Friday, November 1, 2013

Late season herping

On Oct 30, my friends Nick and Jenna texted me to see if I'd be interested in a run over to Callaway County to look for some salamanders in the balmy (~62F), wet evening. Was I ever! Luckily, it was my night to wash bottles rather than put my son to bed, so I was able to meet them.

We started out by watching a Gray Treefrog hop across the trail near the parking lot, then a bit later we encountered an American Toad (at least one other toad was singing) on the trail.

There were a lot of logs to flip, but they were scattered and generally devoid of anything interesting. Most of them had earthworms and cockroaches, a few had a couple moths, and almost none of them hid herps.

After awhile, I separated from Nick and Jenna, but I was pulled back when they announced they had a Smooth Earth Snake! I had never seen a Smooth Earth Snake before! I took a lot of photos of its head to make sure I could cement the ID for myself back home with some books (it checked out!).

Western Smooth Earth Snake
Virginia valeriae elegans
Western Smooth Earth Snake
Virginia valeriae elegans
A little later, Nick turned up a second Smooth Earth Snake! It was a bit larger than the first one (photographed above), but I didn't feel like taking my camera out in the rain again.

By this point, I had just about reached my turnaround time, so I headed back to the car. When I reached the main trail I thought, "Just a few more logs won't make me late." Well, they made me late. Under the third log I checked was a Spotted Salamander! This was only the second time I'd seen this species...the first was at the same location in the snow back in early March.

Spotted Salamander
Ambystoma maculatum
Herp Species Encountered:
  1. Pickerel Frog (Nick and Jenna only)
  2. Gray Tree Frog
  3. American Toad
  4. Northern Cricket Frog (Jenna only)
  5. Redbelly Snake (Nick and Jenna only)
  6. Northern Water Snake
  7. Western Smooth Earth Snake ***Lifer***
  8. Spotted Salamander
Northern Water Snake
Nerodia sipedon sipedon

Monday, October 21, 2013

Mint Spring Access, Bourbeuse River

A couple weekends ago I made my last outing of 2013 in the kayak. Matt and I visited Mint Spring Access on the Bourbeuse River in Gasconade/Crawford Cos.

Water levels were very low, so we knew that this would be a lake-like situation on the river. This part of the river was known to hold Grass Pickerel (our target) in the early 2000s, but we were unable to locate any on this trip.

This part of the river had no perceptible flow.
I really wanted to fly fish (I'd been tying flies for a couple months with no chance to use them), so I threw out a jug and then started tossing the flies around. I didn't have much luck on the downstream side of the bridge, so I eventually meandered upstream.

Matt flew out of sight, looking for pickerel, and I didn't see him for a couple hours. I never made it more than 100m past the bridge while I methodically probed for fish with my fly rod. Unfortunately, I wasn't having much luck.

I  pulled my fly away from a few sunfish (they're a pain to deal with, especially in the kayak), but I also accidentally pulled a wooly bugger away from a 12-15" Smallmouth Bass! I was able to get the fly to him again, and he charged it, but pulled away at the last second. Other than that, the fish weren't into my flies.

My jug (upper right) had a few tugs, but all I ever pulled up was an empty hook.
After losing a couple flies, and a couple regular lures on my spinning rod, I opted to head downstream from the launch point and see what I could find.

I should have spent all my time downstream! The river really narrowed (to the point we had to get out of the kayaks after about 100m), and it started to get some current. One nice stretch was about 30-40m long, 1m wide, and probably only 0.5m deep. What I would have given to have had a seine!

That stretch eventually gave way to a much wider, very shallow run (with limited current) that went on for as far as we could see. It was time to set up shop for microfishing!

We only had ~1 hour left at this point, and I spent most of my time trying to catch my first member of Family Percidae.

I saw several Meramec Saddled Darters, but they were not interested in the pieces of worm I was offering. I was really struck by how large they were...a couple were as large or larger than the sculpin in my aquarium!

