Thanks to Levi, Mike, and Greenwood, Pat and I had a plan for our last day of fishing. We left Tahlequah early in the morning and drove up to southwest Missouri. Our first two spots were creeks flowing through city parks. The first was a tributary of the Neosho River. Here we caught yet another orangethroat darter split, the plateau darter. We noticed that once you went outside the range of rainbow darters, the orangethroat darter splits were huge! We also caught fantail darters, banded sculpin, and cardinal shiners.
Plateau Darter (Etheostoma squamosum) - new hook & line species #290
Fantail Darter (Etheostoma flabellare)
Our second spot was a tributary of the James River in the White River drainage. We really enjoyed the easy access in these town parks.
The target at this spot was autumn darter, which is similar to the sunburst darters in Oklahoma. Pat was able to catch one, but I didn't have any luck with them. We both caught tons of Ozark darters though, and we were surprised at how different they were from the Buffalo River drainage ones from earlier in the trip. In fact, these were the most bizarre orangethroat splits we have seen.
Ozark Darter (Etheostoma sp.)
The darter above had really bold red spots along its back as well as faint ones on its belly. The one below was one of the largest we caught. We couldn't get past how odd these darters looked.
Our last fishing spot was the North Fork White River. Mike and Greenwood had fished here earlier in the week, and they told us they were able to catch Ozark bass, yoke darter, and checkered madtom! Pat and I didn't waste any time getting rigged up. I fished a black jig with a chunk of redworm on the hook, and after dropping it beside a few boulders I got a hit and caught an Ozark bass. Pat caught his just a minute or two later!
Ozark Bass (Ambloplites constellatus) - new hook & line species #291
We also caught longear sunfish, and I caught my biggest fish of the trip, a smallmouth bass. Don't laugh, I know it's small...
Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieu)
We were quickly losing daylight, so we hurried down to the riffle to look for yoke darters. We actually found them right away, but they were too difficult to catch. The current was just too strong - we couldn't keep our baits in place long enough for a darter to bite. We moved up to a slower stretch and only caught rainbow darters. We hunted around for a different riffle to try, and with the last bit of light we found a better riffle and each caught a single yoke darter.
Yoke Darter (Etheostoma juliae) - new hook & line species #292
Once it was dark, Miciah and Levi showed up to join us. They wanted checkered madtoms as badly as we did. Pat and I tried fishing a small side pool downstream of the riffle, but all we caught were longear sunfish, Ozark bass, and hornyhead chubs. We knew we weren't leaving without checkered madtoms, so we took our time and enjoyed the evening.
We gave up on the small pool and headed back upstream to where we caught the Ozark bass. We fished in the deep pool, letting our baits sit on the bottom. Every few minutes we'd check our lines to see if anything was on. After pulling up a few pesky crayfish, I felt something slightly (and I do mean slightly) bigger, and I pulled up my last lifer of the trip, a checkered madtom! Pat soon caught one as well, and after we took off Miciah and Levi caught theirs as well.
Checkered Madtom (Noturus flavater) - new hook & line species #293
This was the perfect wrap up to a long road trip. I want to give a huge thanks to Pat, Ryan, Tyler, Levi, Miciah, Josh, Joy, Isaac, Mike, Greenwood, and all the folks at the NANFA convention for making this such an incredible trip!