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10 Jul

Click here for map of outing.

keywords: fish, streams

This is how many of us see a creek. Perhaps, if we're fishers, we envision who's below the surface. It is a quiet, terrestrial world from this perspective.

Draw a seine through this stretch of water, and one realizes the life below the surface. In this case, we caught Common Shiner, Golden Shiner, Bluntnose Minnow, Creek Chub, some flavor of young Sunfish, a juvenile Rock Bass (?), and a young Largemoth Bass. (We survey these streams periodically with a DEC permit and, aside from a few fish which are kept in tanks for educational purposes, we count and return the catch.)

Fish in a bucket are not easy to identiy, nor are fish in the hand. This little aquarium (the "V" shaped portion gets filled with water) lets you inspect and photograph live fish closely. All the photographs in the fish guide which we created (see end of blog for link) were taken using an aquarium like this. Not only can one get a convenient shot, but...

when curiosity gets the better of you, and you throw self-respect to the wind and don mask and wet suit to plumb the 2' depths, the pictures from the aquarium are a much better representation of what you see below water than are any photos of dry fish. A fish's colors can change dramatically between air and water. Those wet suits may look silly, but they substantially extend the amount of time one can spend sight-seeing in a cool stream before turning into a purple-lipped, shivering land lubber.

And what a world it is as one sinks beneath the surface.

A world with a rippling silver ceiling, and "air" that pulses on your face; a world where "down" is defined not by the pull of gravity but by the tug of the current.

Fish, like these Blacknosed Dace, dance in the current. See the link below for a short video of their 'rippling in the breeze'.

Click here to view short video of Dace in the current amidst the flotsam that is their food.

Moving up-current, one begins to find the fish who have found a safe eddy to rest outside of the flow's pull.

Coming closer, one sees that it is a Brown Trout, nestled amongst the fine and waving roots of terrestrial plants like Willow.

The water forest of roots from outside the piscean world.

These areas of fast water and rapids have little time for mud...

These are the cobble-stone stretches. Only the larger stones can resist the water, the sand and mud are carried to slower nooks downstream. That stonework is the refuge of the likes of Mayflies and Stoneflies. Tasty morsels whose only hope of avoiding the maws in the water overhead is to spend their lives tucked in tiny, rocky crevices.

Where the stream widens and the current eases, sand begins to appear below you. Here, young white suckers scurry back and forth.

And debris accumulates. This is the land's donation of food to the stream. Together with whatever plants and algae grow within the water itself, this is the foundation of life in these creeks.

This young common shiner, blurred by his fast movement and the low light, hopes to dine on any of the tiny creatures who may nibble at the leaves and twigs, either here below the surface or, should they slip and fall, in the aerial world above.

Common Shiners do not get much bigger. Like many of the minnows in our stream, 5" can be large. Earlier in the year and slightly upstream, I saw these adults spawning. Flashing their red nuptial colors as they writhed in a shallow, rocky portion of the stream. The video below lets you watch their courtship.

 

Click here to view short video of these spawning Common Shiners. (What’s their true color? The shot above was ‘corrected’ to remove the fogging of the waters; the video was not. What do the fish below the water see? Truth is in the eye of the beholder.)

 

Finally, having ducked beneath a bridge, we reach the deeper, quieter waters of the pump house pool. Here, the need for irrigation water has meant a pool has been maintained.

The slower water leads to a muddier world. Home to crayfish...

paused Suckers...

a Sunfish nibbling at the aufwuchs (a fun word for the slime of life upon surfaces like wet rock) and a hungry Creek Chub hoping for someone small and edible...

... this is a pond within a stream and, aside from the Sunny, this pond predator - a young Largemouth Bass - has also settled in.

For a moment, as I raise my head (and camera) above the water to leave, the upper echelon of life seems dull and mundane. If I weren't so cold, and if this drier world weren't whispering its "ought-to-do's", I'd gladly go back below.

Several years back, we put together a guide to some of our common stream fish, illustrated with photographs of live fish (taken using the small aquarium shown earlier); you can download it here. Other resources, such as the books of C. Lavett Smith and of Robert G. Werner, can also be very helpful.

May these tools help you explore the stream’s small universe. Happy fish watching (to use the title of one of Smith’s works)!

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Posted by on July 10, 2011 in Nature

 

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