I once caught a fish that was thiiiis small
June 9, 2021 5:43 PM   Subscribe

[cw: photos of hooked fish.] Microfishing is a growing category of sportfishing in which anglers attempt to land the smallest fish they can. Microfishing has devoted fans, some of which travel the world in an attempt to catch all of the fish on their lifelist. (Note: Hakai Magazine offers an audio version of the first link here.)

Some big picture quotes from Hakai Magazine for those that don't want to risk seeing a hooked fish or just don't have time to read through it all.

On the sport/hobby:
The objective of microfishing is laughably simple: to catch very small fish. This is, of course, a heterodox goal in a sport obsessed with size. Conventional anglers lump minnows, chubs, darters, sculpins, and other minute creatures under the inglorious label of “baitfish,” their only purpose to be skewered on a hook to entice worthier targets.
On the origin:
Like many cute and diminutive phenomena—Pokémon, Tamagotchi, Hello Kitty—microfishing has roots in Japan. It was a logical country of origin: a densely populated nation with an intimate societal connection to fish, yet limited opportunities to pursue large species. Some sources suggest that as far back as the 17th century, Japanese anglers began to target tanago, a group of finger-length fish known in English as bitterling; for some of these ur-microfishermen, a single human hair reportedly sufficed for line. In the 21st century, specialized tanago gear began to proliferate: ultralight line, tiny hooks, rods as dainty as chopsticks. Anglers coveted ever-smaller prey, explains the writer Matthew Miller in his book Fishing Through the Apocalypse, “the grail being a tanago that can fit on a two-yen coin (about the size of a penny).”
On catch and release and scientific impact:
Now, even some biologists have begun to take note, with both trepidation and excitement. On one hand, microfishing is utterly unregulated, and in some cases, possibly damaging; although micro-anglers almost always release their catches alive, such minuscule and delicate fish may be uniquely vulnerable to harm. On the other, it’s an emergent cache of data, collected by anglers with an unusually scientific cast of mind. “A lot of biologists are stuck at a desk or in the lab,” says Tyler Goodale, a fisheries technician turned fishing guide who specializes in Missouri’s endemic darters. “The microfishing guys are some of the best citizen scientists that exist.”
Despite these misgivings, microfishing also struck Cooke as rife with scientific potential. Whereas other methods of studying small fish tend to be indiscriminate—Cooke has seen minnows die en masse after scraping off their scales in a biologist’s trap—microfishing has the advantage of precision. Microfishing techniques could be used to capture rare fish for captive-breeding purposes, Cooke suggests, or to survey areas that scientists might otherwise overlook. “If we can exploit the knowledge of these anglers to provide information, it’s a whole bunch more eyes out there,” he says. This is no idle speculation: in 2015, microfishing reports in Illinois expanded the known range of the banded killifish, a threatened species.
posted by forbiddencabinet (15 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
I have been fishing several times. I like to eat fish. This is the first time pursuing fishing as an adult has sounded in any way appealing. Fascinating. Thanks!

That this could be significant enough to be damage populations seems surprising. But, I guess, there are a a lot of humans. Even the really weird variety.
posted by eotvos at 6:38 PM on June 9


Microfishing looks...incredibly relaxing. I've always had a bit of a thing for small lures, and the teensiest ones in my tackle box are some of my favourites, but this takes that to a whole other level. Those hooks are so small!

I had no idea that this was a thing. Thanks for this.

I began researching the growth of life-listing, and the same names kept popping up, anglers who embarked on month-long species catching road trips and one guy who had caught more than one thousand species, including tilapia out of mall fountains.

I'm weirdly amused by the idea of mall fountain fishing.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 6:39 PM on June 9 [1 favorite]


For all of the regulations and conventional wisdom that say it's less sustainable to take young fish, I've heard that in grouper for example taking a huge fish that can reproduce a lot sets back population growth a lot more.
posted by little onion at 7:21 PM on June 9 [2 favorites]


(source: Is Catching Immature Fish Truly Unsustainable)

A big cod of, for example, 1 m in length produces about 600 times more eggs than a 40 cm female – although both are considered mature, just because of the much bigger body and thus bigger gonads. The same goes for tunas. There is also evidence that the survival rate of eggs spawned from older fish is higher than that from younger ones – fish might learn how to optimize the chances of their offspring.
posted by little onion at 7:23 PM on June 9 [3 favorites]


Ah, it's a lifelist and not a fishlist?
posted by batter_my_heart at 7:39 PM on June 9 [1 favorite]


That first article is really great.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:35 PM on June 9


You big bullies.
posted by Phanx at 10:49 PM on June 9


>I'm weirdly amused by the idea of mall fountain fishing.

This is why we need not only mall cops but mall game wardens.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:58 AM on June 10 [4 favorites]


Based on what I usually catch, I’d say I’ve been a practitioner for years.
posted by ecorrocio at 7:05 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


Another article with the subtext of how the sciences are criminally underfunded
posted by eustatic at 8:12 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]


But it is interesting, since most of these fishes would more easily be caught by hand. If they make tiny fly baits, or just spend time analyzing tiny fish behaviors, I appreciate very much these humans' tenacity for sympathizing with our fish cousins, in the face of a world of indifference
posted by eustatic at 8:15 AM on June 10


If people are interested, I would recommend freshwater snorkeling as a hobby. No hooks, and you see the tiny fish up close while they fly through the water! It s magical! (I also love angling, no doubt)

This method was developed by fish scientists basically in order to observe fish behaviors up close.

Tiny fish have a lot more sparkle and flash to them in their natural element. They are like tiny flying mignon faget jewelry pieces when they are underwater. Their 3d movement is a lot different than birds'.

The side effect of the snorkeling hobby is that the government has to clean rivers to a precise degree so that snorkelers have the best experience.

There are rivers in North Georgia designated for snorkeling, and they are the most pristine waters I have ever seen.
posted by eustatic at 8:34 AM on June 10 [3 favorites]


But yes, as a failed fish biologist myself, I can't read this article and help but imagine where hobbies like this would be if Newt Gingrich hadn't killed the nascent United States Biological Survey in the dark days of the "Contract on America". Just imagine the possibilities!
posted by eustatic at 8:37 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


“Fishing Crazy: In Pursuit of the Smallest Catch”15 Minutes, NHK World, 22 January 2020
Catching tiny fish only a couple of centimeters in size called Tanago, or Japanese bitterling, is a passion shared by some fanatical Japanese anglers. Fumihiko Nagatani, a sushi chef with 40 years of experience catching the so-called "underwater jewels," uses a microscope to file down fishing hooks in the hope of catching small Tanago less than 2cm long. Discover the eccentric yet fascinating world of Japanese "micro fishing" that involves tiny tools to catch tiny fish. [Available On Demand until September 2, 2021]
posted by ob1quixote at 1:18 PM on June 10


This is my least favorite mission in Red Dead Redemption 2
posted by Saxon Kane at 4:54 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


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