Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Iowa Fish Species – Perch Family

Three of Iowa’s popular game fish belong to the perch family. It also contains many other smaller members known as darters. Members of this family have rather slender, elongate bodies and a large bone on the gill cover that ends in a flat spine. The spiny and soft portions of the dorsal fin are completely separated. Larger family members feed mostly on fish, while smaller members eat small aquatic insects and crustaceans.

For more information about perch, visit the DNR website.

The yellow perch has a dark back with sides that are bright yellow to brassy green with seven dark, vertical bars. The lower fins are often tinged red-orange. It ranges from six to ten inches long and eats small aquatic insects, crustaceans, and fish. The perch is essentially a lake fish; it’s most abundant in the natural lakes. (It is common in some locations in the Mississippi.)
Perch move into shallows and deposit long, ribbon-like masses of eggs over sandbars, submerged vegetation, or brush in early spring. Young perch remain in schools near weed beds and are important food for other game fish and fish-eating birds. Larger perch move to deeper, cooler waters where they also form schools. Perch can be caught with a variety of natural baits with light tackle.

This is the largest member of the perch family, attaining weights over 20 pounds. (Most are much smaller.) It is a brassy olive buff above with a white belly. The tail fin has a white tip on the lower half. It has large, glossy whitish eyes and very sharp teeth.

Schools of walleye are found in natural lakes and larger rivers as well as larger constructed lakes. Shortly after ice-out, they move into shallow areas with gravel or rubble bottoms and some current to spawn. Adults return to deeper water after spawning where they feed mostly on fish near the bottom.

Walleye will take slowly trolled lures or rigged nightcrawlers. Casting minnows or small jigs with plastic tails also work effectively.

Sauger are very similar in appearance to walleye, but are smaller (most caught are less than 15 inches long). Three or four dark “saddles” mark their back and extend onto the sides. The bottom of the tail fin does not have a white tip.

Sauger distribution in Iowa is limited to the border rivers and the lower reaches of their tributaries. Although more likely to be found in turbid waters than walleye, their choice of habitat and their habits are similar.

Classroom Connections

Try these fun ideas to help your students learn more about identifying Iowa fish species.

  • Identification Relay: Have small groups of students start in designated place in your classroom marked by a cone. In the middle of the room, place Iowa fish name cards and pictures. When told to start, one person from each group runs to the cards. They must select a picture and it’s matching name card and bring it back to the group at their designated place. The group decides if it is a match. If it is the next person goes to the middle to attempt to bring back another match. This continues until a group has correctly matched all name and picture cards.
  • Fitness Fish:  Appoint an activity to each Iowa fish picture (ex. Brown trout=10 pushups, rainbow trout=10 crunches, brook trout=10 lunges).  List these on the whiteboard. The students will be in groups with a cone marking their starting line. On the start command, one person from the group runs to the middle where the pictures are located face down, picks one, and then returns to group with card. The group must then perform the activity associated with the species of fish. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Paddlefish Fishing Returns To Missouri and Big Sioux Rivers In 2015

Paddlefish fishing will return to the Missouri and Big Sioux rivers for the first time since 1986, when the Iowa Department of Natural Resources opens the season on March 1.

The paddlefish season had been closed on Missouri River in 1986 due to concerns that habitat loss, altered hydrology and migration barriers created by reservoirs could jeopardize the population. In 1979, the Iowa Geological Survey Bureau reported that 61,642 acres of habitat between Sioux City and Hamburg was lost when the river was channelized.

Paddlefish are one species that have demonstrated resilience to changes in the river. Catch rates from netting surveys mirror results from other large Midwestern rivers. Unfortunately, usable population estimates from mark and recovery studies have eluded biologists. But that could change with help from anglers.

“This new season could provide us with enough angler collected data of recaptured tagged fish to provide us with a population estimate that we would have some level of confidence in. We encourage anglers to report any tagged fish they catch,” said Van Sterner, fisheries biologist for the Missouri River with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The tag is a small aluminum band around the fish’s lower jaw. Each tag has a unique identification number, tagging agency information and a phone number.

