Tricky Triggerfish: Designed for Defense

Early Morning Discovery:

Get those lines down! The Triggers are waiting!“, was the cry we heard from the Captain of the Party boat, the Destiny, two hours out in the Gulf of Mexico from Destine, Florida in the early October morning.

I was in for a treat. I was about to hook into my very first Triggerfish. These amazing creatures have unique design and behavior that demonstrate the careful way in which a God made them. They have amazing defensive strategies.

Finally up and in the basket. Take a closer look and see how these fish differ from the ones you have caught over the years.

My fish was only 2″ smaller than the one that won the 2020 DestinFishing Rodeo daily contest when we got back to the dock.

Above you can see The Daily Winner that was Bigger than My Fish.

The Destin Fishing Rodeo is an annual event in Florida to bring in fishermen to extend the tourist season into October. There are daily and overall prizes in several different categories of kinds of fish and age divisions. When you come in for the weigh in, expect a large crowd of onlookers. You will also meet the current reigning Miss Destin Beauty Queen who poses with those who catch the big ones.

Fancy Fins

One of the most fascinating behaviors of the Triggerfish is the way it uses its fins. Triggerfish have two spines on the front of their dorsal fin that are designed to help the fish escape predators. When a shark, Amberjack, Grouper, Sailfish, Marlin or other large fish comes in to attack, the Triggerfish flees into a crack or crevice in the rocky bottom. They then slide into the opening and spring their trigger fins to lock themselves in. The spines interlock when sprung and this makes it almost impossible to remove. When you get one on the line, be sure to maintain pressure so they don’t drop down and use this same trick on you. The name “Triggerfish” comes from this behavior.

Put On Your Armor!

When God created the Triggerfish He gave them a suit of armor. The outer skin of the triggerfish is so strong that when you try to clean them with a knife, you cannot cut through their outer skin. While watching the deckhands that cleaned my fish I saw that they had to cut through the thinner skin around the upper dorsal fins or enter through the vent at the bottom of the fish. They then peeled back the skin while ripping it away from the flesh beneath. The guy that cleaned mine kept the two large pieces of skin to take home, cover with salt, then scrape away any remaining flesh to create leather to use to make knife sheaths. While thinking about how much protection God gave these fish, I was reminded of the Armor God has given to His children to ward off the attacks of Satan. (You can learn more about this in the Bible, Ephesians 6: starting at verse 11.)

How to Out Trick The Bait Stealers:

One thing we had to learn quickly was that the Triggerfish are masters at bait stealing. The deckhands told us that, if we had no bites within 30-45 seconds, we needed to reel in and rebait. So, how does one out trick a tricky Triggerfish? Use circle hooks and the fish will often hook themselves. These special hooks are designed to curve into the lips of the fish as soon as they bite down on the bait. Don’t jerk the line, just reel up as fast as you can. You can also bait your hook with pieces of squid which stay on the line better than the other cut fish bait.

Be Ready for a Battle!

Of the five kinds of bottom fish I caught during my three days of fishing in the Gulf, the Triggerfish were the hardest to bring in. They put up quite a battle. The oval shape of the body of this fish creates a lot of surface tension and resistance when traveling through the water as the fish swims sideways while trying to escape.

Make Sure It’s a “Keeper”!:

Only one of the six Triggerfish I caught was a keeper. Triggerfish, at the time of my trip had to be at least 15 inches long to be “keepers”. The one that I was able to keep was 20 inches long. Depending on the area and season restrictions you may not be able to keep any of these fish. Fortunately for us, they had reopened the season in October due to the lower number of fish harvested this year because of the Covid crisis. Be sure to check the current fishing regulations if you go out to fish in the Gulf of Mexico. If you go on a registered Party Boat the Captain and Crew will help you know which ones you can harvest.

Tricky Teeth:

Triggerfish have an amazing set of “choppers”. Their front teeth are very well developed and are used as chisels to bore holes through hard-shelled prey.

Above is a picture of a Triggerfish skull that shows you what these teeth look like. Since the mouths of these fish are so small, the teeth extrude out through the lips. Even though Triggerfish can chisel through thick shells they have other tricks that make acquiring food quicker.

Be Like a Helicopter:

Two food items Triggerfish like to eat are sand- dollars and sea urchins. To get to the meat inside these creatures requires a strategy. The Triggerfish uses its fins to hover in the water vertically above the sandy bottom of the sea floor. They then squirt out a stream of water through their mouths to blow away the sand exposing the sand-dollars hiding in the sand. Next, they grab their prey in their teeth and swim up and drop it until in lands on its back. The bottom side of the sand-dollar is much softer than the top making access much easier. Once flipped, the fish will descend rapidly and ram the inverted sand-dollar with its hard front teeth cracking the shell. They then quickly gobble up the soft creature inside and repeat the process again and again.

I’ve Got My Eyes on You:

As you have seen in the pictures in this blog, the Triggerfish has eyes high up on the sides of its body. These are placed in just the right place for the Triggerfish to locate and target its prey as well as keep an eye out fir predators.

Just One of Many Bottom Dwelling Fish:

In the above picture you can see only one Triggerfish in the Cooler. If you compare how many snapper fish there are in relation to the Triggerfish you get a pretty good idea that it is pretty special to catch a Triggerfish.

Triggerfish are usually caught when people are trying to catch grouper, Amberjack, snapper, and other game fish since they all live in the same areas. Don’t be disappointed, however. The triggerfish is one of the tastiest of them all!

Fish Family Matters:

While researching these fish I discovered some amazing things about the roles of the parent fish as well as the behaviors of their young. The male Triggerfish actually build and prepare the nesting sites before the females arrive during the nesting season. The males actually prepare more than one nest because one male may mate with several females. The males create depressions in the sandy bottom and guard their territories aggressively. They have even been known to attack scuba divers if they invade their territory, though they pose very little danger to humans. The females will deposit hundreds of thousand eggs and the males then supply the milt to fertilize them. The mothers will stay close by the nests until the eggs hatch. They frequently use their fins to oxygenate the eggs to help the embryos develop. After the eggs hatch the young will rise to the top of the water column where they feed amongst the sargassum (a type of brown seaweed that floats in masses on the surface of the ocean). Within the sargassum the baby fish find all kinds of tiny crustaceans and other food items. When the youngsters mature they drop back down to the bottom of the ocean to live out the rest of their lives.
Triggerfish have been known to grow as large as 30 inches and weigh up to 13 lbs., however these large triggerfish have had to survive for about 16 years to reach that size. As you can guess, most are much smaller, more in the 14 to 17 inch range.

