By Nick Simonson
The place where running water meets still, or where a smaller trickle joins with a larger one to continue the unending hydrological cycle, is a place where you will find an abundance of fish, along with other wildlife and truly unique species. Whether it has been in the dark of the midnight hour on opening day of Minnesota’s walleye season, or in the humid evenings over an interminable school of white bass at that point where Baldhill Creek met Lake Ashtabula in my youth, the places where creeks have joined bigger bodies of water have filled my memory books with big fish and fast action. At the start of spring, when meltwater fuels their flow and spurs the spawn, or late into summer when heat has a hold on even the deepest waters, creeks bring food, oxygen and cool relief to fish populations.
In springtime, creeks are the funnel of life and while water pours down through their banks and out into the open water, fish turn the flow into a two-way exchange, running up the course to historic stretches to spawn and beget the next generation. It is here that anglers find incredible early season success, targeting hungry fish about to undertake the stressful ritual of reproduction.
Additionally, as the season wears on with pulses of spring rain, creeks provide an invaluable food source, as terrestrial creatures such as worms and insects are washed into the flow for game fish, and detritus, microorganisms and other tiny food pieces jump-start the food web, bringing baitfish which in turn draw in predator fish as well.
This is why many of those fish that spawned a month earlier can still be found this time of year not too far from the mouth of where they spent the last month, as creeks provide sustenance for an entire ecosystem. In a creek delta that flushes out into a lake or other river, fish can be found nearly any time of year, as their food – or the food their food eats – will always be present in some form.
Making our way into summer, creeks lowered by drier conditions still provide an influx of oxygen and cooler water, especially those that are fed by springs up in the hills miles away. It isn’t unusual when surface temperatures top 80 degrees, to see large fish like pike or muskies that abhor the heat of summer somewhere in the shallows along the cooler fan of water reaching out into a lake. Additionally, depending on the drop of the stream and how riffled or turbulent the flow is as it descends, higher oxygen content draws all sorts of aquatic life. While many think spring success when it comes to those areas where creeks join larger bodies of water, summer fishing can be very good as well, especially after rains or long into the dog days when warmer temperatures dominate, these highly-oxygenated waters provide a respite. Even a couple degrees of relief, or a few extra rocks in a creek can make a difference in where and how fish locate in relation to incoming flows.
Beyond the good fishing associated with creeks, the biome around them is diverse and unique, even in comparison to the grasslands or open water that might be located just a few steps away. The marshy stretches around the small creek down from our family cabin provide homes to wood ducks and their young, differing from the pairs of mallards and their developing ducklings that populate the lake shore just 30 yards away. In addition, unique species such as the pink lady slipper can be found among the grasses along its banks, where the perfect amount of light, shade and moisture supports several stands of the Minnesota state flower. In my time running up and down the shores of the lake, I have found these rare gems nowhere else but within a few yards of the flow.
Finally, creeks provide a microcosmic view of our world. Just as the Missouri River splits the Midwest and makes its way to the Mississippi River, and the Mississippi drains several dozen states and makes its run to the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, creeks do the same on a field-by-field and town-by-town basis. Nowhere is the issue of pollution or sedimentation more obvious than in one’s own backyard. Even the water in the smallest stream finds its way into the ocean at some point, and the chemicals, dirt and litter from the lands around it do as well, making the preservation of vegetation and the filtration of runoff and unwanted things into these small flows so very important.
It is evident, all throughout the year, that creeks are very important places not only for the habitat and the memorable angling opportunities which they provide and the food and oxygen they bring but also for continuing the hydrological cycle and the cycles and species that depend on it to create the fishing, hunting and natural aesthetics which we all enjoy. Protecting these incredible small places is the first step in preserving the larger whole…of our outdoors.
(Featured Photo: Sucker creek runs through the wooded hills near Big Detroit Lake. Simonson Photo)