November 23, 2012

When grown men fell to 1-inch fish

People often say big fish are difficult to catch. We would argue that it is the smallest fish that drives grown men insane.

Michael and I had a mission to try fishing for darter species for the first time. We fished a stream that were reported to have Johnny Darter, Fantail Darter and Rainbow Darter. I had seen some darters in the past during the summer, but since this is now mid-fall, it was uncertain if we would see any of them today.

We got to the stream as the sun was just below the tree tops. We took a look at a couple of areas where I've seen them before. With the colder water temperature, the darters were not using the shallow gravel flats where they were common in the summer.

We started to present our bait in slight deeper water with a bit of current, check around any rock crevices where darters might hide. For an hour, it was just a complete failure.

Finally, I suggested to check out a deeper pool with flat bedrock bottom, a bit of gravel and sand covering that bedrock, and a few boulders distributed around as cover. We found a lot of Silver Shiners, Striped Shiners, and Northern Hogsucker in this pool. We spent a bit of time trying to figure out just what kind of minnow population was there. There were a couple of minnows with a black stripe that we couldn't identify without catching them. Michael also saw some diamond shaped minnow that he said looked more like barbs. We didn't catch any of them though.

Silver Shiner (Notropis photogenis) is a Species At Risk in Ontario, but they were very abundant in this creek.

Here's a look at our photograph holder turned micro photo tank.

After a while, I started to search for darters again in the head of this pool. I saw a few darters and a couple of them were slightly larger in size with multiple bars. They could be Johnny Darter or Fantail Darter; but I wasn't able to get them to bite. There were some smaller darters and one hit the tiny bit of worm but couldn't hook it.

Later in the day, Michael and I decided to move downstream to search another spot for darter. On the way, I spotted a darter sitting on top of a rock. We fished for this darter for a while and Michael and I both got bit by this fish. Michael even managed to hook it for a bit until the hook came out. So close!

The fish lost interest after getting hooked. I said it's funny we're so concentrated on one fish when there could be many more around us. Michael started looking and we noticed all the little darter around us!

At one point, Michael was fishing amongst a small group of 4 darters. They were crafty bait thieves and after cleaning the hooks a few times, they lost interest and disappeared. We were constantly talking to the fish, asking for them to hit and take the hook in the mouth. We looked for some new fish, some of which shown interest. When they would suck and spit the baited hook quickly, we cursed them. When they cleaned our hooks, we cursed some more.

The water was so cold, even with 3mm neoprene waders. I forgot my wool socks today and my feet were completely frozen to the point it was tingling the whole time, like needles prickling every second all over your feet. But we couldn't really move around too much to warm up since any big movement would drive the darters away. Michael and I just numbed ourselves to the pain and concentrated our minds toward the little fish.

Finally, I found one lone darter sitting out in the clear and presented my bait in front of the fish. It quickly pounced on the bait. At that moment, the wind picked up and the ripples on the water blocked our view of the fish. Once the wind died down, I couldn't see my bait, so I tried to pull my rig up to see if I had any bait left. I saw the fish attached to the line and was excited for a moment until the fish came off just as it broke the surface! Argh! More cursing...

The wind started getting worse and worse and ripples constantly obstructed our views of the little fish and their activity. When I found a new darter, I was lucky enough to have a moment of calm as the fish bit my baited hook. This time, I let it chew on the bait for a while longer. The fish was twisting and turning and I figured that it had already took the hook far enough and perhaps hooked itself. did hooked itself!!! This time, I tried to remain calm and collected until I had the fish lifted up, filled the micro photo tank with water, and put the little fish in the photo tank.

Finally, I caught my first Rainbow Darter (Etheostoma caeruleum) - species #277!

This one is likely a female. Although the male spawning colours does fade in the fall, but I doubt their colours fade this much.

