Sunday, June 18, 2017

Summer 2017 Spring Species Contest

The Spring Species Contest is an annual competition held by for whomever can catch the most species of standard-sized (no micros) freshwater fish species in the month of June.

This was my third year participating, and while I ended up with a much poorer performance than last year, I did end up catching some very cool fish.

June 1st was a day to knock off the easy targets. A quick walk to the golf course pond produced a largemouth bass and a bluegill, my first two species of the contest.

Wasting little time, after those two were caught I headed down to the stream to catch some other sunfish species, as well as a creek chub. 

Fishing with little jigs of various sizes, I was able to pretty easily catch a creek chub, followed by a redbreast sunfish, and then a rock bass. I find that the rock bass could be targeted specifically by utilizing larger lures that the redbreasts and bluegills couldn't fit into their comparatively smaller mouths, so by upping my lure size by quite a bit, I was able to catch the rock bass I was looking for. 

For some ungodly reason what  eluded me on that specific outing were the green sunfish and the pumpkinseeds; otherwise prolific and aggressive species. No worries, I was sure that I would come across them later. 

That night I made my way to another local pond, with the objective of catching a channel catfish for the contest. Arming myself with cut bait, I ended up connecting with a bunch of nice-sized channel catfish. 

Unfortunately, self-timer shots aren't always the best option....

I decided to fish later into the night, and that was when I caught what perhaps was my most memorable fish of the contest. 

As the sun dipped behind the trees, activity picked up; with my lines bouncing all over the place, likely from smaller fish nudging the bait but unable to get hooked. 

Intent on the small knocks, I failed to notice that the line on one of my rods had gone completely slack. How long it had been in that state, I'm still not sure. I picked up the rod, and slowly reeled my line. I felt a little bit of weight on the end, and set the circle hook by slowly sweeping the rod to the side. 

Immediately I knew that the fish was a higher caliber than the others I had caught thus far. A short fight later, however, I had it near the bank. It was still dark, and my headlight was dim, so I couldn't effectively make out its size. What I could tell, however, was that the hook was barely handing on on a tiny flap of skin. As soon as this fact became evident, the fish proceeded to death roll right next to shore and I watched with horror as the hook popped out.

Luckily, reflex kicked in and I dunked my arm into the water and scooped the fish out onto the bank before it hand a chance to regain its senses and make a break for it. Once the fish was on the bank, I realized its size. I had caught my new pb channel, a fish that crushed my previous one. 

Another stroke of luck—when I landed the fish, my dad had arrived and was able to take a proper photo. The day ended on a high note; with that fish still fresh in my mind I packed my things and headed home. There were several other species that needed to be caught in the following month. 

As aforementioned, the green sunfish and pumpkinseeds were supposedly two surefire species that I had failed to catch on my first outing. That was a fact that needed to be remedied. A trip back to the creek had me wondering how I ever struggled to catch them in the first place. I also caught a beautifully marked stream bass. 

Another local creek I knew had the potential to yield american eel, yellow bullhead, and stocker rainbow trout. Unfortunately, when I arrived the creek was blown out and more rain was to come. To my  great surprise, then, on the first drift with a bit of worm under a float I watched the float shoot down in a small eddy. I tightened up, and was connected to the first and only rainbow trout of the outing. 

A worm on the bottom quickly yielded a small yellow bullhead. 

The action died after those two fish were caught in short order, and the rain started to pour. I decided to call it a trip before I got soaked, without my american eel. Nonetheless, the outing was still successful, with two more species added to my contest total. 

A little while later in June I made to trip out to a nearby lake, which had the potential to yield multiple species I still needed for the contest, including white perch, which would be a lifer and had eluded me thus far, to my great surprise. I had fished in locations where I knew for a fact that they were plentiful, and had even seen them caught right next to me, and yet I still failed to capture one. 

Upon arriving to the lake, I sent out bottom-rigged nightcrawlers on two rods and fished another rod with a small jig.

Gently jigging by brush cover near the shoreline produced the first of many tiny black crappie: small, but another species to add to my contest total. 

One of the worm rods got a hit, and I reeled in an american eel, which had previously avoided me at the other creek. Another species!

Immediately after the eel, I noticed one of my other rods was twitching. I set the hook into a beautiful little white catfish, only my third ever catch of the species and my second from New Jersey.

As the day descended into night, I caught plenty more black crappie and a couple yellow bullheads. Still, however, the white perch eluded me.

Sometimes, you need a break from the contest grind. I made the decision to spend a couple hours on the golf course chasing big sunfish with lures, and had a blast. 

I don't know if this pumpkinseed is my biggest ever, but it has to be close—that thing was huge

Big bull bluegill

Several days later, I decided to make one last go at the white perch. Returning to my spot at the lake, I focused my efforts on jigging, this time using a smaller feather jig tipped with a little piece of Gulp!. 

As expected, the black crappies were out in full force. 

But as the sun got continuously lower, I noticed a grey flash behind my jig, far from the actual cover and more near the center of the bridge/dock I was fishing off of, in deeper water. I recast, and something hit it hard.

A short but spirited fight (definitely much tougher than the crappie) led to my first white perch! That's species #79.

Plenty more followed subsequently.

I think I cracked the white perch code at this specific lake—as dusk approached, they would rise towards the surface by the dock, but would go back down or to wherever they came from by dark. White perch are known to be a schooling fish. By nightfall, the black crappies returned.

With the white perch conquered, I set my sights on other venues to pursue perhaps even more elusive species. I traveled to a swampy tributary of the Delaware, in the hopes of catching a snakehead or a bowfin. 

Why don't I cut to the chase: my aspirations for this outing were largely unmet; a couple hours chucking chatterbaits, weedless frogs, and other lures yielded none of the mentioned species. However, the day was not wasted...

Upon my arrival to a weedy, shady backwater, I noticed tons of killifish-like fish swimming in the shallows. Having suspicions that these were mummichogs, which I still needed for my lifelist, I whipped out the tanago hooks (always gotta be prepared) and promptly caught one. 

Species #92: the mummichog.

Further fishing with micro gear led to this catch of a lit-up spawning male, dressed in sharp yellow and with blue edges on the fins.

With the larger predators evidently not cooperating, I set my sights on other, more plentiful species. Pumpkinseeds and green sunfish were readily available and eagerly pounced on the opportunity to bite a little piece of worm.

However, I poked around a piece of log with a small redworm, trying to see if I could entice any smaller, more interesting species.

That's when I saw a small, dark fish pop out from under the wood cover to suck in the worm, then promptly swim back to safety. I pulled tight, and lifted the fish out of the water—and froze.

It was a warmouth.

This sunfish species is incredibly uncommon in New Jersey, and I had no clue whatsoever that it would be present here. I knew of its relatively rare presence in a pond nearby, so looking back I shouldn't have been so shocked. Nonetheless, it caught me by complete surprise.

There's species #93: the warmouth.

This particular individual has a head almost half the size of its body. 

I also ended up catching a few turtles of interest.

Common snapping turtle

 Eastern Painted Turtle

Northern Red-bellied Cooter

Thus ended my adventures in pursuit of species for the contest. It was a fun month, and I ended with three new species from local waters! Check out to participate in the contest and forum!

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