Aug 25, 2012

Discosed Percids in Disclosed Locations

     The American Fisheries Society annual meeting this year was in St. Paul Minnesota and this year I was lucky enough to have a job that would send me there, and pay me for my time!  Getting paid to go to an AFS conference was a new experience for me, and it was awesome.  You normal people would probably not enjoy sitting for 6-8 hours per day listening to dozens of fisheries presentations, but I genuinely enjoy learning about the state of the science around the nation and even throughout the world since there were many international speakers there as well.
     My hotel in St. Paul was pretty amazing.  This is what the lobby looked like:
The lobby at my hotel, complete with palm trees and ducks!
See! Ducks!
    There weren't quite as many festivities as at last year's conference (see this post), but I got to check out downtown St. Paul, eat Asian carp, and ride my first segway.
Sure, they obviously look goofy, but I'm thinking of trading my car in for one of these bad boys. If you've never tried one, give it a whirl, you won't be disappointed!
     Now most people would probably be satisfied with seeing some sights, enjoying the company of some good friends, and experiencing a new form of motorized transportation.  But if you think I would be happy leaving it at that, you must be a new reader, welcome!  It occurred to me that even though I had been to Minnesota and driven over the Mississippi River several times, I had never fished in either.  This needed to be remedied.  The Mississippi River basin is home to over 375 different species of fish so I had to keep myself from hyperventilating as I thought of all the potential new species I could catch.  I bought a new 4 piece travel rod that I could put in my suitcase and take with me.  I don't need much of an excuse to buy new fishing gear, but that was actually a legitimate need (just ask the voices in my head if you don't believe me...).
     The conference center was conveniently located right next to the Mississippi so I decided to give up a little sleep and go fishing in the mornings from dawn until the conference started (about 8:00 or 9:00).  It wasn't near as much time to fish as I wanted but it was certainly better than nothing, and almost a shoe-in for some new species!  However I still needed a fishing license in order to put my master plan into action.
     According to Google Maps there was a Gander Mountain just a few blocks away from the conference center so a buddy and I set off to check it out on our lunch break on the first day of the conference.  Everything was going fine until we got to the address and it became immediately clear that Google Maps had blatantly lied to us!  I called the number for the store and a helpful lady told us the address we found was for some corporate office or something, not at all helpful for my license needs.  But she also said there was an actual Gander Mountain store nearby.  We decided that "nearby" sounded close enough that we could jump in a taxi and make a quick trip out of it.  We were wrong.  Our quick taxi ride turned out to be much farther and cost me $34.... ONE WAY! I thought about giving up at that point, with a good portion of my fishing budget already gone. I've been accused of many things in my life but being a quitter was never one of them, so I got my license and a few other essentials, then we hopped back in the cab for another $34 ride.
     The next morning I called another cab to take me from the hotel to my chosen fishing spot. This trip was a more reasonable $5, well worth the money because I didn't want to waste daylight on a 1/2 hour walk when I had such precious little time.  I got out to the Harriet Island pier just as the sun was coming up and a little family of beavers was swimming around the houseboats moored there.
Sunrise at Harriet Island, complete with beavers and all.
     I had read a report about that spot that suggested there were plenty of freshwater drum there at the end of the pier, so that's where I headed.  I started by casting some larger lures trying to pick up some predatory fish before I started bait-fishing.  Fifteen fruitless minutes went by so I got bored and started improvising.  Have I mentioned that I have a short attention span (see this post)?  From the end of the pier I could see huge schools of tiny fish swimming around so I decided to start there.  I got out a spool of 6X tippet, tied on a size 22 hook and a tiny piece of bait and went to business.  Fifteen seconds later, I strained to hoist the first new species of the trip over the rail.
The emerald shiner... I'm pretty sure. I later discovered that there are several closely related species that look almost identical to this one, but it's nothing to loose sleep over.... right?
     I caught my fill of shiners (don't worry that's just an expression), all of which were the same species as far as I could tell.  Since I was on the board, I decided to try for something bigger. I put a couple of my little shiners on a hook and sent it out.  After a couple minutes my rod tip bounced once, then stopped.  I waited for another bite to set the hook but it never came so I decided to reel in to check my bait and discovered I had a fish on!  It fought about like a small wash rag, but I recognized it as soon as it surfaced.  This was one of the animals I was hoping to encounter!  I held my breath as I swung the fish over the rail.  Once I saw what it was, I probably would have dove in after it had it gotten off!
Species number 2 for the day: a cute little sauger!
     The sauger was quickly returned home after a quick picture.  I kept on keeping on.  I wasn't getting any more bites on the shiners, so I switched to the old standby - worms.  I know, archaic right?  But I didn't regret the decision and soon I was getting lots of bites.  Most of the bites were very light, and I couldn't seem to hook anything.  I fed the fish like this for a while, before I finally managed to get a hook into something and quickly brought it to hand.  I'm not used to catching things and not knowing what they are but I had no idea what this critter was.  But it was definitely a new species!
The mystery fish turned out to be a silver redhorse, a type of sucker.
He was not a handsom fish.
      For the life of me I couldn't hook anything else even though I was getting all sorts of bites and my bait was getting stolen consistently.  I put on a smaller size 8 hook to see if that would help.  On the very next cast I figured out why I couldn't hook anything with the big hook.
That tiny mouth is why.
That particular tiny mouth belonged to a surprisingly beautiful shorthead redhorse.
I was told by a man who knows about this kind of thing, that among the many redhorse species, if there is a color in the name (eg. silver redhorse, or black redhorse) the fins will be bland in color, but if there is no color in the name (eg. this shorthead redhorse) the fins will be brightly colored. This fish was no exception. If you just fell asleep, that's OK.
     After the fourth new species of the morning it was time to go to the conference, so I did. I was tickled pink about the four new species from that morning, and particularly excited about the sauger. I wondered if "JR" would be proud of me, and if I would get any "walleye religion" brownie points for this closely related species (see this post if you don't know what I'm talking about). I was however a little bummed that I didn't get a freshwater drum; that was after all why I chose that particular fishing spot in the first place.
     The next morning I was back at the butt-crack of dawn and drowning more worms. The Mississippi didn't disappoint and soon I had two additional new species.
If this thing looks surprisingly similar to the other two redhorses from the day before, that's not your imagination, they can be very difficult to identify. I'm almost sure that I'm positive that I think this one is called a golden redhorse.
There was no question about the next one. This is a white bass, a positively diminutive one, but a white bass to be sure. On a side note: I've been photobombed by friends in college and don't even get me started about my kids, but I can honestly say that being photobombed by a wasp was a first for me. I guess he just wanted his 15 minutes of fame.
     That was it for day two. Definitely a successful day, but still no drum.
     On day three I got there before dawn, thinking that maybe that would help. It didn't. I caught several channel catfish and smallmouth bass that were all way too small to warrant a photograph (and you know it's tiny if I say it's too small for a picture, see this post or this post if you don't believe me).
     With about a half hour of fishing time left I got a solid hit and the fish actually fought back for once. I gingerly nursed it in, being careful not to put too much pressure on the little hook. As it turned out I still had some fish mojo left after all; it was a drum! I'm not sure why I chose this as my target species for this trip. I had seen one before (caught by somebody else of course...) while fishing for perch in Lake Eerie, so I knew it was no glamor fish.  I think I just wanted revenge for not catching one back then.
The illusive (or not...) freshwater drum.
     I made a few more casts after that, but I had gotten what I had come for and was ready to pack it in; however, the Mississippi had one last surprise in store for me just as I was reeling in to leave. I felt the tiniest of bites and set the hook on what felt like it could have been a leaf or tiny bit of seaweed, but it ended up being much more exciting than either of those. It was a silver chub!
Species number 8 for the trip!
      I packed up and went to the conference for one last day. It cost more than I expected, but the Mississippi didn't disappoint, eight new species is a GOOD week for this guy.  All told, I caught 11 species (including the tiny catfish, bass, and a bluegill), so I guess that only leaves 364 to go in the mighty Mississippi!

      The final tally for the trip was as follows:

                                                                                4 piece travel rod - $80.00
                                                                        Taxi ride to get license - $68.00
                                                                 License, supplies, and bait - $34.00
                                +         Taxi rides to fishing spot and back to hotel - $30.00             
                                                   Adding eight new species to the list - PRICELESS!

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