Sunday, August 23, 2015

Hitting #300 with the last of the Nocomis

A week after my Illinois blitz, I was back on the road again.  This time I was teaming up with Miciah to revisit parts of Tennessee that we had fished in February and some areas near the KY / TN border.  We started our trip in Clarksville at the same spot where we skunked out trying for redtail chubs in February.  This time the fishing was much better, but it still took us a while to find them.  Miciah caught a great looking one first, and then I followed with the tank below.  It looks like he survived an attack from a bass when he was younger.  I don't know how big redtail chubs get, but this must be right up near the top in terms of size.

Redtail Chub (Nocomis effusus)  - new hook & line species #300

It would have been neat to catch them in spring when their tubercles were showing.  You can see the marks on its head where they used to be.

Next we headed south to another spot we visited in February.  Soon after arriving it began raining pretty steadily, but luckily we were able to hang out under the highway bridge and stay dry.  My photos from this spot didn't turn out very well due to the low light, but I did the best I could.

Scarlet Shiner (Lythrurus fasciolaris)

Fantail Darter (Etheostoma flabellare)

One of the fish we caught at this spot was blackfin darter.  There are very few photos of this species online, and none of them are high resolution, so I was really hoping to get a good photo.  The one I caught refused to put his first dorsal fin up.  The photo below is the best of the ones I took.

Blackfin Darter (Etheostoma nigripinne)  - new hook & line species #301

My last fish at this spot turned out to be another lifer.  Saffron darters are incredibly colorful in the spring when they are spawning, but they are pretty drab the rest of the year.  I'd love to come back and see them when they're at their peak!

Saffron Darter (Etheostoma flavum)  - new hook & line species #302

We visited one more spot in the upper Duck River drainage before calling it a day.  This spot was full of redband darters.  We caught quite a few, and while most weren't coloful, a few still had bright red bands.

Redband Darter (Etheostoma luteovinctum)

We strategically stayed the night at a motel near the Cordell Hull Dam on the Cumberland River in the morning.  At first light we drove to the spillway to fish for striped bass.  Miciah already had one on his lifelist, but he was a good sport, giving up precious time from fishing for darters.

The stripers weren't cooperating, but I caught several big skipjack herring.  These guys fight like mini crazed tarpon, shaking their heads and jumping over and over.  They were a blast to catch, but I was quite jealous when Miciah caught a juvenile striped bass right before we left.

Skipjack Herring (Alosa chrysochloris)

Next we drove north to a small stream near the KY / TN border.  It was loaded with fish, and we quickly got out our Tanago hooks.  We caught a lot of species, but unfortunately none of them were new to us.  The lighting was perfect for good photos though!

Rainbow Darter (Etheostoma caeruleum)

Western Blacknose Dace (Rhinichthys obtusus)

Banded Sculpin (Cottus carolinae)

Tennessee Shiner (Notropis leuciodus)

While we were fishing, we noticed small suckers with fine black stripes, and we knew right away what they were - blackfin suckers!  We saw dozens of them, but there was no way to catch them on hook & line.  They were too spooky, and there were just too many minnow species that were eager to attack our baits.  Before we left, I netted a few with my dip net so I could get photos of them (there are very few online).  I also netted some splendid darters, another species that we saw but were unable to catch.  Both were stunning species, and the splendid darters would be much more colorful in spring.

Blackfin Sucker (Thoburnia atripinnis)

Splendid Darter (Etheostoma barrenense)

Further into Kentucky, we stopped at a spot that Miciah had fished before.  There were a number of darter species in the sampling data that would be new to us, but we weren't able to find them.  I think Miciah caught an orangethroat darter split that was a new lifer for him.  I couldn't find one for myself.  I caught an orangefin darter that Miciah needed but couldn't find.  Funny how it works that way sometimes.

Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieu)

Orangefin Darter (Etheostoma bellum)

Greenside Darter (Etheostoma blennioides)

To be honest I expected more than three lifers on this trip, but the scenery was fantastic, the fishing was great, I broke through the 300 barrier, and Miciah and I both succeeded in finishing the Nocomis genus by catching the redtail chubs.  I have no complaints!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Illinois weekend blitz to #300

With only five species left to hit #300, I came up with the idea to do a weekend blitz to try to catch five new species without leaving Illinois.  I had my eye on the Embarras River, because in the past two years I've seen and failed to catch quite a few species in it.  I hit the road after work on Friday so I wouldn't have to drive so far Saturday morning.  I stopped by the Mackinaw River, which is close to home.  My targets were banded darter and freckled madtom, but my first catch turned out to be one of the fish I was hoping to get out of the Embarras.

