Sunday, May 8, 2016

D.C. and Virginia part 2 - tannin ponds

On day two, Pat took me on a mini road trip to some tannin ponds a few hours south of D.C.  We knew it would be tough for new lifers, but there was a chance for mud sunfish, so we were going to give it a shot.  Even if we didn't find them, the other lowland species that live in these ponds would be cool to see.  We started off at a creek near the ponds in hopes that I could get a fallfish.  The only bite I got was a redbreast sunfish, so we moved on.

Redbreast Sunfish (Lepomis auritus)
Pat took me to the spot where he had netted mud sunfish in the past.  We poked around the edge of the pond, dropping tiny baits where we thought small fish might be hiding waiting to ambush tiny baits.  I don't think we got a single bite.  While Pat was exploring down a small creek I found an injured bowfin in the shallows.  I'm not sure what was wrong with it, but unfortunately it didn't look like it would make it.

Bowfin (Amia calva)
We  hiked to the next pond, which was a little bigger and deeper.  Again, we didn't get any bites next to shore, so we added bobbers and cast to the center of the pond.  We started catching sunfish right away.  The cool thing about the fish in this pond is that they were waaaay darker than their counterparts living in clearer water.

Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)

Pumpkinseed (Lepomis gibbosus)
Pat caught the one redear sunfish of the day.

Redear Sunfish (Lepomis microlophus)

On  one of my casts, something viciously attacked my bobber.  I had a suspicion what the culprit was, so I tied on a large spinner and cast to the same spot.  As soon as my lure hit the water, I got a hit and pulled in this big chain pickerel.  It was my first time catching one from the east coast.

Chain Pickerel (Esox niger)
I'm glad Pat had his fish grippers, because pickerel are hard to hold on to!

Pat had a similar encounter with a predatory fish, but his turned out to be a very dark bowfin.  It was cool to see so much diversity from one little pond.

Bowfin (Amia calva)
Pat knew there were flier in this pond, so he set to work figuring out where they were.  Eventually he found a school of them hanging out underneath the branches of a tree.  He told me to cast my bait there, and I immediately caught one as well.

Flier (Centrarchus macropterus)
We  had one more pond to try, and this one was small and very shallow.  We switched to our smallest hooks and hopped in with our waders.

Fish weren't out in the open, so we fished our baits close to vegetation and submerged wood.  The easiest fish to find were juvenile warmouth with their proportionally large mouths.

Warmouth (Lepomis gulosus)
Mosquitofish were in the dense mats of vegetation and could be caught by dragging your bait along the surface of the water.

Eastern Mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki)
The coolest fish in this pond were the tiny bluespotted sunfish.  They were harder to find, but if you fished your bait right up against submerged wood you could usually get one to come out and grab it.  They were beautiful.

Bluespotted Sunfish (Enneacanthus gloriosus)

Daylight was running out, so I grabbed Pat's dip net to see what we missed out on.  Lots of the three species above, a few salamanders or newts (sorry I'm not an amphibian guy), and this one lone mudminnow.  I don't have one on my lifelist, but my hopes of catching one on hook & line were slim to none at this spot.  Perhaps during a different time of year they would be more common and larger.

Eastern Mudminnow (Umbra pygmaea)
Thanks Pat for taking me to more of your secret spots!  I hope I can try for mud sunfish and eastern mudminnow again someday.

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