Thursday, January 29, 2015

Trout in the Classroom

Some classes have a pet hamster or guinea pig. But some northeast Iowa classes have trout—and they’re raising them from eggs and releasing them in Iowa streams. A national Trout Unlimited program, Trout in the Classroom, allows students to raise fish and learn about their habitat and the importance of clean water.
The Driftless Chapter of Trout Unlimited, covering six northeast Iowa counties, usually funds the tank and equipment, while the DNR provides trout eggs, fish food and technical expertise.
“When you look at our Driftless Trout Unlimited group, I’m one of the young guys at age 48,” says chapter president Kent Kleckner. “It’s the idea of getting some exposure to the youngest generation and getting them interested in what it takes to keep our water clean and safe for trout.”
Ryan Rahmiller, a teacher at Charles City Middle School and Trout Unlimited member, thought the program would fit well with a unit on human-environment interaction. Students talk about the nearby Spring Creek watershed, sources of pollution, a trout’s life and trout across America, while also caring for the young trout, taking water tests and cleaning the tank.
“Trout serve as a real-life example of the relationship between humans and the environment,” says Rahmiller, who also started a fly fishing club at the school. “It’s a good program to get kids involved. They’ll never remember a worksheet, but they’ll think about the actions they take.”
Rahmiller’s wife Amanda, also a teacher at Charles City Middle School and TU member, now leads the trout program there. Last year, she moved the fish release to the Decorah fish hatchery, where students took a tour, fished, took water samples and more.
“There are lots of students interested in the outdoors, but they don’t get those opportunities in school,” she says. “Students enjoy things that are hands-on and have a real-world aspect to it.”
They’re also quick to tell their parents about what they’re learning, making the project the talk of the community. Folks on the street would often stop to ask about the trout, says recently retired Decorah Middle School teacher Meg Storkamp.

“We learned a lot about the resource in our area, and it was just a very engaging activity,” Storkamp said. “Because it’s in your backyard, kids might not appreciate trout streams. This helps them relate to why we want to care for this resource.”

This article originally appeared in the Admiration and Legacy section of the September/October 2014 issue of Iowa Outdoors magazine

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Ice Conditions Deteriorating Across Southern Iowa

Winters on-again off-again appearance this year is causing ice conditions on lakes to deteriorate across much of southern Iowa. In central Iowa, many areas have around six inches of good ice under an inch or two of poor ice.

“The stretch of warm and windy weather we are experiencing will likely cause many of our areas to deteriorate, especially along shore. Anglers should use caution around the edges when getting on and off the ice,” said Ben Dodd, fisheries biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

The forecast calls for more seasonable temperatures for the weekend, but it might not be enough for ice fishing to return to some areas.

Ice conditions from around Hwy. 20 and north hasn’t been impacted as much, but either way, anglers should use caution as the unseasonably warm weather can cause conditions to change rather quickly.

DNR fisheries technician Kurt Meek said Clear Lake has quality ice over much of the lake, with 17-18 inches of ice in the little lake area. “We’ve had a few anglers pull their permanent shacks off Clear Lake ahead of the warm weather as a precaution,” Meek said.

With winter seemingly losing its grip, ice anglers are encouraged to bring safety equipment with them; 50 feet of rope, a throwable cushion and a spud bar.

Ice depths are not uniform on any body of water and there is no such thing as safe ice. There are many factors that impact ice formation making some locations thinner than others. With the warm weather, ice conditions can change a lot in one day. Verify the ice thickness for yourself and test it often.

“Don’t go out alone and if the ice does not look right, don’t go out,” Dodd said.

Media Contact: Joe Larscheid, Bureau Chief of Fisheries, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, 515-201-3376.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Paddlefish Fishing Returns to Missouri and Big Sioux Rivers

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 was closed on the 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 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 in which we would have some level of confidence. 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 – fewer than 500 licenses are still available, and will only be sold through January 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 or 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 be 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. A license may be purchased either via the Iowa DNR online licenses sales website or the general Iowa DNR website or by telephone at 1-800-367-1188.

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

Friday, January 16, 2015

Ice Fishing Clinics

Learn the basics of ice fishing by attending a local fishing clinic – bring the whole family. Anglers are reminded to have a valid 2015 fishing license, if they are age 16 or older.

