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Collecting without a
I think every serious fish hobbyists daydreams about fish collecting
in the rainforests of Central America or the Amazon river system in South
America, or even the steamy jungles of Africa. All of this comes with
trappings of airfares, hotel accommodations, passports, guides,
transporting hundreds of pounds of equipment half way around the world,
and then transporting what you have caught back home, with the hassles of
customs and local laws, and MONEY. For what, in hopes of finding
something no one else has, but more likely to bring fish back to your
aquarium that can already be purchased from some one other source,
whether it be a store, wholesaler or a fellow hobbyist.
There still is a untapped source of new fish yet to be tapped, at
least in this country, out there for the collector. I am speaking of
native fish. There is a multitude of fish available that will rival any
of the exotics in color, interesting shapes and habits.
The title speaks of collecting with out a passport. This is true,
but, every collector still needs a valid fishing license for the state he
or she is collecting in. This can be on a yearly, month or per day
basis. The price is very reasonable for almost any state. Different
state regulations can be found a the Internet or you can call the states
Equipment needed for a successful collecting trip can vary greatly.
For the casual local collector a long handle net and a bucket is more
than adequate. For the serious collector, various dip nets, seines,
minnow traps, throw nets, buckets, bags, Styron boxes, tests kits and
thermometers are but a few things one can take. TFH magazines has
started a monthly column on native fish written by Robert Rice that will
go into collecting equipment in more detail.
A couple of weekends ago, myself and a fellow club member, Chuck
Mule, went out for a Saturday morning of collecting in the Evans area.
We started out about 10:00 in the morning with a couple of dip nets, a
few pails and a eight foot seine ( that we didn't use). Our first stop
was a drainage ditch near Chucks house. We were able to park the car
within a couple of feet from were we wanted to collect and walk in. This
waterway is usually about 12 to 16 feet wide and about 16 inches deep.
Because of the low rainfall and change in the drainage pattern this water
way was nothing more than a dried-up swamp. We were hoping to obtain
some breeding speciments Culaea inconstans, the Brook stickleback. We
searched this area for a couple of hundred feet and found some puddles of
water but nothing that contained an fish life. While walking back to the
car we were talking about perhaps having to restock this area with
sticklebacks from our own breeding program because it was obvious that
the fish that were here were no more. That is when we found a drainage
way that went under the road and over to the other side. After a swipe
with the net we had a net full of Brook sticklebacks. Were collected few
pairs possible breeders. It is very important, when collecting to take
only what you plan on keeping in your tanks. It is very easy to over
fishing a collecting spot and one can do terrible damage to a local fauna
population for years to come.
Our second spot was an area of Little Sisters Creek that I hadn't
collected in before. Again we were able to park with in a few feet of
the stream. In fact if we were able to park across the street we would
have be on a blacktop parking lot. Water temperature was about 50
degrees but with calf high rubber boots I didn't feel the cold at all.
Chuck, being of sturdier stock, just wore sneakers in the crystal clear
water. Little Sisters Creek has a slate bottom with small rocks strewn
about to form small ripples and rapid with the occasional small
waterfall. It is on the average, 30 to 40 feet wide and when not rain
swollen 10 to 24 inches deep. Chuck brought a long handle dip net with a
16 inch flat sided , 1/8 inch mesh net and a short handle 8 inch net.
These proved to be the weapons of choice in this stream. By one of us
holding the net downstream and the other kicking and moving the small
rocks upstream we were able to collect many darters of a few different
species. One of these is the spectacular Rainbow Darter , Etheostoma
caeruleum. The males were in breath taking hues of orange, red and dark
blue. They were so colorful that males could be spotted in the stream
from several feet away. Another darter collected was the Iowa Darter,
Etheostoma exile. These are rather small fish in the two to two and half
inch range. The males have a Dorsal fin that is edged in blue with a red
band under that and a sky blue band under that. The body has an orange
underside that fades to brown in top. Females are brown with several
black spots along the lateral line. Another darter found was E. nigrum,
the Johnny Darter. This is a rather small fish with a huge range. It
can be found the Hudson Bay to Alabama and from Quebec to Nebraska. The
males have a black head and lower fins during breeding season and the
females are dusky brown. Both fish have X's and W's in black on their
scales. It almost like each scale along its flanks are outlined in
Along with the darters, in the open water, we were able to catch
several minnows and dace. One of the more interesting species was the
Central Stoneroller Campostoma anomalum. Breeding males have a dark
lateral line, and orange Dorsal and anal fins. This species grows to
about 8 inches but will breed at half that size. We also caught some
Emerald shiners Notropis atherinoides. These fish grow to about 5 inches
but are mostly encountered at half that size. These look very much like
the Green striped Rasboro. Some Blacknose Dace Rhinichthys atratulus,
Creek chub Semotilus atromaculatus, White sucker, Catostomus commersani
a 9 inch Northern hog sucker. All of these were caught with in a couple
of hours and within a 100 yard area!
Future collecting trips are planned for Big Sisters Creek where I
hope to find the Greensided Darter Etheostoma blennioides and the Fantail
Darter Etheostoma flabellare, also the Red Dace Clinostomus elongatus.
There is a national club one can join named Native Fish Conservancy.
Their web site is Http://nativefish.interspeed.net/. Membership fee is
$10.00. They offer a newsletter, trading post, collecting trips, books,
chat room, projects and many more things.
All of these fish can be kept in an unheated aquarium and will
thrive on a high quality flake food, except for the darters. They can be
trained to eat flake foods but really thrive on live or frozen foods.
They relish chopped earth worms and soon come into breeding condition on
this food. If you are interested in learning more about native fish
there are several good books available through some of the large
bookstores. They are Peterson Field Guides to Freshwater fishes by
Lawrence Page and Brooks M. Burr, Freshwater fishes of New York State by
Robert G. Werner and handbook of Darters by Lawrence Page. There is a
new book that just came out entitled North American Native Fishes for the
Home Aquarium. There is a review of this book by Lee Finley in the
December issue of Aquarium Fish Magazine.
I have started a native fish aquarium. This is a 44 gallon tank
with fish and plants* I have personally collected. Fish and plants are
all doing fine and the aquarium should be entered in the upcoming Home
*next article is on Native plants for the Coldwater aquarium.
All Men are equal until the point of exertion