Slenderhead Darter (Percina phoxocephala)  - new hook & line species #296

The next morning I headed to the dam in Charleston.  I knew most of my lifers would be micros, but I started off bottom fishing for larger species.  My first catch was a redhorse, probably an intergrade between shorthead redhorse (Moxostoma macrolepidotum) and smallmouth redhorse (Moxostoma breviceps).  It had the sharp concave dorsal fin of a smallmouth, but its fin ray counts indicated shorthead.  I need smallmouth for my lifelist, but I'll wait until I get a 100% pure one before I add it.

Shorthead / Smallmouth Redhorse (Moxostoma sp.)

I switched to microfishing, hoping to catch a freckled madtom.  Brindled madtoms outnumber them, and that's what I ended up catching.

Brindled Madtom (Noturus miurus)

I needed a change of scenery, so I moved to Kickapoo Creek on the south end of Charleston.  Sampling data showed lots of eastern sand darters, and sure enough I saw dozens of them.  Please don't ask me if I caught one though...

The sand darters weren't cooperating, so I looked in the pools for other species.  I found this handsome dusky darter hanging out in pile of rocks.

Dusky Darter (Percina sciera)  - new hook & line species #297

Some of the most greedy fish were these juvenile spotted bass.  As you read futher, you'll see that I caught quite a few juvenile fish on this trip.

Spotted Bass (Micropterus punctulatus)

My next catch was a species that I'm surprised I hadn't caught earlier, a bullhead minnow.  It's a relative of bluntnose minnow but built a little sturdier.  Just two more species to go!

Bullhead Minnow (Pimephales vigilax)  - new hook & line species #298

I wanted to check out the Embarras further downstream where it begins to slow down before joining the Wabash River on the IL / IN border.  I found a good access spot in the town of Newton.  Sure enough, the river looked completely different from the stretch in Charleston.

I drifted a small piece of worm on a size #14 hook along the bottom.  It looked like decent habitat for silver chubs, but I wasn't sure if they would come this far upstream.  After half a dozen channel catfish ranging from somewhat small to very small, I caught a surprise.  It was a juvenile grass carp with its side covered in teeth marks.

Grass Carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella)

My next fish was the one I was looking for, a silver chub!  I was pretty happy to finally catch one, because I had failed to catch one in the Wisconsin River when I lived in Wisconsin.  One more to go!

Silver Chub (Macrhybopsis storeriana)  - new hook & line species #299

I stayed the night in a motel near the IL / IN border, and in the morning I started out fishing the Wabash River in St. Francisville.  I wasn't quite sure what my targets were, but I hadn't fished this stretch of the river before so maybe something would surprise me.  I started off with a two jig setup that caught the attention of the juvenile white bass near the boat ramp.

White Bass (Morone chrysops)

I used my other rod with a bottom rigged nightcrawler.  It got the attention of drum, lots and lots of drum.  They're not very exciting when you're looking for new species, but a couple of them were pretty big and fought well.  The one below was 18 inches and quite fat.

Freshwater Drum (Aplodinotus grunniens)

I gave the boat ramp some more attention, and I caught this juvenile skipjack herring.  It wouldn't hold still for a photo.

Skipjack Herring (Alosa chrysochloris)

When I switched to a Tanago hook, all I could catch were these juvenile common carp.  They were certainly the smallest carp I'd ever caught!

Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio)

I had lost hope that I would catch a new lifer in the Wabash, so I packed up the car and headed back to the Embarras River in Charleston.  If I looked hard enough, I figured I could catch a freckled madtom under one of the rocks near shore.  Sure enough, I saw a small, darkly colored catfish and followed it around until I caught it.  I went the next four hours thinking I had caught my 300th species.  However, once I looked at the photo on my laptop, I realized something was wrong.  The adipose fin was separate from the caudal fin, and the lower jaw was even with the upper jaw.  It was a juvenile flathead catfish!

Flathead Catfish (Pylodictis olivaris)

Thinking I had my last lifer secured, I relaxed for a while and fished blindly in a pool below a riffle.  My first fish was this logperch.

