The Art of Microfishing
By Tim Aldridge
Microfishing is a relatively new form of fishing that has a humble number of followers. Microfishing is just like fishing with the exception that you are using much smaller line, hooks and weights. It has experienced a surge in recent years and is very popular with “lifelisters”. Lifelisters are anglers who maintain a lifelist, which is a list of species they have caught. Some lifelisters that have been fishing for longer than others have lifelists of over one thousand species! Lifelisting can easily be compared to birdwatching, except well, you are using hooks! Anglers that microfish are not necessarily lifelisters however, some anglers just enjoy catching fish. I found microfishing very easy to get started.
I began four years ago in a backyard creek in Waxhaw, North Carolina with just a collapsible pole off of Amazon, 2-pound line and hooks ordered from a microfishing website. I quickly caught Eastern Mosquitofish, Bluehead and Creek Chubs and Rosyside Dace! I was hooked! I spent a lot of time that Fall homing in on my technique and got even better results. Soon I was catching Madtoms and even Darter species on the hook and my lifelist grew. I learned important tricks of the trade early on, such as not letting your shadow hit the pool of water you are fishing, moving the bait around if you aren’t experiencing results, and so on. It was very interesting because I was learning most of these techniques on the go, as not much has been written on the subject of microfishing. It was trial and error, but I was catching fish and adding to an ever-growing lifelist. For starters, microfishing can be a very intimidating way to fish, but if you stick to keeping it simple, you really can’t go wrong.
I chose the 13- and 10-foot telescopic rod versions, and they are still what I used today. For line, I chose tippet material in a couple different sizes, 1.7 pound and 2 pound, these line choices will suffice for most microfishing situations. Aldridge hooks come in size 30 and are good for Shiners as well as most Darter species. They are a little on the light side for adult Chub species however, as you can purchase bigger sizes in the 1-2-3 Pack of Aldridge hooks for those and Sunfish. The Aldridge comes pre-snelled with around a foot of line, making it a good and easy choice and not difficult to tie.
For bait, I chose red worms. They are easy to put on the small micro hooks and they also stay alive longer than nightcrawlers. Nightcrawlers will suffice however, but are more difficult to put and to keep on the bait. With this setup, for under fifty dollars, an angler can begin microfishing. Some people choose to also purchase small plastic phototanks to view and identify their catches. These are common enough now and can easily be carried in a cargo pocket to keep handy on the move.
I started out in a backyard creek in Waxhaw, North Carolina. My first target was Eastern Mosquitofish, which were not too difficult to catch with bits of red worm. Learning different fish species habitat made microfishing easier and resulted in more and more species on my lifelist. There is a downside to lifelisting, the angler will quickly catch most of the species in their general area, and then have to branch out to catch different species. This is where I found myself in the Summer of 2018, with over 200 fish species on hook and line, and most of them in my native state of North Carolina. Traveling then became a necessity for me, but that was also a fun part of it, seeing lots of different places to catch fish.
Darter fishing became one of my favorite methods of microfishing. Darters are unique and will take up a lot of time while microfishing. Personally, I prefer to snorkelfish for Darters, but that is another story. Microfishing and lifelisting easily became my main hobby, and I traveled from Lake Erie to the Florida Keys and as far west as Mississippi. I spent a lot of time in Tennessee as well, and a little time in Alabama and Georgia. My lifelist quickly grew to over 350 species by the Spring of 2019, just in time for the NANFA convention in Jackson, Mississippi.
The North American Native Fish Association’s annual convention was always one of my most Favorite and memorable events for the year. I had never been to Mississippi and was looking forward to catching some neat microfish while I was there. Traveling around the state, we caught Bluntface Shiners, Longnose Shiners, Cherryfin Shiners and Longjaw Minnows. I waded a crystal clear stream near Jackson on the second day of the convention and caught a Redspot Darter at the head of a riffle near a log. We also found Topminnow species quite easily and caught Blackspotted Topminnows and Bayou Topminnows. Stepping up the micro hooks to size 22 hooks, we caught some beautiful Longear Sunfish and Dollar Sunfish as well. It was a wonderful trip, and we got to see a lot of beautiful locations that most of us hadn’t seen before. Lifelisting is a lot of microfishing, but regular fishing is done as well. While at the Strong River I caught a beautiful Blacktail Redhorse on a worm in a riffle near a deeper hole in the river.
To wrap up my trip, I headed back east and fished and microfished in Alabama and Georgia, catching some unique species and elevating my lifelist to over 375 species on hook and line. Microfishing and lifelisting take up most of my free time. I plan trips a year in advance to places I’ve never been, just to find a fish, catch it, take photos and release it. It may seem bizarre to Some people, and I get the strange looks from time to time, but I find myself enjoying it more and more as my lifelist grows. Every time I go out and fish, I learn something, it may be a small piece of the puzzle, but there is a lot to gain from experience as well. I am nearing 400 fish species on hook and line as I write this, even though I see my number as small, compared to some at the very least…
My ultimate goal is to reach 1000 species on hook and line, which there are a select group of anglers that have already attained that number. One of them, an older gentleman, has taken me under his wing and taught me tremendous amounts of information. With nearly 1200 species, George is still at it to this day. I also find myself mentoring fledging anglers these days, and I find myself enjoying that immensely. There is a lot to be learned from teaching as well, and I also enjoy the look on an anglers face when they catch a new species.
I am planning a trip to Tennessee as we speak, and hope to catch some fish to add to my lifelist. Tennessee is a great state for a wide amount of fish species and I tend to spend a lot of time there during the warmer months. Looking back at one of my original goals, catching every species in North Carolina and South Carolina… I am getting closer every day, but most of the remaining species that I haven’t caught are very difficult on hook and line. I will, however, remain focused on my goals and there is always more to learn with microfishing and lifelisting.