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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Tragedy and Beauty, a tale of two bridges

In 1889 the Columbia Bridge Company, of Dayton, was contracted to build a bridge across the Little Miami at Mathers Mill at a cost of $5,400. What followed is one of the saddest tales that ever took place along the river. As construction neared completion it began to rain. And it rained off and on for two weeks. Even though the river became swollen with high water the work went on unabated. A temporary trestle was built on which the completed span was to rest while the permanent supports were erected. Finally this was built and on the morning of Monday, January 20, 1890 the underpinnings of the bridge were being cut thru and the bridge was being lowered to its final resting place on the new permanent supports. But just as the last few connections were being cut the high water swept away the temporary trestle and the bridge toppled into the river. Soon a head count revealed that William Debord was missing. He was soon found pinned under the wreckage of the bridge with just his head above the icy January flood waters. Several men held his head up for hours as workers struggled in vain to free him from the twisted iron work of what remained of the bridge. It was reported that a Henry Breen held Debord's head for at least three hours himself and several others took their turns as well as the doomed man slowly succumbed to injury and hypothermia. I cannot imagine the mental scars these men must have carried with them for the rest of their days.

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Today a new bridge stands in place of the old one. And of course local legend has the place being haunted by Debord's ghost. Just upstream now is a campground and campers have claimed to have heard his ghost moaning in the night. I cannot say if this is true but it seems if any place has a right to be haunted it's certainly here.

Upstream just a couple miles from this melancholy bridge stands what has to be the prettiest bridge on the whole river the Corwin M. Nixon covered bridge.

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oregonia bridge

Here at the bridge the state has a river access that includes a parking lot,a broad path down to the river and thankfully nothing else. There are a couple riffles right above the bridge that hold a few fish but are a bit shallow.

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The bottom here holds an abundance of crayfish and the last time I was there someone was seining the river right at access and making quite a haul.

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The best fishing I've found is to wade upstream. Here the river splits pouring around a large island. At the top of this, in the riffle is built a dam of river stones. This dam has a opening about ten feet across that channels the current into the hole below.

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Here I've caught most of the different gamefish in the river. A small crankbait produces a smallmouth bass or two most trips. And I've fished nightcrawlers here, throwing them out unweighted and letting the current wash them downstream. This has produced a channel or two, plus drum and several different species of sucker.

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Here, above such streams as Ceaser's Creek and Todd's Fork, the river is much smaller and easily waded but still full of life and full of fish.

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Friday, July 30, 2010

Wading birds and umm...wading dogs. Armleder Park

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Over the hill from Ault Park and just off route 125 and east of downtown is another jewel in the Hamilton county park system, Otto Armleder Memorial Park. Over three hundred acres of soccer fields, dog parks,and rollerblading trails hide the fact that the whole backside of the park straddles the Little Miami River. And not just any stretch of river but a very interesting one containing a number of bends, riffles, and the biggest rock bars on the river. Unfortunately the proximity of the dogpark means there seems to always be a labrador retriever splashing up and down the riverbank. But get there early in the morning before people come pouring into the park and enjoy some of the best fishing in the whole river for that piscatorial dinosaur, the gar. Armleders extensive shallows with a rock instead of muddy bottom are prime territory to catch one of these scary monsters. That long bony bill filled with sharp teeth makes gar very hard to hook with conventional techniques. I use medium spinning tackle and cut bait. The trick is to cut the bait into a one inch square and use a small hook. Use just enough weight to keep the bait in place or even none if possible. The bait is cast out and the bail left open and the line secured by a tiny rock so the gar can pick up the bait and run with it. Typically the fish will take off on a lightning fast run and you need to wait. And wait, and wait, its allmost impossible to wait too long to strike when gar fishing. You want the fish to swallow the bait as its nearly impossible to land one otherwise.
They are strong and able fighters and I've had them jump completely out of the water during the battle. By the way don't use a stainless steel hook as you are just going to cut the line to release the fish. The enzymes inside the gars stomach will disolve the hook rather quickly. Allmost any fish you catch of whatever species that is hooked deeply has a much much higher chance of surviving if you cut the line than try to rip the hook out. Armleder has some wide very shallow stretches that are not great fish holding spots but the bends have some places that hold all the major fish species in the river. Theres also a very nice little known canoe launch that will let you explore more of the river too. The huge gravel and rock bars make Armleder a super destination spot in the spring and late summer when wading birds are migrating thru. Theres a nice shaded trail that follows the riverbank that allmost lets you think you are in wilder country too that offers fine river views to the fisherman or birder.

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A man and his dog in the river, imagine that.

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Gar (actually I took this picture at the Cincinnati Zoo not the river)

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The river's mouth.

