Sunday, March 22, 2015

Suckers and Fish Listing

Some interesting blog posts and a shout out for a conservation issue ....

Going a little off the bird topic and on to my other favorite group of vertebrates, fish.  I am a fisherman, mostly a fly-fisherman, although I grew up in the UK fishing all three disciplines.  We went GAME FISHING for Salmon and Trout with fly-rods (and sometimes spin tackle), sat for endless hours COURSE FISHING for carp and pike, and spent many cold Winter days SEA FISHING either by surf-casting or by fishing from piers.  Fishing was very much a core of my childhood outdoor life and, while it was ultimately surpassed by birding in terms of time and attention, I still occasionally pick up a fly-rod and have cast them into waters as far flung as Alaska, Quebec, Argentina and Japan over the years.  I am also completely fascinated by the diversity of fish, which in may ways is the same fascination I have for the diversity of birds.  Fish are just harder to go and watch.

Smallmouth Buffalo - Photo by Ben Cantrell - the image that started me off
on a fish theme this morning.
Laying in bed this morning and skimming Facebook I came across a great article by Matt Miller on Suckers over at The Nature Conservancy Blog.  A cruelly misunderstood and unfairly maligned group on native fish, that I've seen but never caught, led me to an interesting couple of hours of immersion in a whole other sphere on natural history.   I figured I'd share some of what I learned, and also give a shout out to some of the folks doing great conservation work in this area (on the theory that any publicity for a good cause helps)

Ben Cantrell - a leader in the Rough Fishing movement
Suckers it would seem are a very oppressed group on native fish, often killed on site by anglers who wrongfully think that they are invasive, and damaging to fisheries.  In a world where trout and bass rule US fishing (and dominate what has become a very commercial sport), these natives are unfairly seen as 'competition' for the 'more desirable species' and persecuted to the point that species are struggling to survive.

This article led me to a whole other world of folks who actively fish for these species, a world called Rough Fishing (cousin of the UK's Course Fishing?) and to some fascinating stories from that sub-culture.

One of the best blogs I found was Ben Cantrell's Fish Species Blog which details adventures with fish that aren't all Bass and Trout.  One of the best articles, and a revelation to me, was a post on "Microfishing" where folks go out and pursue species usually considered too small to have any sporting interest.  The name of the game isn't a macho battle against a giant fish but rather a celebration of the diversity of fish species.  Now they really had my attention, as for years I'd keep a list of species of fish I'd caught with a fly-rod but had always been too self conscious to go deliberately target tiny fish just to add to my list.  But other people do!

Redband Darter: Photo by Ben Cantrell (hoping he doesn't mind the shout out)
These Rough Fishermen, are having fun, actively engaged in conservation, raising awareness, and keeping lists.  It's really like birding with rod and line and of course, where there are lists, there are people who take it to the next level and get seriously competitive.  Just like in birding someone is going to take that competition to the extreme, which in this case is a guy called Steve Wozniak who writes a blog called 1000Fish detailing his attempt to catch 1,000 species f fish on rod-and line.

Steve Wozniak (and friend) with a Silver Buffalo
(Spoiler Alert: it took him 10+ years and 60+ countries but he did catch 1,000 species, and is now over 1,200 - the Tom Gullick of the fishing world).

After reading about his exploits for hours I was itching to go and catch fish and to re-start my fishing life list (would eBird include fish do you think?).  I also had an urge to share - fish conservation is unglamorous and all the money and attention gets sucked up by the 'sport' fish leaving a lot of great native species struggling for attention.  Read some of the blogs.  There are good people doing important work out there.

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