Saturday, May 28, 2016

An Ozarks romp with Steve and Tyler

Steve Wozniak somehow convinced me to go to the Ozarks over Memorial Day weekend.  No, not the Apple guy... the 1000 fish guy.  Steve started his blog as a way to document his progress towards catching 1000 different species, but he's well past that mark now.

I insisted that we meet up with Tyler Goodale, who has quite the reputation of putting people on all sorts of fish in southeast Missouri.  We picked him up and headed to his go-to bantam sunfish and starhead topminnow spot.  While Steve cursed at the topminnows, I caught a trio of sunfish and arranged them for a quick photo.  I've also seen orangespotted sunfish caught at this location, but wasn't able to catch one this time.

Warmouth (L. gulosus), Green Sunfish (L. cyanellus), and Bantam Sunfish (L. symmetricus)
Steve caught his targets, and we headed to a park in Poplar Bluff that has the rest of Missouri's sunfish species.  The redspotted, dollar, and longear sunfish are incredibly colorful here in the spring.  I was really excited to get better photos of them for my lifelist!

Redspotted Sunfish (Lepomis miniatus)

Dollar Sunfish (Lepomis marginatus)

Longear Sunfish (Lepomis megalotis)
Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)
The ditch in this park also has quite a few micros.  I was able to catch the usual topminnow species and a surprise golden shiner, but I could not find the creek chubsuckers that others have seen there.  We put a lot of effort towards creek chubsuckers on this trip, but they refused to cooperate.  Steve renamed them with an F in their name.  (I won't spell it out.)

Blackspotted Topminnow (Fundulus olivaceus)
Starhead Topminnow (Fundulus dispar)
Golden Shiner (Notemigonus crysoleucas)
Our next stop was another of Tyler's go-to spots, a spring-fed pond where the food chain is dominated by big chain pickerel.  This pond also has a healthy population of creek chub*uckers, but of course I had to tie on a Mepps spinner and catch a pickerel before thinking about anything else!

Chain Pickerel (Esox niger)
The chub*uckers weren't hard to find.  We saw a few medium ones cruising the bottom, a cluster of large ones suspended near the surface, and hundreds of juveniles hanging out near mats of floating vegetation.  The only ones we could get to show any interest were the juveniles, but they wouldn't commit and take our baits.

Steve caught a hornyhead chub in the pond, which was really unexpected.  We saw some brook darters, but they proved too difficult to catch.  We really wanted Steve to get one, so we headed back to the Poplar Bluff park, where they are more abundant.  It took a while, but we each caught one.

Brook Darter (Etheostoma burri)
Now it was time to load up on stream fish.  I knew a productive tributary of the Current River, so we headed west to give it a try.  We couldn't see much in the turbulent water, so we dropped our baits into a pool and set the hook when we felt a few taps.  We caught the typical minnow species that you can find in most Ozark streams.

Carmine Shiner (Notropis percobromus)
Central Stoneroller (Campostoma anomalum)
Hornyhead Chub (Nocomis biguttatus)
Ozark Minnow (Notropis nubilus)
Bleeding Shiner (Luxilus zonatus)
We continued west to fish another drainage, the White River.  I've visiting this spot with other people in order to catch Ozark bass, yoke darter, and checkered madtom, and it's always delivered.  The Ozark bass weren't huge, but they were there.  (Ask Steve how long it took for him to catch one.)

Ozark Bass (Ambloplites constellatus)
Longear Sunfish (Lepomis megalotis)
The bass and sunfish were in a deep pool with submerged boulders.  We knew the riffle downstream would have different species, so we rigged up Tanago hooks and got in the water.  The surface of the water at the head of the riffle wasn't turbulent, so that's where we focused.  This was my first time seeing a knobfin sculpin at this spot, and I was amazed at how orange it was.  The picture below really does not do it justice.

Ozark Madtom (Noturus albater)

Knobfin Sculpin (Cottus immaculatus)

Despite a large number of intoxicated vacationers crossing in front of us (seriously), Steve was able to catch quite a few of our targets.  However, we both failed to catch a yoke darter.  We saw plenty of them, and even got a few bites, but neither of us could successfully hook one!

