Saturday, June 10, 2017

2017 NANFA convention part 2 - Meramec River

Gerry and I had fishing plans for day 2 of the NANFA convention, but they were not as ambitious as the previous day because we were attending presentations in the morning and the banquet and auction in the evening.  We started out at the Meramec River in the state park.  Gerry fished bank rods, and I caught micros near shore.  I caught northern studfish, bigeye shiner, wedgespot shiner, and rainbow darter.  I needed help with the ID of this wedgespot shiner - thanks Bob!

Wedgespot Shiner (Notropis greenei)

After the presentations - which were very good - we snuck out for a bit more microfishing.  We drove a half hour away to Blue Springs Creek.  Here we found active chub mounds with carmine shiners, Ozark minnows, bleeding shiners, and rainbow darters.  I held my camera underwater and snapped a few photos.  They're not great, but if you look closely you can see all four species in the photo below.

The rainbow darters looked like they were only hanging around so they could eat freshly deposited eggs.  If you look in the bottom of the photo below, you can see a few with their heads buried in the rocks, looking for food.  The fish on the right is an Ozark minnow.

It's pretty easy to catch fish when they're in spawning mode.  We took the time to catch one of each of the shiners.  Man were they colorful!  The carmine shiners were blazing, and the Ozark minnows were interesting because their fins were yellow instead of red, which I've seen in other drainages such as the Current River.

Carmine Shiner (Notropis percobromus)

Ozark Minnow (Notropis nubilus)

Bleeding Shiner (Luxilus zonatus)

Further downstream I found a school of Ozark minnows in a riffle.  They must be comfortable spawning without chub mounds, whereas the carmine shiners were concentrated on the mounds.  This is my favorite photo from the trip.

I spotted a saddled darter in the riffle, but it quickly darted out of view (no pun intended).  The species in the Meramec drainage has been split from the Missouri saddled darter that we saw in the Gasconade drainage.  I looked around for another one, but all I could find were rainbow darters.

Rainbow Darter (Etheostoma caeruleum)

This riffle was pretty small, so I headed downstream looking for a bigger one.  The next riffle was very shallow and very fast.  It looked like good habitat for saddled darters, but seeing them would be an issue.  I got in the water near the middle and slowly worked upstream.  The surface of the water becomes smooth at the upstream end of a riffle, so that was the only place I'd be able to sight fish darters.

Sure enough, this riffle had several saddled darters.  They spooked more easily than the rainbow darters, but eventually I found one that didn't bold and was feeling hungry.  Success!

Meramec Saddled Darter (Etheostoma erythrozonum) - new hook & line species #445

I showed Gerry the saddled darters, and soon he had caught his lifer as well.  We continued exploring downstream and found another riffle with even more of them.  We also saw a pair of greenside darters, a lone fantail darter, northern hogsuckers, hornyhead chubs, stonerollers, northern studfish, and smallmouth bass.  After much frustration, Gerry entered a zen like state and was able to catch one of the stonerollers.  We grabbed fast food for lunch and headed back to the convention to catch the rest of the talks.

On the drive home the next morning we stopped at Carlyle on the Kaskaskia River.  I spent roughly four hours trying to catch a gizzard shad, but ended up empty handed.  However, between the two of us we did catch shortnose gar, spotted gar, bighead carp, yellow bass, white bass, bluegill, and freshwater drum.  A lot of shad were snagged by accident.  We saw someone else catch a silver carp, and Gerry had something big on the end of his line that broke off before we could ID it.

Shortnose Gar (Lepisosteus platostomus)

Thanks to Gerry for being an excellent road trip and allowing your car to become very dirty over the course of three days.  It was good to fish central Missouri again, and it was really good to see old NANFA friends as well as make new ones.  Next year's convention is going to be in Georgia.  I'm not sure if I'll be able to make it, but it sounds like a good one!

Friday, June 9, 2017

2017 NANFA convention part 1 - Gasconade River

The NANFA convention was held in Missouri this year.  Gerry Hansell, a friend from the Chicago area, and I drove down from Illinois together.  The convention was in Meramec State Park, but on Friday we did a mini road trip to the Gasconade River drainage to do some microfishing.  Our first stop was Little Piney Creek.  Sampling data showed plains topminnows there, so we looked for them in the side pools and near vegetation.

