Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Fishing Ecuador (again)

March 2018 led me to Ecuador again, on a similar botanical research expedition to the Cordillera del Condor region near the Peruvian border.

I was beyond excited to have the opportunity to fish South America once more; this time I was determined to encounter a greater diversity of species.

Like last time, fishing was a side project of mine, so I was always trying to use every possible bit of free time by the water. This year, due to either pure luck or increased knowledge and skill, the results were far better. 

The very first drift with a bit of worm under a float in a current seam resulted in a fish and a new species, Astyanax sp. cf. bimaculatus.

This is where the taxonomy starts getting confusing, as was the case for many of the species I caught on this trip. This particular Astyanax is a member of the massive A. bimaculatus group, most likely an undescribed species. However, as I have not caught A. bimaculatus before, this is species #118.

The Astyanax was it for the day, but I returned after sundown for a quick session and connected with a catfish species, Cetopsis plumbea, species #119. Interestingly enough, I only caught these fish in the pitch black of night—their vestigial eyes are also under their skin, as they have no use for them.

The next morning I was greeted by a Bryconamericus sp. I am fairly sure that this is the same species as I caught the previous year, so as of now, it is not a new species. However, since it remains unidentified, this status is open to revisions.

The current around the bend prevented me for fishing in the main channel, but using some of the smaller characins as cut bait in the slightly deeper water to the side, I received a solid whack on my rod and was ecstatic when I saw a pike cichlid on the end of my line! These voracious predators are high on my bucket list of fish to catch, and their diversity is incredible.

I believe this species is Crenicichla anthurus, species #120.

Just a couple minutes later, I was fishing the same setup and connected to a noticeably stronger fish—I had hoped for a new species, but as the fish came up in the muddy water, I realized it was another C. anthurus, albeit larger. Not what I had hoped, but welcome nonetheless.

In the meantime, I captured another Bryconamericus species fishing worms under a float, this time what I am fairly certain is B. brevirostris, making it #121. 

On a different location on the river, I caught some tiny brycons that I am positive will be impossible to identify.

The group also encountered ammonite fossils along the exposed limestone slabs on the banks of the river.

In the tannin-stained creeks from formed from waterfalls, I encountered another fish I have previously caught: Piabucina elongata. Plentiful and aggressive, I kept some for bait.

The last night before the team's departure to high camp, far away from the water, I spent some time soaking larger chunks of cutbait in the night in hopes of something larger.

In the light of my headlamp, I saw the rod tip twitch, then stay still. I carefully lifted the rod, and placed my fingers on the line. I felt some movement, so I set the hook and a battle ensued on my light gear. The fish was strong and used the current to its advantage, but I wasted no time in getting it to shore.

It was a brycon of some sort, but which species? A little research online revealed it to be Brycon coxeyi, species #122.

A heavy set of dental gear

I waited it out for a bit longer, but besides the ever-present Cetopsis plumbea, nothing else decided to show up.

It was off to high camp for field work. Suffice it to say, no fishing was done here. Below you can find an image of our only drinking water source for several days. 

After not showering for 4 days at high camp, I was glad to get back to the lodge to clean up but also to get some fishing in. 

Soaking worms on the bottom resulted in a Leporinus friderici, species #123. Of this identification I am rather uncertain. 

After that fish, I returned to the lodge to clean myself up.

Necessary hygienic activities aside, I returned to the river while everybody was catching up on some much-needed rest. I spotted some fish in a ditch by the path, and broke out the tanago hooks. I found Nile tilapia, an unwanted invasive that probably was the result of fish farm escapees. Nonetheless, a new species, this one #124.

Returning to my spot on the river, I caught another L. friderici, this one smaller but with clearer markings. I sent this guy out on a big circle hook, and received a screaming run. When I set the hook, I felt nothing but reeled in the tattered remains of this fishes head.

The next fish's hit almost sent my rod into the water, but I grabbed it just in time. After a hard fight, I brought in another anostomid. This one's identity remains a mystery to this day. The possibility remains that this is a large L. friderici, as the larger of the previous two specimens has slightly faded spots. If you look really carefully, you can see the markings where those spots would be. What is confusing is that exactly where the last black spot should be on the caudal peduncle is instead a definitively light marking. Still, because this fish remains unidentified, I will not count it as a new species until a verdict is come to.

The last night I was able to fish, although matters were complicated by a torrential rainstorm. The river rose about four feet, right into the underbrush.

Nonetheless, I was determined to stick it out in hopes of something new. I sent out worms in the dark, and was met with eager strikes, as expected, from catfish, which has hunting mechanisms not deterred by muddy, high water.

Only this time, the catfish looked different, much more like the bullheads back home. The species-specific identification of this fish is unknown, but I am confident it is of the Rhamdia genus. That makes it species #125.

The next catfish also wasn't a whale catfish, and it was different than the previous. I am calling this Rhamdia sp. and species #126. The differences between the previous catfish and the one below are as follows:
- Head shape; the first is more convex and the second is longer and flatter
- Body proportions; the first is far more elongate and its head is proportionally smaller
- Whisker proportions; the first's maxillary barbels reach past the base of its pectoral fin, while the second's maxillary barbels reach past the base of its dorsal fin
- The first exhibits a dark band across the posterior edge of its caudal fin, the second exhibits no such marking
- The second exhibits spotting, while the first is uniform in color

Based on these differences, I am confident in calling this a separate species, especially considering the taxonomy on south american siluriformes, especially this region, remains spotty at best.

I had set out a fish trap with bread, and captured a different Bryconamericus species. But since I didn't capture this with hook and line, it doesn't count on my list.

After the first two catfish, all the rest were Cetopsis. The one directly below looked slightly different, but since pigmentation is highly variable I am assuming for now all the whale catfish were Cetopsis plumbea.

That would conclude my fishing in Ecuador. 9 new species were caught, possibly more although at the moment I'm not sure. Aside from fish, a host of other flora and fauna were encountered, but that will be a separate post as the biodiversity of this region is unparalleled.

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