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.

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