However, the only topminnow-ish fish we could find were western mosquitofish.  Pretty much every species in the creek would be a lifer for Gerry, so we spent some time microfishing for whatever we could find.  We caught orangethroat darter, rainbow darter, redbelly dace, and Ozark sculpin.  The darters weren't particularly colorful, but I was happy to get good photos of the other two.

Southern Redbelly Dace (Chrosomus erythrogaster)

Ozark Sculpin (Cottus hypselurus)

We had several backup plans for plains topminnow.  The first was Lane Spring, which was just a few minutes down the road.  It's pretty big as far as springs go, and it empties into Little Piney Creek.  I had a good feeling when we saw all of the vegetation.

However, once again we found mosquitofish instead!  We got our hopes up when we saw some topminnows, but they turned out to be blackspotted.  In the creek we caught bleeding shiner, redbelly dace, creek chub, bluegill, orangethroat darter, rainbow darter, and Ozark sculpin.

Western Mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis)

Our last chance for plains topminnow was Wilkins Spring.  The U.S. Forest Service road we took to reach it was pretty dicey, but Gerry's AWD vehicle handled it without any problem.  We walked through the big puddles in our wading shoes before we took any risks with the car.

Wilkins Spring, which flows into Mill Creek, was dammed up a long time ago to form a small pond.  We were expecting clear water, but it turned out to be surprisingly cloudy, perhaps from limestone?

We walked the shore looking for topminnows.  It didn't take us long to find them.  At first we only saw a few, but pretty soon we were finding small schools of them everywhere.  Gerry had brought a 12 foot fixed line crappie pole that was the perfect length for reaching them.

This photo shows the cloudy water, the vegetation, and a small school of topminnows.  They spooked easily, so we had to stand perfectly still as we fished for them.

Plains Topminnow (Fundulus sciadicus) - new hook & line species #443

Gerry was racking up the new lifers, and I was happy to have one on the board.  Our next stop was the confluence of Spring Creek and the Big Piney River.  It had a wide variety of habitats and turned out to be a great place to explore and look for different species.

I wandered up Spring Creek looking for stippled darters, but they were nowhere to be found.  They probably prefer the headwaters over the lower stretch of the creek.  The mix of species was similar to the previous spots - sculpins, redbelly dace, bleeding shiners, and rainbow darters.  Gerry caught a huge northern studfish in one of the pools, and he set up a bank rod and caught a huge northern hogsucker.

Ozark Sculpin (Cottus hypselurus)

We saw some long slender fish in one of the deep pools that I identified as brook silversides.  I tried to catch one, but what ended up on the end of my line was a carmine shiner.  I'm pretty sure the fish we saw were silversides though.  I've only caught one in my life, so it would have been nice to finally get another.

Carmine Shiner (Notropis percobromus)

I waded through the riffle again, hoping to find something new.  A slender madtom came out from one of the rocks, so I coached Gerry through the process of catching it on hook & line.  Then, I spotted a darter that I knew wasn't an orangethroat or rainbow.  Its back was a light tan color, and it had several dark saddles that blended in extremely well with the surrounding rocks.  I was 99% sure it was a saddled darter, so I announced that we weren't leaving until I caught one.  After a few minutes of watching darters dash away from my feet, and after a bit of cursing, I found one that stayed put and went for my bait!

Missouri Saddled Darter (Etheostoma tetrazonum) - new hook & line species #444

At this point we had done a great job catching our targets for the day, so anything else would be a bonus.  We continued west to the Gasconade River and fished its confluence with Roubidoux Creek.  The river's water was muddy, but the creek's water was clear.

We were amazed to see debris stuck in the bridge, apparently from the flooding that had occurred earlier in the spring.  The river must have risen nearly 30 feet!

We could see a variety of larger species in the creek - smallmouth bass, rock bass, longear sunfish, northern hogsuckers, and redhorse.  The redhorse were actively feeding, and when one came close to shore I was able to get my bait in front of it.  After a short battle on light line, I was happy to see that it was a black redhorse.  This is the second one I've caught, with the first one being from southern Illinois a year ago.

Black Redhorse (Moxostoma duquesni)

Shininess is probably not a good ID characteristic, but from the few black redhorse I've seen, I've always noticed that their scales are much more shiny than golden redhorse.  The two species have similar colors, but to me the scales on blacks look they're made out of some sort of reflective metal.

