This fish tale is just a bit shocking …

Nate Schlater uses a charged net to stun and gather fish on Eightmile Creek.

“There ain’t no fish in that crick. Just minnies.”

That was a farmer’s response when we stopped to ask permission to sample Eightmile Creek across from his spread in Washington County, Ohio.

We had gathered in Amesville early that morning for the hour ride toward Marietta, where we planned to use fish shocking to sample both Eightmile Creek and Goss Fork. Often, this work is done to assess the health of a creek. But we knew going in that these two creeks were pretty healthy. These samples would be part of EPA certifications for Rural Action Watershed Coordinator Nate Schlater and Water Quality Specialist Tim Ferrell. Ricky Vandegrift, who went to Hocking College and recently started with Rural Action as an AmeriCorps volunteer, was present to assist and learn.

But contrary to the farmer’s assessment, the stream was teeming with fish. And yes, some of them were in fact minnows.

Fish shocking isn’t as scary as it sounds. After Schlater maneuvered out of the farmer’s driveway and across County Road 9, we dragged the “Roller Beast” out of the truck bed. It’s basically a generator mounted atop a pair of lawn rollers, which makes it easy to move despite its heft. As an added bonus, the rollers float, so the entire rig can be rolled into the stream. But we wouldn’t need to do that today.

The generator provides a pulsed DC current, which flows through a 150 meter cable to a net on a long pole. When the net is placed in the creek, the charge stuns the fish, which float into the net. The DC current doesn’t damage the muscle tissue of the fish, which means they can be released after the sampling.

Schlater, Ferrell, and Vandegrift — protected from the mild DC charge by their waders — sloshed slowly through the stream with one person using the charged net to shock the fish and the other two scooping them up and transferring them to a floating live well. The hum of the generator and passing traffic mixed with burbling creek sounds as they worked.

Ricky Vandegrift, left, and Nate Schlater sort fish collected from Eightmile Creek.

After sampling about 150 meters of creek, the trio filled a dozen or so plastic tubs with water and began pulling fish out of the live well and sorting them based on species. It’s a tedious process that requires expert fish identification skills. Schlater and Ferrell were up to the task.

Schlater pulled a writhing silvery fish out of the live well and turned it upside down.

“See that mark on the underside of its jaw?” he asked, demonstrating how he figures out which fish is which. “It looks like a horseshoe. This is a Stoneroller.” With that, he tosses it into the bin with the other Stonerollers that were netted.

After all of the fish are divided up by species, we create a detailed inventory.

The result? In this 150 meter stretch of Eightmile Creek, we find 17 species totaling more than 1,100 fish.

Yup. There are fish in that creek, including nine species of “minnies.”

A rainbow darter

Two examples of each species are kept and preserved to be studied later. The rest are returned to the water, where they swim away to freedom.

After finishing at Eightmile Creek, we loaded the Roller Beast back into the bed of the truck, strapped the live well atop the truck cap and headed to our next sampling site, Goss Fork. Ferrell used the charged net to pull fish up out of the roots of a large sycamore clinging to the bank. In all, we find 19 species — a total of 938 fish. This site also yields several green sunfish, smallmouth bass and rock bass.

As the day ends, we drive back toward Amesville. Schlater and Ferrell are a bit closer to meeting the requirements of their EPA certifications, which will make them more effective in their work protecting local watersheds, and we’ve confirmed that two creeks are thriving with a variety of fish species.

From left, Ricky Vandegrift, Tim Ferrell, and Nate Schlater gather fish via fish shocking. The blue barrel in the foreground is a floating live well that the fish are placed in after being netted.
On September 25th, 2019, posted in: Latest News by