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Archive for December, 2016

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The Falls of the Ohio offers a variety of fishing opportunities throughout the year.  Whether you prefer light tackle action in the shallows or the pull from a fifty pound catfish while sitting on a boat…you can find that on the Ohio River flowing by Louisville.  I always check out what’s happening on the riverbank when I come out here.  I am especially interested in seeing what species are being caught and what’s being used to catch them.  On this warm December day the action was happening in the shallows.  Fisherman were using soft-bodied jigs to catch Sauger (a smaller relative of the Walleye) and this nice White Bass.

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The White Bass, (Roccus chrysops) was first described by the eccentric naturalist Constantine Rafinesque who was familiar with the fish life at the Falls of the Ohio.  The White Bass is a big river fish that is also found in impoundments.  This fish can get to be 15 to 18 inches long and a maximum of around five pounds.  We also have a smaller relative, the Yellow Bass that is also found in the Ohio River.  Both species are related to marine sea basses and scatter their eggs without further care of their young.

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Since there is a lot of fishing activity on the river, I also find a lot of lost fishing gear. Broken poles, snagged line, and lots of plastic fishing lures like this recent example. It’s very easy to snag and lose a lure in the rocky bottom out here. Usually, when I find a lure, it is minus its hooks which either have broken off or have dissolved away.  I also pick up lost fishing floats and have been amazed by how much design variety that fishing tackle can encompass.  On the negative side, I also have a fairly full sandwich bag of lead fishing weights that I have accumulated over the years.  When the river is down during the height of summer, I will check out the dried holes in the rocky bottom that catch and tumble lead and other metals.

If nothing else, 2016 will be remembered by me for the quality of the fishing.  I was able to catch three species new to me to add to a growing list of species I have documented at the Falls of the Ohio.  Check out the next couple of images of a rare Ohio River Bowfin (Amia ohioensis) I angled from under the railroad bridge.

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The Ohio River Bowfin is only marginally related to the better known Bowfin, (Amia calva).  The Ohio River Bowfin has adapted its life to living in shallow rocky streams where it ambushes other fish, frogs, crayfish, and other river invertebrates.  Uniquely, its anal and caudal fins have fused into one large fin that comes in handy for scraping out nests in the gravel bottoms it prefers to breed on.  After the male entices the gravid female into his nest and with a little luck and persuasion, a clutch of about fifty eggs is deposited and fertilized.  The male assumes all parenting duties.  Can also be distinguished by it long slender body and bright orange-colored eyes.  After a few pictures and measurements the fish was released unharmed back into the river.

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On another river expedition in November, I visited a different Falls of the Ohio location near the Interpretive Center to sample the fish life there.  Within a minute or two of my first cast I caught this near world record Copperbelly Suckermouth, (Catostomidae cupricana).  I was using a hook baited with clam meat which is the principle food of this Ohio River oddity.  The boats anchored in the river are probably going after large catfish.  This view gives you a good indication of the body type that evolved with some fish that inhabit swift flowing water.  Drag has been minimized and the pectoral fins are strong enough to anchor the fish in place as it hovers over the clam beds it prefers.

Here’s a symbiotic side note…several fresh water clam species use the Copperbelly Suckermouth as an intermediate host during part of their life cycles.  The nearly microscopic clam larvae attach themselves to the fish’s gills where for a short time, the larvae suck blood and grow before dropping off the fish to complete their life cycles in the gravely bottom. The host fish are left unharmed during the process.

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A sneak peek on why this species is called the Copperbelly Suckermouth.  It’s undersides are a deep, rich, red to orange ochre color that is particularly intense during the Spring breeding period.  The strong sucker mouth is located on the fish’s ventral side and is flanked by barbels that help it locate food in the river’s bottom.  This was also strictly catch and release as was the case with my next fishy find.  As with most bottom dwelling fish at the Falls, one should limit how big a meal you make from your catch.  Toxins are more prevalent in the lower reaches which then are ingested and stored in the fish’s fatty tissues.  This particular species, however, has minimal food value.

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Another day and location at the Falls of the Ohio and another unexpected catch!  Using a grasshopper I caught on the bank and a beaver-chewed willow pole I found nearby, I fashioned a rig with an old line and a hook and caught this Kentucky Killifish, (Cyprinodontidae gargantua) by jigging the grasshopper around the shadows cast by the fossil-loaded limestone.  I dropped the grasshopper into just the right dark hole and pulled out this beauty.

