Monday, September 29, 2014

Working hard for an Illinois lifer

It's been bugging me that I've only caught one new lifer from Illinois in 2014.  I've been slacking in my home state.  Last week we had warm weather and no rain, so I knew I had to hit the road. My first stop was Crane Creek in Mason County.  I was surprised to find the water higher than the day I visited about the same time last year.   I microfished for a while, but after getting no bites I got out the dip net so I could see a few fish.  As expected I found pirate perch, banded darter, Johnny darter, spotfin shiner, and tadpole madtom.  No ironcolor shiners this time, but I did catch a nice grass pickerel. I wanted a photo of the pickerel, but he shot like a rocket out of my hand right as I turned on the camera!

Tapole Madtom (Noturus gyrinus)

After Crane Creek I picked up my older brother in Springfield, and we went kayaking at Lake Sangchris. I had read reports of striped bass and gizzard shad being caught there, so that's what I was hoping for. More importantly though, I was just happy to be out with my brother. We paddled around throwing swimbaits that looked like shad. We tried the deep part of the lake and a few of the shallow bays, but we didn't get any bites. We switched to small hooks and nightcrawlers and caught a few bluebill and a small largemouth bass, so we didn't go home skunked.

The next morning I hit the road again to meet up with Lance Merry, another Illinois fish enthusiast. Lance was interested in seeing mountain madtoms from the Embarras River in Coles County, and I had quite a few targets there as well - eastern sand darter, dusky darter, slenderhead darter, bullhead minnow, and brindled madtom. We weren't able to find any mountain madtoms, but the brindled madtoms were plentiful and happy to eat a small piece of nightcrawler. Finally, a new lifer!

Brindled Madtom (Noturus miurus) - new hook & line species #242

The brindled madtoms had a lot of variation in terms of color and patterning.  Some were dark, some were pale, and others were yellow.  They were fun to catch.

With the net we caught the other fish I was hoping to see, as well as a freckled madtom, a species I hadn't seen before.  I was particularly happy to see eastern sand darters up close.

Eastern Sand Darter (Ammocrypta pellucida)

Our final stop was the Salt Fork Creek in Champaign County.  The Salt Fork and its tributary, the Saline Branch, have been improving over the years and have quite a long list of fish species established in them.  We caught some neat fish - rainbow darters, greenside darters, and stonecats, but the species we were really excited to see were bluebreast darters, which were sampled in Champaign County for the first time a year or two ago.  We took a few photos and then released them back into the riffle where we found them.

Bluebreast Darter (Etheostoma camurum)

Hopefully I'll have one or two more posts before it gets cold.  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Northeast Illinois in a day

Last Sunday Ruoxi and I had another fishing double date, this time with our friends Miciah and Carly.  We microfished the Des Plaines River at a couple spots below the Brandon Rd Lock & Dam, hoping to catch the invasive oriental weatherfish, but all we could find were bluntnose minnows, mosquitofish, round gobies, one Johnny darter, and one tadpole madtom.  Cutting our losses, we threw out some worms and caught a few bass (and more gobies) before moving on.

Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieu)

Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides)

Next we fished the Kankakee River below the Wilmington Dam.  The public park here was really nice with plenty of shore access.  After losing several rigs to the rocks, Ruoxi and I gave up trying to fish for bigger fish and switched to microfishing.  Ruoxi picked up a couple easy lifers this way.

Logperch (Percina caprodes) - new lifer for Ruoxi

Spotfin Shiner (Cyprinella spiloptera) - new lifer for Ruoxi

Blackstripe Topminnow (Fundulus notatus) - new lifer for Ruoxi

Miciah and Carly had to get back to Michigan, and Ruoxi had to get back to Wisconsin, so we parted ways after having dinner at a little diner in town.  On my drive back to Peoria, I stopped at the Mazon River to take advantage of the evening bite.  I set up under a bridge with two rods rigged with small circle hooks and redworms and waited.  The bite was fairly steady, and I was pleased to see so many different species without switching spots or techniques.  I wish the Mazon was a little closer to home!

Northern Sunfish (Lepomis peltastes)

Orangespotted Sunfish (Lepomis humilis)

Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)

Rock Bass (Ambloplites rupestris) - 8 inches

Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)

Freshwater Drum (Aplodinotus grunniens)

Logperch (Percina caprodes)

Shorthead Redhorse (Moxostoma macrolepidotum)

Awesome colors on this guy!

Golden Redhorse (Moxostoma erythrurum)

Friday, September 5, 2014

Northern Wisconsin road trip day 2

On our second day we started off with a hike along a river with scenic waterfalls.  The rivers in this part of the state are tea stained a reddish brown color.  We assumed it was from the red soil, but perhaps the decaying pine needles or leaves play a role as well.

Our fishing destination was an old quarry pond adjacent to the river.  I was informed that this pond contains nothing but pearl dace, which was an exciting prospect because it would be a new lifer.

