Species #51 — European Perch

Species: European Perch (Perca fluviatilis)
Location: Lake Pupuke, Auckland, New Zealand
Date: February 19, 2017

New Zealand is famous for its trout fishing. It’s also well-known for its freshwater eels. What it is not renowned for is perch.

So when I caught a perch in the small, urban lake at the heart of Auckland, I was surprised. I was even more surprised when the slightly-off coloration of the fish made me realize it was a European or Redfin Perch instead of the Yellow Perch I was used to back in the States.

David and I each got our perch and then noticed bright flashes from little fish right under the concrete at the shoreline.

We were intrigued, but as night fell, we were hoping to catch one.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #52 — Common Rudd.

Species #33 — Sacramento Perch

Sacramento Perch kind of look like crappie, but if you look a little closer, they have their own unique aesthetic among sunfish.

Species: Sacramento Perch (Archoplites interruptus)
Location: Topsy Reservoir, Keno, OR
Date: June 14, 2010

There wasn’t anything crazy about this day. In fact, apart from the fact that spelling the word “Sacramento” has been a lifelong struggle, there isn’t much to tell.

I always spell it “Sacremento” instead of “Sacramento,” but I live with my imperfections.

But this is a story about fishing — not spelling — and I spell fishing “S-U-C-C-E-S-S”.

As it happens, that day was quite successful. Using a small crappie jig, I landed 20 fish. My catch was composed of Black Crappie (13), Tui Chub (4), Pumpkinseed (2), and my first-ever Sacramento Perch.

Sac Perch look similar enough to Black Crappie that, to the unobservant angler, they might be just another fish for the cooler. But these fish are unique for a number of reasons:

1) They’re the only fish in the family Centrarchidae (bass and sunfish) native west of the Mississippi), swimming with a native range in Central California.

2) They spawn later than all other sunfish, so in waters where other sunfish live, Sac Perch are usually out-competed. Bluegills and Redears and Pumpkinseed spawn, then all of their fry hatches and eats the eggs of the Sac Perch which spawn as much as six weeks later.

3) Sacramento Perch are one of the only species of fish that is almost entirely extinct in its native range yet nowhere near extinct as a species because of its other, non-native distributions like those in Oregon.

4) Sacramento Perch are only found — officially — in two locations in Oregon: Topsy Reservoir (Klamath River) and the Lost River. I’ve since caught them in at least three ponds where they don’t officially exist, but that’s beside the point.

I’ve caught less than 50 of these fish over the past 15 years. They’re still special to me, and along with Pumpkinseed, I feel that Sacramento Perch is likely my best shot at catching an Oregon State Record.

So I guess I had something to say about this fish, after all.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #34 — Cutthroat Trout.

Species #23 — Brown Bullhead

My least favorite fish? That’s easy. The Brown Bullhead.

Species: Brown Bullhead (Ameiurus nebulosus)
Location: Topsy Reservoir, OR
Date: May 29, 2009

If pigeons are rats with wings, bullheads are rats with fins. For whatever reason, Brown Bullhead catfish have established themselves as the invasive every real angler loves to hate in almost every major basin across the country.

Oregon is no different.

Why someone would ever decide to put these slimy filthwads in their favorite water is beyond me. They don’t grow very big. They don’t fight hard at all. They do taste okay, but they’re hard to clean, and given their all-inclusive diet and propensity for scum-dwelling, eating one is downright risky.

Still, when the sun goes down, they can pass warm summer nights and elevate a bonfire above simply drinking around a carcinogenic pit.

This particular May night was extra special because it managed to turn fishing for the lowest quarry into an even less pleasant endeavor.

***

The crappie bite was slow, and the “catfish” bite was slower. For some reason, the two Brown Bullhead I landed that night were the first I’d recorded up to that point, though I’m pretty sure I caught them before the ripe old age of 18.