Well, I hope you have enjoyed learning about Triggerfish. Maybe you can go out and catch some yourself.

Let’s Catch Some Mingo Snappers!

Out to Sea from Destin, Florida

It was early in the morning when I got up to go deep sea fishing in the sports fishing village of Destin, Florida. Once you arrive and board the party fishing boat, you are off for a two hour ride into the Gulf Bay. I went out on two different boats during the three days I was there: The Destin Princess and The Destiny.

Ready to Catch Some Fish?

Once the captain located a good fishing site the deck hands gave us instructions on how to catch the fish. To catch Mingo you have to lower the bait to the bottom and then bring it back up about nine cranks of the reel. It doesn’t take long to get a bite! They told us that if you were not getting bites within 30 seconds you have probably lost your bait. It seems the larger fish like to be just above the bottom.

These fish were often caught two at a time on the two hooks on the line. When you get into a school of them you have to quickly get your bait down while they are still biting before the captain tells you to bring up your lines to move to a better location.

What’s In A Name?

At the first stop some of us were a little confused when they called out the names of the fish we were catching. We could only keep the White and the Vermillion Snappers, but not the Red Snappers which were out of season. Sometimes they called the Mingo Snappers Vermillion and sometimes they called them Beeliners. After asking a few questions we learned that these fish have several nicknames. No matter what you call them, they are plentiful and will fill your stringer fast.

Scientists are more specific when naming creatures and use Latin names for each species. The scientific name of the Vermillion Snappers is Rhomboplites aurorubens. As you can see, the nicknames are easier to pronounce and remember.

What Bait Do You Use?

We were offered two types of bait: cut up mackerel and squid. Each piece of bait was about a 1 inch square. We found that the squid stayed on the line better, but the fish will eat just about anything you offer them.

Special Hooks So They Catch Themselves:

I learned that fishing for deep sea fish is much different that fishing for fresh water fish like bass and catfish. When fishing deep in the ocean you use circle hooks.

Don’t Be A Jerk!

When the fish bite you do not jerk back to set the hook! If you do you will just rip the hook from their soft mouths. what you should do, however, is reel in the line like crazy. I discovered that if you brought them up slowly you were likely to have them bitten off by sharks and dolphins. One of the times I was bringing up what must have been two Mingo fish when all of a sudden my line jerked down and then went loose again. When I reeled it up I was missing both hooks which had been cut off by the razor sharp teeth of a shark. Another time my line came up with just the head of a fish.

Here was one day’s catch of snappers. Notice that most are Vermillion/Mingo Snappers. I also caught some of their cousins the White Snappers. Notice the forked tails which help you know they are not Red Snappers which have a square tail.

These Are Great Fish to Catch!

As you probably know, many fish species have been over harvested to the point that they are endangered. When you go fishing you need to know the rules and regulations for the species you are likely to catch. You might even want to choose what time of the year you go to target specific types of fish. I was disappointed that I had to return my largest Snappers because the Red Snappers were out of season. Fortunately the Mingo fish are currently in season all year round which makes them a favorite target fish for the captains of party boats. Catching a big stringer of Tasty Mingo Fish seems to keep everybody happy while you still have a chance to catch other varieties of fish that live in the same environment. Since the Vermillion Snappers reproduce many times a year and produce thousands of eggs, it is assured that this species is a very sustainable catch. They are also tasty! They have a mild sweet tasting flesh that is low in sodium and fat, yet high in protein. They are easy to filet and one fish gives you about the right amount of fish for one person’s meal. You can cook them up several ways: fry them in butter or olive oil, bake them or grill them. They also taste great in fish chowders when cut into small cubes.

The Majority Rules

In my thee days of fishing I caught a total of 56 pounds of fish. The majority of those fish was by far the Mingo Fish.

This is the catch of one side of the boat. Notice how many Mingo fish are in the ice.

Other Interesting Mingo Facts:

Vermillion Snappers are reddish orange on the top and slowly fade to pink as the color goes toward the bottom of the fish. The bellies are silver white. Sometimes you can see some streaks of yellow in stripes on their sides.
Vermillion have very large red eyes.
Mingo fish have small mouths unlike their bigger cousins the Red Snappers.
This species can spawn anywhere between 23 to 93 times a year. A typical 7 inch fish can produce as many as 20,000 eggs. A larger 15 inch fish can produce up to 350,000 eggs a year.
Once hatched, baby fish rise up to the surface to feed on small creatures inside the seaweed mats toward the surface. When they get larger they descend to the bottom where they hang out over reefs, banks, artificial reefs and shipwrecks. They also like to be near where the banks drop off on the sea floor and around oil platforms.
They grow very slowly. It takes about a year for them to reach 5-7 inches in length. They can live up to 21 years and reach weights up to 7 lbs. the world record is 7 pounds and three ounces caught by John Doss in the Gulf of Mexico in 1987.
The average size caught is between 1 and 2 lbs.
Their diet includes crab, worms, squid, smaller fish, plankton, and shrimp.
Fishermen call them “Bull Mingo Fish” when they reach about three pounds. Most of the fish this size are males.
Most Vermillion are caught between 80 and 350 feet deep.
The dorsal fins of Vermillion are rose colored with yellow edges.
They are native from North and South Carolina, the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the Caribbean Sea all the way to Brazil.

A view from the Destine Princess on the way out to the fishing area.

Variety Is The Spice of Life!

