Species #61 — Fathead Minnow

My first Fathead Minnow loped along as I was trout fishing, practically begging me to catch it.

Species: Fathead Minnow (Pimephales promelas)
Location: Klamath Lake, Klamath Falls, OR
Date: January 15, 2015

I’m writing this post just hours after guiding The Species King, Steve Wozniak, to his first Fathead Minnow, so it’s particularly apropos that my own written species progression puts me here at this time.

I caught my first Fathead by hand when the weather-warn minnow, both dazed and confused, came just a little to close to my reach. Minutes later, I snagged another while throwing my Rapala through a small school of them.

Since the telltale black streak along the lateral line made me realize it wasn’t the usual suspects (chubs and dace), I knew I had a new species. Granted, this was still well before  I was tracking a species total, but I still added a row to my Lifetime Bag spreadsheet, and typed “2” in the box next to its newly-typed name.

***

It’s funny because though both methods I used to land my minnow were legal, it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I got one to willingly bite a micro-rig — just weeks before Steve’s arrival.

After spot-hopping and mostly getting chubs, I took them to the place I’d caught my first and second Fatheads. This, our final stop, had an expiration date because both Steve and his fishing buddy Mark Spellman had to be back home that afternoon.

We had an hour left.

Seconds after we stopped, I noticed a school of what were clearly Fatheads feeding by the shore, and Steve went to work.

He said Mark and I could move ahead and trout fish, but I opted to drink from the fountain of his wisdom (though I used no metaphors that over-the-top) and stayed for a few minutes, talking with Steve.

It didn’t take 10 minutes for his quarry to oblige.

Steve micro-fished for a Fathead Minnow with the focused intensity of any trout or bass fisherman.

He pulled up a mouth-hooked Fathead — and a male, no less. This was significant because males and their oversized skull give the species its name.

Fun fact, right? Shut up. Just keep reading.

Though the trout didn’t cooperate for our last few minutes, that species was an ego-booster.

It was the end of a solid weekend of fishing and fueled the fire for my own species hunting once again. I’m sure Steve will tell this story from his perspective, too, and you can find it here when it’s ready.

I just hope we don’t get fat heads after catching those Fatheads…

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #62 — Bluehead Chub

Species #29 — Pacific Sardine

Occasionally, a wandering sardine or salmon smolt schools up with the anchovies in the marina. It’s always a nice surprise when a much larger baitfish surprises you.

Species: Pacific Sardine (Sardinops sagax)
Location: Brookings-Harbor Marina, OR
Date: September 10, 2009

Rashomon Effect 4-of-6: My Eyes

Black.

I rubbed them.

Gray.

I rubbed them again.

Rheumy, blurry darkness.

I blinked a few times and then fumbled in the darkness for my glasses.

Rheumy, clear darkness.

I shuffled through the cold morning fog to the shower, the heat cleaning my eyes of the night’s sleep, but the blur remained.

My contacts cleared the blur, and I looked at my red, sleep-deprived eyes in the naked light of the single bulb above the mirror.

It would be worth it, I told myself.

***

The salt stung my eyes, and the bracing wind dried them out. I was sick to my stomach, but the sun helped. I donned sunglasses and caught yet another rockfish.

The boat was pleasant, but staring into the water with salt spray and flecks of fish blood flying around, blazing sun, and whipping wind makes your eyes much more tired than a day on the shore.

When the boat docked back in its slip, Ben and I took to chasing silver flashes in the marina.

***

As we hooked anchovies one after the next, I noticed one fish that looked different. While the anchovies looked silver in the brackish water, this fish was blue. I tried placing my bait in its path, but the rhythmic dancing of the school was choreographed to avoid my hooks then surround them, so the odds of getting that one blue fish to bite were small.

Still, as we followed the school around the marina, darting this way and that, that elusive blue glint appeared more than once. Finally, as I walked to retrieve our bait bag, I noticed an isolated blue fish that looked injured.

