Collecting: Fishes, Freebies and Prizes
Day two of the Annual Meeting began in B.G.'s suite, determining who would ride with whom for the first of our collecting forays. Casper worried that recent rain, and a forecast for more that day, would make collecting difficult, if not impossible. A light rain was falling when we convoyed out of the hotel parking lot for the half-hour drive to our first site, the Conasauga River and an adjacent tributary at and just east of USFS trail 61, one mile below the mouth of Jacks River. The water was indeed high and tough to seine, and rather chilly, too; only Casper and Stephanie, who wore wet suits, bothered to snorkel. We netted at least 14 species of fishes:
The endangered blue shiner was especially abundant, and we had to be careful to remove this fish from our buckets and coolers before we left. Ed Scott (of sculpin kabob fame) showed us how to skip sculpins across the water like a stone.
"I don't like sculpins," Ed said. "They eat darters."
Sure enough, we caught a four-inch sculpin with a three-inch darter lodged in its mouth.
It seemed to take us forever to drive to the next site. At one point, Dr. Etnier's van (he was leading the way) got caught in the mud along the side of a mountain road. Since Bob Bock was the only one who kept his waders on, he waded into the mud and gave the van its ultimately freeing push. But as the back wheel spun free, Bob got sprayed from head to toe with mud. Then Stott Noble fell on top of him. I refused to let Bob enter my Cherokee until he was out of his waders and cleaned up. Naturally, no one waited for Bob to change. By the time Bob finished, the convoy was way ahead of us and I had to double-time to catch up.
The second site was also on the Conasauga, on Ball Play Road a half-mile east of US 411. Dr. Etnier knocked on the door of a house that sat on the river's bank and asked permission for us to collect (and to park our vehicles off the road). Permission was granted. The water here was shallower than at the other site, and was therefore easier to seine. We caught most of the same species we caught at the previous location, plus the following:
We spent so much time collecting that we forgot about the military ration lunch Casper had gotten us (not that missing such a lunch was a bad thing). In fact, it was now pushing dinner time, and we had reservations at a fancy restaurant back in Chattanooga. So we packed our coolers (removing the blue shiners that snuck in), and high-tailed it back into town for a quick shower and a fine sit-down meal.
After dinner we returned to the NANFA Room for collecting of another sort--freebies and prizes. Piled on a table were a number of aquarium products--cans of fish food, ammonia removers and the like--Casper had gotten various manufacturers to donate. We took turns removing one item at a time for our personal grab bags. Bigger items like filters and air pumps were auctioned off. B.G. served as auctioneer, with all proceeds going to NANFA's "coffee can." Then we drew the prize winners to the NANFA fundraising raffle from out of a box.
I did not attend the next day's collecting trips, but I know that the weather was nicer and everybody had a great time. The first site, North Chickamauga Creek, was pretty much a bust; the water was high and raging, and few fish were caught. At Falling Water Creek the water flow was surprisingly normal; rainbow, Tennessee snubnose, and redline (Etheostoma rufilineatum) darters were in abundance. More of the same were caught at Wolftever Creek, along with blackstripe (Fundulus notatus) and blackspotted (F. olivaceus) topminnows. After dinner, most everyone went to Casper's place to watch Peter Unmack's video on the desert springs of Ash Meadows, Nevada, and the Virginia Tech video Swimming in Troubled Waters: America's Nongame Fishes.
The next morning, Monday, was time for final good-byes and last-minute fish swaps ("I'll trade you one tri-color shiner for two southern studfish"). We lamented the fact that we had regular lives and jobs to return to. And we wished that we could have spent more time together.
All the more reason to get together again, next year, in Illinois.