We got our first snow yesterday and the 6 inches it delivered exceeded last winters total snowfall. The earlier darkness means it’s harder to get into the water in daylight. I have been wanting to explore my local stream at night anyway. Even the common when viewed from a different perspective provides new scenes and the excitement that comes from new observations.
A half- moon provides enough ambient light to make the short hike through the fresh snow to the waters edge without a headlamp. The river is up and the water boils though, under, and around rocks. The edge of the river is noticeable in the moonlight as a distinct line where the snow ends and the dark starts. I gear up in the dark, and am not used to the extra equipment needed for night exploration. I fumble with the hand light, headlight and shore light a little.
The water feels huge. This is a familiar hole, but it is unrecognizable when I can only see the little bit revealed in the narrow flashlight beam. The cold water doesn’t register over the excitement of being here on a late fall snowy night. I search for life but don’t see any. I have learned that there is always life present, It’s more a question of whether I can spot it or not. I start to see accreted pebble caddis fly cases attached to rocks. I work upstream into the next pool and scan it with my light, hoping to see a fish, but am happy for the experience regardless. The cold is starting to tingle my exposed lips and face. Finally I see a fish motionless on the bottom with its eye peering over a bedrock ledge. It’s a trout. Maybe the same one that has taunted me all year. Every time I slip into this pool a trout takes off before I can even get my camera close to ready for a shot. Tonight this fish was motionless on the bottom and gave plenty of photographic opportunity. The strobe filled the pool with light and blinded everything in it. I put my other hand down on the bottom to stabilize myself in the current as I crept in for a closer view and something alive shot out from under it. I could feel the power of whatever it was through my wetsuit glove and figured it was another trout. I took my last shot of the trout and explored the rest of pool in the swift current a bit more. A large tail stuck out from behind a large rock. I peeked over the side and sure enough, there was a good sized northern hog sucker. I tend to see these fish in cold weather and wonder if they are one of the fish that stay active in Basin Run throughout the whole winter.
This short night swim in a very familiar hole in a common everyday stream gave a completely different view of the underwater streamscape and the life in it. It was an incredible nocturnal adventure. That’s what creek snorkeling is all about. Exploration. Adventure. Discovery. All available right in our backyard rivers. I have a few trips planned over the winter that will take me to warmer more exotic streams, but in the mean time I will enjoy night swims in my local winter rivers.