Since we were snagging as many anchovies as we were hooking them in the mouth, I lowered my crappie jig (the Sabiki proved to be a pain when you’d hook multiple fish due to tangles), and found purchase in the face of the lonely baitfish.

It fought and dove much harder than the anchovies, but it was still a small fish: maybe five inches in length.

As it flopped onto the dock, telltale two-toned coloration and the horizontally-aligned black spots told me it wasn’t an anchovy. The guys on the boat would later tell me it was a Pacific Sardine — the one and only sardine I’ve ever caught.

I felt fortunate to have kept my eyes on the prize, especially when Ben landed one himself a few minutes later.

***

The jetty was dangerous because of the massive boulders, oceanic damp, and deep holes between footholds. Eyes wide, we stepped carefully around the jetty as we caught fish for the rest of the day in the close isolation of that rock spit just a few hundred yards from the bustling beach.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #30 — Kelp Greenling.

Species #28 — Northern Anchovy

Anchovies are weird. They’re seemingly everywhere, work as bait for everything that swims, and yet they’re as frail and easy to catch as any fish I’ve ever seen. How do these things survive?

Species: Northern Anchovy (Engraulis mordax)
Location: Brookings-Harbor Marina, OR
Date: September 10, 2009

Rashomon Effect 3-of-6: My Mind

All through the night, I dreamed of catching fish. My unconscious mind raced through the possibilities the dark waters of the ocean holds, stopping only briefly to rest in between visions.

As the marathon of dreams flew my waking mind, the racing continued with a newly awakened sense of reality. My body wasn’t quite ready to cooperate, but my mind urged me up.

***

During breakfast and the drive to the marina, we discussed what we might catch that day. The possibilities seemed endless in the living cornucopia of the ocean where thousands of species of fish have swum for eons.

The pictures on the wall at Tidewinds Sportfishing only played on our fantasies and expectations as we waited to depart.

In the dim light of the morning, we heard our shoes clamor on the metal ramp down to the marina. The fleeting moonlight reflected on a writhing silver mass that we quickly identified as fish.

Desperate longing to catch those fish rang out in my mind, but we were on a schedule. I pried myself away from the fish but I couldn’t stop thinking about them, even as the boat crossed the bar.

***

The fishing on the boat was phenomenal. I landed four species of rockfish (Black, Blue, Brown, and Yellowtail) while Ben also landed four (Black, Blue, Canary, and Yellowtail).

Despite the sweeping nausea and subsequent vomiting, my mind stayed sharp. I thought about all of the fish I’d caught, and as time ran out on our charter, I got a second wind and began thinking of how to spend the rest of our daylight.

***

When we arrived back at the marina, we knew we had 45 minutes to kill while the crew cleaned our fish. We made a beeline for the car to grab lighter rods and stalked down each slip of the dock, looking for the silver ball of fish.

Before long, we found it. We tried the Sabiki rig (herring jig) for awhile, and Ben landed the first flopping silver sliver. It was maybe three inches long, with a mouth disproportionate to its size.

As he removed the hook, it’s jaw dislocated, and it wriggled violently for a moment before dying. These fish aren’t very resilient.

Since it died, we decided to keep it as bait.

As the fishing picked up, we landed anchovy after anchovy, their voracious feeding and constant terror of anything we dropped into the water causing enigmatic reactions of the school ranging from darting away from the bait to making mad dashes directly at it.

There is an episode of SpongeBob where anchovies come in and almost destroy the Krusty Krab, and it’s not far from the truth.

“That certain smelly smell that smells…smelly. ANCHOVIES!”                    —Mr. Krabs, SpongeBob Squarepants

These things are crazy. Their massive mouths gather in anything they can as quickly as they can while looking terrified. Given almost anything living in the ocean will eat them, it’s no wonder.

We filled a bag with the strange little minnows in short order, grabbed lunch, then headed to the jetty to use the bait we’d just worked so hard to earn.

***

We did quite well on the jetty at first, landing a number of small fish and some crabs. Then a seagull stole our hard-earned bait, and it was over.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #29 — Pacific Sardine.