Carroll County Sports

Jim Gronaw: The oddball fish | OUTDOORS COMMENTARY

The previous two columns I’ve written here have dealt with the catching of “not so popular” fish species that, although worthy game, are generally not embraced by the angling community.

Personally, I love carp, catfish and sucker type species that can spice things up when the “top drawer” fish just get a case of lockjaw. There are many other species out there that anglers just won’t admit are fun to catch, almost like they are embarrassed to enjoy them.


Let’s take a look at a couple.

Most folks haven’t heard of a small panfish called a flier. They predominate much of the South East US and are a food staple in many low country, blackwater streams in the south. Fliers seldom reach a foot long and the current world record is around two pounds. They literally look like a cross between a crappie and a bluegill.


With a deep-set body dynamic and flared, spotted fins, the common flier is indeed found in Maryland waters, though not abundant in any local water I know of. I have caught two in my lifetime in Maryland and both were at St. Marys’ Lake in southern Maryland.

The common flier, found mostly in southern waters, can be caught in a few Maryland lakes and closely resembles the crappie in overall dynamics and coloration.

My good friend and expert pan fisherman, Jeffrey Abney of Elizabeth City, North Carolina, put me onto some chunky fliers when I visited him several years ago. I was fortunate enough to catch and release a 10-inch “citation-sized” fish in the Little River on a hair jig and cricket below a bobber. They are known for delicate flavor and willingness to bite.

Another oddball would be the common bowfin, also known as mudfish or grindle throughout the south.

Bowfin look much like the invasive northern snakehead now so common throughout the state. Bowfin are native to Delaware, Virginia, Pennsylvania and even in many of the Upper Midwest states and Great Lakes tributaries. Spawning males have a large dot with a red/orange halo around the marking when they are up shallow in the spring.

A hard fighting fish, large, 10-pound class bowfin often fool bass anglers into thinking they have hooked the largemouth bass of their dreams.

As a child, I once saw an angler land one from Virginias’ Lake Prince. More recently, I was able to land a 30-inch bowfin from the James River in Virginia while fishing for blue catfish.

Long, cylindrical and tightly muscled, these fish are difficult to hook and feature a set of sharp canine teeth that can shred lures and flesh so be cautious with the de-hooking chores. Each year there are several bowfin caught from nearby Lake Marburg just outside of Hanover, Pennsylvania. Rumor has it they were in a pond that was flooded when the lake was built.

One bona fide oddball that I encountered recently was a stunning 19-inch comet goldfish that struck one of my hair jigs last December in a local public pond.

A 19-inch comet goldfish that was caught while panfishing last December from a local pond.

Clearly, someone had the fish out-grow the aquarium and chose to release the fish in a larger environment. I was quite shocked when I caught it and took numerous photos before releasing the fish.

A quick internet search showed me that this specimen was right up there with current records in the UK and US for comet goldfish, as if that means anything at all. But one California record stated a nine-pound goldfish was the current standard for comets. Mine was about four pounds and round as a butterball.

There are other “freak show” species out there that most of us could not identify. One would have to consider the silver quillback carp or “high-fin” quillback as being in that category.

Quillbacks are actually common in many Upper Chesapeake tributaries, especially the Susquehanna River and its’ feeders. Likewise. The Potomac has them and some are quite large, around the 5 to 6-pound mark and give a great account of themselves when hooked while shad fishing.

At first glance, quillbacks look much like the common carp, but they possess a silvery tone rather than the golden brown of the commons. The single, spiny dorsal fin on top is much longer than that of other carp or goldfish species. Most are very heavy for their length and fight with dogged determination.

Indeed, there are many more species of fish that are finning our waters that are tough to ID.


Many sunfish species, like the dollar sunfish, spotted sunfish and the stunning long-eared sunfish (native to central Maryland drainages) are just a few and can certainly add spice to anyone’s lifetime “fish list”. Throw in a myriad of bullhead catfish species (black, brown and yellow) and the native white catfish of Chesapeake tidal flows…all tough to accurately identify.

Additionally, there are grass pickerel, rare and creek dwelling, and chain pickerel, (quite common) in many of our waters. And, if you are into “micro fishing” then it opens up a whole new world of new critters for the lifetime list. But for now, just catch and enjoy!