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!