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

1917’s Sweet Smell of Spring in Minnesota: 2 Million Pounds of Dead Buffalo & Carp

Fins, Feathers and Fun, June 1917

Fins, Feathers and Fun, June 1917

Dead Fish, Buffalo Lake, Martin County, MN, Spring of 1917

Dead Fish, Buffalo Lake, Martin County, MN, Spring of 1917

DEAD FISH, BUFFALO LAKE, MARTIN COUNTY, SPRING OF 1917.
Estimated 175,000 pounds smothered in this lake alone last winter. Game Warden Altenberg of Fairmount made a careful survey of the lakes of Martin county and found loss of fish in twenty lakes, the following, Martin, Charlotte, Cedar, Buffalo, Fish, North Silver, Iowa, Tuttle, Susan and East Chain, suffering most heavily. Mr. Altenbergy estimated the total loss from smothering of fish in Martin county last winter, chiefly carp and buffalo, at nearly two million pounds. There were caught and sold from the lakes of this county last season about 770,000 pounds of carp and buffalo, but several lakes were not opened for fishing by the county commissioners. The loss of fish in Martin county last winter illustrates the folly of closing shallow lakes to “rough” fishing.

The obvious question here: what do you do with 2 million pounds of dead fish? Luckily, the same issue provides some options:

Fish Recipes (from Fins, Feathers and Fur, June 1917, published by the Minnesota Game and Fish Dept.)

Fish Recipes (from Fins, Feathers and Fur, June 1917, published by the Minnesota Game and Fish Dept.)

Another Gar and Roughfish podcast to download (not me this time!)

Want to hear what it means to talk without ambiguity about something you really love?

Doing his part in our ongoing effort to storm the halls of fishing power and supplant the trout and bass overlords, Garman appeared recently on the same public radio outdoors show I was on a couple weeks ago. He is much more entertaining than I was. I promise.

Download it here: Garman on "Outside" radio (388 downloads)

Thanks again to Dale Bowman for the coverage and permission to share the podcast.

Check out my previous podcast post for a link to my episode of the show and links to several other episodes with related content.

Contact our agents to inquire about optioning our stories for movies or television.

And please spend some time at garfishing.com and roughfish.com. You’ll be glad you did.

Garman shows how it’s done

Here’s the man in action, with a longnose from one of the spots he talks about in the show.

1: Bringing in a rope lured longnose. This gar was between 40" and 50" (don't recall exact length) and leaped repeatedly completely out of the water. Despite that, it had no chance of coming loose from the rope lure.1: Bringing in a rope lured longnose. This gar was between 40″ and 50″ (don’t recall exact length) and leaped repeatedly completely out of the water. Despite that, it had no chance of coming loose from the rope lure. As Garman mentions in the show, sometimes longnose gar have spots on their heads that lead people to mistake them for spotted gar. With a beak that long, though, it’s clear what this fish is.

Note that the rope lure is so well tangled in the gar's teeth that it can support the fish's weight.2: Wear gloves and be quick. Note that the rope lure is so well tangled in the gar’s teeth that it can support the fish’s weight.

3: Grab the beak with Bruce Lee speed and confidence. The fish will thrash around and if your grip is not solid, you'll drop it. A gar is a lever and has the advantage.3: Grab the beak with Bruce Lee speed and confidence. The fish will thrash around and if your grip is not solid, you’ll drop it. A gar is a lever and has the advantage.

Any fibers left in the gar's mouth could lock it shut and make feeding impossible. As long as you've got a glove on the hand that's holding the fish, you'll be fine. Take your time and do it right.4: Use needlenose pliers to get ALL the rope out of the teeth. Any fibers left in the gar’s mouth could lock it shut and make feeding impossible. As long as you’ve got a glove on the hand that’s holding the fish, you’ll be fine. Take your time and do it right.

Painting lines at known distances on your boat makes measuring a 4-5 ft. fish a lot simpler than trying to hold it still while using a tape measure.5: Measure the fish. Painting lines at known distances on your boat makes measuring a 4-5 ft. fish a lot simpler than trying to hold it still while using a tape measure, especially if you’re fishing alone or in a small boat.

