MOHAWK - Discovering the Valley of the Crystals Copyright 2002
Chapter 12 - Tributaries
Crum Creek starts in a swamp near Oppenheim. Back in the mid to late 1800s that swamp was a fair-size body of water called Le Boeuff Lake. The lake’s dam conserved and controlled water for several mills in Oppenheim, including a sawmill, gristmill, tannery and distillery. Today there is still a small dam in that area but the lake and the mills are no more.
Just downstream from the dam, Crum Creek crosses under Route 29 just east of the corners in Oppenheim, meanders southwest for 1.2 miles before flowing under Route 331 where it drops into a gulf, flowing past Twin Church Hill, and under Crum Creek Road at 2.3 miles. At 3.5 miles it zips under Twin Church Road, just west of the “hamlet” of Crum Creek. Soon after it drops into a half-mile long gorge before crossing under Davis Road and Clay Hill Road at around 4.5 miles.
From the Clay Hill Road Bridge the creek doesn’t see another road until it brushes against Hillabrandt Road at 6.7 miles and passes under Route 5 at seven miles. Below Route 5 it makes a sweeping bend around a high glacial terrace before flowing under a railroad bridge and into the Mohawk at around 8 miles.
Discovery: There's Nothing Crummy About Crum Creek
May 25, 2001, 57 degree, Cloudy & Windy
It had rained for almost a week. By Friday I couldn't stand it any longer. Rain or no rain, I had to discover something new in the Mohawk Valley.
Two nights before I had enjoyed an excellent program at the Herkimer County Historical Society on the "Beardslee Family of Manheim" by St. Johnsville Central School Librarian, Jean Sekel. The Beardslees, among other things, built Beardslee Manor (now called Castle) near the mouth of East Canada Creek. This area is way up on my list of places to study and explore, but the big creek was too high to wade, so I decided to explore nearby Crum Creek.I enjoyed the sights, sounds and smells of Crum Creek
without realizing I was walking through history's door.
It was 8:30 a.m. when I parked the Jeep behind the guardrail near the Route 5 bridge and slipped on my hip boots. The smell of phlox and honeysuckle was in the air. I could hear the calls of a half-dozen songbirds and the rushing waters of the creek. If not for the occasional car or truck passing on the highway, this could be a wilderness setting.
I crossed the highway and walked downstream, following the faded path of an old farm road. Buttercups and the downy heads of ripe dandelions dotted the predominantly green field. I noted the smell of mint and couldn't resist tearing off a leaf to enjoy the taste. The collapsed-remains of a large shed, galvanized steel roof still intact, revealed this was an active farm in the recent past.
Much to my surprise this meandering stretch of the creek is replete with pools, runs, and log-filled holes. I was tempted to cast a lure, but continued downstream toward the railroad bridge that had come into view. Getting up and over that bridge was more difficult than expected.
I didn't want to walk under the bridge, for fear of disturbing the fishing hole I was sure would be there, so I walked through waste-high brush (that will be head-high in a few weeks) and around marshland. Along the way I passed blossomed thornapple trees, ragged robin, phlox, fern and a variety of plants I couldn't identify.
I suspected there was a road grade leading up to the railroad; the only way a farmer could get to his fields on the other side. It's nice to be right once in awhile. Although overgrown with brush and small trees, it was an easy path to the plowed fields on the other side. It was good to see this rich farmland still in use. From there on I walked the edges of fields to the mouth of the creek. At 9:15 I saw the Mohawk River.
Crum Creek enters the Mohawk just east of East Canada Creek. I was familiar with this area because I had canoed this stretch of the Mohawk the year before. I could see the hills and fields south of the river where the Mohawk Village of Canajoharie and English Fort Hendrick stood from the mid to late 1700s. Early travelers were impressed with Mohawk Chief, King Hendrick's apple orchard. Construction of the NYS Thruway all but obliterated this historic site.
Heron and man tracks indicated there were fish hereabouts. A gold spinner produced a fallfish. I was certain this was also walleye and bass water, and considered trying different lures and techniques, but I had promised to be home for lunch.
Fishing Crum Creek in this area is not easy. The banks are steep, muddy and slippery. Willow, boxelder, scrub elm, cottonwood and ferns grow tight to the banks, so the best I could do was an occasional cast to a likely looking pool. My efforts produced a few snags. The only bites I got were from mosquitoes.