To participate, anglers will need a special Missouri and Big Sioux River paddlefish license – limited to 950 resident and 50 nonresident – that are on sale only from Dec. 15 to Jan. 31. A resident license sells for $22 and nonresident for $42. Anglers must also have a valid Iowa fishing license.

The Missouri and Big Sioux paddlefish season is March 1 to April 15. Those season dates were selected to coincide with the increasing discharge from the upstream federal reservoirs and when the fish are in their prespawn migratory pattern. Catch rates from netting surveys are highest during the spring rising discharge.

Snagging paddlefish on the Missouri River is different than other rivers where paddlefish will concentrate in tail water areas.

“These fish are extremely migratory, traveling hundreds of miles. They will try to get out of the current when they can so areas behind wing dykes with slow moving, deep water will be places to target,” Sterner said. “They don’t associate with the bottom like catfish, but will be suspended so watch the electronics and if they are there, you should see them.”

The flood of 2011 created scour holes in the river that have been popular with paddlefish and for anglers who can find them.
The Missouri River is a fast flowing river so anglers should be prepared to use heavy weights – from one ounce on up to 4-4-1/2 ounces, a medium-heavy to heavy rod at least six feet long and braided line of at least 50 pound test strength. Treble hooks can be no larger than 5/0 or measuring more than 1-1/4 inches in length when two hook points are placed on a ruler.  It would also be wise to wear a lifejacket while on the water.

The state record 107 pound paddlefish was caught in the Missouri River in Monona County in 1981. Paddlefish is an ancient species. It doesn’t have any bones and eats by straining zooplankton from the water. It reaches maturity at 6 or 7 years of age and can live for 30 years or more.

The slot limit requiring the release of all 35-45 inch fish protects the primary breeding stock. Most of the fish harvested will probably below the slot limit. The firm white flesh of the paddlefish is excellent table fare as long as the red meat near the skin is trimmed off.

The paddlefish license is required for the Missouri and Big Sioux rivers, but not for the Mississippi and Des Moines rivers.

MEDIA CONTACT: Van Sterner, Fisheries Management Biologist, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, 712-249-1997.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Iowa Fish Species – Catfish Family

Catfish are the most widely distributed and abundant sport fish in Iowa waters. Ten species of catfish are found in Iowa. Channel catfish and flatheads make up an important part of the commercial fishery catch in the Mississippi River, and are one of the most popular game fish.

They have no scales and eight fleshy barbels (“whiskers”) surround the mouth. They also have an adipose (fat) fin behind the dorsal (back) fin.

Most catfish are opportunistic bottom feeders that eat all types of living or dead animal and plant material. They depend heavily on their senses of smell and taste to locate food. The characteristic barbels are highly sensitive to touch and contain taste buds as well. As a matter of fact, catfish have taste receptors all over their bodies.

For more information about catfish, visit the DNR website.

Channel catfish are common to abundant in most Iowa rivers and have been stocked into nearly all lakes and reservoirs as well as many farm ponds. They have a deeply forked tail fin and dark spots on the body that distinguish them from other species. (The only other catfish with a forked tail is the much less common blue catfish.) They spawn in the late spring and summer in secluded, often enclosed, places along the bank or bottom. The male guards the eggs until they hatch.

Channel catfish eat at all times, but are most aggressive at night. The best times to fish for them are early morning, late evening, or at night. They are caught with nightcrawlers, chicken livers, or prepared baits on a treble hook fished on the bottom. Deep holes or tail waters of dams are favored channel cat habitat.

There are three types of bullheads found in Iowa waters, but black bullheads are, by far, the most common. Bullheads are much smaller than channel catfish (very rarely exceeding one to two pounds) and have rounded or square, rather than forked, tail fins. Bullheads usually are found in shallow, quiet, weedy waters. They grow rapidly and it is not unusual for them to overpopulate an area and become stunted.

