Species #161 — Emerald Shiner

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 #150 — Golden Shiner

America’s favorite baitfish proved a little harder to catch than I anticipated.

Species: Golden Shiner (Notemigonus crysoleucas)
Location: Orlando, Florida
Date: July 10, 2018

A school of Golden Shiners pestered me for almost an hour at the Lake Fran Urban Wetlands. I knew what they were, and I knew I’d never caught one, but for the life of me, I just couldn’t get one to bite.

They were holding far out from shore, and I didn’t want to soak my boots or go to the car for a longer rod, so I spent a fruitless hour trying to get one to bite. To make matters worse, they were holding just under the surface, wouldn’t touch anything more than two inches below the surface.

Add to that my lack of floats, and my confidence sunk faster than my micro rig.

***

After trying a pond I was told was full of them and fighting off Bluegill and turtles for the better part of an hour with no Golden Shiners to show for it, I returned to the spot from the day before.

Though it was slow-going, it proved the right idea. Eventually, my bread chumming paid off, and I got a Golden Shiner, then a few more.

Eventually, I got one. Then I got three more in quick succession. Then, I stopped because they’re Golden Shiners.

All the commotion even attracted the attention of the tiniest little predator around, a certain topminnow species that I desperately wanted to catch…

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #151 — Golden Topminnow.


Species #139 — Coastal Shiner

If someone punches you in the eye near the ocean, you get a Coastal Shiner. #DadJokes

Species: Coastal Shiner (Lepomis auritus)
Location: Little Wekiva River, Florida
Date: July 8, 2018

One of my favorite professors in college used to say “If you haven’t ____________, you haven’t lived.” He honestly had a lot of great catch phrases, but this was my favorite — especially as it relates to fishing.

If you haven’t waited chest-deep in the tannin-stained waters of a central Florida stream in pursuit of a tiny minnow species, gators be damned, you haven’t lived.

One caveat: if you have done this and continue to make this type of choices, you probably won’t live very long. But hey, at least you’ll be living both sides of the best line from Shawshank Redemption: “Get busy living, or get busy dying.”

***

When I arrived at the river, the sunfish came faster than I expected, but that happens from time to time.

With one fish marked off so quickly, I had to figure out how to spend the rest of my time. Darters are shiners were both present, but the river was running really high.

Orlando had seen a lot of rain, and there was no way I could sight-fish darters in the dark waters when I couldn’t even see the bottom.
After catching all of the sunfish (yes, all of them) in that stretch of river, I grabbed micro gear and decided to look for greener pastures or at least clearer waters.

The shoreline flora was impenetrable, and I’d already spent a lot of time and energy finding this access point to the water, so I was SOL (that’s Spanish for “sun”, kids).

I did a quick check for gators, and, seeing none, jumped in.

My first thought was “I really hope I’m far enough from the city to be out of hypodermic needle range.”

My second thought was “No, I’m good. This is Florida. Nothing bad ever happens here.”

Used hypodermic needles are endemic to Florida, but they tend to occur in isolated pockets around the state, closer to population centers. In recent years, the range of the used hypodermic needle has contracted due to prescription opioids. Pills have out-competed the less convenient and infinitely less sanitary method for destroying brain cells and soiling perfectly good spoons.

So S/O to pills.

Fortunately, apart from some broken glass, the creekbed was fairly forgiving, and the sandy bottom actually felt good between my toes, so long as I didn’t think about all of the reclaimed water that was flowing over them.

I waded across with a fluid grace you would’ve been impressed by and began moving in the shallower water along the bank, searching diligently for water moving slowly enough to hold micros.

Gators must not like white meat because I survived long enough to find what I was looking for: happiness.

Well, sort of. I found a small school of shiners which made me happy.

The current was so fast that I struggled to keep the bait in their face in the middle of the water column, but I finally did it and caught a Coastal Shiner.

Wading back across the river and busting brush to the paved trail wasn’t great, but neither was my last colonoscopy, and I survived that.

***

If you’re not a Species Hunter, you probably laughed nervously as I told this story, wondering why some dumbass would risk his life for a tiny fish. If you are a Species Hunter, you’re nodding quietly to yourself as you look around to fistbump me only to realize this is a story, and I’m not actually there.

That’s okay. If you haven’t forgotten one of my stories was just a narrative while reading it on your phone or computer at least once, you haven’t lived.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #140 — Black Acara.


Species #126 — Redside Shiner

You ever spend a ton of time trying to add a fish to your Lifelist, only to later find out a closer, more abundant population existed later? Because same.

Species: Redside Shiner (Richardsonius balteatus)
Location: Corvallis, Oregon
Date: June 16, 2018

After school got out, I loaded my car and drove up to visit my brother, Gabe.

I knew it would be the last summer he lived in Corvallis with his roommates, the guys who had been surrogate brothers to me in the dozens of times I’d visited them over the years. Sure, I wanted to spend time with my brother, but I also liked the change of pace.

Jake called it “Hotel Gabe,” and I guess that was partly true. I did always take time to fish when visiting. In fact, I fished a lot out of that Corvallis apartment in five years’ time.

I changed careers, finished a Master’s degree, became a species hunter, and even started writing about fishing while they lived there. It held more memories than any other place I’d never actually lived in.

Like always, I wanted to fish.

So as I went out to the Willamette River to try for a species that was put on my radar since I started microfishing six months earlier from that very spot, I got emotional.

I caught my Redside Shiner, though I had to work for it. Species #126.

But I was still sad. This wasn’t like all of the other times I’d fished there.

This time was different.

We were celebrating Gabe’s graduation, and his then-girlfriend (now fiance), Rylee Salutregui and her family were there for the festivities, as she was graduating, too.

After catching a Redside Shiner just a few minutes from Gabe’s house, I surveyed the place I’d come to love as a second home and said my goodbyes to the place.

The people would be a little tougher.

***

The next day, we went fishing as a group. There were no new species, but it was worth sharing nonetheless.

Of those original four roommates that Gabe had lived with for so long, all of whom played Oregon State Football, only Adam Soesman and Drew Kell are still in Corvallis.

Marcus McMaryion transferred to Fresno State and got snubbed for an NFL Combine Invite, but he’ll probably at least make an NFL roster next year.

Trent Moore, one of his roommates and best friends, now lives with Gabe in Beaverton.

Gabe will be moving out to get a place with Rylee when they get married this fall, and life moves on.

Their core friend group has gone different directions, and I miss those guys. I never had college roommates (I lived with my parents), and these guys were the closest I ever came. I’d visit about once per month for almost five years. It was a way of life for me, and change is tough — even for the brother who only visits on occasion.

Read about saying goodbyes even as we said new hellos by clicking here.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #127 — Rosylip Sculpin.


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