Posted by: 1000fish | July 23, 2022

Schrödinger’s Collie


When two buddies go on an eight day, 1500 mile fishing road trip, most of their really good stories are going to get trotted out at some stage during those long drives. Most of mine, especially the college ones, raise questions about my decision-making skills. Dom’s best story left me wondering one thing: What happened to the collie? This is the first thing everyone who has heard the story asks, and sadly, it will remain a mystery forever.

I didn’t wait long after catching species 2000 and 2001, but note that no one has called this a quest for 3000. I am not promising or even discussing that. Eleven years ago, right after I caught #1000, I wrote that I was going to go for 2000. And so I was stuck with that for 11 years, when I could have been learning needlepoint or line dancing, or spending more time with Marta, who, now that I think of it, is strongly encouraging the 3000 thing.

After that big steak dinner, I was in bed pretty early. But at some ungodly hour, when I am usually getting up for one of my old person bathroom trips, Dom arrived to begin our adventure through Florida and Alabama. Dom Porcelli has been introduced to the 1000fish readership, in the “Hail Caesar” episode. A passionate species hunter who is now well over 900, Dom is based in South Florida, and it was high time that we got out and did some serious fishing together. 

Dom Porcelli with a damn red coronetfish.  

At this stage of my career, I will often choose an extra hour of sleep instead of a four AM start, but Dom would have none of this. I’d like to mumble about how much energy young people have, but he’s actually a few months older than I am. (He does, however, take much better care of himself than I do.) We got out of Tampa before dawn and drove across the state to our first target, a freshwater goby that is cleverly called “the freshwater goby.” The spot was a Ben Cantrell discovery, and they certainly were well hidden – not the kind of thing someone would find randomly.

Species 2002. I have been back to this place twice since and not seen another one.

We then drove up the Florida coast a few more hours, heading to a spring system that was alleged to contain Westfall darters. I love catching darters, and I was hopeful this trip would add a few. I had started with 24 to my credit, and there are a bunch more out there, but they can be maddeningly hard to catch. This was the first of many times on the trip that we would get on the wading shoes and go toe-to-fin with fish in their own element. I love doing this.

Tip for the beginning angler – wear ankle socks under your water shoes and take the shoes off before long car rides, or you will experience world-class chafing. Also, do not leave the wet shoes in your car overnight, or the car will smell like two raccoons fought to the death under the passenger seat.

The Westfall darters were log-perch style aggressive, and we both got one quickly.

The first darter of the trip.

I was reminded how difficult it can be to handle a microbait in fast water, but this is why we travel with so many different sizes of split shot. 

Random road trip photo. There is no joy like dog joy.

We then headed to the springs at Rum Island, one of the prettiest spots in Florida.

Right until a teenager somehow gets an industrial sound system onto a paddleboard.

I scraped up one more species on the day, the redeye chub. This one is on Dom – I would have ignored this as another indistinguishable shiner.

The elusive redeye chub.

We spent the first half of the next day, May 15, hopping around creeks in the Florida panhandle, where I had done very well with Martini and Kyle in 2014.

We caught loads of assorted shiners and panfish, and one creature checked out as a new one – the metallic shiner, or something closely related to it.

These things are part of a complex with very close ID characteristics, so if you’re patient, I promise I’ll do another trip and get better photos and catch some of the relatives. For now, it’s a new species in the metallic genus.

Despite the fact we were in a Nissan Altima, there was only one dirt road that Dom refused to try, and for good reason. (And bless him for volunteering to drive.) Otherwise, even with me weighing down the car, we got to some amazingly inaccessible spots.

The one road we didn’t try. If there were spearfish at the end of it, I would have walked.

The drives were long – we didn’t think much of 200 or 300 miles at a time – but we finally entered Alabama, the most fish-diverse state in the Union and a mecca for species hunters everywhere. I had fished here once previously, and was just a few weeks early and did not experience great success. This time the weather was gorgeous and stable, like Marta, so I had very high hopes.

We set up at a random creek. Yes, it does look like Dom got caught doing something wrong, but after a week with him, I’m convinced he never does anything wrong.

Dom had set up a meeting with a biologist at Troy State University, Dr. Alvin Diamond, and we spent the afternoon as his guest, hunting creeks on and off the campus. We caught all kinds of stuff, but nothing new to report. There is a brown darter waiting for me there, and I will come back.

That’s Dr. Diamond on the left. 