As I discover new creatures in God’s creation I am reminded of how many different kinds of creatures He has created that live in many different kinds of habitats. Just think of how carefully He must have thought through the design of each species. Some live in the deepest oceans. Others live in to top water. By creating them with different adaptations He assured they could all survive and balance out the food and territory requirements for survivor ability. It is important to realize that He has given man the responsibility for how we treat and manage these resources. When we use common sense and more carefully study a His creation we can enjoy what He has provided for us as well as insure that the supply can be enjoyed by others in years to come. When was the last time you thanked Him for creating the fish we like to catch, eat and study?

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” I Thessalonians 5: 17

I often just take the time to speak out, “Thank you, LORD” as I am fishing. If you have a thankful spirit of gratitude you will find yourself enjoying your fishing time more. Someone else might also hear you and you might have a chance to share your testimony of how God is working in your daily life.

Best Day of Fishing:

That’s Cool!

The temperature dropped from the recent summertime heat. Fall weather is coming. It seems like the catfish like to feed when the cooler mornings drop the water temperature. Today was my best day of fishing at the lake near my home. I caught three large catfish weighing in at 8lbs., 11lbs., and the largest at 13 lbs.

Know What They Like:

The trick to fishing is, you have to get smarter than the fish! One of the most important things to know is what they are feeding on. In the lake where I fish there are tons of bluegill. After catching a few this morning one swallowed the hook and I knew it had a poor chance of survival if I threw it back into the lake. I decided to use it as bait. I was able to get several nice pieces of bait for my hooks from the one small fish.

Double Up the Hooks:

A good way to increase the likelihood of catching fish is to have more than one hook on the line. I like to use two. Be sure to check the regulations in your state to be sure it is legal to use more than one hook per pole. In some waters you can only use one! I like to put one hook on the end of the line with a couple split-shot about a foot above and then the second hook about a foot above the weights. That way the hooks don’t get tangled very often. Be sure to hide the hook inside the piece of fish! The nice thing about having two pieces of bait on the line is that if one gets pulled off there is a second one still waiting to be eaten. In fact, one of the fish I caught today actually had swallowed both pieces of fish.

Know Their Fighting Tactics:

If you are trying to catch a big fish you have to know how to keep them from breaking the line or shaking the hook. Be sure to set your drag so that they can pull off some line when they make a run (Believe me, if it’s a big one it will make several attempts to swim away with all its might!) If the fish is headed toward a tree branch in the water or some other potential snag, you have to turn it. Put extra tension on the line and aim your pole tip in the direction you want it to go. Reel in when ever you have any slack in the line. Let the fish work against the drag. Don’t reel too fast or pull too hard or it will break your line. Be patient! The fish will eventually tire. Consider the strength of the line you are using. Lighter weight line breaks easily. I had some lighter line on my pole a couple weeks ago and lost two big ones. I learned my lesson! After putting on heavier line I knew had a much better chance of landing these monster catfish.

Consider Catch-and-Release:

I know most fishermen like to show off their big fish. The best way to do it is with a camera. If you have ever eaten a large catfish you, like I, have discovered they don’t taste as good as the smaller ones. The big mature catfish are also important in the reproduction of more catfish to catch in the future. I return the large ones to the water to catch again. I figure other fishermen would like to catch a big fish too!

One of the Best Survivors:

Of all the kinds of fish I have caught I think the catfish are the best survivors. I used to fish with the California legend, “Mr. Catfish”: George Powers. He could catch catfish when nobody else was having any luck. He often shared his catch with others like when we had an annual fish-fry at our church. He taught me a few cool tricks for catching and preserving the fish we caught. He would catch catfish and keep them fresh for hours by placing them in a Gunny-sack. When he would pull them out later, after a day of fishing on the lake, the fish were still alive and kicking as if they had just come out of the lake. I also remember as a kid, while riding in a pickup with my Grandpa who worked for the irrigation district, watching catfish still alive while buried in the mud of a irrigation channel that had been scooped out with a Backhoe to improve the flow of water. The fish were in great shape. Even though they are durable, it is still good to get the fish back in the water as soon as possible when you plan to return them to their water home.

Notice the Design:

As you look closely at a catfish you can clearly see it is designed for function. Each part of the catfish anatomy shows intentional strategy for what the catfish must do to survive. Catfish are bottom feeders and must have ways to detect their prey even in cloudy water and darkness. The whiskers are great sensory organs. Down the side of the fish is the lateral line which also tells the fish what is in the water around it as it swims around looking for food. Catfish seem to be attracted to smelly bait. They have a very keen sense of smell and can also detect movement in their surroundings. How did the catfish acquire all of these amazing features? I believe the catfish, like all other creatures, was designed by the Master Creator, the LORD Jesus Christ.

Colossians 1:16-17

“For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities- all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all thing hold together.”

 

Keep Your Eyes Open:

If you take the time to carefully observe everything around you as you go through life, you can clearly see that everything was designed with a purpose. Each kind of creature is uniquely designed for where it lives and what it needs to do. Have you ever considered your purpose? When God created mankind He made man the object of His love. We will only find fulfillment when we become part of His family through the Salvation He offers through His Son, Jesus Christ. Through Him we have access to God the Father. I hope you have or will come to know Him too.

Northern Watersnake: Often A Case of Mistaken Identity

Let’s Go Fishing:

As I often do, I like to go down to the lake to go fishing. When I go I am not the only one fishing there. Yesterday I met a grandpa fishing with his five year old grandson. It was fun to see the little guy reel in a few bluegill. Soon we discovered we we not the only ones fishing there. While casting out my line I saw the grandpa taking a quick step back from the edge of the lake startled that he might be seeing a poisonous snake.

At first sight one might think “water moccasin!” But that would be a wrong assessment and might endanger the snake more than the one trying to make the identification. This is a Northern Watersnake: Norodia sipedon. It is not poisonous and poses little threat to man. Many times these snakes are wantonly killed by those who think they are doing everybody else a favor by removing an unwelcome visitor.

