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John McCoy: Who knew 'microfishing' would become a thing?

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As someone who is decidedly un-hip and un-trendy, I’m not accustomed to being ahead of my time.

I was, though. At the tender young age of 10 or 11, I dabbled with microfishing.

Now, more than half a century later, I find out microfishing is a “thing.” There are people who invest tremendous amounts of time and money trying to catch the smallest fish they possibly can.

A friend of mine, Matt Miller, wrote about microfishing in his excellent book, Fishing Through the Apocalypse. Matt is really into it. He dangles tiny pieces of bait impaled on itty-bitty hooks in front of fish smaller than his little finger.

He targets species no one else would even think of fishing for — speckled dace, sand shiners and largescale suckers, among many, many others. Armed with a tiny rod that “looks like a magic wand,” he stalks the edges of small streams and backwaters, scanning the shallows for fish that most other anglers would catch in seine nets or minnow traps.

It’s an arcane pursuit, to say the least. Like many folks who take up microfishing, Matt keeps a “life list” of species he’s caught. Some anglers have tallied hundreds of species. One, Steve Wozniak (not the Apple computer guy), has racked up more than 1,700.

At least two websites, and, attract microfishing enthusiasts, although the rough fish site caters more to people who fish for bigger species such as carp, gar and suckers.

Microfishing isn’t for everyone, but it can be lots of fun, as I discovered when I wasn’t much more than 10 years old.

The stream that ran behind my family’s house, Spruce Fork, wasn’t exactly a stellar fishery. Creek chubs, suckers and an occasional spotted bass were about all a young angler could expect to catch.

One day, as I explored the shallows looking for flat rocks to skip, I came across a school of minnows. Although none of them measured more than 2 inches in length, they got me wondering if I could catch them on hook and line.

I knew I’d have to scale down my tackle. The smallest hook I owned was a size 10, and it was fully one-third the length of the fish I’d be trying to catch. The smallest hook I’d ever heard of at the time was a size 16, and it still would have been way too big.

I tried fashioning tiny hooks from strands of fine copper wire, but they turned out to be too soft. Using wire cutters and a pair of needle-nosed pliers, I finally managed to convert a piece of staple into a serviceable hook.

Some thin monofilament thread from Mom’s sewing kit became my line. A straw plucked from her broom became my rod.

I baited the makeshift hook with a minuscule doughball and lowered it into the water. Within seconds, one of the minnows attacked it so hard it hooked itself. I lifted my squirming prize from the water and examined it.

I can’t remember exactly what it turned out to be. Probably a silver shiner, a sand shiner or some other member of genus Notropis. I don’t know. What I do know is that I had a blast catching it.

If I were to try something similar today, I’d be much better equipped. The size 32 hooks I use for tying Elk River “dandruff” flies would be perfect for microfishing. So would the 10X tippet material I use to attach those flies to a leader.

Hmm. I seem to have talked myself into giving it a shot. And when I catch that first little fish with my upgraded tackle, I’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that I was doing something very similar a long, long, loooong time before it became a “thing.”

Reach John McCoy at, 304-348-1231, or follow @GazMailOutdoors on Twitter.

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