Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Great Expectations

I expected to see lots of fish here today, specifically trout. I snorkeled the Tucquan Creek before. The water was muddier then following some July showers, and the shadows of larger fish stayed in view just enough for my imagination to identify them as native brook trout, but they never came close enough for me to confirm the fictional id. The water was clearer on this early spring day than that day last July, and showers threatened as I suited up along side the creek. Tucquan Creek is remote feeling and looking. It cascades over schist shelves through a steep sided hemlock and rhododendron valley. The spring forest floor is covered in may apple, tooth wort, trout lily and a few trillium. It’s easy to imagine the eddies and holes filled with trout nose up in the current waiting to pluck insect morsels as they drift by. I expect to not only see these fish, but capture their images since the last time I was here the murk made catching a shot of them impossible.
The native trout populations in most streams have been replaced by non native rainbow trout, raised in hatcheries and released for fishermen to fish out. The put and take ritual is repeated every spring. Brown trout, also not originally from North America, have established widespread wild breeding populations, and often replace the native brookies. Tucquan seems an ideal candidate for remnant native bookies, or wild browns, at least based on its setting. But looks can be deceiving, and while Tucquan is definitely a special place, it may not be special because of the trout it holds. Turns out that the Tucquan isn’t listed as a trout stream at all, in spite of its stereotypical LL Bean troutish appearance. Maybe it’s the largely agricultural watershed with resulting muddy water after rains that limits the trouts ability to survive here. Maybe it’s the shallow riffles. Whatever the reason, the reported lack of trout doesn’t make the Tucquan less exceptional. This feels like a wild stream and that does something for my soul. When I snorkel here, I snorkel alone. There isn’t anyone else around who I need to explain myself to, which is typical at most other streams I visit. The ravine is deep and sheltered, and I look over my shoulder frequently, just to make sure a bear isn’t watching. Every once in a while a bear is reported from this region, and it makes the news since they are not at all common. But still this place feels wild and remote enough that if a bear were to be in the area, it would like to be here. The wildness, the deep holes and forceful chutes, all remind me that I am just another part of the larger whole. My actions matter. But in the end, we all end up recycled back into the living fraction of the planet, human and fish alike.
I change my focus from searching for elusive trout to exploring all the components of the creek. The views underwater are spectacular. Clean schist glistens silver. Green, red and black algal clumps wave in quiver in the current. Stone and may flies crawl along water smoothed bedrock and are worth watching as much as trout. Ameletid may flies cling to submerged logs. A tan shape shoots from under a rock to under a short falls. Could it be a trout? I crawl upstream towards a chute that cascades water over a one foot falls. The environment here is otherworldly. It is loud. All I can hear is the rush of water that sounds like a train, and air bubbles blind me. I pull myself through the current to behind the chute and witness the force of the water as it carves smooth holes in the sparkly silver orange bedrock. I don’t see any fish. I drift with the current back down stream, let myself experience the freedom of getting spun in an eddy, and look under a lone rock in the middle to a pool to find a brown trout. Turns out the Tucquan does live up to its LL Bean appearance.

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