NANFA-- Collecting on the St. John's River Plain

Allen Boatman (
Tue, 10 Sep 2002 13:06:59 -0400

My collection day started at about 12:30 on Saturday the seventh of
September, 2002. My destination was the St. Johns River ( I will refer
to this river from now on as SJR) , where it intersects SR 50 between
Orlando (Christmas, Florida) and Titusville. There are three overpasses
(small, short bridges) of SR 50 over the SJR. I will refer to these as
Bridge one (the easternmost bridge), the next will be bridge two, and the
next will be the westernmost bridge or number three. The target of this
trip was a smaller Elassoma that can be found in the Orlando area.

I stopped off at the first bridge and found nothing but gambusia and a
ten-foot alligator. I talked to an airboat captain, and described to him
what a Pygmy Sunfish is. He relayed to me that he had caught a few fish
that met my description when he was netting for crayfish on the south side
of bridge number three.

I moved to bridge number three and tried both the southeast side and
southwest side of that rivulet. I only caught gambusia and almost stepped
on a small alligator.

Upon swiping a few times on the northeast shore I caught a very nice
looking male L. goodei. The next swipe brought me what I sought, a small,
but mature Elassoma that appears to be evergladei, but I am not certain.
It is smaller than some other Elassoma and I have worked with. I tried
for 15 more minutes and caught only J. floridae and L. goodei.

I caught the Elassoma next to an emerged swamp willow, and under a CARPET
of salvinia, water lettuce, water hyacinth, and another type of invasive,
floating stem plant. These plants were everywhere and made collecting a
huge hassle. The salvinia was especially bad, because it was so fine; it
was hard to separate the small salvinia ferns from fish, and other things.

I moved to the northwest side of bridge three and caught a lot of
plantssheesh. I also caught another male of the same Elassoma species
that I had caught on the northeast side of the rivulet. (I ended up
bringing home only one, where the other one is I have no idea?!) I also
caught two other fish. One was a small catfish (~2.5) that I believe to
be a bullhead based upon some of the conversation that I have seen on this
list. (The adipose fin is separate from the caudal fin.) The other fish,
besides these two, that I caught at this location was an Etheostoma (sp?)
(swamp darter.) It didnt resemble fusiforme, as the body was much
taller/deeper than fusiforme, but could have been olmstedti. It had a lot
of green in the face and 8 blotches on its dorsal side from behind the
head to the caudal peduncle. At about 3 inches, long it was the thickest
darter that I ever caught in Central Florida, but the rest of the body was
brown and tan blotches. In the same net was a nasty, huge leach that sort
of oozed out of one of the net holes and collected itself in a huge pile
on the ground. I helped it back into the water. I went back to my
vehicle, about a hundred feet west of bridge number three, and on the
south side of the road, and dipped my net in the road side drainage area
that was flooded (thank God Florida is finally starting to recover from
our 4 year drought.) I caught a very, very small catfish (about 3/4 of an
inch long and about 1/8 of an inch tall.) It had 5 visible bands on its
body starting from behind the head and finishing at the caudal peduncle.
Almost like a bumble bee goby. It had a green bar on its gill plate, and
an iridescent green J shaped marking running from its barbels, under its
eye and ending just behind its eye. It was incredibly small. I would say
it is probably a fry of the Armored catfish but I only say that because
they are found sympatrically in the Saint Johns River.

I finally moved from the third bridge to a trail/boat ramp at the second
bridge. This is located on the northeast side of the bridge and is
accessed by a dirt road about 100 ft long. It appears that this spot used
to be dry all the way to the actual put in spot on the SJR, however, now
the tire ruts and low spots were all flooded. Some spots were about 10
feet in diameter and about 4 inches deep; some were just submerged pieces
of road for giant, shallow bodies of water. The water, I would say, is
over 80 degrees F. IT was turbid in some pools and clear in others. Of
both types of water bodies, some had copious amounts of hair algae. I
decided to start collecting in the large body of water and caught a small
armored catfish, (Hoplosternum littorale?) that was about 3 inches, which
I released. I also caught some killies with dark, numerous, vertical
bars. They were about 2 inches long and were obviously Fundulus types,
but more interesting and the contrast was too cool. I caught 3 different
patterned Fundulus but from some that I have consulted, they are all
different forms of Fundulus confluentis. I have never seen this fish
before so, obviously, I was excited. While dragging net in this area I
also caught some flagfish and another one of those micro sized catfish.

Feeling the sun burning my neck, I decided to head home. I had only been
out there for about 2.5 hours but it felt like about 6 hours. I recorded
the location and some of the fish on film. (digital) Over the next 24
hours I lost about 14 of 20 fish that I had collected. There are a few
mistakes I can own up to. I added regular SJR water (cooler and more
tannic) to the water bottle (5 gallon carboy) containing all the fish. I
know better than this, but only had one container to keep the fish in.
But some of the fish from the river died as well. I aerated the fish in a
bucket from the time I arrived where I was staying in Titusville till I
left the next day at 2 p.m. adding fresh water a couple of times from the
water I collected with the fish, but that was stored in another container.
I didnt let them fry or be in the sun at all. I am frustrated with
catching nice fish and then killing some of them, thats all.

A question on Collecting Ethics. I usually try to go easy on
populations when collecting (I dont want to be greedy) but I usually end
up with too few fish to do much with. I am sure there are some things I
can do to make survival more of a reality for fish I collect. Any
suggestions on that are very welcome. Your views on number of fish to
take would be very welcome.

Hope I didnt bore you all,

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