They fan out saucer-shaped nests and both parents guard the eggs. The fry are herded about in tight schools by the parents for a while. Like the channel catfish, bullheads can be taken using worms or prepared baits on a treble hook fished on the bottom. They are more active after waters have warmed to at least 60 oF.

The flathead, one of the largest catfish, commonly reaches twenty pounds. It has a flattened head and mottled brown color. It is found mainly in the border rivers and large interior rivers in Iowa.

Flatheads spawn in secluded hides during June and July. They build nests and guard the eggs and young. They usually are in deep pools with mud bottoms. Although they are more important as a commercial species, flatheads can be caught with large live baits fished on the bottom. They feed mostly at night.

Classroom Connections

Try these fun ideas to help your students learn more about identifying Iowa fish species.

  • Ask small groups of students to brainstorm as many species of fish that can be found in an Iowa aquatic habitat as they can. After 3-4 minutes, ask each group to share one of the species they discussed.  
  • Provide pictures of each fish species found in Iowa waters on a card along with the name card for each species.  Have your students (working in small groups) match the name card to the picture card. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Tips for Cold-weather Trout Fishing

If you want to fish this winter in Iowa without stepping out on the ice, check out northeast Iowa’s trout streams, which rarely freeze and are open for fishing year-round. Or if you’re not able to make the trip, a number of urban lakes statewide are stocked with trout for a new fishing experience through the ice.

If you’re angling for trout this winter, here are some tips:

Trout streams
Go small for winter stream trout.
Small jigs, midges and wooly buggers - black in color - work great, along with small black spinners and raps that imitate minnows.

Go wild.
Many northeast Iowa streams offer plenty of wild brown trout, along with the holdover stocked fish throughout the winter into spring.

Take it slow.
Fish still need to feed in the winter, but they aren’t as active and won’t travel as fast or as far to strike. That means presentation is key during winter - move, cast and retrieve, being precise, slow and easy. If using an indicator, downsize that as well.

Urban trout
Freeze it up.

Unlike trout streams, winter fishing for trout in stocked urban ponds is done through the ice. Typical ice fishing equipment should be used, and bait your hooks , ice jigs, etc., with waxworms and don’t forget jigging spoons.

Get flashy.
Try jigging spoons, small black spinners and raps that imitate minnows. Add some flash to your presentation.

Fish keep close to home.
Fish close to the stocking area early on. As the fish become accustomed to their new home, they begin to spread out. Fish close to the surface, as that’s where trout are used to feeding.

Learn more about Iowa’s trout streams, including maps and stocking schedules.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Iowa Fish Species

The next couple of weeks we will feature Iowa fish families and species. We begin with the sunfish family. For more information about sunfish, visit the DNR website.

Twelve species of sunfishes inhabit Iowa waters. Because of their diverse habits, sunfishes of one kind or another are found in every part of the state. All sunfishes have at least one spine at the front part of the dorsal fin, which is never completely separated from the rear portion. Their bodies are deeply compressed laterally with pelvic fins nearly beneath the pectoral fins. Members of the sunfish family are popular sport fish.

This fish has a very large mouth that, when closed, extends past at the eye. The spiny and soft portions of the dorsal fin are almost separated and the slender body is shaded green with a continuous dark stripe along the side. The belly is light green to white. Largemouth bass reach lengths up to 16 inches in their third year of life.

The largemouth is found statewide in weedy lakes, ponds, and quiet rivers. It seldom is found deeper than 20 feet, preferring warmer water. The largemouth usually deposits its eggs on roots of submerged plants or grass over rocky or mud bottoms in water one and one-half to three feet deep. The male usually builds a nest prior to spawning.

Largemouth eat mainly fish, crayfish, and large insects but will eat most any animal in the water that it can swallow. It is active at night.

