NANFA-- Collecting in NJ 12-21-1999

Mark B (
Tue, 4 Jan 2000 09:30:01 -0500

I would like to express my sincere thanks to all those who assisted with my
preparations to look for sunfishes in New Jersey. (I also need to thank a
bunch of people for helping with previous trips to Florida and Texas, but
I'm kind of doing this in reverse!) The outing was a great success! My
brother joined in and we froze our toes off, but the fish kept coming and
we couldn't stop until the rain fell and the sun set. Here's a wrap up -

I arrived in NYC on Sunday, and Monday hit a few fish shops in Manhattan.
Win Tropical Aquariums at 169 Mott St (212-343-2875) was a good one. I
bought six "Green Monsters" there, aka Cichlasoma trimaculatum. New World
Aquarium was good too. Never seen so many fish packed into such a small
space. I asked about Heather's "blue line rasboras", but they were long
gone. Anyway, it rained all day Monday, so Tuesday was fishing day. We
headed down to Lakehurst NJ to Horican Lake. Several had recommended this
place including John Brill, Alan Miller and Dave Littlehale. Oh, Dave
provided me with the NJ region's collecting permit, so that we could
legally collect Enneacanthus and Acantharcus. Big thanks to Dave as that
was the goal of the trip. John, Joe Walker and Peter Rollo as well as
others were very helpful in offering suggestions about how to find the fish
during the winter months.

When we arrived at Horicon Lake, I decided to take Peter at his word and
dredge up some leaves from the bottom. With our 4'x 6' seine, we dug in
near the shore and on our first haul, pulled up all three species I was
after - banded sunfish, blackbanded sunfish AND mud sunfish! That was all
we needed to keep us going the rest of the afternoon. We kept working and
continued to find many banded (Enneacanthus obesus) and blackbanded
(Enneacanthus chaetodon). Swamp darters (Etheostoma fusiforme) were very
abundant as well. Mud sunfish (Acantharcus pomotis) were rare as expected.
We found five total though. That first one was really a fluke, I guess.

There was, even in December, large patches of submerged vegetation around
the lake's margins. Looked to me to be a species of bladderwort. It was a
dark brown/amber color that matched the tannin stained water. Every once
in a while there was a green sprig of plant also. New growth perhaps? We
ended up concentrating on these patches of vegetation - dredging them up,
fishing them out of the seine and hopefully leaving the fish behind in the
net. We weren't able to beach the seine because the bank where we were
collecting was lined with scrubby trees all around. So one would hold the
net while the other would pull out the seaweed with water on it so the fish
would slide out into the net. Usually, this worked pretty well, but we
noticed that what we thought was in the net was occassionally missing when
the plants were removed. The water was maybe 45 to 50 degrees F, and the
fish just kind of lay there like they were dead. There were many many
obesus and chaetodon in these weed beds. They ranged from about 15 to 60
mm in length. Most of the chaetodon were 30 mm or less. There were also a
lot of pirate perch (Aphredoderus sayanus) and about five yellow bullheads
(Ameiurus natalis). One little pickeral was spotted a foot or two from
shore and we trapped him by sneaking up from out in the lake. Still don't
know for sure if it's Esox americanus or Esox niger. I'm guessing Esox
americanus. After a couple hours of this, my hands were pretty numb from
being in the water constantly to pull out the weeds. But we were having so
much fun and such success, we had to try another spot to see what was

Next we went to Tom's River. That's the name of the town and the river.
This is a fairly wide river with tea colored water like Lake Horicon. Both
of these places are in the Pine Barrens region of New Jersey. The river
had a strong, steady flow with quiet backwater areas and near shore areas
with fast current. There was emergent vegetation along the margins and
submerged vegetation even in the areas with current. We sampled one
backwater area briefly, but found the deep muck to be more than we wanted
to mess with. A single mudminnow (Umbra pygmaea) was taken here. The
other area had steady current with slower current near the shore. We
kicked through marginal vegetation, live and dead or dormant, and then
seined upstream through some areas with current and submerged vegetation.
In all these areas, we found many E chaetodon and E gloriosus (bluespotted
sunfish) along with pumpkinseeds (Lepomis gibbosus). This was interesting
to me, discovering that Enneacanthus sunfishes can be found in areas with
steady current. Also plentiful were chubsuckers (Erimyzon sp), pirate
perch, swamp darters and grass shrimp. A number of tiny eels (Anguilla
rostrata) were found which usually slithered through the 1/8" mesh of the
net before they could be grabbed. Four pickerels were taken and two
madtoms, probably Noturus gyrinus, and two specimens of banded killifish
(Fundulus diaphanus). By the time we had gotten our fill, it had been
raining for an hour and it was dark. We were soaked (I put a hole it my
waders climbing over a guard rail) and chilled to the bone, but still
enthused about our catch. We stopped at a turnpike rest area for a dog and
fries and hauled the keepers back to Brooklyn. Next day we broke down in
PA on the way to Ohio and had to rent a car to get home. All the fish made
it in two plastic-lined styro boxes with a partial change with cold New
York tap water and ice packs. All told, they weathered 28 hours with no
aeration at about 50 degrees F.

Mark Binkley
Columbus Ohio USA <))><

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