June 14, 2014

Ambiguous Lifer Hunting

I saw my first River Redhorse 4 years ago while fishing for Longnose Gar. At the time, I was not aware that River Redhorse spawned in that particular river. These huge red tailed Redhorse were there for the taking, but they caught me without any worms that day. Since then I had been going back every year to look for them but had not seen them since. However, Eli and I found a river close to him that has a population of River Redhorse.

For the past two years, I had visited Eli in Ottawa to fish for the River Redhorse (Moxostoma carinatum). The River Redhorse is one of the six species of Redhorse found in Ontario. Although it attains the largest size, with 10lb+ individuals not uncommon, it is the second rarest and only occurs in a handful of large rivers. This river was not only a major spawning site, but also the rearing habitat for young-of-year and juvenile River Redhorse. When Eli told me the Rivers had arrived to spawn, timing is of the essence to catch one of these rarities.

I had hoped to arrive in Ottawa early, but traffic threw me a curve ball. It took me an extra two hours to drive from Toronto to Oshawa from a sick combination of rush hour traffic, cottage traffic and road construction. I was surprised that there wasn't an accident throw in for good measure to mess me up.

Since I arrived at Eli's new address at 9pm, there was no daylight to fish. We decided to start early the next morning instead.

Jun 14, 2014

We woke up at 5:30am on Saturday and was fishing by 7am. Not long after, we caught the first of millions of small Yellow Perch that would plague our lines for the next two days. Many of them were so ravenous that they deep hooked themselves...and I bet the Northern Pike in this river thanks us for all the free floating dead perch.

Not long later, Eli had a good fish that materialized as a juvenile Lake Sturgeon! He has caught sturgeon here before, so this was not entirely a surprise.

For most of the day, we were "perched"...over and over again. There was no getting away from them...and they simply depleted our worms quickly.

Eli had to leave at around 12pm. He wished me luck on the River Reds. When I had a good hit and a heftier fish, I was really hoping Eli was right...but the fish ended up as a disappointing Channel Catfish. :(

When Eli returned at 1:30pm, he came with a tanago rod. We saw some shiners with what appeared to be orange head. We thought they might have been Rosyfaced Shiner. When we caught some, they were simply Emerald Shiners. Perhaps the reddish coloured water was reflecting off the shiny scales.

A couple of hours later, Eli caught a Shorthead Redhorse and a Silver Redhorse in rapid succession. Both fish fooled us thinking we had the right kind.

Eli had to leave again at 4:30pm and left me with some good vibes. Just as Eli was leaving, two guys and a girl arrived. They positioned themselves in a slack water spot. Within 5 minutes after they started fishing, the girl brought what appeared to be a big Redhorse to shore, only to lost the fish in the shallow water. I was too far away to see if it was a Silver Redhorse or a River Redhorse, but at least the Redhorse continued to bite.

About an hour later, I hooked into a better fish. When I saw the red tail, I was very excited...until I saw the head of the fish. At first, I called this fish a Shorthead Redhorse. Then I saw the lips and the lips looked like those belonging to a River Redhorse. This fish was only 15 inches long. It could either be a juvenile River Redhorse or an adult Shorthead Redhorse. Juvenile River Redhorse can be mistaken for Shorthead Redhorse. The head definitely looked like a Shorthead Redhorse, but the lips were confusing me. Can this be a hybrid? This was the first ambiguous catch of the weekend.

Half an hour later, I received a very subtle hit and set the hook into a strong fish. Could this be my River? No. :(

I love big Silver Redhorse...but I really wish this was a River Redhorse instead.

Just before 8pm, I thought I had caught yet another millionth Yellow Perch...until the fish came to hand and it was my third Sauger ever! My previous picture of a Sauger was very poor, with my hand covering most of the fish. This picture was perfect for the lifelist.

By 8:30pm, I had to wrap up the fishing before it got too dark to hike back. We finished Day 1 with some Redhorse and we were hopeful that Day 2 would bring the right kind.