Then we got driving and talking again. Skipping over my college floor hockey tales and the one where Frank Lopez threw up on Religious Tony from quite some distance, we eventually got to accident stories. Dom had a doozie. Some years ago, he was cycling in the hills of Northern Georgia. He was blasting down an especially steep, narrow grade, when a collie appeared from nowhere, placed itself perfectly in the middle of the path leaving no escape routes, and just stared at him until impact. Dom woke up in the bed of a pickup truck, where two locals had tossed him en route to the hospital. He was ok – road-rashy and concussed, but ok – but immediately, I asked “Dude! What happened to the collie?”

Dom looked at me with the patience that could only come from answering the question over and over. “Steve,” he explained. “I have absolutely no idea. I woke up in the bed of a pickup truck. On the way to the hospital. With a concussion.” He thought for a moment, and said “Everybody asks that, though.”

Part of me thinks no collie could survive that collision. Part of me hopes that it was in the back of another pickup truck on the way to a vet. But we would never know. It was Schrödinger’s Collie.

This will be the first and last quantum physics joke ever in the 1000fish blog.

The 16th was set up to “run and gun” – a blur of gorgeous country streams all over Eastern Alabama.

Dom works a typical creek. The whole state is stuffed with fish.

We scored early and often, with speckled darters, and then rough and bandfin shiners.

The speckled darter. One of the more attractive darters I have even gotten, and it was still early in the trip.

The rough shiner. Any shiner that can be differentiated from others is always a welcome addition.

The shiner spot.

The bandfin.

I also got a beautifully lit up striped shiner.

That evening, we got into our final destination of the day – Scottsboro, AL. We debated trying one more creek before we hit Dairy Queen, a spot where Dom’s info indicated there could be a rainbow shiner. Truthfully, I was disappointed when I saw the place – a small stream running through an industrial area. Although the water looked clear, it was full of discarded tires and cinder blocks. 

I called it “the ditch.”

We saw a school of rainbow shiners, with a few nicely colored, and I ceded the first try to Dom – he found the spot. While he unfortunately struck out, I poked around and found darters. A lot of darters. I got one quickly, which turned out to be a Coosa.

Species nine of the trip.

The Coosa would only eat the very smallest fleck of bait, so I found myself trimming an already-diminutive piece of red worm down to an almost-microscopic offering. This makes a difference, and Dom and I often reminded each other that we needed to be vigilant in our fleckfulness. Since most of our fishing was micro-oriented, we found that, with careful fleckitude, a single redworm could last us a full day.

While Dom came back down the stream and made short work of the darter, I went up to the rainbow school and, on my first cast, nailed a nicely lit up specimen. I briefly felt like a jerk.

I’m lucky Dom gave me a ride after that.

The following morning, starting in the Paint River, commenced the best 24 hours of darter fishing I have ever had. This creek was the stuff of sweaty late-night darter dreams – low, clear, an assortment of rocky structure, not too deep or fast, and protected from wind. As we stepped into the water, darters – of different sizes, colors, and shapes – scattered everywhere.

Dom gets to work in darter heaven.

In the next two hours, I caught over thirty total darters and got four – FOUR – new species. 

The Snubnose. There’s a lot of confusion on this ID, whether it’s a Tennessee snubnose or a Cumberland snubnose or a Romanian snubnose, so we’ll just leave it at snubnose.

Blueside – this one took a lot of research. I didn’t verify it for a few weeks, which meant that I kept fishing for one, which had consequences.

Blotchside logperch – I didn’t even know these were a thing. Look at the schnozz.

Stripetail darter. Oh hell yes. Anything that’s not a fantail makes me so happy.

We were joined by a very pleasant local Sherrif’s deputy who was actually interested in what we were trying to catch. Or he was really polite. Tough to tell.

We finished that day at Goose Shoals, which was jammed with redhorse. I got three, sight fishing from a tall bridge, which meant that the fish got to bungee jump in reverse. Dom took the smart route and fished from the bank.

We believe that these were shortheads.

After dark, we moved on to dinner and a few hours of sleep in Florence. We passed through Tuscumbia, the birthplace of Helen Keller. I thought back to 7th grade, when we acted out The Miracle Worker in Mrs. Landau’s Language Arts Class. (With Sean Biggs reading a memorable Anne Sullivan.)

As adults, we all came to realize what an amazing person she was.

We started the 18th taking a crack at the elusive blueside, because I would not know for a few weeks that I had already caught one. The spot had less-than-optimal access, unless you happen to be a mountain goat with a death wish. I fell impressively.

My elbow was a touch bruised. My knee was worse. But I have two of each.

We did add one species, the little-known riffle minnow.

This was #14 for the trip. Worth it.

We moved on to the Sipsey River. We had three targets there, all of which appeared in abundance right at my feet as soon as we got to the water.

