Species #139 — Coastal Shiner

If someone punches you in the eye near the ocean, you get a Coastal Shiner. #DadJokes

Species: Coastal Shiner (Lepomis auritus)
Location: Little Wekiva River, Florida
Date: July 8, 2018

One of my favorite professors in college used to say “If you haven’t ____________, you haven’t lived.” He honestly had a lot of great catch phrases, but this was my favorite — especially as it relates to fishing.

If you haven’t waited chest-deep in the tannin-stained waters of a central Florida stream in pursuit of a tiny minnow species, gators be damned, you haven’t lived.

One caveat: if you have done this and continue to make this type of choices, you probably won’t live very long. But hey, at least you’ll be living both sides of the best line from Shawshank Redemption: “Get busy living, or get busy dying.”

***

When I arrived at the river, the sunfish came faster than I expected, but that happens from time to time.

With one fish marked off so quickly, I had to figure out how to spend the rest of my time. Darters are shiners were both present, but the river was running really high.

Orlando had seen a lot of rain, and there was no way I could sight-fish darters in the dark waters when I couldn’t even see the bottom.
After catching all of the sunfish (yes, all of them) in that stretch of river, I grabbed micro gear and decided to look for greener pastures or at least clearer waters.

The shoreline flora was impenetrable, and I’d already spent a lot of time and energy finding this access point to the water, so I was SOL (that’s Spanish for “sun”, kids).

I did a quick check for gators, and, seeing none, jumped in.

My first thought was “I really hope I’m far enough from the city to be out of hypodermic needle range.”

My second thought was “No, I’m good. This is Florida. Nothing bad ever happens here.”

Used hypodermic needles are endemic to Florida, but they tend to occur in isolated pockets around the state, closer to population centers. In recent years, the range of the used hypodermic needle has contracted due to prescription opioids. Pills have out-competed the less convenient and infinitely less sanitary method for destroying brain cells and soiling perfectly good spoons.

So S/O to pills.

Fortunately, apart from some broken glass, the creekbed was fairly forgiving, and the sandy bottom actually felt good between my toes, so long as I didn’t think about all of the reclaimed water that was flowing over them.

I waded across with a fluid grace you would’ve been impressed by and began moving in the shallower water along the bank, searching diligently for water moving slowly enough to hold micros.

Gators must not like white meat because I survived long enough to find what I was looking for: happiness.

Well, sort of. I found a small school of shiners which made me happy.

The current was so fast that I struggled to keep the bait in their face in the middle of the water column, but I finally did it and caught a Coastal Shiner.

Wading back across the river and busting brush to the paved trail wasn’t great, but neither was my last colonoscopy, and I survived that.

***

If you’re not a Species Hunter, you probably laughed nervously as I told this story, wondering why some dumbass would risk his life for a tiny fish. If you are a Species Hunter, you’re nodding quietly to yourself as you look around to fistbump me only to realize this is a story, and I’m not actually there.

That’s okay. If you haven’t forgotten one of my stories was just a narrative while reading it on your phone or computer at least once, you haven’t lived.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #140 — Black Acara.

Species #137 — Seminole Killifish

These fish are so cool. Getting a Seminole Killifish to sit still for a picture is a lot more difficult than getting one to bite.

Species: Seminole Killifish (Fundulus seminolis)
Location: Urban Park, Orlando, Florida
Date: July 8, 2018

My first killifish would prove to be one of the largest found in North America, but in order to catch it, I had to do some legwork.

I was told they could be found all over Orlando, and though I ended up catching 15 across two locations on the first day I targeted them, I almost gave up the hunt just minutes in.

My first day in Florida yielded five new species, and I wasn’t about to waste hours chasing a species when there was still so much low-hanging fruit all around me.

I tried two footbridges at the park where the tiny, pike-like fish were supposed to dwell and pulled in a lot of Bluegill before I saw my target.

I’d never fished for killifish before — let alone seen one — so I didn’t know what to look for. Suddenly, a small group of snake-like fish that resembled tiny pike more than anything cruised up.

I was use a small jig tipped with worm because I was told Seminole Killifish didn’t require micro gear. The ferocious little beast that smacked my jig proved that in a hurry.

I quickly landed the fish, grabbed a photo, and put it in my photo tank.

The second this lid opened, these fish were escaping faster than my students at the final bell on a Friday afternoon.

It promptly jumped out and started wriggling toward the water. I had the photo tank is flooded grass, and it almost made it. Though my dexterity isn’t on par with my brothers, both of whom were Division I athletes, I’m still pretty dexterous. Not to brag, but all other things held equal, I’m more comfortable on land than a fish.

