Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Saline Valley CA, Miller Co.

Last Friday was my final day of work in Missouri, so I opted to spend all day Monday, 22 June, at Saline Valley Conservation Area in Miller Co.! My friend Nick and I visited 08 June 2013, and I was eager to visit again with more time to play.

I forgot to take any photographs of the creek itself (Big Saline Creek), but it was your typical northern Ozarks stream: gravel bottom with "deep" holes separated by riffles and runs that went from less than an inch deep to at least waste deep.

Since the creek was right next to a parking spot I decided to bring my big fish photo tank out with me for the first time (after building it in 2013!). I quickly realized two things: I wish I had made it narrower, and I wish I had purchased black acrylic for the backs and sides. Two things that will be remembered for my next box!

Once I picked my first spot I quickly caught a few topminnows. I was really hoping to run into Plains Topminnows, but all I could find were Northern Studfish.

A young Northern Studfish
An adult Northern Studfish
I could see lots of minnows swimming around in a small run, so I lobbed my half moon tanago hook on my kiyotaki rod out into the run and pulled out a fish on every "cast!" I often think about switching to an ultralight spinning reel, but I just enjoy fishing with what amounts to a stick and some line.

Most of the minnows I caught were Bleeding Shiners like these two. Most of them had very little color.
After I had my fun with the minnows in that run, I decided to try my dipnet. I received a Perfect Dipnet for Christmas a few years ago, but I think this may have been my first time out with it! I enjoyed being able to get a look at some of the fish that were around, but not biting (mostly darters). I was also really surprised to see a tiny sculpin (that I did not ID to species)!

Nick and I seined a few sculpin here a few years ago, but this was the only individual I saw yesterday.
Despite seeing lots of darters, I wasn't having much luck catching any. I kept telling myself it was because the minnows were hitting my bait (redworm) before it could get to the darters, so I tried to find a nice, quiet, shallows spot with some darters and no minnows. Easier said than done! Luckily, I eventually found just such a spot and I quickly caught my 44th life fish and second darter ever, an Orangethroat!

I was glad that this one still had some color. Most of the Orangethroats I saw were rather faded.
I moved a little farther downstream where I had easy access to some shallow riffles, a deeper run, and a nice, deep hole. It was getting warm by this point in the morning, so I decided to throw on my mask and snorkel and look around underwater.

One of many Rainbow Darters I saw while snorkeling. 
Another Rainbow Darter. Some were very white on top, some were very dark. 
I bet I could ID this crayfish to species if my Crayfishes of Missouri book weren't packed!
An Ozark Minnow (?) in the current.

I could watch the Bleeding Shiner schools for hours.

I can't believe I never snorkeled the streams of Missouri before! It was incredible! Dozens of crayfish and Rainbow Darters were visible just about everywhere I put my face in the riffles. I saw a few Northern Hogsuckers and White Suckers feeding on a sandy area in a deeper run, so I wasted spent at least 90 minutes with my face in the water, a spinning rod in my hand, trying to catch either species. I'd look at the fish, try to get my rod over its general area, then drop a redworm. Unfortunately, the hundreds (literally) of minnows made sure that my worm only made it to the bottom ~10 times the entire time. Needless to say, I didn't catch any suckers!

Eventually, I got tired of the minnows stealing my bait and accidentally getting hooked now and then (My hope was that a size 10 circle hook would be too big for them....I was generally right, but not always). When a medium-sized Bleeding Shiner got hooked I was about to just toss it back, but then I remembered seeing a few Longnose Gar in the deeper pool, so I cast it back out...and immediately got a hit! A second later I saw it wasn't a gar (bummer), but I ended up pulling in a 13" Smallmouth Bass. I never pictured them as minnow hunters, but this one had a shiner and my worm visible inside it as I removed the hook. Unfortunately, as I was removing the hook I dropped the bass on the ground and the minnow and worm popped out! Everybody lived!

I always forget to wipe the water off the lens of the waterproof camera. I weighed this fish at 14 oz. after the minnow popped out.
After I had my fill of fun at Big Saline Creek, I decided to drive down to an access point on Tavern Creek about 15 minutes away. Not a good decision! Well, it looked like it would have been fun to play around in, but there was a hole along the shoreline that my ~5' dipnet couldn't reach the bottom of, so I had to pass on the area when I couldn't find a suitable way to access the shallower portions of the creek.

That led me to return to a different part of Big Saline Creek for my last 45 minutes, where I failed to entice any new species to take my bait. I did dipnet (finally) a Rainbow Darter though. Here are a few of the remaining photos from yesterday!

Common Shiner
Common Shiner

Ozark Minnow

Longear Sunfish

Rainbow Darter

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