Variegated Darter

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While exploring a creek near Youngstown, Ohio, this month I came across one of these neat little fish for the first time. The Variegated Darter has large fins, a blunt nose and a mouth at the lower tip of its head. It typically grows to be about four inches long.

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This fish is an insectivore, mainly feeding on insect larvae, crustaceans and other invertebrates found on the bottom of the waterways that it resides in. The name “darter” refers to the way this fish moves. Rather than swimming like most fish, the darter darts forward and then sinks to the bottom.

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It does this because its air bladder is greatly reduced, interfering with the darter’s ability to stay afloat. This allows it to live in riffle areas where fish with air bladders would have the disadvantage of floating and being swept away by the current.

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When a darter comes to rest, its fins and tail prop up its body in sort of a tripod position with its head angled upward. The key identification characteristic of this fish is the four to six saddles along its back; three to four of these saddles tend to be dark and visible while the remaining saddles are not.

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Variegated Darters primarily live in larger streams with cobble, pebble, and gravel on the stream bed. In order to survive, they need waterways with high water quality. Due to this attribute, they are often viewed as an indicator of good water quality.

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This was a great and unexpected creature to come across while out and about.

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Yellow Perch

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Recently I caught one of these fine fish in Geauga Lake in northeast Ohio. It has a yellow and brass-colored body and distinct pattern, consisting of five to nine olive-green, vertical bars, triangular in shape, on each side.

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Yellow Perch are only found in North America and reside in ponds, lakes, the pools of creeks and slow flowing rivers. They are most often encountered in clear water near vegetation and tend to school near the shore during the Spring. They can also be found in brackish water.

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Adults are typically 6 to 10 inches long and dine primarily on immature insects, larger invertebrates (like crayfish) and the eggs and young of other fish, which they take both from open water and from the bottom.

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The young of this species often mixes with other small fish in schools. Adults often occur in schools of 50 to 200 or more fish, staying closer together in the Summer than in the Winter.

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The Yellow Perch has two dorsal fines, the first of which has prominent spines. This fish reaches maturity at an age of one to two years; its average life span is seven to eight years.

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This fish is also known as Lake Perch, Ringed Perch, American Perch, American Perch, Raccoon Perch and Ring-tailed Perch.

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Black Crappie

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This neat freshwater fish is found in lakes, ponds and sloughs. It prefers cover, usually in the form of vegetation, fallen trees or rocks and water that is clear with a sand or mud bottom.

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This creature is silvery and has a pattern of mainly irregularly arranged speckles and blotches. It is a deep-bodied and slab-sided with a large mouth.

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Young Black Crappie begin life by feeding primarily on zooplankton. Adults mainly feed on small fish, but also consume insects and crustaceans.

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Like other members of the sunfish family, Black Crappie are nest builders. Males construct a nest by fanning out small underwater depressions in and around brush, rocks or vegetation at a depth of between one and five feet deep. Females then lay eggs in the nest.

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Populations of this fish can be found in each of the 48 contiguous United States. It is a popular game fish and prized as a food source, so its original range has been artificially expanded by stocking lakes, ponds and rivers across the United States.

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White Sucker

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This fish is commonly known as a “sucker” due to its fleshy lips that suck up organic matter from the bottoms of rivers and streams. When full grown, it can reach lengths between 12 to 20 inches.

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The White Sucker is native to my home state of Ohio and can be found in every county in the state. They are the most common species of sucker found in The Buckeye State.

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Often described as being “torpedo shaped,” it has a broad, rounded head with a prominent downward-pointing, sucker-like mouth. It’s body is cylindrical and is covered with large, prominent scales.

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This fish shows little preference for a particular habitat and can be found in nearly every lake, reservoir, river and stream in Ohio. It is very tolerant of pollution, murky water and low oxygen levels.

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The White Sucker feeds on a variety of bottom-dwelling organisms, such as aquatic insect larvae, small mollusks, crustaceans, plant material and worms.

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While not the most glamorous of fish, it fulfills an important ecological role.

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The result of setting minnow traps recently in southern Illinois yielded some cool creatures, including these fine fish. Younger examples, like this one, can sometimes have a purplish sheen to their sides.


A type of sunfish, Warmouth usually range in size from 4 to 10 inches, but can grow to over 12 inches in length and weigh up to 2-1/4 pounds. They prefer to hide around aquatic vegetation, stumps and snags, and under the banks of streams and ponds.


This highly aggressive and hardy fish can live in polluted waters (such as the junk=strewn environment shown in the first photo where I caught mine), with low oxygen levels where other species of sunfish cannot survive.


