Your first specimen of a common species is exciting. Your second and third are, too. Sometime shortly after that, though, it goes downhill.
Anyone who’s fished the Gulf knows the world of annoyance Pinfish can induce. As I fished a lagoon in backwater Pensacola, they proved a nuisance that limited my species total.
I caught a dozen or so that first night, and I have since caught hundreds. Pinfish are one of just a handful of saltwater species I’ve caught more than 100 of in a day, but most anyone could do that, so I don’t feel special.
Pinfish keep the skunk off, make good cutbait and livebait alike, and supposedly even taste good. I’ve never eaten one, but I filled a bucket with 50-60 for a family on a pier in Corpus Christi this summer, so people do eat them.
Still, it was the other species in that lagoon I was most interested in.
Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #94 — Mangrove Snapper.
Species: Spotted Sunfish (Lepomis punctatus) Location: Whataburger Parking Lot, Century, Florida Date: August 1, 2017
Florida is the destination fishery in the lower 48. As cool as salmon and steelhead and halibut are, it might even beat Alaska.
So when I was driving back from Officer Training School in Alabama, I figured a small detour to Florida was a no-brainer. Pensacola was only a few hours off my beaten path, and I knew I could grab some new experiences and species with the detour.
For some reason, before I hit Pensacola, I decided to fish a tiny freshwater stream running through the town of Century. I parked in a Whataburger parking lot, grabbed my ultralight rod, and walked 100 feet to the little stream. It was no more than a few pools of water, but I knew they held fish.
I wasn’t wrong, and my tiny worm-tipped jig earned me a fish in no time. I thought Bluegill at first until I realized it wasn’t.
It was a beautiful Spotted Sunfish! A new species and a beautiful one, at that.
The baby blue eyeshadow, greenish-gray overtones and hundreds of black flecks that give the fish their name.
Florida was looking to be the right call.
Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #93 — Pinfish.
Species: Creek Chub (Semotilus atromaculatus) Location: Globe Creek, Fountain Heights, TN Date: August 1, 2017
This might be the most “Species Hunter” post of my entire blog. After staying with my friend, Marcus Moss, in northern Alabama for a week of subprime bass fishing that culminated in a few gar and a lot of small bass, I headed to Nashville.
I spent one night there, taking in the Music City before moving my way towards Pensacola, the next intended stop on my roundabout return trip to Oregon. As a sidenote, Nashville is awesome. One of the first cities to receive Google Fiber and (at time of writing) the cheapest airport to fly into, it has a lot to offer. The food, music, street art, and general vibe (I know, I hate that word, too) were generally impressive. I look forward to returning someday soon.
But in all of the excitement, I forgot to fish.
Realizing I never fished in Nashville as I made my way south, I wondered if there was any way I could stop and catch a fish in Tennessee before I made it back to Alabama. I’d never caught one in this state, and there were countless new species to be had even if I hadn’t really identified myself as a “Species Hunter” just yet.
It felt like a longshot, but when I stopped for gas a few hours south of Nashville, I took note of the small, semi-stagnant creek I crossed en route to the gas station. After filling up, I crossed the access road, turned off onto a road that led to several houses and was dismayed to see fences blocking the access to the creek below.
I thought about giving up when I realized that I didn’t need to touch the water — just access it. I tried dipping my jig (not a euphemism) in the water some 20 feet below, but the little fish I could weren’t having it.
I had yet to discover microfishing and had not artificial baits. As my heart sank, and I went to put my rod away, a grasshopper flitted away from where it had sat, baking on the hot road moments before. I spent a minute trying to catch on one the road, and once I did, it paid off.
Tipping the jig with a writhing, mangled hopper proved the right incentive to get the cyprinids below to bite, and I landed my first Creek Chub. I didn’t love dropping it down almost 20 feet to the water because fish care is important to me even when dealing with “trash fish,” but it swam away fine.
Somewhat smugly, I tucked my ultralight back into the back of my car, closed the door, and hit the road again, one species richer.
Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #92 — Spotted Sunfish
Species: Shortnose Gar (Lepisosteus platostomus) Location: Alligator Preserve Pond, Madison, Alabama Date: July 30, 2017
I’ve caught more than 200 species at the time of writing. Of those, the only one I’ve counted without 100% certainty of identification was the Shortnose Gar. I fully expect to catch another, but since I counted it as Species #90 and caught more than 100 species since, I’m counting it with an asterisk.
The one I caught was likely a hybrid Spotted x Shortnose Gar, and I don’t have good photos because it was caught at night. So here we have a pitiful story, an excuse, and no pictures.
Sadly, I know way too many anglers who feed us this line on the regular. I promise it’s a one-off for me, though, and I have it on the shortlist, so I’ll get one “for real” very soon.
Species: Walleye (Sander vitreus) Location: American Fork Marina, Utah Lake, Provo, UT Date: June 22, 2017
When doing my research about Utah Lake, I’d read that it contained Walleye, but I’d always heard that the coolwater species like to stay deep and rarely fed during daylight — especially in the dog days of summer.
So when my worm was taken, I assumed it was a small White Bass.
Nothing could’ve pleased me more than the long, perch-like fish on the end of my line. My Walleye was neither big nor pretty as this fish can be, and stretched the tape to just 16 inches.
I knew they had teeth, so I was careful as I handled the fish, but I quickly realized a fish this size was harmless, so I was able to lip it for a quick photo before letting it swim free.
Some of my blog posts are like Oompa Loompas: short and lame. This is one of them. I just hope that “you will live in happiness too. Like the Oompa Loompa, doompety do.”
Species: Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) Location: American Fork Marina, Utah Lake, Provo, UT Date: June 22, 2017
I don’t think my attitude towards a species has changed so quickly.
When I threw my worm up against the far rocky shoreline of the American Fork Marina, it was hammered so hard, the rod almost went into the water. I was stoked, thinking I’d hooked into some massive beast of a fish, but as I got the fish close enough to see it in the milky water, I was surprised to see it wasn’t a massive White Bass or a massive June Sucker, but rather a respectable catfish.
I knew Channel Catfish were present in Utah Lake, but I didn’t really expect to catch one in broad daylight. Yet here I was.
I was impressed with the fight and tenacity of the two-foot fish, and when I landed it, I was further impressed with the pugnacious attitude it carried with it.
Lipping a catfish really isn’t that bad. The spines are terribly painful (I’ve learned this at least half a dozen times), so lipping them or tail gripping is your best bet.
Then I caught another, and the magic was lost a little.
I hate to even say it, but every time I hooked one on my light tackle, it would drag me into the rocks and make me change the horribly abraded line — a pain with only a few hours to fish.
When I saw some folks fishing lures from a boat for these massive beasts, I was wistful about a truly massive Channel Catfish, but it never came. My two five-pounders would have to suffice.
Channel Catfish get bigger than this, but the two five-pound-class Channel Cats I caught that first day in Utah remain some of the biggest I’ve caught to date.***
Since then, fishing the South has made me hate these fish. Invasive in much of their current range, they displace suckers and redhorse and other native bottom feeders. They often get stunted like Bullheads and Yellow Perch, and they really have no value as a species.
Further, their spines are especially painful, and every time I throw one on the bank where invasive (as I do with Yellow Perch and Bullheads back in Oregon), I get stabbed by their damn spines, as they inflict one final blow on society.
Sadly, they’re here to stay. So where invasive, kill every one you catch — whether or not it’s big enough to eat.
Species: White Bass (Morone chrysops) Location: American Fork Marina, Utah Lake, Provo, UT Date: June 22, 2017
As I drove across the West on my way to Commissioned Officer Training (COT) in Montgomery, Alabama, I carefully planned my route to include stops at places I wanted to see. From Klamath Falls, my first long day of driving ended at Salt Lake City, and I stopped in at Utah Lake in nearby Provo for an evening of fishing.
