Sunday, October 27, 2013

VA / NC trip part 8 - Clinch River drainage

Day six was our final day of fishing. We decided to spend our time in the Clinch River and its tributaries. Before fishing the main river, we drove a ways up a mountain road to check out a small tributary creek. One of the locals was confused why were fishing in such a small creek. We enjoy talking with locals, but at the same time we want to keep conversations short, so we explained that we were having a competition with each other to see who could catch the most fish. It wasn't exactly true, but it's easier to explain than the concept of lifelisting.

The Clinch River drainage did not disappoint. Miciah caught a nice warpaint shiner, and I caught a number of other species. I would have liked a warpaint as well, but I strategically did not catch one so I can visit this part of the country again *wink*.

Sawfin Shiner (Notropis sp.) - new hook & line species #147

Telescope Shiner (Notropis telescopus) - new hook & line species #148

Whitetail Shiner (Cyprinella nivea) - new hook & line species #149

We knew that even more fish were waiting for us in the main river, so we wrapped up at the stream and drove through the mountain valley until we found a good access spot on the Clinch.  We really wanted to find tangerine darters (google search them and you'll see why), but unfortunately I don't think we were in their preferred habitat.  We were, however, in the right habitat for smaller darter species.  Within a few minutes I had added two new darters to my lifelist!  Besides redline and bluebreast, we saw eastern greenside, golden, and some kind of snubnose darters.  If only we had more time...

Redline Darter (Etheostoma rufilineatum) - new hook & line species #150

Bluebreast Darter (Etheostoma camurum) - new hook & line species #151

Upstream of the riffle there were lots of Tennessee shiners and streamline chubs.  The streamline chubs were especially cool to watch as they grazed on the sandy bottom.  I think Miciah got another warpaint shiner here, and once again I selectively chose not to catch one so I have an excuse to come back.

Streamline Chub (Erimystax dissimilis) - new hook & line species #152

This wrapped up our fishing trip.  I'm so glad we chose to finish the trip at this location!  The fish diversity was nothing short of incredible.  I started the trip with a hook & line lifelist of 114 species and finished with 152!  Thirty-eight new species in six days is going to be tough to beat.

VA / NC trip part 7 - New River drainage

On day five we headed west into the Appalachians into the New River drainage. It was beautiful country with the leaves changing color. We found a small stream with fish and got to work. The water was cold! In the pools we found dace and chubs as well as a new shiner species for our lifelists.

Saffron Shiner (Notropis rubricroceus) - new hook & line species #146

Mountain Redbelly Dace (Chrosomus oreas)

Rosyside Dace (Clinostomus funduloides)

Bluehead Chub? (Nocomis leptocephalus?)

Before we packed up for the next location, I looked in a small riffle for darters. I had time to catch just one, a fantail darter. The fantails in the Tennessee and New River drainages are an unnamed subspecies. The vertical bars were especially dark on the upper half of their sides, and their fins and tail were an impressive yellow color.

Fantail Darter (Etheostoma flabellare ssp.) - subspecies from TN / New River drainages

The rest of the day was spent looking for bigmouth chubs (Nocomis platyrhynchus), but we were unsuccessful in finding them. Nonetheless, we couldn't complain with the scenery. Here's the spot where we ended the day. Even if you don't find the fish you're looking for, spending time in a place like this is time well spent!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

VA / NC trip part 6 - Ocean Isle Beach

As I mentioned in the last post, we took a short trip to the coast after fishing below the Lake Waccamaw dam. We made our way south, arriving at Ocean Isle Beach with plenty of daylight left. Before going to the town's fishing pier, we poked around for a while on the inland side of the island. We saw some large killifish racing along by shore. Lucky for us, they would stop their zooming around when they saw bait hit the surface.

Striped Killifish (Fundulus majalis) - new hook & line species #142

Females had horizontal stripes instead of vertical bars.

I was surprised by how wide-bodied striped killifish are compared to other killifish and topminnows.

Near the boat ramp we found tiny gobies hanging out among the mussels attached to the concrete pilings. It was amazing how aggressive they were despite their small size.

Naked Goby (Gobiosoma bosc) - new hook & line species #143

Mummichogs were the most common species among the saltwater grasses. It was neat to catch them in pure saltwater since we had found them earlier in the trip in pure freshwater.

Mummichog (Fundulus heteroclitus)

Fishing among the rocks produced my first pinfish. I thought it was a pretty neat fish, but Miciah and Bryce insisted I would get tired of catching them at some point. The first of any species is always an experience though!

Pinfish (Lagodon rhomboides) - new hook & line species #144

We packed up our gear and headed to the ocean side of the island to fish from the pay pier. This was my first time seeing the Atlantic ocean in about 12 years. I was a very tired but happy species angler.