Bluegill is the most abundant and widespread member of the sunfish family in Iowa. It is found in nearly all waters of the state but is far more abundant in lakes and ponds than is streams and rivers. It has a dark back, yellow or reddish-orange belly, vertical bars along the sides, and a bright blue chin and gill covers. Like other sunfish that live in still waters, bluegill usually are located near weed beds where they can find both food and hiding areas.

White bass

This fish has a deep body that is flattened side to side, two dorsal fins, spines in the anal and dorsal fins, and a spine on the gill cover. The body is blue-gray on the back and silver on the sides. The dorsal, anal, and tail fins are slate gray. The eyes are yellow. The sides have dark stripes, but they may be hard to see. The first stripe below the lateral line (sensory organ on the side of the fish) is not continuous; it has spaces between the dark sections. Teeth are present on the back of the tongue.
White bass live in lakes, rivers, and reservoirs, preferring those with a sand or rock bottom. It lives in schools that hunt together. It feeds near the surface in the early morning and late evening, eating fish and insects. Small fish sometimes may be seen jumping out of the water to avoid being eaten by this predator. White bass seldom lives longer than four years.

The black crappie is a deep-bodied fish, flattened side to side. Its back is arched in front of the dorsal fin and dips over the eye giving it a “hump-backed”appearance. It has a green back, silver or white sides with black or green speckles, and a silver or white belly. The anal fin is nearly as long as the dorsal fin. The dorsal fin has seven or eight spines, differing from that of the white crappie that has six. The dorsal, tail, and anal fins are heavily pigmented with black.

The black crappie lives in creeks, rivers, lakes, and ponds. It prefers clear water with little or no current and many hiding places like submerged logs and plants. It eats insects, small fish, and crustaceans. It moves in groups around submerged objects and may be found at depths of 15 feet or more but moves to shallow water to spawn.

Classroom Connections
Try these fun ideas to help your students learn more about the general characteristics of Iowa fish species.
  • Ask students to describe a fish. Compare fish characteristics to human characteristics. Do you think these sense functions the same way for humans?
  • Have students compile a list of fish species common to your area.
  • Create a class fish identification booklet - include general characteristics, habitat, where found in Iowa, foods, etc.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Tips for Selecting the Right Bow

If you’ve decided to take up bowhunting or bowfishing – or maybe you’ve been inspired by Katniss Everdeen to learn how to shoot a bow and arrow – you’ll need to have the right equipment. If you’re just starting, the best way to find a bow is to take an experienced archer or hunter with you to an experienced archery shop.

Use these tips to find the right bow for you:

Know your bows.
While “bow and arrow” might bring up visions of Robin Hood, modern bows are much more sophisticated and varied. Recurve bows are more like the traditional bow, as you draw them back by hand. The bow’s limbs curve slightly and point away from you when the bow is in shooting position. Longbows have straighter, more narrow limbs. A compound bow uses cables and wheels to ease the draw of the arrow and reduce the arm strength needed to shoot the arrow. Compound bows are often the best bows for beginners.

Measure your draw length and weight.
You’ll want a bow that fits you, so you’ll need an appropriate draw length – the distance between the bowstring and your grip on the arrow when the bow is at full draw. You can do this by measuring your wingspan – hold out your arms away from your body and measure from one fingertip, across your back and to the other fingertip. A number of charts online can help you convert your wingspan to draw length. If you’re looking for a bow for kids, bows without a draw length allow the bow to grow along with your kids. The draw weight is the pressure it takes to draw the bow back. Start with a bow weight you’re comfortable with and work your way up.

Find your dominant eye.
Just like you’re probably right- or left-handed, you also have one eye that you tend to use more than the other. That’s called eye dominance, and it’s easy to determine if you’re left eye or right eye dominant – and it’s not always the same as your hand dominance. Take both hands and make a hole or circle between your hands; hold the circle in front of your body with your arms extended and both eyes open. Frame an object in the distance with the circle and slowly bring your hands to your eye. The eye you bring it to naturally is your dominant eye. There are right-handed and left-handed bows – but go by your eye dominance. So if you’re right-handed but left eye dominant, buy a left-handed bow.