And what beautiful water it was.

Just because I could see them didn’t mean they were going to bite, and I had a moment of panic when I couldn’t get anything to go. Dom splashed on down the creek, leaving me alone with my angst. I worked my way around the base of a bridge piling, and finally got one of the fish – a blackbanded darter.

Species 15 of the trip.

Of course, the darters immediately became a pest that I had to work through to catch my silverstripe minnow.

It has a silver stripe.

Now that I had a couple on the board, I relaxed and enjoyed myself. Moving around to the deeper water outside the base of the bridge, I could see dozens of Mobile logperch. These bit fairly quickly and gave me my third species of the day.

Logperch are cool.

I also got a colorful little darter that turned out to be a Tuscaloosa. 

In Alabama, the Tuscaloosa.

That was seven darter species in around 19 hours. I love the challenge and variety of these little fish, and knowing that my darter list had now gone into the 30s, I announced that I want to catch 100. Dom chuckled. But I mean it.

I decided to spend some time sight fishing the redhorse that kept drifting in and out of view. It took me quite a while – these are one of the most skittish animals in any creek – especially with Dom mentioning every three minutes that they won’t bite.

Oh yes they will.

One thought – use a much bigger worm than you think you need. I hear rumors that this could be an unidentified species of redhorse – any thoughts on this?

I also spent at least an hour groveling after a small hogsucker that just never quite bit. I needed Martini there remind me that the pursuit has gone from charmingly low odds to just stupid, and we need to go now. Dom is incapable of saying those words. He’s slightly more disciplined than I am, but the stubborn is strong in him. 

We made good time between spots, because we didn’t have to find me a Dairy Queen for lunch. Part of Dom’s planning includes cold cuts, bread, and cheese in the cooler, generally not near the bait. 

Not only did this save time, it was far healthier than what I would have chosen.

We spent the next few hours on a tributary upstream, and while the scenery was amazing, the fishing was less so. If I have to choose between the two, well, you know.

Dom managed to get a longear sunfish split out of this spot.

But I couldn’t catch thing.

The last three days were a race through dozens of spots back down the west and south of the state. There were three more species to report.

In a spot we called “Rabies Creek,” near Birmingham, another place stuffed with darters, I got my Alabama darter.

Species 2020, and my 35th darter.

There’s a sign you don’t see every day.

Alabama is loaded with memorable signs.

But our favorite was “Bobo Section Road.” Perhaps we were overtired, but we nearly wrecked the car laughing at this.

Dom then spent the night with family – he has a daughter who lives in Birmingham who would be getting married shortly. I spent the evening overeating some excellent barbecue. 

We had fewer targets as we headed south, but the Alabama hogsucker still loomed large. We had been humiliated by these little beasts at the Sipsey, but our first spot the next morning, on the Cahaba, was loaded with them. There were small ones in the riffles and some much larger ones cruising around a pool upstream. A big school kept drifting in and out of view.

The hogsucker hole.

Sight casting to them is a painful exercise in futility, so I sight cast to them. About an hour later, I gave up, set a bait out, and waited. And waited. Maybe 40 minutes later, the rod rattled. I thought it would be a panfish, but when I set the hook, there was a big silver flash and the unmistakable awkward swimming of a hogsucker. 

This is the high-pressure situation we all want but fear. I had all kinds of terrible thoughts running through my head – bad knots, chafed leaders, iffy hooksets – right until I beached him. I finally, finally had my Alabama hogsucker.

And a big one.

Dom was moved enough by this to stick it out and chase a hogsucker in the riffles until it bit for him. We kept each other motivated like this. It’s easier to do something stupid when someone else is doing the same thing right next to you, and yes, we high-fived about 14 times walking back to the car. 

We met a group of inspirational local college students who volunteer for river research and cleanup.

We also got a batch of logperch, which I believe are just regular logperch. But still cool.

Later that afternoon, heading south, we stopped at a random creek in the Florida panhandle. We were looking mostly for darters, but we came across a sandbar loaded with shiners. 

This one is a longnose shiner – the last new species of the trip.

It was a short run from there to Pensacola, where Dom dropped me off at an airport hotel so I could catch a flight home the next morning. We were already planning our next trip. Of course, I spent the evening fishing a local pier looking for just one more, but 21 new species was far more than I could have hoped for – a great jump on … 2023. No, 3000 is not a thing. Stop it, Marta.

Still smiling after eight days on the road with me.

Speaking of milestones, this trip put Dom at 964, so he would be having a lot of excitement coming up in the next few months. Stay tuned.





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