The first dam on the White Clay was removed a few months ago and we heard reports that shad were migrating, so we slipped into the White Clay with the hopeful intention of witnessing the first shad run this stream has seen in more than 200 years. The first dam wasn’t much of one. A collection of timbers that barely rose a foot over the surface of the river. But it was enough to stop the shad and herring from making it any further up the White Clay. It was enough to eliminate 20 some miles of spawning habitat. Herring family fish aren’t very good climbers or jumpers, the way their migratory salmonid counterparts are. We were hunting for hope that the migrants will return, hope that the White Clay, and every stream, can be restored when given the chance.
The first hole turned up a few huge suckers. The next one held a sunny and smallmouth bass. And every subsequent hole held suckers, sunnies and bass. Darters hopped across the riffles. These are all fascinating fish, but they are also fish that have been able to adapt to our river modifications, unlike shad. There weren’t any shad or herring. We made it down to the former dam site. No shad or herring held in the pool below. Maybe they came up the White Clay in one slug and we just missed them. Maybe the fish reported to have been observed the day before were the advanced guard with more to follow. Maybe we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I pulled myself back upriver against a steady current and saw a shiny speck on the bottom. I picked the scale up. Herring and shad tend to shed scales when they migrate upstream, and this sure looked like one. It was a glimmer of optimism, more confirmation that migrants were here. More inspiration to continue to hunt for hope.