Target shooting
Target archery is the best way to get started in archery, allowing you to practice and gain experience with the bow before heading out to the field. Many archery ranges have archery facilities, or you can buy a target and practice in your backyard, if city ordinances allow. Kids can get started in the Archery in the Schools program, too. With some practice, you could even end up in the Olympics, like Iowan Miranda Leek.

Turkey hunting
If you plan on using your new archery skills to take a turkey, you’ll want to look for a compound bow. Because these bows can be held longer and shoot flatter, they’re a good choice for hunters using ground blinds. But be sure to match your bow to your blind and give yourself plenty of room for the limbs of the bow. Longbows and recurves are generally better for stalking, since they feature a quick draw and release. They’re also usually too tall for a blind. Once you have your new bow, be sure to practice with the new bow with your hunting clothes on.

Deer hunting
Start with a compound bow – other bows take more time to become proficient. Compounds can be more forgiving and are easy to learn to shoot on. Get comfortable before the season starts and practice shooting with your hunting clothes on. If you’ll be using a tree stand, familiarize yourself with the harness on the ground first and practice shooting from a sitting position.

It’s not necessary to buy a separate bow for every use – you can use one bow for everything, including bowfishing. You’ll just need to modify the bow by adding an arrow rest for the heavier fiberglass arrow, as well as a reel to bring the arrow back in. Be sure to get familiar with both state regulations and local ordinances on bowfishing before you head out.

Learn more about shooting sports from the DNR's Shooting Sports program.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Trout Streams Provide Quality Fishing Through the Winter

Driving around northeast Iowa last weekend, it was apparent that trout fishing remains a popular fall activity when every parking spot at North and South Bear Creek and Waterloo Creek was filled.

“That was good to see,” said Mike Steuck, fisheries supervisor for interior streams with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Interest in trout fishing usually peaks from April through October, which is the DNR stocking season for roughly 325,000 catchable-size trout each year. But many of those fish will remain in the stream through the winter, providing an experience of fishing for more wild fish with possibly fewer competing anglers.

In addition to the hold-over stocked fish, Iowa has more than 40 trout streams with consistently naturally reproducing brown trout and another 30 streams where natural reproduction is occurring, but not consistently. These streams have a lot of wild fish available for anglers to test their skills.

“It’s a busy place this time of year,” Steuck said. “We have quite a bit of public ground and public streams so you can always find a place to fish.”

Iowa’s trout season is open all year. Iowa’s trout streams are too.

Even during the coldest of cold spells, the streams are not likely to freeze over for very long due to a steady flow of spring-fed water around 50 degrees.

The spring fed streams also have occasional insect hatches on warm afternoons during the winter, which is good news to anglers using dry flies.

“Most common hatches in the winter are midges and they are really small, so dry flies will need to be size 24 or smaller,” Steuck said. When midges are not hatching, he suggests sticking with nymphs.

“Of course if you don’t have the patience for fly fishing, you can always use minnows, spinners, jigs, and the plain hook with a night crawler,” he said. Black or brown jigs that imitate beetles and scuds, minnow imitations, small raps, and rooster tails and panther martens work also.

Fall offers an opportunity to catch some larger brown trout that spawn in shallow rocky areas in the fall.

“Be careful where you’re stepping, to avoid disturbing the redds,” he said. Redds are a cleared area in the gravel, usually with a bit more current in it to keep the nest clean.

While much trout fishing attention in the fall and winter focuses on the events surrounding the stocking in ponds and small lakes around the state, plenty of good fishing remains in trout country, Steuck said.

“We have a lot of fish remaining in our streams and plenty of opportunities to catch them,” he said.

For more information, contact Mike Steuck, Fisheries Supervisor for Interior Streams, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, 563-927-3276.