We saw schools of micros but decided to focus on larger species, even though I knew none of them would be lifers.  My next catch was a northern hogsucker, which eagerly moved forward to vaccuum up my worm off the bottom.

Northern Hogsucker (Hypentelium nigricans)

The boulders near shore had longear sunfish hiding under them.

Longear Sunfish (Lepomis megalotis)

We had one more stop planned, but it was getting late in the day and we didn't want to drive further west.  Instead, we decided to park along Roubidoux Creek a few hundred yards upstream from the confluence.

I was once again looking for stippled darters, but all I could find were rainbows and orangethroats.  There were a lot of small sculpins and crayfish as well.  The pools below riffles had bleeding shiners and striped shiners that would attack your bait instantly.

Bleeding Shiner (Luxilus zonatus)

Gerry caught up to me and told me he could see gar in one of the shallow runs.  Sure enough, there was a trio of longnose gar holding in the swift current, and they were either spawning or getting ready to.  Every now and then they would lift their heads out of the water, but I could never get the timing right to get a good photo.

Longnose Gar (Lepisosteus osseus)

We were curious if the gar would go for bait, so I gave Gerry a shiner and he rigged it up with small treble hooks and freelined it to them.  They showed zero interest.  Oh well, it was worth a try!

When we climbed in the car we realized how hungry we were.  BBQ in Rolla on the drive back to Meramec State Park really hit the spot.  To be continued in part 2!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Quick trip to Sandy Creek

I probably won't be calling Illinois home for much longer, and with that in mind I decided to check out Sandy Creek one more time before I move.  We had some flooding this spring, and I wasn't sure if the creek would be in good shape, but I took the chance and made the 45 minute drive up.  The water level wasn't too bad, but I was surprised to find a pretty serious logjam clogging up my fishing hole!  Some of the trees were felled by beavers, but I couldn't tell if they washed downstream on their own or if this was an active beaver dam.

I started off by throwing a spinner under the bridge for a bit.  The action was slow, but I did manage two decent white bass.  They tend to show up whenever the water level is high enough for them to swim up easily from the Illinois River.

White Bass (Morone chrysops)

I brought a container of worms from my parents' compost bin, and the pool formed by the logjam looked pretty fishy, so that's where I fished.  My first catch was a new species for Sandy Creek, which probably puts the total up to somewhere around 45 unique species.  White suckers aren't particularly exciting, but it's always cool to see something different.

White Sucker (Catostomus commersonii)

The big fish of the day were channel cats.  I ended up catching half a dozen fairly large ones.  One of them broke my 6 lb line right at shore, but an hour later I caught him again. so I was able to remove his temporary lip jewelry.  All of the fish were released.

Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)

The only other species for the day was freshwater drum.  Fortunately none of them swallowed the hook deep, which they often tend to do.  Drum always put up a good fight for their size.

Freshwater Drum (Aplodinotus grunniens)

I was surprised to not catch any smallmouth bass, bluegill, longear sunfish, or rock bass.  Usually those are four of the most common species near this bridge.  Perhaps once the logjam is gone and the water clears up they'll move back in.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Peruvian Amazon part 3 - peacock bass lake

We woke up early on day 3 with plans to visit a secret peacock bass lake.  The lake was quite a few miles up the river, so it made sense to camp a few nights to give us plenty of time to fish.  It was still dark when the guides packed the boat with our camping gear (mosquito nets and sleeping pads), and we put together backpacks with what we would need for several days in the jungle.  With the promise of a big thermos of coffee on the boat, we loaded our gear and followed the creek out into the mainstem Amazon.

The boat we took wasn't fast like Otorongo's yellow speed boat, so we had plenty of time to kill.  Rojelio, one of the local guides, worked on the mosquito nets to make sure they were ready for the evening.

We certainly had plenty of gear.  Michael and George were frequently asleep whenever we traveled in the big boat.  They were the only two who didn't drink coffee, which probably explains how they could doze off so easily.

We motored up one of the Amazon's tributaries and tied off near the mouth of a small creek.  At this point we switched to the canoes that we had towed behind the big boat.  The creek was packed with fallen wood, and the going was tough.  We often had to hop out of the canoe so it could be pushed over a submerged log.

