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                       Our Hidden Jewels
                         Robert Rice

     It appears  that many of our States fishermen and
Naturalist are overlooking a resource of beauty unparalleled
in the world. This item is exported and established in
Europe and Asia where it has been winning awards and fame.
Yet here at home it is virtually ignored .
    What are we missing you may wonder? Is  it some rare
unknown plant , an exotic mineral, the latest batch from a
micro winery? No, these gems are our non game native fishes.
 When you say non game fishes most people say "nothing to
'em. dull as dust".  As an aquarist and amateur naturalist I
can tell you  our natives are among the most beautiful and
easy to keep fish in the world .They rival most tropicals
and a great many Saltwater fish in color and diversity of
body types.
     Surprised? A great many people are, they have  gotten
the mistaken notion that the only fish worth investigating
are the game fish, and the only fish worth keeping are the
     I spend allot of my free time collecting and studying
our natives ,so my idea of fishing is a bit different. While
many of my peers labor away at bass and trout I  take a
stranger turn. I spent hours mucking around with seine and
dip nets catching "bait" and more than a few puzzled looks.
"What 'cha catching there fella" I hear it often and enjoy
getting the chance to explain what most people have been
      You may wonder what does it take to get started in
keeping non game natives. For the novice to either
collecting or keeping  fish I recommend the following a tank
of at least 20 gallons setup and  waiting for fish, natives
are extremely tolerant to temperature and water variables so
avoid the extremes and fluctuations and you'll be fine.
You'll need a fishing license and  an awareness of local
regulations regarding collecting . The  collecting gear I
recommend is  a  4 foot 1/8 th. inch seine net,  an 1/8 dip
net (Try to avoid larger mesh as it can harm the fish)
.Additional items you'll want to bring include bug spray ,
buckets, zip lock bags and a partner if you can talk someone
into it make the trip.
         Once all your gear is in your ready for action
.Pick a spot that is convenient, away from sport fishermen ,
and looks like it's got a regular water flow and jump in
Now some people prefer to use waders. I am what they call a
Primitive Collector, shorts , tennis shoes ,  and  my
testosterone aided attitude is all I use. My greatest joy is
being waist deep in mud as the water tickles my chin and I
navigate my net past a tree trunk .Others who are much wiser
or have a more realistic self perception (My Wife for
instance) take a more civilized route waders, sunscreen,
picnic lunch etc. You of course will find your own way of
doing things as there is no one right way.  The most
important thing to remember is be smart, don't take what you
shouldn't , don't keep what you don't want, and don't take
what you don't have room for. The second most important
thing is not how you do it, but that you enjoy doing it  .
        After I have caught my prize I gently bag them in a
zip lock bag with a small amount of water and allot of blown
in air. Pack them away from the sun and repeat until happy.
In my experience trips that are less than two hours away
from your home and your tanks are the best. Once at home
open the bags floating them in the tank for around 20
minutes until the temperatures are equal then dip out your
fish into the tank, never, I repeat, never dump the water
into the tank, that is the number one way to transmit
disease and parasites.
     You'll find with a little care and attention your new
additions will quickly adapt to domestic life and will come
up to greet you at feeding time. In time with proper care
and a little luck your catch may even spawn in the tank.
     People often wonder what fish work well in an aquarium
so here are some that I have kept and really enjoy:
     Orange-spotted sunfish (Lepomis Humilus): This colorful
little sunfish adapts readily to domestic life. It's been
recently introduced to the European pet industry. It will
commonly spawn in an aquarium. The breeding colors of the
males make them one of the most beautiful fish in the world.
     Central Longear (Lepomis M. Megalotis  ) : This
beautiful and durable sunfish is  attractive year round,
eats anything from worms to frozen tropical fish food to
dried dog food soaked in water. It is intelligent and will
often eat out of your hand . It's looks remind me of the
discus and it's hardiness is unparalleled.
     Red Shiner (Notropis Lutrensis ): This colorful and
very adaptable minnow with its red fins and bluish body is
an eye catcher in any tank. It readily eats flake food and
is sometimes sold in the pet industry as a "Redhorse
     Southern Red Belly Dace (Phoxinus erythrogaster): This
gorgeous little minnow is truly a world class fish. In
England,  they have peaked in their domestic popularity,
commonly winning national trade shows, and with it's red
belly and yellow fins it is no wonder!
     Of course there are many other central United States
species that are very well suited for the aquarium. However
almost all of your sport fish and cold water species are not
.So do yourself and the fish a favor and don't try it!
       People have often asked me "Why are you such an
advocate for native fish?". I will tell you why, I believe
we will not preserve things that we do not love,  and we
cannot love things that we have not known. So that is why I
work to share with others, all the wonderfull native species
we have. In the hope that  my great grandchildren can
someday look across a prairie stream and see a flash of
color in the water and begin to wonder  aloud "What was
that?" and start on their own journey to knowing.

     If you are interested in learning more about keeping
native fish contact NANFA (North American Native Fish
Association) via Robert Rice, 2213 Prytania Circle ,
Navarre Florida,32566 e-mail RobertRice at juno_com