Sunday, June 16, 2013

Warmouth, blackside darter, other micros

Today I spent a few hours at the same spot featured at the end of my May 26th post, a tributary of the Fox River near the IL / WI border. The water was higher than usual, which turned out to be great for fishing. I'll keep the report short this time and focus on the pictures.

Blackside Darter (Percina maculata) - new hook & line species #110

Warmouth (Lepomis gulosus) - new hook & line species #111

Northern Sunfish (Lepomis peltastes)

Pumpkinseed (Lepomis gibbosus) - juvenile, I almost thought redear sunfish for a second

Spotfin Shiner (Cyprinella spiloptera) - spawning male

Starhead Topminnow (Fundulus dispar) - male

Other fish I saw included lake chubsucker (future lifer), longnose gar (future lifer), northern pike, grass pickerel, largemouth bass, bluegill, green sunfish, black crappie, yellow perch, northern logperch, rainbow darter, and common shiner. Later I tried Lake Michigan for a few oddball species, but only came up with the ever present round goby.

Round Goby (Neogobius melanostomus)

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Northern redbelly dace

With only a few more weeks left in Wisconsin, I'm going to try to track down a few of the northern species that won't be available in Illinois.  They include northern redbelly dace, pearl dace, finescale dace, longnose dace, redside dace, central mudminnow, alewife, and several others.  Of course I won't find all of them, but it would be nice to check a few off the list.  First up is northen redbelly dace, which I found in a tea-stained stream coming out of Goose Lake south of I-94 by Lake Mills.

Northern Redbelly Dace (Chrosomus eos) - new hook & line species #109

Monday, June 10, 2013

Shovelnose sturgeon

Last weekend I went on a canoe trip on the Wisconsin River with some non-fishing friends. We launched below Sauk City, camped one night on an island, and arrived in Lone Rock the next day. I had no particular ambitions for fishing, but I always try to take advantage of opportunities, so I brought two rods to set up in rod holders on the beach. Each was rigged with a three-way swivel, 4 oz pyramid sinker, and a small octopus circle hook. This is my favorite large river rig when I do not want the rig to bounce along the bottom. Half of a nightcrawler was my bait. The bite was slow and steady, and fortunately I had plenty of time to sit and wait. Bells on the ends of the rods would let me know if anything exciting happened. The first three fish were shorthead redhorse, the largest being 17 inches. The next fish on the line fought differently; when it was still 30 yards out it jumped in the air, shaking its head vigorously as it splashed back into the water. Definitely not a redhorse. I must have had a pretty big smile on my face as I got the fish close enough to shore to see what it was. Shovelnose sturgeon! I knew one of these ancient fish would be at the end of my line eventually, and fortunately that night was my lucky night.

Shovelnose Sturgeon (Scaphirhynchus platorynchus) - new hook & line species #108

As the sun set, the bells rang a few more times. I caught two more shorthead redhorse and three channel catfish. The redhorse had brilliantly red tails and fins.  I think the group enjoyed seeing some new species of fish.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Johnny darter

Yesterday I made a quick visit to Otter Creek northwest of Prairie du Sac, WI. The creek has several species that I'd like to track down. Unfortunately, the downstream stretch of the creek was too muddy to fish. I continued upstream into the hills of the Baxter's Hollow State Natural Area. Here the creek was clear and cold, flowing over large rocks. The only fish I found here were creek chubs. I was hoping to encounter longnose dace, but if they were present the creek chubs didn't give them a chance to bite. I headed back to the bottom of the hills and found a bridge where the water was still clear but flowing over a sand bottom. I expected Johnny darters in this habitat, and sure enough I spotted a few small ones sitting out in the open sitting on the sand. These juveniles were too small for my micro hooks, so I continued looking around, finally finding a large adult hiding among submerged wood. He took the bait immediately, becoming my #107 lifer!

Johnny Darter (Etheostoma nigrum) - new hook & line species #107

I believe this individual was a male based on the dark pelvic fin, dark nose, and faint vertical bars. A few minutes later I caught an even darker individual, definitely a male.

On my drive home I noticed one of the reasons the downstream stretch of Otter Creek is muddy. The creek runs though several dairy farms after the bridge where I caught the darters. Dozens of cows were standing in the creek, one of which was doing her business in the water as I drove past. I'm sure the cows enjoy the creek, but it's unfortunate for the fish...

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

First attempt at smoked salmon

Last week a colleague defended his PhD, and to celebrate I hosted a party for him featuring my first attempt at smoked salmon.  I went with the first recipe I found online, which in this case happened to be this site:

I followed the recipe for the brine with the exception of fennel, which I didn't have.  I prepared the brine and poured it into a large plastic bag with the gutted salmon.  I let them soak for two days.

The morning of the party, I took the salmon out of the fridge and laid them out on racks in the basement with a box fan blowing cool air over them.  This dried the fish and helped a pellicle form on the outside of the fish.  The fish dried for about five hours.

Four hours before the party I started a fire in the smoker box on the side of the grill.  I used hardwood charcoal to start the fire and then added mesquite smoking chips.  Unfortunately, I think I added too much fuel, because even with the air vents shut completely I could not get the temperature to drop below 180 F.  The target temperature was 140 F.  After three hours the meat was flaking easily.  Next time I will make a better effort to keep the temperatures low so that it can smoke for a longer time.

Once the fish were cooked, I put them on baking sheets and let them cool in the fridge.  This step helped the meat firm up so that it had the desired smoked fish texture.

And here's the finished product!  The smoked salmon tasted great.  It is certainly the best method of preparing salmon that I have tried so far.  I think next time I will try cutting the fish into sections so the meat can more easily absorb the brine as well as the smoke flavor.  Overall, this was a tremendous success though.  The salmon was a big hit at the party, and I have plenty of leftovers in the fridge and freezer to enjoy until the next time I visit Terry in Milwaukee.