Quest for the rainbow darter

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Carp Chaser
Carp Chaser's picture
Quest for the rainbow darter
<p>One species of micro my brother and I really hoped to track down this summer was the rainbow darter. Just from looking at some of the pics on peoples lifelists it&#39;s not hard to see how appealing they are. We both have fished for other kinds of darters in local waters and realized they are not easy. First of all they are pretty small which makes them tough to hook, and they spook easily so I was hoping the rainbow darter would be a little easier.&nbsp;</p> <p>I did some research and found there weren&#39;t many located in the Twin Cities area. I checked DNR sampling data for other parts of the state and found they were in some rivers and streams in southern MN. Time to go hunting. We targeted a creek that had a solid population as well as a nice assortment of other micros. Fun to hit a water body that you never fished before.</p> <p>The weeds were thick here and it sure seems that this place was rarely fished. A nice riffle with a fairly big slack water pool below was the first spot. All sorts of micros could be seen working in and out of the current here, the clear water didn&#39;t hide very much. We started catching a lot of common shiners. And then more common shiners, hopefully something more interesting would bite.</p> <p><img alt="" src="http://www.roughfish.com/sites/default/files/IMG_0332_1.JPG" style="width: 1024px; height: 768px; " /></p> <p><img alt="" src="http://www.roughfish.com/sites/default/files/IMG_0323.JPG" style="width: 1024px; height: 768px; " /></p> <p>I had a smaller shiner flip off the hook and a short time later brought this up:</p> <p><img alt="" src="http://www.roughfish.com/sites/default/files/IMG_0326_0.JPG" style="width: 1024px; height: 768px; " /></p> <p><img alt="" src="http://www.roughfish.com/sites/default/files/IMG_0328.JPG" style="width: 1024px; height: 768px; " /></p> <p>It was a lot more blue looking in person, and really sleek and streamlined. What a nice looking micro, I&#39;m not sure what species it is. It&#39;s crazy how the color changes depending on the angle of the photo too.</p> <p>I caught a hybrid sunfish then a green sunfish while Phil went downstream to look for new spots. I think he got bothered by some green sunfish there as well. Some sort of large fish was surfacing in slack water when I first walked down to the creek, I wonder what it was.</p> <p>I tried upstream of the riffle, where there is a more rocky bottom. I could also see nearly every fish in this section as well, which was fascinating since there were seemingly hundreds of minnows here. Long lines of smaller micros made their way along the bottom while larger fish darted around, aware of my presence. I caught a couple creek chubs and another common shiner. Time to try a new spot.</p> <p>We drove a couple miles to a new location. We looked off a bridge to see a nice group of around a dozen hogsuckers in the current and lots of micros. This creek was amazing. It seems creeks like this one could be an untapped resource for suckers and redhorse. We tried fishing from the bridge and started getting some creek chubs.</p> <p><img alt="" src="http://www.roughfish.com/sites/default/files/IMG_0336.JPG" style="width: 1024px; height: 768px; " /></p> <p><img alt="" src="http://www.roughfish.com/sites/default/files/IMG_0335_1.JPG" style="width: 1024px; height: 768px; " /></p> <p>Then Phil caught a white sucker. It didn&#39;t take long for the hogsuckers to realize we were there and they scattered with a burst of speed! Pretty amazing sight. We stuck it out for a little while hoping for a different species but it seems like this area had an infestation of creek chubs and common shiners! Time to try some different tactics. Got off the bridge and tried a &nbsp;rocky shoreline. I knew different micros liked to hide in cover and these submerged rocks were the perfect spot. Schools of creek chubs were on patrol here too and I caught some pretty big ones but knew I had to stick with the plan. I was fishing the crayfish lairs- small spaces and caves in between rocks when I had a bite, I could see in the water it was different looking and got excited. It fell off my hook just as I got it onto the bank! Picked it up and confirmed it was a rainbow darter! What a cool moment! Small fish, flipping around wildly, tall weeds surrounding me = scary thoughts. I nearly lost this critter a couple times, as it would flip down into the weeds and disappear for a second but fortunately I retrieved it.