Time for another wildlife report. Hundreds of ponds in the Flint Hills are either bone dry or nearly so. Most of those ponds either have been cleaned out or are in the process of being cleaned out. It’s been a bonanza for the earth-moving contractors. Plus, all those cleaned out ponds will represent a more stable supply of livestock water if, and when, the Good Lord sees fit to give us rain and runoff again.
One of the saddest things about the continuing drought is the immense number of fish that have perished in the dried-up ponds. However, last week I got invited to a “fish rescue” mission and I happily accepted.
My friend, C. Faren Wyde, has (or had) a great little fishing pond not far from his home. All through last summer, fall and winter, we’ve watched as the pond inexorably diminished to a simple mud hole about the size of a large kitchen. We figgered all the fish had died from the 10-degree weather and ice we had a couple of weeks ago.
But, lo and behold, when the Wydes hired a contractor to clean out the pond, they discovered that wallowing in the mud were a goodly number of huge grass carp. The water wuz so low the poor fish couldn’t get their dorsal fins below the surface.
So, the decision wuz made to rescue the fish. On a Tuesday afternoon, the Wydes and several of their neighbors and kinfolk, including myself and my good buddy Canby Handy, joined in the rescue.
They borrowed a heavy fish seine for the task. Then they filled a galvanized cattle water tank with water to transport the fish to other ponds. Then came the job of pulling the seine through the mud to capture the fish.
The first pass through the pond the fish went crazy and three huge carp beached themselves on the muddy bank and we netted three. The younger guys wallowed in the muddy seine and hauled the three seined fish to the rescue tank.
I used a gaff on an extension pole to hook the three beached fish and pull them to drier land, and they, too, got rescued.
The second pass through the pond required all hands on deck to pull the fish and the load of mud to the bank, but we got the three remaining grass carp into the shallows where they, too, were rescued.
A bonus in the deal were the surprising number of large and small crappie that had survived and got hauled out in the muddy mess. We retrieved probably 30 to 40 of those fish and saved them, too.
At the end, all of us were muddy — some from head to toe, and others just from the thighs down. But, when the fish were released, only one of the huge grass carp expired. The remaining eight, who weighed from 40 to 50 pounds and were 3- to 4-feet long, are probably happily swimming in clean, fresh water again. And, the crappie have joined a bunch of their brethren in a pond exclusively managed for them.
All in all it wuz a fun afternoon and we were glad to save the fish. But as one wag noted, “That’s something that’s fun to do once, but I’m not so sure it would be as much fun the second time.”
On another note related to wildlife, a good friend, ol’ Dee X. Judge, has managed a good recovery from a dog training accident. Back in December, ol’ Dee wuz training his bird dog on some pen-raised quail and when the session ended, he decided to let his bird dog trot home on a leash that ol’ Dee had a hold of through the open window. It’s a procedure Dee and his dog are thoroughly familiar with.
However, this time disaster waited. Someway, somehow the leash got entangled beneath the pickup tire and almost jerked off the tip of one of Dee’s fingers. A trip to the emergency room got the finger tip sewed back in place and Dee is not much the worst for the ordeal now. Also, the dog wasn’t injured.
Just goes to show that everyone needs to keep their antennae up all the time to be aware of an accident just waiting to happen.
The final note on wildlife took place in my nearly-dry pond. Last year a family of beaver moved in and made a lodge in front of a burrow in the shallow north end of the pond. They cut willows for months to build an immense lodge.
Since I didn’t want the beaver to eventually plug the overflow pipes in my pond, I patiently eliminated all of them. Then the water level went lower and lower and eventually the old beaver lodge became dry land. That’s when I decided to haul the lodge away to a burn pile using my utility vehicle and plain old back work.
Westerners who read my column are probably way more familiar with beaver dams and lodges than I am, but I’m here to tell you, it’s an amazing feat to dismember a beaver lodge stick by stick. I wuz reminded of the old kid’s game of fiddle-sticks we used to play.
Suffice it to say, I hauled out a huge burn pile of willow logs and sticks. But I’ve got the job done at considerable sweat, aches and pains, and a cuss word or two.
I ended up with a deep-seated appreciation of the engineering feats that beaver routinely do.
I’ll end this long “wild” column with two wise quotes about wildlife. Noted wildlife expert, Jim Fowler, said, “The continued existence of wildlife and wilderness is important to the quality of life of humans.” And Bindi Irwin, daughter of the late conservationist Steve Irwin, said, “I feel like I’m nothing without wildlife.” Both are spot on.
Have a good ’un. ❖
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