It’s the beginning of June at the Falls of the Ohio. I arrived at the river to find a dozen or so fishermen that were up on this cool, grey morning before me. There are both people and boats in and on the water. Many fishermen are knee to thigh high in the river balancing themselves on the shallow, but rocky bottom.
The river attracts all kinds of fishermen. I see people who have lots of fancy, expensive tackle and for the most part they are using light gear for smaller, sporty, quarry. And then there are the guys that seem more local and blue-collar. No fancy gear here that the anglers might prefer. Rather this is a big pole, five gallon bucket, come as you are affair. Word has probably been passed down the line that the “shad” are running and it’s a good time to catch a mess of fish.
This is the fish of the day…the Skipjack Herring, (Alosa chrysochloris). This fish was first described by the naturalist Rafinesque in the early part of the 19th century. It’s an abundant and beautiful fish found in all of Kentucky’s major rivers and up into the Mississippi River too. The Skipjack is anadromous which means it migrates up rivers from the sea to breed. During the right time of year large schools of Skipjacks are congregating under the dams and waiting for the chance to move forward. The Skipjack gets its name from jumping out of the water like a skimming stone in pursuit of the smaller fishes it eats. At the Falls, the fishermen are catching Skipjacks to use as bait. The fish is cut into quarters and set upon large treble hooks in the hopes of catching big catfish. One fisherman told me he witnessed a 30 pound catfish being caught with this method the previous night. I recently read that these waters were also once home to the Ohio Shad (Alosa ohiensis) which were first described from specimens caught in the Ohio River at Louisville in the late 19th century. This fish is so rare now that it is on occasion listed as being extinct. The Ohio Shad was probably not common to begin with.
Along the water’s edge the smell of dead fish demarcates the air where water and land meet. The riverbank is littered with the unlucky who through lost scales and exposed bone are returning to the world from which they came. There was one unfamiliar fish that I came across and I did a series of photos of it. Here are several views I made of this new fish.
There isn’t anything in the literature about this fish and so I’m going to designate it the Yellow-fin Carp for obvious reasons. In life, it probably was in the 3 to 5 pound range and I’m surprised it didn’t get cut up for bait as well? It has the tell-tale large eyes that suggest it is a deeper water fish. It was probably caught by mistake, released, died, and washed up here with the other unfortunates. Here’s a couple of images made along the riverbank.
Since this is something you don’t run across out here very often, I thought I would post a few more images that provide a more formal portrait.
And now for a head-on view of this interesting fish.
People were not the only animals out here after the Skipjacks. Several bird species including Ospreys, Double-crested Cormorants, Black-crowned Night Herons, and Great Blue Herons were taking their share. Here is a heron couple that are set up by the tainter gates in the eastern section of the park. Between catching fish they mirrored each other in a few courtship moves.
The fossil limestones at the Falls of the Ohio are famous for the diversity of Devonian Age life forms that are preserved within the rocks. Ironically, the Devonian Age is also known as the age of fishes because they first appear in the fossil record over 350 million years a go. At the Falls, however, fish are poorly represented in this rock record. I imagined that if they had preserved as well as other creatures…their remains might look something like this.