Kate Buffett and the Deep Blue Sea

Chapter 4: Something’s Fishy

Steve was doodling along the margin of his notebook, watching the clock in last period math class tick slowly toward 3:00. Sitting in a desk all day was not great for a ball of energy kid like Steve. As the minute hand edged toward 2:55 Steve’s legs jiggled and his feet tapped on the floor. It was Friday, sunny and Steve could not wait to bike over to the golf course with his  buddy, Eddie. When the bell finally rang Eddie and Steve joined the loud, happy buzz of energetic kids filling the halls.

As they peddled the bike trail toward Eagle Landing Golf Club, Steve asked, “Hey, Eddie. Did you bring a bucket so we could catch tadpoles in the creek?”

“No, Dad’s got plenty of buckets and he brought a few fly rods to work so we could borrow them. Since it’s later in the day hardly anyone will be out on the golf course. It’s gonna be sweet.” Eddie’s dad, Artie, was the golf pro at Eagle Landing Golf Club just a few miles south of the school. While Eddie occasionally played a round or two of golf with his dad, he was a fly fisher at heart.

Ever since Eddie had learned to tie a fly he was hooked on fishing. Creating something that looked like a real caddis fly or nymph was his favorite hobby.

Steve on the other hand didn’t have the patience for detailed work like that. He’d rather wade into the creek and look under the rocks to see what critters were living there. It had been about three months since the buddies had gone fishing. Hockey season, soccer and then volleyball usually took up their afternoons. If there was a sport in season the two friends were on the team. With games or meets on the weekend the boys had a full schedule. This was a rare Friday between sport seasons. Since the golf course was always crowded on the weekend, this was a perfect day for fishing Eagle Creek.

Eagle Creek was fed by the four ponds and two lakes that dotted the golf course. Eagle Creek flowed between a grove of aspens and willow trees. In fact, a couple of the golf course holes were especially tough because they skirted right along a bend of the creek where the aspen had flourished. For the boys, that are had always been a favorite place to explore, build forts and check out the beaver dams along the muddy creek banks.

Eagle Creek beaver pond

“Hey guys,” welcomed Eddie’s dad, Artie, “You got here fast. Guess you’re pretty excited to go fishing, it’s been awhile.” Artie was not only the pro at Eagle Landing, he was the manager over-seeing the maintenance, landscaping and all the employees.

Handing the each boy a glass of lemonade from the snack bar and gesturing toward the selection of chips, he continued, “I need to do some work on the 15th and 16th green over by the big lake. I’ll have my cell if you need anything. Otherwise, see you about 5:00.”

The cart paths made for easy biking all the way to the south end of the course. As the boys rounded the 10th tee and wound their way off the path and into the aspen grove an odd smell hit them.

“Oh, gross,” complained Steve, “It smells nasty-fishy here. I wonder why.”

They ditched their bikes and walked the final 50 feet to the creek where it was most shallow and slow-moving. This was the spot where they usually crossed on the logs and rocks to get to the other side where their favorite fishing hole was tucked among some huge boulders beyond the pond that filled behind the beaver dam.

“Holy cow,’ shouted Eddie, his arms flailing wildly in the air, “Watch out Steve, The rocks are covered with something slimy. I almost bought it right there.”

Eddie was right. In fact, the entire creek surface was covered in a green slime. As the boys inched their way across and then walked toward their fishing hole they noticed that the wider area of the creek was moving more quickly downstream. It still smelled kind of fishy and weird, but there was not so much goopy algae all over everything.

As Eddie climbed across a large boulder and inched his was out toward a riffle of water behind a large fallen log, Steve stayed closer to shore where about 12 melon-sized rocks were embedded in the mud. Carefully flipping them over one at a time Steve checked out who was living right there in Eagle Creek.  Steve didn’t fish much but Eddie liked the way his fishing buddy always seemed to know what fly would work best. Today was no different.

“Hey Steve, “called Eddie as he splashed quietly as possible over to the fishing hole, “Are you in ‘match the hatch’ mode today?”

Steve laughed, “You know it.” “Match the hatch” is when a fisherman looks for clues in the water to decide what the fish, in this case the trout, are actually feeding on. Are they eating adults as they are emerging, or drifting nymphs? Nymphs are the stage of the life-cycle pre-adult or in the larval form. Steve had not seen any adult flies darting about and he was pretty sure that Eddie wasn’t going to have much luck with the fly he was casting. He had seen some trout nosing about around the rocks and nibbling on something.  Quickly gently picking up one of the nymphs he was finding in the area he ran over to show Eddie.

A caddis nymph like Steve found on the rocks

“Seriously,” asked Eddie, “You saw fish poking around this Brown Olive Caddis nymph?” That news made Eddie really happy. They didn’t have much time to fish and he didn’t want to waste it using the wrong fly. Besides, tying a caddis nymph was one of his favorites even though it wasn’t the easiest.  He had about 8 of them in his fly box.

As Eddie changed his fly, Steve was still not ready to fish. It was more fun to explore and see what he could find around the bank of Eagle Creek. For about a half hour Steve waded along the edge of the creek bank as quietly as possible. At one point he knelt down, staying still as he watched two beaver playfully floating and swimming in a deep area with some tiny rapids. Rounding the next corner where the creek narrowed Steve was hit by that same, nasty dead-fishy smell. Looking more closely at the water he noticed that it was thick with the same slimy green algae they’d seen further upstream. Tangled in the algae were about a dozen dead fish. It was a truly disgusting site, but worst of all it worried Steve. What was going on? 

