I’ve written about the fishes in our lakes that we rarely if ever see, either because they’re small and secretive or because they simply don’t pay attention to what anglers offer. Here are a few more.
The bluntnose minnow is arguably the most common fish species east of the Mississippi. These minnows are found in highly diverse habitats and travel in schools. They’re also known for following their acute sense of smell.
Scientists at the University of Wisconsin Center for Limnology trained bluntnose minnows to follow certain scents as part of research leading to the discovery of how salmon find their way back to the streams where they were hatched from eggs.
Golden shiners are common here in the north, and not just in the tubs at bait shops. They abound in our lakes, so it should be no surprise our game fish are drawn to them. They’re called shiners because of the way their broad, reflective sides catch the light.
They hang out in weedy areas; they can survive in turbidity, low-oxygen and somewhat polluted water and at relatively high temperatures — to around 100 degrees F. They feed on zooplankton, bugs and algae anywhere from the surface to the bottom.
Relatives of golden shiners include the blackchin shiner, found in near-shore waters of lakes, congregating around the branches of down trees, or among aquatic plants.
Darters — at least four species are found in our lakes — are relatives of walleyes. The Johnny darter is the most common of the family; its mottled pattern, brown to black on a yellowish background, is rather striking, as are its fan-shaped tail and dorsal fins. They’re mostly 1.5 to 2.5 inches long.
They like a sand or gravel bottom in clear waters that are still or slow-flowing; they tolerate moderate turbidity and some degree of pollution. They’re a prey species for smallmouth bass, walleyes, and yellow perch, among others. Being common in the shallows, they also become food for fish-eating birds like herons.
Others in this family include the logperch, which grows to more than three inches and has vertical stripes and coloration reminiscent of yellow perch; the Iowa darter, long and slender, mostly up to 2.5 inches long, with up to a dozen dark nearly square blotches on the sides; and the least darter, which rarely grows longer than 1.5 inches and is colored light olive-brown with multiple darker speckles.
And finally there’s the mottled sculpin, similar to rock bass in preferring cool water well infused with oxygen. Up to five inches long, their coloration gives them excellent camouflage against the shallow-water rocky or gravel bottoms they prefer. Mottled sculpins prefer cooler water and are found mostly in streams, but also along rocky lakeshores.
They do not have scales. The eyes are at the top of the head, which is relatively large, as is the mouth. The color pattern includes shades of gray, brown and black; the belly is cream-colored. So now you know a little bit about a few more of our Wisconsin fish you’re unlikely to observe in their natural settings.
Ted Rulseh resides on Birch Lake in Harshaw and is an advocate for lake protection and improvement. His Lakeland Times and Northwoods River News columns are the basis for a book, “A Lakeside Companion,” published by The University of Wisconsin Press. Ted may be reached at [email protected]