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What Lurks Beneath, Beautiful Flatties

Last week I noted that Nebraska Game & Park Fisheries biologist are busy around the state doing fish sampling this time of year (“Survey Says”).  A couple of weeks ago I slipped out of the office for a day and got my hands fishy helping with some of that sampling.  I have blogged many times about the flathead catfish fishery at Branched Oak Reservoir and the research that has been done on those fish in recent years.  With a total catch & release regulation for all flathead catfish, Branched Oak has developed into one of the best reservoir flathead fisheries in the country.

Sampling flathead catfish is done by electrofishing, using an electrofishing boat.  There are certain electrical settings that are very effective for sampling flathead catfish.  Whenever we sample flatties at Branched Oak we see a lot of fish, everything from 6-inchers to as much as 60 pounds!

The small flatheads at Branched Oak are all products of natural reproduction.  Yes, big fish “turn my crank”, but the small flatheads are cool, little predators themselves and can be some of the most colorful specimens.

Fish were measured and weighed.

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Love it when the standard measuring board is too short!

After that quick handling, those fish were released very much “alive and well” back into the water from which they came.

It was a rainy, drizzly day and at times my camera fogged up, but I got Joe to pose for a “hero-shot”.

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That was one of the larger fish we got our hands on that day, but we have seen a lot bigger at Branched Oak.  When it takes two of us to lift it into the boat, then we get excited!

Flathead catfish are very much warm-water fish and spend their winters grouped up in deeper water wintering habitats.  While they are in their “wintering holes” they lie in almost a state of “suspended animation” with very little, if any movement.  Flatheads are very active in early fall, but as the waters cool they begin moving towards their wintering habitats.  In my experience, in the fall, I have caught actively-feeding flatheads in shallow water, usually after dark, until water temperatures fall into the 50’s F.  Then they head for their wintering holes and will not be active in shallow water again until next spring.

“Mystery Fish”

I scooped up some other fish and took some pictures because they are a fish not many folks know about.  You will see these fish swimming in a number of reservoirs, mostly in southeast Nebraska.  They are an almost-transparent, skinny, little fish.  I had a hard time scooping any into a dip-net because they would slip right through the mesh.

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Those were brook silversides.  They are not a fish native to Nebraska, but made their way into the state with threadfin shad that were stocked years ago in some reservoirs.  Nebraska is too cold for any threadfin shad to survive, so you will not find any of them in any Nebraska waters, but the brook silversides are still present in some.  You have to be observant to notice them, and I suspect most of the time they are dismissed as just another “minnow” or baitfish.  However, occasionally anglers notice these unusual fish and will ask about them.

Most of the time when I see silversides they are very near the surface.  They potentially could be another baitfish that could provide prey for our larger sportfish, but I cannot tell you that they have been documented as being an important prey fish in any of our waters.  I suspect that they are not super-abundant and that their behavior and transparency may make them a rare meal for most of our predator fish.

Stay tuned.  I will conintue tease you with more pictures and reports of what our fisheries biologists are seeing on the water this fall.  Later, I will bug the guys for summaries of their sampling and begin putting that together for next year’s Fishing Forecast!

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About daryl bauer

Daryl is a lifelong resident of Nebraska (except for a couple of years spent going to graduate school in South Dakota). He has been employed as a fisheries biologist for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for 25 years, and his current tour of duty is as the fisheries outreach program manager. Daryl loves to share his educational knowledge and is an avid multi-species angler. He holds more than 120 Nebraska Master Angler Awards for 14 different species and holds more than 30 In-Fisherman Master Angler Awards for eight different species. He loves to talk fishing and answer questions about fishing in Nebraska, be sure to check out his blog at outdoornebraska.org.

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