Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Thick Herring and a Couple of Shad
I heard there were tons of herring holding in the pool at the base of the falls near the Amtrak bridge on the North East Creek. The last time I was in the North East I admired the alien stream scape of a significantly degraded creek, just upstream of the falls. The bottom was a flat sand, mud and gravel plane that was covered in tan and olive algae. Oxygen bubbles formed on the algae and added quicksilver highlights. Castle spire fronds of algae reached toward the surface where enough bubbles formed to provide lift. The North East is pretty significantly degraded by sedimentation and eutrophication, over fertilization that makes too much algae grow. Still this section was interesting, messed up as it was. It was a nice place to visit once but there were many other streams for me to explore, so I never returned. Until I heard about all these fish holding at the base of the falls. A thick furry growth of too much algae covers everything. I can see it from the surface and I wonder if this trip will be similar to my last…a swim over an interesting stream scape, but one that really didn’t hold much diversity. Then a few tails slapped the surface as the fish struggled their way up through the rapid. The herring were here. The bottom is angulated fractured bedrock and drops to a 4 foot hole. The first fish I see is a large log perch, large as far as log perch come. A school of some kind of medium sized minnow swam upstream along the bottom. A few sunnys held in a corner of the deeper pool. A hefty eel hunted. I couldn’t believe the diversity here. In just a few minutes I saw a half dozen species of fish. Then the herring arrived. Schools of the silver fish swarmed around me in an energetic mating frenzy. Many of the silver torpedoes swam into me. I never swam with so many fish. The four foot hole became filled thick with herring and a couple of shad. Herring and shad numbers have been tenuous over the last decades and seeing these fish here is reassuring. This is not a throw away creek. None of them are. There is incredible life here, amazing ecology. And this should give us hope at a time when it seems all the news about the environment is negative. This creek and all its extraordinary ecology, should give us hope. Hope that we can restore what we degraded, and hope in the knowledge that even in their degraded states, our local rivers and streams are pretty amazing places.