If your roaring across the Little Miami on Kellogg Avenue and see the sign for Salem Road take it. Down around the looping exit ramp and you turn into the Magrish River Lands Preserve, less than a minute away from the hustle and bustle of the big city. Magrish itself is only a 45-acre park but it buts up against California Woods on one side and the opposite river bank belongs the best I can tell to Lunken Airport. The river flows under the Kellogg Avenue bridge and out to the Ohio River. Here sits a giant marina busy with boat traffic from the giant Ohio River but upstream of that sits Magrish and quiet, quiet, quiet. Well allmost, just when you think your way upstream somewhere away from the big city here comes a plane from nearby Lunken Airport buzzing overhead. The airport makes up for that though (allmost) by helping keep Magrish a little bit isolated and off the beaten path. You might share the place with a lone birdwatcher but your just as likely, during the week at least, to have the place completely to yourself. And theres somehow alot of empty space to have completely to yourself, for a long ways upstream theres nothing in the floodplain even though your in the city. Up river a bit towards state route 125 I caught the largest fish I've ever caught out of the Little Miami, a huge carp
I guesstimated at somewhere between 35 and forty pounds. People that live here and fish the river daily tell me that the fish seem to wander in and out of the Ohio. This makes for quite a bit of mystery, one day the river here is full of fish, the next seemingly empty. But this also makes for a great diversity of fish too with white bass schooling one day and something different like hybrid stripers the next.
The history of this place is really the history of Cincinnati itself for the cities original settler, Benjamin Stites, settled here on 20,000 acres. Stites owned the riverbank from the rivers mouth to upstream of present day Lynken Airport. Benjamin Stites was a trader who seemed to buy and sell a bit of everything when a band of Shawnee stole his horses and some goods near Washington, Kentucky. A party set off to try and recover them and followed the Shawnee across the Ohio and up the Little Miami. Supposedly Stites was so taken by the beauty of the Little Miami river valley that he decided then and there that he would someday settle here. He helped persuade John Cleves Symmes, a New Jersey congressman to purchase territory between the Miamis from the federal government, divide it into parcels, and sell the land to settlers such as himself. In 1787, Symmes contracted with the United States Treasury Board to buy one million acres of the region. Symmes’s first buyer was, of course, Stites. Being subject to floods of both the Ohio and Little Miami rivers has kept this little island of peace possible as the great city of Cincinnati has grown up all around it.


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Some kids fishing under Kellogg Ave.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Birds of the Little Miami watershed

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Here's a list of the birds of the Little Miami watershed. Some are just seen passing thru in migration. Some like the brown pelican (yeah I saw one, Little Miami by Spring Valley) are really too rare to list but I'm sure I missed somebody...

Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Blue Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Dickcissel
Bobolink
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Rusty Blackbird
Brewer's Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
Purple Finch
House Finch
Red Crossbill
White-winged Crossbill
Common Redpoll
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
Evening Grosbeak
House Sparrow
Gr. W.-fronted Goose
Snow Goose
Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Tundra Swan
Wood Duck
Gadwall
American Wigeon
Amer. Black Duck
Mallard
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Canvasback
Redhead
Ring-necked Duck
Greater Scaup
Lesser Scaup
Surf Scoter
White-wing. Scoter
Long-tailed Duck
Bufflehead
Common Goldeneye
Hooded Merganser
Common Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Ruddy duck
Ring-necked Pheaseant
Wild Turkey
Northern Bobwhite
Red-throated Loon
Common Loon
Pied-billed Grebe
Horned Grebe
Red-necked Grebe
Eared Grebe
Dbl-crst Cormorant
American Bittern
Least Bittern
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron
Cattle Egret
Green Heron
Black-cr. N.-Heron
Yellow-cr. N-Heron
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Osprey
Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Northern Goshawk
Red-should. Hawk
Broad-winged Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Rough-legged Hawk
American Kestrel
Merlin
Peregrine Falcon
Virginia Rail
Sora
Common Moorhen
American Coot
Sandhill Crane
Black-bellied Plover
Am. Golden-Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Killdeer
American Avocet
Spotted Sandpiper
Solitary Sandpiper
Greater Yellowlegs
Willet
Lesser Yellowlegs
Upland Sandpiper
Ruddy Turnstone
Sanderling
SemipalmatedSandpiper
Western Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
White-rumped Sandpiper
Baird's Sandpiper
Pectoral Sandpiper
Dunlin
Stilt Sandpiper
Buff-breasted Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Long-billed Dowitcher
Wilson's Snipe
American Woodcock
Wilson's Phalarope
Bonaparte's Gull
Franklin's Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Caspian Tern
Black Tern
Common Tern
Forster's Tern
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Yellow-bil. Cuckoo
Black-bill. Cuckoo
Barn Owl
East. Screech-Owl
Great Horned Owl
Snowy Owl
Barred Owl
Long-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl
N. Saw-whet Owl
Common Nighthawk
Chuck-will's-widow
Whip-poor-will
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
Acadian Flycatcher
Alder Flycatcher
Willow Flycatcher
Least Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Gr. Crested Flycat
Eastern Kingbird
Loggerhead Shrike
White-eyed Vireo
Bell's Vireo
Yellow-throated Vireo
Blue-headed Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Philadelphia Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Purple Martin
Tree Swallow
N. Rough-winged Swallow
Bank Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Barn Swallow
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Carolina Wren
Bewick's Wren
House Wren
Winter Wren
Sedge Wren
Marsh Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Eastern Bluebird
Veery
Gray-cheeked Thrush
Swainson's Thrush
Hermit Thrush
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
N. Mockingbird
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
American Pipit
Cedar Waxwing
Blue-winged Warbler
Golden-winged Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Orange-crowned Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Northern Parula
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Cape May Warbler
Black-th. Blue Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-th. Green Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Yellow-throated Warbler
Pine Warbler
Prairie Warbler
Palm Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Cerulean Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Prothonotary Warbler
Worm-eating Warbler
Ovenbird
Northern Waterthrush
Louisiana Waterthrush
Kentucky Warbler
Connecticut Warbler
Mourning Warbler
Com. Yellowthroat
Hooded Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
Canada Warbler
Yel.-breasted Chat
Summer Tanager
Scarlet Tanager
Eastern Towhee
Am. Tree Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Grasshopper sparrow
Henslow's Sparrow
Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Lapland Longspur
Snow Bunting
Northern Cardinal

