On the afternoon and early evening of the 4th, I did an upstream-and-back trip on the lower Wisconsin River. I could write at length about the joy I find on that river, which, though it would be surprising to some, includes the challenge of going several miles upstream when the current at many locations is fast enough that the water churns quite violently through fallen trees and just below the drop-offs at the tail ends of sandbars. But in particular, this time I was reminded of how much I enjoy hearing the sounds of the freshwater drum. For the uninitiated, check this out:
I didn’t hear a single drum on the upstream portion of the trip, but I heard lots of them on my way back down. Because of that, I find myself wondering if they are more active in the late afternoon and early evening than at mid-day, or if the difference was only because I tend to avoid their favorite habitat on my way upstream and seek out that habitat on my way back downstream. The places I hear them with great regularity, all summer long, are zones of deep, fast water, as well as within wide zones of slower current and confused turbulence which sometimes develop immediately below a particularly concentrated zone of fast current.
On the lower Wisconsin River, I never hear whole groups of drums like in the recording linked above. At most I’ll hear two at the same time, with the sound of one fading in as the sound of the previous one fades out, and though that pattern may repeat itself with some regularity, most times I hear just one fish at a time. Yesterday there was never a long wait before hearing another, if I was in the right habitat for them. Typically, the sound starts out being very faint, then rapidly gets louder, becoming very loud if you happen to pass directly over the fish, and then the sound fades away. I was traveling roughly 8 mph relative to the river bottom within these swifter zones of current on my return trip, possibly close to 9 mph at times (speed through the water itself was less, of course), and based on the time I believe it took for the sound of an individual fish to become audible, become loud, then fade out (just a guess now, in hindsight - I didn’t actually measure the time), I calculate that I was often hearing an individual fish over a distance of roughly 140 feet of travel distance. Hey, if I used a hydrophone like that woman who made the recording noted above instead of just my own ears and the hull of a composite boat, maybe I’d hear many at the same time.
Anyway, I mention this because it’s one of those intangible aspects of summer on that river that make me smile, like humid foggy evenings, barred owls talking to each other when half a mile apart, and dry flood channels in the woods which, if one wears a headlamp at night, are crowded with shining emerald-green pinpricks of light made by the eyes of huge numbers of wolf spiders which come out hunting once the sun goes down. I’m sure many of the nature buffs here have similar ‘triggers’ for thoughts that go something like, “ah, this is why I like coming out here.”