Species: Rock Bass (Ambloplites rupestris) Location: Buffalo, New York Date: July 18, 2018
People always look to be exceptional. They long for that place where they stick out, are the exception to the rule.
Alas, I’m no different. My first Rock Bass, pictured above, was obviously a Rock Bass. I caught it in a park-like slough of the Niagara River where it looked natural on one side and completely artificial on the other.
The fish were plentiful, and I saw schools of micros almost immediately. They were far from shore, and I struggled to reach them, so I reached for my smaller rod.
I propped the micro rod against a rock but dropped my other rod, fitted with a small worm-tipped jig. It fell into the water, with the jig dangling just a few feet off shore.
Before I could even pick it up, a small sunfish had pummeled my jig.
My lifer Rock Bass was that simple.
I took a few pictures of the fish, and the lighting, crystal-clear water, and pretty little fish made for a perfect photo shoot.
I switched to targeting micros after that.
Changing gears after the productive micro session, I went to a small pond. I was hoping for a Norther Pike or Northern Sunfish, but the creek flowing into the pond was full of everything but.
It wasn’t long before I caught something a little unique.
My first thought was Shadow Bass, a close relative of the Rock Bass, but it was out of range for the species. It looked nothing like the Rock Bass I’d caught hours before, and it was a sight to behold.
It could’ve been a Shadow Bass, but given the range and no physically observable differences, everyone on NANFA voted Rock Bass.
Like most other people, I wanted to be that one-off. That once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence, but Occam’s Razor told me that probably wasn’t the case.
Assuming the simplest solution is probably the right one (Occam’s Razor), this was probably a Rock Bass, but a small part of me still holds out that it was an out-of-range Shadow Bass.
Species: Jack Dempsey Cichlid (Rocio octofasciata) Location: Orlando, Florida Date: July 8, 2018
The Jack Dempsey Cichlid was one of a few “longshots” I had on my Target List for my visit to Orlando. I knew they’d been recorded, but based on my research, only in scattered pockets, isolated ponds, and the like.
In fact, their range is supposed to be decreasing, rather than increasing.
Well, if the half dozen or so I landed are any indication, they’re still holding out in a few places, prancing around the ring and refusing to give up.
Apparently, they’ll need a knockout punch rather than a judge’s decision to finally admit defeat.
Species: Black Acara (Cichlasoma bimaculatum) Location: Orlando, Florida Date: July 8, 2018
I was told these would be easy to catch. Once I found them, that proved true. Unfortunately, I struck out several times before finding the sweet spot.
Alas, it was worth the wait.
When I did find them, I also found half a dozen other species, including sunfish, killifish, and two more cichlids.
The Black Acara doesn’t get very big, but is is a pretty species. Since cichlids are generally a hot mess in terms of genetic purity and capable of hybridizing with dozens of others. This made identification even more difficult, but I managed.
It was actually Ryan Crutchfield of fishmap.org who helped me identify it, as well as the surprise species I caught minutes later.
Species: Redbreast Sunfish (Lepomis auritus) Location: Little Wekiva River, Florida Date: July 8, 2018
Though I was born and raised in Oregon, I’m a flip-flop man. I would’ve said I’m a thong man, but some of my students read this blog, and this isn’t the 90s anymore; “thongs” don’t have anything to do with feet these days.
This is a family-friendly blog, and this post is already about Redbreasts, so I have to choose my words carefully.
I have a confession to make, and this is a good platform to do it on. Here goes: I’m afraid I haven’t caught a lot of really common species.
I know, it’s shameful. I try to not to talk about it, but in the Species Hunting community, there are a lot of species most everyone in the community has but me. Cool cool.
Redbreast Sunfish, common across the United States, were one such species.
For that reason, I decided to target them in the same place I hoped to catch a few darter and shiner species.
And I’d done my research.
Pierce Sanders, who I met by stalking Instagram (@finnafishfl) and Fishbrain for hours and hours prior to my trip, gave me the down-low on the spot.
I’d watched his YouTube channel, Finna Fish, as I compiled my list of target species. I watched the video in which he caught darters, shiners, and sunfish from an overhanging tree branch in the very river I intended to fish.
It was “finna” be lit.
As I parked and walked to what I thought was the river, I struck out a few times. But hey, it’s Florida. You have to bring your A-Game, or you’re gonna strike out.
Fortunately, I got lost just as an attractive jogger stopped nearby to stretch. I used my best lost tourist face as I approached.
We flirted just a lot, but I had work to do, so I stopped appreciating Florida’s greatest natural resource, took her directions with a smile and a nod, and headed to the river through the jungle that was almost as thick as the jogger.
Growing up in Oregon, I never really feared poison oak. I fished all of the time, and I’d been exposed to it dozens of times. It didn’t affect me at all. Until the day it did.