Seriously. What could be more fun than that? Now catch another one.6: Smile! You have a dinosaur in your hands. Seriously. What could be more fun than that? Only one thing: catching another one.

longnose gar close-upClose up with 100,000,000 years of predatory efficiency.

 

A blue sucker in the hand is worth 100 in books

I have held blue suckers. A bunch of them.

Tuberculate blue sucker. They are incredibly cool looking fish. Wisconsin River, May, 2013.

Tuberculate blue sucker. They are incredibly cool looking fish. Wisconsin River, May, 2013.

 

(There are more photos below. Read on or scroll down.)

It turns out that if you start a site devoted to catostomids, and you’re very polite to the right people, you might find yourself spending a sunny May day on board a boat in the Wisconsin River with a net in your hands and hundreds of suckers (of many species) and sturgeon (of two species) surfacing all around.

Wisconsin DNR research scientist and fish expert John Lyons invited me to join him and his crew on a DNR electrofishing (shocking) boat as they stunned blue suckers (Cycleptus elongatus) and shovelnose sturgeon (Scaphirhynchus platorynchus), measured and weighed them, checked for existing PIT tags and tagged those that had none. In several hours we covered about 3 miles of river and pulled in 2 lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens), 39 shovelnose and 17 blue suckers (9 female, 8 male). Almost all of the blue suckers had completed their spawning efforts for the year.

To many of us who choose to fish for little-known and seldom-seen species, the blue sucker is a holy grail. As befits grails and objects of quests, they are difficult to find and rarely caught on hook and line. Even among all the roughfishing experts who frequent roughfish.com, only two or three have done it. Just to taunt us, every year a few are caught (and/or snagged) by walleye anglers since walleye are also bottom-feeders. The problem for would-be blue sucker anglers is that blue suckers are at home in fast, deep water. Getting a bait to the bottom in such locations, let alone getting it to stay there long enough for a blue to find it, requires a lot of weight. Unfortunately, that weight also means it is difficult to feel a subtle bite if it happens.

The blue sucker is listed as threatened in Wisconsin (see the WI DNR blue sucker page for information and photos). Its range has been massively curtailed by the march of progress: dams, dredging, pollution, silt, reduced flow, warmer water, and other side effects of our presence.

Those same factors make life and reproduction difficult for the shovelnose and lake sturgeon, but there is a glimmer of hope.

Lyons explained that the sampling we did (and which he and his crews do periodically in the same area) is part of a project aimed at better understanding the biology—age and growth, seasonal movements, habitat use, and timing and locations of spawning—of shovelnose and lake sturgeon, paddlefish, and blue suckers in the Wisconsin River. The plan is to build a serious fish passage to let fish get around at the Prairie du Sac dam. This will make it possible for paddlefish, shovelnose, and blue suckers to re-establish themselves above the dam and it will allow lake sturgeon access to prime spawning habitat above the dam. Information gained in advance of such a major project should help make sure it is designed and operated as effectively as possible.

Lyons believes that both blue sucker and shovelnose sturgeon populations are stable in the Wisconsin River, which is good news. If they can get a passage built around the dam and the fish actually use it, the news will only get better and better.

I’m no fan of dams, and I’d prefer to see them all gone. That said, I know it’s not going to happen and I’m glad when states realize that they have an obligation to do something to reduce the negative impact of dams as much as possible.

A final note on my first experience electrofishing: it was awesome.

There was a time when I didn’t know how many interesting species were swimming around with the bass, pike and trout I fished for. Then I found out that suckers, bowfin, gar and other rough fish were literally all around me. It was a revelation. In the years since, I’ve become comfortable in the idea that I have a good sense of what the water holds, even if I can’t see it. In other words, I was ripe for another revelation.

