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.
Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #86 — White Bass.
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.
Species: Lost River Sucker (Deltistes luxatus) Location: Undisclosed Location, OR Date: March 24, 2017
Every post up until now has included a location, but this one will remain secret to protect this incredible species, as it is endangered.
I should also be clear that I do not advocate fishing for endangered species, nor do I actively target them. That said, as an avid angler who has averaged 100-220 days on the water annually for a decade, I do catch endangered fish from time to time.
When that happens, I take care to handle the fish properly, release it as quickly as possible, and ensure these scarce and vulnerable fish are treated with the utmost respect.
That said, as a friend and dedicated biologist once told me, “It’s a shame we live in a world where we’re supposed to feel bad for accidentally catching these amazing fish.” So I don’t feel bad; I feel honored. I view every incidental hookup as a chance to set a positive example, a chance to, in my own way, offer condolences and make amends to a species for what my own did to it.
I also view it as a promise, a promise that I will do everything in my power to help and support the future of these fish so that one day we can target what have the potential to be truly world-class freshwater gamefish.
When I caught this Lost River Sucker, I wasn’t really expecting it. A friend had told me he’d landed several trout and a surprise sucker in that general area earlier that month, but it was so cold and snowy, I had pretty well tempered my expectations.
Then I got a bump.
When fishing jigs in Upper Klamath Lake, I usually throw out, wait a second or two, then twitch up. I repeat this sink-jerk motion on most retrieves.
Trout usually hit on the initial drop or during a subsequent jerk.
The fish pictured below was no different.
I hooked and lost another good trout before a wind knot distracted me long enough to allow the jig to sink to the bottom. I expected to be snagged, so when I pulled up and felt weight, I wasn’t surprised. Until it moved.
A trout had grabbed my jig off the bottom, and I was thrilled.
It started sucking line off my reel so viciously that I imagined I’d hooked into something big. I wasn’t wrong.
When the fish jumped and did a front-flip out of the water, I noted how unusual it was for trout to jump like that in cold weather. Our Redbands jump, but if you fight them with skill, you can usually avoid this. Not always, but usually.
When it jumped a second time, I noticed how dark it was.
When it jumped a third, fourth, and fifth time, I realized it wasn’t a trout.
In 1984, the Lost River Sucker was listed under the Endangered Species Act.
My Species #83, endagered in ’84. Is that poetic? I don’t know, but it certainly adds value to a species I already treasure.
I landed that fish, and it was, in fact, a Lost River Sucker. It wasn’t huge, but I’ve since caught quite a few of them, and many have been over 10 pounds.
These fish live upwards of 30 years, and the average fish I’ve caught has been about 26-28 inches long and weighed in between six and nine pounds depending on whether it was male or female, pre-spawn or post-spawn.
Tragically, almost all spawning fish are 15 years old or more, with many of the spawners in their 20s and 30s.
If recruitment does not improve, these gorgeous fish will be extinct within my lifetime, likely before I go gray.
Not wanting to disturb the fish too much or risk snagging one, I threw a few more casts before calling it a day.
There are more than a dozen sites in the lake where they spawn, and you don’t have to look far to find dead fish in the spring. Some die of old age, some of disease, some of predation or the pressures of the spawn, but an unacceptable number are caught and killed intentionally by anglers. Either snagged with treble hooks or hooked legitimately with worms, many ignorant anglers throw them on the bank even now, some 30 years after it became clear the species was at risk of extinction.
I’ve snagged my share of suckers over the years while trout fishing, and for that reason, I now only use single hook lures in places frequented by Lost River Suckers.
Again, use jigs and single-hook swimbaits only when fishing around spawning sites. You might snag one even still, but it’s unlikely. If you do, it will cause less damage. The trout still readily take these jigs, too, so don’t fret.Though the trout fishing in that spot where I caught my first blued-up male is phenomenal (the trout come to eat sucker eggs), I hesitate to fish there for fear of snagging a sucker on traditional trout gear. When I do try for trout there now, I’m careful to only use jigs and swimbaits with single hooks. No spinners, spoons, or Rapalas.