On the drive home, I was pulled over right by the now-defunct Eternal Hills Cemetery. Coincidentally, this would be the first of three times I was pulled over in this exact location after a fishing trip, but that’s beside the point.

With my friend, Ben Blanchard, in the passenger seat, the cop walked up to his side of the car and motioned for me to roll down the window. Unfortunately, my window was broken at the time, and I couldn’t roll it down.

I was worried he’d be upset by having to talk through my rear passenger window. He moved past it and told me my license plate light was out. In retrospect, that car had more ailments than a hypochondriac, but I drove it five years and got a lot of traffic stops out of it.

After I told him I’d fix it, he asked simply “How much have you been drinking?”

My honest reply: “None. I don’t drink,” came automatically.

He wished us a good evening, and allowed us to go. The same guy would pull Ben and I over a month later after another trip to Topsy with the same question and the same answer.

Sometimes I miss the days where I was profiled for my car, but mostly I just appreciate being able to drive something that doesn’t look like it funnels drugs from one drop to the other.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #24 — Redtail Surfperch.

Species #16 — White Crappie

White Crappie don’t always look that much different from Black Crappie, but you can tell them apart by one obvious feature. Read on to find out.

Species: White Crappie (Pomoxis annularis)
Location: Gerber Reservoir
Date: July 15, 2017

If you’ve kept up with this blog, you probably know that I started keeping fishing journals when I was 14. Let’s be real. I’m quite confident in my writing abilities now, but my early teenage prose wasn’t always the best. Still, as I look back, a few stories actually read well as written.

This is one such story.

***

“After hearing very good reviews of Gerber, we packed up and went there for the day. We had been told there would be an endless supply of crappies and had planned for such results. But, in the first hour, we had only caught a few bullfrogs — no fish.

The day wore on, and we eventually caught some perch on little tree frogs (yes, I’m a monster), but I wanted at least one crappie. I got my wish shortly thereafter when an eight-inch white crappie — my first — graced my line. The hope soon left, and after another hour of poor fishing, so did we.”

***

For those who fish for crappie a lot, you should know how to tell the difference between white and black crappie. It’s not about how dark a fish is (crappie coloration varies widely). It’s not about size.

You can occasionally tell by the spotting patterns (White Crappie have vertical stripes and Black Crappie are just randomly spotted), but where both species exist, they often hybridize. Quickly tell what predominant genes exist in a fish if their patterns aren’t clear.

It’s simple: count the hard dorsal spines. If it has six spines, it’s a White Crappie. More than six? It’s a black. I’ve caught blacks with between seven and nine spines, so there is some variability.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #17 — Tui Chub.

 

Species #14 — Green Sunfish

Ounce-for-ounce, I’d argue that Green Sunfish are the hardest-fighting freshwater fish I’ve ever caught.

Species: Green Sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus)
Location: Lost Creek Lake, OR
Date: July 27, 2005

Every day, we woke up and went on a run.

We’d come back, grab breakfast, do some sort of running game, take a break, and run again.

Lunch would come around, we’d have a short reprieve for the afternoon, then we’d go on an evening run, eat dinner, and play a running game at night.

At the time, I didn’t know how allergic I was to dairy and eggs, so the combination of muggy heat, running miles and miles every day, and fueling myself with a diet containing a lot of both did horrible things to me that I won’t go into in detail.

Anyhow, our coach did a fantastic job of melding these incredibly fun games with running. Whether the game was a timed obstacle course (this was my best game), Extreme Spoons (not my best game), scavenger hunts, or the Mileage Guess (where we’d run along a road and try to stop at exactly one mile), we got in shape while having a blast.

There was one game, however, that I lived for.

It was, as best as I can describe, what Cross Country should be. We would be dropped off in a team of two or three at one location, given a map, then tasked with returning as fast as we could. Just one caveat: we had to fill a gallon bag with ripe blackberries for the evening’s cobbler.

I lived for this. Outside of fishing, I’m honestly not very competitive. For whatever reason, this mattered to me, though. I had to win.