I was able to bring in several minnows (I could have had many, many more, but I got tired of catching them), and I succeeded in avoided all sunfish. Darters were, by far, my main target. We saw many Orangethroated, and a few Gilt, that were interested in the worm, but I wasn't having a lot of luck hooking them.

Lifer #42: Bigeye Shiner!
Striped Shiner. This was the most abundant minnow in the stream, and they got to be rather large. 
Unidentified minnow
Another minnow I'll never identify.
It didn't take long for me to learn that I need not jerk the hook as hard as possible when I had a bite. Once I got my worm piece small enough (using Owner New Half Moon tanago hooks), I started to get regular hook-ups.

At first, I was getting them just out of the water. Then I got one a bit farther out. Then, I had a Gilt Darter almost over land fell off the hook only ~6" from dry land and disappeared into the rocks.

My time was almost up....actually, it was past my turn-around time...when I finally hooked a Rainbow Darter and managed to grab it in my hand before it could fall off. My first darter!

Lifer #43: Rainbow Darter
I ended the day with a pair of lifers: Bigeye Shiner and Rainbow Darter. I can't say I'll ever go out of my way to revisit this spot, but I certainly wouldn't pass it up if I were in the neighborhood.

Species encountered (visual or caught):

  1. Smallmouth Bass
  2. Bluegill
  3. Green Sunfish
  4. Longear Sunfish
  5. Striped Shiner
  6. Orangethroat Darter
  7. Rainbow Darter
  8. Gilt Darter
  9. Logperch
  10. Meramec Saddled Darter
  11. Banded Darter
  12. Fantail Darter
  13. Bigeye Shiner
  14. Sand Shiner
  15. Blackspotted Topminnow
  16. Blackstripe Topminnow
I had to take a photo of the sign for my son, Owen.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Hinkson Creek, Boone County

Last night, I met my friends Nick and Jenna at Hinkson Creek for about 90 minutes of microfishing between when my son went to bed and sunset. Nick and Jenna were already there, and I believe they'd managed a few Sand Shiners and a Bluegill prior to my arrival.

Usually, I  microfish with a 13' crappie pole, but last night I decided to use a 6'6" spinning rod with 2 lb. test tied to the last eyelet of the pole. On the business end was a size 28 dry fly hook just below a small weight. I normally use pink PowerBait pieces, but last night I opted to try some real, live worm for a change to see what that might get me.

Nick tries to catch some shiners.
I wasted spent my first half hour chasing Orangethroat Darters. I still have never caught (on hook-and-line) a member of Family Percidae. Even Diana, who has gone fishing maybe 10 times in the past four years, has caught a Logperch (on a rooster tail)!

There must have been three dozen darters of all sizes moving around at my feet. I watched several dash beneath rocks, and I managed to get two or three to take my worm, but I never did get one to shore. The closest I came was having one fall off just as I brought it above the water's surface.

Having grown tired of not catching anything, I switched to my trusty pink rubber. There were lots of shiners schooling around, but they were not interested in my rather natural looking bait. A switch back to real worm resulted in my first fish within about two seconds of dropping the bait in the water.

Lots of Sand Shiners were willing to bite on nightcrawlers.
I was able to pull out many Sand Shiners, and three or four Red Shiners. I kept yanking my bait away from sunfish, topminnows, and what looked like a large Creek Chub. At one point I pursued a small Largemouth Bass (no luck, it spooked), and what looked to be a Logperch, but I mostly focused on trying to catch as many shiners as possible.

Part of the reasoning was just in case something new might be in there, but it was also because I want to familiarize myself with the common species. In birding, picking out the rarer birds is easier when you know the common species inside and out. I'm hoping that it's similar in fishing, so I'm trying to get a firm handle on what to generally expect in these local streams.

One fish that really surprised me was a very colorful Red Shiner. If he had been a bird I'd have said he was molting from breeding plumage to winter plumage (in layman's terms), but I have no idea (yet!) what the proper ichthyological term might be.