&nbsp;</p> <p><img alt="" src="http://www.roughfish.com/sites/default/files/IMG_0341_1.JPG" style="width: 1024px; height: 768px; " /></p> <p>Phil came over to check it out and we couldn&#39;t believe how beautiful it was. We were relieved we finally figured something out. These fish aren&#39;t on the open gravel flats but in the tiny hiding spots, makes sense. Now it was time for Phil to track one down. &nbsp;</p> <p><img alt="" src="http://www.roughfish.com/sites/default/files/IMG_0346.JPG" style="width: 1024px; height: 768px; " />He was fishing the rocks under the bridge when he noticed clouds of sand getting stirred up in the cave he was fishing. He later told me the tail of a fish was also visible darting upwards above his bait! He set the hook and brought in his lifer!&nbsp;</p> <p><img alt="" src="http://www.roughfish.com/sites/default/files/IMG_0353_0.JPG" style="width: 1024px; height: 768px; " /></p> <p><img alt="" src="http://www.roughfish.com/sites/default/files/IMG_0355.JPG" style="width: 1024px; height: 768px; " /></p> <p>I was really happy we both connected on this species! They have to be one of the most colorful fish in the upper midwest alongside orangespotted sunfish and northern longear sunfish. It was late in the day and I wanted to see if I could pull out another species or two. I knew stonerollers were also in this creek (another species I want to catch badly) and tried fishing a riffle. Was getting bites but couldn&#39;t hook anything so I tried a small current break right to the side of the riffle. Caught another rainbow darter! And then another one, the last one was much darker and more intensely colored with blue and orange bands on the body.</p> <p>&nbsp;<img alt="" src="http://www.roughfish.com/sites/default/files/IMG_0362.JPG" style="width: 1024px; height: 768px; " /></p> <p><img alt="" src="http://www.roughfish.com/sites/default/files/IMG_0364.JPG" style="width: 1024px; height: 768px; " /></p> <p>I realized that his and my second rainbow darter have different markings on the body and are less colorful. I believe those ones are females. The males have more vivid colors and the dark bands. It&#39;s not impossible they are a different species of darter, iowa darters for instance can have the blue and orange dorsal fin as well. If that&#39;s the case please say something.&nbsp;What fun that was to have to work for them but then finally experience the pay off! Could have stayed longer and kept trying new spots but we wanted to fish the Root and see if Phil could get his lifer black redhorse.</p> <p>Unfortunately we only had an hour and a half or so but that was enough to catch something. First thing we noticed was the low, still water. Very little water movement. Looking off the bridge Phil spotted some greaters and one picked up his crawler but it spit it out just before he could set the hook. A few smaller redhorse and some smallmouth bass were also in the mix. A strange sight was many small, silver sided, sucker shaped fish. They were turning on their sides and displaying their shiny flanks. Not sure what they were but we guessed juvenile white suckers although we&#39;ve never seen white suckers with chrome scales like that. I hooked one for a second, bringing it to the surface before it came unhooked. Couldn&#39;t get an id.&nbsp;</p> <p>We tried the usual spot, which was now a calm pool. A tree has fallen across the river, further blocking off the flow. Many goldens and a few blacks could be seen as they moved along the bottom. Phil caught a nice golden here and a little later I caught a hog.</p> <p><img alt="" src="http://www.roughfish.com/sites/default/files/IMG_0367.JPG" style="width: 1024px; height: 768px; " /></p> <p>It was a fun day for sure, and with the number of micros in the creek we fished, a return trip is a must! It was the most micros in one spot I&#39;ve ever seen and I saw lots of fish that I couldn&#39;t identify. Wondering where all the stonerollers are though, for the number sampled I was surprised we didn&#39;t catch any or see any for that matter. Next time maybe. I have to say thanks to BenC for helping us out with info on rainbow darter habitat. That made a big difference. &nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p>
Dr Flathead
Dr Flathead's picture
Cool report man!  I like the

Cool report man!  I like the Rainbow Darter too.  Very colorful, especially around spawning time.  They get really lit up in the spring.  Almost neon blues, reds and greens.  Also, you mystery shiner is a Carmine Shiner.

Carp Chaser
Carp Chaser's picture
Thanks guys! Carmine shiner,

Thanks guys! Carmine shiner, no kidding. Very cool, nice to add another lifer. And I think it's always good to catch species on trips that you can't get around home. Doc, I can't imagine a rainbow darter with spawning colors, they're already so beautiful... that must be something. Ben, yeah I hope to target some more darters cause it's pretty sad how few I have caught (just the rainbow). Have got them to bite in the shallow spots of a creek in the vegetation/roots but have had trouble getting the hook to stick. It's amazing how many darter species are out there, especially around Missouri and surrounding states.    

"There's always a bigger fish"