Author Archives: Luke Ovgard

Species #159 — Freshwater Drum

Everyone marches to a beat, but I march to the beat of my own drum.

Species: Freshwater Drum (Aplodinotus grunniens)
Location: Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada
Date: July 17, 2018

I’ve always been a little different.

I was blessed with some great individual friends, but I was never in a clique, nor was I the cool kid. I felt like I hit my stride just off of everyone around me, the flam to their downbeat.

Making friends was never a problem, but fitting into a group or a team was.

It’s not to say I didn’t like people, but I was bullied and alienated enough growing up that I learned not to need people.

Since I didn’t date much and liked clothes, everyone called me gay.

Since I didn’t drink or smoke or experiment with drugs, everyone called me the “straight arrow” said I was “too good” or just left me out of the conversation. It kept me out of trouble, but it also kept me further from the mainstream.

In fifth grade, after having played the recorder for a full year, I decided to join band. My first choice was to play flute, but after a week of mockery from my classmates, I opted for the drums instead.

It was this concession that (ironically) started a slow and painful process in which I would eventually learn to march to the beat of my own drum.

***

The Freshwater Drum is the only North American member of the Scieaenidae family found exclusively in freshwater. It is capable of fighting almost as hard as Redfish or Black Drum and grows to 50 pounds.

Yet, for some reason, people don’t like it. They leave it out of the conversations as a game fish. Leave it out of the conversations for hardest-fighting fish. Leave it out.

Little did I know that this fish was actively making the case to be my spirit animal…

***

While in Buffalo, New York for a conference, I opted to stay just across the river in Fort Erie, Ontario because it was markedly cheaper. I failed to account for the toll required every time you cross into Canada, but even still, the $65 CAD was a steal.

The only downside of Fort Erie is the poor layout which limits access anywhere but back across the Niagara River or north deeper into Canada.

Apart from a riverfront park that stretched on for miles, there was effectively nowhere to fish.

So when the conference ended, I resigned myself to just fish where I could: along the seawall.

I was hoping for a Golden Redhorse, Walleye, or a Northern Pike, but chose the classic Canadian Nightcrawler (because, well, Canada). I impaled the entire worm on an Owner No. 6 Mosquito Hook at the end of an 18-inch leader held down by a one-ounce slip sinker in the ripping current.

Blind fishing was the name of the game, and I played music on my phone to rock out as I slowly walked the seawall and peered into the clear waters reflecting the sunset.

As I peered into the water, my heart skipped a beat when I saw what appeared, at first glance, to be a school of large Common Carp feeding actively on the riverbed.

Though carp don’t normally take worms, I was optimistic, so I reeled up and drifted my bait into position ahead of the feeding fish.

My rod bounced rhythmically with a tap-tap-thump before I was into a solid fish.

***

The current made the fight even more impressive, and I was forced to jump the seawall and make my way to one of the small stone staircases spread out about 100 yards apart down the length of the structure.

It was impressive, I’m sure, as I vaulted the structure, pushing against each of the two walls with one flip-flop-wielding foot while holding my rod in one hand and bracing myself with the other.

Slowly, I made my way Prince of Persia style down to the water, where I made my first attempt at landing the fish without a net.

I gasped as I realized it wasn’t a carp —  drumroll, please — but a drum. A Freshwater Drum! It was the last fish I was expecting, but I was stoked.

Freshwater Drum are awesome. They grow large, fight hard, and are absolutely gorgeous in parts of their range.

I landed it, took some pictures and let it go.

***

That night and every night for the remainder of the trip found me performing acrobatics I never tried in marching band as I tried again and again to beat the drum.

I’d say I did beat the drum. I landed more than dozen Freshwater Drum (called “Sheepshead” locally for some reason) from three to eight pounds, releasing all of them back into the mighty Niagara.

This fish looked a little sad, but I encouraged it that it had value even if others neglected and spurned it. I convinced it to march to the beat of its own drum.

It was probably the most unexpected way for a fishing trip in Canada to turn out, but what can I say? This little drummer boy has always been a little different.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #160 — Rock Bass.


Species #158 — Shorthead Redhorse

The only sucker I’ve caught that was easy: the Shorthead Redhorse.

Species: Shorthead Redhorse (Moxostoma macrolepidotum)
Location: Caledonia, Ontario, Canada
Date: July 16, 2018

I live in Oregon, a place where half of our native suckers are threatened or endangered, and the other half can be difficult to locate and catch. Apart from Largescale Sucker, none of the sucker species we have are caught very often.

