Stuck In The Mud... Really
Above is a photograph of a male stippled studfish from upper Hillabee Creek in Tallapoosa County, AL. It's not the best picture, but I hope you get the idea, especially the "stippling" of red-brown spots in random line patterns on the side. For scale you can see Andrew's thumbnail in the lower left corner, holding up his wading boot with the fish on it.
We went back to the area on Saturday and visited three historic stippled studfish (Fundulus bifax) sites. Joe Scanlan met us at Elkahatchee Creek and this time we caught and kept 7 studfish. Talking with him I realize there's a very simple pattern to finding creeks with stippled studfish: they have to have clear water, not be even slightly eutrophic, and there has to be extensive areas of sand and fine gravel as substrate. This describes all three creeks we visited on Saturday, and we found bifax at all three sites.
At the second site, in the NW corner of Tallapoosa County, I got the truck stuck in mud. There was a dirt road off of the paved road heading down to the creek, and it looked passable with one major rut area about halfway down. I put the truck in 4WD and drove into the rutted area; boom, we were instantly stuck in what Andrew and James described as a wall of mud. We spent an hour pushing the truck, putting rocks and wood under the wheels, all to no avail, it was stuck up to the front axles in mud. James and I walked up to a house we could see, but no one was home. A car came down the highway, I stuck out my thumb (no cell phone coverage) and the car slowed down, turned around, and stopped by us. The driver was a farmer from the other direction. He said, "That must be you stuck down there, it happens all the time. I'll be back in a minute." And luckily he was, driving a tractor. We connected a chain to the rear of the truck, and the tractor pulled the truck right out of the mud. God, we were lucky; I have no idea how we would have gotten out otherwise. Afterwards, I drove the truck closer to the highway. We went into the creek which was good just to wash off the mud. And, we caught 8 bifax, in slow-moving water over sand and gravel upstream of a sandbar.
Amazingly we still had time for one more stop, so we headed north into a maze of unpaved county roads looking for a tributary to Hillabee Creek. The place we wanted was blocked off by a locked gate and No Trespassing sign. My best map showed a road from that crossroads crossing a smaller unnamed creek to our west, so we drove west and soon found the site pictured below. The water was very clear, with some flat rocks installed in the ford you see below for traction over the (yes, you guessed it) sand and fine gravel substrate. We almost immediately netted bifax from the stream, just to the left of this picture's view.
With that, we headed home, throwing mud from the undercarriage almost all the way to Birmingham. Yesterday I spent about an hour hosing mud and sand from the undercarriage of the truck. And I still feel very lucky.