It was 9:55 when I sat on rock under the railroad bridge to eat a mid-morning snack and enjoy the breeze that discouraged mosquitoes. I wondered if a train would shake rock or gravel into the creek. At exactly 10:03 I had my answer. A freight train took almost two minutes to cross the bridge. The sound was deafening, but nothing fell off the bridge. And I caught nothing from the rock-bottom runs and pools under the bridge.
After Route 5 came into view, I could see a large brick house atop a knoll on the other side of the highway, no doubt the home of farmers that once worked this land. In the 1800s, brick houses outside villages were usually the homes of wealthy farmers. I wondered if the owner of this farmstead visited nearby Beardslee Manor.
It was much easier to fish this part of the creek. The banks were nowhere near as high, streamside vegetation nowhere near as thick. With the stream swollen after a week of rain, the pools and runs were deep. I hoped to catch a trout or perhaps a small bass. Much to my surprise, a pool at the end of a short rapids produced a big fish. At first I thought I had hooked a small carp, but when it came into view, rolled and ripped off line, I knew it was a bass, a 17-inch smallmouth. Made my day.
I cast a gold spoon into several fishy looking spots, including log-filled pools at sharp bends in the stream. Two especially good looking fish havens were at the base of a ridge on the right side of the creek; one a run against a clay bank, the other a pool next to slabs of conglomerate. No hits, no follows.
There is a house to the right of the bridge, so I crossed to the opposite side. The stream bottom in this area is a rock outcrop, forming tiny waterfalls, chutes, and solid footing, so I waded midstream, crossed under the bridge and arrived at my car at 11:30.
I was disappointed I didn't have time to explore further upstream. I recalled there was an Indian village site along Crum Creek, but couldn't determine where it was from the hasty review of my research notes earlier that morning. I had hoped to recognize some feature that would provide a clue to its location.
Little did I know how close I came to being there, done that.
Crum Creek Part 2
Discovery: Return to Crum Creek's Fish Camp
May 29, 2001, 57 degrees, Sunny
I was excited. It was only a 10-minute walk to the site of an Indian village that was located near one of the most productive fishing grounds in the Mohawk Valley.
This seasonal hamlet was built atop a peninsula of high ground at a bend in Crum Creek that was only a few hundred yards from East Canada Creek and the Mohawk River. From here the Mohawks caught fish with nets, spears and set lines, and gathered mussels and clams. Although there were bullheads, eels and brook trout in these waters, suckers were the most abundant and sought after fish, especially during the spring spawning run.
With a little imagination you can see the elm bark and dugout
canoes lined up near this tree at the bottom of fish camp ridge?
It was 10:45 a.m. when I parked near the Route 5 Bridge and walked downstream to the point of land at the west end of the peninsula. It was an easy climb on a gravel and cobble trail to the top. From there I could see Crum Creek, Route 5 and the south side of the Mohawk Valley. It didn't take much imagination to picture elm bark and dugout canoes beached along the shoreline, and hear the chatter of women and children as they hauled in their nets.
I passed through a thin stand of hemlock, elm, boxelder, basswood and maple, and into a field dotted with buttercups, asters and wild roses. Fresh "cow pies" revealed a pasture, so I walked to the south edge of the ridge. A dirt road angled to the bottom through giant maples. One of these fallen monarchs was covered with moss. A grey squirrel scurried across the forest floor and disappeared in a big thornapple tree.
Through the trees I could see a plowed field below. Although these floodplain soils are some of the richest in the world, it is doubtful the early inhabitants of this site planted maize down there. Back then flooding was quite common (no dams upstream) so the relatively few crops planted near this seasonal village were most likely planted on higher ground.
Further east I discovered a stone fencerow in the park-like forest along the south edge. I also discovered a huge depression in the hillside. While I was looking it over, a train passed below. It was at exactly 11:30. I learned later the depression was created during the construction of the railroad.
Directly north, in the middle of the peninsula, was a big meadow. Purple and white phlox grew along the edge. I crossed the meadow, passed under a big oak, waved to some cows in the pasture, and walked to the edge of the woods on the other side. From there I could see a white house, red barn and blue silos; the current inhabitants of this ancient village site.
Actually there was more than one village here. As many as 300 Mohawks "camped" here on and off during the 1400s, 1500s and again in the 1700s. Although its high-ground location made it more defensible, it was more likely located here to avoid floodwaters. There were no palisades or longhouses because this was not a main village. Bark huts provided shelter for the early inhabitants. (The Mohawks that resided here in the 1700s lived in cabins.)