Actually A Great Benefit:

Rather than being harmful, these snakes are an important part of the ecosystem. As you can see in these pictures it has an appetite for fish. It also eats frogs, salamanders and toads, as well as other small creatures along the shoreline. If you are not familiar with the group of fishes to which this bluegill belongs, they are known to release chemicals into the water that regulate the growth patterns of other fish of its species. This mechanism is designed to help the overall population to have enough food to go around. I remember fishing a lake in California where the bluegill were over-populated. All of the fish were about 2-3 inches long. There were so many you could catch them with a bare black fishing hook. Though you could easily catch fish there wasn’t much good in the effort since they were all so small. The best way to rectify the problem would be to remove many of the fish. This would allow the remaining fish to grow larger. In a similar way snakes also keep other species in check.

 

Watersnakes, birds, and many other predators help naturally regulate the number of species in lakeside communities. By killing snakes you can quickly upset the balance with lasting consequences.

Fun to Watch:

If you have a natural fear of snakes you might be missing out on a lot of fun! Snakes are actually very beautiful animals with many interesting behaviors. As an example, these snakes often find homes in muskrat holes along the shore where they hide in the sticks and leaves inside. They often can be seen lurking along the shoreline seeking out minnows and larger fish. As you can see in these pictures, many times their prey is even larger than the size of the snake’s head. No problem for the snake, however, since its jaws can expand to allow the whole fish to slide in. A muscle action pushes the fish down where it is eventually digested. It’s fun to see a snake just after swallowing a large meal. It reminds me of the many cartoons I’ve seen of snakes.

Food for Other Animals:

Not only do these snakes help in the ways mentioned above, they also provide food for many other animals. Raccoon, Skunks, Eagles, Herons, Egrets, and large fish prey on watersnakes. I guess it’s fair play for a large fish to return the favor after the snake has consumed many of her young. The majority of the snakes eaten are the young. Fortunately watersnakes can produce quite a few babies. They also bear their young alive. A mother can produce up to 30 young in one birthing though more commonly far less. I remember watching as about fifteen newly born little watersnakes swam by one day while I was fishing. I bet that very few of them made it to adulthood.

Can You Tell The Difference? Heads or Tails, You win!

The poisonous snakes with which watersnakes are confused actually have several distinguishing characteristics. One is the much broader body shape. They also have elliptical pupils whereas the Watersnake has round pupils. Another feature found on the poisonous snakes are the heat-sensing pits on their heads. These are found below and between the eyes and nose. If you look at the other end of the snake you will find that watersnakes have long slender tails whereas water moccasins have short and thicker tails.

Overcoming Fear:

One helpful way to overcome your fears is to face them. In many cases just acknowledging your fears can lead to solutions. Learning the facts about what you fear can also help alleviate a lot of the tension. Find someone knowledgeable and they can help answer your questions. You will find that after conquering your fears you will enjoy the outdoors to a much greater extent. Do some research, talk to an expert. Don’t let your fears ruin your life.

A Bigger Purpose:

While you are spending time outdoors experiencing God’s Creation consider the part you play in His overall plan. We can learn a lot about ourselves and our Creator by exploring His Handiwork. If He has a purpose for watersnakes He surely has a purpose for your life and He has created all things for you to enjoy.

Here Are Some Good Sources for Further Research:

National Wildlife Federation

Tennessee Watchable Wildlife

Wikipedia

Virginia Herpetological Society

Fishing for Fossils

Up and Ready:

It was early in the morning after spending the night in a hotel in Kremmerer, Wyoming. We got up and ate breakfast and then were off to go fishing. I had been looking forward to this day for many years. This was no ordinary fishing trip, however. Instead of poles and fishing lures and bait we were going to get our gear at the digging site. That’s right. We were going to dig for our fish.

We were given a hammer and a wide, razor sharp chisel and a rack to place our finds upon.

Hidden for Thousands or Millions of Years?

These fish were fossils that had been buried in the ground for a long time. We would be the first to let them see the light of day after spending so much time locked inside limestone. It’s interesting to consider the evidence for the various theories of the ages of these fossils. The Old Earth Creationists and the Uniformitarians (evolutionists) ascribe much older ages to the fossils believing that life has been on earth for such a long time in order for things to evolve into present-day life forms. Young Earth Creationists, like myself, believe the earth is much younger and that the majority of the fossils we find were formed during the Great Flood of Noah’s day and other catastrophic events. Anyway you look at these fossils you can clearly see that what ever placed them in the rock was sudden and catastrophic in nature, rather than slow gradual change. It’s interesting to note that most fossils are in sedimentary rock or metamorphic that was once sedimentary. Water was involved. Other types of catastrophic events include volcanism, which very likely accompanied the Flood when the water from below and above split the earth open. I found several blue streaks and rings in some of the stone we were splitting and asked what they were. I found out that they were composed of volcanic ash embedded in the rocks.

This Happened Suddenly!

The picture below is one of the fossils on display in the Fossil Butte National Monument museum. It shows a large fish eating a smaller fish. Though rare, a number of these fossils have been found.

Diplomysias dontatus fish fossil

My Digging Partners:

Below are my wife, Janet and my nephew, Caleb. As you can see, we were all smiles.

janet splitting rock

caleb all smiles

img_5120

Before Digging:

Before we got to the digging site the owners had prepared the way. We chose the American Fossils site because it had the best reviews and you could keep everything you found, (not like other sites that only let you keep some of the specimens you find. )

They had dug out a lot of rock for us to split using their caterpillar tractor, shearing off sections of the rock wall where the fossils are located.

cat digging out rock

How to Find Them:

We were not only given the tools but also shown how to split the rocks. You put the piece of rock up on its side and place the chisel in the middle of the rock. You then tap on the stone causing it to split into layers. You can keep splitting the same rock several times this way. Some amazing discoveries have been made even in tiny rocks. We heard that a young kid had found a shrimp in a piece of rock about 6 inches square. The rock layers we were splitting already contained layering so you were just trying to find the layer where the fossils were buried. It wasn’t long before we started finding fossils. Below are some of the ones we found in our two hour dig.

fossils before cutting

Cutting Them Down to Size:

After we collected our haul, we took them over to the area where you can cut them down to size removing the unnecessary weight of the surrounding rock. One of the owners helped us at first and then told us we could continue cutting down our specimens at our own risk using the saws there.

trimming specimens (2)

Our Helper: He not only showed us how to split the rocks, and identify what we found, he also helped us cut them down to size.