Yoke Darter (Etheostoma juliae)
In the interest of time we finally had to give up on the yoke darters.  To get my self confidence back, I caught a few of the easier species at the head of the riffle, in this case rainbow darters and duskystripe shiner.

Rainbow Darter (Etheostoma caeruleum)

Duskystripe Shiner (Luxilus pilsbryi)
It had been a long, hot day, so I grabbed some waters from the car and took a break with Tyler.  We sat on the bank and watched Steve fish the head of the riffle.  It was good entertainment watching him try to not get upset as drunk people walked in front of them.  We were secretly hoping for some drama, but unfortunately Steve was patient and didn't lose his cool.

The sun was disappearing over the hills so returned to the deep pool to fish for checkered madtoms.  We could see quite a few fish in the shallow water near shore - redhorse, gar, and a variety of shiners and other micros.  The redhorse wouldn't bite, but I was able to catch the biggest striped shiner I had ever seen.  It was enormous!

Striped Shiner (Luxilus chrysocephalus)
Steve succeeded in catching his lifer checkered madtom, and we called it a night.  We stayed in a small town on the Missouri / Arkansas border.  Our plan was to fish a few spots in Arkansas so Steve could add it to the list of states he's fished in (he's only missing Oklahoma now).  We woke up a beautiful view of a spring fed river, rolling hills, power lines, and a train hauling coal.

We headed south to a creek that had sampling data showing good numbers of strawberry darters.  I missed out on this species the previous summer, and at this point it was my only chance to catch a new species.  I ignored the rainbow darters in the main branch of the creek.  Just as I expected, the strawberry darters were hanging out in quite side pools with vegetation.  Success!

Strawberry Darter (Etheostoma fragi) - new hook & line species #334
With the strawberry darter out of the way, I spent the rest of my time seeing how many species I could catch from the main part of the creek.  You can see the differences between strawberry and rainbow darters by comparing the two photos.

Rainbow Darter (Etheostoma caeruleum)

Northern Studfish (Fundulus catenatus)
Longear Sunfish (Lepomis megalotis)
Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)
Here's a shot of Steve trying to catch a strawberry darter in the side pool.  Tyler, meanwhile, is working on his modeling pose.  Some people are just too sexy to wear shirts.

We had trouble finding more strawberry darters, so we moved to a nearby stream where Steve was able to catch one.  Our final spot was a small river that looked promising for redhorse.  We hoped to find black redhorse for Steve and pealip redhorse for both of us.  I'm sure there were some redhorse in the spot where we were fishing, but we couldn't get our baits past the longear sunfish.

Longear Sunfish (Lepomis megalotis)
Finally it was time to hit the road and head back to the St. Louis airport.  We dropped Tyler off in Poplar Bluff and continued north.  Steve ended up with 14 new lifers.  Not bad for only two and a half days of fishing!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Creek fishing by Charleston, Illinois

Towards the end of May my friends Ken and Michael were doing a road trip through the midwest.  They were in the Ozarks while I was busy working like a normal person, but over the weekend I was able to join them in eastern Illinois.  We fished a small creek in the Embarras River drainage near Charleston.  This creek has a good mix of micros and non-micros, and Ken and Michael were hoping to add quite a few to their lifer count.

Longear Sunfish (Lepomis megalotis)
There isn't much in this creek I haven't caught before, so I messed around with sunfish, bass, and suckers while Ken and Michael cursed at their darters and madtoms.  Longear sunfish in this drainage are really beautiful.  The bluegill were handsome as well, even if they don't have eyepopping colors like the longears.

Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)
This creek is one of the best spots in Illinois to reliably catch spotted bass, which are at the edge of their range.  Ken and Michael were both excited to catch theirs.

Spotted Bass (Micropterus punctulatus)
Besides the obvious spots on the white belly, one way to ID spotted bass is to look for the rectangular shaped tongue patch.  Largemouth bass sometimes have a faint one, but it's more prominent on spotted bass.

There was a mixed school of redhorse and hogsuckers, so I tried for them as well.  A big hogsucker actually broke my line, believe it or not, but I redeemed myself by catching a few golden redhorse.