We fished Sabiki rigs from the pier, each hook tipped with a strip of squid. The squid did an excellent job staying on the hooks. The bite was slow, but over the next hour we caught half a dozen Florida pompanos. It was a new lifer for each of us.

Florida Pompano (Trachinotus carolinus) - new hook & line species #145

As the sun went down the bite dropped off, so we called it a day and headed back to Lake Waccamaw for some freshwater night fishing.

VA / NC trip part 5 - Lake Waccamaw

After nowhere near enough sleep, day four began at Lake Waccamaw in southern North Carolina. Lake Waccamaw is a large shallow, sandy lake surrounded by swampy backwaters. It's really a unique place, well worth the visit.  We started off fishing some backwater spots before heading to the main lake.  To my surprise, there were alligators!  Fortunately, none of them were large, and they kept their distance while we fished.  I dropped my microhook with a small piece of redworm close to some vegetation, and right away I got a strong bite.  Within a few minutes, I had pulled in several flier, which in my opinion were the most beautiful fish of the trip.  They were also probably the largest fish I've landed using Tanago hooks.

Flier (Centrarchus macropterus) - new hook & line species #138

We then drove around the main lake, stopping when we found a public pier.  Most of the lakefront is private property, so we were happy to find access open to the public.  The water in the lake is slightly tea stained, and the bottom is pure sand with a few plants scattered about.  We saw a school of our target fish, the Waccamaw killifish, out of reach of our crappie poles.  I rigged up a small ice fishing bobber about an inch and a half above a Tanago hook baited with a small piece of redworm.  The school of killifish would spook easily, but after casting past the school and slowly reeling in, I was able to place my bait among the fish.  After a few small twitches of the bait, the killifish took notice, and I hooked into one.  I'm not 100% certain, but I believe I can make the claim that I'm the first person to catch this species hook & line.

Waccamaw Killifish (Fundulus waccamensis) - new hook & line species #139

At the end of the pier there were tons of small shiners cruising around.  They bit aggressively and turned out to be coastal shiners.

Coastal Shiner (Notropis petersoni) - new hook & line species #140

Finished with the killifish and shiners, we drove to the small dam on the lake.  There were a lot of fish below the dam, including bluegill, redear sunfish, largemouth bass, and shad.  The bluegill looked a bit different from the ones back home.  I found a few references to a subspecies of bluegill on the east coast, but it does not seem to be widely recognized by the scientific community.  Nonetheless, it's cool to see regional differences in fish like this.

Eastern Bluegill? (Lepomis macrochirus purpurascens?)

While I was fishing the pool below the dam, Miciah successfully caught a Waccamaw darter on the sandy flat above the dam.  I can't resist darters, so of course I had to begin searching for one of my own.  This obsession resulted in me being hunched over for well over an hour, searching for tiny camouflaged fish on the bottom.   I found one large adult, but he would only bite at my split shot, not my bait!  I don't think I've ever felt so frustrated by a fish.  One day, Waccamaw darter, I will return for you...

After the dam we headed to the ocean to see what the saltwater would bring us (see next blog post).  In the evening we backtracked and decided to night fish the Lake Waccamaw dam for small catfish and other oddities.  I put out a piece of nightcrawler on a #10 Octopus hook, and my first fish turned out to be a new lifer.  However, we didn't come across any catfish.  Before leaving, we baited up our microhooks and caught a few small sunfish.  We thought they were banded sunfish, which would have been a new lifer, but after the trip we were told these fish were bluespotted sunfish (see the part 1 blog post).

White Perch (Morone americana) - new hook & line species #141

Bluespotted Sunfish (Enneacanthus gloriosus)

VA / NC trip part 4 - Sandhills Region

In the afternoon of day three we arrived at Fort Bragg to meet up with Levi, a microfishing legend in his own right. Levi is working on a microfishing book that we are all very excited about. Once on the base, we headed out to fish several streams flowing through the Sandhills. The first creek was small with darkly stained water. It was full of one of the most beautiful shiners I've encountered, the dusky shiner.

Dusky Shiner (Notropis cummingsae) - new hook & line species #132

The next stream was slightly larger and had clear water. The first pool we came to was full of chubs and suckers. A few of the chubs were willing to bite!

Sandhills Chub (Semotilus lumbee) - new hook & line species #133

With the sun getting low in the sky, we made our way to a pond on the base. In the shallow boat ramp area we caught two new fish, dollar sunfish and lined topminnow. I have to say, the lined topminnow was probably the funniest looking fish of the trip. The one pictured below is a female.

Dollar Sunfish (Lepomis marginatus) - new hook & line species #134

Lined Topminnow (Fundulus lineolatus) - new hook & line species #135

You might think we that had caught enough new fish for one day, but you would be mistaken. With the sun long gone, Levi took us to a few of his night fishing spots. We put on our head lamps, climbed down a ravine to a creek flowing under a bridge in town. Tessellated darters were hanging out on the sandy flats, and even with a bright light shining on them they were willing to bite.

