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Do You Really Know Your Local Baitfish? Apparently I Do Not

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January 08, 2013

Do You Really Know Your Local Baitfish? Apparently I Do Not

By Joe Cermele

Last weekend I decided not to be lazy and took a long wade to a secret hole on one of my favorite local streams. In the summer it's a fun wade. In the winter, not so much, especially considering it's a long shot that may or may not give up one or two holdover trout at best. Well, it gave up nothing except the little fish in the photo below, which I found dead on the water's edge. I unfolded its little fins, took one look at their shape and structure and thought, huh...that's a baby walleye.

I'm not a walleye expert, but I know what the fins of fish in the perch family look like. This find had me baffled, because I have never heard of walleyes inhabiting the stream I was fishing, nor, to the best of my knowledge, does it drain into any bodies of water that contain walleyes. The entire drive home I was thinking about all the deep, dark holes I knew of on the stream and wondering if there was a monster 'eye or two lurking in any of them.

All that wishful thinking ended with one Google search, which proved it was not a baby walleye at all. Five more Google searches and I learned that the fish was a shield darter. Now, I've heard of darters and I've seen them in various rivers and streams bolting at lightning-speed between rocks. I never thought much about them, or looked into them. If I had, I would have known that all 1,200-plus species of darter are members of the perch family, which explains the walleye fins. You learn something new everyday.

So how many of you are well-versed in baitfish species, took one look at the photo and made an ID? And how many of you would have picked up the dead darter and thought you just unlocked the secret to some hidden walleye population? 

Comments (15)

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from maynardtl8 wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

I'll go ahead and proclaim my ignorance. I know very little about my different baitfish species. All I really know are 'gills, shad, shiners, yellow perch, and the all inclusive "minnow".

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from DSMbirddog wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

For one thing there are a lot of different baitfish. My first look at your darter and I thought yellow perch. I know some of them but not all.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from hermit crab wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

Cool find, glad to hear you had a new experience on a familiar stretch of water!

I immediately pinned it as a darter, but determining species of darters is tough, especially when dead and starting to lose color (though this specimen still looks pretty good). Without knowing exactly where you found it and based off of one picture, I'd not dare a guess at an individual species.

Go pick up a small seine and do a drag through the creek when it's warmer. You might be shocked!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from vtbluegrass wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

I had it pegged right from the picture, but I cheated. I paid VA Tech a whole lot of money to know things like that.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from whitefishpress wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

Darters can be vicious predators. As kids we used to keep a 50 gallon tank and fill it with game fish; we'd get bass, sunfish, pike, etc. as fry and watch them grow. One year we made the mistake of putting in a rainbow darter. It basically decimated the tank within a week. Lesson learned -- if these guys grew to 24" in length, there wouldn't be tackle strong enough to land them.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from stick500 wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

I too had darters in my aquarium when I was a kid so I knew what fish this is. I kept a lot of different species from the Mississippi (Iowa) over the years and would let them go when they got too big or when I wanted to try something new. One of my favorites were baby gars- watching them snatch minnows was a blast.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from sgtsly wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

Don't have to know what it is, just adjust the color of your Clouser.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from 357 wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

looks like a minna to me

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from themadflyfisher wrote 1 year 13 weeks ago

I'm pretty much like maynard above. I know a few and the rest are "minnows". One of these days I'll have to do some field research and take a look at what's going on in the creeks and streams of some of my favorite spots.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from fishman417 wrote 1 year 13 weeks ago

well I only know sinners chin and the rest we just call minnows

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from fishman417 wrote 1 year 13 weeks ago

sorry chin is actually chin sorry

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from fishman417 wrote 1 year 13 weeks ago

sorry again on my kindle hard to type chin is chub

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from omarfishesalot wrote 1 year 13 weeks ago

darter? I looked at it and thought logperch. but Im no expert and you learn something new everyday cool find very nice looking fish.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from rballoutdoors wrote 1 year 13 weeks ago

I woulda thought it was perch myself but then again I know very little about my baitfish. I am mainly an adirondack angler and catch small mouth and largies in the mountain ponds but occasionaly go on pan fish expeditions. In my experience I would have called that a perch as well.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Matthew Matzek wrote 1 year 13 weeks ago

According to my granddad, any fish under a few inches is a "minner"

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

from sgtsly wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

Don't have to know what it is, just adjust the color of your Clouser.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from maynardtl8 wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

I'll go ahead and proclaim my ignorance. I know very little about my different baitfish species. All I really know are 'gills, shad, shiners, yellow perch, and the all inclusive "minnow".

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from vtbluegrass wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

I had it pegged right from the picture, but I cheated. I paid VA Tech a whole lot of money to know things like that.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from DSMbirddog wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

For one thing there are a lot of different baitfish. My first look at your darter and I thought yellow perch. I know some of them but not all.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from hermit crab wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

Cool find, glad to hear you had a new experience on a familiar stretch of water!

I immediately pinned it as a darter, but determining species of darters is tough, especially when dead and starting to lose color (though this specimen still looks pretty good). Without knowing exactly where you found it and based off of one picture, I'd not dare a guess at an individual species.

Go pick up a small seine and do a drag through the creek when it's warmer. You might be shocked!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from whitefishpress wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

Darters can be vicious predators. As kids we used to keep a 50 gallon tank and fill it with game fish; we'd get bass, sunfish, pike, etc. as fry and watch them grow. One year we made the mistake of putting in a rainbow darter. It basically decimated the tank within a week. Lesson learned -- if these guys grew to 24" in length, there wouldn't be tackle strong enough to land them.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from stick500 wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

I too had darters in my aquarium when I was a kid so I knew what fish this is. I kept a lot of different species from the Mississippi (Iowa) over the years and would let them go when they got too big or when I wanted to try something new. One of my favorites were baby gars- watching them snatch minnows was a blast.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from 357 wrote 1 year 14 weeks ago

looks like a minna to me

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from themadflyfisher wrote 1 year 13 weeks ago

I'm pretty much like maynard above. I know a few and the rest are "minnows". One of these days I'll have to do some field research and take a look at what's going on in the creeks and streams of some of my favorite spots.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from fishman417 wrote 1 year 13 weeks ago

well I only know sinners chin and the rest we just call minnows

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from fishman417 wrote 1 year 13 weeks ago

sorry chin is actually chin sorry

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from fishman417 wrote 1 year 13 weeks ago

sorry again on my kindle hard to type chin is chub

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from omarfishesalot wrote 1 year 13 weeks ago

darter? I looked at it and thought logperch. but Im no expert and you learn something new everyday cool find very nice looking fish.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from rballoutdoors wrote 1 year 13 weeks ago

I woulda thought it was perch myself but then again I know very little about my baitfish. I am mainly an adirondack angler and catch small mouth and largies in the mountain ponds but occasionaly go on pan fish expeditions. In my experience I would have called that a perch as well.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Matthew Matzek wrote 1 year 13 weeks ago

According to my granddad, any fish under a few inches is a "minner"

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

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