Logperch (Percina caprodes)

Next was a longear sunfish.  The ones in the Embarras River look pretty good!

Longear Sunfish (Lepomis megalotis)

I let my bait drift downstream under a bobber.  There was a big swirl of water, my bobber went under, and then I spent the next ten minutes fighting this silver carp.  There was a school of them feeding in the pool, and my hook had snagged its dorsal fin.

Silver Carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix)

That was it for my blitz.  One more species to go...

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Kayaking, hiking, and a goldeye

Two weekends ago I had my birthday, and to celebrate Ruoxi and I went fishing with my friend Bill "Garman" Meyer, a legendary figure who was instrumental in helping me catch my first gar several years ago.  We kayaked a tributary of the Illinois River near his hometown.

Bill took us to a spot on the river where he's had good luck with redhorse in the past.  We each set out two rods with nightcrawlers, and Ruoxi took a nap in her kayak.  Over the next few hours, I caught golden redhorse, shorthead redhorse, channel catfish, and smallmouth bass.

Golden Redhorse (Moxostoma erythrurum)

Bill hooked into a fish that's quite rare in Illinois, a river redhorse!  He released it in good health after the photo.  As it turns out, the Garman isn't too shabby with non-gar fishing.  (Edit - Later in the day Bill did catch a few gar, just to show off.)

River Redhorse (Moxostoma carinatum)

The bite was pretty slow, so we paddled upstream to another spot.  Ruoxi hijacked my camera so she could prove to the world that she was done with her multi-hour nap.

This spot turned out to be full of channel catfish.  That's almost all I caught, with one or two redhorse and smallmouth bass mixed in.

Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)

The following weekend I planned to meet up with Matt Miller, a writer from the Nature Conservancy.  If you do a google search you should be able to find a few of his articles.  We met after I got off work on Friday at Starved Rock State Park.  While I waited for him to arrive, I caught a few fish in the Illinois River near the visitors center.  I usually take the easy route and fish with bait, but to get some practice I caught these with lures.

Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieu)

White Bass (Morone chrysops)

When Matt arrived the bite had slowed down, and he had to settle with just one small channel cat.  I think I caught one bluegill, and that was it for the night.  We camped at the Starved Rock campground, and in the morning we headed to the infamous "Garvana" spot to look for shortnose gar.  It was a nice hot, sunny day, but the gar were nowhere to be found!  After spending some time throwing small spinners and swimbaits, we switched to crawlers on the bottom.

The nice thing about taking someone fishing in Illinois for the first time is that freshwater drum can be a new lifer.  Sure enough, drum were biting in full force, and Matt was able to catch a number of them.  I wish this was a picture of a gar instead, but I'm eternally grateful that the drum were cooperative.

Freshwater Drum (Aplodinotus grunniens)

We saw a few surface splashes from predatory fish chasing minnows or shad.  Whatever they were wouldn't hit any our lures, so I netted a shiner and put it on a silver jighead under a bobber.  I tossed it out into an eddy, and right away it got hit.  The fight was very short because the fish swam right towards shore!  When I pulled it out of the water I recognized it right away and quickly moved away from the water's edge.  It was a goldeye, a close cousin to the mooneye that I had caught before in Wisconsin.

Goldeye (Hiodon alosoides)  - new hook & line species #295
It gets its name from the color of its eye.  In case you didn't know.  You're welcome.

Matt also wanted to try microfishing, so I tied on a Tanago hook and showed him how to target the school of shiners near shore.  He took to it like a fish in water and quickly caught his first sand shiner.  Nice work Matt!

Sand Shiner (Notropis stramineus)

After we parted ways, Matt headed east to the same river Ruoxi and I had kayaked with Bill.  He caught northern sunfish (another new lifer) and a few other species.  The next day I came back up to join him again, and we kayak fished Gar Lake in Mazonia State Fish & Wildlife Area.  We were hoping for gar, but once again we came up empty handed.  The only fish we caught were largemouth bass, which were actively hitting spinners, shad-mimic swimbaits, and shiners on jigheads.  It was a slow weekend, but I think Matt was pleased with seeing some of our hard to reach northern Illinois fishing spots.  We hiked and kayaked quite a few miles, and we caught a few fish.  That's not a bad weekend any way you look at it.