Bold claim, I know, but I can back it up. I’ll sign autographs later.

How cool is this fish? I don’t have an aquarium, but these guys would certainly be in it if I did.

In short order, I landed six of the golden missiles, and I was hooked on killifish. They’re small but not micro, and any time I can avoid tiny, pre-snelled micro hooks that lodge in my skin and clothing seemingly at will, I’m okay with that.

***

Killfish are incredibly unique fish that can live in freshwater, saltwater, and brackish water with different tolerances depending on the species.

Apart from sculpins, they’re probably my favorite family of micros, and I look forward to catching all of them.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #138 — Redbreast Sunfish.

Species #136 — Dollar Sunfish

I couldn’t tell you their exchange rate, but I certainly like the feel of a Dollar Sunfish in my palm.

Species: Dollar Sunfish (Lepomis marginatus)
Location: Lake Fran Urban Wetlands, Orlando, FL
Date: July 7, 2018

You don’t need to go to McDonald’s to find the Dollar Menu because Dollar Sunfish are on the menu for damn near every fish in the Southeastern United States.

In Florida, this means bass and gar and Bowfin, as well as the myriad exotics that prowl the reclaimed waters and swamps of the Sunshine State are looking for ways to make a Dollar disappear faster than Disneyworld.

Fortunately for me, a friend told me where to find Dollar Sunfish, and his directions were right on the money.

If you’d like to catch a Dollar Sunfish of your own, look no further. The buck stops here.

These pretty little fish were somewhat rare in open water, but I found Dollars to be especially common in one type of habitat: close to the bank. Go figure.

The heavily vegetated shoreline in a host of waters seemed to fill a unique niche for Dollar Sunfish. Scientists have yet to write a whole lot about this behavior, but that’s likely because more has been written about the Dollar by economists than by icthyologists.

Mysterious behavior aside, most of us are just happy getting our money’s worth, so the Dollar retains its aura.

Considering they top out around six inches, they’re not seriously targeted by anglers, but they are popular with other fishes. It’s no wonder these little fish hide in the shadows; they’re so perfectly snackable that most predators eat off the Dollar Menu in Florida.

***

I didn’t see any in the water, but I knew they were there.

At first, I tried micro gear and managed to catch a few. It felt like a scene out of Little Rascals or a GEICO commercial, me sitting there with a Dollar on the end of a hook, flopping around in the wind.

Nobody came to try and steal the Dollar, though, so the comedic potential of the situation was wasted.

Unlike other species of fish, sunfish don’t typically have gendered nicknames like salmon or trout. That said, a male salmonid is called a “Buck”, and I think this is a fitting nickname for the male Dollar Sunfish, as well.

There were a lot of other species nearby that I had yet to catch, so I stopped chasing the almighty Dollar after palming half a dozen.

It was insanely hot and muggy but I had no plans to take off anything more than my shirt in pursuit of a single Dollar, so I turned on a dime and decided to chase something else.

After all, time is money.

***

The trip wore on.

Though one Dollar by itself didn’t seem very valuable, I invested a few Dollars in other liquid assets in pursuit of larger fish. I learned the true value of a Dollar when I managed to catch my first Bowfin using a single Dollar. Haha, single.

Wallet may be okay to spend a few Dollars here and there, as I did in pursuit of Bowfin, I found it beneficial to save every Dollar I could. Un-American though it was, I saved almost every Dollar that came into possession rather than turning it into blood money.

Everyone knows it’s a bad idea to bet your bottom Dollar and letting most fish go keeps the population healthy.

Nonetheless, after a long day of saving one Dollar after another, it was I who was spent. So I cashed out and headed to a restaurant to grab some much needed food.

***

The moral of this story is that a Dollar can go a long way. I hope this tale of Dollars made sense, but don’t call me a writer. When I hand out knowledge about the Dollar, I like to be called a teller.

I’m not a rude person, so let me leave with a five-Dollar tip, or rather, five tips about Dollars. If you follow these, I promise you won’t wind up a day late and a Dollar short:

1) Dollar Sunfish are small, and one Dollar doesn’t go very far, but a bunch of Dollars, working together, help to feed a lot of hungry fish. They’re an incredibly important part of the ecosystem, and each Dollar plays its part.

2) For just one Dollar per day, you can probably feed yourself in Florida. Bowfin, bass, and gar will all happily eat one, and then you can play the next part in the food chain.

3) This is about the only Dollar you won’t see at church. They simply don’t get large enough to make a good a fish fry.

4) If you didn’t like this column, I apologize, but I have to churn out stories and sometimes I get complacent and just look at work like it’s another day, another Dollar.

