FANCY MINNOWS

Seining for Minnows in Sugar Loaf CreekThese guys call themselves "fish heads" in the same way that motor sport enthusiasts call themselves "gear heads." They are associated with the North American Native Fishes Association and the Native Fish Conservancy and they've come to Arkansas to make their own fun without video games or TV or expensively prefabricated thrills of any kind. Scraping that seine across the gravel and through the grass of Sugar Loaf Creek, they hope to net some of the local minnows for their aquariums back home. By the way, this is the tenth Arkansas geographic feature named on this website that goes by the name of Sugar Loaf.

Two of these guys are visiting from Michigan. The other is from Indiana. They started collecting minnows in Louisianna and are seining their way north in a van jam-packed with aerated coolers. The guy in the background with the pole net is from Missouri. He's more of a catch-and-release guy. He figures if he wants to see the local fish, it's less trouble to catch them and let them go than to keep them in a rack of tanks at home.

So what? Seen one minnow, seen them all, right? Take a closer look.

Rainbow Darter
Rainbow Darter

This is a rainbow darter, and depending on the time of year he can be about as colorful as much of what you find at your local tropical fish store. Colors are most intense in the spring when their little circulatory systems are crowded with sex hormones and they're all colored up for their seasonal mating and territorial displays.

If you have any interest in or questions about gathering native fish in Arkansas, the three people you need to know are in this picture. The guy in the green shirt is Bill Hoppe, and here is an email link to him. He was the host and guide of this excursion. The man with the camo waders and the professorial bearing is Mark Oliver, District Fish Biologist for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. You can't see much more than his hat and his ear, but also in this picture is Brian Wagner the State Nongame Aquatic Biologist.

As a sport fisherman who has spent a lot of time with a lot of streams and lakes, I thought I was pretty well informed about what goes on in any given body of water. It turns out there's a whole aquatic world that I had been ignoring in favor of a dozen or so game species.

Northern Studfish
Northern Studfish

If you're going to explore that aquatic world as these folks do, the first piece of equipment you need is a fishing license. The same license that entitles you to take bass and crappie also entitles you to net minnows. You also need to make yourself aware of endangered and threatened species so you'll know to return them immediately to the stream before the game warden comes around checking bags and tags. That would look really bad on a resume, getting busted for having snail darters in your bait bucket. I don't recommend skipping the license and pleading ignorance when the warden comes by. The laws against poaching in Arkansas are pretty harsh.

Stippled Darter
Stippled Darter

When you get your net, the technique that doesn't work at all is the one where you post the net across the stream and depend on the current to sweep fish into it. The guys in the top picture are demonstrating a bush-beating technique that paid off pretty well. Two team members hold the net open while others drive fish into it by scuffing along the gravel and flushing through the weeds with their feet.

Here's a list of species netted in Sugar Loaf Creek, Clear Creek and Crooked Creek.

Banded Sculpin
Banded Sculpin

Here are a couple of online resources Bill Hoppe recommended to me. The photo library at the Native Fish Conservancy is huge, and browsing it will give you some idea about what you've been missing. Also check out the website of the North American Native Fishes Association.

RTJ--6/1/2003


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