In addition to seeing more of the Conasauga’s breathtaking scenery during our nine-mile paddle, we also saw some of the river’s great fish. Dr. Mary Freeman of the University of Georgia River Basin Center and U.S. Geological Survey accompanied us and with her help, I was able to push my Amos’ Odyssey fish list past 30 species. Searching for fish with a seine net in the river’s riffles and shoals, we collected an impressive assortment of minnows, darters, suckers, and sunfish
Next to snorkeling, this is the best way to see the life below the water’s surface, and the group was amazed at the variety of fish that could be found in such a small area of water.
Mary is as river wise as anyone I know. One of the state’s most knowledgeable fisheries biologists, she and her husband Bud (Director of the Georgia Museum of Natural History who has also studied the state’s endemic fish extensively) took me on my first freshwater snorkeling excursion. That trip changed my life. Seeing Mary and reflecting on that snorkeling trip today reminded me of how pivotal it can be to share your river knowledge with others. It was fitting that today’s trip was about fish, because I was able to show the participants how I see the Conasauga—as a haven for fish and people who love them.
For all the fish we saw today (17 total, including the endemic Coosa shiner and bronze darter), the Fish Finder Adventure only touched the surface of the incredible fish diversity of the Conasauga River. The Conasauga has more fish species than any other river in Georgia, including three federally protected species. In fact, the Conasauga River system has historic records of about 90 species of fishes.
However, some of the Conasauga’s fishes are at risk due to chemical and sediment pollution, loss of habitat to dam and reservoir construction and the presence of non-native species. And, because the federally protected Conasauga logperch, amber darter and blue shiner exist in such a small geographic region, slight changes to their habitat can dramatically reduce their chances of survival.
Hopefully, by focusing on the conservation of these species, we can save these fish and preserve Georgia’s prized fish river—the Conasauga.
Readers can learn more about the Upper Coosa River Basin and issues impacting our rivers at www.coosa.org. They can also make donations to support Amos’ Odyssey and CRBI’s education efforts and sign up for Amos’ Sept. 9 “Mussel Hunt” paddle trip on the Oostanaula River at www.coosa.org/events/amos-odyssey.