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Why Do I Collect?
by Konrad Schmidt
I have long wondered why pursuing little fish of no known value holds so
much fascination and pleasure for me. Rain can pour and bugs can bite,
but I remain oblivious to these distractions and content in my little
Eden. Physically, my energy, endurance, and drive seem endless. No
obstacle or problem is too great to overcome or outright crush. For a
very short time, I do feel invincible. Certain situations and events
enhance and magnify these experiences. Collecting in streams where no
surveys have ever been done, sets the stage of the first explorer
venturing into unchartered frontiers. I admit this is pure fantasy and
realistically the findings of these "expeditions" are no cures for cancer
or even the common cold, but a small unknown finally does become known.
Another ego boosting bonus is finding a fish in a watershed or above a
barrier where it has never been reported before. Almost always, these
"little trinkets" are completely unexpected, but very welcomed surprises.

Night collections are an entirely different affair which have through the
years given me several exhilarating thrills and memories. Sight is
restricted to the small circle the headlamp illuminates. Patches of fog
move in and further encroach on my tiny world. Hearing sharpens and
sounds assail me from every direction. Chirping crickets and croaking
frogs provide the soothing and constant chorus which is interrupted by
hair bristling noises of hooting owls, squawking herons, and tail
slapping beavers. Frequently, I catch something moving out of the corner
of my eye and reflexively cast my light up on the bank. A pair of eyes
reflect back at me. My heart pounds in my chest and can hear it in my
ears. Recognition and relief! Only a raccoon meticulously cleaning his
clam dinner in the shallow water. Several shooting stars streak across
the evening skies every hour, but I miss many with my attention focused
down in the stream and in my net. However, once the night turned into day
and actually cast my shadow on the water. I swung around expecting to see
a game warden on the bank with a two million plus candle power
flashlight, but just caught a glimpse of the meteor disappearing below
the horizon. I was not the only one startled by this spectacular show. A
pack of coyotes across the river nervously yipped long after the darkness
returned. Northern Lights are another "distraction" which detour me from
my cherished collecting. Ghostly, green clouds fill the northern skies.
Beams of light erupt suddenly and randomly, constantly change direction,
and vanish. The great mass slowly descends until it seems to touch the
earth. The performances can be so spellbinding that the lapse of time is
forgotten, but definitely not wasted.

Perhaps the most climatic and self-gratifying experience I have received
from my collecting trips is finding fish which have not been found for
several years in Minnesota and were believed to be extirpated. This has
only happened twice since I began collecting fish almost 20 years ago. In
1983, I started with the plains topminnow which had not been found since
1974. Every year, I would plan at least one collecting trip to re-check
the historical sites. Absolutely nothing for five years. Then in 1988, I
dipped my seine in the headwaters of the Rock River and watched what I
thought was just a central mudminnow attempting to dive under some
floating vegetation. I could not have been better positioned as I lifted
and laid the seine out on the bank. There it was, not a mudminnow, but
the treasure I had sought for so long. An intense euphoria swept through
me. I sprang up and began jumping and screaming obscenities, not in
anger, but total joy. My good luck continued as I found more plains
topminnows at every site I tried. The euphoria lingered and the five hour
drive home seemed like minutes. Yes, it was a great day to be alive!

In 1990, I almost did it again when I found the slender madtom in Iowa
about four stream miles from the Minnesota site where it was collected
once before in 1954. I grinned from ear to ear when I uncovered the
single slender from a fold in my kick net. This time, I only performed a
brief and restrained jig on the bank because I had company with me, but
still felt that same incredible ecstasy! I knew it would not be very long
before I or somebody else would again find the slender madtom in
Minnesota. Now, I can divert all my attention and energies to stalking my
final and most challenging quarry - the bluntnose darter. Not collected
since 1944. If I achieve this goal, the euphoric rush could be lethal.

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