Species #161 — Emerald Shiner

Not to flex too hard, but Ontario’s DFW calls the Emerald Shiner “the most important commercial baitfish,” so catching one is a pretty big deal.

Species: Emerald Shiner (Notropis atherinoides)
Location: Buffalo, New York
Date: July 18, 2018

Microfishing is still relatively new to me, and the newness of it all is partially why I love it so much. This method has yet to hit the mainstream, but microfishing is a gem.

In combination, the ability to sight fish, to actually see the fish you’re targeting and the inherent challenge in getting small fish to bite on tiny tackle is an incredibly underrated pursuit.

Further, there are micros everywhere — even in the heavily pressured waters nearby you don’t think twice about — and given its relative lack of awareness, you can probably microfish within walking distance of your house.

Micros are tough to “fish out” because they’re typically too small to have food value to humans, and though they can be delicate, they are usually plentiful.

Everywhere you go, there are sculpins, chubs, minnows, killifish, anchovies, shad, darters, or shiners.

Play hard

One of my favorite experiences microfishing started out with me chasing Northern Pike the size of my leg and ended with me catching fish the size of my toe.

While visiting Buffalo, New York for a teaching conference, I used every afternoon to get out and fish. After the conference, I bowed out to the Niagara River faster than the Bills have bowed out of the playoffs in recent years.

Sorry, Lt. Colonel Schultz. I couldn’t resist.

Arriving at my destination, the Tifft Nature Reserve, I grabbed a heavy rod for pike and a smaller rod just in case any micros were visible.

I quickly spotted a nice pike. Unfortunately, it was more lifeless than the Raptors’ Finals hopes before LeBron went to the Western Conference.

Sadly, upon my arrival at a public slough of the Niagara River, this dead three-foot Northern Pike was the first thing I saw.

The second thing I saw was a school of micros, patrolling the shoreline just far enough out that I couldn’t easily reach them with my micro rod. Still, fish you can see should take priority when microfishing, so I opted to try anyhow.

I set down my regular rod which happened to be tipped with a jig and worm. It fell into the water and caught a Rock Bass, which I quickly reeled in, released, and resumed microfishing.

Micros

Some micros are notoriously difficult to catch. Most micros — especially cyprinids — are notoriously tough to identify. I couldn’t tell what these fish were in the water, and as I battled the wind to place my tiny piece of worm in the path of the school, I had no idea what they were.

The Great Lakes are home to dozens of micros alone. Often, identifying micros is tougher than catching them and if the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources didn’t have The Baitfish Primer (Free PDF for Lake Ontario Micros), identification would be rough.

Catching them was no walk in the park, but eventually I did get one to bite my Owner New Half Moon Hook.

It was obviously a cyprinid, and I assumed a shiner, but I wasn’t sure on the species. I was sure that the iridescent green-blue contrasted with bright silver was absolutely gorgeous.

 

Often, I’ll spend hours fishing a school of micros in hopes of catching more than one species, but these were pretty obviously the same species. I hadn’t identified the species yet, but I was enough of a naturalist to see they were the same, and it was time to move to greener (or at least slightly less Emerald) pastures.

I carefully unhooked the fish and put it into the photo tank to take pictures.

Photo Tanks are glass or plastic boxes not actually designed for holding fish but re-purposed by enterprising microfishermen to take highly detailed photographs of fish with their fins fully extended.

Most species retract their fins when handled, and the number of anal fin rays, dorsal fin rays, fin shape, fin size, and a host of other factors can be lost if fish are held out of the water.

I’ve always tried holding fish in my wet palm just under the surface of the water to spread out their fins, but it doesn’t always work. You also risk losing the fish before a good picture is taken.

Thus, Photo Tank.

I took a few pictures, but the tank I had at the time was old and all scratched up. Further, it was windy and I didn’t have anything to wipe water droplets off the side of the tank, so I couldn’t get the best photo.

In this case, it was enough to identify the fish: Emerald Shiner.

Fitting, considering just 750 words ago I told you that microfishing is a hidden gem.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #162 — Rainbow Darter.

Species #157 — Round Goby

Such horrors have not been visited by such a small package since the Chuckie films were released.

Species: Round Goby (Neogobius melanostomus)
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Date: July 16, 2018

The north is a tough place. If the elements don’t kill you, there’s always the next power-hungry leader, plague, or toothy beast waiting in line to give it their best shot.

Though civilizations north of the equator have more or less dominated the rest of the world for all of human history, their rule has rarely been uncontested. Even the most beneficent societies have elements of darkness waiting to overtake the light, these elements that so crave power or those that often achieve it — for better or worse.

