Our Indiana rivers are some of our valuable natural resources. In addition to the water that is used in many of our Hoosier cities, they provide some of the best fishing areas for those who enjoy this activity. The list of fish that swim in our Indiana rivers is long and varied. Included in this list, in addition to the sport and food, fish are some very rare species.
One, the alligator gar can grow to be a very large fish. It can reach 10 feet in length with a weight of 300 pounds. While very rare in Indiana, it recently has been reported from the East Fork of the White River and in the Ohio River. Another very uncommon species is the lake sturgeon.
While once found in the Wabash, the only population presently known in Indiana rivers is also in the East Fork. It is on the endangered list and is protected. It is also a large fish, and old ones can be eight feet with a weight of 300 pounds. Yet another fish that has declined in recent years is also one of the most unusual. This is the paddle fish which can live up to 30 years, reach a length of seven feet and scale 200 pounds.
The paddle-shaped snout is what sets it apart from most fish, and once it is seen, it is not soon forgotten. Now only found in our larger rivers and their surrounding oxbows, bayous and other such areas, the collection of the paddle fish for its roe and flesh has greatly reduced its numbers all across its historic range. The Ohio river, which Indiana shares with Kentucky, is a hot spot for fishermen. The lower Wabash and White River also contains many fish listed as game fish.
Among these are both large mouth and small mouth bass, white, yellow, spotted and striped bass, rock bass, crappie, walleye and sauger. The Ohio also contains the muskellunge and tiger musky. The locks and dams constructed along the Ohio has backed up the water behind the dams, and in several locations has flooded lowlands and steams along the river. This has created some large bodies of water, and these sites are now some of the most productive sport fishing sites in Indiana.
Both the Ohio and Wabash, and lower White River and their drainage area also have two other interesting fish. They are the bowfin and mooneye. The bowfin looks like something from the prehistoric past. Also, sometimes known as pond grinnell, dogfish or mudfish, the bowfin has a very large head full of many teeth.
It is often cast as a bait stealing pest that consumes the food that sport fish need to survive. A unique feature of the bowfin that allows it to live in backwater low oxygen is its swim bladder. This bladder can also act as a lung, and this allows the fish to take in air where there is little dissolved oxygen, and exist in water where most other fish would die.
The mooneye is part of a family that only has two species; the other is the goldeye. Both can be found in Indiana rivers and are very white and hard to tell apart. Our Hoosier rivers also contain a variety of suckers, carpsuckers, the quillback, gizard and threadfin shad, three members of the buffalo family, several redhorse which are really large suckers, and a number of little fish such as chubs, shiners, darters and daces.
Also, sad to say, our rivers are now full of the alien Asiatic carp that threaten the very survival of several of our native river fish, and may change the ecology of some of our streams. Indiana rivers are locations where one can find a large variety of fish and other aquatic life, and provides fishing, nature study and recreation opportunities that can attract those who find the outdoors a place of wonder and enjoyment.
More on Indiana fish in future columns.