Shorthead redhorse make notable spawning runs, but the path of Olaf Nelson’s Illinois-record shorthead was extreme: a Fox River tributary to Brookfield to Virginia.
On April 9, Nelson was fishing a redworm on a small hook and a couple split shot, “nothing fancy.”
Then came the moment, as he described on moxostoma.com.
“A bad cast into the pool under the bridge scared some shortheads downstream, so I quickly re-cast to where I thought they might stop,” he posted. “I couldn’t see through the reflection, couldn’t be sure of the depth or the structure of the creek bed. I must have guessed correctly, though, because for the first (and so far only) time this year I felt the signature redhorse tap, tap, TAP! and made a solid connection. . . . Weighed in the bag of my net she was an inconceivable 6-6.5 pounds.”
He said as he landed the fish, he “knew it was a record. Ever since I caught one and blew it a few years ago, I’m really attuned to that particular record.”
Indeed. Nelson founded moxostoma.com (moxostoma is the genus of redhorse).
“In 2007, I was looking up something about fly fishing in Minnesota,” he said. “I heard about fly fishing for bigmouth buffalo near Northfield [Minn.].
“Then I found Roughfish.com and that changed my life. I was getting bored with bass and trout and I found I was fishing right over top of more hard fighting and interesting fish.”
As a lover of redhorse, Nelson had a dilemma late that Friday afternoon.
“I wanted to keep it alive, so I could release it, but selfishly I also wanted to get that record and wanted that fish to be official,” he said.
He had good reason for wanting the fish officially certified. Some shorthead records are so far off as to deserve to be in absurdist theater.
He tried to reach an Illinois Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist, but it was too late. So he put it on ice. The next morning he weighed it on the certified scale at Tischler Finer Foods in Brookfield at 4.8 pounds (4 pounds 12.8 ounces). Illinois fish records are kept by pounds and ounces.
A couple days later, streams biologist Steve Pescitelli certified it. Nelson completed the paperwork and sent it to Springfield, He froze the fish, then sent it to the lab of the redhorse authority, Robert Jenkins, professor emeritus at Roanoke College. Jenkins measured it as a total length of 533 mm, virtually 21 inches, and is preparing the skeleton as a museum specimen and will age the fish.
“They are cool fish and there is nothing like them that run up the creeks and build nests,” Pescitelli said. “Shorthead are like salmon, build nests and run back out to the river. I am sure the larvae coming down provide food for lots of other fish.”
Pescitelli emailed photos of redhorse on their spawning runs on a Fox tributary, where they “fanned the finer gravel out (with their tails) to expose the larger cobble where they lay the eggs. The water circulates down through that larger stone to keep the eggs well oxygenated.”
Nelson’s record supplants one of the coolest tales in Illinois fishing. On April 25, 2008, Andrew Chione, then 15, caught the previous Illinois-record shorthead (3-11.8) from virtually the same area of the Fox as where his brother John caught the Illinois-record silver redhorse (6-11.4) the day before.
“I do not believe my new Illinois state record was the biggest shorthead that ever lived,” Nelson wrote. “Until I see some evidence to the contrary (and I am actively seeking it), however, I will say that she might be, as one biologist suggested, the biggest verifiable shorthead redhorse on record.”