New Jersey Scuba Diving
Freshwater Fishes - Midwater
Freshwater gamefish such as trout and bass may not be taken by spear by divers. However, in some places it may be legal to spearfish for carp, catfish, suckers, and other "rough" fishes - check local regulations.
see also: Fishes - Overview
This is an introduced species in New Jersey, although it occurs in regions all around. Largemouth bass at Dutch Springs are tame as puppies, and will follow you around hoping for handouts, as long as you don't spook them. If you don't happen to have anything to feed them, a good way to keep their interest is to flip over rocks on the bottom, exposing tasty little crayfish and other treats that the bass will go right after.
The largemouth is the largest member of the sunfish family. It generally has light greenish to brownish sides with a dark lateral line which tends to break into blotches towards the tail. Often confused with smallmouth and spotted bass, it is easily distinguishable because the upper jaw extends beyond the rear edge of the eye. Also, its first and second dorsal fins are almost separated by an obvious deep dip, and there are no scales on the soft-rayed second dorsal fin or on the anal fin.
Largemouth Bass prefers clear, nonflowing waters with aquatic vegetation where food and cover are available. They occupy brackish to freshwater habitats, including upper estuaries, rivers, lakes, reservoirs and ponds. Also, they can tolerate a wide range of water clarities and bottom types, prefer water temperatures from 65 to 85°F, and are usually found at depths less than 20 feet.
Spawning occurs from December through May, but usually begins in February and March in most of Florida when water temperatures reach 58 to 65°F and continues as temperatures rise into the 70s. The male builds saucer-shaped nests 20 to 30 inches in diameter by placing its lower jaw near the bottom and rotating around this central location. Bass prefer to build nests in hard-bottom areas along shallow shorelines or in protected areas such as canals and coves. Depending on her size, the female can lay up to 100,000 eggs, which are fertilized as they settle into the nest. After spawning is completed, usually five to 10 days, the male guards the nest and eggs and later the young (sometimes called fry) attacking anything that approaches the nest. The female bass stays near the nest or may swim a short distance and remain listless for up to a day. After hatching, the fry swim in tight schools, disbanding when the small fish reach a length of about one inch.
The diet of bass changes with its size. Young fish feed on microscopic animals ( zooplankton ) and small crustaceans such as grass shrimp and crayfish. Fingerling bass feed on insects, crayfish, and small fishes. Adult bass will eat whatever is available, including fish, crayfish, crabs, frogs, salamanders, snakes, mice, turtles and even birds.
Growth rates are highly variable with differences attributed mainly to their food supply and length of growing season. Female bass live longer than males and are much more likely to reach trophy size. By age two or three, females grow much faster than male bass. Males seldom exceed 16 inches, while females frequently surpass 22 inches. At five years of age females may be twice the weight of males. One-year old bass average about seven inches in length and grow to an adult size of 10 inches in about 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 years. The oldest bass from Florida whose age has been determined by fisheries biologists was 16 year of age. Generally, trophy bass (10 pounds and larger) are about 10 years old. The formula used by Florida scientists to estimate weight based on length and girth is: log(weight, in grams) = -4.83 + 1.923 x log(total length, in mm) + 1.157 x log(girth, in mm). Click here for an automated formula.
Smallmouth bass is similar, but the mouth does not extend behind the eye. Actually, their mouths are about the same size, it's more a matter of eye placement. North American freshwater basses are much more closely related to Sunfish than to Sea Basses.
Sunfishes ( family Centrarchidae, along with basses above ) thrive in small, shallow lakes, sheltered bays of larger lakes, and quiet areas of slow-moving streams. Pumpkinseeds (right) are normally found in shallower water and denser vegetation than Bluegills and Redears. Adult and larval insects make up most of the diet, but sunfishes also eat snails and fish fry.
Sunfishes spawn in later spring or early summer, usually at water temperatures from 66°F to 70°F. Males build the nests on a sand or fine gravel bottom at depths from 6 to 18 inches. After spawning, males guard the eggs and fry. In one study, males were seen apparently eating fry that had strayed from the nest, but closer observation revealed that they carried the fry back and spat them out on the nest.
Sunfishes may live up to 10 years. They grow slightly faster in the northern states and Canada than in the southern part of their range, probably because of their preferences for cooler water. Males grow somewhat faster than females.
Other sunfish species include the Bluegill (left) and Green (right) the largest of all sunfish. Together with Crappies (bottom) all are known collectively as "panfish", and are popular with young anglers everywhere.
Redbreast Sunfish - breeding male
The Pumpkinseed - probably our most attractive native freshwater fish.
While most of the local Sunfish species are attractive, none are as spectacular as the midwestern Longear Sunfish, especially when it is in breeding colors.
Green Sunfish - not so attractive
usually 8" - 10 "
The pale olive to silvery green sides of the White Perch lack the dark horizontal stripes present on other temperate basses. White perch also have a narrower tail. The deepest part of the body is at the front of the dorsal fin. On a white bass, the deepest part is near the middle of the back. Known to hybridize with Striped Bass. White Perch are actually members of the Temperate Bass family, not perch at all.