5) If you like fish puns, check out my blog, www.caughtovgard.com. It has a ton of other, typically shorter stories about fish that are pretty interesting even if they don’t fetch top Dollar.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #137 — Seminole Killifish.

Species #133 — Eastern Mosquitofish

I was so stoked for this first Eastern Mosquitofish. Minutes later, I hated them with a fiery passion that burns deep within the fires of my soul. I caught dozens of them and took just one picture.

Species: Vermiculated Sailfin Catfish (Pterygoplichthys disjunctivus)
Location: Lake Fran Urban Wetlands, Orlando, FL
Date: July 7, 2018

Perhaps the least impressive fish on my Lifelist is the Eastern Mosquitofish. Within 30 seconds of putting on a micro rig and targeting them in Central Florida, I caught one.

I caught half a dozen of them in no time before they lost their appeal. The rest of the trip, the simply interfered with me catching the half dozen other near-surface micros found in and around Orlando.

***

The most interesting thing was when I tried using a live mosquitofish as bait. I caught a few little bass and briefly hooked a Florida Gar. I lost it, but I made up for it a few hours later.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #134 — Florida Bass.

Species #131 — Umpqua Pikeminnow

The Umpqua system has been overtaken by Smallmouth Bass, so Umpqua Pikeminnow are few and far between.

Species: Umpqua Pikeminnow (Ptychocheilus umpquae)
Location: Umpqua River, Oregon
Date: June 25, 2018

Odds are, you’ve heard of the Umpqua River.

After all, it’s home to Oregon’s only real Striper fishery (though it’s still not great). Fish likely don’t even spawn but every few years, so the fish there are there in limited numbers. But the fish there are massive. Oregon’s 68-pound state record was caught there.

The Umpqua once had one of the largest average-size Steelhead runs in the country (not in total numbers, but size of fish). Then much fish from other runs like the Alsea were stocked to supplement declining runs, and the average size fish plummeted.

But the Umpqua today is home to one of the best numbers Smallmouth fisheries on the West Coast. Anglers can expect 30-plus-fish days routinely, with 100-fish days fairly commonplace. Though the river is so saturated with fish, they tend to stunt, and true beasts are hard to find.

One side effect of the Smallmouth Bass is the massive decline in native fishes. The native Rainbows and Cutthroats suffer, and people lament them. But nobody mourns for the Umpqua Chub, Umpqua Dace, and Umpqua Pikeminnow that have fueled the explosion of smallies.

***

In fact, when I took a summer afternoon and evening to chase what I thought would be the easiest of the three endemic minnows, the Umpqua Pikeminnow, I was horrified to find myself striking out at my first stop on the South Umpqua. I caught a seemingly endless supply of smallies as I tried the spinners and Rapalas and bait I’d caught Northern Pikeminnow on dozens of times before. All I caught were smallies.

I switched to micro gear in hopes of catching one of the minnow species flitting in and out of the weeds. The good news is that smallies weren’t the only fish I caught. The bad news is that they were only joined by Green Sunfish.

After a few hours of only seeing a few flitting minnows here and there, and a few small suckers that wouldn’t touch anything, I decided to switch spots.

***

The mainstem Umpqua seemed like a better option. More water means deeper holes and faster flow, right? Wrong.

The smallies were even more prevalent here, mobbing my worm at every turn.

***

I finally ended up at the North Umpqua River, having covered a lot of miles in my “easy little trip” for UPM. I was frustrated, but I was equally disillusioned by the reality of a real-life invasive takeover of a fishery.

Smallies were everywhere. Pikeminnow were nowhere to be found.

My final spot for the night was the confluence of the North Umpqua and the mainstem. There were rapids, and a slow-swirling pool just upstream of the mouth.

Though I caught a few little trout in the rapids and a few more bass in the swirling pool, it wasn’t until I switched to micro gear that I finally got my Umpqua Pikeminnow.

I hooked and lost one on micro gear, broke off, then caught this just as the park host came and yelled at me to get out because the park was closing.

***

A few days later, I would discover that there is a much healthier population of Umpqua Pikeminnow in a nearby river system. I landed 15 of them in a few hours there, and all of them were decent-sized fish like the 10-incher at the beginning of this post.

Nature has a way of balancing itself, I guess.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #132 — Vermiculated Sailfin Catfish.

Species #129 — Smoothhead Sculpin

I had this down as a Scalyhead Sculpin at first, but after consulting with an expert, it shifted to another member of the genus: Smoothhead Sculpin. Note my reflection in the corner. #Swag.