Standing in the middle of the electrofishing boat gripping a 10 foot long net handle, trying desperately not to miss blue suckers or sturgeon, I watched literally hundreds upon hundreds of fish surface, some floating still as if dead and other launching themselves out of the water like miniature silver carp. In addition to the sturgeon and blues we were after, there were shorthead, golden and silver redhorses (and at least one river redhorse), quillback (and possibly some river and/or highfin) carpsuckers, smallmouth (and possibly bigmouth and/or black) buffalo surfacing all around me. There were also a few walleyes, smallmouth bass, mooneyes, and one large, beautiful paddlefish.Sometimes there would be a couple dozen fish within a few feet of me—fish I would have had no idea were there in such numbers if I’d been fishing.

I learned, again, that I have no accurate sense of what is below the surface. The number of suckers I saw that day without even trying was much greater than the total number of suckers I’ve seen in my life. It may have approached the total number I’ve seen in photos in books and online.

It is a useful revelation in at least two ways. First, I have a better sense of how many unseen targets are out there for me as an angler. Second, an excuse has been removed from my arsenal. I can’t as easily fish a big, healthy river like the Wisconsin and blame failure to catch fish on an absence of fish. I will have to admit to myself much more quickly than I might want to that I am probably doing something wrong.

I regret that I did not shoot any video of the constant crowds of fish passing by. Next time…

Many thanks to John Lyons, Aaron Nolan and Dan Walchak for letting me tag along.

Now, some photos. I didn’t take as many as I should have. It means I’ll have to convince them to let me join them again, and next time I’ll keep a camera close at hand the whole time.

December Redhorse Dorsal

a dorsal fin

Got out fishing in a favorite creek today, and though it’s December 2nd, for a while a long-sleeved t-shirt was too warm. For the first time in months, a sucker was caught. I’d really hoped to get one more before snow, ice and holidays derailed my fishing.

The rock bass were on fire, including one that missed becoming the new Illinois state record (1 pound, 10 ounces) by only a few ounces. Largest rock bass I’ve ever seen.

Caught: rock bass (at least a dozen), several bluegills, two green sunfish, many largemouth and smallmouth bass, a yellow bullhead and A REDHORSE! It was a golden (m. erythrurum) but with every golden there’s always the hope that it will turn out to be a black (m. duquesnei). Lateral line scale count (43) indicates golden, dorsal ray count (15) is high for a golden and at the top end for a black. Mouth could go either way, depending on how wishfully I’m thinking. But the caudal peduncle isn’t particularly skinny (if you’ll pardon the scientific jargon), and the pelvic fin ray count, as near as I can tell from the photos that show that fin, is not 10.

Spotted but not caught: several very large hogsuckers and one tiny one, two buffalo (not sure which species), quillbacks, many redhorses (of at least 2 species), several fairly large common carp, and innumerable minnows.

Northern Illinois Greater Redhorse, April 2012

How often do you get to meet a new fishing buddy, discover half a dozen excellent multi-species fishing spots within an hour of home, sample the fish resident in those new locations while learning a bit about handling several different types of seines, learn a bit about photo tanks and fish photography, and see and handle dozens of new fish species, including one that’s listed as endangered in the state?

Not very often.

In April I had one of those days when good planning led to an experience that exceeded the daydreams leading up to it. Continue reading

New World Record Buffalo (and maybe a World Record Gar) in Texas

Lots of amazing fish being caught in TX recently. David G. and his brother got into some monster fish, including big alligator gar, huge smallmouth buffalo and what might have been a world record longnose gar at 61 inches and an estimated weight (based on length and girth) of 49.6 pounds. The world record, which some say is probably a hybrid longnose/alligator, is 50 pounds and change. The brothers G didn’t have a scale, so they released it to keep growing. Full report with amazing photos is here.

Just as impressive, if not as toothy, is the new junior world record smallmouth buffalo caught this spring by Austin Anderson. Not satisfied with regularly catching buffalo in the 30-40 pound range (as well as hefty carp and other species—see his spring 2012 synopsis here), Austin went out and got a 50 pound, 6 ounce fish from Lake Fork, TX, during the Lake Fork Carp and Buffalo Challenge in late February.

For more of Austin’s incredible catches, check out his blog: Pondbass.

Cool that David G’s longnose gar and Austin’s smallmouth buffalo have almost identical weights but such different ways of distributing it for maximum food-finding efficiency.

I may have to visit Texas soon.