NANFA-- The Conasauga Report

Bruce Stallsmith (
Fri, 07 Jul 2000 16:20:41 EDT

The Tennessee Valley Region went out to look at fish in Polk County,
Tennessee last Saturday, July 1. 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 (ie., 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 snorkleling 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 Macrhybopsis 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
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 sizeable 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 and Dave Neely

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