Riverkeeper report: River logger eyes abandoned timber on Nottoway

Published 9:24 am Friday, March 16, 2012

Participating in a fact-finding logging project were, from left, Francis Widmeyer, Justin Worrell, Justin Ray, Chris Collins, divers Brian Watson and Ray Fernald, and Ernie Aschenbach. -- Jeff Turner | Tidewater News

Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Biologist/Malacologist Brian Watson holds mussels gathered during the river logging fact-finding mission. -- Jeff Turner | Tidewater News

Spirit of Moonpie and I spent the 5th through the 8th — yes, four days on the river — below Hercules.

The water was high at 10.5 on the U.S. Geological Survey gauge, fast and 47 degrees.

I picked up very little trash, which was amazing since the river was full of people.

I had to meet with biologists from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries as well as the Virginia Marine Resources Commission on Tuesday. So I braved the weather Monday and headed to the river to set up camp and decided to roll a Riverkeeper patrol into the itinerary.

The mission Tuesday was to meet with a fellow who wants to do river logging, as in retrieving old timber cut decades ago that now resides on the bottom of the river.

Currently there is no application process for such a venture because nobody has ever applied to undertake anything like this around here. So the state needed to come up with rules, regulations and a permitting process.

What state officials wanted to see Tuesday was what kind of habitat or threatened/endangered species could be impacted.

My role was kinda like a guide, I guess you could say. All I know is I was glad I was not one of those divers getting in that cold, fast water.

I do not know the results of the fact-finding mission at this time.

They did bring up some other cool stuff though like some whale rib bones and a huge vertebrae from a prehistoric whale.

So, anyway we finished up with that excursion Tuesday afternoon and I went on my merry way.

The fishing on this trip was pretty good. I caught a striper that was 19 inches, about 20 shad and three catfish.

I caught the cats on three-drop lines I borrowed that were already out there but not set. One of the cats was a 10-pound channel cat, which is a big catfish for a channel in these rivers.

I caught all these fish right in the narrows. I’m kinda surprised I caught anything, as I was not the only fisherman in that area.

On several occasions this trip, I watched a huge otter working the area and it was watching me also. It would surface pretty close to us, and start blowing, which would get Moonpie blowing also.

The only thing was, Moonpie was trying to imitate that blowing sound from the wrong end and I had to put a stop to her otter sound-imitation experiment.

On the last night at camp it was so nice. The temperature was like 50, the nearly full moon was big and bright in the sky, and the frogs 30 feet away in the swamp were singin’ and raising a raucous.

It was so peaceful, and then suddenly from behind us some kinda commotion exploded in the river right near the shore, which ‘bout made me fall into the campfire.

Moonpie hollered “Oh my God, your 4-day-old stinkin’ fish smellin’ self has drawn a bear up here upon us and now we is gonna be bear treats.”

Knowing how I smelled, and realizing Moonpie could actually be correct, I unstrapped Hanna (my 44 Magnum) and made ready to defend our position.

However, after a few moments I realized the splashing and commotion was not getting any closer. I then figured out it was not something trying to get out of the river, but a huge fish trying to get off of a limb-line set right there at the campsite.

A few moments later, some young fellers come up in a boat and retrieved the bear of a fish. I could hear the excitement in their voices as they hauled the beast aboard.

I asked them how big it was, and they estimated the blue cat at 35 pounds.

We talked a few moments, and then they were off into the night to continue their catfish quest. As the sound of their outboard faded upriver, I thought about what I had just witnessed.

How cool I thought that here are these young folks out on the river at night doing what I have enjoyed for 40 years. As I sat there by the campfire reflecting my countless nighttime river adventures, it was satisfying to know that the traditions I love and enjoy will continue on the two rivers we call the Nottoway and Blackwater.

JEFF TURNER is riverkeeper for the Blackwater/Nottoway Riverkeeper Program, an environmentally conscious organization that focuses on keeping local waterways healthy. BNRP’s parent organization is The Waterkeeper Alliance. Contact Turner at his website, www.blackwaternottoway.com.