This time, I read the map and convinced my group to take a shortcut through the woods. It shaved off half of a mile and took us right along the lake shore.

I needed to pee, so I detoured from the group briefly as I drained the lizard. As I contemplated life, I noticed a handful of small fish bathing in the summer sun, maybe five feet from my excess hydration.

My drive to win was put on momentary hold, as those fish held my attention.

“You done yet?” came the cry that snapped me out of my daze. I closed up shop and returned to the group, but my heart wasn’t wholly in the competition anymore.

***

We won the race, but I was ambivalent. Sure, victory tasted almost as sweet as the cobbler I’d eat later that night, but those fish that clearly weren’t bass were on my mind.

Sleeping on the hard ground with dozens of teenagers giggling and freestyle rapping badly (yes, we did) all around you is difficult enough without the added distraction of a potential new fish species.

***

I dozed off at some point after the neighboring campsite stopped banging the loud doors of their cooler an impossible number of times. I awoke, powered through the morning run and breakfast, then ran back to the water.

***

This was years before I was a good fisherman, but I still had the passion. God’s mercy alone got a single feisty fish to hit my brown Rooster Tail (gross, right?) and send my heart racing.

It fought much better than the tiny bass I expected, and I knew I’d hooked one of the mystery fish I’d seen the day before. I didn’t exactly know what it was, but that’s okay because I’d finally crossed the finish line. I’d won the race.

***

We returned to school, and after a week’s worth of reading and searching the still dial-up enabled Internet of the day, I learned it was a Green Sunfish. To-date, it’s still one of my favorite fish, despite how relatively uncommon they are in Southern Oregon.

Still, as an adult who isn’t at running camp, I can drive to one of my favorite Green Sunfish waters any time I want.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #15 — Kokanee.

Species #12 — Pumpkinseed

If these fish were larger, just about anyone and anything that got near them would be in danger.

Species: Pumpkinseed (Lepomis gibbosus)
Location: Lost River, OR
Date: June 18, 2005

Lost River is so named because it bubbles up out of the ground, wanders around for 60 miles, then goes back into the ground not far from its origin. It is rumored to have once held a great Redband Trout fishery, but those days are decades behind us.

Today, Lost River is a weedy cesspool, polluted and overgrown from countless tons of fertilizer and other agricultural runoff. No fewer than a dozen fish species have been captured in the river — most of them invasive — so while the fishing may not be great, it’s one of the best places in Klamath County for a truly surprising fishing experience.

***

Big Springs Park in the heart of Bonanza is one of only a handful of places along the Lost River that provides public access to fishermen. Now, the Lost River still isn’t a mecca for fishermen, but when the conditions are right, it can provide a lot of small, forgettable fish.

That sounds negative, but unless small catfish, sunfish, perch, or chubs are your thing, Lost River will disappoint you most days.

But, on that warm summer day, it had me enamored. Below a tiny wooden dam, I I watched as a handful of small fish sunned themselves at the edge of a large shadow cast by the footbridge above.

This was years before I’d discovered my now go-to ice fishing jig, the Bergie Worm Jr., for all fish Centrarchidae, and I was using a small treble hook baited with a bit of worm.

It took some effort, but I finally landed one of the small-mouthed little sunfish.

In my journal that day, I wrote “it was my first Green Sunfish,” but it wasn’t a Green Sunfish; it was a Pumpkinseed.

Years passed before I actually figured that out, but sunfish mis-identification is a problem so pervasive, I was hardly alone that day.

Pumpkinseed have since become one of my favorite species, and though Green Sunfish do fight harder per ounce than Pumpkinseed, few things that swim in freshwater do.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #13 — Smallmouth Bass.

Species #8 — Black Crappie

Black Crappie are so beautiful underwater, and even after catching thousands of them, they still evoke a certain awe in me when I see them in their flowing fins.

Species: Black Crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus)
Location: Hoover Ponds, OR
Date: March 22, 2005

Geez, I didn’t fish much back then. I hadn’t wet a line since the previous October.