Oh how strange this is when compared to the rest of North America and the 100 or so sucker species found there. Suckers are not only common, but they can be downright easy to catch in certain places outside of our wonderfully strange state.

Take, for instance, the Shorthead Redhorse.

On a tip from Ken Tse (read his blog here), I headed outside of Toronto proper to a semi-rural community on the Grand River. He put me just below a small dam in a scenic, grassy park. There were obviously fish around, and I quickly caught a small Smallmouth Bass.

I could see a few micros, but the fast current and skittish nature of those particular micros only held my attention for 20 minutes or so. When I finally caught a micro, it was another smallie, so I opted to pursue the redhorse I’d actually driven there to catch.

Several species were on the table, though Shorthead Redhorse were supposed to be the most common.

My intel proved correct, and after about an hour of sitting on half of a nightcrawler purchased at the bait shop up the hill, my first rod bounced.

Given the strange angle I was fishing below the dam, I had one rod out perpendicular to the shore and another sort quartering away downstream.

Without going into the science of it all, and the fact that there was so much water to cover, it would’ve been nearly impossible for me to hit my target with just one rod. There had to be a second rod.

I reeled the second rod (or was it the first?) as a small, unsuspecting crowd watched from picnic blankets on the grassy knoll.

The last thing they expected was for my shot to ring out over the din, my splitshot, that is.

Unfortunately, I was in the process of retying my micro rod and spilled splitshot all over as I fumbled towards my bouncing rod.

Regardless, I connected.

I was stoked. Not only had I caught a new species, but it was one of the most beautiful fish I’ve ever caught in freshwater.

Knowing at least enough to snap pictures of the fish in profile as well as pictures of its mouth, I released it. I knew it was a Shorthead thanks to a particularly helpful infographic I found online.

Know Your Redhorses! If only someone could make one of these for Pacific Northwest freshwater sculpins…

The bite died, and I decided to move, instead going to the less accessible side that required a minimal hike down.

While the first fish had taken an hour or two, the second took less than five minutes.

The river on the other side was more conducive to fishing for suckers, which tend to prefer transitional zones between current and slower water, specifically behind current breaks.

Lo and behold, a redhorse was waiting behind the first rock I cast to.

I was pretty stoked at this point, thinking I’d figured them out. Also, this is a pretty good picture of me. At least, 1-in-50 women in Tinder think so.

Again, I took the profile and mouth pictures even though I knew at first glance this was a Shorthead.

My other rod bounced while I was taking this picture, and I had Fish No. 3.

Don’t be jealous of how pretty my fish are.

At this point, I was having fun, but I realized I had a long drive back to Fort Erie, the Canadian town right across the border from Buffalo, where I was staying.

I hopped in the car and drove on.

***

After spending my evenings chasing the fish that surpassed Common Carp as my favorite “rough fish” for the next few evenings — Species #159 — I tied into something else.

I battled it to the bank against the current of the staunch Niagara River and landed it with some impressive acrobatics while flagging down a passerby to take a picture for me.

I originally identified this fish as a Golden Redhorse because it didn’t have the red tail I’d seen on the other Shortheads I’d captured, but I was later told it was another Shorthead.

Cross-referencing the infographic above confirmed it was a Shorthead — just a monster. The notched dorsal fin and 44 lateral line scales were enough to overshadow the lack of red tail.

Still, it was a beast of a Shorthead at 25″ and 4.6 pounds.

Just a pound shy of the world record. Too bad. It would’ve been my first international record.

I was targeting something else, but when this bad boy hooked, I wasn’t disappointed. Notice Buffalo in the background. Also notice the flexing right bicep. Don’t notice that this shirt was too small.

I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end the evening and an incredible trip.

I’d really enjoyed Canada, and I smiled when I got to get my redhorse on and ride into the sunset.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #159 — Freshwater Drum.


Species #157 — Round Goby

Such horrors have not been visited by such a small package since the Chuckie films were released.

Species: Round Goby (Neogobius melanostomus)
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Date: July 16, 2018

The north is a tough place. If the elements don’t kill you, there’s always the next power-hungry leader, plague, or toothy beast waiting in line to give it their best shot.

Though civilizations north of the equator have more or less dominated the rest of the world for all of human history, their rule has rarely been uncontested. Even the most beneficent societies have elements of darkness waiting to overtake the light, these elements that so crave power or those that often achieve it — for better or worse.

In fact, some leaders have led to power specific cultures so predominantly violent, vile, and vilified (turns out V is for more than just vendettas) that history remembers them as such.

