Monday, April 29, 2013

Silver redhorse and darters from same river

This post is a great example of how quickly fishing in rivers can change in the spring. On Friday I caught 8 common carp, 2 shorthead redhorse, and 1 white sucker. I revisited the same spot on Sunday, hoping to bring home some more carp to pickle. When I arrived on Sunday, I could not see any fish cruising in the shallows and did not see any fish jumping. It was sunnier than Friday, and when I got home I looked up the water temps - 2 degrees warmer. The bite was slower with much different demographics species-wise. I caught 2 silver redhorse, 1 shorthead redhorse, and 2 white suckers. I only hooked into one common carp, but I lost it at shore.

Silver Redhorse (Moxostoma anisurum)

Because of the slow bite, I decided to poke around downstream of the dam to find out what micros lived there.  I usually do not attempt hook & line angling for micros unless I can actually see fish in the water.  Netting in the vegetation near shore produced two darter species that will be new hook & line lifelisters in the future.  I was very happy to find healthy populations of both!

Banded Darter (Etheostoma zonale) - these were plentiful in every patch of water grass

Johnny Darter (Etheostoma nigrum) - less plentiful, found on sandy flats near (but not in) vegetation

I also found this juvenile redhorse, at least that's what I'm guessing it is.  The shortheads are still spawning, so I can't imagine that this could be a year of young from them.  I did not notice spawning tubercles on either of the silver redhorse I caught, so perhaps they finished their spawn weeks ago and this is a new year of young silver.  I haven't done any further research on it, so I'd be happy to have input from people who know more about this sort of thing.

Fortunately, I had plenty of carp fillets in the fridge from Friday, so at the end of the day I was still able to make pickled carp.  My friends each took a jar home, and I saved one for myself.  I'm not very experienced with pickling, and unfortunately the carp pieces tend to fall apart easily.  I'll keep working on the recipe until I get better results.  Still tasty though!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Spring carp, redhorse, and suckers

I've been diligently watching the water temperatures of one of my favorite rivers in southern Wisconsin. Last spring I took careful notes about the water conditions each time I went fishing, so this spring I had a good idea of when the carp and suckers would show up. Yesterday afternoon, everything looked perfect, so I made a trip down to the river to see if the fish had arrived. A one ounce sliding barrel sinker, swivel, one foot leader, and a #8 octopus circle hook was my rig of choice. Bait alternated between nightcrawler halves, red worms, and wax worms. When I arrived I could see carp and occasionally a quillback cruising in the shallows, so I knew it would be a good day. Here are a few of my catches.

Common carp male (Cyprinus carpio) - notice the milt dripping off his anal fin

Common carp female (Cyprinus carpio)

Shorthead Redhorse male (Moxostoma macrolepidotum) - tubercles on the anal fin and lower tail

White sucker male (Catostomus comersoni) - also has tubercles on the anal fin and lower tail

And lots of milt dripping out...

I'm not trying to keep this spot secret, but I'm also trying to not advertise it as a spot for killing carp and suckers.  I'm not opposed to bowfishing or spearing in order to put food on the table, but I've personally had negative experiences with people trying to shoot the exact fish I was trying to fish for.  I have yet to see someone take their kill home - they either end up dead on the shore or tossed in the nearest open garbage can.

As some of you may remember, I am a strong advocate for eating non-native fish. I am also a strong advocate for NOT leaving undesirable fish on shore to rot. The redhorse and suckers are native fish, so in order to encourage their successful reproduction I released them unharmed, after taking a few pictures. The carp, however, are not native fish, and so they went home with me, destined for the dinner table. The word invasive is often used to describe the common carp, but this is not actually true. These carp were intentionally introduced to our waters by the government in the late 1800's. They have thrived ever since, and tend to compete strongly with native fish species. Carp have a reputation for tasting nasty. I'm not quite sure where this idea originated, perhaps because carp taken from polluted waters tend to taste bad. I would venture to guess that desirable fish such as walleye and perch taken from polluted waters would also taste bad. Carp taken from clean water, and prepared appropriately, taste perfectly fine. So, to set an example that hopefully others will follow, I took the carp I caught home.