In my journal, a 14-year-old Luke wrote: “I fought the fish close to shore. Thinking it was a perch, I didn’t pay much attention to it; however, I soon saw the flat body of a small crappie. It was my first.”

***

I’ve only caught 1500 specimens of two respective species: Bluegill and Rainbow Trout. Bluegill were the first. I caught my 1500th bluegill in 2015. My 1500th Rainbow Trout, which I classify separately in two categories (Rainbow Trout and Redband Trout), actually just happened in 2017 not long before this entry was written.

Black Crappie will almost definitely be the third. At the time of writing, I’m at 1458. It’ll only take one or two good days next spring to add another species to the 1500 Club.

***

Anyhow, my knowledge of panfishing was pretty minimal back then. I actually caught my first crappie on a brown Rooster Tail — a lure I absolutely despise for everything nowadays — when almost every crappie I’ve caught in the years since has come on a jig of some form or another.

Shockingly, a bluegill also hit that drab, miserable spinner and made my day.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #9 — Black Rockfish.

Species #5 — Yellow Perch

Yellow Perch are one of the most prevalent invasive species in Oregon, but they’re fun to catch and arguably the best-tasting freshwater fish.

Species: Yellow Perch (Perca flavescens)
Location: Hoover Ponds, OR
Date: July 31, 2004

The bluegill were lined up in the shallows, but slightly larger, more insidious fish skirted the edge of visibility, feinting in and out of the shadows in a cruel tease.

I had no idea what they were, but Dad thought they might be perch. He recommended using a crappie jig to try and entice them to bite. Sure enough, the tiny gold tube I found in the bottom of our old metal tackle box worked like a charm, and I promptly landed my first Yellow Perch.

My jig went down to the same spot, and I witnessed the telltale pointed gill flare for the first time. It resulted in a hookset and my second Yellow Perch.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #6 — Largemouth Bass.

Species #4 — Bluegill

The first Bluegill I ever caught was extra special because it was the first fish I ever caught that wasn’t a trout.

Species: Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)
Location: Hoover Ponds, OR
Date: July 31, 2004

Baseball is like Trump’s Twitter: hard to watch. For that reason, I decided to take a break from my brother’s game in White City to walk around.

As I neared the back fence, I caught sight of a pond. It wasn’t large, but I saw lots of birds around, and I was intrigued.

The small dirt path rimming the pond got just close enough to show me a glimpse of the fish inside, and as I walked, numerous grasshoppers committed suicide by jumping into the pond where a line of piranha-like fish awaited them with open jaws.

Bug after bug was slurped from the surface, and I desperately wished I had a fishing pole.

***

When I returned for the next game, I was ready. I marched over the water and caught a handful of grasshoppers to use as bait.

The second the first quivering pile of misfortune hit the water, it was gobbled up by a waiting bluegill. My first panfish was a bit anticlimactic, as the fight lasted just a few seconds.

Spines. I realized it had spines. The second my hand clasped around them, I realized the flagship species of the family Centrarchidae was very different from the trout I was used to catching.

Still, sight-fishing to these feisty little monsters was a blast, and I caught fish after fish on grasshoppers and even one on a bare red hook, the total coming to 15 before I opted to fish for some of the other species this pond held.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #5 — Yellow Perch.

Hook #5: 100-Fish Day

Big Butte Creek, Little Butte Creek, Medco Pond, Willow Lake, OR
Trip Date: August 5, 2011

“A good plan implemented today, is better than the perfect plan implemented tomorrow.”

General George S. Patton’s words should be taken to heart in our daily lives, but are especially true when it comes to fishing. Research and reading are incredibly important, but no matter how knowledgeable you are, you can’t catch fish from behind a computer or magazine.

When I set out the morning of August 5, 2011, I had a good plan: try to break my personal record for fish caught in a single day (57).

Little Butte Creek
If the first stop, Little Butte Creek, was any indicator, I had no chance.

