Missouri is one of the luckiest states as we have wealth of beautiful and interesting small fish that are perfect for aquarium keeping, especially in the Ozark region. Several members of our club go on a collecting trip late in the spring almost every year. This year the plan is for going in May, depending on weather. It's a great way to get to know your fellow club members and to learn how to collect correctly. Listen at the meeting or keep an eye out on the forum for details as time gets closer.
If you can't wait, there are many places to collect in St. Louis county and Jefferson County just a few minutes from I-270. Sandy Creek along Highway 21 is a great place. There are several species of Darters in that area. A bit further out, the Meremec River around Meremec Springs is another place. The Burbouse, Jack's Fork, Big Piney, Little Piney, and many other small Ozark rivers are all excellent, though a bit longer drives. Make sure you have the permission of the landowners, depending on where you collect. You will need a valid MO fishing licensce and need to have it with you not only when you collect, but you will need to maintain it if you keep any specimens.
Safety first! Always collect with a partner, just in case. Stay in shallow water. There is no need to move into deep water to collect Darters. They are easy to find and collect with small nets in ankle to knee deep water. Always be sure to take no more than one or two pairs of any species from any locality. You won't need anymore than that. Don't collect sculpins unless you can keep them separately - they eat Darters! Most Darters will only take live foods (blackworms, white worms, daphnia, adult brine shrimp, gammarus), but some species (especially rainbows and orange throats) will take frozen food readily and can be trained to take flakes.
Once a wild fish has been kept in an aquarium, NEVER release it back into the wild. While small, there is a potential for transmitting diseases or parasites from your captive fish to wild populations. If you decide you no longer want the fish, offer them to fellow aquarists. It is illegal to sell them.
Finally, it is important to note that no MO native fish can be transported out of the state without a permit. This is to prevent the spread of several diseases that are currently moving through wild stocks of some species of fish to the North of us. They are not yet in MO, but the fisheries people want to track them and get a handle on them. If you do get a permit, they will follow up with the person who gets the fish to make sure the fish are still healthy, or, if they have not survived, to find out what killed them.
I hope you consider coming with us this spring.
Mike Hellweg, President Emeritus
Missouri Aquarium Society, Inc.