I’ve seen people intentionally snagging them in the back, and anyone throwing a treble hook out there knows what they’re doing. Not only is it disgusting and irreverent, it’s highly illegal.
The suckers, often erroneously called “sucker fish”, are a treasure that should be appreciated. These fish grow to 40 inches and 20 pounds, and I’ve never caught one that didn’t jump. The potential for a sport fishery if and when this species recovers should be enough incentive to treat them with respect, but if it’s not, know this. If the suckers die out, the greatest wild native Rainbow Trout fishery in the United States — the Klamath Basin — will suffer.
The single greatest draw for tourists will suffer.
The community will suffer.
A few things to note if you do catch a sucker:
1) Handle it as little as possible. Some intepretations of the law suggest even posing for a photo is illegal. The maximum of 10 seconds I’ve taken to pose for a picture with my larger suckers was a risk I was willing to take. I released them quickly, but know you could potentially get in trouble for doing so.
2) Keep it wet. Measurements can be done in the water (if at all) and should not result in unnecessary air exposure.
3) Keep the location secret. If you do find the suckers, especially during the spawn, don’t share that information. For one, there are people out there still who would massacre them. Don’t take that risk.
Sometimes, I set my rod down and just take pictures of the fish while they spawn. If I move slowly, I can get surprisingly close and get some great pictures.
Avoid standing on gravel, but if you happen to float by or see one from the, it’s completely okay to take a picture. I like taking pictures of them to show others the beauty I see and inspire action to protect these amazing fish.
The Williamson River holds most of the suckers I’ve seen, but they can be anywhere. For that reason, I’m careful to use only single-hook lures when they’re around — just in case.
Last summer, I snagged a massive sucker while trolling at Rocky Point that was every bit of 15 pounds. I fought it almost 10 minutes, and it tailwalked half a dozen times. It pulled my kayak almost half a mile before the hook came out. Since that day, I’ve stopped trolling spoons.
As great as these fish are, and as fun as it is to catch one incidentally, the stress of being snagged could kill a fish, and that means one less spawner. Don’t risk it.
I initially wrote about these amazing fish here and gave the impression I was urging people to fish for them. That wasn’t the case. In my follow-up article, I emphasized that it is illegal to target them, but I’d love to see this species recover so that is no longer the case. Wouldn’t you?
Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #84 — American Shad.
Species: Monkeyface Prickleback (Cebidichthys violaceus) Location: Newport Public Docks, Newport, OR Date: November 21, 2016
Time can be so fluid when fishing. Seconds, minutes, and hours can all meld together when you feel weight or a tick on the end of your line, melting into a soup of suspended timeflow that is so personal and subjective you cannot look back after the fact and know the real duration of an event.
When I felt weight, it had to be just a second or two, but I felt the dark shadow of eternity creep into that moment as I began to mentally debate whether my hook had found purchase in a fish or a the salt-aged wood of the pilings below.
After all, it was heavy, and though I’d caught rockfish and Cabezon up to two pounds or so, this felt heavier. And unlike the popular bottomfish, it wasn’t pulling.
Until it was.
The fight was not unlike the eels I caught in New Zealand: a roiling mass, death-rolling with all the tenacity and venom of a Presidential hopeful trailing in the primaries.
When the squirming creature finally broke the surface some 20 feet below, the disconnect was palpable. I knew it wasn’t a snake, but it looked like a snake.
A part of my mind knew it was a fish I’d long dreamed of catching, but another more aggressive part of my mind was focused on the impending peril of the nearby sea lion that had clearly noticed my prize.
I take care to use light enough gear to enjoy the fight of the surfperch I target, but I also use line heavy enough to lift a two- or three-pound fish up the 20 feet to the pier at low tide.