The primary diet of the Warmouth consists of insects, crayfish and other fish. It has a huge mouth and will attempt to eat just about anything that comes near it.


Other local names for this fish are Molly, Redeye, Goggle-eye, Red-eyed bream and Strawberry Perch. This was my first encounter with this tough fish and I was glad to finally experience one in the wild.

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Green Sunfish

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While setting minnow traps in southern Illinois, I caught one of these fine fish. The Green Sunfish is not only popular with anglers, but it is also kept as a pet by fish hobbyists.

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Native to a wide area of North America east of the Rocky Mountains, this species prefers areas in sluggish backwaters, lakes, and ponds with gravel, sand, or bedrock bottoms.

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They can be found in very muddy waters and are able to tolerate poor water conditions. The waterway where I caught mine was littered with human trash.

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Green Sunfish tend to spend their time hiding around rocks, submerged logs, plants and other objects that provide cover. They eat aquatic invertebrates and insects that fall into the water; they’ll also consume smaller fish.

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Their average length is 3 to 7 inches. Though small, they are beautiful and certainly a cool creature to come across in my travels.

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Pirate Perch

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While checking the minnow traps that I set in southern Illinois, I discovered this fish which I’ve never seen before.

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Pirate Perch are found in clear warm streams, oxbows and marshes with low currents and tend to congregate where there is dense vegetation, woody debris, root masses and undercut banks.

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They are small, usually 4 to 5 inches, dark brown and can have a purple sheen on their sides. They often have a dark tear drop shaped marking under the eye.

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The Pirate Perch is the sole member of the family Aphredoderidae. What is noteworthy about it is the peculiar position of its anus, which is located near the anal fin when the fish is young but gradually moves forward, to the throat, as the fish matures.

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The reason why the fish’s vent was located at the front of the body instead of the back was revealed by field observations. It turns out that females thrust their heads into tangled root masses to lay their eggs and the males quickly follow suit, putting their heads in the same spot in the tangled root mass to fertilize the eggs. No other North American fish does this.

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Charles C. Abbott, a pioneer ichthyologist, is credited with giving this fish its common name, after observing that a specimen he kept in an aquarium ate only other fish.

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Monkeyface Prickleback

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While exploring tide pools in north-central California, I came across this wonderful little fish. It tends to stay near the coast, rather than roaming the open ocean, and is often found in rocky areas.

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Young Monkeyface Pricklebacks, like this one, feed on zooplankton and crustaceans, while adults are primarily herbivorous, mainly consuming red and green algae.

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These long, slender fish, grow to about 18 inches in length and possess the unfishlike ability to breathe and survive out of water while hidden under seaweed or rocks. This was one of many fun finds during my tidal pool adventure.

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Largemouth Bass

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This is an olive-green fish marked by a series of dark, sometimes black, blotches forming a jagged horizontal stripe along each side. Largemouth Bass are the most popular game fish in North America.

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It’s mouth size is legendary and allows it to consume smaller fish, snails, crayfish, frogs, snakes, salamanders, bats, birds, mammals and baby alligators.

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As adults they are tend to be solitary fish and are often the apex predator in their habitat. Largemouth Bass hide in water vegetation or under roots and limbs of sunken trees, and striking out at their prey from the shadows.

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This is an adaptable fish that can live in swamps, ponds, lakes, reservoirs, creeks and large rivers. Their average length is about 18 inches and their lifespan can be more than 10 years.

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This fish is known by a variety of regional names, such as the Widemouth Bass, Bigmouth Bass, Black Bass, Bucketmouth, Largies, Potter’s Fish, Green Bass, Green Trout, Gilsdorf Bass, Oswego Bass and LMB.

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What ever you call them, they are a lot of fun to catch!

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I caught one of Ohio’s most colorful sunfish while on a recent fishing outing. Though native to most of the northeastern United States, Pumpkinseed have been introduced into other areas of North America as well as Europe. Their native range extends further north than any other sunfish species in their genus.


They have an orange-to-yellow belly and many small, brown-to-orange spots scattered over their sides. The coloration of the scales of the Pumpkinseed is one of the most vibrant of any freshwater fish. The ear flap features a distinctive red-orange spot at the rear edge.


Pumpkinseed prefer clear, non-flowing water with dense submerged aquatic vegetation. This species resides in places where it can find underwater shelter to hide. Adults are usually 5-8 inches and less than half a pound, but they can reach 10 inches and 1 pound.


They are much more common in lakes and reservoirs of Northern Ohio than in Southern Ohio. Pumpkinseed eat larval insects, some adult insects, snails, and occasionally small fish.


This fish is also referred to as Pond Perch, Common Sunfish, Punkys, Sunfish, Sunny, and Kivver.

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