From the NANFA discussion list, 24 September, 2001:

I had the opportunity to take another group of novice fish folks out into the water yesterday. The group, 20 folks in all, is the newest installment in the Cross Timbers Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalist program and yesterday's activities were a field trip designed to introduce them to some basic aquatic/wetland field ecology. The weather was absolutely perfect with temperatures just getting into the 80s and a cloudless sky.

We started by visiting an ephemeral pond site, now dry, to examine wetland vegetation and soil structures. We then visited an area of the Refuge known as Lotus Marsh where we investigated emergent plants and more water saturated soils. The participants then did dissolved oxygen tests and measured turbidity (they were amazed to see the secchi disk disappear at 15 inches! - no snorkeling here Casper). They also wetted a few dipnets and came up with water scorpions, glass shrimp, predacious diving beetles, whirligigs, fragonfly and damselfly nymphs, and a variety of other immature insects. No fish were caught which is not unusual as the Lotus Marsh had gone dry for about a three week period in August.

We then climbed into 4WD vehicles and headed up an abandonned road into an area where I had taken a few people earlier this year which was reported on this list. The road had not improved at all and this time I was hauling a trailer stacked with 8 canoes and all of the associated gear. After reaching our destination without incident (although we thought that the canoe trailer was going to topple over a couple times while climbing over some large rocks), we set about putting canoes in the water. The first canoe was in and the occupants had paddled no farther than 20 yards and spotted a 3' long alligator which cooperated long enough for everyone to see it. Half the group was to canoe a portion of the river (West Fork of the Trinity) immediately below Eagle Mountain Dam and look for evidence of the effects of flood water release and how it changes the overall aquatic system. The rest of the group was to go seining and dipnetting along the edges of the river and in some small sloughs.

The alligator sighting caused some to ponder prior to wading into the water but eventually everyone was standing knee deep and looking around them commenting that they didn't see any fish. The first seine haul brought up a large number of sunfish, mainly bluegill, a few Gambusia, and a beautiful freckled madtom...the first that I had found in this particular area (more about the madtom later). Everyone was suitably amazed at seeing so many fish come out an area that they thought was devoid of fish. They were astounded by the irridescent colors on the sunfish as they reflected the sunlight. None had ever heard or, let alone seen, a madtom so they were excited at this discovery. The madtom and a couple of small sunfish went into the collecting bucket.

Now that they had all seen a seine operated, I encouraged them to spread out and use the two seines and all of the dipnets that I had brought along. Thoughts of the alligator kept the people clumped until new discoveries elevated the excitement level and soon pairs and individuals were scattered throughout the area in search of new finds. Nothing really surprising came up; more sunfish, a large number of blackstripe topminnows, gizzard shad, a nice bigscale logperch, a few small largemouth bass, red shiners, etc. but everyone was thrilled with their finds. Some voyeuristic folks in a canoe also happened across a pair of mating watersnakes.

I had kept a few things in the collection bucket which in this case was a 2 gallon clear plastic candy jar with a screw-on lid complete with handle. Its size and the presence of the handle make it very easy to carry even while seining. Being clear plastic, it's unbreakable and handy for showing people what we have caught. One of the participants who is known for his outgoing and vociferous nature and who has a penchant for making grand hand gestures was holding the "bucket" and making one of his grand statements. As his hands began to tremble in an attempt to gesticulate, we watched in dismay as his grasp on the bucket loosen and it fell into the water. In his attempt to grab at the falling bucket, he dislodged the lid. He managed to grab the bucket, turn it upright and quickly pull it from the water and lost only one fish...the madtom...the only fish in the bucket that I really wanted! Oh well, how does that saying go? What doesn't kill us only makes us stronger or something like that?

All in all, chalk up another 20 people who have a new appreciation and respect for our native fishes and their plight. Now if each of them tell two friends, and each of them tells two friends....

Rob Denkhaus Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge
NANFA Texas Regional Representative