Virginia Regional Report for Summer - Fall 1998, by Michael Thennet

6/17/98 - Collecting trip to a Tidal Marsh Creek off Linkhorn Bay, Virginia Beach, VA

During a trip to Virginia Beach last weekend to visit a good friend and his wife, I was able to talk my girlfriend (due to lack of sun and beach weather) into a little side collecting trip to a tidal marsh creek off Linkhorn Bay which drains into the Lynnhaven Inlet to the Chesapeake Bay. She of course would provide inspiration.

The types of species I was looking for were Sticklebacks, Barred Blennies, Naked Gobies, Sheepshead Minnows and Mummichogs. After about 30 minutes (The marsh mud was exhausting!) of stumbling and bumbling around in 1-2 feet of marsh mud and providing extensive entertainment to my girlfriend who watched on, I produced everything but the above mentioned species.

What were eventually identified as juvenile Menhaden were the most prominent species. Next were the Gambusia followed closely by juvenile Mullet. The Mullet were indeed aquatic acrobats, easily escaping my 4x4' seine either by outrunning it or simply jumping over the net.  In any case I still managed to bag a few. Also caught were a couple of juvenile Spot which I understand are from the Drum family.  Lastly, were a couple smaller specimens of Blue Crab.  Everything collected was returned immediately due to the fact that none of the species in demand were collected. In short, Tidal Marsh collecting is a both a workout and an experience.

One of the highlights of the weekend was visiting the Virginia Marine Science Museum.  Loaded with Coastal, Tidal and Marine Native setups it was heaven.  I had more fun here than I did at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, especially since I'm a Native fishnut.


7/26/98 - Collecting trip to Sycolin Creek, Loudon County, VA and Scotts Run Fairfax County, VA.

This past Sunday I had the pleasure of collecting with locals R. Shane Linder, an avid catfish enthusiast, and Ruth Smith, at Sycolin Creek in Loudon County, VA, and Scotts Run in Fairfax County, VA, near Great Falls.

The weather was excellent for collecting.   At Sycolin Creek we collected the typical Greenside and Fantail Darters, Mottled Sculpins, Longnose and Blacknose Dace, Bluntnose minnows and a few Spotfin Shiners via a 4x10'seine. A baited minnow trap out left out for the duration of the collection came up empty and baitless. The trap was intended for Catfish of any type. It is a pity that in this day and age there are very few places you can leave a minnow trap overnight without it being molested.  I wish there was some sort of stream and lake legislation/etiquette such as that of associated coastal stream crabpots.  Shane took home a few of the above mentioned species for a native community and I took home a small group of the Spotfin Shiners.

Later at the same location, I broke out my micro ultralite fishing pole and showed Shane and Ruth how easy it was to catch smaller Smallmouth Bass, Redbreast, and Green Sunnies with an ultralite spinner. I reeled in a fish on almost every cast.

After a couple of hours we headed to a run which Shane had visited on earlier occasions in Fairfax County, VA, just a few miles from Great Falls on the Potomac. Once we arrived at the location I noticed it was Scotts Run. This was the location of a sewer rupture just last Fall which I mentioned in a previous posting last year.  I was amazed to hear/see that the run held so much life after the rupture. The water was crystal clear and the run was beautiful. Groups of Blacknose Dace and what appeared to be Rosyside Dace could be seen everywhere, as well as the occasional loose group of suckers (possibly White).

We sampled the riffles and only came up with Blacknose Dace, Suckers and Crayfish.  No type of Darter or Sculpin were present, possibly due to their sensitivity concerning the pollution. I wish I had surveyed this run prior to the sewer rupture to assess the damage and improvement if any has taken place. At this time we turned to areas of overhanging brush and roots along the banks of the run. These areas yielded a couple large Creek Chubs, small Sunfish and eventually a small unidentified Catfish which was definitely the highlight of the afternoon. The Catfish of course went home with Shane. I ended up bringing home a sucker for identification purposes.

9/20/98 - Collecting Trip to Maryland's Eastern Shore: Horsehead Nature Reserve and Queen Anne's Branch, MD.

Here are a couple little ditties from R. Shane Linder, collecting friend and avid catfish keeper/author, concerning our native collecting adventures on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

I wonder if there is some sort of medal, badge or button for those wounded in the line of collecting duty? I knew tadpole madtoms were venomous but I did not realize it was so easy to get stung. The pain actually traveled up a little past my wrist. It was only a 1-2" specimen. I'd hate to feel the sting of a larger specimen. Ouch!

