Go fish, a card game played mostly by kids, characterised by the action of drawing a card from the pool when your opponent didn’t have what you asked for. You would tell the other person, “go fish.” It wasn’t “draw a card” or “pick up a card” or even simply “nope, sorry.” Perhaps the statement reflected on the fact that, just as with fishing, when you put your hand into the pile you never knew what you were going to come out with.
It’s the thing that really appealed to me about bird banding, or about mothing – setting something up to catch things in your absence, and then returning to see what you’ve got. And you could get anything, within reason. You never knew what would be there on the next check: a common robin, a secretive thrush, a bejeweled warbler, a powerful sharp-shinned hawk. An aberrant plumage, a first of the season, a bird you’ve never seen before.
With fishing, the diversity is lower than with birds or moths, but the premise is the same. You put your lure into the water, pull it up when something bites, see what you get. In our lake here we have seven species that we’ve caught ourselves, plus one more that we caught in the neighbouring lake but is also supposed to inhabit ours. This morning a friend of mine who was visiting caught what could potentially be a ninth species for the lake. In neighbouring lakes we also know of three or four additional species that require deeper waters and so don’t venture into our shallow lake.
A dozen is a rather meager number compared to the 150+ species of birds we anticipate tallying over the year, and the potentially 1000 species of moths I might get if we remain here for a while. Still, when you compare it to the total of six mammals we’ve seen here so far, it’s not too bad. Part of the surprise is also the size and colouration, depending on the species. The Bluegill of yesterday’s post are a good example of that.
Most serious anglers (and probably mostly men) target the big species, trying to land something bigger than their friends, competitors, or even simply than their previous best. The above species is a Largemouth Bass, and is considered one of these big target species. The related Smallmouth Bass is also often sought after. The latter we’ve only caught one of, from our neighbour lake, even though it’s supposedly here, too. Largemouth, on the other hand, are fairly common. We have little Largemouth fry hanging about our dock in the weeds, and you’ll often see small ones schooling with sunfish. The big guys, though, you rarely see until they’re on the end of your line. Interestingly, bass are also part of the sunfish family; you can’t see it in this photo, but they have the same sharp spines to their dorsal and anal fins.
This is the other big fish in our lake that is often a target species for anglers. This is a Northern Pike, and is unique among the fish in our lake in that it has sharp, pointy teeth, so you have to be careful not to let it take a snap at you when you’re handling it. They’re also long and skinny, and powerful, so they can slip out of your grasp quickly if you’re not paying attention. Pike are generally lurkers, hanging out under a log or beside a rock, in the shadows, waiting for an unsuspecting little fish to swim by, where they dart out and snatch it up. You need a bigger lure to even interest these guys, and they’re usually so well hidden that you can’t spot them just looking for them. The other relatively common toothy fish around here is Walleye, so named for its pale irises. We don’t have any Walleye in our lake, but there are supposedly some in the one just the other side of the road.
There are fisherpeople who target species other than the big ‘uns. Crappie are a favourite alternative; this one is a Black Crappie, but there are also White. They’re characterized by their snouty appearance and humped back (hard to see with a thumb on his jaw). They’re supposedly more active at dusk and dawn, and I’ve caught nearly all of mine at dusk in the centre of the lake. Because of these habits it’s another one of those species that you don’t know you’ve got it till you pull up the line. It seems that the pronunciation of the name is a matter of some debate. Blackburnian and I pronounce it to rhyme with “happy”, but many people (maybe those who feel kindly toward the unfortunately-named fish?) pronounce it to rhyme with “poppy”. The origin of the name is just as uncertain, but one website I found suggested it was a corruption of the French word “Creppe”, a thin French pancake, perhaps referring to the fish’s shape and edibility, and likely dating back a couple centuries. They’re also lumped in with the “panfish” group, but are a little larger in body, and have a much larger mouth that allows you to gently grasp their lower jaw. A colloquial name for the species is “papermouth”, and you can get an idea of why from this photo – it looks a little like a chinese lantern.
Somewhat similar in appearance but with a brilliant ruby-red eye is the Rock Bass. These aren’t a very abundant fish on our lake, and we’ve caught less than half a dozen, I think. They’re about the same size as the crappie, but while the crappie I’ve caught have been in the middle of the lake, the Rock Bass have all been under or near “structure” – docks, fallen trees and logs. Despite that they tend to be in shallower water, where they’ll often associate with schools of sunfish, I haven’t seen them just by looking into the water the way I have with the sunfish species. It’s amazing how much a fish can blend in when you’re standing out of the water looking down at it. Really it’s remarkable that birds like kingfishers and Osprey have so much success fishing. They are also in the sunfish family and so are related to the Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass, but not as closely as the latter two are to each other.
And finally, the last species to be identified from our lake, Yellow Perch. This is a particularly little individual, I’ve actually caught some that were as much as eight or ten inches. However, the smaller mouths and long, narrow shape means the species is tricky to hold on to for a photo – as soon as they give a twitch of that powerful tail, they’re gone. This photo really shows off the yellow well, some fish are more grayish, but all have that bold tiger-striping. They have very distinctive red pelvic and anal fins, the ones that hang from the belly, which unfortunately don’t show very well here. These guys also have spines on their dorsal fin, but the spiny part is distinctly separate from the soft part. Perch are in the same order as sunfish so share some characteristics, but are a different family.
I’ll have to write more about some of these species in another post, particularly the sunfish species that I enjoy watching. This evening as I write this, Blackburnian has gone out in the boat with his rods for some quiet time. I wonder what he’s been catching? That’s the great thing about it, you never know.