Sunday, August 25, 2013

A Busy Day at Pearl Lake

Yesterday we had a busy day at Pearl Lake, teaching three Open Water students, two Peak Performance Buoyancy students, and one Rescue Diver. The rescue course, the last step before professional diving courses, is particularly fun to teach. Through the course study and the skill development, the instructor gets to see the student’s transformation from an independent minded diver to one who cares for others at a high level. The other aspect of the course is that we enlist the help of other divers to serve as victims, our preferred choice being successful former Rescue Diver students.

As our rescue student, Sarah Barrett, was communing from Indiana to take our course, and under a time crunch, we made a special class for her. In the pool, we were lucky to have Manta Diver Kathryn Elliott, who just happens to also be a lifeguard trainer, act as victim for skill development. She challenged Sarah to deal with simple rescue of tired divers, to full on irrational panicked divers, to finding and surfacing with an unconscious diver, as Mike coached Sarah through the exercises. Kathryn was a huge help and it showed in Sarah’s performance in the open water.

After skill development, Rescue Diver students must apply what they have learned in the open water through a number of scenarios. For this portion, we enlisted the help of Sheryl and Jerry Brandes, who took the rescue course last summer. As recent graduates of the course, they bring a special talent for playing the victim and their input during debriefing provides a unique perspective. In addition, as with everything we do, we want everyone to be safe, so having a number of rescue divers on site is always a plus.

At the end of the day, not only do we thank everyone who helped in getting Sarah through the course, but we hope everyone, including the newly certified divers, learned something or took something away from the exercises, be it a skill, or inspiration to work toward becoming a rescue diver themselves.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Diving in Northern Wisconsin

Diving is something I love to do anywhere, anytime, but to me, as far as freshwater diving goes, nothing beats the unspoiled waters of northern Wisconsin.

Waking Saturday morning to the sound loons calling eerily from across the lake, we piled into our cars, making our way to the restaurant for a hearty pre-dive breakfast.  Over eggs and hot coffee, we chatted about our upcoming day, searching, doing certification skills and simply exploring the uncharted depths of Butternut Lake.  As we rented a pontoon, we reviewed some boat dos and don’ts for good measure.
Dive trailer packed!  Did you know that
kitty litter is an important material to have for every dive?
There she is, the USS Dive-like-crazy

Arriving at the lake, we soaked in the view.  The crisp air meeting the comparatively warm water caused a fine mist to rise over the lake, giving the scene a surreal soft focus. The water was flat, undisturbed, except for a duck or two paddling through, leaving an ever-widening V in their wake.  We set to work assembling our gear, confident that we would be the only divers on the lake.  There would be no vying for parking spots or disappointment when the features you were looking forward to seeing are obscured by silt.
I was anxious to get my soon-to-be divers into the water, experiencing for the first time what it is like to be in the lake that made such a beautiful view for us all this morning.  A diver’s first time in freshwater can be a little unnerving, with a thick suit to wear, visibility far less than the pool, and unknown animals lurking in the depths.  I hoped that new students would put aside whatever fears they had and just take in the experience, trusting in their training and my skills as their mentor and protector.  I briefed our plan and helped them don their gear and finally we were able to splash. 

After walking into the lake to water deep enough to take the weight off our gear, we helped each other don our fins.  We reviewed the plan once more and made our descent.  Once we settled on the bottom I surveyed the scene: sandy bottom, tree trunks and assorted vegetation hiding crayfish, and the occasional bass scooting by to see what was up. The best thing was that the visibility was great, a fact that would surely make my students a bit more comfortable.   I listened to breaths taken and bubbles blown out.  I love that sound. 

We took off into the wild, causing crayfish to abandon their hide-outs, thereby creating meal opportunities for bass.   Our goal was to acclimate ourselves to the environment and gear and to not touch the bottom and ruin the visibility. When you are the lone diver in a lake, it is a special challenge to mind your buoyancy;  if the clear water becomes turbid, you cannot thrust the blame onto anyone else. 