From the Vikings to the Scythians to the Mongol Hordes, darkness has found its place in the north many times.

These societies could best be viewed as a scourge on all those they encountered.

*cut to scene of violence, rape, pillaging*

While one culture may choose to raise its children, another may vie to raze them.

In modern times, a balance of power seemed to exist in a place viewed by many as the pinnacle of modern achievement. A place piggybacked on the success and dominance of its neighbor to the south, the United States.

We speak, of course, of Canada.

From it’s legendary cleanliness to its legendary friendliness, Canada is paradise. At least, it was.

Its innocent utopia was interrupted by something terrible that has since become a scourge —

*cue epic instrumental music*

a Scourge of the North.

*cue opening credits*

***

Enter Ontario.

The beautiful province, by far Canada’s most populous (it accounts for one-third of the entire country) is a land of extremes. From sprawling lakefront to modern cityscape to quaint farming communities, Ontario has a little of everything.

Toronto is a beautiful place. Nestled on the shores of Lake Ontario, it is considered one of the world’s most diverse and innovative cities. It is also home to resplendent natural beauty.

Toronto, the nation’s largest city, is nothing short of spectacular. It is the second-most diverse place on earth, second only to Queens, New York, and it shows in the food, the architecture, and the people.

Of course, it’s the food that got and held my attention.

I landed in the Buffalo and immediately took my rental car across the border.

My first night in Toronto, one of just two I had there, didn’t pan out.

At this point, I was about three weeks into a stint away from home that had started in Florida, and I’d yet to go out and get skunked fishing, so of course it happened that night.

I fished a park and saw a few skittish micros dart away from my headlamp but walked away empty-handed.

That night, I drowned my misery in way too much delicious Nepali food.

***

The next morning got off to a good start.

It didn’t take me long to find the best donut place in town. Sorry, this is Canada.

It didn’t take me long to find the best doughnut place in town: Glory Hole Doughnuts.

In the foreground, I hold a bread-and-butter doughnut from Glory Hole Doughnuts. I pride myself on having good taste in donuts almost as much as I pride myself in fishing, so it means a lot when I say this was the single best donut I’ve ever had.

The lightly sweet cake donut was covered in a light, crème fraîche-like frosting topped with crumbled breadcrumbs.

It was so wonderful in its simplicity and light-yet-buttery taste that I had no problem buying all of the donuts they had left, which, thankfully for my overworked pancreas, was just three.

I paired it with Toronto’s most famous coffee chain, the one with the yellow lid, Jimmy’s Coffee.

Why can’t Jimmy’s be as successful as Starbucks? Jimmy’s is infinitely better.

Fat and happy, I set my sights on the sights.

I did a little touring around the city, which, mid-morning, meant sitting in traffic. The weather was intermittently bad or not great, so that wasn’t the worst thing.

Traffic. If only Canada were immune. Yes, that’s the CN Tower in the background.

Deciding that the CN Tower looked close enough to the one’s I’d visited in Seattle and Auckland, New Zealand, I opted to just visit a museum.

This brought me to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). I found this funny because I’d just finished reading a book, Calculating Godwhich took place there. It’s an  interesting read about aliens, God, and the foundations of the universe and holds a surprisingly not-hostile secular viewpoint towards Creationism which made it unique in and of itself.

As museums go, it was certainly above average.

Anywho, the ROM proved to be just another museum — albeit a good one — so I finally felt like I’d soaked in enough cutlure to justify fishing for the rest of the trip.

I had to be back in Buffalo for a conference the next day, so it was now or never.

I settled on a park where I proceeded to quickly catch a small fish, a Round Goby.

Then I caught another.

Then a salmon angler returned, filleted his catch, and threw the carcass near where I was fishing from shore. In less than two minutes, it was covered in swarming black monsters.

The Scourge of the North!

***

Round Gobies were introduced (most believe) from the ballast water of a ship from the Old World and have found their way into most of the Great Lakes.

They now dominate the biomass and can be found anywhere and everywhere in this region.

Oh. You thought I was kidding. This took three minutes.

Apart from a few sunfish and perch, I didn’t catch another species that trip to Toronto. No sculpins. No shiners. No nothing.

It was honestly kind of tragic.

Fortunately, I reached out to Ken Tse (http://muskiebaitadventures.blogspot.com/), albeit a little late on my part, and he gave me some spots that redeemed the trip.

I killed all of the invasive monsters, but like the unwashed hordes many had to endure in days of yore, I couldn’t outrun this scourge…

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #158 — Shorthead Redhorse.