This fish wasn’t going easily, though. Clearly not tired out, it twisted and writhed in a mesmerizing, serpentine dance of Satanic origin.
The ever-present gawkers shrieked and gasped and held their children close as I brought it onto the damp wooden landing of the pier.
While most fish flop on their sides when removed from the water, this fish turned onto its belly, coiled and ready to strike.
Reaching for the hook with my bare hand, it lunged at me. Well, lunged is a bit dramatic, but it made an effort to bite me.
Its teeth were certainly sharp, but small, so I unhooked it as it wrapped its body around my hand, intent on suffocating the hapless appendage and dragging it down to Hades.
This was a much better fish than most of what I’d caught that day, and since I’d dreamed of catching a Monkeyface Prickleback since I first heard of the fish nearly 15 years earlier, it was a special moment.
Naturally, the fish wouldn’t pose for a good picture, but I got its profile and tossed it back into the water, where its slinky dark form returned to hide in the structure of the pier to lurk in the unthinkable blackness of a nightmare.
It was only then that a gentleman on the pier spoke up and said, “You should’ve kept that. They’re the best-eating fish I’ve ever had.”
I caught another, much larger Monkeyface Prickleback later that year, and I confirmed what the gentleman had said. Along with Cabezon and Lingcod, Monkeyface Prickleback is as good as any fish I’ve ever eaten — a validation of the saying “Never judge a book by its cover,” I suppose.
These fish are relatively uncommon for those fishing with standard angling gear, but anglers on the Northern California Coast target them with a method called “Poke Poling”. Poke Poling is essentially using a long pole with a baited hook attached to the end that they stick into rock crevices. Inhabited holes yield fish that bite in age-old fashion.
Since this species is difficult if not virtually impossible to target outside of poke poling, it isn’t sold commercially. That means if you catch one, you need to try it.
Just be careful — it will definitely try to bite you.
Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #83 — Lost River Sucker.
Species: Whitespotted Greenling (Hexagrammos stelleri) Location: Yaquina Bay, Newport, OR Date: November 21, 2016
I’ve had better days fishing the hundreds of docks in Newport, but this day wasn’t half bad.
Since I normally go there to target Striped Seaperch for the table, anything else is just a bonus.
Rarely do I fish this area without catching at least one or two bonus species and that day was no different.
When I first pulled up a greenling, I assumed it was the significantly more common Kelp Greenling I’d caught dozens of times, but having just reviewed fish field guides for the Pacific Coast, I realized upon closer inspection it was a Whitespotted Greenling.
This species doesn’t grow as large, isn’t as common, and up until that moment, I’d never even heard of one being caught in Oregon. That’s not to say they aren’t caught with some frequency, but since the Oregon Fishing Regulations don’t picture them, I assume the Whitespotted Greenling is commonly dismissed as a small Kelp Greenling when anglers pull one up.
The bite continued to be above average until something big made my line shake.
“That’s no greenling,” I said to the small contingent of onlookers, and the fight was on. This was going to be something good.
Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #82 — Monkeyface Prickleback.
Species: Klamath Largescale Sucker (Catostomus snyderi) Location: Sprague River, Sprague River, Oregon Date: November 6, 2016
While I occasionally reference and link to articles I’ve written for the Herald and News or other newspapers on my blog, I try to generate new content for this site. But every now and then, I’ve already told the story of a new species in a way I like and don’t want to change, and the story of my first IGFA All-Tackle World Record is one such story.
Check out this story, as originally written for the Herald and News by clicking this link and feel free to check out my record by clicking here.
Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #81 — Whitespotted Greenling.
In short, I became a Teacher-Consultant for National Geographic, and I had an all-expenses-paid trip to Portugal and Spain.
Though these wouldn’t have been my first travel destinations, I’d never been to Europe before. In fact, I’d never even been to a country that wasn’t a former part of the British Empire (I’d only been to the USA, Canada, and New Zealand at that point), so I figured it would be a culturally-immersive experience.
