Blue Suckers for NANFA 2017 Convention in Missouri

I was asked to design the t-shirt for this year’s annual meeting of the North American Native Fishes Association in Missouri (June 8-13, 2017, Meramec State Park).

To register for the convention: http://www.nanfa.org/convention/2017.shtml

NANFA 2017 shirt NANFA 2017 shirt (closeup)

There’s even something on the back, in case you’re being followed:

NANFA 2017 shirt (back)

The first batch of orders has shipped!

To order a shirt (or a bunch of them): http://www.nanfa.org/cart.shtml#MOshirt (all proceeds go to NANFA, not me). They come in M, L, XL, XXL and XXXL. $25 each ($30 for XXL and XXXL) and shipping is $5 for any quantity. Assuming there are any left, they will also be for sale at the convention. Shirts are 100% cotton. Image is silkscreened, so these will last a long time.

Blue Sucker print

Blue Sucker print (close-up)

Blue Sucker print (close-up)

Blue Sucker print (close-up)

Posters too

I am selling a small number of posters of the design to help fund my trip to the convention. I put an insane number of hours into the design, for free, and I was happy to do it. That said, gas and hotel rooms aren’t going to volunteer themselves. My recommendation is to buy the t-shirt so the money goes to NANFA. Then, if you like it and want to look at it when the shirt’s in the wash, pick up a poster. They are 16 x 24 inch giclee prints, archival ink on heavy, archival paper. Go to https://www.etsy.com/listing/512974386/nanfa-2017-blue-sucker-poster. They are ready to ship now. 25% of proceeds from posters will be donated to NANFA. After printing costs and the donation, if I sell the whole run it might cover about half the cost of my gas and lodging. (If you want it framed, that will be available for an additional $50-$60, which, after the cost of the frame, glass and backing, plus extra shipping costs, won’t add much—if anything—to what I make but will get a few extra bucks to NANFA.)

Why Blue Suckers?

I chose the species for several reasons, including the obvious and incontrovertible fact that it is among the very coolest of North America’s native fishes. Aside from that, it’s a fitting choice because it was almost always known in the literature as the Missouri Sucker (until the 1920s: see my article on the history of its names on this very site or in the winter 2015 issue of American Currents). It is a big river fish that’s perfect for a big river state like MO, home to the two longest rivers on the continent. Finally, I thought it could use more attention, as it’s a little-known but historically and biologically important native species that’s not been treated well by the modern world.

I based the two main fish on photos I took while electrofishing the Wisconsin River with NANFA member John Lyons of the Wisconsin DNR and members of his staff (see the story and lots of photos).

The two silhouettes are based on early Blue Sucker drawings (below). On the left is an 1884 illustration (by HL Todd) of a specimen in the Smithsonian. This drawing was copied and re-used in most publications after that, basically becoming the standard image until replaced by photos in the mid-20th century. The skinny, funny-looking one is based on the earliest image of a Blue Sucker that exists, as far as I can tell. It was drawn by LeSueur and published with his original description of the species (as Catostomus elongatus) in 1817. As he was looking at a dried specimen, his drawing does not look much like a Blue Sucker. I included it for its historical importance.

H. L. Todd's 1884 Cycleptus illustration.

H. L. Todd’s 1884 Cycleptus illustration.

LeSueur's 1817 illustration of a Blue Sucker, which he called Catostomus elongatus.

LeSueur’s 1817 illustration of a Blue Sucker, which he called Catostomus elongatus.

Speaking of LeSueur…

Famous biologists agree: you need a shirt.

Famous biologists agree: you need a shirt.

2016 Roughfish.com June Species Contest

June is my favorite month, and has been ever since I discovered roughfish.com and the annual Spring Species Contest. This will be my 9th species contest. I won’t win (probably) but I’ll catch a lot of fish. If all goes well, I’ll beat all my previous totals by catching more than 30 species between 12:01AM June 1st and 11:59:59PM June 30th.

For the third time, I was allowed to design the button (and shirt) for this year’s contest. I went with an election year Black Buffalo:

2016 Roughfish.com button

2016 Roughfish.com contest shirt

The buffalo is based on a photo I took years ago of a fish I seined with Uland Thomas in a tributary of the Illinois River. I’ve never caught one on hook and line, but my secret reason for putting it on the button this year is that it will provide the mojo I need to catch one.

Two weeks until June. I’m starting to shake and I’m drooling just a little more than usual.