Red Shiner 
These photos don't do this fish justice. He had a marvelous purple cast to most of his body, with a particularly dark spot on, and right behind, the gill plate.
After heading upstream (habitat looked pretty good...starting to get some woody cover and emergent vegetation...can't wait to get back) too far, I looked at the time and realized I had to be out of there in eight minutes!

I ran back to Nick and Jenna, and then I sped past them to try my luck with the darters one last time before sunset (which was also in eight minutes). I tried and failed several times before I saw a dark catfish-shaped fish emerge from beneath a large rock. Madtom!

This was my first encounter with a free swimming madtom in the wild. Nick and I seined my first ever madtoms back in June, and I see them in my aquarium almost every day, but this was the first time I actually saw one swimming around on its own in a creek. I had to catch it.

Nick and Jenna laughed at me when I said I was going to catch a madtom, and they walked past and continued to their truck. I watched the madtom go after my worm, barrel roll, then miss it completely before scattering to a nearby rock.

I knew I had just a couple more minutes of useable light, and I had very little chance of hooking this guy. Still, I had to try, so I did what a baseball player does in an 0-2 count. I choked up.

At this point, I was practically kneeling in the creek. My rod was resting on my knee and pinched beneath my armpit. My right hand was holding the line itself, while my left hand was just a few inches above the water surface.

I jiggled the worm in front of the madtom, and he took the bait! I instantly pulled up with my right hand and grabbed the fish in my left hand just inches above the water surface. I was not letting this guy get away due to a poor hookset like the darter earlier in the evening!

I whistled down to Nick and Jenna to show off my lunker: a ~38mm Slender Madtom (lifer #41!).

Slender Madtom!
I thought about bringing it back to join the two Slender Madtoms in my aquarium, but I feared he'd just end up as food for something and released him back into Hinkson Creek to (hopefully) grow a few more millimeters.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Bonne Femme Creek, Boone Co.

I was feeling a bit sick Wednesday afternoon, so, naturally, I tried to see if the great outdoors could make me feel any better when I took off early from work. It didn't, really, but it was worth the try!

I ended up at Three Creeks Conservation Area, and I fished Bonne Femme Creek for about an hour. I only landed one fish (on a size 28 fly hook), but I lost several, including what would have been my first darter. It fell off the hook over dry land, then flipped back into the water before I could grab it. I suppose I could technically count it as a catch, but I'm not 100% sure on the species (although I'd bet you $20 it was an Orangethroat).

With some help from NANFA, I was able to identify the one fish I caught as a Redfin Shiner, lifer #40. I can definitely say I doubt I would have come to the proper ID of this fist anytime soon without the help of NANFA.

Redfin Shiner
In the morning, before trying to work, I fished for about 30 minutes in Hinkson Creek at Hinkson Woods Conservation Area. I managed to lose a tanago hook to a Green Sunfish before catching anything. Once I switched to a size 28 dry fly hook I nabbed a Green Sunfish, a Blackstripe Topminnow, and several Sand Shiners.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Hinkson Creek, Boone County

I finished all of my Owen-related chores early last night, so Diana let me go microfishing for a couple hours when she put him to bed!

I didn't have too much time, and I wasn't sure which creeks had running water (Grindstone Creek behind our house...a tributary of Hinkson bone dry), so I headed to Capen Park. I've been driving over Hinkson Creek there all week on my way to the corn field so I at least knew it had standing water, if not running.

Luckily, the water was running at Capen Park!

I saw a group of small sunfish almost straight away. I started with a scented rubber band on a tanago hook, but in the dim light it was impossible to see and I wasn't catching anything. I quickly switched to bright pink PowerBait worms on a tanago.

Almost immediately upon switching, a small sunfish took the bait.

Unfortunately, that was the only fish I caught in my first hour. I had ~5-6 fish out of the water, only to have them fall off before I could get them over dry land. I think they were mostly minnows, but one was almost certainly a darter! I still haven't caught a darter on hook-and-line, so that one was particularly frustrating.

I worked my way over to some deeper water beneath Capen's cliffs and pulled out a ~5" Green Sunfish. Normally, I pull my bait away when I see a Green Sunfish/Bluegill heading for it, but I just wanted the monkey off my back last night!

