Sunday, May 31, 2015

2015 NANFA convention part 2 - divergent orangethroats

Our second day took us across the border into Arkansas.  We strategically planned our route to drive through each of the drainages that contains one of the orangethroat darter splits - brook darter, current darter, strawberry darter, and Ozark darter.  We missed our shot at brook darters the day before, but we were determined to redeem ourselves with the rest of the bunch.  Our first stop was English Creek, which unfortunately was pretty high from the rains.  The main branch was unfishable, but we found a tiny feeder creek with plenty of darters to go after.  My first one was a current darter!

Current Darter (Etheostoma uniporum) - new hook & line species #273

To our surprise, most of the darters in the tiny feeder creek were rainbows.  Pat and Ryan caught quite a few rainbows, and eventually Pat got a current darter too.  We also caught bleeding shiners, Ozark minnows, hornyhead chubs, and northern studfish.

It was a bummer that the spots I planned for strawberry darter didn't have public access.  We didn't have time to hunt around for new locations, so we moved on to the White River drainage.  In the town of Yellville we stopped at a tributary of Crooked Creek and found Ozark darters, a species that does not have a scientific name yet.  If you look closely you can see quite a few differences between the current darter above and the Ozark darter below.

Ozark Darter (Etheostoma sp.) - new hook & line species #274

We also found a few pools to fish and caught redbelly dace and stonerollers.  A lot of these species I had already caught during previous trips to Missouri, but Pat and Ryan were really racking up the lifers!

Southern Redbelly Dace (Chrosomus erythrogaster)

Central Stoneroller (Campostoma anomalum)

Our next destination was the Buffalo River.  We knew it would be high, but like the Missouri River we wanted to see it anyway.  My GPS took us down a gravel road that crossed nearly a dozen small creeks.  All wheel drive is a wonderful thing!  At about the three and a half mile mark, we reached a series of signs that said it was a private drive... and of course, no trespassing.  The novelty of driving through creeks wore off as we backtracked to the main road.  Not fun.

We took a look at the Buffalo River, and sure enough it was too high too fish.  With only an hour or two left to fish, we decided to try Crooked Creek down the road from where caught the Ozark darters.  My target was Ozark bass, so I put a redworm on a white jig and cast near structure - bridge columns, submerged wood, and boulders.  I thought for sure a few of the spots would be holding my lifer Ozark bass, but all I caught were smallmouth bass and longear sunfish.  This particular bass was the lumpiest smallmouth I've ever seen.

Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieu)

Be sure to compare the longear sunfish below to the one from yesterday's post.  There is a lot of variation between the strains of the different drainages in the Ozarks!

Longear Sunfish (Lepomis megalotis)

At this point Levi Cain joined our crew and took this photo of Pat, Ryan and me wading out to a shallow flat to microfish for shiners.  I promise we did eventually spread out a bit more.

We caught a lot of micros from at the edge of the flat, mostly Ozark minnows, bigeye shiners, duskystripe shiners, and northern studfish.  I was happy to get a better photo of a duskystripe shiner, but I really wish we could have found some with more color.

Ozark Minnow (Notropis nubilus)

Duskystripe Shiner (Luxilus pilsbryi)

When the sun finally disappeared over the horizon we packed up and drove to the Buffalo River Art & Nature Lodge, which is owned by our friend Isaac Szabo and his family.  We highly recommend staying at their lodge, and if you haven't seen Isaac's photography work, do a quick google search and prepare to be amazed!  We ended the day with a feast of smoked whitefish (see my post from March of this year), a variety of snacks from the car, a frozen pizza, and hot pockets from the gas station down the road.  It was a good ending to the day.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

2015 NANFA convention part 1 - the last of the Lepomis

The NANFA convention last year was so much fun that I had no doubts I'd do it again this year.  The 2015 convention was supposed to be in Broken Bow, OK, but severe floods in the southern part of the state forced the organizer to move the event to the town of Tahlequah instead.  A few of my lifelisting friends and I had been planning this trip for months.  We had to scrap the part of the itinerary where we fished the bigger rivers for alligator gar, striped bass, and other large fish and focus our efforts on the smaller rivers and streams that would drop quickly after it rained.

The trip started with me picking up Ryan Crutchfield and Pat Kerwin in St. Louis.  I've fished with Ryan in Florida before, but this was my first time meeting up with Pat.  We have so many friends in common though that it felt like we were already good buds.  Our original itinerary had us fishing the Missouri River near the airport, and even though we knew the water would be high I wanted to see the spot anyway.  Whole trees were floating along with the current, and needless to say we left our rods in the car.