In fact, some leaders have led to power specific cultures so predominantly violent, vile, and vilified (turns out V is for more than just vendettas) that history remembers them as such.

From the Vikings to the Scythians to the Mongol Hordes, darkness has found its place in the north many times.

These societies could best be viewed as a scourge on all those they encountered.

*cut to scene of violence, rape, pillaging*

While one culture may choose to raise its children, another may vie to raze them.

In modern times, a balance of power seemed to exist in a place viewed by many as the pinnacle of modern achievement. A place piggybacked on the success and dominance of its neighbor to the south, the United States.

We speak, of course, of Canada.

From it’s legendary cleanliness to its legendary friendliness, Canada is paradise. At least, it was.

Its innocent utopia was interrupted by something terrible that has since become a scourge —

*cue epic instrumental music*

a Scourge of the North.

*cue opening credits*

***

Enter Ontario.

The beautiful province, by far Canada’s most populous (it accounts for one-third of the entire country) is a land of extremes. From sprawling lakefront to modern cityscape to quaint farming communities, Ontario has a little of everything.

Toronto is a beautiful place. Nestled on the shores of Lake Ontario, it is considered one of the world’s most diverse and innovative cities. It is also home to resplendent natural beauty.

Toronto, the nation’s largest city, is nothing short of spectacular. It is the second-most diverse place on earth, second only to Queens, New York, and it shows in the food, the architecture, and the people.

Of course, it’s the food that got and held my attention.

I landed in the Buffalo and immediately took my rental car across the border.

My first night in Toronto, one of just two I had there, didn’t pan out.

At this point, I was about three weeks into a stint away from home that had started in Florida, and I’d yet to go out and get skunked fishing, so of course it happened that night.

I fished a park and saw a few skittish micros dart away from my headlamp but walked away empty-handed.

That night, I drowned my misery in way too much delicious Nepali food.

***

The next morning got off to a good start.

It didn’t take me long to find the best donut place in town. Sorry, this is Canada.

It didn’t take me long to find the best doughnut place in town: Glory Hole Doughnuts.

In the foreground, I hold a bread-and-butter doughnut from Glory Hole Doughnuts. I pride myself on having good taste in donuts almost as much as I pride myself in fishing, so it means a lot when I say this was the single best donut I’ve ever had.

The lightly sweet cake donut was covered in a light, crème fraîche-like frosting topped with crumbled breadcrumbs.

It was so wonderful in its simplicity and light-yet-buttery taste that I had no problem buying all of the donuts they had left, which, thankfully for my overworked pancreas, was just three.

I paired it with Toronto’s most famous coffee chain, the one with the yellow lid, Jimmy’s Coffee.

Why can’t Jimmy’s be as successful as Starbucks? Jimmy’s is infinitely better.

Fat and happy, I set my sights on the sights.

I did a little touring around the city, which, mid-morning, meant sitting in traffic. The weather was intermittently bad or not great, so that wasn’t the worst thing.

Traffic. If only Canada were immune. Yes, that’s the CN Tower in the background.

Deciding that the CN Tower looked close enough to the one’s I’d visited in Seattle and Auckland, New Zealand, I opted to just visit a museum.

This brought me to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). I found this funny because I’d just finished reading a book, Calculating Godwhich took place there. It’s an  interesting read about aliens, God, and the foundations of the universe and holds a surprisingly not-hostile secular viewpoint towards Creationism which made it unique in and of itself.

As museums go, it was certainly above average.

Anywho, the ROM proved to be just another museum — albeit a good one — so I finally felt like I’d soaked in enough cutlure to justify fishing for the rest of the trip.

I had to be back in Buffalo for a conference the next day, so it was now or never.

I settled on a park where I proceeded to quickly catch a small fish, a Round Goby.

Then I caught another.

Then a salmon angler returned, filleted his catch, and threw the carcass near where I was fishing from shore. In less than two minutes, it was covered in swarming black monsters.

The Scourge of the North!

***

Round Gobies were introduced (most believe) from the ballast water of a ship from the Old World and have found their way into most of the Great Lakes.

They now dominate the biomass and can be found anywhere and everywhere in this region.

Oh. You thought I was kidding. This took three minutes.

Apart from a few sunfish and perch, I didn’t catch another species that trip to Toronto. No sculpins. No shiners. No nothing.

It was honestly kind of tragic.

Fortunately, I reached out to Ken Tse (http://muskiebaitadventures.blogspot.com/), albeit a little late on my part, and he gave me some spots that redeemed the trip.

I killed all of the invasive monsters, but like the unwashed hordes many had to endure in days of yore, I couldn’t outrun this scourge…

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #158 — Shorthead Redhorse.