Species #156 — Atlantic Kingfish

There were some specific reasons I arrived at this being an Atlantic Kingfish as opposed to a Gulf Kingfish, but I can’t remember them now. I do remember the Hardhead Catfish I caught shortly after this fish that impaled my finger, made me fall backwards and slice my foot on a rock, though.

Species: Atlantic Kingfish (Menticirrhus saxatilis)
Location: Saint Petersburg, Florida
Date: July 14, 2018

After spending most of the day fishing at two separate piers and finding plenty of fish but little in the way of species variety, I opted to move to the outer edges of Tampa Bay.

I found myself not far from Saint Petersburg fishing an inlet where tides carved the sand relatively deep as it narrowed between a rocky point and a concrete causeway.

At this point in the trip, I was tired, sunburned, and sore, so I admittedly wasn’t at the top of my game.

I was lazy and just tossed out a truncated Sabiki rig with cocktail shrimp that was almost not at the top of its game. With a light weight, I’d cast out as far as I could and then slowly reel in line, drifting the bait like you might do for salmon or steelhead.

It was slow-going, but I finally landed this kingfish, making 25 species on my first trip to Florida. Not bad for a guy still relatively new to the Species Hunting game who hadn’t even set up his own Fishing Map yet. If you can relate, learn How to Build Your Fishing Map, so you can be more prepared moving forward.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #157 — Round Goby.


Species #155 — Black Sea Bass

This photo doesn’t do it justice. These fish are flat beautiful for a fish with no color.

Species: Black Sea Bass (Centropristis striata)
Location: Tampa, Florida
Date: July 13, 2018

Perhaps the biggest surprise of my first “real” Florida trip was this Black Sea Bass. Note: my actual first trip to Florida was a single night fishing in Pensacola the summer before, but this was an extended stay. The Black Sea Bass took a piece of shrimp on a Sabiki rig, and I was shocked. I had no idea these fish made it as far south as Central Florida.

Though it wasn’t the rich blue-black with white tubercules I’d seen in pictures, it was still a Black Sea Bass, and I was up to 24 species on this trip. Not bad.

I released it after a quick pic and moved on to the final fish of my Florida trip.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #156 — Atlantic Kingfish.


Species #154 — Scrawled Cowfish

It’s like a tiny child tried to draw, well scrawl, the face of a wildebeest onto a tube of toothpaste that was partially squeezed out but not before throwing some fins on it.

Species: Scrawled Cowfish (Acanthostracion quadricornis)
Location: Tampa, Florida
Date: July 13, 2018

After adding a species early on shrimp, I got another one to take a bit of squid, and it was something out of science fiction.

Something with “quadricorn” in its Latin name is bound to be strange, but the Scrawled Cowfish is probably the weirdest fish I’ve caught to-date.

A few things you should know about the Scrawled Cowfish:

1) Its fins all rotate independently of one another. It’s off-putting.

2) Its skin feels like wet leather.

3) For the first time, “What that mouth do?” is a sincere question and not just a sexually-explicit phrase from pop culture. I seriously wonder how it works.

4) The black marbles that are its eyes reflect back your darkest secrets.

5) It has two rear-facing spines near its anal vent which seem to serve as natural, built-in protection from randy dolphins.

Watch the video.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #155 — Black Sea Bass.


Species #153 — Spottail Pinfish

Spottail Pinfish are pretty distinctive. They don’t really resemble Pinfish, and they have an unmistakable spot on the caudal peduncle.

Species: Spottail Pinfish (Diplodus holbrookii)
Location: Tampa, Florida
Date: July 13, 2018

I first “met” Ryan Crutchfield on Instagram before I’d even started species hunting. Our social circles overlapped, and I found myself following a guy on Instagram who posted some out of the ordinary fish pictures.

Sure, the tarpon, snook, redfish, and bass pics I expected from a Florida-based account were awesome, but so were the fish he posted that I wasn’t as familiar with.

Little did I know at the time, but he was the founder of fishmap.org, an awesome website sponsored by the North American Native Fishes Association (NANFA) aimed at mapping out fish distributions graphically by pulling from multiple sources.

If you haven’t checked out FishMap.org yet, you should make like a 90s song and jump on it.

 

FishMap is sort of like the USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species List but draws on a more comprehensive data set that includes anglers and armchair naturalists.

***

Knowing Ryan was nearby, I had to fish with him. After all, he’d provided me with several locations that panned out in Orlando.