We headed south to meet up with Tyler Goodale to fish a few spots in southeast Missouri.  Our first stop was a spillway on the St. Francis River to catch a few of the classic midwest species for Pat and Ryan.  We each caught a white bass, a freshwater drum, and a variety of sunfish.  It rained on us pretty good, and unfortunately I didn't get my camera out to take a photo of the paddlefish Tyler caught.  We also saw quite a few longnose gar surfacing and even a few blue suckers jumping.

White Bass (Morone chrysops)

Freshwater Drum (Aplodinotus grunniens)

We didn't want to spend all day at the spillway, so Tyler took us to the Mingo Wilderness Area to catch a few lowland species.  The spot we fished was loaded with bantam sunfish!  We each caught half a dozen to a dozen of them.  It was a momentous occasion for me, because bantam sunfish was the last fish in the Lepomis genus I needed to catch.

Bantam Sunfish (Lepomis symmetricus) - new hook & line species #272

We also caught green sunfish, orangespotted sunfish, and starhead topminnows.  We saw juvenile pickerel that we couldn't get to bite, and we also dip netted a bunch of slough darters.

Starhead Topminnow (Fundulus dispar)

I wasn't quite satisfied with my first few bantam sunfish, so I kept catching them to see if I could find a better one for my lifelist photo.  The last one I caught was exactly what I was looking for - a big male with bold colors.  The iridescent yellow flecks below his eyes really stood out!

For our last spot of the day we fished a ditch flowing through a park in Tyler's hometown.  It was full of sunfish, blackspotted topminnow, and pickerel.  It didn't take long for us to find a stretch that was full of colorful longear sunfish.

Longear Sunfish (Lepomis megalotis)

Last year I caught my lifer redspotted sunfish, but my photo was taken at night, and I really wanted a better daytime specimen to use for my lifelist.  Tyler quickly caught a great looking male that was exactly what I wanted.

Respotted Sunfish (Lepomis miniatus)

I spent the next hour trying to catch one that I was happy with, but I couldn't find anything other than females and juvenile males.  This female turned out to be the most photogenic redspotted I caught, so I'll just have to live with it for now.

It's funny how you know right away when something other than a sunfish grabs your bait.  I felt a downward tug on my line and pulled up this yellow bullhead to finish off the day.

Yellow Bullhead (Ameiurus natalis)

On behalf of Ryan, Pat, and myself, I want to extend a huge thank you to Tyler for taking us around to a few of your favorite fishing spots!  Despite the rain on our first day we were already making lemonade out of lemons.  Normally, one new species on a lifer hunting roadtrip isn't very good, but I was absolutely thrilled to finally catch a bantam sunfish!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Bottom fishing for mud darters

I've been back in Illinois for almost two years, and little by little I've been exploring what my home state has to offer.  Last Saturday a fellow species angler, Matt Cox, was doing a job in Moline (one of the four towns making up the Quad Cities), so I was happy to have the excuse to come up and fish with him on the Rock and Mississippi Rivers.  Matt had to work during the morning, so I fished downstream of the Steel Dam on the Rock by myself to pass the time.

I fished bottom rigs for whatever would bite.  I didn't have any lifers in mind, but carpsuckers or buffalo would have been welcome.  The fish that showed up were the typical species you'd expect on a gravel bottom river in the midwest.

Shorthead Redhorse (Moxostoma macrolepidotum)

Silver Redhorse (Moxostoma anisurum)

Freshwater Drum (Aplodinotus grunniens)

Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)

The drum became annoying, so I packed up and headed to Lock & Dam #14 on the Mississippi River.  Believe it or not, this was the first time I'd fished the big river!  I baited an area on the downstream side of the dam with corn and alfalfa pellets and then fished corn on circle hooks.  After a few timid bites, I hooked into a huge fish, the biggest common carp I've ever had on the line!  I would guess it was 30 lbs, but of course talk is cheap and I have no photo.  Such is life!  I got the carp up to the rocks, had no way of getting it into my small landing net, and finally watched it thrash around and snap my leader.  Oh well.

Matt finished his work for the day and joined me at the lock & dam.  He fished nightcrawlers on the bottom and landed this nice bass.  Other than that we didn't catch anything, so we headed back to the Rock River.

Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides)

We set up bottom rigs again, this time in the swifter water closer to the dam.  While we waited, I tied a Tanago hook on my second rod and fished a slack water spot by shore.  Matt was pretty excited when I caught this little orangespotted sunfish.  He needed one for his lifelist, and shortly later he caught one for himself!

Orangespotted Sunfish (Lepomis humilis)

I continued microfishing, hoping for something like a Mississippi silvery minnow or bullhead minnow.  What I caught though took me completely be surprise.  At first I thought it was a rainbow darter, but the orange belly and black head didn't fit.  I suspected it was a mud darter, and when I got home I confirmed it.  A lifer darter caught blindly off the bottom in muddy water!

Mud Darter (Etheostoma asprigene) - new hook & line species #271

It's good to leave on a high note, so I packed up my gear and headed to my car.  I stopped at the old Hennepin Canal lock on the way to the parking lot.  There's a lot of interesting history in this state, a lot of which involves man's domination of nature.  The canal was an extraordinary engineering feat for its time, but the widening of the locks on the Illinois River made it obsolete by the time it was completed.

As always, I hope you enjoyed the post, and stay tuned for a big adventure coming up in June!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Kazu visits from Japan to catch black bass

Rewind eleven years to a time when I was much skinnier, my hair was blonder, and most of my wardrobe was orange and blue.  (My fishing lifelist was probably around 5 then.)  In the summer of 2004 I spent 6 weeks in Japan, and while I was there I became friends with the Okayama University Weight Training Club.  One of the team members, Kazuhiro, can be seen sitting beside me in this photo taken at a celebration after the All Japan Powerlifting Championship in Kobe, Japan.

I've stayed in touch with a few of the OUWTC alumni over the years.  In 2012 I fished with my friend Jun, a former OUWTC member, while I was visiting Japan for a conference.  Last week I got the opportunity to take Kazuhiro fishing in Champaign-Urbana.  Kazu was visiting his girlfriend in Ohio and decided to take a side trip over to Illinois to meet up with me.  Kazu told me he wanted to catch black bass, which in Japan means largemouth bass.  However, in Illinois we have three black basses - largemouth, smallmouth and spotted.  Naturally I wanted to give Kazu the opportunity to catch all three species.

Kazu's plane was delayed, so I killed some time in the evening at one of my old fishing spots before picking him up.  I threw a pretty large Mepps spinner hoping for a smallmouth or spotted bass, but I ended up catching the usual smaller species instead.

Rock Bass (Ambloplites rupestris)

Striped Shiner (Luxilus chrysocephalus)

I picked up Kazu at the airport late in the evening, and we stayed the night at my aunt and uncle's house in Urbana.  The next morning we met my friend Jeff, who is dedicated to fishing for smallmouth and spotted bass in the Champaign area.

We fished one of Jeff's favorite spots with him heading upstream and Kazu and I heading downstream.  Of course Jeff ended up catching a couple of nice smallmouth bass, and Kazu and I caught everything else.  Nonetheless, it was a great opportunity for Kazu to go wading in a creek fishing for species he'd never seen before.

Striped Shiner (Luxilus chrysocephalus)

Rock Bass (Ambloplites rupestris)

Striped Shiner (Luxilus chrysocephalus)

Longear Sunfish (Lepomis megalotis)

After a fantastic barbeque lunch at the Black Dog, Jeff and I agreed that we should take Kazu to a subdivision pond that would have plenty of largemouth bass.  Jeff knows of another spot with bigger bass, but we chose quantity over quality since we had limited time.  Jeff and Kazu rigged up with imitation Senko worms, and I did some bobber fishing to go after the big bluegill that I knew would be in the pond.

Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)

Before long I had switched to bass fishing as well, and boy was the action hot!  We must have caught 20 to 40 bass each.  I looked over at Kazu and said, "we should take a photo with both of us holding a bass".  He cast his worm, caught a bass, I cast my worm, caught a bass, and Jeff took the picture.  It was that easy!

Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides)

With only an hour left before I needed to take Kazu back to the airport, we had to call it a day.  Kazu caught one last bass, and fortunately it was one big enough to be proud of.  It was about 15 to 16 inches.

Kazu, I hope you had a good time fishing in Illinois.  To all of my other friends around the world, you're always welcome to visit and go fishing with me!  I can't promise a trophy sized fish, but I can promise you'll at least get a taste of what multi-species fishing is like in the U.S.