Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Swamp Primeval: Light Tackle in the Chickahominy Headwaters

Are you ready to get swampy?

Headwaters of the Chickahominy - 
no hard bottom and shallow water make it paradise for wildlife and a graveyard for boots.
During a visit to an old duck club just outside of Richmond, Virginia, I found exactly what I had hoped to - the prehistoric headwaters of the Chickahominy River. I've previously blogged about the human history and also some of the recreational opportunities available there. And then there's my citation black crappie. While the Chickahominy River is nestled inbetween the busy urban areas of Richmond and the Virginia Peninsula, it's  the closest thing to a coastal "wilderness area" north of the Great Dismal Swamp. Hundreds of thousands of people in the region mean lots of pressure on ducks, turkeys, deer, and fish on the outskirts of this giant swamp - but if you can punch through the exterior, you can find a beautiful, primitive place, so we always return.
So, a little more about "The Chick." It's a relatively unassuming tributary of the James that drains about 470 square miles of the Chesapeake Bay's 64,000 square mile drainage area. The river's course only runs about 110 miles from its true headwaters in downtown Richmond, to its mouth at the James River. Once a high quality freshwater tidal river, the Chickahominy was forever changed by a dam built across it to ensure fresh water for shipbuilding (now, municipal water). As a result, the lower Chickahominy is now a brackish tidal system, while the upper Chickahominy is a giant freshwater lake.  Upslope of the lake remain the relatively pure and isolated headwaters - cool, clean water from the ground. And that's where our adventure starts. I only had a few hours to kill, and only a pair of knee boots...so I just went for it.

First largemouth of the year...FINALLY. Caught/released on a rubber floating cricket

Another small but healthy bass. Lure - rubber dragonfly larva.
The area is interesting because there is no deep water habitat, and no hard bottom. This part of the river, with extensive beaver wetlands winding in and out of the "channels" filter a lot of silt from the urban areas uphill - mostly farms and highways around Richmond's outskirts. Typically in these systems, the man-made siltation far outweighs the capacity of the river to cope with it, and extensive unvegetated shallows result. However, for some reason, the cycle of siltation and flushing has not proved problematic for the upper Chickahominy - certainly there are fewer "signature" coastal plain plants like the Bald Cypress, White Cedar, and the Lady's Slipper Orchid (all of which are still present in some number, but less than their historic density), but the system as a whole is still quite healthy.

Big fat bluegill - nothing wrong with that

Funny looking markings on this really feisty pumpkinseed

Common Green Darner

Juvenile slaty skimmer? Or a yellow-sided skimmer? Either way, not previously recorded in this county. Score 1: River Mud!


schnitzerPHOTO said...

Great report, and way to get after it. That was a heck of a nice bluegill, too.

tugboatdude said...

I think from now on I will always keep my knee boots in the truck.Without them you just end up fishing the easy areas.Half the fun is getting to an area that people don't take the time to get to.They must be afraid of getting muddy.So where did you park?HAHA

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