Between dives, we lazed under clear skies, breathing in the fresh, clean air.  We cooked out and shared our experiences on the uncrowded lawn, chatting with the occasional fisherman, giving information on the location of fish and getting information on the possible location of lost anchors or fishing poles.

Finally, our happy band of divers watched the setting sun stretch shadows of trees across the lake while loons again ventured out onto the water.;   We spent the balance of the daylight touring the lake in our pontoon boat, tired, but satisfied with several new dives recorded in our logs.   Yes, North Woods diving has its own charm.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

I Had The Best Pool Session Yesterday

I just had the best pool session yesterday!  It wasn’t that the students were perfect, on the contrary it was because they were not.

The session started out fine, just me and my two students, ready to start their snorkel swim.  I explained what they were to do: swim 300 yards continuously with mask, fins and snorkel, keeping their faces in the water the entire time. 

The first student started off with what he thought was a good mask and snorkel.  The other student got into the water and told me, eyes big as saucers that she was scared.  I encouraged her to just put her face in the water and breathe from the snorkel for a few minutes to calm down. She tried it for a moment or two and then told me that she just did not think she could do it.  I suggested that she try breathing while she swim slowly and perhaps with other things to think about, she would forget that she did not like to breathe through her mouth, and off she went.  I was a little skeptical, starting to strategize my next step towards getting her through this, but lo and behold she kept going!  In fact, she never had to be reminded to keep her face in the water, even once.  She completed the swim all smiles.

Meanwhile, my other student was stopping every few yards, swimming and checking that the snorkel was out of the water, probably because as part of my briefing, I mentioned that if a person swims too fast, the snorkel can submerge.  When he stopped altogether, he stated that his snorkel was constantly filling with water, but as I watched him swim, the snorkel remained out to f the water.

Thinking that perhaps there was a little leak in the purge at the bottom of the snorkel, I encouraged him to try to breathe out a little more forcefully and perhaps that would help. I offered him my snorkel if that did not work.  He completed the swim, but was clearly disgusted with his purchase. (I later suggested a dive shop I know with expert sales people who would help him get a scuba-worthy set up.)

I called Mike to bring me another mask and a proper snorkel for him to finish the session, although I was impressed that despite his difficulty, he kept right on, determined to complete all the skills.  That determination served him throughout the course of the day.

As the day wore on, there were challenges, and I heard, “I don’t think I can do this!” a little more than I like, but in the end, both students were able to pull themselves together, Stop, Think and Act, and soldier on until all the skills were mastered.

As an instructor, this sort of challenge is most rewarding. It was a test of not only my instruction in the pool, but my facility in helping them apply what they learned in the classroom.  Of course, it helps when the student is taking the course out of personal desire and not because someone else suggested it, but even with a properly motivated student, when there are fears and difficulties, the instructor must become the perfect balance of mentor, coach and cheerleader, and I always throw in a little nurturing “Mama Duck” for good measure.

A good pool session indeed!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Six Things: Fresh Water Fish

NOTICE:  Gentle reader, this blog includes descriptions of fish spawning that may not be suitable for anyone.  Please be advised.

Did you know that only 0.1% of the earth’s water is fresh?  It makes me appreciate the many bodies of freshwater available to us for diving.  (Having freshwater to drink is kind of nice, too.)  Even more interesting is that 40% of all fish species can be found in that 0.1% of the earth’s water!  As divers, we probably have a greater appreciation of freshwater fish compared to others, but even we can get a little ho-hum about it, so here are Six things I bet you did not know about your favorite freshwater fish.