Tessellated Darter (Etheostoma olmstedi) - new hook & line species #136

In fact, nearly all the fish we encountered were willing to bite despite having a bright headlamp shining directly on them. We were pretty impressed with the results. Now that the trip is over, we're brainstorming how to apply this method to our waters back home. This technique should be useful for catching nocturnal fish like pirate perch and madtoms.

Comely Shiner (Notropis amoenus) - new hook & line species #137

Warmouth (Lepomis gulosus) - juvenile

Redbreast Sunfish? (Lepomis auritus) - juvenile

I admit my nighttime photography skills need some improving.  The pictures above were taken using my headlamp without flash from the camera.  If anyone has suggestions for taking good nighttime photographs of up-close objects, I'd love to hear about it!

VA / NC trip part 3 - Eno River

On day three we headed south to begin fishing North Carolina. We arrived at the Eno River at sunrise, meeting up with a new species angler, Ali. It was great to meet someone with common interests!  We were excited to be in this stretch of the river; even in town it was very scenic with clean water and moss covered boulders. Miciah quickly caught our target, Roanoke bass. I seemed to catch everything else in the river, and after a while switched to targeting smaller fish.

Redbreast Sunfish (Lepomis auritus)

Bull Chub (Nocomis raneyi) - new hook & line species #129

White Shiner (Luxilus albeolus)

I had told myself at the beginning of the trip that I wouldn't pursue darters, because they take too much time to catch. However, when I saw a few of them among the rocks in shallow water, I couldn't resist. After being hunched over for a while and cursing at fish that wouldn't bite, I finally caught one, a very darkly colored Roanoke darter!

Roanoke Darter (Percina roanoka) - new hook & line species #130

I caught some others that were colored differently - less iridescent blue with mottled brown and black on top and paler orange on the belly. I'm going to take a guess that these ones were female?

Mixed in with the Roanoke darters were fantail darters. I'm not sure if these were also Chesapeake fantails (see the part 2 post). They looked significantly different than the Dan River fantails; they had a large teardrop under the eye and washed out uniform bars on the side rather than dark triangular marks on the upper half.

Fantail Darter (Etheostoma flabellare?)

In the slackwater pools to the side we found speckled killifish. They weren't aggressive, but after a while they could be convinced to bite.

Speckled Killifish (Fundulus rathbuni) - new hook & line species #131

With our day only half hour we headed south for even more fish!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

VA / NC trip part 2 - Dan & Roanoke drainages

Day two put us in the Dan River and Roanoke River drainages. Our first stop was a small stream going through a public park. A footpath bridge made the perfect microfishing spot. It was a sunny day, and tons of minnows were hanging out in the pool beneath the bridge. When the reach of the 12 foot crappie pole isn't necessary, I switch to my 5 foot ultralight. Just like the day before, the new lifers came in one after another!

Mountain Redbelly Dace (Chrosomus oreas) - new hook & line species #122

Rosyside Dace (Clinostomus funduloides) - new hook & line species #123

Crescent Shiner (Luxilus cerasinus) - new hook & line species #124

We then headed to a dam on the Pigg River with a small stream flowing in downstream. Miciah headed to the stream, and I fished above and below the dam. Bryce, who had done most of the driving on the trip, took a nap in the car. I used a size #10 Octopus hook with my ultralight, and quickly caught the larger chub and shiner species hanging out below the dam.

Bluehead Chub (Nocomis leptocephalus) - new hook & line species #125

White Shiner (Luxilus albeolus) - new hook & line species #126

Crescent Shiner (Luxilus cerasinus) - adults at this spot, the previous ones were juveniles

I also tied on a small Mepps spinner and caught this nicely colored brown trout above the dam.

Brown Trout (Salmo trutta)

After catching more of the same, I made my way down to the small creek to see how Miciah was doing. He said that he was catching mostly juvenile shiners and chubs, but had also caught a fantail darters. I knew that the fantails on the east coast have been in the process of being split into new species, so I was excited to catch one. After a while looking through the rocks in the creek, I found a few! They certainly look different than the striped fantail darters we have in Illinois.

Chesapeake Fantail Darter (Etheostoma humerale) - new hook & line species #127

Back at the dam, we continued fishing as the sun began to set. The fish we caught began to change, and we each caught a fish that we weren't expecting, cutlips minnow!

Cutlips Minnow (Exoglossum maxillingua) - new hook & line species #128

These guys had really interesting mouths.

As it got darker, we began catching nothing but rock bass. We photographed each one, hoping for Roanoke bass, but apparently we were in a part of the drainage where rock bass are more dominant.

Rock Bass (Ambloplites rupestris)