Armed with books and binoculars, birders and ornithologists take to the countryside to identify any avian species they encounter. They know the migration patterns, preferred habitats, songs and the identifying characteristics. They’re also well known as avid list keepers.

Those lists are often subdivided to include specific locations, dates and events that culminate in the birder’s life list. That list catalogs all of the different species they’ve spotted and identified since beginning their hobby.

There’s another group taking to the outdoors in search of their own life lists, but they aren’t toting binoculars. This crowd is lugging fishing gear while trying to legally catch as many different species of fish possible. Their goal is to add to a life list of angler’s hook-and-line catches.

As I learned about these piscivorous pioneers of list builders, I imagined them trolling for walleye, casting for sunfish and baiting bullheads. In other words, I was only thinking of the fish that are sportsmen’s favorite prey. Boy, was I wrong.

These folks are far more refined in their identification abilities and angling efforts. If a person decided to start a list by just fishing in Ohio, no problem. There are 28 scientifically identified fish families and 187 species to get you started.

But unlike their avian counterparts, this quarry isn’t easily observed by our terrestrial perches. They’re hidden from sight, and their preferred habitat can be very specific. If your intentions are to hook some of these fish, your techniques need to include “micro-tackle,” consisting of the smallest hooks and lightest lines to target chubs, daces and others of the minnow families.

You’re also going to need to do your homework. Thanks to Bill Rose, of Arlington, I was introduced to one of the best books that I have found for identifying Ohio’s fish species and their habitats.

“A Naturalist’s Guide to the Fishes of Ohio” has been released by the Ohio Biological Survey with support and funding from the Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife, Ohio Biodiversity Conservation Partnership and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The full-color, 391-page softcover book is a result of nearly a decade of research by authors Dan Rice and Brian Zimmerman with the assistance of many individuals who helped in searching out the fish included in the book.

Not since the 1957 release of Milton Trautman’s book, “The Fishes of Ohio,” has such a complete and comprehensive volume been published. It’s an admirable update of Trautman’s stellar work.

While Trautman’s edition was written in a textbook fashion, this new guide is especially appealing due to its easily understood format. Each species is depicted by photograph and includes history, current status, habitat, spawning, associate species, field identification and abundance by specific sites.

“A Naturalist’s Guide to the Fishes of Ohio” should prove valuable to students of limnology and other environmental sciences. It should also find a home in school and public libraries and upon any person’s desk who is responsible for stream, river, lake or reservoir management projects.

Just as importantly, I believe this book should be included in every avid angler’s home library. It offers insights to the species that can be used to make angling adventures more successful while educating the reader about non-native and invasive species, historical fish populations and concerns of a healthy ecosystem. Fly fishermen may find it especially useful in matching streamer patterns to particular baitfish.

Whether you’re looking for information about the Blanchard River’s brindled madtom, the Mad River’s brown trout or Lake Erie’s extinct blue pike, this book brings it to your fingertips.

The first printing sold out quickly, and a second has just been released. At $30, it’s an affordable addition that will prove valuable to anglers, students, teachers, naturalists and to anyone interested in aquatic life.

The best way to order “A Naturalist’s Guide to the Fishes of Ohio” is by visiting the website, You can also contact the Ohio Biological Survey at 614-457-8787. I wouldn’t wait: The supply will not be endless, and printing will ultimately be limited.

“Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” — Henry David Thoreau

Along the way:

Morel mushrooms are popping up around the state, and Michigan’s usual bumper crop will soon follow. Our delayed spring has set the season back a bit, but a little sunshine should help them stand up in a hurry.

Morchella, the true morel, is an edible mushroom with a distinctive honeycomb-like appearance. Its cap displays a network of ridges with pits, giving it a natural, spongy look.

Normally, they can be found from early April through early May. It’s been said that timing your hunt to follow the second deep-penetrating spring rain of the year may improve your odds. Considering last weekend’s downpour, that time should be now. A hint from one old-timer suggests that the best time to find morels is when the turkeys gobble and the redbud trees bloom.

Morels like to grow in shaded, wooded areas and their edges. They’re especially prone to be found around dead elm trees and in areas where tulip, aspen and oak trees grow. Early in their season, they’re often found on south-facing slopes where the sun warms the ground. Later-season finds are often on north-facing slopes and shady areas.

Look for plant species that share these fertile forest areas as a hint of where you might make a find. Fiddlehead ferns, moss, mayflowers and trillium may be the giveaway. Morel hunting is kind of like fishing. It may take you some time to find your first one, but when you do, it’s time to slow down and start working a pattern.

Morels like the company of their own kind, so they are often found in groups that my father called a “mess.” My mother disagreed with him. She said that’s what she called the kitchen when he was finished cooking his morels. I’m guessing they were both right.

Visit and the Ohio Mushroom Society at

Step outside:

• Tomorrow: International Defensive Pistol Association shoot, registration opens at 9 a.m. with the competition at 10 a.m., UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243, Findlay.

• Thursday and Friday: Trap and skeet, open to the public, 5 p.m., UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243, Findlay.

• May 10: Dinner and bird bingo fundraiser, 5:30 to 9:30 p.m., Carroll Township Hall, 11080 W. Toussaint East Road., Oak Harbor. Hosted by Friends of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, tickets are $40 and include 16 games of bingo, raffles and a catered buffet dinner. Only 110 tickets are available. Visit

• June 8 to 9: Become a hunter education instructor, Division of Wildlife, 952 Lima Ave., Findlay. Training is free, but a background check is required prior to the academy. Submit your registration at least two weeks in advance. Call Jaron Beck with questions at 419-429-8324.

Abrams is a retired wildlife officer supervisor for the state Division of Wildlife in Findlay. He can be reached at P.O. Box 413, Mount Blanchard, 45867-0413 or via email at