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Snake...the trucks that way right???

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So you've walked all the way down to fishpot ford, bushwacked back up to the truck, then a week or two later maybe you found the old kings dam in the thickets below the old junction. You might have even sniffed out a riffle or a hole or two that it seems like only you know about. Your starting to think you know the river about as good as anybody. But theres those pesky rumors, your buddy that can't fish a lick but who is one of those hard core macho kayaker dudes tells you about the place where the river bent hard back on itself then back the other way again and again till he wasn't quite sure which way was east or west anymore. You ask where and he seems vague, mutters something about no roads and strainers and changes the subject. Six months go by and you overhear some guy's nightmare canoe story, how they ended up coming out after dark and how the river twisted and turned just like in the kayaker's story. There's no place like that on the Little Miami right? Idly you ask where he took out at and later with a little help from google maps your looking at this...



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Welcome to "The Snake". So how do you get there? It sits a mile or so above the road at Spring Valley Wildlife Area's unknown little access ramp. Right behind that old gravel pit, you know the one with so many no trespassing signs your not sure if they would have you arrested if they caught you cutting thru or just shoot you. You could walk the riverbank, well, I've done that but it's decidedly unrecommended. In early, early spring maybe but later it's three guarters of a mile of head high stinging nettles that felt more like three hundred miles by the time my itching beat up body finally stumbled out of the nettles and straight out to just sit in the river and cool off. Hmmm, so can't you just park over there by those big tanks on 42 and bushwack across that field and hit the river on the other side? Well a drive by shows a tall chain link fence topped by barbed wire. Ok, so you will just walk up the bike trail a mile or so and cut back down the riverbank, won't that work? Well theres more no trespass signs and more of those d#@n nettles. A canoe seems the most practical way to get in but then you have to stop and beach the thing 12 or 15 times to even begin to fish half of the spots you want to because you pull it up on a bar to fish and fifty yards later theres another gravel bar to fish and then fifty yards another and another below that and on and on. It's not like further downriver where a spot screams "fish right here". Instead theres one pretty good looking spot that should hold a fish or two after another all the way thru. I've been there a half dozen times or so and haven't even started to learn the place yet. P1040325

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I can tell you there's alot of sand and gravel bars made out of smaller stuff than downriver. The rocks are closer to marble size than fist sized and the bars run way out into the river and they seem to move around a bit everytime I go. If I'm in the gorge below South Lebanon and I find a rock bar I know theres a good chance it was there in my father's day, up here I'm not sure if it was there before the last storm.

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There is a lot of fish here though. And if you like the flyrod bring it, although the rivers a third of its size down at say Fosters, all those rock bars give you room to backcast and here the rivers full of strainers and stumps that hold rockbass, if the smallies don't cooperate, that willingly bop a fly. However you manage to get in, (parachute maybe?) bring bug spray, lunch (it's gonna take awhile), and wear jeans to try and protect yourself from the nettle jungle. Or better yet believe me when I say the fish are bigger downstream, the wadings easier, the access is easier, and just put the snake on that list of places your going to fish "someday" and leave it to the crazy people.

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Downstream of the snake the river flows thru the Spring Valley Wildlife Area. Theres a nice little access road that seems known only to dove hunters that hit the sunflower fields in the fall. But between the sunflower fields and the river sits a classic riverbottom thats has some majestic trees. You can find big sycamores scattered all up and down the length of the river but theres a grove of real giants here.

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Further downstream the river flows by the marsh in Spring Valley Wildlife Area, one of the best birdwatching spots in the state if not the whole eastern US. More than 230 species have been seen here. Yep that's not a typo, 230, alot of states haven't even listed that many in the whole state. The marsh also holds beaver, otters, deer, muskrats galore, and decent fishing for panfish and largemouth bass. Theres a nice trail around the marsh and a long boardwalk runs out into the cattails at the upper end.

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It's high on my list of places to critter watch and just explore with everything from baldcypress trees in the water to overgrown fields and upland woods. The river here has a few bass holding riffles, some long pools, and lots of wood and trees in the water. I can usually count on having the water to myself and like to just kick back here and catch some channels and drum on nightcrawlers and enjoy the quiet.

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