Green Sunfish
Hinkson Creek
The deepest pool I encountered last night. Probably ~2-3 feet deep in the middle. This was a crayfish/Green Sunfish hotspot.
Once I caught the Green Sunfish I started having better luck. I tried to catch some small Largemouth Bass, but a Creek Chub darted out and stole my bait.

Creek Chub
There were large schools of minnows flashing in some shallow riffles, so I spent a lot of time trying to catch them. I had three or four fall off the hook (it's very hard for me to get a hookset with the tanago hooks) before I caught two back-to-back. I have no idea what they are yet, and have started a thread at NANFA hoping to find an answer.

Edit: Looks like it's a Sand Shiner, lifer #39!

As it crept closer to sunset, I started getting more bites, but still not many more caught fish. Another sunfish came in and just barely got the tip of the hook:

I spent a few minutes trying to catch a topminnow to finish the night:

Blackstripe Topminnow
After de-hooking the topminnow I just tossed the bait into the water so I wouldn't get it tangled. Naturally, a Green Sunfish darted out to grab it.

This stupid fish got himself hooked deep. Luckily, the forceps I carry for dealing with the tanago  hooks allowed me to safely extract it and release the fish.
Species encountered:
  1. Longear Sunfish
  2. Green Sunfish
  3. Bluegill
  4. Largemouth Bass
  5. Creek Chub
  6. Shiner sp.
  7. Orangethroat Darter
  8. Blackstripe Topminnow
Also, while not a fish, I lucked into my 70th life herp species yesterday!

Prairie Kingsnake

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Northern Ozarks

Yesterday, I visited several northern Ozarks streams with my friends Matt and Nick. We started the morning on Little Piney Creek, ended the morning on Big Piney River, began the afternoon on Meramec River, and wrapped up the evening on Osage River.

Little Piney Creek is home to some Rainbow Trout, so it's fairly cool, especially in the morning. We were fairly far downstream (Milldam Hollow Access), but still in a Blue Ribbon Trout Area, which meant we were restricted to artificial flies and lures; no plastics or live bait.

Heading upstream on Little Piney Creek.
We saw lots of Northern Hogsuckers and Redhorse (no clue as to which species). I netted an Orangethroat Darter with my hand net. Fishing was pretty slow. Matt caught Smallmouth and Largemouth Bass. I caught a Creek Chub, Longear Sunfish, Bluegill, and a hybrid sunfish with my fly rod.

Creek Chub

Sunfish hybrid? ~5" long
Eventually, we came to a side pool that had some Northern Studfish. I quickly tied a size 20 fly onto the end of my fly rod, and soon had my lifer studfish!

Lifer #36: Northern Studfish!
We saw a lot of fish on the Little Piney, and we caught almost none of them. This would end up being a recurring theme through the day. We wanted to seine, but we were unsure if it was legal in a Blue Ribbon Trout Area, so we headed on to the Big Piney.

I took us to a Forest Service access point that had always been empty in the past. Not yesterday! There were about a dozen people there, but they left us alone and weren't fishing. Unfortunately for us, ~0.4" of rain the previous night left the river a little dingy and slightly higher than we were hoping for. Still, the river was only about waist deep in that area.

We immediately headed upstream and set up shop in some emergent vegetation. I threw out a nightcrawler for suckers (never detected a bite, but I had three worms stripped off the hook), then focused on microfishing.

I opted to use a pink PowerBait worm on a tanago hook so I could see where my bait was. Almost immediately I started getting bites from some little minnows. Some were Bleeding Shiners, but most were what we've tentatively ID'd as Bigeye Shiners.

Lifer 37(?): Bigeye Shiner!
There is a small island a few hundred yards upstream from the access point. I've never gone far enough to peak around it, so I was determined to give it a try. Along the way, I noticed some small (40-50mm) Blackspotted Topminnows. They were eager to hit my hook. I lifted four or five out of the water and had them splash back before I finally landed one. Another lifer!