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This is a giant among the killifishes as most are under a few inches in length.  Its blue eyes are distinctive.  Small invertebrates in the form of insect larvae are its main food item, but experience has shown it will go for whatever it thinks it can swallow using its relatively tiny mouth.  This fish has no food or sport value what so ever.  During the summer breeding period, the males of this species can get very colorful in an attempt to impress.  Still, a very nice way to cap the year with a new fish to add to the life list!

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Fishing on Mars or the Falls of the Ohio?  The setting sun has colored the dried riverbank a lovely Martian red.  Here explorers are doing what we do…searching for life in the most promising place we know which happens to be by the water.  I hope 2017 manages a way to be kind to our rivers and freshwater everywhere.  I’ll end my fishing story with a look inside the box where I keep my found fishing lures.  See you next year…from the Falls of the Ohio.

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Vine covered Danger sign, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2016

It’s the end of the year and I have a handful of posts and projects I intended to present here before the date on the calendar changes.  I will do my best to try to catch up.  I’ll start with this outing along the Ohio River that happened in November.

I have finally had a bit of a lull from my day job and so I want to start catching up on posting images and stories of my Falls of the Ohio adventures over the last few weeks.  It’s also a bit of a relief from the disappointing presidential election we have just endured.  Hanging out at the river is always a good tonic for the soul.  May it always be that for me and other “river rats” who are drawn to moving waters.  For this post, I will concentrate on an assemblage I made using found bottles, jugs, and other plastic containers that I have collected from the banks of the Ohio River in this small state park in southern Indiana.

Picking up a plastic jug at the Falls of the Ohio

The Falls of the Ohio State Park is not a very big place as parks go, but it is a very historic and dynamic environment.  I remember when I first started coming out here it really bothered me to see so much junk along the riverbank.  It still does and  I tried standard recycling before settling on making art from what others preferred not to see or acknowledge.  What this unique space lacks in size, it makes up for by being a very dynamic environment.

For most of the year, the river behaves itself and lets the Army Corps of Engineers pretend that it is in control of its flow.  Every once in a while, however, the river reminds us through flooding and by going around the barriers set in its way to control it.  It is during these high water moments that all the rubbish sins of the world come down the river from environs both local and from parts north in our watershed.  As this blog documents, I find “stuff” all the time and unfortunately discarded plastic is high on the list.

Found plastic at the Falls of the Ohio, summer 2016

Here is found plastic that I brought back to my outdoor atelier under the willow trees.  I didn’t have to travel far to pick up all I wanted.  I realized as I drove to work this morning that my “outdoor atelier” is now under water.  A few days ago, we finally received enough rain to raise the level of the river.  It’s only been in the last couple of years that I have tried to do anything with plastic on this scale.  Only when I couldn’t deny the bright, unnatural colors any longer that it occurred to me to try to do something “artistic” with all this waste plastic.

Sorting the plastic by color, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2016

After I have selected a site for a project.  I move my materials to the chosen location and when I’m ready, I start sorting objects according to color.  I like to reference the electromagnetic spectrum and rainbows because they are about light.  Plastic is made from petroleum which is sun energy that has been harnessed by prehistoric plants and stored in their tissues.  Over deep time, heat, pressure and the vagaries of geology either liquefies this ancient material into crude oil or compresses it into coal.  It is interesting to think about how much our contemporary world is dependent on using the energy from our sun that shone millions of years a go!

found plastic at the Falls of the Ohio, October 2016

More found plastic, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2016

It will be a leap for some, but “light” in my mind is not only a part of the problem here, but also implies a solution.  We need to do a better job of using our innate creativity to capture the light of today’s sun.  Leave that “ancient energy” in the ground and we certainly don’t need anymore plastic.  Through a little trial and error, I found an arrangement that suits me.  If I am lucky and park visitors or the river decide not to erase what I’ve started then I expand and tinker with my outdoor composition.  If I’m correct, then this piece is already gone taken just today by the river. It lasted many weeks longer than I thought it would.  Thanks for tagging along with me!  Until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.

Colorful found plastic assemblage, Falls of the Ohio, Oct. 2016

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