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

Turtle (unidentified for now)

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)


  1. thats actually a golden redhorse, i think. Ive never caught one, so im not sure

  2. Yeah Brandon, you're probably right that's it a golden. Thanks!