The Next Stop:

After we had dug our own fossils we traveled down the hill to the Fossil Butte National Monument to see other fossils that had been found in the area where we were digging. Not only did they have excellent examples of the fish, they also had fossils of plants, insects, bats, reptiles, stingrays, and even a crocodile and horse. If you ever go to Wyoming you have to visit this place! Here are some of the fossils we saw there:

extinct turtle fossil

Hummelichelys guttata turtle fossil

Mioplosus labracoides fish fossil

Below is an example of how vast the numbers of fish were fossilized in this area in a single slab of stone.

multi fish fossil display

wyoming aquarium in stone

dragonfly fossil

Stingray fossil below:

stingray fossil

Shrimp Fossil:

shrimp fossil 2

The Environment Was Much Different Then:

From the vegetation found in fossil form you can see that at one time this area was very tropical in nature. The palm fronds and crocodiles also show you that there were many different types of creatures living there that aren’t there today. The area we were digging was at a high elevation. At one time it must have been much lower.

A Wonderful Experience:

One of my favorite experiences at the museum was talking to a paleontologists who was working on cleaning up a specimen of a fish found in the area. I was standing out in front of the area where he was working and made a comments questioning what was going on and found out that he had a microphone and listening device inside where he could interact with those watching. In front of where he was working was a fish fossil that he said was his favorite of all those he had worked on to date. He was using a special tool that was like a pointed needle that rotated so he could gently remove the surrounding matrix bringing out the bones and other structures of the fossil.

cleaning fossils

The museum workers are very helpful and will answer your many questions.

Do Some Research On Your Own:

If you have never considered the evidence that is used to support the various aging methods of fossils, it is quite interesting. You will find that this area of study can be quite controversial. Don’t let that stop you from studying it! You can find articles and books written from a wide variety of viewpoints. Check out some of the Creation Science sites as well as some of the books written on the subject. You can also find videos in which scientists discuss the evidence they have discovered studying fossils.

Dig Your Own:

If you get the chance, go dig some fossils of your own. It is a fun experience. I have dug trilobite fossils in Utah and fish in Wyoming. I look forward to digging fossils elsewhere in the future.

Fossils Found By Caleb

Let’s Catch Some Shellcrackers!

Spring Has Sprung The Time Has Come!

One of the best times of the year for fishermen is the Spring Time. That is when the fish are the most active! One of my favorite fish to catch at this time of the year is the Shellcrackers.

 

Largest of the Centrachidae family, they fight aggressively as you bring them to shore. (I personally think they outfight the bass in the lake where I fish!) 

Bottoms Up!

One of the most important things to know when targeting this species is to put your worm on the bottom of the lake where you are more likely to find them. I like to use a sliding sinker with a small split shot beneath so when the fish take the bait you can feel the tug and set the hook before they completely swallow the bait.  Since they often take the bait deep before you have a chance to set the hook, it’s good to have a pair of long-nosed de-hooker pliers handy to remove the hooks.

Great Eating!

Of all the sunfish varieties, I think these are the best tasting as well as the largest. Catch a few and you will have more than enough meat for a meal. One of my favorite ways to eat them is in fish tacos.

                                     The meat is flaky and sweet! 

 

Helpful Fish:

Since these fish specialize in feeding on Mollusks they rarely compete with the other sunfish species that feed at the surface. In addition, they help control the rapid growth of many native species of water snails and especially are helpful in keeping many invasive species in check (like the infamous quagga mussels). Since they are equipped to crack and crush the hard shells of these creatures they are often introduced into waters infested with these alien species. They have been found to be very successful in this venture as well as providing an excellent sport fishing species.

Spring Spawn:

If the water is clear you may see them sitting on their nests near the shore in the Spring Time. This is where they congregate in the Spring.

Daddy Does His Job!

The male builds the nest, and if he does a good job, the female will come and lay her eggs there. Understand that they will be very active at this time.

Don’t Forget The Future!

When I catch them in the Spring I often carefully remove the hooks of the large females with swollen bellies full of eggs. In this way I help insure a healthy population next Spring. This is a good practice with other species as well, but it’s all right to keep some for dinner!  They reproduce well and taking a few won’t cause a problem.

Call Them What You May:

Shellcrackers, Red-Earred Sunfish, Chinquapins, Mollusks Eaters, Georgia Bream, Cherry Gills”, are some of the names given to these fish. No matter what you call them they will make your fishing trip a success. Why not get out there and catch some?

                       Bright Yellow Breast.

 

This Fish Is Full of Eggs. She Went Back In The Lake.

When Wiggling In The Light They Are Like Peacock Feathers.

They show off their many colors.

When God Created These Fish He Used A Colorful Pallet! The colors change as they move in the light.

Sensational Sharks

One animal that is feared by many is the shark. Though they do need to be respected for the potential harm they can cause, they often are greatly misunderstood. These animals can actually show us a lot of specialized design features that God built into their bodies to increase their ability to survive in the oceans of the world.

Bodies Covered With Teeth!

Let’s take a  closer look at some of these features. Have you ever held a shark in your hand or felt their skin? It feels like sandpaper. If you run your finger up one direction and then the other you will feel quite a difference. Shark skin is actually very different than other fish. It looks like thousands of tiny shark teeth overlapping one another. These are called placoid scales. In a sense, the shark’s entire body is covered with teeth. When I caught these fish several children and adults wanted to touch them before I returned them to the sea. It is quite and experience. 

This design has a function. It actually reduces the resistance of the water’s drag on the fish as it swims. Mankind has even taken lessons from the shark and used this surface feature in wet-suits and the surfaces of submarines and other water vessels. It also provides a protective surface on the shark’s exterior. Shark skin is actually used as sandpaper in many seaside communities around the world. This type of sandpaper is called Shagreen.

Crystal Eyes:

Next, let’s look at the shark’s eyes. These can vary a lot between the different species of sharks according to where they live and how the feed. The two I caught have eyes like this:

Did you know shark’s eyes actually have crystal inside them? These are Quanine crystals that are highly reflective. This enables the sharks to see in darkness.  In addition, some sharks actually have special eye coverings that cover the eyes like goggles.

