During my last trip here this past weekend, I saw plenty of Carp, and suspected I was hearing Freshwater Drum. I wanted to target both species, with special emphasis on the Drum since I haven't yet caught one on fly gear. I read that black leech patterns, crayfish patterns, and white minnow patterns all catch Freshwater Drum, especially if you can keep them on/near the bottom.
I got on the sandbar near its downstream end, and started walking upstream along this stagnant channel. I wasn't hearing the "drum" sound I'd heard last time. Bummer. I saw some Carp working the shallows. I tossed an egg pattern to one. It took the egg, I set the hook, and the line broke. This was new line! For some reason, I've been breaking a lot of the egg patterns off on carp during the hookset.
Next, I tied on a Mr. P's Carp Carrot and started working the deeper water of the channel, blind casting for Drum or whatever would hit. I did get some strikes, but nothing hooked up.
Then I saw a small carp in the shallows working its way towards me, nosing into the bottom. A dozen bad casts, and a couple good ones...I finally got the strike. I set the hook, and had a good battle for a few minutes. I discovered this was not a carp, but a Black (?) Buffalo (edit: I've since learned that these are SMALLMOUTH BUFFALO)! This is a new flyrod species for me, which is...AWESOME! This one, 19.5" long, was caught on the Carp Carrot.
There were some Carp (or maybe Bigmouth Buffalo?) mouthing near the surface, so I switched my fly to a Blind Squirrel. Eventually spotted another fish in the shallows and numerous casts finally got the fly where I wanted it. The fish took it. This was another Black (?) Buffalo (edit: SMALLMOUTH BUFFALO). 22.5" long.
I also caught a Bluegill on the egg pattern, a Hybrid Sunfish on the Carp Carrot, and 6 Green Sunfish on the Blind Squirrel.
Now... I need help figuring this out. When I caught them, I assumed these two Buffalo were Smallmouth Buffalo. But they really might be Black Buffalo. I looked them both up online, studied descriptions and pictures...and I'm still not sure. Lateral line scale counts and the habitat where these were feeding were slightly more suggestive of Black Buffalo. But there is overlap on the scale counts between the two species. Without a side-by-side comparison, I can't definitively tell by the other descriptive characteristics. The Black Buffalo is typically darker in coloration, often with a bluish color on the sides. Well, as you can tell from the first two pics, these certainly had some bluish tinting on the sides above their bellies, which was even more noticeable in person. The Smallmouth Buffalo has a larger eye, and is supposed to have lighter coloration (but this can depend on the waters where it is found, and they get darker during the breeding season...but that was several months ago). There is a difference in mouth placement...and some have suggested the Black Buffalo has thicker lips.
Although I'm truly unsure (which is strange...I'm generally quite good with fish identification), I think for now I will go with Black Buffalo on these. If there's anyone that has more experience with both of these species and thinks they can accurately tell which species this is based on my pictures, I'd LOVE to know!
Addendum: I changed the title to this post to accurately reflect the new information I received regarding the species identification. I had posed the question and pictures to my friend Ben, who is a Fisheries Biologist with the IDNR for our area. Here is his response:
"It’s always tough when you are trying to ID from a photo, rather than having the fish in your hand. These two species are tough to tell apart, so don’t feel bad!
However, I believe that you caught 2 smallmouth buffalo. There are some body measurement ratios that the professionals use to separate these two species. I analyzed these ratios from your photos and both fish fall out as smallmouth buffs. In addition, and this is probably the best method, the smallmouth buff will have a keel in front of their dorsal fin. Unfortunately, I don’t have top-down photos to tell.
Hope that helps Dave and congrats on the catch!"
That is good enough for me! These shall henceforth be known as Smallmouth Buffalo, and in the future I will check for the presence of the keel in front of the dorsal fin.