The two Brook Trout I caught there on my favorite small Rainbow Holographic Panther Martins were beautiful, but small, and I burned almost half an hour getting them to bite.

Running Total: 2

A particularly beautiful Little Butte Creek brookie.
A particularly beautiful Little Butte Creek brookie.

Willow Lake
Day-Use Fees are commonplace at lakes throughout Southern Oregon, including at my second stop that day: Willow Lake. Unfortunately, for a broke college student who often didn’t eat on days he went fishing to account for the gas spent driving to and from the lake, paying to park was not an option.

Since the fee is charged to park a vehicle on the grounds, and hikers and cyclists don’t have to pay, I always tried to find a free place to park and then walked in when possible.

At Willow, I always parked on the Forest Service land just outside the gate on the south side of the road, then walked in to fish the corner of the dam, where the Yellow Perch congregate.

You’ll cast in a crappie jig or worm and reel it in. Maybe one or two fish will follow and nip at it. The next cast, four or five. Then a dozen. That day, despite a small school of maybe 25-30 fish trailing my jig, I caught just three of the bait-stealing fish.

It was now late afternoon, and my chances were not looking good.

Running Total: 5. 

Big Butte Creek
A few miles down the Butte Falls Highway, I stopped at Big Butte Creek, hoping the trout there would be more compliant. While I did catch two-of-three sport species found there (Coastal Cutthroat Trout, Rainbow Trout), I only caught one of each, putting my record still 50 fish away.

Running Total: 7. 

Coastal Cutthroats often hybridize with Rainbows to produce "Cutbows," but many of the fish do retain genetic purity.
Coastal Cutthroats often hybridize with Rainbows to produce “Cutbows,” but many of the fish do retain genetic purity. The fish pictured here is likely a hybrid.

Medco Pond
Driving up to Medco Pond is kind of anticlimactic. After driving 12.5 miles on the winding, dangerous Butte Falls-Prospect Road, you arrive at a gravel parking lot with no amenities. The setting is pretty, but it doesn’t look like the destination fishing spot it really is.

Most people fish along that gravel parking area, sitting in or near their cars while soaking a worm or Rainbow Power Bait for the skinny hatchery ‘bows that rarely top 10″ in length. On a good day, these folks might catch three-to-five fish apiece.

Another group will fish with a worm or crappie jig suspended under a bobber. They will often do a little better, sometimes catching as many as 10-15 fish in a day.

With 50 fish to go, I knew it was a long shot, but I also knew I didn’t fish like either group. Using a tiny ice fishing jig tipped with the smallest piece of worm I could pinch off, I caught fish after fish.

Cast, let the lure sink, then reel up a few times and repeat. It was insanely effective.

I caught 43 quite quickly, paired with the seven I’d already caught, it made 50.

Then 57. I’d tied my record.

58.

60.

70.

80.

Then it slowed. I was already breaking my personal record with each fish, but I was greedy. This close to 100, I pushed until the bitter end, hitting the mark just before dark.

Pitch counters are a great way to keep track of how many fish you've caught. I used them for almost 10 years.
Pitch counters are a great way to keep track of how many fish you’ve caught. I used them for almost 10 years.

I don’t know if it was because I liked the movie 101 Dalmatians, or maybe just because I was compulsive, but I decided to end at 101.

It took me nearly 20 minutes to catch #101. Irritating, because there had been times that day when I’d catch five or six fish on as many casts but now that I wanted just one more … well, I really couldn’t complain.

At the time, I used a pitch counter to keep track of the fish I’d caught in a day, and few things in life were more satisfying than clicking it that final, 101st time on that balmy August night.

Totals: 
84 Bluegill
6 Black Crappie
4 Largemouth Bass
3 Yellow Perch
2 Brook Trout
1 Coastal Cutthroat Trout
1 Rainbow Trout

#CaughtOvgard

Read Hook #6: Highs and Lows.