Q: I caught this little guy while cast netting shad at the mouth of the Brazos River. I didn't realize it wasn't a shad until I got ready to use him for bait. Then I saw the unusually large mouth and thought it might be a tarpon. I spent the next 15 minutes reviving it before I released it. Please tell me I didn't spend that time reviving a whatchamacallit!
Lake Jackson, Texas
A: I'm afraid you revived a whatchamacallit, but don't feel fooled. Lots of folks have made similar mistakes. Your fish was most likely a round herring, Etrumeus teres, although I can't see all the important I.D. characteristics from the photo. But what does seem to give it away is its general shape, the olive-green color on its back and especially the scales all over your hand: Round herring are well-known for shedding scales when handled. Scientists used to think tarpons and herrings were closely related, but we know now that the similar appearances are coincidental and, believe it or not, that tarpon are more closely related to eels. It would take an hour-long ichthyology lecture to explain why, but most fish scientists now accept this. One other thing of interest is that round herrings are quite rare in the western Gulf, and that's probably one reason you didn't recognize the little guy. - Bob Shipp