The warpaint shiner (Luxilus coccogenis) is a small member of the minnow family found across a limited range in the southeastern United States. The warpaint shiner gets its name from the colorful stripes the fish often sport around their heads and mouths. While the warpaint shiner can be caught by traditional angling methods and even fly fishing, it is most effectively targeted with microfishing.
Warpaint shiners are probably best known as a forage fish for bass to many anglers, if they are known at all. But they are an important part of their ecosystems. They even aid in the reproduction of an endangered freshwater mussel known as the Tennessee heelsplitter. A beautiful fish with a unique coloration, the warpaint shiner is a standout species for many specimen anglers or “life listers.”
Identification and ecology
Warpaint shiners are sleek silver fish with a dark line on the gill plate. They can also have colorful orange or red lines on their heads. The average warpaint shiner is above 3.5 inches (9 cm). They can reportedly grow up to 5.5″ (14 cm), though most fish are much smaller.
As with many fish, the warpaint shiner gets more colorful or “turns on” during spawning. Warpaint shiners spawn in May or June throughout their native range. Males typically spawn during their third summer. Warpaint shiners typically live about four years.
Range and habitat
The warpaint shiner is found in parts of the southeastern United States. This shiner’s native range extends from northern Alabama through eastern Tennessee and on to western Virginia and North Carolina. The fish has been introduced to parts of Kentucky. There are reports that it was also introduced to parts of South Carolina.
Throughout their range, warpaint shiners can be found over rocky bottoms in cool clear streams. They inhabit medium to high gradient streams, which means they can be found in waters with moderate to substantial flow. They are certainly not afraid of current. You’re more likely to find them around a riffle than in slack water and back eddies.
Fishing for warpaint shiners
Warpaint shiners mainly feed on aquatic insects. Without question, microfishing is the best method for catching these fish on hook and line. It is actually quite possible to catch these little fish with a bit of effort. The most difficult part of catching warpaint shiners is locating the fish. Once that is done, you simply need to present a small bait to them in a way that appears natural.
Warpaint shiners often travel in groups. When spawning occurs in May and June males will crowd around gravel nests built by chubs and await females. When they group up in this way the fish are easy to find. But they can also be located throughout other parts of the year. Especially when scouting clear waters with a pair of polarized glasses*.
Using light line and a small hook on a microfishing pole you can easily present bait to a school of warpaint shiners. A small piece of soft white bread works well on a tiny hook. So do pieces of red worms or baits like Berkley Euro Larvae*. In waters with artificial lures only restrictions you can use tiny nymphs like a size 18 to 22 disco midge* or a piece of soft plastic on a 1/124 jig head.
On a traditional spinning setup warpaint shiners can be caught on small lives baits and tiny lures. We have caught warpaint shiners on the Mini Magnet purposely and also while targeting trout. Small hooks and light lines are a must for these little fish.