No Bones About It!: Sharks Are Very Flexible!

Did you know, sharks do not have bones in their skeletons?  Instead, they have a skeleton that is very flexible composed entirely of cartilage. Cartilage is like the material in your nose and ear that holds the shape of these body parts. Imagine if your skeleton was composed of cartilage instead of bone. You would not be able to stand up. Sharks, of course, live in the water and cartilage is a great material for animals that do not need to bear the weight of their bodies like land animals. God knew just what would make the best skeleton for these creatures.

Designed for Speed:

Notice also their streamlined bodies. They have a pointed head and an extremely long tail.

Five Kinds of Fins:

Most people actually identify sharks by their pronounced dorsal fins, the ones on their backs that stick up out of the water at times. Some sharks actually have two different dorsal fins. The various fins act along with the tail to provide direction and propulsion. The tail is asymmetrical.  The top part of the tail is much longer than the bottom. Besides the dorsal fin, they also have pectoral fins. These are the two on the front just behind the head. These are the primary ones used in steering. Most sharks also have anal, caudal and pelvic fins which provide stability. Sharks are very fast in the water and can change directions in an instant in order to chase down their prey.

The various fins of the shark allow them to be very graceful swimmers that can turn on a dime to pursue their prey.

Sharks Are Very Sensitive!

If you look closely on the bottom of the head you will find some very sensitive nasal passageways that allow the shark to smell blood and other body fluids in the surrounding water. Having two of these sensors, one on each side of their head,  allows them to sense the direction of the source of these fluids so they can track down their food. In addition to their nostrils, sharks also have special sensors in their heads that are collectively called Ampullae Lorenzi. With these sensors they can even detect animals buried in the sand. It’s kind of like a metal detector only it works to find living things.

 

Two Toned With a Purpose:

As you can see in the pictures in this post, sharks are white on the bottom and darker on the top. This protects them from would be predators that might see them from above, and from larger sharks that might see them looking up from the bottom of the ocean. This color arrangement also conceals them so they are not seen by the animals they prey upon until it is too late to escape.

 

I caught these sharks while fishing of the end of a pier in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. They seemed to like the shrimp and squid I was using for bait. After removing the hooks I returned them to the sea. While we were fishing we saw a large shark cruising by the front of the pier.  Apparently the sharks have learned they can find some good feeding out where fishermen dump their fish carcasses after cleaning their fish. Some fishermen actually chop up bait fish and dump it into the ocean as chum to attract fish. Since the beaches next to the pier are used by swimmers, this practice is regulated in many areas to protect those swimming nearby. Sharks can be very aggressive when there is blood in the water. Sharks, however, have been feeding in these waters for thousands of years. Some varieties swim in schools that patrol the shallow waters near the shoreline. Others are found far off shore feeding on smaller fish, crabs, lobsters, squid and octopus. The large Great White Sharks can even capture and eat sea lions and seals! Some have been known to even attack whales.

Important Creatures in the Sea.

Sharks are important creatures in the food chains of the sea. They help regulate populations of other creatures, that if unchecked, would over populate the region. Sharks also help remove some of the dead organisms in the water as well. Because of the bad press they get and their portrayal in films like Jaws, they are often feared and hunted and killed. Sharks used to be hunted for their fins which are used to make shark fin soup which is a delicacy in many places. Some shark species have been hunted almost to extinction. Many rules have been established by the fishing industry to help remedy this problem.  Recently, however, the sharks have been making a come back. Much education about sharks has changed man’s perception of these interesting animals. Most fishing services encourage those fishing on their boats to release the sharks if caught while trying to catch other fish species. Some scientists actually go out and catch sharks and place special tracking devices on them and then release them. In this manner they can find out a lot about the shark’s life style and movement around the ocean. With so much attention on the sharks, public sentiment has changed greatly over the last 20 years. Interestingly, you are much more likely to die from being stung by bees, hit by lightning, be in an auto accident or some other means than ever being attacked by a shark. It is important, however, to heed the warnings of the beach patrol if several large sharks are seen cruising near swimming areas. Let them eat the fish and move on to other waters.

 

Catching Panfish: Shellcrackers, Crappie, & Bluegill

Probably one of the first fish a person will catch will be one of these fun hard-fighting fish. These fish are plentiful and can live in a wide variety of waterways.  Let’s take a closer look at these fish and learn more about their habits and importance in God’s creation.

One of the Fishermen’s Favorites

One of the fisherman’s favorite panfish is the Crappie. These are sometimes called “Slabs” (especially if they are big!). In other parts of the country they are called “Papermouths” due to their thin easy to break loose mouths. Others call them “Bachelor Perch“. Whatever you call them, they are worth the time to catch. One of the neat things about fishing for Crappie is that if you catch one, you know there are many more about! They school up in the same areas. One of the best times to seek Crappie is the Springtime when they are spawning. They come in close to shore to build their nests in about 1 to 5 ft. deep. In the summer they seek deeper water where the temperature is cooler and there is more oxygen. Look around structure! They are often found under docks, fallen trees, and brush piles. Some fishermen actually drop their used Christmas trees into the lake to create a spot to come back to in the Spring and Summertime for a stringer of fish. In one lake, not far from where I live, the fish and game department has sunk a series of pipes and spaced them just the right distance apart to create an artificial brush pile habitat. These are marked so fishermen know where to drop their jigs and bait.

Be Aware of the Laws!

Since Crappie are so popular it is an economic boost to those who sell fishing gear, provide overnight accommodations, and food to feed the fishermen near where the fish are caught. Some lakes have strict laws governing the size of Crappie that can be kept by the fishermen. Be sure to know the regulations for your area! In most regions there is also a limit of how many you can catch a day. In Tennessee, the statewide creel limit for Crappie is 15 fish and they must be at least 10 inches long to keep. However, at some lakes, like Percy Priest Lake, (this is the one with the sunken pipe habitats mentioned earlier), you can catch twice that number, 30 a day. These size limits and creel numbers often change from year to year depending on the populations available.