Looking at his watch, Steve noticed it was already almost 5:00. Time to get back to the clubhouse to meet up with Eddie’s dad. On the way back to their bikes Steve told Eddie what he had seen. Eddie answered with a frown, “You know, I think something fishy is going on. I mean really, not kidding. I usually always catch a few fish and today I barely got a nibble. Maybe my dad knows what’s up.”

They boys quickly pedaled back and burst through the pro shop door full of questions.

“Hold up a minute guys,” said Artie, “What are you talking about with all this algae stuff. This is really important. The maintenance team hasn’t mentioned anything about this to me. Surely they know how upset I would be if any of our golf course water was foul or causing a problem to the fish.”

Artie had made big changes to Eagle Landing ever since he began working there. No more plastic cups or bottled water. The golfers had learned to bring their own reusable water bottles. No Styrofoam in the snack bar and no plastic utensils. Everything about Eagle Landing was “green.” Sadly, now it seemed the creek was too.

Pulling his cell phone from his pocket, Artie called Hugh, the head of landscaping and maintenance, “Hey, Hugh. I know it is Friday afternoon but I need to talk to you about something important – right now!”

In minutes Hugh, slipping off his muddy boots at the door, came in with a grin at seeing the boys. “What’s up, Artie?”

Artie motioned to the boys and asked them to share what they had seen. When they were done Hugh had a very worried look on his face. He explained, “This is bad, really bad. I was out with a broken leg for the past three weeks, you know. I stayed on top of things the best I could from home, but one of the new guys ordered the fertilizer to put on the greens by the lake on the 12-16th holes. We fertilize quite a bit this time of the year.  I noticed he had ordered from a new company. He said it was cheaper than what I have always ordered. Now, I think I know why it was.”

Shaking his head sorrowfully he went on, “Artie, I know how you are about being a “green” and environmentally sound golf course. We have so many birds and critters around it’s almost like a nature preserve here.”

Reaching out to tousle Eddie’s hair he went on, “We want to do our part for these guys and their future.”

“Absolutely,” answered Artie, “So what happened?”

“I can’t be 100% sure, but I will find out right away. There are some fertilizers that contain too much nitrogen and phosphorus, more than we really need here on our course. This can cause algae blooms in the lakes and then into the creek as the water runs off. I am afraid that the new fertilizer that’s been used the past weeks is the cause. We also have had a lot of rain and the run-off from the farm uphill from the 15th hole has also poured into Eagle Creek. All these things happened quickly and I think that is why we have the algae bloom.”

Turning to look at Eddie and Steve, Hugh sadly shook his head.

“Is there anything that can fix it?” asked Steve.

Finally, Hugh smiled, “You bet there is buddy, and we are going to get right on it now that I am back and my leg is strong again. I might have some work for your “Green Team” if you think they would want to help out over fall break.”

The grins on Steve and Eddie answered that question immediately, so Hugh went on, “We can plant some pickerelweed and rushes in the shallow waters of the ponds and course lakes. They will absorb some of the extra nutrient that washes into the water. Meanwhile we can do something I have been wanting to do for years. There is a clay product we can put into the ponds, it actually removes the phosphorus before it can flow into the creek, the river or the ocean. I know you all want that!”

“Go on,” said Artie, then added, ‘Why haven’t we done this before?”

“Everything costs money, boss. We made so many improvements over the past two years my “green” ideas sort of stayed on the back burner. I guess I really should have mentioned all this to you. I know what’s important to you,” answered Hugh with a sheepish look.

The boys looked from Hugh to Artie, wondering what was going to come next. Then Hugh added one more thing.

“You remember when the pump on our pond aeration system broke down last Fall? I never got around to getting it fixed before winter. It was one of those thing I thought could wait, then I broke my leg and more things piled up. This one is on me. We all know how important the aeration fountains are. Most people just think they look nice, but they are an important part of making sure the right kind of bacteria is thriving in our ponds.”

Steve couldn’t hold in his next question, “Bacteria is good? I thought bacteria was bad for us.”

Hugh answered quickly, “It’s all about the balance in nature, Steve. The bacteria that we want is a beneficial type that breaks down things like the algae or other organic material that gets in the water. When they aeration system runs 24/7 we really boost the ability of the bacteria to reduce algae blooms. The benefits are best at night. I need to get on this project right away.” Then turning toward Artie he continued, “Boss, I am so sorry I let you down. Trust me, it will not happen again. I know we can create an excellent nature preserve that’s able to help birds, fish and even the good bacteria to thrive. I am on it!”

Artie shook Hugh’s hand and replied, “We will all be on it. I am just so glad the boys went out fishing and exploring today. We caught the problem early. And best of all – we have a solution. Okay now, who wants to ride over to Pacific Burger Hut for some burgers and fries?” Motioning toward his mountain bike in the rack next to Eddie and Steve’s bikes, Artie waited for what he knew was coming next.

“Heck yeah!” said Steve and Eddie jumping up to high five.

In the end, it turned out to be a pretty extraordinary Friday!


Check out the Reader’s Guide for this Chapter – great conversation starters for families