Wednesday, June 20, 2012

#38: Mr. Stripy Falls


As night was closing in on the weedy headwaters of the Taylor River in Hampton Falls, doubt crept in as well.  Research on the web clearly indicated that this acidic, brown-stained water should hold banded sunfish. But so far, Mr. Stripy was no where to be found.

Earlier in The Quest we had caught our redfin pickerel at this spot. It also holds numerous golden shiners and pumpkinseeds, and we have seen creek chubsuckers.  All of these are known habitat mates of the banded sunfish.

The good news is that this spot is close to Dave's house, which lends itself to repeated tries.  Tonight's attempt was probably number 15 or 20 for the banded sunfish. At first we fished in the open water, in the channel, thinking that the fish would seek the coolest, deepest water. But the water is at most 4 feet deep in this section and there is probably not much temperature difference.  Plus the open pools are dominated by golden shiners - voracious packs of glinting wolves that attack any small bit that lands in the water.  We were now changing tactics and fishing as tight to the weeds as possible.

In hindsight, we should have known banded sunfish were still water fish.  First clue is their shape - small, round fish with a rounded tail. In general round tails are not the best for speed.  Compare it the tail of a tuna and you can get a quick lesson in hydrodynamics.  Banded sunfish have wide round fins that are great for maneuvering in still water.  Also, according to our research banded sunfish are big mosquito predators. Most mosquito larvae need still water. Where the prey live, so live the predators.

Using a 10' fiberglass cane pole, 2 pound line, a small float and a #22 hook tipped with the front half of a garden worm, we plied the waters near a patch of pickerel weed.  The water was about 8 inches deep.  The yellow float laid motionless on the surface for a minute then began to orient in the water as if on a Ouija  board.  With a lift of the pole the fish was airborne.  Immediately we knew it was a candidate - about three inches long, sunfish shaped, living in the weeds.   Once in hand we knew we have finally caught Mr. Stripy.

Banded Sunfish, Enneacanthus obesus (f)
Round tail, no color on gill flap, dark line through eye.
Classic habitat in the upper reaches of the Taylor River in Hampton Falls, NH

Small fish, big success - #38
Voted the worst fish to hide behind.

A trophy for sure

Maybe Dave is a little too happy to catch this fish. 
Banded sunfish are a species of concern in NH. They are still legal to catch, but biologist are concerned because their habitat is so vulnerable to development and pollution. They are only found in the Southeastern parts of NH, however they range all they way down to Florida.

After so much effort and study, Dave felt pretty bad about killing this fish. But that is one of the lessons of The Quest: Things died when we eat them.  After he filleted the fish using a razor blade, he noticed that it was a female with eggs.  Ms. Stripy, Bummer.

Fish number 38 is cataloged.  Stay tuned, 'cause word on the street is that Clay bagged #39.

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