White perch can live in salt, brackish or fresh water. They thrive in inland lakes and reservoirs with expanses of warm, shallow water; in coastal rivers; and in lakes and ponds connected to estuaries. Preferred temperature range: 75 to 80 F.
White perch rely heavily on insects and crustaceans for food. Although they herd baitfish to the surface, especially on cloudy days, they feed this way less often than other temperate bass. In the evening, white perch can frequently be seen dimpling the surface as they take insects. Surface feeding often continues after dark. They seldom feed in winter.
White Perch spawn in spring at water temperatures from 50 to 6OF. White perch swim up tributary streams and randomly deposit their eggs over gravel shoals or on sparse submerged vegetation. They do not guard the eggs or fry.
White perch are slow growing, but long-lived. The maximum age is about 17 years. Their high reproductive potential can create stunting problems if there are several good year-classes in a row.
Although not native to North America, the widely-introduced European Brown Trout is the most common trout in our area. It thrives in poorer water conditions than native species. Salmon are very similar to trout, but generally larger. Introduced from Europe to much of the United States during the late 1800's, the brown trout has adapted well, tolerating warmer water than the native brookie. Sides have a light brown or yellow cast with black spots and usually some orange or red spots. The spots often have whitish to bluish halos. The tail generally lacks spots, but may have a few.
Brown trout were originally introduced from Germany and Scotland, and subspecies designations given to stocks from each country. But because of widespread stocking and genetic mixing, these subspecies are no longer recognized. Sea-run browns are not considered a subspecies. Brown trout hybridize with brook trout to produce the tiger trout.
Browns can live in warmer, more turbid water than other trout. They prefer water from 60 to 65°F, but can survive at 75°F and will tolerate 80°F for short periods of time. They thrive in cool-water streams and lakes, but cannot reproduce in lakes.
Primarily fish eaters, brown trout also consume crayfish and terrestrial and aquatic insects. Large browns prey on smaller trout and other gamefish.
Spawn in fall, usually at water temperatures of 44 to 48°F. They move into shallow, gravelly areas of their home stream or into gravelly tributaries. Females dig a redd, and after spawning, cover it with gravel and abandon it.
Brown trout grow rapidly, but are not particularly long-lived. Few survive beyond age 8. Lake -dwelling browns grow much faster than stream browns; males faster than females.
Rainbow trout are native to the area, although reduced in numbers due to human pressures and competition from the imported species. Like salmon, some Rainbow trout run out to sea for several years, and then return to breed. Known as "Steelheads", these grow much larger than landlocked individuals, and acquire a distinctly different blue-gray coloration.
Dutch Springs has a large population of a yellowish sort of trout that is likely some kind of stocked, commercially bred albino. Unlike the basses and sunfishes there, the trout do not like divers, and it is seldom that you will get very close to one, although you can often see them from the shore. Late in the season when cold water makes them sluggish and their food supplies collapse, the emaciated trout are easier to approach.
A fat, healthy albino trout at Dutch Springs
A more normally colored specimen at Dutch Springs
Eastern or 'Chain' pickerels are deep olive-green on the back, shading to a creamy yellow on the belly. Olive green blotches are present within distinct black chain-like or interwoven markings on the sides. There is a distinct dark, vertical bar below the eye. The cheek and gill covers are completely covered by scales. The underside of the lower jaw has 14-17 branchiostegal rays. There are no recognized subspecies. However, they hybridize readily with redfin pickerels. They are distantly related to trout and salmon.
Chain Pickerels are normally found in vegetated lakes, swamps and backwaters, and small to large rivers. They prefer water temperatures from 75 to 80°F.
Chain pickerels are random spawners rather than nest builders. Spawning occurs in late winter to spring among heavy aquatic weed growth or flooded grasses, in water from a few inches deep to several feet deep. Large number of adhesive eggs are scattered over vegetation. No nest is constructed and no parental care is given to the eggs or fry. About three to four weeks after hatching, they begin cannibalizing other fry.
Pickerels are lie-in-wait predators: they hide in the weeds and lunge out at small passing fishes. The chain pickerel's diet is mainly fish. They also eat insects, frogs, mice, crayfish and a wide variety of other foods.
Sexes are similar. Sexual maturity is reached in first to fourth year, and maximum life span probably eight to nine years. Females grow faster than males. In Florida, chain pickerels can reach lengths of up to 30 inches long.
It's hard to believe that the little Mudminnow ( 4" ) is cousin to the Pickerel, but it is. Look at the layout of the fins. At the other end of the spectrum, the Muskellunge grows to six feet or more.
usually much smaller
There are hundreds of species of shiners in North America, and dozens in New Jersey. The Golden Shiner is probably the most attractive of these minnows in our area, although only the male wears these colors, and then only when breeding. Otherwise they are much drabber. Shiners prefer quiet or slowly flowing waters.
Another common minnow is the Bridled Shiner.
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Copyright © 1996-2016 Rich Galiano
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