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    Entries in redfin culter (2)


    Taichung River Quest: In Search of Skygazers

    Few areas in Taiwan offer as many freshwater fishing opportunities as Taichung county in the heart of the island’s western-central plain. Numerous waterways, streams and rivers, drain down from the mountains and cut through the flat agricultural lands and urban sprawl in a dash for the coast. A tantalizing variety of species lurk in these waters — catfish, skygazers (redfin culter), Taiwan mahseer (Spinibarbus hollandi or Holland’s carp), common carp, zacco, to name just a few.

    I made a trip down in March to meet up with Tre, an avid fly angler from Canada who lives in Taichung and knows its waterways as well as any expat in the area. On that trip we did a bit of spinning for amur catfish and I was keen to go back. After he mentioned that he had located a prime spot for skygazers and mahseer I was soon putting in for some mid-week vacation time with my employer and making preparations to head south.

    Joining on this latest adventure was Russian fishing enthusiast Maxim Filippov who maintains his own YouTube channel devoted to fishing in Taiwan. Maxim was anxious to check the skygazer off his angling bucket list.

    Maxim picked me up around 4:30 a.m. and we began the nearly two-hour trek down to Taichung and the GPS coordinates Tre had passed on for his skygazer honey hole. The spot was on a tributary of the Dadu River near the Changhua-Taichung county line. Thanks to recent rains, the water was swift and somewhat cloudy. Once we found the spot, we dropped our gear on the bank and Maxim set up his array of video equipment. I decided to go small and tied on a little inline spinner. Maxim went the other direction and rigged a three-inch jointed jerk bait with a soft plastic paddle tail. To me, this seemed like overkill for the conditions, but I would quickly be proven wrong.

    Things looked promising as I hooked and landed a nice little mahseer on the fourth or fifth cast. Maxim followed that with a fat amur catfish that he foul hooked in the tail. Next on the line was a rare and somewhat stomach churning river eel that surfaced in a writhing brown knot before coming off — thankfully — before it could slime my landing net. After the eel, the bite seemed to shut down.

    Following fruitless hour of casting and losing lures on snags, we broke for lunch and then moved upstream. Around mid-afternoon we shifted back to the original stretch of water to meet with Tre as he got off work. Tre arrived managed to hook and land a nice mahseer on his first cast. The bite appeared to be back on. Maxim landed two more mahseer after wading out to mid-channel just below a rapid, and then he got his skygazer. Tre netted one or two more mahseer and then it was time for Maxim and I to head back north.Tre (aka, The Fishing Fiend), Taiwan Angler and Maxim beside the Taichung skygazer honey hole.

    Tre said the relative lack skygazer action was disappointing as the same spot had been going off a week prior, but that’s always the way it is — sometimes the bite is on and sometimes it isn’t. It had been raining for about a solid week before our trip, so that may have played a role.

    We were all using light to medium-weight spinner tackle. I switched between small inline spinners, one and two-inch ribbon tail grubs on jig heads, and 6 to 8 gm spoons. Tre was throwing mostly larger gold spoons that were about 8 grams and having good luck with the mahseer. Maxim cleaned up with his magic jerk bait, which has me thinking that I may go with a shallow running crankbait like a Cotton Cordell Big O or small Rapala that I can bounce off the rocks without snagging it. Size certainly didn’t seem to matter with lure success. Though both the skygazers and mahseer have relatively small mouths, they were not shy about attacking larger lures. 

    More photos from the day can be found in the gallery section and be sure to check out Maxim's video below. 


    Target Species: Topmouth Culter and Redfin Culter

    Family: Cyprinidae (carps)

    Redfin Culter

    Scientific name: Chanodichthys erythropterus

    Synonyms: Culter aokii, Culter brevicauda, Culter erythropterus, Culter ilishaeformis, Culter sieboldii, Culter tientsinensis, Culterichthys erythropterus, Cultrichthys erythropterus, Erythroculter erythropterus, Erythroculter ilishaeformis

    Common names: redfin culter, predatory carp, skygazer

    Habitat: Lakes, ponds, reservoirs, larger slow-flowing rivers.

    Distribution: Map

    Size range: Up to 100 cm, but more commonly 30-50 cm.


    Topmouth Culter

    Scientific name: Culter alburnus

    Synonyms: Culter brevicauda, Culter recurviceps, Erythroculter aokii, Erythroculter ilishaeformes

    Common names: topmouth culter, president fish, aruzay

    Habitat: Lakes, ponds, reservoirs, larger slow-flowing rivers.

    Distribution: Map

    Size range: Up to 35 cm.

    Angling tactics: Casting small spoons, spinners and plugs (minnow and shrimp imitations). Fly fishing with streamers.

    Few species have been more challenging to research than the wily culters. This struck me as odd, since both the topmouth and redfin culter warrant mentions on several local fly fishing blogs, but little information is available in the English language literature mentioning them. Thanks to the Google page translation tool, I was able to pull together a bit more information to share here.

    The difficulty in tracking down comprehensive information is compounded by confusing classification and naming that can lead one to wonder if the names “redfin” and “topmouth” refer to one or two different species. The scientific name Erythroculter ilishaeformis has been applied to both in various sources. They look similar, with upturned mouths not usually associated with members of the carp family. In fact they bear a slight resemblance to herring or a relative of the tarpon. The redfin culter can be distinguished by its slightly more pronounced dorsal “hump” behind the head. It has also been known to grow considerably larger than its cousin the topmouth culter.

    Hang on to your hats, fellow fish nerds. A little digging revealed that these fish are not as closely related as one might think. The redfin is not really a true culter, belonging instead to the genus chanodichthys. Both are members of the subfamily Cultrinae. Culter, by the way, is Latin for “knife.”

    Both species are found throughout east Asia, primarily in subtropical China and Taiwan. Of the two, the topmouth is probably the more famous of the two in Taiwan owing to its place in local political lore. It is said that the topmouth became a favorite dish of former ROC president Chiang Kai-shek after he sampled it on an early visit to Sun Moon Lake. Since that visit, the topmouth earned the nickname “president fish” and has become a staple for the Sun Moon Lake tourism industry. The lake still supports a healthy population, which is fished both commercially and for sport.

    Both the topmouth and redfin are known to be voracious predators, sometimes at the expense of other carp species whose fry they often feed upon. Freshwater crustaceans and insects round out their diet. They feed most actively at dawn and dusk, often in large schools, before moving to deeper water by midday. Culters are ambush predators, preferring to attack their prey from below rather than pursue it for great distances.