Robust Redhorse image copyright through the Creative Commons 2.0 license.
The Robust Redhorse is a large, rare, and truly impressive member of the redhorse tribe. We know they were a popular food fish for native Americans of the southeast back to ancient times, since their bony pharengeal teeth have been found in native American campsites dating back thousands of years. Modern science first described it all the way back in 1869, when famously eccentric naturalist Edward Drinker Cope described specimens from the Yadkin River in North Carolina. Apparently, Edward Cope found time to fish for redhorse while he wasn't stealing dinosaur bones, founding neo-Lamarckism, dodging the draft, naming a new species cophater (Cope-hater) to make fun of his rivals, or having torrid extramarital affairs in Europe. I guess it's not that strange that scientists thought the large red-finned sucker he discovered could possibly be made up, since he had famously put the head on the wrong end of a dinosaur skeleton once. At any rate, the robust redhorse then disappeared for over a hundred years, being viewed more as a legend or a mistake by Cope than an actual fish. I'm sure that roughfishers and river rats of the early 1900's were well familiar with it, but the scientific community had no clue that Cope's mystery fish was still out there. That all changed in 1991, when fisheries biologist Jimmy Evans with the Georgia DNR captured five huge, red-finned suckers that didn't correspond to any known Georgian species. Apparently, Jimmy was familiar with Cope's work from the 1800's, so Cope's original name was ressurrected for the rediscovered fish. Unfortunately, after being rediscovered the species proved to be very few in number and quite difficult to find. So few, in fact, that they were placed on the Endangered Species List. Since then, recovery efforts have been undertaken to improve habitat, restock their depleted numbers, and restore stream connectivity. In 2015, scientists located wild-spawned young robust redhorse for the first time, which is an important milestone. Robust redhorse, as their name implies, are a large, thick-bodied fish. They have a big head and a large mouth, with clam-crushing pharengeal teeth in their throat. They most closely resemble the River Redhorse, and share that species' hungry propensity to eat hard-shelled mollusks. Specimens up to 17.6 pounds in weight have been recorded. They occupy swift, main-channel habitat and spawn in the springtime by digging large, craterlike redds, like the river redhorse does.
Hopefully, someday, roughfishers from all over will be able to visit southeastern rivers to test their mettle against a fully recovered population of this beautiful, hard-fighting beast of a fish. In the meantime, we should promote the conservation and appreciation of this national treasure (and the rest of the redhorses with it).