Eight common carp, each around 3 to 4 lbs.

Common carp simmering on the stove. (the other fish will get frozen or pickled)

A delicious meal with common carp as the main course.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Madison muskies

The muskies from Lake Monona have made their way up Wingra Creek for their springtime spawning run. Their spawn won't be successful (according to the DNR), but it's still an interesting demonstration of nature at work. The muskies head up stream looking for favorable spawning grounds, which in this case is the shallow, weedy Lake Wingra above Wingra Dam. The big females aren't able to make it over, but some of the smaller males do. Here's a few pics I took this afternoon.

Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy)

The new Wingra Dam.

The muskies always attract a crowd.

Please remember not to harass the muskies.  If you throw lures at them now all you're going to do is snag them.  No fishing allowed near Wingra Dam, or the locks by Tenney Park, until after May 15th.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Longnose sucker spawning run

Yesterday was a day I had been anticipating for some time. Earlier this spring, I was surprised to learn that longnose suckers make spawning runs in the Root River in Racine, WI. Longnose suckers are fish I haven't given much thought to in the past because of their northern range. With the prospect of a spawning run so close to home, I was quite excited!

Heavy rain and flood conditions have made fishing the Root a challenge this spring. The steelhead fishermen have been worried they will miss the best part of the run. I kept a close eye on the fishing reports knowing that the sucker run would begin as the steelhead run tapered off. However, information was hard to come by, because with the water so high and turbid people could not fish regardless of whether or not the steelhead were there. I saw one mention of suckers being caught, and so after waiting a few days for the most recent flood water to subside, I made my trip.

My plan was to fish below the small dam where the DNR steelhead facility is located. A fishing refuge sign forced me to change plans, but it was cool to see the steelhead in the weir.

"Steelhead" Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)

I drove down the road that follows the river, trying a few spots along the way. I figured if the suckers were in the river, they'd be as close to the dam as possible. No luck after a few hours though, so I settled into Horlick Park to set up bank poles and relax while fishing.

It took a while for my first bite, but when it did come and I saw the fish surface, I was pretty excited. Longnose sucker! I navigated the fish, a large female, in to shore and reached out with my small trout landing net, but right then the fish came off, disappearing in the swift muddy water. My next bite did not come for over an hour, but this time I decided to skip the landing net and hoist the fish up by the line in one quick motion.  Bait was 3 or 4 waxworms on a #8 octopus circle hook, held in the main current by a 3 oz weight.

Longnose Sucker (Catostomus catostomus) - new hook & line species #96

I returned the fish to the water quickly after taking a few photos.  I skipped taking a measurement because she was bleeding from the mouth, which is common in hooked suckers, and I wanted to give her the best possible chance to recover.  If all goes well she'll successfully spawn soon.

A few small bites after that, but no more fish.  Sometimes that's how it goes.  I was very glad that my one fish of the day could be a new lifer though!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Spotted gar and other fish of Illinois

A former roommate and I made a trip through Illinois last weekend, and I've put together a short report with some of the highlights. A few of the locations were given to me in confidence, so I'll leave their names out of the report.

We left Madison, WI Thursday afternoon and stayed the night with family in Springfield, IL. Saturday morning we hit the road early to arrive at our first destination in southern IL. Hook & line fishing was our priority, with some of our targets being spotted gar, bowfin, flier, redear sunfish, warmouth, banded pygmy sunfish, and pirate perch. Our trip was probably a little too early in the season, because fishing was very slow. We got skunked in the morning, but in the afternoon we found a location with spotted gar sunning themselves near shore. Small gold or silver spinners were irresistible to them, and Ryan and I were each able to catch one. I was very happy with my 36 inch specimen.

Spotted Gar (Lepisosteus oculatus) - new hook & line species #94

We still were having zero luck with the sunfish species, so before leaving the spot I used a dip net to see what was in the vegetation near shore. I caught western mosquitofish (not pictured), blackstripe topminnow (not pictured), juvenile bluegill (not pictured), male and female banded pygmy sunfish, and a cute little turtle. I was amazed at the density of invertebrates in the water.

Banded Pygmy Sunfish (Elassoma zonatum) - male

Banded Pygmy Sunfish (Elassoma zonatum) - female

Eastern Musk Turtle (Sternotherus odoratus)

The locals were not fond of bowfin, which they called grinnel. We saw several dead ones on shore, including freshly run over ones in the road. It was frustrating to see, but at least there was a nesting eagle nearby that took advantage of some of the carcasses.

Bowfin (Amia calva)

Our next stop, a crystal clear stream, was a nice change in scenery. This was Ryan's first micro fishing experience, so there were plenty of new species to be caught. It's a little tougher for me to find new hook & line species, but I was able to catch one new one, bigeye shiner. As a bonus, a lot of the fish were showing nice spawning colors and permitted us to take some nice photos.

Bigeye Shiner (Notropis boops) - new hook & line species #95

Central Stoneroller (Campostoma anomalum) - male

Central Stoneroller (Campostoma anomalum) - female

Striped Shiner (Luxilus chrysocephalus)

Orangethroat Darter (Etheostoma spectabile) - male

Rainbow Darter (Etheostoma caeruleum) - female

Blackspotted Topminnow (Fundulus olivaceous)

Longear Sunfish (Lepomis megalotis)

The only fish we saw but could not catch hook & line were fantail darter and slender madtom. We camped back near the spotted gar location Saturday night. I was hoping to find pirate perch once it became dark, but dip netting and an overnight minnow trap only resulted in western mosquitofish and juvenile bluegill.

On Sunday we dabbled in the stream some more, and then headed to a location with swamps and small spring-fed creeks. The very first rock we looked under contained quite a nice surprise, a rather large adult spring cavefish! We scooped it up by hand gently, took a few photos, and then released it next to the rock, which it quickly swam back under.

Spring Cavefish (Forbesichthys agassizii)

Here's the rock that we found it under, the large flat one in the center of the photo.

Later in the afternoon we found another smaller one. This fish was also quickly released after a photo.

At this point we had given up on the sunfish species, so we decided to head north to Carlyle to fish for silver carp. This is one of the few locations where silver and bighead carp are easily caught hook & line in the mouth. Small green jigs drifted with the current below the dam discharge look like bits of algae to them, which they will actively hit. It's a unique experience.

Silver Carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix)

We each caught a few silver carp. I haven't caught a bighead carp yet, and disappointingly the only one we caught was one Ryan snagged in the tail by accident. He also snagged a very large smallmouth buffalo. Other people by the dam were catching white bass with small white jigs, and we saw one guy catch a walleye further down. Unfortunately, most of the silver and bighead carp caught here end up smashed on the rocks, despite several signs saying that it is not allowed. Now I'm not a big fan of invasive carp being in our waters, but there is absolutely no justification in leaving fish on shore to die. It's wasting a resource (yes, silver carp can be eaten and actually taste pretty good), and it stinks up the place. Not to mention that it does nothing to dent the population.

After camping the night at Carlyle, we drove north, making one more stop in northern IL. This is a tributary of the Rock River that I stumbled across last year. The water was high and turbid, but we still managed to find a few fish by putting pieces of nightcrawler on the bottom. Ryan caught the fattest northern hogsucker I've ever seen, a common shiner, and I caught a small silver redhorse.

Northern Hogsucker (Hypentelium nigricans)

Common Shiner (Luxilus cornutus)

Golden Redhorse (Moxostoma erythrurum)