Tennessee Valley Region
The Tennessee Valley Region went out to look at fish in Polk County, Tennessee, on Saturday, July 1, 2000. We met at the Conasauga River in Tennessee just north of the Georgia line and moved on further north to the Hiwassee River, in the Cherokee National Forest. Our numbers continue to grow; this trip included Casper Cox and his wife Trish, Dave Neely, Bruce Stallsmith, Steven Ellis and his son Jonathan, Patrick Vinas and his daughter (whose name I forget in my confusion), and Rob, a budding ichthyologist.
Where we met, the Conasauga is 15-20 meters wide and varies between riffles, shallow sand bars and quiet pools carpeted with leaf litter. The Conasauga is known for its crystal clear water, and an amazingly diverse fish fauna which contains several rare or endemic species (i.e., amber darter Percina antesella, Conasauga logperch Percina jenkinsi, blue shiner Cyprinella caerulea, trispot darter Etheostoma trisella). It was an exquisite summer day, sunny and not quite stinking hot.
We broke into smaller groups of snorkelers and seiners. The fish community was similar to what we had found in the Little River in Alabama. The list included:
chestnut lamprey Ichthyomyzon castaneus (observed snorkeling only)
largescale stoneroller Campostoma oligolepis
blue shiner Cyprinella caerulea (Threatened, released immediately)
Alabama shiner Cyprinella callistia
tricolor shiner Cyprinella trichroistia
blacktail shiner Cyprinella venusta
speckled chub Macrhybopsi sp. cf. aestivalis
bluehead chub Nocomis leptocephalus
silverstripe shiner Notropis stilbius
Coosa shiner Notropis xaenocephalus
riffle minnow Phenacobius catostomus (observed snorkeling only)
Mobile hogsucker Hypentelium etowanum
river redhorse Moxostoma carinatum (YOY only)
southern studfish Fundulus stellifer
mosquitofish Gambusia affinis
dusky banded sculpin Cottus sp. cf. carolinae
shadow bass Ambloplites ariommus
redbreast sunfish Lepomis auritus
redeye bass Micropterus coosae
Coosa darter Etheostoma coosae
greenbreast darter Etheostoma jordani
speckled darter Etheostoma stigmaeum
Mobile logperch Percina kathae
bronze darter Percina palmaris
blackbanded darter Percina nigrofasciata
bridled darter Percina sp. cf. macrocephala
The Conasauga also offered the antics of an inebriated Santa Claus look-alike who drove up, watched us and talked to us for a while and then took to the water. First he was merely swimming around, then he was soaping himself, and finally he was cavorting around as a 300 pound nude cherub. Quite a sight.
We held off on lunch and drove up to the Hiwassee, about 30 minutes north. The Hiwassee flows out of a giant crack in the south-west corner of the Smokies. It's about 60 meters wide where we set up, and the water was colder and faster flowing than the Conasauga, due to the effects of Appalachia Dam. We wound up working some whitewater riffles among fairly large rocks.
Seining is a team sport in this kind of water. Maybe the highlight of the day came when Dave had a sudden revelation that there must be a hellbender (Cryptobranchus allegheniensis) under one particular rock. (Dave's note: it was the biggest, flattest rock around- it just had to be there). We set the net just downstream of the rock, Dave lifted the rock and holy poop, a half meter long hellbender came shooting out into the net! We carried it in the seine up onto the beach and gawked at it for a while before releasing it (after a bunch of photographs). It impressed the hell out of some trout fisherman.
The fishes we found were typical of a high gradient stream near the edge of the Blue
Ridge physiographic province:
largescale stoneroller Campostoma oligolepis
whitetail shiner Cyprinella galactura
warpaint shiner Luxilus coccogenis
river chub Nocomis micropogon
Tennessee shiner Notropis leuciodus
mirror shiner Notropis spectrunculus
banded sculpin Cottus carolinae
rainbow trout Oncorhynchus mykiss
rock bass Ambloplites rupestris
smallmouth bass Micropterus dolomieu
blueside darter Etheostoma jessiae
greenside darter Etheostoma blenniodes
redline darter Etheostoma rufilineatum
snubnose darter Etheostoma simoterum
banded darter Etheostoma zonale
tangerine darter Percina aurantiaca
gilt darter Percina evides
To catch the tangerine and gilt darters, as well as fired-up male whitetail shiners, we
took advantage of having snorkelers and seiners together. The snorkelers would scout the
riffles to see what fish were where, and then signal the seiners to set up downstream.
Then the snorkelers would drive the fish towards the net, and with any luck the net could
be pulled up before the fish bolted. This technique proved amazingly effective for large
darters that are difficult to get by other techniques (though it would prove a lot
more effective if Bruce started on a weight-training regimen!). The tangerines were particularly stunning, bright orange undersides, a hint of blue to the lateral stripe, all offset with the pale olive dorsum. The redline and gilt darters were nothing to sneeze at, either.
We then checked out another site on Spring Creek, a small tributary to the Hiwassee just downstream of the reservoir, where Dave did an electrofishing demonstration, in an attempt to get a sizable sample of sculpins. The species list was very similar to the previous site, except for the absence of tangerine darters, and an abundance of logperch (Percina caprodes). Casper's vaunted blotchside logperch (Percina burtoni) failed to materialize, but it was still a great site.
We parted ways, weary from a hard day of sampling, but with a greater appreciation of the diversity of the rivers of the Southeast. It was yet another successful trip for the Tennessee Valley Region clan, visiting beautiful areas and collecting interesting fishes. The next trip will be to a site (to be determined) in Georgia.
- Bruce Stallsmith