A summary of a couple collecting trips in 1996 & 1997 - Quest for the
Elusive Taillight Shiners in Central and NW Florida with my friend Mike
Quispe who was resding down there at the time.
Panhandle is a good bet. Caught Sailfin and Coastal or Weed Shiners in a
small clearwater creek with white sand bottom at a bridge on on a road-
I think it's 372 in Appalachicola Nat. Forest.
Westward in Bay and Washington CO there are quite a few small lakes and
sloughs where we caught Starhead Topminnows- Fundulus escambiae and
Dollar Sunfish- plus an assortment of Gambusia, Pygmy Sunfishes and
Heterandria formosa and even a small gar!
If you are going to the Orlando area- the Econolohatchee River has
Sailfin, Dusky and Ironcolor Shiners, plus Dollar and Spotted Sunfishes
and probably a few more interesting things in the tea colored water.
Slightly north and east of the metro are going toward St Cloud are two
lakes that are really strange because they are in close proximity but
have really different water conditions and fish faunas. I forgot the
names but they are easy to find on a map and get to. One of them can be
accessed via "Moss Tree Park" - it is a dark tannic water lake with a
windswept wave battered shoreline that you would think not so promising
for fish collecting- but you can catch an abundance of Flagfish-
Jordanella and pygmy sunfishes and some Bluefin Killies and Golden
Topminnows- plus abundant Gambusia and somewhat less abundant
Heterandria. Also caught a something that looked like the familair
Banded Killie- F. diaphanus from up north- I presumed it to be a
Seminole Killie. Also in sheltering beds of reeds or bullrushes there
were Florida's other member of the Starhead Group- the Lined Topminnow-
F. lineolatus! These were very flighty and difficult to catch in
contrast to our experience dipping escambiae out of the slough up in Bay
Co and the same species in a Flatwoods pond in North Carolina.
This lake is definitely acid as evidenced by the abundant sundews and
hatpins growing along the sandy shore and Purple Bladderwort in the reed
beds- which demands the most astringently acidic water!
Just south and on the opposite side of the highway is another park
bordering on a much bigger lake with gin-clear water that is probably on
the hard side. Near the boat launch we saw a school of golden shiners
and dipped some very small fish that were also schooling and turned out
to be Brook Silversides- so funny that the other place I encountered
them was in Wisconsin!
Dipping among the weeds near shore I caught these weird Livebearer
things that took me by surprise until I realized they were young Sailfin
Mollies. Definitely a hardwater lake.
We were hoping to get Taillight Shiners which are recorded from the lake
but Golden Shiners were the only cyprinids present.
In a nearby pasture there are ditches and a pond that yeilded Pygmy Suns
and the usual Gambusia and Heterandria.
Also George Van Horne's Reptile World is not far off and worth a visit
if you also happen to like herps too!
While in the Orlando area it might be worth a trip out to the west to
hit the Withalakoochee River. Please bear with me - the spelling is
close enough and I don't have notes or my Florida map handy right now.
For that reason I didn't even attempt the name of the lakes mentioned
above - one of which vaguely reminds me of the capital of Guatamala!
Anyway- I sampled the Withalakoochee once on the return leg of a trip to
the Panhandle from Ft Lauderdale via Orlando. Now that's a really neat
river- winding thru cypress swamps and probably fed by limestone springs
the water is tannic tea but with a pH of 6.8 and significant hardness.
Near a boat landing we caught lots of Flagfish, Sailfin Mollies, Bluefin
Killies and Golden Topminnows, tons of Gambusia, some heterandria , some
Pygmy Suns, a Pirate Perch and a young Lake Chubsucker!
Of course the Taillight Shiners that I was looking for did not turn up-
nor any other Cyprinids- they're probably in there somewhere but it was
a wide, deep and long river and one stop was barely scratching the
There were quite a few other places - some clear water streams in the
Gulf Hammock region that were heavily vegetated and swift flowing but
very few fishes- swampy powerline swaths and ditches that are hard to
find on a map but otherwise good collecting and lakes, lakes and more
lakes we passed but never stopped. On a short trip you won't have time
to check out every promising site and many you do will leave you
skunked. I hope you mighy be able to find some of our places where we
did have good luck-
If you call finding something else other than what you are seeking "good
In our quest for the elusive Taillight Shiner- Notropis maculatus, Mike
and I learned how to find just about every other species of fish in
Florida- though we never encountered welaka either.
I yearn one day to return and continue that quest and hopefully get a
chance to try a hand at breeding Taillights.
I almost got my chance last season - but the "Taillights" I recieved
from Dustin turned out to be Coastal Shiners- Notropis petersoni of all
things! Case of mistaken identity- they looked different because they
were collected from dark tannic water and looked more like Taillights
They did spawn quite prolifically last summer - all summer long in the
Now if I can get Taillight or even Sailfin Shiners to do the same
someday- I'll have it made in the shade!
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