Dave's book has a great section on "minnows"... all of the baitfish that trout eat and we in turn try to imitate with streamer flies. In this section, Dave recounts a time when he met a man who was "fly fishing for sculpins" on the Norfork River in Arkansas. The man was using an old fly rod tip section, a couple of feet of monofilament, and a 1/2" long San Juan worm tied on a size 20 hook to catch the bottom dwellers which he sold to a local trout fishing resort as bait... the going rate... 25 cents a piece!
|Ozark Sculpin (Cottus hypselurus) from the White River, AR|
|Banded Sculpin (Cottus carolinae) from the Spring River, AR|
Dave's sculpin story got me thinking about all of the "minnows" I have unintentionally caught on the fly rod. Sadly, there have been many days when "minnows" were the only thing I caught. Although I did manage to catch 2 trout this weekend when Kelly and I went to the Spring River, I also caught 2 "minnows"... actually Bleeding Shiners... not wounded, that's just their proper name. (In case you were wondering... Yes, Kelly caught more trout than I did... 6... but who's keeping score?)
|An uncooperative fly caught Bleeding Shiner (Notropis zonatus)|
You may be wondering why I keep putting the word "minnow" in quotation marks. Well... as a biologist, I'm not a big fan of the word. I don't really claim it as part of my vocabulary. My training in biology and my experience as a naturalist has made me prefer to call things by their proper names. "Minnow" is a loaded word. It can mean a lot of different things, and depending on who you ask you will likely get different ideas of what is and is not a "minnow."
Merriam-Webster defines a "minnow" as...
- a: a small cyprinid, killifish, or topminnow b: any of various small fish that are less than a designated size and are not game fish
- a live or artificial minnow used as bait
|Logperch (Percina caprodes) from the Spring River, AR|
Some of the "minnows" I have caught over the years have been quite impressive. In Tennessee, we have a fish called a Tarpon... that's right... the "Tennessee Tarpon." This fish is actually a Skipjack Herring (Alosa chrysochloris), but if you ever see one you will understand the local name. They look very much like a tiny Tarpon... particularly because of their projecting lower jaw. I have only caught one, and it was not on a fly rod. I caught it one evening while fishing the Tennessee River in Knoxville with ultralight spinning gear. I admit I had no idea what it was. I immediately went home to look it up in a book, and subsequently did a little online research to discover that people actually do target them (sometimes with fly rods) for sport... and as bait for catching monster catfish. The "Tennessee Tarpon" I caught probably weighed a little over 1 lb. The Tennessee state and IGFA World Record is 4 lb... now that's quite a "minnow."
One of my best "minnows" caught on the fly was a River Chub from Cypress Creek in Alabama. I considered it to be picture worthy because it put up such a good fight.
|River Chub (Nocomis micropogon) from Cypress Creek, AL|
It was easily as big... or bigger than most of the wild trout I ever caught in the Great Smoky Mountains.
As a naturalist, the "minnows" are always a welcome bycatch. They let us know that our stream biodiversity is what it should be, and are often great indicators of the health of our waterways. Be kind to the "minnows" you unintentionally catch... remember that they feed all of those big hungry predators we're really after.