The water was a lot colder than I expected and I wondered if the effort to get into a dry suit was worth it. I doubted I’d see any fish as cold as the water felt. But Deer Creek was clear and I’m always grateful for good visibility, so I slid into the rapid.
At first there didn’t seem to be much life. The usual rock weed covered the boulders, but looked thinner and drab compared to summer. It looked likes the rocks were balding. I didn’t see any non-plant life, as the water stung the exposed skin on my face. I slid out into the fast flow and clawed upstream, into a familiar eddy behind a large familiar rock. This is where I go for short quick snorkels, when I just need to get in a river.
Smooth cylinders start to emerge on the face of the large boulder that forces the river flow to divide. Humpless caddis flies in the tubes extend their legs up into the current, to filter morsels of food from the water as it rushes by. They quake in the strong current, and my placement in the river changes the current dramatically for these small insects. Other caddis flies cling to algae threads on rocks.
I drift out of the slower eddy, and creep into the strong current where I am whisked downstream. I snag a rock edge with one hand and let my floating body trail behind. I feel free. I slowly crawl upstream against the strong water, and notice that there are hundreds if not thousands of caddis cases all facing up into the current, all with outstretched black legs into the current, feeding. I realized that while there isn’t the larger piece of biomass swimming by that I am used to here in the spring summer and early fall, there is just as much life here, carrying out important functions and filling important roles in the rivers food web. The river changes subtly until the changes add up and the place appears very different. A completely different group of animals compared to last trip, a new arrangement of gravel in the eddies, thinned rock weed, and more algae. The caddis become abundant in winter, shad in spring, minnows and eels through the summer. And each river has a slightly different seasonal procession. The extra effort it took to put on a dry suit was definitely worth it today, and I can’t wait to see how our rivers change as fall turns to winter.