There was a large fallen tree blocking the entrance to the lake, so we had to wait in line as we went over one at a time.  While we waited I dropped a piece of bait over the side and caught my first fish of the day!

Trahira (Hoplias malabaricus) - new hook & line species #361

Check out those teeth!  We didn't catch any larger specimens, and honestly I'm not sure how much larger this particular species can get.  They're a close relative of the more famous wolf fish, which can definitely get much larger.

Finally, we made our way into the lake, and we were excited to finally cast our lures.  I tied on a chartreuse and orange rattletrap, threw it close to shore, and it got hit right away!  The peacock bass lake lived up to its name.

Monoculus Peacock Bass (Cichla monoculus) - new hook & line species #362

My next fish was a pike cichlid similar to the one I caught in Iquitos, but it was a different species.  The purple color on its belly really stood out.

Johanna Pike Cichlid (Crenicichla johanna) - new hook & line species #363

Peacock bass continued to hit our lures.  You'll notice most of the fish from this lake had their tails chewed up pretty badly - likely from piranhas or other fish with teeth.

Monoculus Peacock Bass (Cichla monoculus)

Casting lures close to structure near shore continued to produce the same two species.  Notice the creepy shirtless guy in the lower left below.  That's Anthony, the lodge owner!

Trahira (Hoplias malabaricus)

I took a photo of every peacock bass I caught, hoping there would be more than one species.  However, we concluded that we only caught C. monoculus.  This one had some pretty nice orange coloration on its underside.

Monoculus Peacock Bass (Cichla monoculus)

Michael was partnered up with me in the canoe.  We decided to switch tactics in hopes of catching different species.  Cut bait produced this brycon, which is a large species in the characin (tetra) family.

Red-Tailed Brycon (Brycon cephalus) - new hook & line species #364

We noticed a lot of small fish with red tails swimming near the surface.  They would attack our cut baits, but we knew we needed to switch to micro gear to hook them.  We put them off for a while, but eventually I downsized my hook so I could catch one.

Red-Tailed Tucan Fish (Chalceus erythrurus) - new hook & line species #365

Michael was struggling to set the hook with the tucan fish (they had really bony mouths), so I told him to watch what I was doing.  I popped my wrist pretty hard to set the hook, caught a fish, and was about to throw it back when Michael said, "Ben, I think that's a different species!"  I'm really glad he said something, because it turned out to be a different kind of tucan fish.  Thanks Michael!

Pointed Tucan Fish (Chalceus epakros) - new hook & line species #366

Around noon it began to rain, and for a while we continued to fish.  I caught this piranha on cut bait, but my camera lens had water on it, so the photo didn't turn out well.  After a while the rain wore us down, so we took a break on shore huddled under some large trees.

Red-Bellied Piranha (Pygocentrus nattereri)

The rain let up, and soon we were fishing again.  We had seen small cichlids that stayed close to submerged branches, so I switched back to a small hook.  The cichlids weren't hard to find.  They were shy, but a small piece of cut bait did the trick.

Wonderful Flag Cichlid (Mesonauta mirificus) - new hook & line species #367

I continued to fish the small piece of bait, and my next fish was a different species of brycon with a black stripe starting on its belly and ending on its tail.

Black-Finned Brycon (Brycon melanopterus) - new hook & line species #368

We needed to get back to the main boat before dark, so we convened at the mouth of the lake and began the journey back down the creek.  While we were waiting to go over the fallen tree, I caught one more species.  The locals called them mojarras, and we often used them as bait.

Silver Tetra (Tetragonopterus argenteus) - new hook & line species #369

Back at the base camp, we ate dinner and then fished the Amazon tributary for a bit before going to bed.  I didn't seem to be having very good luck with catfish, but I did manage to get one nice one before calling it a night.  This species of long-whiskered catfish migrates the full length of the Amazon to complete its life cycle.  Pretty amazing!

Piramutaba (Brachyplatystoma vaillantii) - new hook & line species #370

Piramutabas certainly do not look like our big river catfish.  They looked like ghosts with their pink eyes and white bodies.

We stayed the night on camp pads under mosquito nets.  It was pretty warm and the bugs were buzzing around, but we were tired from the long day and slept pretty well.