Monday, May 9, 2011
The shad have been running for a few weeks now, and I am as in awe of their migration today after being in the water with them a dozen times, as I was the first day of their journey this year. It’s the sign that I look for that says spring is here, though the water is still frigid.
I spent too much time in the water one day last week watching them, as I tried for the perfect shot that never arrives, and hauled out shivering. I stripped out of my wetsuit and laid on a warm slab in the sun. Four herons also watched the shad, with the intention of making a smaller one dinner. Caddis flies hatched and in the water beneath my rock, the fresh water miracle of spring continued - shad passed upstream. Others have joined the shad since the first day of their journey. I saw carp with the shad over the last week and a large eel bisected a school in an eddy.
The shad draw more humans as well, and available parking spaces became rarer as the shad run increased. Room on the river to snorkel between fishermen got a little tight. Herons and humans, shad and carp all participate in this rite of seasonal passage.
But the spring migration has crescendoed and is now trickling away. There are fewer fishermen, more parking spots, and less fish. I’m a little disappointed to see all the action and excitement of this incredible journey go until next year. Witnessing the upstream drama, and to experience a little of it by swimming with the fish on the journey makes me feel alive.
One of the thrilling encounters this year was swimming with a school of quillbacks as these tanks of fish made their way against a strong current through a rapid in Deer Creek.
I have been around for 45 years and still learned a lot this spring about who migrates. I never knew quillback traveled upstream in search of gravel beds to spawn. I never really looked for them. It was a true thrill to hold onto the bottom in the midst of 6 of these large fish. They seemed to acknowledge and accept my presence and kept on pumping their caudal fins against the current, right next to me, so that I could feel the pressure waves coming off their tails through my wetsuit. Learning like this makes life exciting.
I wanted to swim with the quillbacks one more time. These were my big discovery this run. I learned their ecology, where they fit into the stream system, where they migrate from and to and I learned how to swim with them, how they respond to my presence so next year I should be able to get closer to them. But I will have to wait 11 months to find out. In the meantime, the underwater seasons of our streams march on, and I am off to try to witness and capture the breeding colors of green sided darters.