We ran the first trip of the season with Eden Mill on Big Branch the last Saturday in May. I figured the water would still be a little chilly, but not too bad. Then an unseasonable cold snap hit, and frost warnings covered a lot of the area for two nights before. Two groups of two brothers pulled their wetsuits on as I talked about what we could expect to see today: dace, hogsuckers, sunnies, common shiners, maybe a trout...
I also said that we didn’t need to stay in the water the whole time, that if anyone got cold it was ok to say so and we could end a little early. Air temperatures were in the upper 60’s and I was worried about people being comfortable. I want to introduce them to the sport/adventure/discovery that is creek and river snorkeling, and I want them to try it again. If folks are uncomfortable on this trip, they are unlikely to give it another shot. I was ready to end the trip at the first signs of cold challenge.
We slid into the clear waters of big branch and I gasped as the first slug of cold water filled the void between my skin and wetsuit. Everyone else gasped as they slowly inched into the creek. “The water is going to be cold at first, but it will warm up after a little bit.” I encouraged.
Soon everyone was in, faces in the water, exploring, and we followed a school of sunnies upstream. A large school of common shiner flitted just downstream of a submerged log that captured a nest of branches. A few silvery tubed fall fish joined them, along with some black nosed dace. A trout rocketed upstream for better cover. We slid around the obstruction and continued to explore Big Branch. The diversity of this creek always amazes me. Its bottom is sand and gravel. There isn’t much rocky substrate here. But what is here is large woody debris, and I think that’s why we see the diversity and incredible abundance we do.
One of our trip members started to get cold as we entered the large pool that holds lots of fish. He waited in the sun as we pushed upstream just a little further. Large schools of common shiner, not quite in breeding color fanned away from our approach. Large foot long river chub nervously darted under the submerged leaf mat 6 feet below. Big fallfish coolly swam just ahead of us. We reached the head of the pool and I checked in with the group. We were all cold after an hour in the stream, and the consensus was to start to snorkel downstream.
We drifted over a large sand flat expanse and small puffs of sediment popped up from the bottom. We were over a school of darters that were so well camouflaged, we could only locate the fish when they shot off leaving a cloud of sediment behind. We hauled out of the creek, chilled. The sun felt good and we started to warm as we hiked along Deer Creek back to the center. The water and air was definitely colder than expected, and we got cold as a result. But the trip and Big Branch was still very cool.