Thursday, November 28, 2013

Round Gobies in the Illinois River

A few weeks ago I visited Starved Rock State Park on the Illinois River.  The primary objective was to do some hiking and enjoy the fall colors, but the river was too tempting, so I got my fishing gear out to see what was biting.  I tied two #10 octopus hooks on my line about 6 inches apart, baited them with pieces of nightcrawler, and dropped them in the shallow water below the concrete retaining wall next to the Starved Rock parking lot.  My first fish was an invasive species common in Lake Michigan, a round goby.  I didn't realize they were this far downstream from Chicago!  I passed along the information to the IL DNR, and while not surprised, they were glad to have the report for their database.

Round Goby (Neogobius melanostomus)

Fortunately my next fish was an Illinois native, a freshwater drum.  It was too big to hoist up the wall with my 2 lb line, so I had to walk it about a hundred yards to the end of the wall where I could access the water.

Freshwater Drum (Aplodinotus grunniens)

After a few more gobies, I caught this green sunfish.  Three species in about 15 minutes seemed good enough for me, so I packed up the gear and enjoyed a day of hiking.

Green Sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus)

Monday, November 4, 2013

Crane Creek, IL

Microfishing is getting tough with the fall temperatures dropping. That's not a reason not to try though! After the crazy trip out east, I was ready for one of my local one-day excursions to scout out new waters. I headed south of Peoria past the Emiquon preserve (which looks fantastic by the way) to Crane Creek, which flows out of the Illinois River sand region.

My first stop was near the confluence of Crane Creek with the Sangamon River. The creek is wide and flat with little vegetation here. I saw darters wherever there was submerged wood. Most of them refused to bite, but this handsome blackside darter thought my bait looked tasty.

Blackside Darter (Percina maculata)

I was baffled where all the shiners were until I found a massive school of sand shiners and red shiners further upstream. It was curious that I found them in that school and nowhere else. Perhaps they school up in the fall to feed or avoid predators?  Giving up on hook & line fishing, I got my net out of the car to see what I missed. The darters were a mix of Johnny and banded. In the tree roots overhanging the bank I found one lonely pirate perch. This is the first one I've found in central Illinois!

These short streams can vary quite a bit as you move upstream from the confluence, so I drove a few miles north to take a look at another spot. Here the creek was narrower, with deep pools, runs, and plenty of underwater vegetation. It looked exciting! I left my microfishing gear in the car and focused on netting. The banded darters here were larger and more vibrant than the downstream ones.

Banded Darter (Etheostoma zonale)

Every scoop of the net into vegetation yielded at least one pirate perch! This is very exciting, because it means I can come back after dark sometime and night fish for them with a headlamp. It will probably have to wait until next spring, but I'm already excited about it. Pirate perch are strange little fish. See if you can see its intestine coming up to it's throat in the second photo.

Pirate Perch (Aphredoderus sayanus)

Tadpole madtoms were also associated with vegetation. I only saw small ones, but sometimes there would be 4 or 5 with one scoop of the net.

Tadpole Madtom (Noturus gyrinus)

I also found a few state threatened ironcolor shiners. Strangely enough, they would only show up when I pulled the net through vegetation, along with the tadpole madtoms and pirate perch. They were awfully small, so I'm curious if this behavior is only for juveniles. I did not see any adults, or perhaps they do not get very large.

Ironcolor Shiner (Notropis chalybaeus) - released unharmed after taking photos

This guy also decided to say hello. I don't know much about turtles, but it seems that red-eared sliders are one of the more common species in the Illinois River system.

Red-Eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans)

Here's the full list of fish species caught and seen:
    1. Blackside Darter (Percina maculata)
    2. Banded Darter (Etheostoma zonale)
    3. Johnny Darter (Etheostoma nigrum)
    4. Sand Shiner (Notropis stramineus)
    5. Red Shiner (Cyprinella lutrensis)
    6. Ironcolor Shiner (Notropis chalybaeus)
    7. Pirate Perch (Aphredoderus sayanus)
    8. Tadpole Madtom (Noturus gyrinus)