Many Different Techniques

One of the interesting ways these fish are often caught is called Spider Rigging. This technique is used widely in shallow lakes like Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee. Fishermen set up their boats with multiple poles all the same size, usually about 12 ft. long. The poles are set in rod-holders about 8 to 10 inches above the water all around the boat. The lines are rigged with jigs and sunk only about 1 to 2 ft. deep. The fishermen use a trolling motor and move around the edges of the lake. When a fish grabs the jig they flip it up into the boat, unhook it and place it in the live-well or bucket and then reset the pole and line for another fish. In lakes like this fishermen can catch a whole freezer full in a day’s tine. I’ve never tried this yet since I have neither a boat or that many poles. I can still catch fish from the dock or shore. Some people use a  minnow under a bobber and others trail a Crappie jig behind a bobber and just roll it in slowly until the bobber sinks and set the hook. Be very careful when setting the hook, however! They don’t call them “Papermouths” for nothing!

Crappie are highly prized for their pure, white, flaky flesh. There are tons of great recipes for cooking them up. Since you usually catch a bunch it is well worth your while to fillet them up. Others just scale them and fry up the whole fish, bones and all. Since the meat is flaky it is easy to remove it from the bones.

The fish below went back in the lake to grow up. It was fun to catch, however.

 

Strong Fighters and Meaty

 

Another large sunfish is the Shellcracker, also known as a Red-ear Sunfish.

 

These fish put up a good fight and have a lot of meat on them. I caught one yesterday that was bigger than my large hands and fought harder than a bass. These fish also breed near the shore in the Springtime. Last year I caught a half dozen large ones in a half an hour in the same General area near the shore. I almost always catch them on worms. They are masters at stealing the bait so I usually only use part of a worm and bury a small hook totally inside the worm. Sometimes it will take a couple worms to get them on the line because of their sneaking worm grabbing abilities.

 

Create a Memory with this Old-Time Favorite: Bluegill

The final sunfish we will talk about is the most dependable species that can be caught year round in most freshwater lakes, streams, rivers, and ponds. These feisty little fish are the Bluegill. I rarely go to the lake without hooking into a number of these. I love to show kids fishing for the first time how to catch these fish. I used to work at a camp for the mentally disabled and they all seemed to enjoy fishing since it wasn’t long before they had one on the line. These are the fish to target if you are taking a child fishing for the first tine. They will be hooked on fishing for the rest of their lives. I remember taking my own kids down to the lake in California in the early Springtime, baiting up their lines with two hooks on each pole, and spending the whole time baiting hooks and removing fish while they kept bringing them in. In many places there is no size of creel limit on Bluegill. Just remember, however, that if you keep them you have to clean them! They are a good eating fish and a great fish to introduce someone to the wonderful taste of fish. I still remember my Grandpa cooking up a batch for me when we used to catch them out in the irrigation canals in Northern California when I was a kid. Why not take a kid fishing and create a wonderful memory of your own?

An Important Part of the Environment

These fish eat insects, other fish, spiders, snails, crayfish and other crustaceans, worms and insect larvae. They are often eaten by other animals including: larger fish (like bass), many birds (like herons and egrets, osprey, and eagles), raccoon, mink, and other mammals, as well as reptiles like snakes and turtles. They are part of many food webs and support a wide variety of animal life around and in the water.

Self-Regulating

Interestingly, if there are too many of these fish in a given area, their growth rates are diminished  and all the fish will be about the same size and very small. It’s important that their numbers be regulated and monitored in smaller lakes and ponds. Some fish, like these ones, secrete a chemical hormones that affects the growth rates of other fish in the area. Size is also related to the amount of food per fish available. 

 

Have You Ever Eaten Lotus Seeds? AKA “Cajun Peanuts”

One of the interesting plants that God created for man to enjoy was the American Lotus Plant. It not only provides beauty, it is also very useful to man and other creatures providing both food and shelter and even a bathing place for birds. Let’s learn more about these unusual plants.

 

  

Last Fall my son-in-Law, two grandsons, and I went for a boat ride on Reelfoot Lake. Our guide for the day let us experience a new tasty treat that grows right in the lake. Though I had often seen the the seed pods of the American Lotus plant in flower arrangements, I didn’t know that they contained edible seeds. They are often harvested in the months of August and September just after they flower, the petals fall off and when the pods are still tender. When you break open the pods you can find about 20 seeds inside. Squeeze one out of its outer skin and pop it in your mouth. They taste sort of like a water chestnut. They can also be boiled and eaten. Some people boil them down and turn them into paste that can be used like flour or as a thickening for soups.

 

 

 

The young leaves of this water plant can also be sliced up and cooked like spinach. I also learned that the long roots, about as long as your forearm, can be sliced up and fried like pancakes. These plants were a mainstay in the diets of Native Americans who lived near ponds and lakes where they grow in abundance.

The larger leaves of this water plant were often used to wrap food for cooking, keeping the food contained and moist until unwrapped and eaten.

 

When God designed the leaves of this plant He gave them a waxy surface so they would float on the surface of the water providing a natural bird bath as they collect fresh rainwater and create small pools in the centers of the leaf. The leaves also provide shade and protection for the fish that make nests under them. Fishermen like to throw their lures up into a bunch of these plants knowing that their lures will usually slip right through them and that the big fish can be found there. Many small animals can actually use the leaves like a raft out in the open water.

 

 

If you want to see the flowers of these plants you only have a short time to do so. The flowers bloom and in two days time they have dropped their petals. The nectar and pollen from these flowers provide food for many insects. Fortunately they don’t all bloom during the same two days so there can be different fresh flowers providing food for several days.

 

The next time you go boating in a lake full of water lilies, look for these plants. You will be glad you took the time to investigate these amazing gifts of God.

Fried, Almond Crusted and Broiled Bass Fillets: A Light, Tasty Treat

 

I love the early Spring time when the bass are easy to catch. One of the best tasting fish, they can be prepared several ways. In the last two weeks I made several tasty meals from ten bass I caught down at the lake. After filleting them, I rolled pieces in a mixture of cornmeal and whole wheat flour with a little salt, pepper and ginger powder. An easy way to apply the mixture is to put it in a small plastic ziplock bag and drop in the fillets. Shake it until they are totally covered and drop them in a frying pan with melted butter. Cook briefly on both sides and you are ready for a yummy meal. Some people like to roll the fish in egg before adding the flour and cornmeal for a more crispy texture.