On my first attempt at steelhead fishing, I managed to get exposed and suffered for weeks afterwards. It left physical scars in the short term, but the emotional scars stuck with me.
Thong man, err … flip-flop man that I am, I found the thick vegetation separating me and the river was unnerving. My bare legs and feet brushed up against vegetation I couldn’t identify but knew wasn’t any of the the “Big Three” urushiol-producing plants, so I pressed on.
Miraculously, I made it to the water unscathed.
Bluegill came first because of course they did, but Spotted Sunfish followed suit. I had both, but at least Spotted Sunfish are cool fish and something I don’t catch every day. Bluegill, on the other hand, are pretty mainstream, so I opted to leave the main stream.
Right where a small spring fed it’s trickle into the larger water body, a log split the river and made a small but deep pool.
It promptly yielded a Redbreast.
I landed half a dozen shapely, sun-kissed trophies, and I caught some fish, too.
I’m kidding, of course.
According to Steve Wozniak, my friend and legendary Species Hunter Ben Cantrell is the only Species Hunter “rampaging his way through … swimsuit models,” so I guess I’ll just have to stick with pretty fish instead.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Species: Nile Tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) Location: Phoenix, Arizona Date: November 16, 2017
This story is part of a larger story involving me, a bold cockroach, disappointment, and elusive Grass Carp.
Since I’m going to retell much of this story in the subsequent post about Species #111 — Grass Carp, I’ll just focus on the tilapia here.
After meeting Chris Moore (@arizona_anglers on Instagram), and getting a ton of great fishing spots from him, I’d vowed to be sure to chase Grass Carp, called White Amur locally, since they’re in virtually every waterway in the Phoenix area.
My quest led me to a pond in the heart of the city known to contain Grass Carp upwards of 30 pounds. Knowing this, I brought only gear for large Grassies. I had the usual Owner No. 6 Mosquito hooks I like for carp when fishing corn. I also had some smaller doughbait trebles on-hand for floating bread balls on the surface.
What I didn’t have was any hook smaller than a No. 6. So as I sat in the low light cast by a nearby lamppost and watched tiny fish I knew to be tilapia stripping my floating bread off of the surface, and then, to my horror, off my hook, I was frustrated.
It wasn’t long before I lost hope in the Grass Carp and decided to try catching one of these bastages. So I waited, and fished the little bread ball like a dry fly, waiting until I watched it dip and then lifting up on my rod. I lifted up too slowly and missed.
This series of events repeated half a dozen times before I finally lifted up hard and fast. A fish had been hooked, however briefly, and I watched as it lifted out of the water. My line tightened, and the barely-hooked fish came free of my line, the hook pulled out by inertia.
That little fish rocketed five or ten feet into the air, arcing right down into the space between my legs.
You can call it a fish story, but you’re just in de-Nile if you do.
Species: Blue Tilapia (Oreochromis aureus) Location: Gila River, Phoenix, Arizona Date: November 16, 2017
I knew Redbelly Tilapia weren’t the only exotic cichlids present in the Gila River, so I continued fishing, being careful to check every one of the 23 Redbellies I caught for signs of being either Blue or Nile Tilapia, both of which can be found in the Phoenix area.
Eventually, I found one that looked just a little different. It was less rounded and and had a more pointed snout, plus its tail was heavily patterned.
Challenge completed, I began looking for other species. The river contains Sailfin Molly and a few other micros, but I had yet to start microfishing at this point. I’d purchased a pack of New Half Moon hooks to get the painfully easy Western Mosquitofish, but I left them at home.
It would be another month before I got to try microfishing for real.
So instead of micros, I looked for the “Plecos” that were supposed to be in the Gila because at least I had a shot, if a long one. No dice.
At 50 fish, I stopped for the day and headed back because I had some work responsibilities to attend to.
Species: Redbelly Tilapia (Tilapia zillii) Location: Gila River, Phoenix, Arizona Date: November 16, 2017
While the first Rio Grande Cichlid was easy to catch, the next dozen or so fish I caught were Redbelly Tilapia. These feisty and beautiful little fish came out of the weeds with every drop, looking to pounce of any- and everything I dropped into the water.
It wasn’t challenging fishing, but it was a blast, as I worked my way to first 50-plus-fish day outside the state of Oregon.
I wanted to explore and look for new species, for big bass I assumed had to be there, and to hunt for the elusive plecostomus catfish I’d heard lived nearby, but I couldn’t pry myself away from the fast-paced action the tilapia afforded.
Using a tiny jig tipped with worm was the ticket, and though success dropped off after a few hours when my worms were disgusting mush tubes instead of recognizable bait, it was still worth the walk in to that part of the river along the long, dusty road.