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What’s in the creek?

Explore what nature has to offer

From left, Milyn Mason, Nina Scott, Hannah Sparks, Ray Sparks and Landrick Mason, all of Morehead, go looking for living treasure in Tygarts Creek. Photo: Tom Clay
Fred Howes and his grandchildren, from left, Hannah Sparks, Ray Sparks, Landrick Mason, Milyn Mason and Nina Scott. Photo: Tom Clay
A Tygarts Creek crayfish waves hello. Photo: Tom Clay
Fred Howes uses a seine net to look for creatures with his grandchildren. Photo: Tom Clay
Fred Howes uses a seine net to look for creatures with his grandchildren. Photo: Tom Clay
Hellgrammites are plentiful in Tygarts Creek. It is believed that creeks with hellgrammites have better water quality than those without. Photo: Tom Clay
Fred Howes shows two specimens—the larger one, near the thumb, is a stonefly and the smaller one is a mayfly. Photo: Tom Clay

Fred Howes saw his share of aquatic problems and aquatic life in his 32-year career overseeing farm pond management for the Kentucky Department for Fish and Wildlife Resources. While working for the agency at Minor E. Clark Fish Hatchery outside of Morehead, Howes was part of a group that managed nine lakes.

“Folks would call us up and say there were no bluegill in their pond, and we would come out and do a survey and tell them what they needed to fix the problem,” says Howes, who holds a degree in environmental science. “I recall one farm pond we went to was so small we could just barely get the boat turned around in it.”

Retired since 2014, his aquatic adventures now take him in a more carefree direction. He and his wife, Debbie, spend as much quality time as possible with their six grandchildren. He loves to share his knowledge of the outdoors with them.

“If they just stop by for a visit, we will hit the backyard and see what kind of mushroom has popped up. They really seem to enjoy learning about what is outside,” says Howes, who lives in Morehead. But when they get a few days to spend together, they plan a trip to hit the nearest creek and see what kind of creepy crawly things live beneath the rocks.

Outfitted with wading boots, a seine net and a thirst for adventure, Howes’ grandkids can’t wait to see what is lurking just beneath the surface of Tygarts Creek.

“It’s pretty simple,” he says. “A couple of us hold the net while the rest turn over rocks in front of it, and the current carries what’s hiding on the bottom of the stream into the net.”

Depending on the day, Howes and his young explorers might find crayfish or aquatic insects like stoneflies, mayflies (nymphs) and hellgrammites (dobsonfly larvae)—all of which are signs of a healthy environment.

These critters are a good indication that the water is free of pollutants, Howes says. If these creatures aren’t found, there could be a problem or contaminants may be present. For example, a hellgrammite will stay in the creek for up to three years; if the water gets contaminated, the species can be wiped out until the pollutants are gone.

Kids love to find out what’s hiding in the creek—and promptly put it back—Howes says, and he encourages all families to give the adventure a try.

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