After more than 35 years of professional writing, the odd corners of my mental filing “system” contain an uncounted number of tips, tactics and ideas that aren’t “meaty” enough for an entire newspaper column or magazine article. They are, nevertheless, valuable additions to a well-rounded outdoorsman’s pool of knowledge. Therefore, I’ve decided to take pot shots at a few of them.
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Invasive aquatic plants and animals posse a very real danger to Missouri’s lakes and streams, and the Missouri Department of Conservation is taking a multi-pronged approach to combating them. For example, anglers are strongly encouraged to destroy leftover live bait by dumping it on land well away from the edge of the water.
I know this sounds weird, but I have a very hard time killing leftover minnows. To give up to three dozen of them a chance to live a week or longer, I took an old, hard-sided, 28-quart ice chest, drilled about a dozen one eighth-inch holes through the lid for ventilation and a hole large enough to insert the aerator end of a Frabill Bubble Box, which I attached to the lid with a strip of velcro. Thirty minutes of aeration two or three times a day are plenty to keep the minnows lively.
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People with no interest whatsoever in the wilder side of nature enjoy watching domesticated “tropical” fish swimming back and forth in a home aquarium. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, of course, but I prefer to stock my aquarium with native fish.
The current inhabitant of the 10-gallon aquarium that occupies a prominent place in my living room is an orange-spotted sunfish, named Finnegan. Watching him is a two way street. Strangers send him diving behind his sheltering rock, but he recognizes and initiates various interactions with both the human and the furry members of his beyond-the-glass family. And as I’m sure he would want me to point out, Finnegan displays a very specific behavior pattern to indicate when he’s hungry.
With the exception of endangered species–possession of which is prohibited–it’s legal to possess up to five game or nongame fish in an aquarium setting. Any of the small species of sunfish–or small specimens of larger species–are excellent choices for a native fish aquarium, because of their potential to become pets.
That said, the standard one inch of fish per gallon of water may not hold with sunfish. They form schools in the wild, but they can become very territorial in the confines of an aquarium. A couple of years ago, I put two green sunfish and one bluegill, all of which were less than three inches long in a 10-gallon aquarium. Within a week, I had to remove the bluegill and one of the green sunfishes, because the other green sunfish had become so dominant that he was determined to kill his “competition.” We called him Feisty.
Several species of the minnows found in clear Ozark streams are strikingly beautiful, and while I’ve never tried it, I presume more than one of them could be stocked in an aquarium. If you decide to go this route, have a copy of “The Fishes of Missouri” by William L. Pflieger in hand. It’s the best reference work on its subject I’ve ever seen and is readily available from the MDC’s Nature Shop. Even with Mr. Pflieger’s help, I advise collecting stream minnows only during their spring spawning season, when their identifying colors are the most vivid. Even then, don’t collect anything that you’re not absolutely sure isn’t an endangered species.
Native fish survive in some downright yucky water in the wild, but, when placed in an aquarium, they need the same water purification chemicals, filter pump and tank cleaning schedule that a store-bought fish does. That said, don’t use chemicals to remove algae. I bought some from a local pet shop that both the bottle and the sales clerk said would not harm fish. The day after I added the prescribed amount of the chemical to my aquarium, Feisty was obviously sick, and the following day he was dead.
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The best squirrel call I’ve ever used is two quarters scraped or tapped together. The only problem is getting them out of my pocket when I need them and not losing them when I don’t. Then one day I was searching through my SUV’s ash tray and came upon some of the tokens a local car wash once used to activate its vacuum sweepers. Not only did they sound better than the quarters, but I also drilled a small hole close to the edge of each token. An appropriate length of cord threaded through the holes and then tied into a loop created a lanyard that–so far at least–has kept even me from losing them.
Gerald Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org