Wednesday, June 5, 2013

It's Always Sunny at Stroud

The Brandywine at Stroud has a diversity of habitats: slow moving areas with sandy/silty bottoms, underwater vegetation beds, cobble flats where the river picks up speed, woody shoreline debris, shallow riffles and scour holes. The diversity of habitats should provide a diversity of fish, and I expected to see a ton as I slid into the river near the downstream riffle. The reflection on the smooth surface rippled as I pushed off the shore. I dug my fingers into the soft bottom to claw my way upstream. While the river here is calm, it is moving. I slid past underwater vegetation beds interspersed with sand and gravel flats and saw no fish. I slid over cobble piles and saw no fish. The river bottom dropped off into deeper holes and still no fish. I started to doubt whether I would see anything this trip. That’s how it goes sometimes. Sometimes river snorkeling is more about enjoying the underwater river scape, enjoying the river from a very different perspective. I continued upstream, and looked for sunnies. I can always count on sunnies, just about anywhere I snorkel in spring summer and fall. They are everywhere and while they are a common fish, their behavior is always interesting and enjoyable to watch. I headed for the woody debris near the shoreline and coasted under the bridge. There, blending in really well to the backdrop of sticks and silt, was a school of a half dozen sunnies, intently watching my every move. There are a number of species of sunfish that occur on the Brandywine. Some of these hybridize readily which makes getting a positive ID difficult. But I really didn’t care about identifying which species was in front of me. Rather I enjoyed watching their behavior: how they responded to me, the river the other sunnies. Pretty soon the bottom of this stretch of river will be dotted with bowl shaped nests and the males will get right in my facemask to defend their territory. For now they hovered at a safe distance. I drifted with the current and enjoyed the sensation of flight. A small mouth bass patrolled around me, careful to keep me in sight. A juvenile bass darted for the opposite shore. I could see the ghostly outlines of large river chubs in the bottom of a deeper hole. Common shiners fed on the morsels I inadvertently kicked off the bottom, and darters laid among the gravel ready to pounce. Even if I didn’t see these other fish that represent the diversity I first expected, this still would have been an amazing trip. It’s always sunny at Stroud.

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