Herring: Remembering Moulder Branch

Moulder Branch is just a little creek in north Alabama - narrow enough to jump over in some places, and stretches of its upper reaches go dry almost every summer. It is not navigable even by canoe (though once in 1977 I floated it at flood stage on an old inner tube, an experience I would not recommend). I remember when the silver redhorse--a big sucker--ran every March up Moulder Branch, and how I and a few good friends spent some of the best afternoons of my life snagging for them, with Zebco 202s and bell sinkers under treble hooks, the fish exotic and beautiful in the clear water over the gravel beds.

I took my nephew there ten years ago, to do the same thing, and the fish were still there, not as many of them, but still there. Later in the summer we waded down to holes I'd last fished in 9th grade, and caught big blue shellcrackers, a lone crappie, and ½ pound bass, throwing 4" plastic worms and mini-Rapalas. That little creek has taught me big things, and it's a big part of why I love to fish and hunt.

Last winter, I stopped on the bridge and watched a big trackhoe dredging up the mud and gravels of the creek and piling them in mountainous heaps along the bank, burying the sycamores and green ash and oaks and beautyberry bushes. The landowner along there has been fighting the creek for years now, as it floods his cotton and soybean fields. Every year the flooding has gotten worse instead of better, because the tributary creeks have all been cleared and channelized, and the big rains hurtle into the creek with nothing to slow them down, and overwhelm it, cause it to spill over and rip away a wealth of topsoil and drown crops. The only strategy seems to be to straighten and deepen the creek, to doze away any obstacles- if the water is moving fast and unobstructed, then the project must be working. But it is not working. It is simply destroying the creek.

I strongly--100%--support the Clean Water Restoration Act to help our country protect the irreplaceable resources of its waters, wetlands, fish and wildlife. But I don't even know if Moulder Branch would really get any added protection from the new laws, or if the laws would be enforced in such an out of the way creek. Channelizing creeks seems, from what I have seen in my life, to be the norm in Alabama. Rather than depend on new laws, I'd rather see a future where we understand just how important our own creeks really are. If we really knew what was in those waters, as I once knew Moulder Branch, the last thing on earth we'd ever do was dredge them out and bury their life in mud.

According to most estimates, the US will have a population of 400-450 million people by 2050. I would like to believe that the fresh water those people will demand will come from creeks where young people will still fish for redhorse and shellcrackers, will sit in the April sun and watch the water rippling over the gravels and know that it leads to the ocean. But that trackhoe, unchallenged, dredging out the sum total of the life in my childhood fishing hole, and leaving it to die drying on the banks, gives me grave doubts. - Hal Herring