Number 1
Anyone who’s dived with me knows that I like bass.  They are so friendly, like underwater Fido.  Bass actually have 6 senses! In addition to the usual sight, touch, hearing and taste they have a lateral line that enables them to detect underwater vibrations caused by swimming bait fish.  That means that even if this fish is in the murkiest of water, or has an eye injury, it is still capable of finding food.  Even if they did not have the lateral line, the bass’ eyesight is pretty amazing.  Bass can see up to 30ft in clear water and can even see things, like a fisherman in a boat, at the surface.  Researchers have proven that red is the bass’ favorite color, so I am rethinking my pink diving color scheme!
Also, Bass and Crayfish are mortal enemies locked in a never ending battle for control of the lake floor
Photo by Scott Duban
Number 2
Walleye are another fish with excellent vision, making them successful night feeders.  The name “walleye” comes from the fact that this fish’s eyes point outward, rather than forward. This eye position, along with a specialized light-gathering layer in this fish’s eyes, make the walleye a successful predator.  These light gathering cells cause the eyes to shine when light hits them, much like a cat’s eyes in the dark. Fishermen take advantage of the fact that the walleye has a shine, using it as an indication of the fish’s location.  Walleye are a popular food fish.  In fact, it is no surprise that in Minnesota, where more walleye is consumed than in any other jurisdiction of the United States, it is honored as their state fish.  Walleye is also the state fish of South Dakota and the official fish of Saskatchewan.

Number 3
Yellow perch, a close cousin of walleye, are day time feeders.  North American natives, they are a critical food source for bass and walleye, as well as a much sought after food for humans.  Communal spawners, Perch eggs are draped in gelatinous strings over weeds, branches or whatever in handy, and fertilized externally.  (It kind of takes all the fun out of communal spawning, IMO.)  Perch are not good parents because they not only are known to lay their eggs and then move on, but they will eat their young if the opportunity presents itself!

Number 4
Varieties of trout, in contrast to the communally spawning perch, are genetically able to spawn together and produce viable young, but due use of differing spawning areas, timing, or exploitation of different niches within the food chain, maintain their distinctness. In fact, except in some fish farm situations, (Love the one you’re with, I guess.) brown trout and rainbow trout will not interbreed.  With 38-42 pairs of chromosomes, (compared with human’s measly 23) the brown trout is the most genetically diverse vertebrate known.

Number 5
The Paddlefish, always a treat to see while diving, is a prized sport fish, though its population has been on the decline.  In fact, there are only a couple of species of this ancient relative of the sturgeon left.  Known to grow to 6ft and over 190lbs., the paddlefish is a filter feeder that fuels itself with zooplankton.  The invasion of zebra mussels to most inland waters has decreased available food for paddlefishes and has necessitated the formation of restocking programs where their harvest is allowed.  Thankfully, the paddlefish is also known to eat bivalves and crustaceans.  People do eat the meat of the paddlefish, and sometimes their roe, referred to as American Sevruga Caviar, is sold.

Number 6
Finally, the bluegill.  The biggest bluegill caught was 4 lb., though I would bet that some of the specimens at Haigh would crush that record.  A very adaptable fish, the bluegill can tolerate up to 1.8% salinity and are found in Chesapeake Bay, as well as the U.S. east of the Rockies, and as far south as Mexico.  Bluegill spawn starting late in May, extending into August.  The male of the species makes several beds resembling bowls in shallow water.  As a female approaches, the male will start to make grunting sounds as he circles within his bed.  Females, who are more attracted to males with bigger bodies and ears, (per Wikipedia), will enter the nest of her choosing, circling within the bed with the male. If all goes well, the two settle at the bottom of the bed, the male in an upright position.  Their bellies touch, they quiver and then the spawn is released.  The male then fertilizes the eggs externally.  At this time, smaller, less desirable males may dart into the nest and fertilize a few eggs, thus maintaining diversity within the species.  Afterward, the male kicks his baby mama to the curb and guards the eggs. 

Bluegill are generally well liked, in the U.S., but not so much in other countries.  In 1960, Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley gifted Japan’s crown prince Akihito with bluegill, and the Prince then gave the fish to the Japan’s research fisheries.  The wily fish escaped the fisheries after which they wreaked havoc with the native species.  The emperor made an official apology to the most effected provinces.

So you see every creature has his story.  Special thanks to Wikipedia, and for information.

Join us on our next adventure and say hi to all our little underwater friends.