Anglers love showing off their catch almost as much as we love seeing people enjoy Outdoor Oklahoma. When you post that traditional grip-and-grin lunker, we’re here for it. Have a tongue-in-cheek shot of a bass so small you’re surprised it stayed on the hook? We’re in. Wanna share that 3-inch beauty of a darter you hooked after a determined pursuit? We can’t wait. And neither can Colby Farquhar.
This catch-and-release orangethroat darter, a stunning fish of the Arkansas and Red River drainages, often goes unnoticed by anglers despite being one of Oklahoma’s most common darters.
Farquhar, a Wildlife Department biologist stationed at Sans Bois Wildlife Management Area, loves most everything about fishing. He loves the challenge; he loves the escape; and he especially loves seeing and singing the praises of Oklahoma’s native fishes, including the often overlooked and underappreciated nongame fish.
“There are only 14 species classified as ‘game fish’ in Oklahoma, some of which aren’t native to the state. But there’s something like 169 other species of fish that can be found in our waters."
Those “other species” haven’t always been on Farquhar’s internal fish finder but have instead quietly shown up in high-resolution in the last decade.
“Growing up in southeastern Oklahoma, I mostly fished for the typical species – the bass, the crappie, the catfish. When it came to the smaller species, I was the guy that called everything a perch.”
That started to change when Farquhar reeled in a new fish that caught his eye.
“It was the buffalo, the redhorses, the native suckers that most people think of as carp, that really triggered my interest in nongame fish. They were challenging and fun to catch. So, I started fishing for suckers, then added in bowfin and gar, and went from there.
“The more I looked into nongame fish, the more it opened the world of native species.”
Farquhar has since learned to identify members of the perch family, officially called Percidae, which includes native darters, from the “im-perch-inators,” and is now just as interested in tying a tiny barbless hook to a line on a collapsible rod as he is in breaking out the larger tackle. This growing trend of catching small fish is known as microfishing.
When the smallest of species are on his fishing agenda, Farquhar heads to the water, visually searches for fish, drops the hook near the fish, and waits to see if the fish will bite.
If a new species takes the bait, Farquhar later adds the details to his fishing life list.
Native suckers, like this river redhorse, triggered Farquhar’s interest in native nongame fishing opportunities.
Check out this Outdoor Oklahoma clip for more about Farquhar’s microfishing passions.
Life lists are most often associated with bird watchers as a way to log every species they’ve seen or heard in their life, and Farquhar’s fishing life list has a similar mission – to document every one of his “fair caught” fish.
So far, that fishing life list includes 109 species, 88 of which can be found in Oklahoma.
“The great thing about a life list is that you can make it what you want. Some people log everything they get their hands on. Some will include species they’ve seined or netted.
"I’m a little more specific. I don’t add anything to my list that hasn’t been hooked in the mouth. Being a stickler for that personal rule adds to the challenge.”
The southern redbelly dace, found in Oklahoma in the Ozark Mountains, Wichita Mountains, and in Blue River, is just one of 109 species logged on Farquhar’s fishing life list.
Farquhar successfully caught several blue suckers, a species of greatest conservation need, but will not add the species to his fishing life list until one is "fair caught.”
This also means that his fishing life list doesn’t yet include the blue sucker, even though it was the target species of a successful 24-hour fishing trip to Lake Texoma.
“I was able to time the trip during a spawning event last year. I’d been watching the conditions and left the house around midnight. I ended up fishing for about 15 hours straight and had a dozen or so blue suckers in hand, but they were all snagged fish. So, I didn’t add them to my list.”
If or when Farquhar finally fair hooks a blue sucker, it will join a diverse school of fish already on his life list.
Eight other Oklahoma suckers, including the three buffalofishes; 11 species of darters; and a colorful mix of shiners, minnows, gar, catfish, and sunfish have all taken the bait and landed on the list.
“I really like catching darters – they’re small and they’re gorgeous. But I also really like catching species that don’t really get colored up and instead have breeding tubercles, like one of Oklahoma’s native stonerollers.
“Stonerollers are a keystone species and play an important role in our streams. They’re kind of like the cows or bison of the streams. They’re mostly grazers and aren’t always interested in a worm, so they can be a challenge to catch on a hook.”
Another fish on Farquhar’s list came with a different, slithering challenge.
“I’d always wanted to catch a banded pygmy sunfish, they’re one of the smallest fish in the state, and the smallest species on my life list at this point. I wound up catching a few at the Little River National Wildlife Refuge by headlamp a few years ago. Not many people have managed to catch one on hook and line, but I got the chance to, and have the added memory of watching a cottonmouth hunting nearby. It was doing its thing; I was doing mine.”
Farquhar has caught three species of Oklahoma stoneroller, including the central stoneroller, highland stoneroller, and this largescale stoneroller.
While Farquhar chooses to log his fishing memories in a life list, Outdoor Oklahomans have almost as many options for making and sharing memories as there are fish in the state! Start your own list with your own personal rules; jot down notes from your favorite (and even most miserable) outdoor adventures in a journal; share your catches on The Dock at wildlifedepartment.com; tag @okwildlifedept on your nature posts; or share your nature sightings on free platforms like iNaturalist or eBird.
Ready to tie a line for one of Oklahoma’s “other” fish species? Don’t forget to report the harvest of Oklahoma’s 32 fish species of special concern to the Wildlife Department. These reports help biologists track the status of fish like alligator gar, Arkansas darters, blue suckers, and more.