Long before landing in Lisbon, our first stop, I researched fishing opportunities in the city. There is very little freshwater fishing culture in Portugal, and what was available was all in Portuguese.
That said, I refused to admit defeat and packed my rods.
Tragically, the inland fishing in Portugal is terrible. There’s little water and even less fish in that water, invasive Common Carp having displaced most of the awesome native species like Andalusian Barbel.
So after several attempts to find fish in the 10-plus-miles of walking we did every day, I was a little disappointed. The only places that had fish were tourist traps with Goldfish and other ornamental offerings not really ideal for fishing — especially given that night fishing of any sort is illegal in Portugal.
To further complicate matters, fishing licenses are only available from a Multibanco machine. This effectively means getting a fishing license as a nonresident is all-but-impossible. In fact, they only have one kind of fishing license, and you must have an account with Multibanco to buy it.
After trying to pay several locals to buy one for me, I eventually gave up and decided to just risk fishing without one. From what I could find online, fishing was barely regulated, and you usually just had to pay a small fine if you were found fishing without a license.
I risked it.
License (or lack thereof) sorted out, I moved on to bait. Since most species still surviving in Central and Southern Portugal’s fresh waters aren’t predatory — save for the widely introduced Largemouth Bass — I had to find bait. Worms were nowhere, and since the culture only really cares about saltwater fishing, inland tackle shops don’t exist.
My obvious choices were corn and bread, but American-style bread is almost impossible to find, so it meant trying to stick bits of pastries (the only bread I could get to stay on a hook) on baitholder single and treble hooks.
It was rough, to say the least.
Fortunately, there was an abundance of beautiful architecture to keep me busy, including the Torre de Belem.
The Euro Cup was in full swing during my visit, and Portugal was making a strong showing. They’d go on to win before I left the country, so that made the experience really enjoyable.
I watched one match on a massive, 50-foot outdoor screen maybe 200 yards from the river’s edge, and I was offered drugs more times that night than in the rest of my life combined. 21. I now know what meth, black tar heroine, cocaine, and and everything else you can ingest to kill brain cells looks like.
I took a quick break from the game and noticed a small, seemingly enclosed area with fish in it.
I would be back tomorrow with fishing gear.
When I finally found fishable water, it was in a small concrete diversion pond maybe 100 yards from the edge of the Prime Minister’s Residence. Armed guards were everywhere, and I fully expected to be arrested or shot at. Fortunately, I made it very clear I was fishing, made no sudden moves, and the one guard nearby kept an eye on me.
Not a great location.
To further complicate matters, the only fish I could see in the clearish water were mullet, a fish notoriously difficult to catch.
The final factor working against me was the 105-degree heat. Standing in direct sunlight, I was sapped of energy with every second in the sun.
After nearly an hour, I finally got one to nibble my bread and set the hook. Bingo.
The guard kept looking at me and talking on his radio, but once he saw I had a fish on, he smiled and must’ve realized I wasn’t a sniper waiting to behead the government.
I lost that fish as I pulled it over the railing. I touched the leader, but I couldn’t get a picture.
After two hours or so, I opted to just snag the damn things. That’s easier said than done with light line while fishing 30 feet above the water’s surface for relatively small fish, but I finally got one.
I grabbed a quick photo, and the guard gave me a smile and a thumbs-up. I guess I wasn’t going to be shot or imprisoned after all.
Later, I’d identify it as a Thicklip Gray Mullet. A new species, sure, but unfortunatley one that is actually found in the New World, as well.
I spent another hour trying with bread again but to no avail.
The fish I caught seemed to be the only species present, and I didn’t want to push my luck, so I got out of there.
Species: Striped Mullet (Chelon labrosus) Location: Guadalquivir River, Seville, Spain Date: July 13, 2016
My second European species was another mullet found in the United States. Not ideal, but I was happy. From what I’ve found online, this fish is actually raised for commercial harvest in Seville, Spain where I caught it.
