Spring strategies

Spring is just around the corner, so that means the first opportunities for mussel searches will soon be here. Spring floods wash out many empty shells from the river bottom and also brings up older buried shells as well with their powerful scouring, and sweeps them all downstream. They often tend to collect in good numbers around river bends, as shells tumbling down with the current in the straight middle channels tend to go up the banks where the rivers curve as the high waters cross over sand and gravel bars that form in such bends.

The vegetation that grows on these beaches and spits acts like fine tooth combs that catch many shells - even the odd live ones -as they get filtered out going through.

So it's a good strategy to search such places right after the early spring floods recede, but before the vegetation starts to leaf up and hide all the loot. A narrow window of opportunity of only a very few weeks, yes, but often a pretty productive one!

Dr. Phil

Posted on March 09, 2018 01:26 PM by redgarter redgarter


The recent epic floods in SW Ontario are sure to have uncovered some valves and other exciting things!

Posted by wdvanhem over 6 years ago

Oh so you guys got a big 'flush' lately with the major thaw? Those old buried shells sure come up to the surface with those events, along with the odd fossil or man-made relics, old and not so old!

Best find those promising bends on Google earth and head over there right after a major flooding event in April. Best is about 7-10 days after 7-10 days or little or no rain for those small to medium streams and rivers. Levels go down fast in those...

Good hunting!

Dr. Phil

Posted by redgarter over 6 years ago

I've been looking for mussels recently, but haven't had too much luck. Is it better to try deeper streams and rivers instead of shallow ones? Sandy instead of rocky? Wider instead of narrow? Some spots seem to have absolutely no mussels no matter how hard I look, but they have native fish, so I'd assume there'd be mussels there too, somewhere

Posted by mws over 3 years ago

Hi Mews,

Shallower and more winding stretches of river are much more productive than deep, channeled straightaways, if not only for easier access, but also for washed up shells on shoals, sand/gravel bars and banks right below bends. Also, the steeper the gradient, the less productive, and skip places where it's only rapids over bedrock or large rocks at the bottom.
In short, look for the places than meet mussels needs: stretches of river where the river bottom is most STABLE with a mix of substrate they can easily bury in AND move through if they need to, as when they need to move to deeper spots during summer drawdowns.
But keep in mind some rivers have suffered major losses in the past because of some severe pollution event, and the mussel fauna doesn't come back as readily as its fish.
One last musseling wisdom: never quit a spot if you don't find any evidence of mussels in the first few meters when you wade in. Mussel abundance in most rivers is very variable along the whole watershed, for the reasons I explained. So always try and move upstream and downstream from your point of entry about half a km total before calling it quits. I've stopped counting the jackpots I've discovered like that when it looked like a total wasteland going in.

Good luck,


Posted by redgarter over 3 years ago

Thanks for the tips!

I recently managed to find a mussel in a spot that I’ve been to many times before, not always looking for mussels. I don’t wade, so I’m usually stuck with looking for washed up shells. The creek I was at has a good mix of shallow rocky/gravelly spots and deeper pools that I know the fish like to stay in, which could be why I managed to find one there instead of at similar creeks that are shallow nearly the whole way through. Though actually the entirely shallow creek is just a different part of the same creek where I did find the shell, so I guess I should try more combing through different spots on the same creek, instead of going to the same park over and over again? Or maybe I need to try looking for more than just shells? I’m not sure if I should focus more on new spots or new methods

Posted by mws over 3 years ago

All of the above. Don't forget most shells aren't on shore, but in the shallows, so wading in usually pays off. : )

Posted by redgarter over 3 years ago

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