Lifer 38: Blackspotted Topminnow!
Nick pulled a small Map Turtle out of the river while he was in pursuit of his lifer topminnow (no luck for him). Next, we decided to pull out Nick's 20' seine. This ended up being a bad idea. We probably should've brought his 6' seine, as the strong, deep current made it almost impossible to seine. We managed a couple decent pulls, but nothing like we had on Saline Creek a couple months ago. Most seine pulls yielded Bigeye Shiners and Bleeding Shiners, some added some 2-3" Smallmouth Bass and Blackspotted Topminnows. Almost no darters.

Nick's Map Turtle
This brute was seined in a quieter part of the stream. One of the most gorgeous Longear Sunfish I've ever encountered.
Missouri Saddled Darter. We saw many of them in a riffle, but this was the only individual we were able to net. It was huge compared to the Orangethroat Darters.
After the Big Piney, we went to Woods Memorial Conservation Area to try the Meramec River. This was another Trout Area, so our lure options were restricted. I tried an ultralight spinning outfit and caught almost nothing. We wanted to try this area for Grass Pickerel (habitat looked decent, but we didn't even see one) and trout (didn't see one).

Matt caught a Hornyhead Chub, a Shortnose Gar, and some Smallmouth Bass. Nick destroyed the Longear Sunfish. I managed a Largemouth Bass, some Striped Shiners, Bigeye Shiners, and Northern Studfish on a teeny tiny fly.

 I jigged a Rat-L-Trap in front of a Shortnose Gar that was 3' from me in some lily pads. It looked uninterested, then slowly turned toward it. It eventually put its snout parallel to the lure, then snapped. I was so surprised that I missed the hook set and my chance at a gar.

Matt and his Shortnose Gar
My 11 7/8" Largemouth Bass
After two mostly fruitless hours, we headed a couple miles downstream to Scotts Ford Access on the Meramec. Downstream of the bridge we were able to use live bait, so we all threw in for suckers again. Matt immediately caught another Smallmouth and Hornyhead Chub. I lucked into a Freshwater Drum and Longear Sunfish. Nick did not do so well. I also caught our only Bluntnose Minnow of the day while microfishing. We didn't bring the seine due to limited time, but we definitely saw several Meramac Saddled Darters at this location. I was busy trying to catch suckers and never went over to try to catch them on hook-and-line.

Dobsonfly (dead)
At 14 1/2", this is the largest Freshwater Drum I've reeled in.
Around 6:30pm, Nick and I split from Matt to try our hand at Mari-Osa Access on the Osage River. We'd heard this was a good place to try for catfish and sturgeon. It may be, but it wasn't for us! In ~2 hours (nightcrawlers and dead minnows as bait) I had two light hits on my rods, but nothing was ever hooked.

Set up beneath US63 just before sunset.
In the end, I brought in ~25-30 fish of 11 species. I think Matt added another three on the day, and Nick added a single species (Green Sunfish). I'm trying to recreate everything we saw/caught mostly from memory due to poor record keeping on my part, so some species may be missing. The following list is in no particular order and excludes the Osage since we saw nothing there. Rock Bass was a big, unexpected miss on the day.

Species caught, netted only(^) or seen only(*):

  1. Creek Chub (Little Piney)
  2. Smallmouth Bass (all)
  3. Largemouth Bass (Little Piney, Meramec)
  4. Bluegill (Little Piney)
  5. Longear Sunfish (all)
    1. Hybrid Sunfish (Little Piney)
  6. Orangethroat Darter^ (all)
  7. Missouri Saddled Darter^ (Big Piney)
  8. Meramec Saddled Darter* (Meramec)
  9. Rainbow Darter^ (Big Piney)
  10. Bluntnose Minnow (Big Piney, Meramec)
  11. Freshwater Drum (Meramec)
  12. Bigeye Shiner (all)
  13. Bleeding Shiner (all)
  14. Blackstripe Topminnow (Little and Big Piney)
  15. Northern Studfish (all)
  16. Striped Shiner (Meramec)
  17. Ozark Minnow^ (Big Piney)
  18. Shortnose Gar (all)
  19. Hornyhead Chub (Meramec)
  20. Green Sunfish (Little Piney)
  21. Northern Hogsucker* (all)
  22. Redhorse sp.* (all)

Ranacker Conservation Area, Pike Co., Missouri

A few days ago, I spent ~20 mintues at Ranacker Conservation Area in Pike Co., Missouri. This conservation area includes almost 1.5 miles of Peno Creek, one of the most natural streams remaining in northeast Missouri.

