Got my A$$ kicked today!! Absolutely kicked!!
Volunteered for the Brookie project today and had a blast. I'll likely never do it again (although I am trying to clear my schedule for Thursday to give 'em a hand). Came home, stripped off my soaked and fouled clothes - at one point someone said I looked like I had wrestled a bear and lost - threw them in the laundry and took a good long soak in the whirlpool tub...ahhhhhhhhhhhhh.... Oh, yeah, Charlie... I weighed in at 208.2 so that little hike took about 4.5 pounds off me.
Seriously, we are all fortunate to have a stellar group of Park Service professionals working this project. We couldn't ask for a more competent bunch of people. These folks know what they're doing and I was honored to have them use me as they saw fit.
Here's how they used me.
Reported to the parking lot at the Lynn Camp trailhead at 8:00 am and met up with Charlie Barton and Steve Gillespie -members of this message board. We had to wait a bit for the rest of the crew to show up and we took that time to put our waders on, take our waders off, put our waders on again, then take them off and wait to be told what to do. (Ultimately, everyone put their waders on.) Matt Kulp and Steve Moore showed up and walked up the bridge over the confluence of Lynn camp and Thunderhead to pow-wow and come up with a game plan. That rain that Byron wrote lovingly about in his fishing report had turned Lynn Camp into a nice frothy milkshake.
Steve decided that it woulds be a waste of time, effort and resources to try and run the Antimycin today. So the decision was made to: 1) set up the potassium permangenate (antidote) station at the foot of the cascades 2) run four more Antimycin stations up Mark's Creek 3) shock more rainbows - for holding stations - and black-nosed dace for holding over at Sam's Creek 4) set up a bear trap further up the trail. Apparently the bears in the area have caught on to the shocking and holding technique in play and have decided that the candy is there for the taking.
After a briefing by Matt and Steve, we broke up into separate work teams and headed up to the Cascades. Our group included Charlie B. and Steve Gillespie. When we got to the Cascades, we started to set up a rope system to get the antidote setup down to the bottom of the Cascades. Turns out that Steve has some military background in knots and rigging so he was nominated (by me, I'm afraid) to stay behind and set up the antidote station... sorry about that, Steve. You see, recently Steve has posted here his desire to fish Beech Flats above the Oconoluftee. Turns out that Mark's Creek is a lot like Beech Flats. He could have gotten a good feel for how to fish Beech Flats.
Anyway, Charlie and I headed up to Mark's Creek with two guys from North Carolina Wildlife Resources and a lovely young lady from the National Park Service, by the name of Mariah, who headed up our group. The hike up Mark's Creek was, to be perfectly honest, not fun. These old legs and lungs just lagged further and further behind those younger legs and lungs. Yep, I'm feelin' my age here.
We got to our assigned stations up Mark's Creek and began setting up our Antimycin stations. Sorry, no pics, even though I brought my camera - just too much going on.
Setting up the stations involves planting a Rube Goldberg-type contraption in the middle of the stream. Basically, you've got a five gallon bucket that contains the diluted Antimycin located slightly above the dispensing station. The dispensing station is made up of a plastic dog-watering dish that is attached to two pieces of rebar which are hammered into the rocky stream bottom and then leveled to ensure accurate delivery of the diluted Antimycin. The dog-watering dish contains a float device that's like a crude carburetor. It controls the amount of dilute Antimycin available for dispensing. The bottom of the dish has a pinhole in it that allows for a continuous drip of the dilute Antimycin into the stream. If the stream bottom complies, you can set up one of these stations in about 15 minutes. But keep in mind that you're hiking in carrying five gallon buckets that contain the Antimycin, two 2' pieces of rebar, the dog-water-bowl-dispenser, about 5' of hose, a multi-purpose screwdriver, and a sledge hammer. In our little group we were hiking in four of these stations.
I think Mariah took pity on me 'cause she picked me and Powell (from the N. Carolina group) to help her set up the bottom two stations while Charlie B. and the other two guys in our group went on up to the top of the ridgeline. Thank you, Mariah!
We quickly set up our stations, broke for lunch and waited for the rest of our group to return. It was a much needed break!