 

These were served with broccoli and grapes.

The fish below have almond powder mixed with the flour mixture. They have more of a crunchy texture. The almonds blend with the bass flavor to create a tasty meal. Melon and cilantro make a nice meal.

 

Another way to prepare them is to put them into fish tacos.

A lighter way to cook them up is broiling. I added a little water to a frying pan and heated it up. While it was heating, I cut up some bell pepper, onions, and cilantro. I then put the fillets into the pan and poured in the veggies. I added a pinch of Italian seasoning, a sprinkle of ginger powder, salt and pepper. I covered the pan and cooked it until the fish was tender and flakey. I drained off the excess water and put the fish and veggies into a bowl. It makes a tasty, light, meal, very low in calories. Bass also is a good fish to use in making chowders.

 

You better get get out there and get some bass while they are biting!

 

 

Turtles Everywhere!

Turtles make up one of the most interesting groups of reptiles. I seemed to find them everywhere I go fishing, especially since I moved to Tennessee. In this post I will show you several that decided to take my fish bait.

Some of the others I saw sitting around the lake or in the waterways nearby. One even traveled up to my yard to lay her eggs last Summer.

Above is a baby Spiny Softs-shelled Turtle”. It was my favorite turtle.

This is one of the most interesting turtles I have ever caught. Notice the red and yellow on the plastron under its chin. I catch so many turtles in the small lake where I fish. Of course, I release them all back into the lake after examining them and making sure the hooks are removed.

 

 

This unfortunate snapping turtle got snagged on my fishing lure as I brought it back to the shore. He wasn’t happy to be so rudely taken. After snapping and hissing, I was able to remove him with my hook pliers and set him free. This is just one of three snapping turtles that I have caught down at the lake so far. One of the others snapped out and jumped toward my camera and hit the lens. It got my attention and taught me to respect these aggressive turtles.

These turtles can grow to massive sizes. Below is a picture of one I saw in a stream-bed under a dam at Radnor Lake State Park in Brentwood, Tennessee. It was about three feet long.

Interestingly, the Snapping turtles are actually good fishermen. They actually use a lure, part of their tongue that looks like a worm. As they wave it in the water with their mouths open, along come fish trying to eat the worm. Snap!  Guess who becomes dinner?

Here are some more pictures of snapping turtles I caught since first publishing the first post. This snapper tried to bite me a couple of times. Needless to say, I moved quickly! I was able to flip the biggest one over and get some pictures of its belly. Notice also the long claws.

I caught one on chicken liver and the other on a hunk of bluegill. I was trying to catch a catfish. This big one is about two feet long.

 

 

 

Here are some more turtles. Notice that most of these are Red-eared sliders.

 

Time to lay some eggs.

The turtle below laid eggs under a tree in my front yard. It traveled about a quarter mile from the lake to my yard.

Can you see the area behind her? She dug a hole and carefully laid and buried the eggs.

 

Red-Eared Sliders

                 

Worms and cut up bluegill were too tempting to these turtles.

 

One day I caught seven turtles in just a couple hours. The picture (above right) with three turtles, shows three of the seven still on shore before I let them all go back into the lake.

Below is a softy!

One of the turtles was much different from the others. It was a soft-shelled turtle. The picture above shows the underside of a Soft-shelled turtle.

Keep Turtles Where They Belong!

Though most turtles spend most of their lives in the water, some types are more terrestrial, like the box turtles.  The majority of water turtles are the Red-eared sliders. Unfortunately many of these have been introduced into the environment by people with good intentions but a poor knowledge of the environment.

When I was a child, red-eared sliders were sold by the thousands to people wanting a cute pet. Practically every kid had one in a plastic container. What they didn’t tell you when you bought one was that they grow up and often outlive their owners. When the turtles got bigger and people didn’t like maintaining a suitable habitat for their pets, they took them to the nearest lake or stream and released them. This caused a lot of problems for the native turtles in those regions. Competition for food and space created a difficult situation for the natives. Unfortunately many of these species were threatened and some were completely wiped out in certain areas. Today there is an over-abundance of this species. Go to any park pond and you will probably see what I mean. The turtles are often stacked on top of each other on the logs in the pond and on the shore-line.

Turtles do serve a purpose in the areas you find them. They are the clean-up crew. They will eat dead and decaying fish, help control the insect population, and regulate the fish if there are too many of a given species.

Enjoy Them Where You Are!

  

When God created the turtles He designed them well for where they live. Their hard shells, ( for most turtles), provide great protection from predators who seek to eat them. When the enemy comes they just withdraw into their shells and hide until the threat passes. Many also have offensive weapons to use to drive off other animals or each other. The snapping turtles are probably the best example of this. They can literally snap off a broom handle with their powerful beaks. Turtles also give off warning hisses when they think someone or something is getting too close.

 

Below are a couple pictures from Texas of some large turtles that come up and sun-bathe on shore at my son’s house on Spring Lake.

 

 

Just Hanging Out In The Sun!

Notice that more than one species can occupy the same area. This big guy must be at the top of the pecking order. Turtles love to lay out in the sun to warm up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Look For Turtles Near You.

Why not take some time to watch the turtles in your area. They have many interesting habits and are sure fun to watch while sitting lake-side and fishing. You may see a head pop up out of the lake when they come up for air. Look along the shore-line. They will often be sunning themselves on a the ground, a rock or a log. Just be sure to take along a pair of pliers to remove the hook if they decide to eat your bait!

Looking for Gold…..Golden Trout, That Is!

One the most fun types of fish to catch are the trout. There are so many different kinds of trout and they all are so interesting to observe. Trout also a very yummy if you decide to keep them. Just watching them is a thrill. In this blog post you will learn about several different kinds of trout. I hope you find pleasure in learning about these amazing fish God created for us to enjoy.

Click below to open the Powerpoint presentation. You can also open it in Keynote, if you have that app.

Looking for Golden Trout