Take care all, beware Madtoms:

I recently had the opportunity to go collecting native North American fishes with about the best crowd you could ask for. Mike Thennet, my regular "collecting buddy", is the Virginia representative for the North American Native Fishes Association (NANFA). Mike and I met up with Bob Bock, the president of NANFA, Chris Scharpf (the editor of NANFA's magazine "American Currents"), and Christen, a graduate student at Virginia Polytech Univ. studying fish population genetics.

Our first stop was on the Maryland side of the Chesapeake where we collected various fishes from brackish areas at Horsehead Nature Reserve. These were mostly Fundulus spp., but also collected were anchovies and other odds and ends. After Christen had all the fish for her study, and we all had more killies than we could keep, Chris mentioned a location not far away that held madtoms. Needless to say, I nearly ran to the car to get going. We drove Northeast about thirty miles and were near the Maryland/Delaware border. I can ask Mike for more specific habitat location information if anyone needs it. Here is a "down and dirty" description of the habitat in which we caught Noturus gyrinus the tadpole madtom.

The location was a creek about five feet wide (1.5m). In places the creek was backed up and formed pools up to 15 feet (3m) across. No madtoms were taken in these pools. The creek averaged about a foot deep and flowed along at a lazy pace. The creek was about 68-70 F and the ambient temperature about 85 F and very humid. The best location to collect madtoms was in submerged terrestrial vegetation. I am not sure what the plant was but it reminded me of clover. The best way to collect the madtoms was to run a handnet through the vegetation. The net would then have lots of vegetation that would have to be carefully removed. The most common spp. collected with the madtoms were tessellated darters (Etheostoma olmstedi), swamp darters (E. fusiforme), pirate perch (Aphredoderus sayanus) and eastern mud minnows (Umbra pygmaea).

Mike caught the first madtom and immediately called for me. As I made my way up the creek, Mike reached into the net to pick up the tiny catfish (about one inch, 2.5cm) and got a surprise from the fish's pectoral spine. Madtoms' pectoral and dorsal spines are poisonous, and from Mike's reaction, I do not doubt that the venom stings! The spine stuck Mike on the tip of his index finger. The wound left a tiny red mark but there was no swelling. Of course, being a true friend I ignored Mike as he sucked at the wound and danced around the creek. I bagged the little guy up happy to have my madtom. Mike sucked at his finger and then pulled it from his mouth every few minutes to issue a series of profanities. I asked Mike to describe the pain (all in the name of science of course!). He said it was at first like a pin prick but then began to burn. The burning sensation then traveled up to his shoulder. The pain stopped all together after 15 minutes.

Other fishes removed, mainly from the pools, included Redbreast Sunfish (Lepomis auritus) and Chris' catch of the day-- a foot and a half long American eel (Anguilla rostrata). Total take for the 30 foot (10m) section of creek was five madtoms at one inch, two at two inches, and one at three inches. I would guess the littlest guys were from this spring and summers spawnings while the two inchers were from last year and the three incher was an adult. I took five home and Mike took one.

I set mine up in a ten gallon tank full of Java moss and "decorated" with broken flower pots. Filtration is via a sponge filter. The fish have taken to frozen bloodworms and brine shrimp. I'll try dry foods soon. The tank is unheated and varies between about 72F and 74F. There have been no problems with the fish and they have adapted well. One fish, on closer inspection, had a parasite of some type on its side just back from the pectoral fin. This did not make removal val of the parasite easy since I really did not feel like being stung. I managed to remove the parasite with forceps and the small wound that was left is nearly healed a week later. They are becoming more active as they adjust to captivity and I have no doubt that they will soon be feeding even with the lights on. All and all, I would highly recommend these cats for the aquarist that wants to experiment with natives.


10/19/98 - Collecting Trip to Ware Creek, Caroline County, Near Port Royal, VA.

We had a great collection trip down in southeast Virginia. We began collecting at the very northern end of Dragon Swamp which is located near the Rappahannock River near the town of Tappahannock. This area was a very thick swamp and collecting was difficult. We only turned up some Gambusia, Eastern mudminnows, one bluespot sunfish and a few crayfish. We headed north to get away from the tidal influence of the Chesapeake Bay.

Further north we came to Ware Creek which flows into the Rappahannock, but is far enough north not to receive brackish water from the Chesapeake during high tide. Ware Creek is situated next to Fort A. P. Hill near the town of Port Royal. My map also tells me that Port Royal was the birthplace of General Robert E.Lee.  The creek varied between three and eight feet wide. Average depth was around twelve inches. The temperature was around 65F and the pH at 6.5. Ambient temperature was 80F. Water hardness was not tested, but my guess would be that it is quite soft. The subsrate was gravel with aquatic vegetation in places where light could make it through the tree canopy.

