Tennessee Valley Region
Trip Report, July 1, 2000

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