Here is the Bowfin I did for the 2014 contest (http://moxostoma.com/bowfin-for-june-species-contest/):

2014 Roughfish.com button

and here’s the Pumpkinseed I made in 2013 (http://moxostoma.com/2013-roughfish-com-june-species-contest/):

2013 roughfish.com Spring Species Contest button

Gar Peril! Iowa, 1912

Browsing old newspapers for interesting fish stories, I uncovered a very brief item of massive importance and interest. That this has remained hidden so long may be evidence of a cover-up (though there is, as yet, no way to know how high this goes).

garfish-bites-eyeball-Iowa-1912

There are, in this single sentence, more stories than young Edward himself might have wanted us to find.

If you have ever seen Jeremy Wade get so worked up over the potential implications of a few sentences of rumored fish-driven carnage that he can spin an entire episode of River Monsters from it before (usually) deciding either that the damage was done by something other than a fish or that it never happened at all, then you know how quickly a story can grow.

This troubling news item is the same.

Was he really swimming? Did he fall in, or was he pushed? Was it really a gar? Could it have been a submerged stick?

What was Edward McKittrick hiding? Who has worked so hard to keep it hidden until now?

Much is missing from this story, but most unfortunate is the absence of an illustration. I tried to find a photo of Mr. McKittrick, hoping for a grizzled river rat with an eye patch, but found nothing. If it’s the same man, I did come up with a birthdate in November 1892, making him 19 when the incident occurred. A prime age for doing dumb things and getting hurt, and a prime age for telling stories to cover your tracks.*

As a public service, I present an artist’s rendering of Edward McKittrick at 19, shortly after his encounter with a vicious Mississippi River gar, and later, when he was a respected pillar of the Fort Madison community. You’re welcome.

A man with a fish stuck in his eye.

Artist’s rendering of young Mr. McKittrick (age 19) and a respected leader of the community.

I am surprised I have to say this, but messages and comments about the severity and/or impossibility of the injury indicate it’s necessary: I made this illustration. Yesterday. 104 years after the news item was printed. There are no illustrations of the real guy or the real gar. I thought it would be obvious. I mean, who wears a live gar in his eyebrow for 30-40 years?

(To be perfectly clear, the news item is 100% real. Don’t know how true it is, but it is real.)

* I did a little research and found out more about Mr. McKittrick. He registered for the draft for both World War I (when he was 24 and already in the ROTC) and World War II (when he was 49). His WWI draft registration card specifically says he has all his limbs, eyes, etc., but does not mention the gar. He may have been in the infantry during WWI, but appears not to have been deployed outside the US. He was stationed at Ft. Snelling (MN) after he enlisted in 1917, and rose from the rank of Private to 2nd Lieutenant at the time of his discharge in 1919. He died in California in 1966.

Halloween Fish Geekery

A few years ago, I created (in photoshop, not pumpkin flesh) a Norther Hog Sucker jack-o-lantern. I’ve felt like a bad person ever since, knowing that a real fish geek would have carved a real fish pumpkin. No longer! This year I bought a pumpkin with the right shape, I kept it inside so squirrels wouldn’t damage it, and I studied gar anatomy. Last night, I hooked up the electrodes to the lightning rods atop the castle and unsheathed the rusty scalpel.

I present the skeletally semi-accurate Jack-gar-lantern! (click for larger version)

Jack-gar-lantern 2015

 

For the curious, here is 2009’s faked Northern Hog Sucker:

Halloween Hogsucker

(I even made a stencil template for it all those years ago. If you’re weird, download the pdf: hogsuckerpumpkinstencil.pdf (438 downloads) )

And, for added geekery, a gen-u-ine Halloween fish: Percina crypta, the Halloween Darter. It lives in the Apalachicola River drainage in Georgia and
Alabama. It is listed as threatened in Georgia and you can’t mess with it in Alabama (see links below). With a name like that, it should be listed as threatening.

Halloween Darter (Percina crypta). Photo by Nate Tessler. http://tinyurl.com/p786nr9

Halloween Darter (Percina crypta). Photo by Nate Tessler. http://tinyurl.com/p786nr9

More info: http://www.fishbase.se/summary/Percina-crypta.html, http://fishesofgeorgia.uga.edu/index.php?page=speciespages/species_page&key=perccryp, http://www.outdooralabama.com/nongame-vertebrates-protected-alabama-regulations

Shorthead Redhorse Spawning in Living Color

Spring is the best season. Anyone who says otherwise is wrong. Anyone who claims fall is better is secretly paid to say it.

Among the surest and most exciting signs of spring are the annual spawning runs of various fish in local waterways. The arrival of White Bass (Morone chrysops) in large numbers makes for exciting fishing. Though futile from a reproductive standpoint, the runs of Coho Salmon and Steelhead (Rainbow Trout) up Lake Michigan tributaries in Wisconsin and Indiana can provide some trophy fish.