9:00 a.m. - Palo Outdoors (1204 1st St., Palo)
10:00 a.m. - Thorpe Park (34496 110th Avenue, Forest City)
11:00 a.m. - Blue Pit (1059 S Pierce Ave., Mason City)
1:30 p.m. - North Ridge Park Pond (Holiday Road, Coralville)
1:30 p.m.  - Bacon Creek (east edge of Sioux City)

9:00 a.m. - Big Lake Park, Gilbert Pond (1433 Big Lake Road, Council Bluffs)
12:00 p.m. - Mooreland Pond (East of Moorland on Hwy 20)
1:00 p.m. - Marr Park Lake (2943 Highway 92, Ainsworth)
1:00 p.m. - Langwood Education Center Pond (14019 H Avenue, Wapello)

9:00 a.m. - Rodgers Park Lake (2113 57th St Trail, Vinton)
1:00 p.m. – Lake Petoka (northeast edge of Bondurant)

9:00 a.m. - Lake Ahquabi (15565 118th Ave., Indianola)
10:00 a.m. - Big Hollow Lake (18829 Ranger Lane, Sperry)
12:00 p.m. - Ada Hayden Heritage Park Lake (5205 Grand, Ames)
2:30 p.m. - Kent Park Lake (2048 Highway 6 NW, Oxford)

1:00 p.m. - Thomas Mitchell Lake (4250 NE 108 St., Mitchellville)

9:00 a.m. - Black Hawk Lake (202 Main Street, Lake View)
1:00 p.m. - Easter Lake (2830 Easter Lake Drive, Des Moines)

Iowa's Largest Fish: Paddlefish

Missouri River Biologists are collecting amazing movement data on paddlefish. Fish number 90868 was tagged near Sioux City in March of 2011. It was recently harvested by a commercial fisherman near Paris, Tennessee. The fish traversed over a thousand river miles and covered 4 rivers and 5 states.

Paddlefish grow quickly, reaching two feet in their third year or life. A 17-year-old paddlefish averages five feet in length and weighs about 37 pounds. These fish can live a long time, with many living more than 20 years, and it’s not unusual for them to make it past 30. They’ve also been in our waters a long time, appearing about 50 million years before the first dinosaurs.

These giant fish subsist only on a diet of small insects and animals floating in the water. Paddlefish stand out from other Iowa fish with their long, paddle-like snouts, a shark-like body and no scales. But unlike a shark, mature paddlefish have no teeth. They swim with their mouths open to filter food out of the water. At one time, paddlefish were easy to find in the Mississippi Valley, but over-fishing and changes in the environment have reduced the numbers of paddlefish in our rivers, even wiping them out of the Iowa Great Lakes.

For more on catching paddlefish in Iowa, check out our paddlefish regulations.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Life Under the Snow and Ice

Ice covers an Iowa pond. Wind blows snow in drifts around the edge - a barren landscape devoid of life. Or is it?

Beneath the ice is a world still teeming with life. Fish, aquatic insect larva, frogs and turtles hibernate beneath the mud and leaf litter. How do they survive in this cold aquatic land deep beneath the icy winds of an Iowa winter?  

Amazingly enough cold is not the biggest threat to Iowa fish in the winter - it's lack of oxygen. Fish can survive very cold temperatures as long as there is enough dissolved oxygen in the water. Colder water holds more dissolved oxygen than warm water; this means that there is more oxygen available in the water in the winter. Fish metabolism and respiration slow down in cold water so they require less oxygen to survive. 

Fish are “cold-blooded”, meaning their body temperature is dependent on the temperature surrounding them. Therefore when the water is cold, they are cold. They eat very little and require less oxygen and so they survive the winter in a semi-dormant state.

Why Don’t Fish Freeze in the Winter?

Monday, January 5, 2015

Iowa Fish Species – Minnow Family

Any small fish often is (incorrectly) referred to as a “minnow.”  True minnows are found in all our rivers and streams and most lakes. Native minnows do not grow longer than twelve inches (even as adults). Members of this family have no scales on their heads, no adipose fin, and a single soft dorsal fin with fewer than ten rays. (Introduced species may have more.)

Although most native minnows (exception: large creek chubs) are too small to be used as food for humans, they are very important food for many larger fish. Several species are sold as bait fish.

For more information about minnows, visit the DNR website.

Carp were introduced from Europe over 100 years ago and have since moved into nearly all Iowa waters. Unlike native minnows, they may weigh 50 pounds or more as adults. The conspicuous barbel on either side of the mouth and large scales are diagnostic characteristics.

Carp spawn from mid-April through June in shallow water, scattering adhesive eggs over plants, debris, or rocks. The eggs are left unattended. Carp eat almost anything; they are particularly fond of roots and shoots of young aquatic plants. Their feeding habits often make waters very “muddy” in appearance.

Although carp are considered “rough” fish, they are an important commercial species with 2.5 million pounds being taken each year from the Mississippi River bordering Iowa. Carp also provide an excellent challenge for anglers who pursue them, making long runs and putting up a good fight. Carp are caught with a variety of baits on treble or single hooks. Two of the most popular are canned corn and dough baits fished on the bottom.

This large minnow is native to eastern Asia and was imported to the United States to control nuisance aquatic plants. It is dark olive in color, shading to brownish yellow on the sides, with a whitish belly. It has large scales like the common carp, but no barbels around the mouth. The white amur eats aquatic plants and can reach lengths of four feet and weights of 40 pounds.

White amur stocked into Iowa waters are from artificial propagation. Unlike the common carp, research has shown white amur do not harm native fish populations and they are an efficient alternative to herbicides.