Species: Smoothhead Sculpin (Artedius lateralis)
Location: Oregon Coast
Date: June 20, 2018

Freshwater sculpins, especially the Cottus species, are among the most difficult-to-identify fish around.

Marine sculpins aren’t quite as tough, especially with the odd Rosylip Sculpin or Buffalo Sculpin kicking around, but there are a lot of them with blurred edges. One such fish is the Smoothead Sculpin. There are three fish in this genus (Padded, Smoothhead, and Scalyhead), and they’re insanely difficult to tell apart. Strangely, the Scalyhead Sculpin is supposed to be the most common but is the only one I’ve never caught.

Honestly, I don’t even really remember how he distinguished the two, but since I’ve only caught one more in that genus (another Smoothhead) since, it hasn’t been an issue.

Lazy? Sure.

But at least I know my flaws and don’t try to *smooth* over them.

In all seriousness, I used Coastal Fish Identification: California to Alaska and the Mola Marine PNW Sculpins 3.0 supplement to help me identify them. It turns out 9-out-of-10 dentists recommend cutting your teeth on both if you’re a Lifelister in the PNW.

***

One thing that is noticeable about these particular sculpins is their massive heads, especially compared to their tidepool peers.

Look at that thing! Its head is huge.

The latest Smoothhead had me thinking it was a different, and it was. Because it was another Padded Sculpin.

I’ll get my Scalyhead eventually, though, so I’m not worried.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #130 — Mountain Whitefish.

Species #128 — Fluffy Sculpin

Undoubtedly my favorite marine micros, Fluffy Sculpin are just gorgeous little fish. This picture doesn’t do the species justice.

Species: Fluffy Sculpin (Oligocottus snyderi)
Location: Oregon Coast
Date: June 20, 2018

Do you believe in love at first sight?

I’m not sure I did, but then I looked at a picture of a Fluffy Sculpin, the most beautiful little fish you ever did see. To further sell me on it, God made sure it comes in three designer colors: green, red, and brown.

Fluffy Sculpins are, as much as is possible for a fish, actually fluffy. They have tons of cirri, little sensory receptors common in sculpins, all over the body. They are especially prevalent around the head and lend to the fish’s name.

Add to their fluffy hugability the bright, vivid base palette and a lapis lazuli-and-white checkerboard throat, and you might just be talking about the most striking fish in the Pacific Northwest.

My first one fell for my bold pickup line: a bit of shrimp on a micro hook dangling into a surf-line tidepool on an outgoing low tide.

Though visibility wasn’t great to begin with, I also had to contend with a green fish in a verdant sea of kelp and sea lettuce which didn’t make things any easier.

One I landed the fish and saw it’s unmistakable underside, I knew I had a Fluffy.

Fluffy Sculpins have a scrawled white throat and vivid blue belly.

It was my first time microfishing with a photo tank, but the water was so salty that it made my photos turn out worse than I’d expected.

Still, I got some decent pictures.

Gotta love the photo tank. I kept half a dozen species in there at a time. In the back is a partially-obscured Kelp Greenling, a Cabezon, and a Tidepool Sculpin, but the Fluffies stole the show.

I landed dozens of fish that day. Though Tidepool Sculpin and Kelp Greenling were the most numerous, I did manage a few more fluffies, including a red one.

Fluffy Sculpins can be red, too.

I haven’t caught one in a minute now, but they remain my favorite Oregon micro.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #129 — Smoothhead Sculpin.

Species #127 — Rosylip Sculpin

This is one of a dozen on so species on my Lifelist that has probably been caught by a total number of anglers in the single digits.

Species: Rosylip Sculpin (Ascelichthys rhodorus)
Location: Oregon Coast
Date: June 20, 2018

The nearshore saltwater species diversity in Oregon is pretty low. Excluding micros, there are only about 20 species you can catch from shore with any sort of realistic possibility.

This sounds high, but when compared to southern California, Florida, or even the similarly temperate Puget Sound, it’s minimal.

Sure, we have things like Pacific Sandfish and Salmon Sharks that are technically possible, but in the same way its technically possible for Shay Mitchell to finally notice me.

It ain’t gonna happen.

Though micros add some diversity, but it’s still not the most diverse place, with Black Rockfish accounting for nearly a third of all sport catch on the Oregon coast. No kidding.

So when I first discovered microfishing and then decided to try it in tidepools, it opened up a whole new world.

***

I will note that I’ve never heard of another (sport) angler-caught Rosylip Sculpin. I’ve caught half a dozen now, and a contact who works exclusively with Pacific Northwest marine sculpin research asked me where I’d caught mine, so they could get some much-needed samples, and that makes me feel pretty special.