I couldn't help wondering what daily life was like back then. The women and children did most of the work around camp. How did it look, smell, sound? Were there fish drying in the sun? Had seed been planted? Were canoes beached along the creek or were the men away? (During the 1400s and 1500s, the men spent much of their time hunting deer, or trying to kill or capture their neighbors.)
Mosquitoes---a face full of them---brought me back to reality. I headed back---on the north side of the ridge---and discovered fencerows, a pasture littered with stones, wild apple and cherry trees, and cows lying in the shade. Along the edge were piles of tree stumps. I wondered what was uncovered when those stumps were removed from the pasture. Clam and mussel shells perhaps. I also discovered a spring on the north side of the ridge; a source of freshwater for the villagers who lived here.
Cows had created tunnels through the trees, so I followed one to the west end of the ridge Thistle and burdocks grew around a depression in the gravel bank where I followed another trail down to Crum Creek. It was noon when I headed upstream, looking for shells or pieces of pottery. When my hip boots sprung a leak, I called it quits and cut cross-lots to the Jeep. I didn't need pottery to remember this discovery trip.
CrumCreek Part 3
Small-Stream Trout and Senior Sycamore
September 15, 2004, 65 degrees, Sunny
It was 9 a.m. when Paul Flanders parked his pickup just off Clay Hill Road. We walked through highground timberland for about a half-mile before descending to Crum Creek. The plan was to fish upstream to the bridge, but Paul mentioned there was a good pool at the big bend a hundred yards downstream if I cared to give it a try. Hah!
In this area Crum Creek runs over granite rocks and boulders, between wooded clay and gravel banks. At first glance it looks too small and shallow to support trout. But Paul insisted there were plenty of fish, noting that some long ago fish shocking surveys produced surprising results.
While Paul rigged his spinning rod, I walked downstream to find the big-bend pool. On the way I found a metal safety pin stringer. Looked too big for stream trout; more like a stringer for walleyes or pike. Lost? Or high expectations turned to disgust?
The highlight of this discovery trip was this huge sycamore with a "den" at the bottom and shed bark all around. Paul Flanders reluctantly provides perspective. No, I didn't hang shed bark in the small trees just to take the photo.
The big-bend pool was a long, rock filled stretch of stillwater that was so shallow, I could see the bottom. Nevertheless, when my gold spoon was halfway across, a fish grabbed it and dove into the rocks, snagging the line. When I tried to tug it loose, the lure rocketed out of the water and hit me in the mouth. No blood, but it was the first time I’d been caught by a trout.
From then on fishing Crum Creek was a lesson in frustration. Overhanging trees protected almost every pool. No matter what I did---underhand, overhand, side-hand or even skip-cast---my gold spoon spent more time hung up in branches than it did in the water. Reluctant to leave $2 lures as decorations, I messed up most of the good water by retrieving lures. When I did manage to actually swim a lure through a pool, I had a few follows and some hits. One fish hit the lure three times but couldn’t connect because the lure’s hooks were snagged on the line and it was running sideways. First time I had ever had a trout hit a Phoebe running sideways.
This is one of the few pools that weren't "protected" by overhanging trees and branches . . .
. . . and where I caught this beautiful brown trout.
When I caught up to Paul, he was working a small gold spoon (not a Phoebe) through a rocky run. He had had a few hits but no hookups, except of course on rocks, trees and branches. Although he lives nearby, he hadn’t fished this area for several years. Back then his weapons of choice were flies, but his eyesight “ain’t what it used to be” and those tippets are so tiny.
While the highground timberland was dominated by second growth cherry, maple and ash, many of the streamside trees were old timers like white pine, cottonwood, willow and a few oak and sycamore. The highlight of this discovery trip was a huge sycamore with a “den” at the bottom. Long sheds of bark were scattered all around and hanging from seedlings. If that senior sycamore could talk . . .
Paul is a patient fisherman. Despite the overhanging trees, he worked almost every pool and run, while I fished the deepest pools and then waited for Paul to catch up.
Around 11 o’clock, I approached a good pool that was under a tree lying across the creek. I passed it up and cast into a shallow pool just upstream . . . and was astounded when a 13 ½-inch brown trout took the lure and flip flopped on the surface. After measuring and photographing the fish, I waded upstream. Along the way I discovered a big sycamore and an almost identical size oak growing side by side.
As I sat atop the abutment, feet dangling off the edge, I felt like a kid. Could hardly wait to tell Paul about the big fish and the “twin” trees.
When Paul climbed up the bank at 11:30 and I told him about the fish, he said, “You’re kidding.” His next words were “Did you see the big oak and sycamore growing side by side?”
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