May 23, 2016

2016 US Midwest (Day 6)

We had 8 hours of driving ahead back to Toronto. But before we took to the road, there was one last effort to achieve Sturgeon greatness.

In the past, Ben and two others had fished on the Wabash River for a couple of hour and only caught one Shovelnose Sturgeon. We knew it would be a long shot but this was the best that we could salvage. Michael and I got up at 6am to search for Sturgeon before our long drive home. Oh, did I mentioned we didn't get to bed until 1:30am the previous night?

Getting to the river, I started to rig up with Sturgeon rigs when Michael said he got a fish on. He had cast out his light rod with a small piece of crawler on a small hook and caught a Skipjack Herring on the first cast. He didn't even know what it was. Did I ever mention how much I hate his stupid luck?

I tried for the next hour fishing half a crawler, jigs, and even tandem rigs hoping to find my own Skipjack Herring. After an hour, the sun was climbing higher and it was a grim reality for me.

Putting down the light rod, I tied on a Sturgeon rig to one rod and sent it into the current seam. Ben mentioned that the Sturgeon was caught close to shore near the current seam. I could distinctly feel the transition between rocky bottom and sandy bottom right at the seam. That's where the Shovelnose Sturgeon likes to forage.

While I was rigging up a second rod, Michael caught a Silver Chub on this Sturgeon rod. It took much more effort for me to catch one...probably another 20 minutes of fishing with a light rod. Meanwhile, Michael was catching them on the Sturgeon rod like they were going out of fashion.

But finally, I found one.

Silver Chub (Macrhybopsis storeriana) - Species #576

After catching the first one, the Silver Chub became annoying as they would chew away at the nightcrawler faster than the Sturgeon could find it. They could also somehow hook themselves and often, we found one at the end of the line when the line was reeled in to check for bait.

There were fish aggressively taking bait. Unfortunately all of them were Freshwater Drum early in the morning. This fish tried to drag my rod and reel into the river when I forgot to set the reel to freespool.

Michael decided to cast out as far as possible with 6oz of weight to keep the bait in the middle of the river. It wasn't long before he received a slow run and a unspectacular fight. It certainly looked like the right kind. Indeed, Michael was able to catch his lifer Shovelnose Sturgeon.

I wasn't too happy at this point - first missing out on the Skipjack Herring, and now perhaps the one and only Shovelnose Sturgeon in the river.

Michael offered the two rods to me to increase my opportunity. That was great, but we were quickly running out of worms. While I manned all the rods, Michael searched for a nearby bait shop.

With Michael's stupid luck out of the picture, I may actually finally get a break. And it was funny how this works sometimes. Not 5 minutes after I was fishing solo, my rod took a slow and deliberate run. I decided to take the reel off its clicker and let the fish take line freely. I had set much too quickly on two similar runs previously and missed both fish. This time, I didn't want to miss again.

When I finally engaged the reel and reeled the line tight, I would feel a decent weight on the end. The hook set properly and found a good hold and an unassuming fight begun. The fish was basically slowly planing in the current and I was able to crank it in without much fuss. As the line came closer and the line angle steepened, the mystery was unbearable. Was this my Shovelnose Sturgeon?

Heck yeah!!! There is really no way to describe the high when you tried hard for a species and be rewarded despite challenging conditions.

Shovelnose Sturgeon (Scaphirhynchus platorynchus) - Species #577!!!

I can now die without any regrets...

This Sturgeon was extra special since it was tagged by the Illinois DNR and it was caught in Indiana. I'm going to call the tag in the see what stories there was to tell.

I was going to kept the good news from Michael, and give him shit the entire drive home. That would be a really bad dick move...and at the end, I decided to spare him from abuse.

A few more drums were caught and then it went really quiet. The last fish caught was this Shorthead Redhorse. The Wabash River was in an intergrade zone where Shorthead Redhorse and Smallmouth Redhorse overlap, coexist and perhaps hybridize. I was hoping this fish could be a Smallmouth Redhorse, but after checking the morphology of the fish over and over again, I'm now pretty sure it was "just another" Shorthead Redhorse.

We lingered until 12pm wishing for more Sturgeon, but the Wabash determined that one Sturgeon each was as gracious as she would provide. On that note, we packed up and started our long drive home.

As with all my road trips, we were on the road more than we fished. In total, we had driven over 40 hours between the 6 days, fished only 35 hours but caught 27 new species. I would call it hugely successful. Our ability to catch our most coveted species, the Shovelnose Sturgeon, when the Mississippi River was flooded and we had to settled for the much less productive and much more inconsistent Wabash River, really turned the trip into a glorious one.

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