by John Mangan
Along with my friends Dominic and Janet Isla, I have been on a series of fish collecting trips to Mexico. We try to view each of these trips as part of a learning process. With each trip we learn a little bit more about the fishes of Mexico and, also with each trip, we refine our methods of collecting and transporting the fishes a little bit more. On our most recent trip there were a number of things we tried for the first time: some worked very well and will become part of our routine; some showed promise but had some "bugs" that need to be worked out, so we’ll try a variation next time; and some were almost total failures. What I’m going to do in this article is discuss some of the "new" things we tried this year and how well they worked, or didn’t, for us.
Fish traps themselves were nothing new to us. We’ve always used them and will continue to do so in the future. For those of you not familiar with this item - the type of trap we use is basically a barrel-shaped wire "cage" with a funnel-shaped entrance at each end. The fish swim into the wide mouth of the funnel, enter the "barrel" of the trap, and most can’t find their way back out. To use these you place them in the water usually, but not always, in an area of dense vegetation. You then leave them alone while you go off to seine, etc., someplace else, sometimes even leaving them overnight (some fishes are more active at night and there are some that you will only catch in any number at night). For one reason or another we can count on losing at least one or two traps a year. Sometimes, no matter how well you thought you marked the spot you left it in, you just can’t find a trap again; sometimes the line breaks when you’re pulling it in and the trap sinks into a spot where its just not safe to go in after it (a $10 fish trap isn’t worth dying for); and sometimes they "walk away", especially if left overnight in an area with curious kids. So, to get to the point of all of this, every couple of years we need to buy a few more traps to add to our supply. While shopping for traps my eye was caught by something new. This was the "Deluxe Minnow Trap, model 1271" made by Frabill, Inc. For the most part this was identical to what I have described above. The big difference was that instead of being plain, ugly, galvanized metal, it was painted with a nice black epoxy paint and looked very cool. How could I resist? Well, I wish I had. As the saying goes, "looks aren’t everything". If they were, the fish would have been jumping out of the water to get into these things. In reality, at every site where we collected, we used the two new black traps I had just bought and several of our old, ugly, galvanized ones. At every site, over a two-week period of time (sometimes several sites per day), the old traps almost always caught something, often a lot. The new black traps, placed into the same habitats for the same amount of time, caught absolutely nothing every single time. Well, that’s not totally true. One of them did catch a few fish one time. After dinner one evening, we placed some traps to be left overnight. We placed a LARGE piece of chicken left over from dinner in each of the black traps (nothing in the galvanized ones). In the morning there were actually a few fish in the black traps (and a lot in the galvanized ones). So, needless to say, after two weeks of jokes and insults about my new fish traps, I won’t be buying the same kind next year. Back to the good old ugly, but effective, ones.
A pole net is pretty much just what the name says. It consists of a large version of an aquarium net attached to a long pole. There are a number of slight variations available and we ended up trying two different ones this year. Both Dominic and I, unknown to the other, decided to bring one. One of the reasons we hadn’t brought these in the past is that many of them are awkward to transport, especially if you’re going a long distance by plane. The one that Dominic and Janet brought was of this type. This is the type you can find in most sporting goods stores being sold for use by fishermen. It was made of aluminum and the pole was permanently attached to the net, making it about six feet long (I don’t know the brand name of the one we used). The one I brought was a different version. It is made by Python and is sold as a pond net. The reason I decided to try it is that the net and the handle are two separate pieces that screw together. The handle also telescopes. These features made it fairly easy to pack in one of my duffel bags, along with the rest of my equipment.
Pole nets are very useful in places where for one reason or another you aren’t able to get into the water to seine. You can use them from the shore and drag them through the vegetation, etc. We caught quite a few fish with this type of net and will definitely try them again. This, however falls into the category of an item we need to work the bugs out of. Both types had their problems. I’ll start with the Python brand net. The mesh of the net was just a little bit too big and a lot of smaller fish went right through it. It also didn’t stand up to (very) rough use and the mesh began ripping loose from the frame after a few days (this was easily repaired with fishing line, however). Also, after a few days, it became bent where the net attaches to the handle and the handle itself often felt like it would bend or break. One final problem was that the handle became difficult to telescope open and closed due to a build-up of dirt. While this type of net might work very well under less harsh conditions and I wouldn’t hesitate to buy another one for use in a garden pond, it didn’t meet our needs. The other net had mesh that was just a little bit smaller and was just right for catching even fairly small fish. We had the same problem with the mesh ripping loose from the frame (again easily repaired). Being all one piece and thicker than the Python’s, the pole itself held up very well. The big problem we had with this net was the net snapping off of the handle. We had it repaired two different times by local mechanics, but each time it broke again. Based on our experience with pole nets, we do want to use them, but ideally we want a net with some type of protection around the edges so it doesn’t get torn up on rocks, etc.: a sturdy one-piece pole (although this makes transport a little more difficult), and made out of something a little tougher than aluminum.
Now I’ll shift away from stuff used to catch fish and talk about keeping them alive once you’ve got them. After all, it doesn’t matter how good you are at catching them if you can’t get them home alive and healthy.
This is a product made by Jungle Labs that, according to their Web site: reduces stress; promotes slime coat; removes chlorine; neutralizes harmful metals; adds beneficial electrolytes; releases oxygen; and contains a fish calmer. It is meant to put into transport bags at a dose of one tablet for up to one gallon of water. We had heard good things about this product from others who had used it, but this was our first time trying it. We used the product at a dose of 2 tablets per approximately five gallons of water in all of the water we used when making water changes. Where it really helped, and made me a believer in it, was in "rescuing" some severely stressed fish. While in the field, and for transport back to our "base camp" of the day, we place the fish collected at a given site in one (or more if needed) plastic trash cans with "box bags" as liners. On several occasions, due to having to crowd them more than we would have liked to, long travel time, or for with species that were easily stressed, we would get back to our hotel to find a bucket of fish looking very stressed and all gasping at the surface. The addition of a few bag buddies to the bucket would bring a rapid change in the condition of the fish and bought us the time needed to pack them properly in fresh water. This product will definitely become part of our routine and I feel it is useful enough that I went out and bought some to use for transporting my show and auction fish to the American Livebearer Association convention.
This medication, made by Aquarium Products, is used to treat fish for a wide range of parasites and fungus. While we had both used this medication at home to treat fish, this was our first try at using it as part of our standard routine in the field. All of the water we used for our water changes was treated with Clout. When collecting fishes in the wile, they will very commonly be carrying some type of parasites. Very often, they will be in such low numbers that you can’t detect them and they won’t begin to affect the fish until you get it home in the confines of an aquarium. On all of the collecting trips I’ve been on, previous to this one, I’ve had outbreaks of ich and/or other diseases among the fish I brought back. Every time, they bloomed about a month after getting the fish home. I’ve been back about a month and a half with no visible signs of disease on any of the fish brought back (some had visible parasites when collected). I feel pretty confident that this was due to treating them early, in the field, and knocking off whatever parasites were present while they were still in low numbers. So here is another product that is a keeper.
Hopefully, sharing our experiences with these products will help keep some of you from having to learn the same lessons through trial and error as we did, and will continue to do.
This article first appeared in PVAS’s Delta Tale, Vol 32, # 2