Golden Redhorse (Moxostoma erythrurum)
Most of them had spawning tubercles that were starting to fade, but this one still had pretty good ones.  There were some shorthead redhorse mixed in as well, but I wasn't able to land one.

Ken and Michael did pretty well with darters, but the brindled madtoms proved to be quite difficult.  I gave a few pointers, but for the most part they worked on them on their own.  In my experience madtoms are initially frustrating, but eventually something clicks and you're able to find and catch them consistently.  Ken and Michael will get there!

Brindled Madtom (Noturus miurus)
After a hard day of fishing we drove up to Champaign-Urbana to eat at one of my favorite BBQ places from my undergrad days, the Black Dog.  As usual, Ken ate way more food than would seem possible, and all of us enjoyed kicking back and relaxing back in civilization.

More to come soon!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Milwaukee and Racine

You have to strike when the iron is hot, and shortly after returning from D.C. I knew alewives would be running in the Milwaukee River.  I had missed the opportunity to fish for them when I was living in Wisconsin, but now I was determined to make things right. After spending an evening with my friend Terry and his girlfriend Kayla, I headed to downtown Milwaukee with a one day Wisconsin fishing license in hand.

There were a few other shore fishermen near the mouth of the river.  I asked around if anyone was catching alewives, but no one said yes.  One guy said they should be in there - it was just that everyone was fishing larger lures for steelhead.  He recommended a small plain bronze hook, which if you remember, is exactly what I caught blueback herring on in the Potomac.  I tied up the same rig and walked along the wall jigging the two hooks up and down.  I made it from the mouth of the river to the start of the restaurants without a bite.  I walked about half way back towards the mouth when I felt a tap-tap-pull.  Fish on, and it was an alewife!

Alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus) - new hook & line species #333
Descriptions online say that alewives are nearly impossible to distinguish from blueback herrings, but I think they look quite different.  My alewife was less streamlined, had a bigger eye, and a larger mouth.  Granted, I'm basing this observation off of one fish, but to me it seemed noticeably different.

I'm happy to share my secret alewife spot with the world.  From what I've heard they can show up in much larger numbers, but when I was there I only caught the one fish.

I continued jigging the plain hook rig in hopes of catching a few more, but my only other bite was from a very small steelhead.  The adults are mostly silver, so it was neat to see one with typical rainbow trout patterns.

"Steelhead" Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)
Here's a photo of the rig I was using.  The hooks are threaded on to the line and then a small loop knot is made my wrapping the line around itself three times and feeding the hook through the opening and cinching the knot up tight.  The hook dances around erratically when you jig it up and down, which I think is what catches the fish's attention.

I didn't spend too much time looking for more alewives, because I also wanted to try for trout-perch (which are neither trout nor perch) in the Root River in Racine, 45 minutes south of Milwaukee.  I fished the same spot where I caught my lifer longnose sucker years ago.  Several of my friends caught trout-perch there in the past, and I hoped to repeat their success.

I started off using a presnelled Tanago micro hook with a piece of redworm as bait, but a trout quickly broke me off.  Trout-perch can get fairly large for a "micro" species, so I switched to a size #20 hook on 4 lb line.  Small trout continued to be the most common catch.  I didn't have a trout stamp, and honestly it made me feel uncomfortable catching so many of them!  If a conservation officer approached me I'd have to convince him that a relatively unknown minnow species was my target, not the trout.

Brown Trout (Salmo trutta)

"Steelhead" Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)

Eventually I did begin catching other species, but unfortunately none of them were trout-perch.  Round gobies were the most common, and there were a few creek chubs and bluntnose minnows as well.  I moved around trying different depths and currents, but the mix of species that went for my bait didn't change.

Round Goby (Neogobius melanostomus)

Creek Chub (Semotilus atromaculatus)

Bluntnose Minnow (Pimephales notatus)
Catching one of two target species in a day is nothing to feel bad about, so I drove back to Illinois feeling victorious.  Someday I'll try again for my lifer trout-perch.  Oddly enough, their distribution shows them in the entire length of the Illinois River, but I've never heard of someone catching one.  I still think the Root River in Racine is my best bet, but who knows, maybe I'll be able to find one closer to home.