Makes ya wanna think.

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:

My Native Fish 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.

Central Mudminnow 1

(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.

There are over four hundred species of Darters in North America. Gorgeous fascinating fish that are found on no other continent.

My favorite fish is an Iowa Darter– a stunning beauty:

Iowa Darter

[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.]

7 responses

  1. Pingback: Last Week Had Everything « Walden 3.0

  2. Ciekawa strona, dodalem ja do ulubionych, zapraszam do odwiedzenia mojej

    February 17, 2009 at 3:14 pm

  3. i have recently captured two species of darters i am unsure of the one and almost positvie the other is a leopard darter can you help?

    May 12, 2009 at 9:03 pm

  4. Hi, I’ve been a major fishtank weirdo for a long time and I’ve had just about every fish from the petstore that interests me but I was still always looking that special fish. I finally found it. I have a large tank with a smaller bluegill and a large and gorgeous pumpkinseed. They are great. Over the summer I catch minnows and tiny catfish and tadpoles and worms for them and over winters they get less live food and more ciclid foods and blood worms, tubiflex worms etc. The pumpkinseed is gorgeous colored. I need to get some pix online of them asap, but was doing some native research and saw your site and just wanted to leave a message saying cool fish, good for you. I’d love to have a darter too someday, they seem reasonable to care for.

    July 10, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    • Be sure to send me a link when you post your photos. We’ve had 2 years of low water in my lake and pumpkinseeds have taken over. Right now there are shallow areas where I’ve seen 3 dozed pumpkinseed nests at once.

      My Iowa Darter died after 2 years in my tank. I haven’t seen one in my lake since I caught him. Still the most beautiful fish in the lake.

      Thanks for commenting.

      July 11, 2009 at 11:55 am

  5. myrna

    Wowowow….so cool. I know nothing about fish and loved reading this.

    August 9, 2010 at 4:30 pm

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