One of my favorite instructors once said, "You needn’t be a world-renowned expert to lecture about a particular topic. You just need to know more than your audience." I've taken that lesson and run with it for most of my life and it has served me fairly well. As a bona fide expert on absolutely nothing, it’s given me peace of mind in doing what I've come to love more than just about anything — teaching.

It doesn’t really matter what the subject is, I approach it in pretty much the same way: Cram as much stuff into my head as possible and hope it stays there long enough to pass it along. In this manner I’ve tiptoed my way through dozens of topics, many of which I’ve had to cram for with online tutorials, flash cards, self-quizzes and even the occasional all-nighter.

An unfortunate consequence of this strategy — a false sense of security in approaching any topic — finally caught up with me this past week, as coworkers and I hosted a "Small Stream Field Study" for a local high school group.

As the boss was handing out station assignments she said, "Lorson, can you handle the minnow station?"

Without hesitation I said yes.

Minnows! What’s there to know really? You set a minnow trap. You dump them in a bucket. You scoop up a handful. Name this one, name that one, then turn them loose. How tough could that be? As a biology major and guy who's spent as much time as possible afield with both rod and gun, I was perfectly confident in my ability to memorize a handful of tiny fish species, rattle off their names and come out looking like an ichthyologist to the school kids.

Having spent my youth fishing neighborhood ponds and nearby mud-bottomed creeks where earthworms were all a boy ever needed to assure success, my exposure to minnows had never gone beyond spotting the tiny fish as they flashed about in the riffles. The difference between a shiner and a chub had been of no interest or consequence to me, but really, what could there be to know? I waited until the day before the event to prepare.

When I Googled up a website under the heading "Minnows of Ohio" my heart stopped: There are 91 different species of minnows and "minnow-like fishes" in Ohio! The difference between a shiner and a chub? Heck, there are 22 different species of shiners alone — some of which are differentiated only by the number of scales between their fins — not to mention the other 69 types of little fishes!

No one could ever know all this stuff! Still, with students on the way in 24 short hours, I had to have something. Scrambling out to the stream site, I pitched a basket trap baited with Swiss cheese and Trail bologna I found in the work fridge into a knee deep pool and paced the bank for a nervous half-hour. In a stroke of pure luck I pulled in a dozen little fishies in four separate flavors each of which I carefully photographed and lovingly returned to the trap basket. Then I went home and did a frenzied internet search to figure out exactly what I had.

In the morning I had the kids pull in the trap.

"Well, well," I said. "Looks like we have ourselves four distinct species here! This little fellow is a sucker mouth minnow Phenacobious mirabilis, note the narrow gold line and dark spot at the end of the tail …"

Remember: You just need to know more than your audience!

(Be sure to check out Facebook for time-lapse film clips of Kristin’s artwork and other fun stuff at JohnLorsonSendHelp)