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...

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