The fish we caught were not pearl dace though; they were finescale dace.  Finescale dace are similar to northern redbelly dace, but instead of a second stripe they have a darkly colored back.  They also lack the intense yellow found on breeding northern redbelly dace.

Finescale Dace (Chrosomus neogaeus) - new hook & line species #240

We caught a few dace without breeding colors that looked more like northern redbelly dace.  The two species hybridize, so there may be both in this pond (along with the elusive pearl dace).

Dace (Chrosomus sp.)

Ruoxi also caught this tiny brook stickleback.  She's becoming quite the microfisherwoman even though she insists that microfishing does not interest her.

Brook Stickleback (Culaea inconstans)

We continued north to Superior, WI, which is the sister city to Duluth, MN.  The St. Louis River separates the two cities and flows into the western end of Lake Superior.  I was hoping to pick up an invasive ruffe for my lifelist, but they were nowhere to be found.  Another invasive fish, the round goby, was the most common catch.

Round Goby (Neogobius melanostomus)

I also picked up two redhorse, which were quite exiting catches on a #10 mosquito hook and 4lb line.  Ruoxi did an excellent job helping me land these fish.

Shorthead Redhorse (Moxostoma macrolepidotum)

Silver Redhorse (Moxostoma anisurum)

There was a mayfly hatch going on, so I used a couple as bait.  They got hits faster than the pieces of nightcrawler.

Yellow Perch (Perca flavescens)

Giving up on the ruffe, we drove east along the shore of Lake Superior to check out a few tributary creek mouths.  We were pretty disappointed to find the water not flowing at the first creek.  It did not look pleasant.

With the murky stagnant water, I didn't feel like microfishing, so I got out the dip net instead.  The only fish was this tiny juvenile trout.

Brown Trout (Salmo trutta) - juvenile

We stuck to our schedule and headed back south to meet up with Mike Channing, another lifelisting enthusiast.  His kids insisted that their cat Minnie make it into this blog post, so here she is.  :P

Mike took us down to his local fishing spot, and we were able to get baits in the water just before the sun went down.  Ruoxi caught the first fish and was pretty excited that it was her lifer shorthead redhorse.

Shorthead Redhorse (Moxostoma macrolepidotum)

I caught the next couple fish, a freshwater drum (not shown), and two species that are always favorites: a baby lake sturgeon and a northern hogsucker.  The scutes on the sturgeon were sharp!  Mike's kids handled the important responsibility of releasing all of the fish.

Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens)

Northern Hogsucker (Hypentelium nigricans)

Thanks Mike Channing and Aaron Bye for the fishing spots!  It was a tough trip as far as catching new lifers, but the fishing was nothing short of specactular.  Ruoxi and I can't wait to repeat the trip again someday.

Northern Wisconsin road trip day 1

A few days before Labor Day weekend Ruoxi and I made the last minute decision to head up to northern Wisconsin on a road trip.  Illinois was hot and muggy with scattered thunderstorms, but the north woods had a clear forecast and pleasant temperatures.

I'm usually pretty forthcoming with my fishing spots, but most of the places we visited on this trip were given to me in confidence, so I'll have to leave out the water body names.  On the drive north we stopped at a lake that has Iowa darters and blackchin shiners.  I saw one darter, but couldn't find it again when I got out my gear.  I got bites from some juvenile shiners, but they were too small to hook.  Ruoxi, however, had no trouble catching a few normal sized fish.

Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)

Yellow Perch (Perca flavescens)

We continued to our primary destination, a river that is known for redhorse.  We fished from a bridge, and sure enough, redhorse is what we caught!  There was very little overlap with the species.  The day started out with silver redhorse, which was a lifer for Ruoxi.

Silver Redhorse (Moxostoma anisurum)

I then caught a couple nicely colored shorthead redhorse.  They really are beautiful fish!  Ruoxi had to wait until the following day to catch hers.

Shorthead Redhorse (Moxostoma macrolepidotum)

Later in the afternoon the bite switched over to goldens.  Sometimes they would bite within seconds of the bait hitting the bottom.  They fought much harder than the silvers and shortheads, even though they were smaller fish.  We had some pretty spectacular jumps that you would expect from smallmouth bass or trout.

Golden Redhorse (Moxostoma erythrurum)

I've never seen so much color on the belly of a golden redhorse.  Pretty neat!

You have to take some head shots.  Redhorse are pretty adorable.

Occasionally our bottom rigged nightcrawlers would get picked up by smallmouth bass.  They were very darkly colored and great fighters.

Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieu)
Ruoxi's was a bit smaller.

An unexpected catch was this hornyhead chub.  We were using #6 octopus circle hooks, and I guess its mouth was big enough to get hooked.  It was a cool new lifer for Ruoxi.

Hornyhead Chub (Nocomis biguttatus)

I also had an usual catch on a circle hook.  This ambitious logperch tried to swallow half a nightcrawler.  He's going to have a sore face... ouch.

Logperch (Percina caprodes)

I'll probably get punched for this, but I'm going to post it anyway.  Ruoxi got tired of standing, so she came up with this creative way to sit on the guardrail.