The hike out was, needless to say, much easier. We returned to the main stream in about 15 minutes. The hike in seemed to take forever but was likely only about 30 minutes.
When we returned to the main stream our mission changed. We were now going to shock and collect rainbows and black-nosed dace for either transport over to Sam's Creek or holding in appropriate cages. What I was told was that these holding cages were kinda like the old canary cages that miners used to take down into the mines with them to serve as barometers to help detect lethal levels of gas. These holding cages will help determine the effectiveness of the Antimycin and help the teams adjust the levels if necessary.
Now, I'm used to wading these waters at a somewhat leisurely pace and fishing riffles and runs and plunge pools. Lemme tell you, Shock-Fishing is nothing like this! Basically, you've got two guys in the lead, wearing rubber gloves, with shocking rods fueled by backpack-Honda gas-powered motors running a generator that can crank out some serious electricity, followed by two guys with nets and rubber gloves and, finally, one or two guys carrying five gallon buckets half-full of water to hold and carry the shocked fish.
You're working in very close quarters and boulder-hopping your way upstream. The two guys with the shockers work the lead up both sides of the stream and into the middle, shocking and netting as they go. They net the fish they've shocked and pass them off to the netters, who are following in close proximity and who, in turn, pass off the shocked fish to the bucket holders. The bucket holders tote the five-gallon buckets upstream, boulder-hopping and toting that bucket - full of water and fish - without spilling or losing any of the fish. Guess what I was doing... bucket brigade! Not fun but necessary...
Charlie B. took a turn at netting behind the shocker and did quite well! Although he did take one glorious mis-step in a rather deep pool and went in up to his armpits! This was actually quite scary since the lead guys were shocking at the time and this presented a quite dangerous situation. Nevertheless, he managed to get himself out of a rather dicey situation and continued on up the stream, undaunted!
We continued on upstream, shocking and collecting, to a point just past the wooden foot bridge. This was the take-out point and I think we were all grateful. I know I was. While the group de-camped and got ready for the hike out, I took the opportunity to get a good cool soak in the stream and re-fill my water bottle. By the time I got back up to the trail, the group had loaded most of their gear onto a 6-wheel ATV and were ready to hike out. I think they took pity on Charlie and me 'cause they arranged for seating for us in the ATV. YAY!!!
Lemme tell you... ATV's in the park?? I'm all for it!! (just kidding). The ride down was fantastic! Although, as I pointed out to John Hammond (TWRA and our driver) hiking down would not have been a problem.
In any event, we went down to the first holding area and delivered the remaining rainbows from out last section's shocking. These fish were then placed in the holding cage, and we continued on down to the trailhead.
When we got to the parking area it was about 4:30... plenty of time left to switch out our gear and go fishing!! Charlie, Steve and I quickly switched over from stream biologists to avid fly fishermen and took off in search of the elusive Middle Prong rainbows. Don't know how Charlie B. and Steve did since we got separated, but I got quite a bit of action on an Orange Sitimulator... seemed a tad early for orange, but it definitely worked.
I fished the area below the parking lot for about an hour and by the time I got back up to the parking area, it was almost vacated... almost. It turned out that, in their haste to re-load vehicles and bug out, somebody screwed up and took out a pack with car keys and ATV keys in it. Poor Mariah and three guys were stranded in the parking area waiting for someone to bring them keys! I offered them a lift back down the mountain and they politely turned me down. It happened that, because of the screw up, they were all officially on OVERTIME!~ which the park service doesn't always believe in
So I motored on down the mountain and headed home, absolutely beat!!
But a good kinda beat. I hope that my paltry contribution in some way helped the cause. Being there and helping in some small way has made this project very real for me. I've spent the last five years going to Troutfest and buying the T-shirts and hats and such and thinking that I was some how "helping". Don't get me wrong... contributions of any sort are all valid and worthwhile, and by all means everyone should give whatever they can. But seeing first-hand the scope of this project and the dedication of the people involved in pulling this off has given me a much-needed perspective.
It may have kicked my ***, but I'd do it again in a heartbeat!!
If they'll have an old fart like me.
Wish y'all coulda been there