The creek was wider than I expected, and a bit deeper. I didn't feel like wading, so my fishing opportunities with my 13.5' crappie pole were a bit limited. I saw a lot of shiners out in the middle, as well as some ~12-15" Largemouth Bass.

I only managed two species: a Green Sunfish and a Blackstripe Topminnow.

The creek is adjacent to a well-used shooting range; the gunfire can be a bit unnerving at times.

Looking back at the bridge. The shooting range was on the right side of the creek, just past the bridge.

Looking downstream from the previous photo.

This Blackstripe Topminnow was easily caught on a tanago hook tipped with a pink PowerBait worm.

Green Sunfish

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Grindstone Creek, Boone Co.

Last night, I ventured down the hill to Grindstone Creek behind our house here in Boone Co. I was hoping to target some Orangethroat Darters, but it was not to be. We've only had ~1/4" of rain in the past month, so I was expecting low water. Unfortunately, the creek was much lower than I expected.

This rocky path is actually Grindstone Creek.
I walked downstream a few hundred feet to my favorite deep hole, and was stunned to find that even it was nearly empty.

That puddle is all that's left of a hole that's typically 20 feet wide, 70 feet long, and up to 10 feet deep. It was full of hungry little fish.
I took my 13.5' crappie pole and rigged it with an Owner Smallest Tanago hook a few inches below some split shot. I threw a magenta Unibobber above it all, just so I could see where my line (8x tippet) was.

I've been experimenting with bait for microfishing lately. I started out with earthworms, but I don't like the smell, they're tough to corral, and they can be tough to get onto a hook. I've tried Minnow Bait, but it doesn't stick well to the tiny hooks. I switched to PowerBait scented, tiny pink worms, and they work pretty well, but they're still tough to get on the hook. Last night, I tried a rubber band dipped in crawfish FishSticks attractant. This was, by far, the easiest bait to get onto those tiny hooks that I've tried.

Maybe it was just the hungry fish in the tiny puddle, but the rubber band got slammed immediately.

A ~70mm Green Sunfish was the first fish I caught on a rubber band. I like the FishSticks attractant because it's like a glue stick and I can just dip the rubber band right into it.
I caught a couple sunfish, then I noticed that there were some topminnows on the far side of the puddle. Topminnows had evaded me up until then, so I focused on them.

A couple of the topminnows struck the rubber band, and I even hooked one, but I was failing to get one all the way in. I stalked the minnows to the other side of the puddle (which was still ~20 feet x 15 feet) and finally connected with one!

Lifer #35: Blackstripe Topminnow!

I forgot my little acrylic box for photography at home.
I walked down the creek another ~200 feet and found another puddle I didn't expect to find. It was only ~8 feet across, but it was at least 40 feet long. Based on the Common Snapping Turtle that disappeared, I'd guess it was still at least 3-4 feet deep.

I was getting tons of strikes on the rubber band, but the fish seemed too big for the hook. I switched to a size 18 fly hook tipped with a PowerBait worm and I landed a couple more fish before calling it a night.

This Common Shiner was the largest fish I caught yesterday.

Fish Caught:
  1. Green Sunfish, 73mm
  2. Green Sunfish, 80mm
  3. Bluegill, 70mm
  4. Blackstripe Topminnow, 63mm
  5. Common Shiner, 117mm
  6. Bluegill, 68mm
  7. Green Sunfish, 94mm
  8. Green Sunfish, 84mm