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Is this an alewife? And general How To ID questions

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#1 Oogamooga

  • NANFA Guest
  • Washington, DC

Posted 26 August 2018 - 07:37 PM

Hi there,

First time poster and total novice here, so I hope my questions are ok. We decided to try microfishing this weekend and had a blast targeting small fish in the Tidal Basin in Washington DC. We also had a blast going through our newly acquired Peterson’s guide and trying to figure out what we had caught. But after two days of head scratching, and going back to take better pics, we hit a wall and could use some guidance.

Our best guess is juvenile alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus). For about a day we were thinking some sort of minnow, but then we noticed the shape of the anal fins on the herrings, which seem more in line with what we had caught.

How do folks generally go about ID’ing fish? What do you look at first (after location and fish color) in order to begin narrowing down which family and genus a fish belongs in? Body shape? Tail shape? And if I have something small (less than 4”), how do I know if it’s a juvenile something or a fully grown something else?

Any general tips or links to fish ID keys would be much appreciated. We liked fishing for something small and underappreciated, and may head up to the creeks of VA or MD next weekend to see what else we can find!

(Since this is raised in many other threads, I am confirming that my pic is from a makeshift photo tank on the sidewalk of the Tidal Basin, where we were fishing. We don’t have a fish tank and definitely don’t need more animals to take care of at home)

#2 Matt DeLaVega

Matt DeLaVega
  • Forum Staff
  • Ohio

Posted 27 August 2018 - 01:31 PM

Try again with the photo. Excellent first post. I look forward to hearing answers from some of our fish ID experts. Welcome.

The member formerly known as Skipjack

#3 fritz

  • Board of Directors

Posted 27 August 2018 - 04:02 PM

Looking forward to seeing the photo.


Most people just flip through whatever book they have and look for something that looks like it.  And then hopefully consult range maps to make sure it's found in their region.  And post on here for advice/thoughts.  Or just immerse yourself in all things fishes like Tim Aldridge and become a good IDer virtually in a year or so. With help from gnarled old veterans.


There is a nice little book on Delaware fishes that should have most of the fishes in the DC area. And there is a VA field guide in the works.

#4 Doug_Dame

  • NANFA Member

Posted 27 August 2018 - 08:42 PM

The FishMap tab at the top of the page can be used to get to a list of species known in any specific HUC. With that and Petersons, you can probably eliminate most of the possibilities pretty quickly. Bear in mind that the species list may not be perfect, that some young fish may look quite a bit different than adults, that fish in non-breeding season, and/or females, may be less colorful than ID book illustrations.


My second idea on the best way to ID fish used to be a great great secret, but I suspect I was not sneaky enough and have been detected. Go out with people (e.g., experienced NANFAns) who already know the local fish.


If you invest $10 or so in a "critter keeper", and make some kind of flat paddle, at the collection site you can take good profile smartphone pictures that are typically going be easier to examine than the typical random "fish swimming in a clear container" shots most of us snap. That lets you look at the shape and placement of the mouth, eye, fins, etc. You can often do counts of the fin rays. (Just beware that the plastic critter keepers scratch easily.)


There's a 1000 superb fish photos in the Gallery. You don't have to get to the quality of those, but posting good photos here is the best way to get definitive help on a fish ID. 


I'm waiting for the day when the FishID app on my GPS-enabled smartphone spits out probable IDs. 



Doug Dame

Floridian now back in Florida

#5 Oogamooga

  • NANFA Guest
  • Washington, DC

Posted 28 August 2018 - 04:47 PM

Sorry, didn’t realize the photo didn’t attach!! I’m trying again....

Yeah, I suspect going out with a local would be very helpful. I’m going on a very last minute road trip to Chicago leaving tomorrow after work, bringing all my fishing gear and was considering posting here asking if any locals in OH or IL wanted to meet. Or I figured I could just drop a line along the rocks of Lake Michigan and see what comes up.


#6 Oogamooga

  • NANFA Guest
  • Washington, DC

Posted 28 August 2018 - 04:53 PM

Doug_Dame and others, thanks for your replies and kind welcome. What type of “flat paddle” should I be looking for? Right now I’m carrying around a clear plastic container in a black cloth bag that hopefully will double as a backdrop. Or I may spray paint (the outside) of one wall grey.

#7 Doug_Dame

  • NANFA Member

Posted 28 August 2018 - 07:46 PM

Here's the first example I found, googling for "fish photo tank paddle" ...






What a coincidence ... from the NANFA forum  :D/

Doug Dame

Floridian now back in Florida

#8 fritz

  • Board of Directors

Posted 29 August 2018 - 11:38 AM

I'm leaning towards blueback herring

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