shoney's for a group meal. For many of us, this was our first live contact with each other. A local baseball team had already beaten us to the meeting rooms so we pushed tables together along the front windows.
By morning, everyone was on-site at the motel where a massive fish swap broke out just after breakfast. Cool fishes from all over the SE changed hands (or buckets). A little after 9AM we assembled a long line of worthy vehicles and proceeded to the first location, a place called Twelvemile Post. Someone had rudely placed a gate across the road I wanted to take, but we found other water nearby.
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Most of our party attacked the lake with dipnets, while Jonathan and Joey tried hook and line fishing in a nearby creek. We caught many of the same fishes as the night before as well as other aquatic creatures such as tadpoles, sirens, water scorpions, and crayfish. Ruth Stallsmith served as our botanist for the trip, collecting a number of interesting plants. One of them, called sundew, was a red carnivorous plant that sort of resembled a venus flytrap. No live alligators were sighted, although we did find gator vertebrae scattered along the shoreline. Before moving on, we tried seining the creek where the boys were fishing and pulled some good sized fliers.
After lunch at the Waycross Huddle House, the next stop, near Argyle, GA, was Peters Creek. Although it looked promising, it was basic devoid of fishes. We did find just a few pygmy killies, some E. evergladei, and gambusia. The noteworthy entry here was the astonishing number of tadpoles. Just a casual dip of the net brought up hundreds of the tiny black wigglers. They were so numerous that I can't imagine such a small body of water could support them all when they make the jump to frogs. I suspect that many of them will supply large chunks of the food chain long before then.
Turning the nine-car caravan around, we went off searching for two large lakes nearby. On the map, they looked huge, but when we got there they were not to be found. A new growth of pine trees suggested that this area may have been drained and planted with trees to be harvested at a later time. It's rather alarming to think that entire lakes may be disappearing to support the lumber trade. Anyway, from there we traveled on up to US Highway 82 to a boat launch on the Satilla River. Along the way, I'm told, one of the guys from TN fell asleep at a stoplight! (-: Steep banks and deep black water made collecting difficult at this part of the river. Whie searching for a better approach, I had a rather close encounter with a large black rat snake. I thought briefly that we might lose the Snorkelmeister when Casper, attempting to cross the river, went in over the top of his waders. I think I would have backtracked at that point, but he just kept coming. When the water got neck-deep, he resorted to swimming the rest of the way across. You just can't stop this guy from getting wet! Later, at the foot of the boat ramp, we used two seines at once and began to pull in taillight shiners, a few at a time.
From there, we returned to Perch Creek where we had sampled the night before, and nearby Fullwood Creek after that. As the sun began to get low in the sky, I sadly had to pull out and head back home. I was scheduled to work the next day, so I really had little choice. As I said goodbye to one of the finest groups ever to visit GA, Casper was already leading them on to the next location. Thank God for a good relief pitcher. (-:
With a little help from my friends, I believe this is a reasonable list of species collected over the weekend:
Banded pygmy sunfish
Several folks stayed to collect on Sunday. Among these, Casper was supposed to snorkel in a borrow pit, so other reports should be coming in later. Also, I am assembling all the photos I can for a pictorial. Thanks to everyone who made this trip so successful, especially Dustin Smith who had the idea in the first place, and Dick Stober who organized most of the western bunch. This is a trip that really needs to be repeated at some point, perhaps to include the use of boats to get back into otherwise unreachable areas. Experiences such as these make me really proud to be a part of NANFA. GA welcomes y'all back anytime!
Steven A. Ellis
And now for Casper Cox's account of the trip! Click HERE.