Besides, after fishing Orlando hard for a week, I moved over to Tampa to try and notch some saltwater species. I mean, it was Florida, after all.

I spent the first night alone, but that’s the norm. Coincidentally, I also fished alone that first night, landing one new species in the White Grunt, as well as a number of unsolicited Hardhead Catfish.

But apart from seeing other people catch small sharks — why can I never catch sharks? — it was sort of a misadventure in the dark.

Misadventure in the Dark sounds like the title of your sex tape. Sorry. That was inappropriate, but I’m just happy Brooklyn Nine-Nine got renewed for a seventh season, and the signature catchphrase is arguably better than “That’s what she said.”

***

Regardless, Ryan agreed to meet me mid-morning to do some fishing with a window of free time he had.

Between his bait and mine, we had shrimp, squid, and half a dozen artificials. The cocktail assortment of bait proved to be the ticket, and we quickly started catching fish.

The new species came almost immediately: a Spottail Pinfish. It was going to be a good morning; I could feel it.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #154 — Scrawled Cowfish.


Species #152 — White Grunt

I wet the sand before putting the fish down, so at least I made an attempt to be better.

Species: White Grunt (Haemulon plumierii)
Location: Tampa, Florida
Date: July 13, 2018

I spent two solid days at ICAST with Fishbrain. From meeting Roland Martin and April Vokey to sitting next to Scott Martin during breakfast, I couldn’t have been happier. It as about as much fun as you can have while not fishing.

You can read about there here.

Nonetheless, spending two whole days in Florida without catching a new species was killing me. Sure, it was awesome to get so much face time with my heroes and introduce a few new friends to microfishing, species hunting, even watch some nice Florida bass caught on the fly, I was itching for something new.

***

I arrived in Tampa late, and by the time I made it to my first stop, it was dark.

As I walked up, I saw a small shark caught and was optimistic.

Alas, all I would catch that night were the ever-present Hardhead Catfish and a single new species, the White Grunt.

This White Grunt is a fish and not to be confused with the sound Caucasian men make when espousing manliness during a football game or at a barbecue.

It was no shark, but it was a new species, and it was welcomed.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #153 — Spottail Pinfish.


Species #151 — Golden Topminnow

Topminnows and Killifish are all awesome, but I would kill for the confidence of these red-tailed miniature super-predators’ confidence. Sorry for the blurry pic.

Species: Golden Topminnow (Fundulus chrysotus)
Location: Orlando, Florida
Date: July 10, 2018

After checking off Golden Shiner, I tried to catch the tiny little pike-like fish that roamed just under the surface, darting this way and that to investigate everything on its turf.

The telltale red-tipped tail told me it was another Golden Topminnow, and I’d seem a dozen of them since I first started fishing in Florida that week, but I’d never been ready with a micro setup.

This time was different.

It took a little effort, but I finally got it to bite.

I released a wave of emotions and expletives (you know, the happy kind), as I put the tiny little beast into my photo tank.

The reclaimed water was dirty, and it didn’t result in the best photos. This was upsetting, but not as upsetting as not catching one would’ve been.

I was still working out the kinks of using my new Photo Tank. Namely, wiping it off before taking a picture. Sigh.

I never did get another one, but zero is lonelier than one, despite what the song says — especially for Species Hunters.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #152 — White Grunt.


Species #150 — Golden Shiner

America’s favorite baitfish proved a little harder to catch than I anticipated.

Species: Golden Shiner (Notemigonus crysoleucas)
Location: Orlando, Florida
Date: July 10, 2018

A school of Golden Shiners pestered me for almost an hour at the Lake Fran Urban Wetlands. I knew what they were, and I knew I’d never caught one, but for the life of me, I just couldn’t get one to bite.

They were holding far out from shore, and I didn’t want to soak my boots or go to the car for a longer rod, so I spent a fruitless hour trying to get one to bite. To make matters worse, they were holding just under the surface, wouldn’t touch anything more than two inches below the surface.

Add to that my lack of floats, and my confidence sunk faster than my micro rig.

***

After trying a pond I was told was full of them and fighting off Bluegill and turtles for the better part of an hour with no Golden Shiners to show for it, I returned to the spot from the day before.

Though it was slow-going, it proved the right idea. Eventually, my bread chumming paid off, and I got a Golden Shiner, then a few more.

Eventually, I got one. Then I got three more in quick succession. Then, I stopped because they’re Golden Shiners.

All the commotion even attracted the attention of the tiniest little predator around, a certain topminnow species that I desperately wanted to catch…

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #151 — Golden Topminnow.


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