My Native Fish Tanks
I keep two aquariums stocked with fish I netted from Martel Lake – right out my front door.
My camera, a Canon Powershot SD1000, has an Aquarium setting so I gave it a whirl. It caught a few very nice pix and a bunch of blurry ones.
First, here are the tanks:
I shade half of each tank to give the fish a more natural habitat. I want the tanks to look like the edge of a raft of lily pads, which is common on my lake.
Because they can choose between light or shade the fish show more interesting behaviors than when I had the tanks uniformly highly lit. In the shade zone they are more relaxed and swim higher in the water. They prefer to eat in the light zone. They are more skittish in the light – evolutionary adaptation to hungry kingfishers, loons, and perch who can see them better in the open.
North America has some of the coolest fish in the world. One of my favorites is the Central Mudminnow. I’ve got four of them, two in each tank. They are the rulers of the tank, but aren’t at all bullying. They’ve got a commanding presence. They look me in the eye but they don’t go out of their way to pay attention to me. If there is a hunk of food the Mudminnows swim right up and take their share first.
(Click the pictures for larger versions.)
Mudminnows swim up my creek to spawn in a bog about 200 yards from Martel Lake. For about a month in the early Spring right after snow melt they stage a mini-salmon run up Babbling Brook.
They only get around 6 inches long, and most who make the journey are smaller. They work their tails off to swim up the creek. They jump little dams made of tree roots and small rocks. I admire the heck out of the little fish.
I lived in Seattle for 10 years and saw lots of migrating salmon and it’s fun to host a scaled-down version on my land. I plan to videotape their run this Spring.
The Mudminnows don’t bother to come up to the glass when I pay them a visit, so their pix turned out a bit blurry, but I think their cigar-shaped regal presence comes through.
Here are two of them in a mixed group of fish:
A Pumpkinseed looks at the camera from the right of the above picture.
Of all the fish in Martel Lake Pumpkinseeds have been the most fun to watch. All Summer, a couple days a week, I fishwatch while floating in my canoe. During Spring spawning season Pumpkinseed males build rock nests in the shallows. They pick clean a bowl to leave a rocky nest. Females swim or are driven by the male into the nest where they spawn while circling. Males guard the eggs and young.
Pumpkinseeds are alert. They always keep an eye on me whenever I am near the tank. They are usually the first to spot food dropped into the tank.
Older male Pumpkinseeds have beautiful iridescent patterns on their bodies. My little ones show some shimmer around their gills.
I netted my four Pumpkinseeds last Spring so they are 9 months old. Last Spring was a great season for the Pumpkinseeds. In the bay of my island I could see up to 10 nests at once. Martel grew a bumper crop of young Pumpkinseed and I had fun netting mine from the canoe.
I always kept tropical fish as a kid. In 5th grade I wanted to be an ichthyologist and wrote an essay predicting that I would find new species of fish in the Amazon.
I only discovered that North America has amazing native fish after moving to my cabin. I felt cheated that I didn’t know it when I was a kid. I thought all American fish were either bass or sunfish or minnows. I didn’t know that their are hundreds of different kinds of American “minnows”. Fish store owners don’t tell their customers they can net fish from their nearest stream or lake as interesting as any from Thailand or Nigeria or Hawaii or Brazil and for lots less money.
I am a card-carrying member of the North American Native Fish Association. NANFA promotes “appreciation, study and conservation of the continent’s native fishes”. North America’s hundreds of native fish species are sensitive indicators of the ecological health of their habitats.
My favorite fish is an Iowa Darter– a stunning beauty:
[Edit: My Iowa Darter lasted 2 1/2 years and was my favorite. Darters are notorious for not eating flakes or pellets and my Darter was adamant that it eat live or frozen food. It was my only fish that would not eat flakes. When it died I consoled myself that it’s 4 year life span was off the top of the actuarial charts for an Iowa Darter in the wild.]