Utah Lake is home to several species of Utah natives, including the endangered June Sucker, and though I hoped I might luck into one of these embattled fish, I realistically hoped to catch both a White Bass and a Channel Catfish — two invasive species that I’d never hooked into before given that the former doesn’t exist at all in Oregon, and the latter is very rare.
I found myself at the mouth of the American Fork where I hoped the flowing water would congregate fish looking for respite from the summer heat.
All I had for bait were worms, and I set up my first rod with a crappie rig that included two small baited hooks on dropper loops.
Before I could even tie a lure onto my second rod, the first dipped, and I was holding my first White Bass.
The spunky little dude was what I had hoped for, and it came so easily that I expected something bad to happen that night.
I landed several more White Bass that night, but the two other species I landed were what made the stop so worthwhile.
Species: Shiner Perch (Cymatogaster aggregata) Location: Newport Public Docks, Newport, OR Date: June 10, 2017
Surfperch, seaperch, or perch. Whatever you call them, these marine delights are one of my favorite groups of fish to chase in and around the piers, jetties, and surf breaks of the Oregon Coast.
Though some species are relatively common and well-known, others are less pervasive. One such species is the Shiner Perch, a small, silver-and-yellow species that rarely tops six inches in length and has a mouth too small for hooks larger than No. 14 or so.
I’d long seen these fish flitting in and out of the shadows below the piers and docks in Yaquina Bay, but I’d never caught one before.
Then one day, the bite was just amazing. I caught tons of fish on sabikis and small jigs, including a few salmon smolts and my first Shiner Perch. The silver dollar-sized fish with the bright, yellow stripes made my day, as I landed a handful and added a new species.
Species: American Shad (Alosa sapidissima) Location: Willamette River, Oregon City, OR Date: June 11, 2017
Oregon is weird. We have a culture built around gamefish, but not all of our gamefish are native.
Rainbow Trout are the most popular species in the state, but most fish caught annually by Oregon anglers aren’t native fish; they’re mostly hatchery trout.
Though Rainbows, Cutthroats, and Bulls are Oregon’s only native trout, we have a slew of other introduced/invasive (depending on who you ask) trout that are afforded gamefish status.
Likewise, all five Pacific salmon species and Steelhead (genetically still a Rainbow Trout) are all native fish treated like kings.
Sturgeon gets the same treatment.
Bass aren’t native, and they’re certainly invasive and problematic in riverine environments and arguably so in some lakes. But bass don’t get all of the gamefish protections. You can fish for them at night. There is no dedicated bass season. At time of writing, no Oregon waters have purist trophy bass catch and release stipulations.
“They’re invasive, though” critics would argue.
My counterargument? So are shad.
Named for an 18th century frat boy, shad are anadromous, silver torpedoes that look — for all intents and purposes — like gamefish.
I was kidding about the frat boy. It’s the other way around.
The American Shad is an intriguing species. So intriguing, in fact, that I actually read an entire novel about these fish. I’ve never done that for any other fish species (no novels, that is).
When I read a book called The Founding Fish, I found it slow in places, but I was taken.
I finished the book before I’d even caught a shad of my own.
I wrote in detail about these fish already. I framed one story through my own lens, through my first experience with these freshwater herring.
If my fishing stories bore you to tears, I would ask why you’re reading, but I guess I am somewhat handsome, so you could just be admiring me from afar, but am I that good-looking?
I don’t know. I haven’t broken any mirrors lately, but they rarely thank me after using them, either.
There is a third option, though. Maybe you prefer the fact that I try to intersperse knowledge and science and history into my writing along with the fishing trips and self-deprecating humor. If that’s the case, click here for my history of American Shad in the PNW (that’s hipster for Pacific Northwest, if you’re not from here).
Apart from there being no limit on the fish, American Shad are otherwise managed as a gamefish because they fight like one, challenge you like one, and there’s a dedicated following for Oregon shad.
I know I am among them now.
Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #85 — Shiner Perch.