The creek was full of life and within hardly more than an hour we turned up three species of ictalurids. Total take for the creek was one tadpole madtom (Noturus gyrinus) at 1.5 inches, two Margined madtoms (N. insignis) at 1.5 and 3inches, and one yellow bullhead (Ameiurus natalis) at six inches. All were collected with a four foot by ten foot seine net worked by Mike Thennet of NANFA and I. The madtoms all came home with me and the bullhead was released.

Some notes on collecting ictalurids... I believe that in the past I have missed chances to catch ictalurids because I did not understand where they lived. Mike and I now seem to have our technique down better and are turning up more catfishes. Tadpole madtoms prefer aquatic vegetation located in or near riffles. The can be collected by running a dipnet or seine over the plants and then sort through the plants to find the fish (be careful not to get stung!). Bullheads and marginated madtoms are best caught among "root balls". This is what Mike and I call areas where the water has eroded the land around the base of a tree away. These trees are usually found on the outside corners of bends in the creek. The key is to wrap the net around the root ball and then work the ends of the seine together while poking sticks on either end into the root ball. As the sticks move in towards each other the net is closed up and raised from the water. We have been more successful at catching catfishes as we have mastered this technique.

Very little is known of the natural history of the madtoms in the mid-Atlantic region. Rhode et al (1994) list eight described and one undescribed spp. in the mid-Atlantic (Noturus furiosus, gilberti, gyrinus, insignis, leptacanthus, eleutherus, flavipinnis, flavus, and the undescribed "broadtail madtom").


11/15/98 - Collecting Trip to Sallee Creek Powahatan County, VA.

On the morning of 11/15/98 Bob Bock, his son Eric, Dave Jones (future NANFA member) of Delaware and myself set out for Powhatan County, Virginia, about 45 miles west of Richmond, to collect the Mountain Redbelly Dace.   Ddue to my lack of knowledge concerning Richmond area tackle shops, we lost a little time trying to get licenses. Sorry guys. Once properly matriculated we finished up the last leg of the journey and finally arrived at Sallee Creek.

To my surprise, the typically clear foothill creek was inundated with fallen foliage, creating a slow moving tannic stream littered with leaves. At first it seemed our quarry was to escape us in these types of conditions but after a few passes with our seine through the deeper pools, just after riffles, Mt. Rebellies began turning up.

Per Dave Jones e-mail 11/16/99: The general habitat could be described as a low gradient, headwater woodland stream flowing through a patchwork of Oak/Hickory piedmont forest and agricultural fields. The main pool we found them in measured about 30 feet long by 10 feet wide, and was from 6 to 24 inches deep. A small channel flowed into its head and a submerged rock ledge ran the length of one side of the pool providing the perfect structure for the secretive dace. Substrate consisted of sand and gavel and was covered with a layer of leaf litter several inches thick. Water values measured: temperature of ~ 50F, a pH of 7.1, and total hardness of 110 ppm (55 ppm carbonate and 55 ppm general hardness). Other species occurring with the P. oreas, included: Creek Chub, Northern Hogsucker, Blacknose Dace, Longnose Dace, Rosyside Dace, Pirate Perch, Johnny Darter, Swamp Darter(!), and assorted tadpoles and crayfish.

Being mid-November, larger Phoxinus oreas were only slightly colored and the smaller specimens were difficult to identify. Luckily the telltale slightly broken or broken black lateral band and slighter build compared to the Rosysides collected at the same location, helped to identify the species correctly in most cases (90%).

We only found P. oreas in the headwaters of Sallee Creek. Two other creek locations in the area did not produce much if any diversity or Mountain Redbellies. Even Sallee Creek, further downstream closer to the James River, did not produce any fish, save a pirate perch. Weird? I will make an endeavor next spring to find another productive location for P. oreas, most likely farther West.

In the past, successful acclimation of this species has proved to be very difficult, even with aeration and water changes during the trip back to Arlington (2 hours), losses of up to 75% have been experienced. This time around the weather was the cooler, many gallons of collection site water were collected and Dave brought the most formidable transport unit I had ever seen. Coolers equipped with powerheads, quickfilters and multiple stress relieving chemicals worked like a charm for transportation.

In reserve was our not so secret weapon. Just a few days prior to the trip, Mark Binkley from Columbus, Ohio, graciously provided some tetracycline to battle the fin and tailrot some of these sensitive fish experience even after a patient, well planned acclimation process using water from the collection site. I dosed my aquarium first thing Monday morning. Dave Jones dosed his coolers that evening for his trip home to Delaware and from what I understand he has seen no signs of tail or finrot. Other than the loss of one specimen to an unforeseen jump from the fish tank, I have seen no evidence of the tail or finrot experienced in earlier collections which is very unusual. I'm loving every moment of it. Thanks Mark!

Please feel free to call me or e-mail me anytime in order to attend our local collecting trips.

Mike Thennet