Below: A Freshwater Goby (Ctenogobius shufeldtti) poses for a quick photograph before being released. Gobies (Gobiidae) are a very large fish Family with more than 2000 species worldwide, however, most are small.
Lifelisting is a fun “addiction”, more akin to bird watching or even, Pokeman… There is great satisfaction in researching, studying, targeting, and finally catching your quarry. Anglers may quickly boost their numbers up, and after time, the list of local species diminishes, and one must resort to traveling to increase numbers. Some anglers turn to saltwater fishing and
microfishing as a way to boost up numbers quickly. When an angler gets into the triple digits, the real addiction begins. Some anglers are over 1000 species on hook and line, some are less than 50, some don’t care much about the numbers, some more about the fish species, rating them on levels of difficulty. Try to keep in mind that microangling and lifelisting should be centered around the fish. Endangered or protected fish species are the angler’s responsibly to avoid. Keep in mind those protected species when angling. Even posing with a photo of a protected species is considered harassment and may bring Federal and or state charges. Practice good catch and release practices. Keep the fish in the water or in a phototank, net, or better yet, a bucket. This keeps the fish alive while photo ops are being conducted. Wet hands when handling fish, this also calms fish down quite well. If taking fish in hand photos-keep the fish in and out of the water frequently and not more than 20-30 seconds. Share what you catch and educate good microfishing/lifelisting practices. Most people in North American have no clue about the fish species microanglers catch. There are over 250 Darter species alone and some 1250-1300 freshwater fish species for the microangler to pursue. Microfishing and lifelisting are on the rise, practice what you preach and lead by example.
Below: A Bluefin Stoneroller (Campostoma pauciradii) poses in a photoarium, also known as a phototank, while photos are being taken. A phototank is a great way to take fish photos while keeping the fish safely alive and underwater. Keeping fish species alive is the angler’s responsibility.
Fish Sense Angler Anticipation
Some micros are easier than others, and some micros are supposed to be easier than others, but on are downright difficult for some people. It can be embarrassing not to be able to catch an easy micro, especially in front of others, but sometimes you need to take a deep breath and refocus, maybe call it a day or take a break, then try again. I believe in what a friend of mine calls “angler anticipation”, that fish can somehow sense that an angler is trying too hard… It sounds crazy, but I passionately believe in it.
Above: Taillight Shiner’s (Notropis maculatus) are one of North America’s most colorful and striking Minnows, although catching them on the hook is very difficult due to the fish’s preference for deeper water in swamps, lakes, and seemingly right beside Alligators…
For example, I have a buddy from up north that visits me quite often to fish. We visited a local creek two years in a row for him to catch a Redlip Shiner, which is a quite common to abundant fish. Well, it turns out no matter what he did he could not seem to catch one, I could see the frustration building up, as I easily plucked 4-5 Redlip’s up in a matter of minutes…He was dedicated to that fish, and finally on the second year, right before the sun went down, on the way back towards his car, he spotted a large rock in the water creating an eddy. He dropped a bit of red worm in there and finally caught his Redlip Shiner. Of course, by then I was already home eating dinner, but I was proud of him. My disaster micro is the Banded Darter, I cannot seem to catch this fish no matter what I do, I think I’m up to 28 trips on the Banded Darter, day, night, above water and below. I failed so hard that the very thought of this fish fills me with a sense of nausea and annoyance. One afternoon a friend of mine sent me a couple photos to ID for him, his first Darter on hook and line, and what do you know, a Banded Darter….One can only laugh, thanks for hanging with me on this, I know it went a few different places, but the point is some micros are harder than others, but any fish on earth will bite a bait on a hook, even Lamprey’s (which we need to figure out how to catch)…
See, Not Only Look
We had a Rhodesian (now Zimbabwe) SAS instructor for a man tracking course in Arizona in the 2000’s who taught us a lot of basic and simple tracking methods. We’d start out early in the morning with the instructors ahead with a 2-hour start. The only sign that anyone was there was the last boot prints the instructors made. In teams of 4-6, we observed sign and quickly picked up the instructor’s trail. It was pretty easy stuff once you got it. Later in the day, we found our instructors, collecting shade under a large tree on top of a mountain in Arizona. Our chief instructor was a no-nonsense man, he wasted no time and was very efficient and was a true master of his craft. One thing David always repeated was, you can look without actually seeing. Trian your eyes to not only look but also to see. This translates well to microfishing and especially Darter microfishing and sightfishing in general. Most Darter fishing and a lot of microfishing is sight fishing, you need to be able to see your quarry to catch it. Darters are masters of camouflage, and you can walk right over them in 3 inches of water and not see a thing. It is downright frustrating at first, until after microanglers start to pick up what I call “Darter vision”, and then they can pick-up tell-tale signs of where fish are. Darter vision is the ability to finally “see” the fish you are targeting instead of blindly looking over them. This will take some time, it is very akin to man tracking, and the more you do it, the better you will get. Learning habitat for the fish species you want to catch is also very important. Some Darter species will occupy fast, rocky riffles, some pools in slacker water, others elsewhere. Knowing where to find the fish you intend to target will save a lot of time and frustration. Winter is upon us shortly; this is a good time of year to organize and purchase new gear, plan trips, and prepare for the next year…Fish on the warmest days during the Winter, and not at morning when it’s coldest, try the middle of the day. Be aware that water temperatures may lag behind outside air temperatures, so wait a couple days after a cold spell is over to hit the water. Micros usually hold up in the deepest pools in large sections of streams during the Winter, Darters congregate under rocks and may or may not be active. Fish undergo a mild hibernation, and this drastically affects microfishing. All in all, Winter microfishing can be a challenge.
Below: A Northern Tessellated Darter shows off its natural camouflage above its habitat in a slow-moving stream.
Night of the Pirate Perch
Pirate Perch (Aphredoderus sayanus), a shy and somewhat elusive fish, is the only member of its Family Aphredoderidae. Pirate Perch typically live in coastal environments on the east coast of the United States but also thrive in the Mississippi Valley backwaters. Pirate Perch are solitary fish and are nocturnal, hiding during the day in dense aquatic vegetation. Pirate Perch normally do not exceed five inches in length. Larger Pirate Perch have a purple sheen and a migrating anus that travels to the fish’s throat as aging occurs. Breeding starts in April-May, and these are prime times to catch a Pirate Perch on hook and line. Cody Cromer and I on April 10th, 2021, caught a dozen Pirate Perch via hook and line and several other species during what we can only assume was a large display of spawning behavior. Pirate Perch after Pirate Perch bit our insect larvae that we used on size 22 dry fly hooks. We had to avoid them to look for other species. Other than this occasion, we’ve never seen Pirate Perch exhibit similar behavior. They seem to prefer to be alone, even the juvenile fish, and are spooky at best at night under a headlamp.
When headlamp microfishing, shine the area slowly until you see the fish you want to target. Move the light away immediately, slowly scan back towards the fish until you can just see the outline. Slowly maneuver your bait towards the fish or in the current just ahead of the fish, watch for bottom disturbance, fish shaking their heads or just your bait to disappear, and wallah! Fish on.Pirate Perch have large mouths, use a dry fly size 22 or even 18, May fly larvae worked like a charm, much better than red worms for these swamp dwelling fish. I don’t know what it is about 10 pm, but that is when the Pirate Perch start to come out in the Carolinas at least, until then you won’t see one.
Below: A Pirate Perch that was caught on a size 22 dry fly hook with a bit of Mayfly larva as bait from a swamp in southern Virginia.
by Tim Aldridge