Jun 25, 2023

Ohio Milestones

     After reaching species 195 in Idaho a few weeks earlier, I knew our 4th of July trip to Ohio would be a prime opportunity to reach the 200 mark. I had gotten 8 new ones the previous summer there (see this post for details) which included some of the easier targets. But with some searching, it seemed there were definitely at least 6 or 7 potential targets within an hour or so driving either way from my in-law's house. Some like Round Goby and White Perch, I assumed would be pretty easy, others like Flathead Catfish, Grass Carp, and Smallmouth Buffalo I would have to wear my lucky underpants for. 

     I had three days to fish, so on day one I started with the two gimmes. I headed up to Cleveland and found a nice access spot at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River. The history buffs among you may remember the Cuyahoga as the river that caught fire back in the 1960s. It actually caught fire quite a few times in the decades prior to that as well, but as I understand it, the fire in 1969 was one of the events that started to get the public's (and their elected officials) attention which eventually led to policy reform on industrial dumping and polluting, and the establishment of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It was the kind of thing that I learned about in college ecology classes, so I was interested to see it, and see what it had turned into since.

Rivers are not supposed catch on fire. Photo Credit: www.smithsonianmag.com

     I was pleased to find nothing on fire when I got there. It appeared to me to be a reasonably healthy river system (especially considering it's urban location) and as a biologist, it was encouraging to know that a river could go from so polluted that it literally used to catch on fire, to a nice place to spend a day catching healthy fish.

An informational sign explaining the significance of the site.

In the words of one of my favorite bands: "Cleveland Rocks".

      As expected, it didn't take long to start pulling in a few small fish. A few pumpkinseed and bluegill came to hand, then both target species popped up, some small and unassuming white perch, and as many round gobies as a guy could want.

If you're counting along at home, now I only need a striped bass to have the complete box set of North American moronids.
Round Goby. A tiny invasive species yes, but more importantly species 197!

The pelvic fins of these little fish are modified to form something of a weird little sucker.

     Having caught my two expected new species, I settled in for a relaxing day of getting a sunburn and catching whatever would bite. I hoped to catch some freshwater drum, a species I had caught previously, but didn't have a good picture for.

Sad drum face. I hadn't noticed the iridescent sheen that the small ones get. A pretty, if often maligned fish if you ask me.
Drum roll please...
This one was one of my larger ones, and it was kind enough to lay still with its fins out for a photo.
Large schools of baitfish were around and attracting predators. I'm pretty sure this is an Emerald Shiner, but if anyone else has other opinions, I wouldn't mind hearing them, as I'm not positive here.
Rock Bass was the other common catch for me. Not a new species, but another photo upgrade.
They came in a variety of colors and sizes.
And just to prove that not ALL my fish are small, here's a 10+ lb Channel Catfish.

      So then I was three away from 200. The next two days I would head to Columbus. Also, why do all the big cities in Ohio start with C? I can never keep them straight. But anyway, I'm pretty sure it was Columbus. I started the day at an undisclosed urban park where some YouTube videos had shown there to be both Grass Carp and Smallmouth Buffalo. I tried soaking carp-type baits for a while but my short attention span wouldn't let me sit there without bites for too long. I headed to a nearby spot on the Scioto River where there were several potential targets that could get me to 200, and it didn't take too long to get something new. The first new thing to pop up was a Smallmouth Redhorse.

I first thought it was a Shorthead, but that dorsal fin shape is pretty distinctive.
There were pretty colors to be seen if you looked close enough on this fish.

And an obligatory sucker lip shot.

      On my last trip to Ohio, microfishing resulted in several unexpected new species, so I waded around in the shallows for a while, but the only minnows I could find were Spotfin Shiners, a species I got last time. But it wasn't lost on me that these were right about bite size for some of the predatory critters hopefully lurking nearby.
Microfishing, great for catching new species and for gathering bait.

  I set up a float rig and started sending minnows over in the direction I had seen some gar rolling hoping to tangle with one of those dinosaurs. I didn't, but I did catch several little saugeye (a cross between a Walleye and a Sauger), which I found out later are pretty heavily stocked in the area.

I've caught both parent species, but this was my first saugeye.
     Then there was a bit of a lull in the action. I let my little minnow drift around a back eddy and my attention span started to catch up with me again. But then I swore my bobber was going in the wrong direction. This was new behavior. I watched it for a few more seconds and sure enough it was distinctly moving up-current. I calmly did a fish dance and hoped for a gar. Just in case it was, I waited and let it do its thing for what seemed like an eternity but was probably only a minute or so before coming tight on it. Sure enough it didn't take long to figure out I had a little Longnose Gar on the line! A casual observer likely would have been able guess my excitement level by my running down the bank and shouting "Holy crap! Holy crap!", but I was alone, so we may never know. 
     I had nightmare visions of repeating the Disaster of 2013 when I hooked and lost a large Longnose Gar in Arkansas and cried about it for years afterward. This time though, after a short and unspectacular fight, I beached the tiny dinosaur and had one of my wish-list-long-shot Ohio species in hand. I didn't care in the slightest that it was small, this was my first actual gar! As someone from the Pacific Northwest, nowhere near gar territory, this was an exciting one.
Longnose Gar, species 199!
Not big enough for the teeth to be scary quite yet, still a crazy looking fish though!

     At this point I had an important decision to make. The next species would be number 200. After catching a sculpin for my 100th species, I wanted something over 6 inches long for this one. I decided that either a buffalo or a Grass Carp would be awesome candidates here so I headed back to the park determined to ignore my short attention span and stick it out till I got one. 

     I soaked a variety of baits including wonder bread, canned corn, and some homemaid concoctions. I passed the time donating the majority of my bag of wonder bread to some local kids feeding the ducks. This must have resulted in some good mojo as pretty soon thereafter I got a very unsubtle run on the rod with the bread on it. I held my breath, set the hook, and gingerly coaxed the fish closer. There are also common carp in the pond, so I half expected it to be one of those, but when it came into view it was clearly a buffalo! I had to be less vocal about my excitement this time as there were innocent bystanders nearby (including some enterprizing young people filming their own rendition of Harry Potter, but I digress). I was able to scoop the fish up onto the bank and just like that, species 200 happened. It wasn't a big Smallmouth Buffalo at about 4 or 5 pounds, nowhere near the size this species can reach, but again, to me it was huge.

Don't ask me why they're called buffalo. They clearly have no horns.

Complete with a face only a mother could love.

There was much rejoicing and celebrating when I got back home. There was even a parade and fireworks a couple days later on the 4th of July! It seemed a little overboard for the whole town to go all out like that over a fish, but I'm not one to complain.

      Incidentally, that buffalo also became not only my 200th species, but also my 50th species of the year, a feat which I doubt I will repeat again any time soon.

One of these years is not like the other. Oh don't pretend like you don't have a running graph of your new species by year. I'm sure everybody has got one.

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