Finding water that didn’t have just Goldfish in Europe was difficult. The construction of the Spanish Armada effectively deforested Spain, and their agriculture-first water policies have basically left a hot, dry desert with lots of dried-up riverbeds and lakes-turned-mud puddles.
It’s honestly a cautionary tale for how not to manage fisheries, but I digress.
The only place I found water to fish in Seville was the Guadalquivir River, a channelized river with a large, concrete-lined riverwalk.
Though it fails in so many other areas, Spain encourages street art, so the concrete is beautifully-decorated with graphic art at every turn. It makes for a unique, modern aesthetic.
When I finally had a chance to get to the river, I’d been able to find only corn and bread, so my bait options were limited. I tried casting out into the river in hopes of catching an Andalusian Barbel (the fish I’d booked a guide for in Portugal but struck out on that you can read about here). The river was channelized and had a tiled, concrete bottom as well, which basically made fishing with a traditional on-bottom setup hopeless.
After breaking off half a dozen times, I switched my attention to the mullet feeding on the surface.
Eventually, I coaxed one into biting my bread ball.
It was my first Striped Mullet.
I landed another shortly thereafter, but since Spain only sells fishing licenses at three or four regional offices in the entire country and fishing is not allowed at night, I decided not to press my luck.
Eventually, I found a pond with Crucian Carp x Goldfish Hybrids in a park in Madrid, but since it wasn’t pure, I didn’t count it as a new species. Maybe I should have? Read the unique story about handlining in a public park for those hybrid fish while fighting off turtles and ducks here.
Species: Blue Chub (Gila coerulea) Location: Lost River, Clear Lake, CA Date: June 29, 2016
I drove almost 100 miles and spent hours in a car on a windy, gravel road. I fished in Clear Lake Reservoir that serves as the headwaters of Lost River, and I eventually got my quarry in the river below the dam.
This all sounds great but for the fact that the Blue Chub is actually super-common in Upper Klamath Lake. In fact, I’ve since paid attention and found it to be more common than Tui Chub.
How great is that?
The fish pictured above was actually caught at Topsy in the spring before I went to Northern California, but since I hadn’t yet learned to tell them apart from Tui Chub, I hadn’t even counted it or given the Blue Chub its due.
The fish I captured in Lost River that day took a partial worm. I got no other hits, and it was an uneventful day in which my allergies almost killed me.
It definitely wasn’t the first unnecessary drive for a species in my backyard, but now that I’ve caught every native in Klamath County save for the endangered Miller Lake Lamprey — at least, at time of writing July 1, 2018.
Still, it was a nice change of pace. I’d never fished Lost River above the Harpold Road dam before.
Species: Goldfish (Carassius auratus) Location: Long Tom River, Monroe, OR Date: June 23, 2016
I spent countless hours trying to catch a bloody goldfish. It’s embarrassing in more ways than one, I know.
Topsy Reservoir was the obvious choice, as Goldfish represent more than 50 percent of the whole biomass there, but I just couldn’t get one of the small reverted specimens or the larger, more traditionally colored ones to bite. Some of these fish run five pounds or more, but I never could figure it out. Lame.
So the day I went carp fishing at Long Tom River and caught this pretty little guy above, I was shocked and excited. It was far from glamorous, but anyone fishing Long Tom knows it’s not a glamorous place.
Apparently, all you need to do to catch a target species is not try for them at all.
Long Tom has since produced several more Goldfish for me. Nothing large and all were reverted, though.
What it did produce was a Common Carp x Goldfish Hybrid. And then another.
Long Tom is a cess pool for invasive species. I have caught a few puss-gut hatchery trout and a single Largemouth Bass, but otherwise, it’s carp, goldfish, and bullheads for days.
The carp and occasional Goldfish are fun to catch, so I stomach the less-than-desirable location.