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

Sunday, July 7, 2013


With the arrival of my son last December, my fishing has been severely curtailed this year. I've manged only one proper fishing trip (to Saline Creek, Miller Co., MO), but I've scrounged the time for several quick trips to nearby creeks.

Since most of the nearby streams don't harbor many large fish, it's either fish for the little guys or don't go fishing. Targeting the little guys also ties into birding...the desire to catch as many species of fish on hook-and-line as possible. To date, I've managed to catch 35 species of fish on hook-and-line (34 freshwater, 1 saltwater), with 4 of those coming within the past month.

An early June trip to Gans Creek, Boone Co., Rock Bridge State Park yielded a Common Shiner and Creek Chub. There were several Blackstripe Topminnows that were interested in the bait (worm on size 22 hooks), but wouldn't bite.

Common Shiner
Creek Chub
On 08 June, my friend Nick and I ventured down to Saline Creek, Miller Co., Saline Valley CA for a few hours. We wanted to microfish and seine. I only managed one species on hook-and-line (Bleeding Shiner), but the seining was fantastic!

Lifer #32: Bleeding Shiner! These guys started hitting the hook (worm on size 22 hook) almost instantly. I think I ended up catching 8-10 of these guys before I gave up. Later, I took the hook out of the water several times when I saw them headed for it. 
One of the prettier Orangethroat Darters we seined.

A pair of Rainbow Darters we seined. They both came home to one of my aquariums.
Another seined Rainbow Darter.
This Northern Studfish was a surprise in the seine net. We tried to catch them on a hook for 15 minutes, but they weren't interested.
Seined Fantail Darter.
Seined Slender Madtom. I was thrilled to seine my first madtoms on this trip. We found ~20-30 of these guys.

We seined this Green Frog (?) tadpole.
Typical seine haul.
A seined Central/Largescale Stoneroller. We were out of time when we seined this fish, so it wasn't properly identified.

Grindstone Creek, Boone Co. runs behind our home, so I try to sneak down there now and then. It was completely dry for most of 2012 (thanks to the drought), so most of the fish there this year are pretty small. Still, it yielded a lifer Bluntnose Minnow and a few other species!

A 47mm Largemouth Bass on a tanago hook tipped with power worm.
Lifer #33: Bluntnose Minnow!
Green Sunfish

Lastly, on 25 June I took 20 minutes to fish Hinkson Creek, Boone Co., MO at Hinkson Woods CA. I lucked into two species, including a lifer!

Longeared Sunfish

Lifer #34: Red Shiner!