NANFA-- Collecting vacation
Sat, 12 Jul 2003 17:10:11 EDT

I took a vacation with my sons [12 & 14] to Arkansas in June. I've been
deliberating on how to go about it and decided to concentrate more on the mistakes
I made and some possible solutions so as not to repeat those mistakes.

My sons & I stayed with some friends on a farm outside of the tiny town of
Doddridge in the very SW corner of Arkansas for the first week. We explored a
couple of areas along the Sulfur River between Hwy 237 & 71. As many of you
know, I enjoy observing & keeping sunfish. The sulfur River was very low and
there were several types of clams in the shallows. Although I don't know the
names for any of the clams, I had seen a couple of the same species in the Sac
River in SW Missouri just below Stockton Lake at least 15 years ago. The
largest clams were probably 7" long, probably 4" deep and had a sort of keep by
their hinge, but the most surprising were not quite the size of a man's closed
fist and so heavy I swear they must have been eating lead. And no, they weren't
dead as some of them squirted water at us when we lifted them out of the water
to inspect them. I was amazed at how many of the clams were about half out
of the water with the upper half of their shells on the hinge end but were
alive and seemingly doing well as the temps reached into the 90's F and they were
in direct sunlight. In addition the river was very warm and the water in the
shallows without current were uncomfortable to the feet it was so warm, yet
there were large, living clams everywhere. Locals informed me that an upstream
paper mill was, from time to time, dumping chemical-laced waters from a sludge
pond [there goes the clam chowder idea]. Whatever it was, the clams seemed
to relish it. Also the river had some sunfish, gambusia, golden topminnows and
several "minnows" that I didn't attempt to identify and all appeared to be
normal & healthy.

As in all of the waters we explored in this corner of SW Arkansas, there was
a lot of siltation and most of the fish were fairly bleached out of colors.
The exception to that was some of the bayous were somewhat clearer and the
dollars, longears and bantams from these waters were more colorful. Where fish
from the muddy waters exhibited more gold and silvers, the fish from the clearer
water had richer greens, blues & reds. Also, I noticed that I found more
dollar & bantam sunfish & fliers & even more gambusia in the muddy waters,
whereas the clearer waters held longear, dollar & green sunfish and red shiners. - I
omit various other "shiners/minnows" as I don't have much interest in them
nor do I attempt to identify them. -

Another observation that kind of surprises me is that there were generally
more crayfish in the muddy waters, fewer of what I'd consider edible bugs, far
fewer plants and often rather warm temps, yet the water was full of fat,
healthy looking fish? I guess I should have performed some stomach content surveys
to figure out what they were eating, but my guess is there was and awful lot
of zooplankton in most of those sunfish bellies. I should add that most of the
muddy water was flood or high water pools that were most likely replenished
every time there was a really good rain and all would have an outlet to a large
creek or river at slightly higher water levels. Pools with no noticable
current, whether clear or muddy seemed to hold good numbers of turtles, mostly
redears and anywhere from hatchling to 6-8". We even encountered one redear
female laying eggs in the sand of a road between two swampy bayous. What amazed
me about that process was that her hole in the sand [which had 8 eggs] was
flask shaped and the top, of course was considerably narrower than the bottom. So
how did she dig it? She appeared to barely have enough coordination to cover
it with a wet sand with her hind webbed feet.

Anyhow, after a couple of days of exploring and collecting, I had enough fish
to ship to some fellow Nanfans and a couple of boxes to myself. I bagged the
fish, careful to fill the bags approximately 1/4 - 1/3 with water & then fill
the rest of the way with pure oxygen from a tank I brought with me. I boxed
them in styrofoam boxes, took to the post office in Doddridge and mailed.
Some of the boxes arrived at their destination with 100% mortality or nearly so,
whereas the most successful shipments arrived with nearly 50% mortality.
Nearly the same goes for the crayfish I shipped to myself, with about 30%
mortality. With the exception of one or two boxes in the kinda distant past, I
haven't had that kind of problem in the past. So what did I do wrong?

1] Several things, I'm thinking. First and foremost - I failed to keep the
fishes' water cool. I have concluded that warm/hot water doesn't hold enough
oxygen, even with pure oxygen in the bags with them and also kicks fishes'
metabolism into high gear - both, as it turns out, causing deadly results. I just
can't stress enough the idea of keeping them cool. I also collected some
more fish over in SE Arkansas after we left our friends in Doddridge and kept
these fish with me the duration of our vacation and lost 5 out of 30 fish [17%
losses]. I kept these fish in bags in my coolers with ice added every day for
those 7 days.

2] Handle the fish with care. I, on ocassion, didn't, and after I got home
several of my fish got fin rot. I'm still having some problems on that front,
although it appears to be mostly done by now. I'm convinced that some rough
handling getting the fish out of my dipnet and/or seine led plus the warm water
stress had a lot to do with allowing this outbreak to occur. The fin rot can
be exasperating as the fish will be eating good one day [my theory is you can
feed live food to fish and they will eat themselves into good health - not
always accurate] and then 2, 3 or 4 will come down with the ich-like symptons
the next day and be dead in 2-3 days. I probably lost another 20% of my fish
within a week and a half of returning home to this malady. I bought rubber gloves
for the next time I collect and I will still wet my gloved hand prior to
handling fish.

3] Don't ship during hot weather. See #1 above; it seems obvious, but when
one collectes in June and wants to share some of the collected species with
others.....It's just better to keep the fish cool, return home and wait for cool
weather to ship. Believe me, no one appreciates receiving dead fish and it
feels like crap knowing you shipped those beautiful fish only to have them
arrive DOA.

4] In general, the smaller the fish, the better it ships. YOY, but not fry,
take up less space, require less oxygen, etc. etc. Also, they just seem to
adjust more readily than adult fish [old dog/new trick syndrone]. I collected
an adult pair of the most beautiful longear sunfish I can imagine, lugged them
all around for about 2000 miles and 4 days and they died two days after I got
them home. I'd tried to get adult longears once before and they died

I hope this helps others on the list with their collecting/shipping success
of native fish. I can't imagine how difficult cool/cold water fish like most
darters, etc would be.

Bruce Scott
Meridian, Idaho
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