Shorthead Redhorse (Moxostoma macrolepidotum) during spawn. Kendall County, IL. May 1, 2015

Above all, though, the congregation of spawning suckers signals the irreversible arrival of spring. If spring is new life, rebirth, renewal, etc., then hundreds of spawning redhorses are every bit as vital a symbol as any fawn, lamb, Easter egg or daffodil.

 

On the first of May, I visited my favorite redhorse stream (where less than 2 weeks earlier I had caught what would have been the new state record shorthead redhorse) to see if anyone was home. They were.

 

I shot some photos and a little video of the spawning fish. Attempts to get underwater video with my GoPro failed because I spooked every fish in the creek in my clumsy efforts to place the camera, so that will have to wait for next spring.

 

Among many photos of semi-interesting reflections, there were a few that made the cut.

Shorthead Redhorse (Moxostoma macrolepidotum) during spawn. Kendall County, IL. May 1, 2015
Shorthead Redhorses (Moxostoma macrolepidotum) during spawn. Kendall County, IL. May 1, 2015Shorthead Redhorses (Moxostoma macrolepidotum) during spawn. Kendall County, IL. May 1, 2015
Shorthead Redhorses (Moxostoma macrolepidotum) during spawn. Kendall County, IL. May 1, 2015

An album of these and the rest of the photos is at https://www.flickr.com/photos/ognelson/sets/72157654024708812

Watch the video https://youtu.be/vVG3-MDrIkA in the highest HD it will allow or lots of detail is lost. (Click the little gear icon and choose the highest quality option you see. Turn off “auto” if necessary.) If you really like hot redhorse action, click the full-screen icon in the lower right corner. You’ll be glad you did.

Mapping the Paddlefish (because someone had to do it) [updated Sep. 2016]

I needed a map showing the range of the Paddlefish (Polyodon spathula, also known as spoonbill catfish, among other things), one of North America’s most striking animals. Despite a lot of searching (online and in books), however, I couldn’t find any map that was both up-to-date and of sufficient quality. I also couldn’t find any single listing of the species’ current status in all states where it is found, nor the regulations governing if/how it can be caught (for sport or commercially). What else could I do but create the map I needed?*

Map showing range of Paddlefish in North AmericaUPDATE: Thanks to information provided by Jason Schooley (Paddlefish Biologist at the Oklahoma Dept. of Wildlife Conservation Paddlefish Research Center) and Ben Neely (Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism, and see the two articles I’ve added to the sources list at the end of this post), I have updated the map to include more of Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri in the Paddlefish’s range.

The map was created to accompany a paddlefish article in the fall 2014 issue of American Currents. (Click on the map to see it larger.)

Note: As noted in the key below the map, PA and NY have paddlefish populations. They are shown in the extirpated color because the species is still officially considered extirpated by both states. When that changes, so will the map.

Corrections welcome, but only if they come with reference to sources so I can verify and keep track.

Copyright information:

Creative Commons License
Status and distribution of the Paddlefish (Polyodon spathula) in North America by Olaf Nelson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
(This means you may use the map for non-commercial purposes only, provided it is not altered in any way and you credit me. A link to http://moxostoma.com/paddlefishmap would also be nice. If, for some reason, you want to use the map in something commercial, contact me. If you need it altered somehow, contact me.

Additional notes on the paddlefish:

The last time a wild paddlefish was seen in Ontario was 1917.

Paddlefish roe (eggs) make fine caviar, and as is the case with many species of sturgeon, this fact has had a negative impact on the species’ population. Tight rules now govern the harvest and sale of paddlefish roe, but poachers still take fish illegally as there is money to be made.

Read the journal of just about any early European explorer traveling up the Mississippi and you’ll find references to the paddlefish. They must have been extremely common before we fished, dammed and poisoned them to their current reduced state.

  • In about 1805, Zebulon Pike, traveling the Mississippi somewhere around what is now southern Illinois/Missouri recorded this:
    (click on the image to go to the book)
  • Father Louis Hennepin, in (I think) 1680, compared a Mississippi River (he called it “the River Colbert”) paddlefish to a devil:

    “The eagles, which are to be seen in abundance in these vast countries, will sometimes drop a breme, a large carp [there were no carp on this continent at the time, so he meant either various suckers or perhaps mooneye, goldeye, or drum], or some other fish, as they are carrying them to their nests in their talons, to feed their young. One day we spied an otter, which was feeding on a great fish upon the bank of the river [some versions say “River Colbert” here]; which fish had upon its head a sort of beak about five inches broad, and a foot and half long. As soon as the Picard spied it, he cried out he saw the devil between the claws of the otter. This surprise was not so great, but that we made bold to feed heartily upon it. The flesh of it was good; and we named it the sturgeon with the long beak.”
    (Click on the page image to go to the book.)
  • One of the earliest illustrations appeared in the account of Antoine Simon LePage DuPratz (1695-1775), who traveled to North America in 1718 and spent 16 years living in “Louisiana,” a larger area then than now. His memoirs provide a wealth of information about the native people and animals of the region. Here are a few pages on fish and fishing, featuring suckers (what he calls carp are probably suckers of various species, since carp would not arrive here for another century or more; a later author, mentioning DuPratz, identifies the carp as buffalo, which makes perfect sense), gar (“armed fish”), catfish (at least that’s how I would identify his two kinds of “barbel”) and bowfin (“choupic”). If he did nothing beyond this, I’d still consider him a great man: he calls the bowfin beautiful and says many people confuse it with trout for its willingness to take a fly!

    A few pages from the chapter on fish:

    (Click on any of the images to go to the book.)
    I don’t know whether the illustrations are based on sketches by DuPratz or wholly created by someone who had never seen any of these animals (which happened a lot, leading to some wildly inaccurate images), but they combine a simplistic style uncommon for animal woodcuts in books of this time with a surprising lack of the fantastic over-imagination also common at the time.

Sources consulted in the creation of the map:

*Making things like this is part of my real job (loving unloved fish is, for me anyway, not a paying gig) as a book designer (mostly the pages, but also covers). I specialize in scholarly and scientific books and journals. If you are a scholar or scientist who needs someone to design your next book or the journals you edit, please get in touch.

Bowfin for June Species Contest

I got to draw the button (and t-shirt) again this year for the roughfish.com June species contest. Last year I did a pumpkinseed. This year I made a bowfin. (Last weekend I was fishing with Garman and asked what kind of fish he thought I should draw. He said a bowfin would be cool. I ran with it.)

2014 Roughfish.com button

To enter the contest, get an account at roughfish.com, buy the button and/or t-shirt, wait til 12:01AM on June 1st and go fishing. Stop fishing as little as possible. You’ve got 30 days. Each time you catch a new species of fish, take a picture of it and make sure the button (or t-shirt) is in the shot. Post the photos to the site.

Whoever catches the most species wins. (In 2013, it took 43 species to win, while 50 did it in 2012.) The prize is a custom-built fishing rod. Sweet, eh?

There’s also a kids’ division. So far it’s been won by girls both times and I see no reason that will change. My daughter Iris won it the first year and has pledged to fish hard this year in hopes of another trophy.

Some new fishy hats and shirts

There are still more in progress, but I did add a few designs to the zazzle shop. These are all based on woodcuts from 1833.
All are available on just about any size and color of shirt, including baby onesies and men’s and women’s styles.

Who can forget the iconic sturgeon logo of the famous (imaginary) Sturgeon Mfg. Co., makers of heavy equipment that built this country?

Stugeon logo hats and shirts

 

Everyone loves bullheads. This one’s good to wear or gamble (or play Go Fish) with. In the 1833 book, it’s called the Horn Pout.
bullhead stuff

 

Show that you mean whatever you say: wear a pike or a sculpin.
pike stuff

 

Sculpin: if the word “tough” were incarnated as a fish.
Sculpin on shirts and hats

 

If you like scales or fish faces, wear the rudd.rudd stuff

Redhorse Army, show your allegiance!

There is a new redhorse design for sale in the zazzle store, created in response to a few people who told me that they like the pyramid of redhorse lips, but don’t want to have to explain it all the time.

This time the word REDHORSE is prominently featured (along with an unblinking redhorse eye). I don’t know how much it will help, since I’m asked all the time what “redhorse” means.

A fancier take on the pyramid of lips. Available on shirts, cups, phone cases, etc. at the zazzle store.

Wear the insignia of that most selective branch of the Forces of Truth and Fishing: The Redhorse Army!

Show your allegiance with shirts, water bottles, phone cases, hat, etc.: http://www.zazzle.com/chinookdesign. (True roughfishers start young, so there are baby and kid sizes.)

The 2013 roughfish.com June Species Contest is upon us!

Let the wild rumpus begin!

To enter, go to http://www.roughfish.com and sign up. There is even a kids’ division. You have to have the button to participate. It has to be in the photos of the fish you catch. The winner is the one who catches the most species of fish (freshwater, must be species that get over a pound) in the month of June. It won’t be me, and I’m fine with that. Last year I got 27 species (8 of them new to my lifelist). I’m going to try to beat that this year.

I was lucky enough to get to design this year’s button:

2013 roughfish.com Spring Species Contest button

2013 roughfish.com Spring Species Contest button

To get the button (or t-shirts with the same design) go to http://www.cafepress.com/roughfish.