So you think you caught one? Use the identification tools below to make sure.

 

One unique characteristic is that apart from Cabezon, Rosylips are the only Oregon marine sculpin without scales. The skin is smooth and produces a proportionately insane amount of thick slime. Every Rosylip has this characteristic.
Additionally, Rosylips are the only sculpin — marine or freshwater — found in Oregon that have no pelvic fins. They still have one, long anal fin. Every Rosylip has this characteristic. 
Also, Rosylips tend to hide under stuff. I caught and released this one, but it was the only one I’ve caught that wasn’t hiding under a rock or piece of driftwood. Mainly, I theorize, because it was staging for the pre-spawn. It was incredibly chill and just sat there for a minute or so after release and allowed me to get some good pics. Not every Rosylip has this characteristic, but most do.
Lastly, they have hot salmon edging on the top of the dorsal fin, very visible from above on most species. Not every Rosylip has this characteristic, but most do.

***

Identification aside, I’m not here to brag (that much). I’m here to tell a story. I wrote this story already, so read about it here.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #128 — Fluffy Sculpin.

Species #126 — Redside Shiner

You ever spend a ton of time trying to add a fish to your Lifelist, only to later find out a closer, more abundant population existed later? Because same.

Species: Redside Shiner (Richardsonius balteatus)
Location: Corvallis, Oregon
Date: June 16, 2018

After school got out, I loaded my car and drove up to visit my brother, Gabe.

I knew it would be the last summer he lived in Corvallis with his roommates, the guys who had been surrogate brothers to me in the dozens of times I’d visited them over the years. Sure, I wanted to spend time with my brother, but I also liked the change of pace.

Jake called it “Hotel Gabe,” and I guess that was partly true. I did always take time to fish when visiting. In fact, I fished a lot out of that Corvallis apartment in five years’ time.

I changed careers, finished a Master’s degree, became a species hunter, and even started writing about fishing while they lived there. It held more memories than any other place I’d never actually lived in.

Like always, I wanted to fish.

So as I went out to the Willamette River to try for a species that was put on my radar since I started microfishing six months earlier from that very spot, I got emotional.

I caught my Redside Shiner, though I had to work for it. Species #126.

But I was still sad. This wasn’t like all of the other times I’d fished there.

This time was different.

We were celebrating Gabe’s graduation, and his then-girlfriend (now fiance), Rylee Salutregui and her family were there for the festivities, as she was graduating, too.

After catching a Redside Shiner just a few minutes from Gabe’s house, I surveyed the place I’d come to love as a second home and said my goodbyes to the place.

The people would be a little tougher.

***

The next day, we went fishing as a group. There were no new species, but it was worth sharing nonetheless.

Of those original four roommates that Gabe had lived with for so long, all of whom played Oregon State Football, only Adam Soesman and Drew Kell are still in Corvallis.

Marcus McMaryion transferred to Fresno State and got snubbed for an NFL Combine Invite, but he’ll probably at least make an NFL roster next year.

Trent Moore, one of his roommates and best friends, now lives with Gabe in Beaverton.

Gabe will be moving out to get a place with Rylee when they get married this fall, and life moves on.

Their core friend group has gone different directions, and I miss those guys. I never had college roommates (I lived with my parents), and these guys were the closest I ever came. I’d visit about once per month for almost five years. It was a way of life for me, and change is tough — even for the brother who only visits on occasion.

Read about saying goodbyes even as we said new hellos by clicking here.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #127 — Rosylip Sculpin.

Species #124 — Speckled Dace

Speckled Dace are about as handsome of a minnow species as you can find. So pretty.

Species: Speckled Dace (Rhinichthys osculus)
Location: Link River, Klamath Falls, OR
Date: December 15, 2015

As of right now, this is one species. Likely, the Klamath Speckled Dace, Rhinichthys osculus klamathensis, will soon be classified as a separate species.

It, like a number of Oregon endemics, hasn’t seen a lot of attention in the past 100 years, so it’s been left alone by modern taxonomists, but that will soon change.

I caught Speckled Dace as a kid on the tiny egg hooks baited with worms we used to use in streams before the “Bait Ban” that effectively took away bait fishing in streams to protect native trout and sucker populations.

All in all, that was a good move, but it meant that a lot of time passed before I caught another dace.

I’d caught a lot of them, but once I had a good specimen in hand, I felt confident counting it as a species.

Interestingly enough, I’ve only caught Speckled Dace in the Klamath and Goose Lake Basins, so if and when they’re reclassified, I’ll have more species to hunt just hours away.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #125 — Dixie Chub.