We awoke early the next morning to meet Ben in Illinois. High water levels forced us to fish a smaller creek, but it was a highly productive day nonetheless.
Ben started scouring a flat, sandy area in search of Eastern sand darters. He found a few, but they were quick to spook off and bury themselves out of sight. Catching one doesn’t seem too simple.
As we moved upstream, Ben pointed me towards a group of sand shiners.
Ben mentioned that there were some bullhead minnows around. I caught some suspects, but they all turned out to be regular old bluntnose minnows.
Literally the furthest that the Peterson’s Field Guide ever was from me on this trip…
A spotfin shiner that I was hoping could be a steelcolor shiner, but didn’t get a good enough picture to properly count anal fin rays. I remember counting 8 at the time though, so spotfin it will be.
Ken and Ben found a small, sandy run that was packed with darters.
There were two other species of darter mixed in this run: slenderhead and more Eastern sand darters. They were much less willing to bite than the duskies and, when they did, it was with short and quick nips. Nothing particularly simple to set a hook into. I tried at them for more than a while. I eventually lifted up an Eastern sand darter and cupped it in my hand as it squirmed. Once I got to shore I opened my hand and found it was snagged on the fin. I’ll never know whether it was initially fair hooked or not.
In the pool adjacent to this run of darters I spotted a logperch that would make for a handsome photograph.
Deeper in the pool I laid eyes on some larger bass and sunfish. I borrowed Ken’s ultralight rod and was graced by something even better than that orange-flavoured McDonald’s milkshake.
I went back to focusing on the darters. Ben had suggested they might prefer to eat nymphs and water bugs over the bits of worms I was offering. I started flipping rocks in search of creepy crawlers. I ended up spooking a madtom and chased him around for a bit trying to get him to bite.
Ben had reported catching one and Ken was also trying for one so I turned my attention to them. I flipped rocks and spooked the odd one here and there, but they’d all play ostrich and bury their head in the next rock they found. Many flipped rocks later, I found one that did a very bad job at this and exposed half of his head. I put a bait beside his head and he was mine.
The three of us got a chance to actually sit down to a proper dinner before Ken and I hit the road again. There were many hours of farmland to traverse.
High water levels had toyed around with our plans to target shovelnose sturgeon, but Ben had offered us a Plan B spot on another river.
When we arrived in the morning, I cast out my lighter rod into a current seam with intents to let it sit for a while while I set up my heavier rods. The current pulled my rig downstream, so I started reeling it in. Something unexpected ended up biting on the retrieve!
We also found another unexpected new species.
We caught a lot of the silver chubs and some freshwater drum as well, but no sign of the shovelnose sturgeon.
I decided to try and fish the strong current further away from the current seam. I added another 3oz sinker to my sliding rig for a total of 6oz. and whipped ‘er out.
We started chatting with a local about catching sturgeon at this spot and he said if we put our time in we’d find them. Coincidentally, I got a slow but steady pull on one of my rods and this fish fought very differently than a freshwater drum. Actually, it didn’t fight at all. I had a good feeling it would be…
As our worm supply dwindled down I left to get some more. When I returned, Ken suggested I check his camera out. He had caught his lifer shovelnose as well!
Ben’s intel pulled through yet again. Thank-you Ben!!
We put in a bit more time at this spot, but our baits were being picked clean. Ken suggested that perhaps the crayfish had become more active. With that, we packed up the car and headed back to our stoneroller-free, sculpin-free, and significantly less farmland-y Toronto.
Pretty rad-looking fish, these shovelnose: