Trip Report – Croatan National Forest

On the 10th of August, Jesse and I headed out to the Croatan National Forest for a day of sampling. Our targets included Swampfish, Chologaster cornuta, Pirate PerchAphredoderus sayanus, Banded Sunfish, Enneacanthus obesus, Bluespotted Sunfish, Enneacanthus gloriosus, and the ever elusive Lined Topminnow, Fundulus lineolatus. The Lined Topminnow has been reported from many sites near here, and after many failed attempts to locate this fish, we are starting to doubt it actually exists. 

Our first stop was on Catfish Lake road, where it crosses the east prong of Brice’s Creek.

We have had success here in the past, but recent heavy rains have really made this site difficult to sample. After many small pirate perch, some millimeter length swampfish, and a visit from Jesse’s new reptilian friend, he who shall not be named, we moved on.

Alligator
Exactly what you don’t want to see whilst waist deep in a swamp.

Our next stop brought us a few miles down Catfish Lake rd, to Black Swamp Creek, a tributary of the White Oak River that drains Catfish Lake.

 

As its name implies, it is a very tannin stained creek, but looked very promising.

Black Swamp Creek
Black Swamp Creek – Croatan National Forest

This spot turned out to be our biggest producer, catching numerous pirate perch, bluespotted sunfish, mosquito fish, redfin pickerel, and flier.

Pirate Perch - Aphredoderus sayanus
Pirate Perch – Aphredoderus sayanus
Redfin Pickerel - Esox americanus americanus
Redfin Pickerel – Esox americanus americanus

As mentioned earlier, this is an excellent spot. We caught new fish with every swipe of the dipnet, or pull of the seine. It is a bit full of branches, but seines still worked. There was a lot of submerged vegetation, and the bottom of the creek was about two feet of leaf litter, making walking easier said than done. Other than the fact that a man high on what I can only imagine was meth stumbled upon us, this site was definitely worth the stop. We would have stayed longer if not for our desire to leave that strange man behind.

Next we worked our way to Catfish Lake proper, but after a few pulls of the seine realized that it was not worth the effort. There was so much abandoned fishing line, gear, and trash in the water, our nets kept getting caught up. So we pushed forward down a new road, Black Swamp Road, that we had vaguely remembered seeing on the collection maps before the trip. This brought us into some old growth pine forest that looked like something out of the cretaceous.

 

Black Swamp Road - Croatan National Forest
Black Swamp Road – Croatan National Forest

There were ditches that ran along side of the road, and even though they looked like pristine habitat, we were unable to locate a single fish. Our ultimate goal however, was Holston Creek, near Maysville.

Continuing with the cretaceous analogy, we were ready for a dinosaur to pop out at any moment here. This creek, which flows into the White Oak River, was clean, cool, and prehistoric. Fishermen are generally not the most eco-friendly people in the world, and we commonly encounter all sorts of junk from old tires to beer cans and fishing tackle, but this creek seems to be far enough in the forest, that there was no litter. I don’t know why this is a big deal to me, but it was the first time I’ve ever seen that.

Holston Creek - Croatan National Forest
Holston Creek – Croatan National Forest

 

Holston Creek - Croatan National Forest
Holston Creek – Croatan National Forest

We trekked through the creek for about an hour, catching various fishes but nothing new for today. The water level here was still pretty high from all the weeks rain, which made catching dispersed fishes all the more difficult. I would like to take this moment to try and express the number of biting and stinging insects that we encountered here. If you ever decide to check it out, you wont regret it, just remember to bring your bug spray. We were visited by a fellow collector here, who we had not met up to this point, who gave us a few pointers for places to try next time we were in the area. Since once again the lined topminnow eluded us, we will most likely be back to take him up on his advice.

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