Jun 15, 2014

Another early start and we were fishing by 8am. We were tormented by yet another million Yellow Perch, with the welcomed diversion of a couple of Bluegill Sunfish that I caught in some slack water. I was focused on the slack area today since Eli caught his two River Redhorse here last year, and others had caught River Redhorse here in the past. But the slack was also preferred by Yellow Perch. It took a lot of patience to weed through perch after perch after perch.

Just after 12pm, I had a bite that felt different and a fight that was definitely different since the fish tried to jump. It was a feisty Mooneye!

Not too long later, I had a strong fish in the slack. It felt a little like the right kind, but up came a Freshwater Drum.

Another cast and another Freshwater Drum fooled me...at least it wasn't a Yellow Perch.

Oh right...the Yellow Perch came back...and we were catching perch non-stop.

Aside from still fishing on bottom, Eli and I also tried to bottom bounce with slinky rig. Although this allowed us to search for fish, we didn't find any Redhorse. Eli went back to the sit-and-wait method at about 4pm. When he saw a giant River Redhorse surfaced, he placed the bait in the approximate area. Although this sight-then-cast method usually doesn't work with Redhorse fishing, he got a solid hit 5 minutes later and fought a strong fish. Just as we were about to get a look, the fish snapped off. Judging simply by the fight, it felt like the right kind.

A few more casts later, Eli hooked into another strong fish but it was a Silver Redhorse. It appeared that the Redhorse were holding is faster water today...and I had fished most of the day in the slack water. :(

Eli had to leave at 6:30pm for Father's Day dinner. I continued to fish in the fast current until dark, but I was fooled 4 times by Channel Catfish up to 3lbs and a couple more Mooneye.

Although the fishing was fun and the company was excellent, I felt completely unaccomplished after fishing this river for 24 hours in total and coming up with only an ambiguous "red tailed" Redhorse. Three years after seeing my first River Redhorse, I remained a River Redhorse virgin...

Jun 16, 2014

Earlier in the spring, Eli caught some fish that we couldn't confirm by picture whether they were Golden Shiner or Rudd. From Eli's picture, the fish appeared to have fully scaled keel between the pelvic fins and the anal fin. Such feature would suggest these fish were Rudd, but the fins were not red in colour. Eli suggested that I should catch some and check them out in person on my way home.

It took a while to find the school. While looking for them, the water was filled with these. If you fish for carp, you know how attractive these looked. These carp were lucky I didn't have any suitable bait with me...

While probing the area fly fishing with nymphs, I caught some handsome Pumpkinseed and Bluegill Sunfish.

I also came across this Snapping Turtle munching on a Brown Bullhead.

Finally, I found the school...all the way close to the mouth of the creek where it joined the Rideau Canal. I caught 5 of them and all of them looked like Golden Shiners but they all had fully scaled keel. Could these be hybrid Golden Shiner x Rudd? Hybrids are known to occur, but it is hard to believe that all the fish were hybrids, especially since Eli and I caught these fish on separate days and it was unlikely we were fishing the same school of fish.

I was about to keep one fish to send to a fishery expert, but the fish's googly eyes convinced me to release it. Little did the fish know that a 2lb Largemouth Bass was waiting hidden in ambush at my feet and the only sign of the poor little fish was a cloud of slowly sinking scales.

The Rudd would have been another lifer for me, but these fish were too ambiguous to call Rudds.

I made a second stop on the way home to search for Greater Redhorse, but it appeared the spawning run was long over and the fish had left the creek.

There was one last spot I like to explore in Kingston for Brook Silverside where Eli had caught them easily in the past. However, it was raining steady and heavily when I arrived in Kingston. After waiting 30min in the car for the sky to clear, I gave up waiting when the rain intensified.

I caught a total of 11 species on this weekend. Most were fun except for the annoying tiny Yellow Perch. The River Redhorse had yet again eluded me. I take comfort that the more effort went into catching a lifer, the sweeter it'll feel when I eventually catch it.

Thanks to Eli and Alisha for hosting me all weekend! Hope to do it again in the future...and one of these days I'll get that River Redhrose!

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