Sunday, April 5, 2015

Sucker For the Big Elk

The Big Elk is a suburban stream. And the section I am about to enter is just inside the largest city in my county. There is a storm water outfall to my back and the sand and gravel bars are significantly rearranged again. Based on the USGS hydrograph, this creek runs bank full after just about every rain, and it floods every other. All because of a highly developed watershed in this reach. All that impervious surface means the water runs right into the creek, carries a smorgasbord of contamination with it, and rearranges and smothers habitat. I ease out into the tough current and work very hard to move upstream. I don’t see any life and am just about to give up, but then notice a large sucker tucked behind a stump. The fish takes off with a single graceful flick of its tail while I clumsily struggle in the current. I don’t see any more fish, or much more life other than web spinner caddis, and head back downstream. The sucker is back in the lee of the stump, but this time he tolerates my presence and lets me snap as many photos as I like. It is hard to get good shots since the current wants to peel me from the bottom and the strong water pins my snorkel to my face. Breathing is difficult and water pours into the purge valve when I turn the wrong way. I hold the camera at the end of my unsteady outstretched arm and hope I get a decent picture of the huge fish. I get all the shots I can, leave the fish in peace, and ferry back through the riffle to the large sand bar shore. I figured that was all the Elk had to offer today, and while I was happy with this encounter since suckers are usually very skittish, and this one let me hang out with it for a while, I was ready to give up on the idea that the Big Elk held anything more than this single fish. There was a narrow channel that braided through the sand bar and carved a one foot deep channel along a submerged log. I decided to see if anyone was there, but was skeptical of my choice. I instantly kicked up a johnny darter. Then noticed a young northern hog sucker. An orange fish, I initially thought was a sculpin, shot out onto the sand flat as I watched the hog sucker. I realized the second fish wasn’t a sculpin but rather an orange hog sucker. These were same aged northern hog suckers. One black and tan, and second orange and peach. The color variation in this species in incredible. Same species, same age in the same riffle and yet two very different colorations. I explored this little slough a little while longer but didn’t want to disturb these fish any more. I hoped I didn’t disturb them too much. I was glad I came to the Elk today. A river many in my region would throw away. People certainly have a hard time understanding my attraction to this stretch of urban water. But as usual, just when I was going to give up on the Elk, the river proved me wrong, and turned up a nice assortment of beautiful fish. And this is why I am a sucker for the Big Elk.

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