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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.