NANFA Mississippi Trip,
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.
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 11 PM 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 Conservation 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 lachneri].)
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 hybrid moonpies.
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.