Meanwhile, Michael was trying to precisely present his bait to some darters at his feet. The rod became useless and he was reduced to hand-lining for darters. It was at that point we realized we should be institutionalized. We're probably suffering frost bite on our feet, yet we're hand-lining for 1-inch fish...we've gone crazy.

After an extended photo session of the little beautiful darter, it was released unharmed and healthy. I returned to fishing and immediately found a smaller darter. I thought maybe it was another species of darter. This darter went for the bait and it did the same twist and turn on the line...and up came my second darter of the day! Unfortunately, it was another Rainbow Darter. This one may be a juvenile. It was this SMALL.

I then joined Michael to look for more fish for him to target. Strangely, the fish seemed to have disappeared. We were not sure what changed, but after thinking about it a little, we concluded that perhaps the sun has to do with it. We started finding the darters at about 2pm after the sun was hit the water for a while. The darters might have came out to sun themselves. Once warm enough, their activity level might have increased enough to feed. But when the sun dropped below the tree tops at 4pm, the darters disappeared.

We were fishing on the left side in this picture...maybe we should have checked the right side of the stream at the head of the pool where I saw some earlier at 2pm.

We stayed on the creek until 5pm looking for darters but found none. We did catch some more Silver Shiner, Common Shiner, Striped Shiner and what I thought was another new species. However, looking at the pictures at home, it might just have been a juvenile Striped Shiner.

It was a great day on the stream, a little nice break after a few days of solid work.

November 17, 2012

Urban new species

As I check off many of the standard size species in Ontario, it is getting harder and harder to add new species locally.

Yet, within the urban landscape, there remains many little creeks and rivers where micro species opportunities exist yet to be explored (by me).

After a few weeks of work and other obligations, I finally had a few morning hours to explore a little urban creek that a forum member, Nick, had caught some interesting micro species.

Similar to many creeks and rivers in Southern Ontario, this little creek is populated with many Creek Chubs. This species of minnow often greatly outnumber all other minnow species in the same body of water. It will make it difficult to find my target species, the Western Blacknose Dace, among all the Creek Chubs. There is also a remote chance to encounter a Redside Dace, which is locally endangered in Ontario.

Many of these minnows are quite small. I choose to use New Half Moon tanago hooks snelled on 2lb mono tippet to have a chance hooking these little fish. Although I didn't have an ultralight or tanago rod, I made it work with a medium spinning rod.

Early in the morning, the water temperature might have been too cold. The fish were extremely shy and easily spooked. Many times, our approach to the stream side caused the fish to vacate the area. We needed to stay still for a few minutes until the fish settled down and returned to the area. Even so, any splashes created by the landing of a tiny float or split shots would send the fish running again. In the end, it was best to gently lower the rig ahead of a school of minnow and wait for them to find they bait on their own.

Once the sun climbed higher in the sky, the fish got a little more active. We also found a nice little pool where the fish were a bit more cooperative. It didn't take long to catch some Creek Chub. I finally had a chance to test a micro species photo tank that Michael made for us.

Now I am able to photograph these small minnows with good focus, good lighting and with fins fully spaded while keeping the fish in the water to increase their post-release survival!

Unfortunately, this pool was filled with Creek Chub. My forum friend Nick did catch a Western Blacknose Dace though.

After spending an hour at this pool, Nick suggested to check out a previous spot fished earlier in the morning - a spot where he believed there were more Western Blacknose Dace.

This time, the fish were a little more active. They were hiding tight to an undercut bank where shoreline brush had grown over the bank. It was a little tricky positioning the rig in the right area, but once it was in the area, fish would respond. I quickly caught two very small Creek Chub, but also saw two larger minnow inspected and attacked the split shot.

Luckily, I noticed a minnow with a different appearance gobbled up my tiny chunk of worm. Finally, it was a 2.5" Western Blacknose Dace (Rhinichthys obtusus) - my new species #276!

The photo tank allowed for great closeup picture!

It was a great test run of some micro fishing gear today. Catching a new species made it all the better!