On Monday morning I drove north with the idea of exploring the upper Buffalo
River. I had no sure spots and just used a map to guess at what might be a
good area. The Buffalo itself turned out to be too milky for snorkeling. I
don't know if this is always the case or if it was just because of all of
the rains we've had.
I found a small cold clear creek called Allen's Creek and decided to give it
a try. The visibility was very good and the cool water had the fish in
excellent colors. There were numerous Saffron Darters and the males still
had a good yellow coloration making identification easy. Rosy-side and
Southern Redbellied Dace were very common. I saw my first Blenny Darter in
some rapids at the head of a pool. Rainbow and Greenside Darters were
common and there was some sort of fantail darter there.
My next stop ended up being Rockhouse Creek. This was an excellent area and
I spent most of the remainder of the day here, snorkeling from the bridge to
where it emptied into the Buffalo. All of the fish I saw at Allen's Creek
were here except for the red-bellied dace. The snubnose darters were not
colorful, but I believe there were Saffron and Tennesee Snubnose Darters. I
counted ten Blotchside Logperch over the course of the stream. There were
also Mountain, Tennessee, and Rosefin Shiners. Northern Studfish were
plentiful and some still had excellent colors. I saw two Blenny Darters,
but wasn't able to get too close to them. They sure are a wary fish.
The highlight of the Rockhouse were the spawning masses of Tennessee
Shiners. A farmer's gravel road crossed through the stream and this formed
a parallel ridge of gravel that the shiners were using for a spawning sight.
There were two very large spawning masses of bright orange Tennessee
Shiners. In with them were Rosefin Shiners and a couple of large Striped
Shiners. I took four Tennessee and two Rosefins for my aquarium. That
along with a couple of Saffron Darters ended up being the last collections
of my trip (I tried later for Swannanoa's but gave up).
It was now late afternoon and I decided to head for the Harpeth River and
then find a place to stay for the night. When I got to the Harpeth it was
very high and churning with mud. I then decided to make a radical change in
my plans and head east to find clear upland waters. So, I drove all the way
to Crossville with plans of hitting the Emory River the next day.
The Emory was wonderful, everything I could have hoped for. It was nice to
put away the nets and just observe for the day. What I wanted to see most
was the Turquoise Shiner in breeding colors. Sure enough I found a
brilliant male holding down a territory over a large flat rock in fast
current. It was absolutely stunning in color with bright shimmering
turquoise. I ended up seeing quite a few of these fish, but that one had
the best color. Tangerine Darters were abundant as where Redline and
Greenside Darters. Bluebreast Darters were fairly common and I believe I
also saw a few Wounded Darters. One interesting fish was what I believe was
a hybrid between a Tangerine Darter and a Logperch. It had the Tangerines
build, including the rounded face, but the markings were like a Logperch.
Back home, I know of a stretch of the Ottertail River where I would say 25%
of the darters are hybrids between Blackside Darters and Logperch, so I'm
thinking this isn't too unusual.
On this same trip I went to Frozen Head State Park and saw Tennessee Dace in
a couple of the pools on the cold stream there. There were a couple of
colorful males, but most of the dace didn't have much color.
Late in the day I snorkeled Clear Creek and had wonderful visibility. It
was so clear it was almost like I was looking through air. The pools within
the rapids were stunning. At one point there was a huge stoneroller covered
with tubercles. I though to myself that here was a fish made for war. I'm
guessing that this was his last moment and he was going out in all his
My final day of snorkeling was dictated by the weather. The forecast showed
showers more to the west and north so I headed for the Little River. Again,
I found everything I hoped to see (the fish gods must have liked me this
trip). At the highway 411 bridge I saw one or two smaller Longhead Darters.
The visibility wasn't that great so I quickly proceeded to a spot along
Walland Road that had excellent visibility. Here I found four more Longhead
Darters including one huge one. It was great to watch it at my leisure as
it hunted amongst the rocks. At one point along a two foot stretch of river
bottom I had the huge Longhead Darter, an Ashy Darter, and a Tangerine
Darter, and in the general vicinity there was a Blotchside Logperch - not
too shabby huh? The Ashy Darter was very nice, though not as sexy as those
red-lipped Cumberland populations.
In one part of the pool there was a sunken tree and here there were three
Longhead Darters lurking and hunting along its branches.
On the south bank of the river there was a rock cliff dropping off into very
deep water. Here there were a bunch of Longnose and Spotted Gars lurking.
Other fish seen in this stretch of river were Gilt, Greenside, Redline,
Bluebreast, Blueside Darters, Logperch, and Mountain, Mimic, Warpaint, and
I went further upstream into Smoky Mountains National Park and saw a bunch
of trout and still some Tangerine Darters.
My final stop was at the West Fork Little Pigeon River. Here there were
Greenfin and Swannanoa Darters. I tried for a long time to catch a
Swannanoa and I finally had a nice male, but my transparent dipnet was
inside out and I ended up bouncing the darter about three times like a
ping-pong ball off my net before it flipped back into the river. I finally
caught a female, but decided to let her go and give up trying to collect.
The last observation I want to pass on was of some absolutely brilliant
Warpaint Shiners. I had no idea they could get so colorful. There were two
very large individuals and two medium size ones with these colors. Their
normal markings were very intense and they had a rosy hue to their sides and
their eyes were jet-black. They were totally amazing. It makes me want to
start taking underwater pictures. They were hanging around large rock piles
that River Chubs were building. The River Chubs had swollen heads and were
picking up large stones and carrying them to their piles.
Well that's a summary of my trip. As always I could have used more time.
I'm writing this in a bit of a hurry before I head off to see the folks for
Father's Day. I apologize for any grammatical and spelling errors.
I look forward to seeing everyone at next years convention and then maybe
hooking up for some post-convention collecting.
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