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 #57 — Yelloweye Mullet

Species: Yelloweye Mullet (Aldrichetta forsteri)
Location: Kuaotunu River, Kuaotunu, Coromandel, New Zealand
Date: February 25, 2017

I’ve already told the story of this day in elaborate detail, so I won’t talk too much about this fish.

I’ve since caught a lot of mullet (three species in three countries outside the United States), and one thing mullet typically have in common is how difficult they are to catch. Since they feed on a variety of baits, the Internet will tell you there are a lot of ways to catch them, but most of mine came on breadballs and snag hooks.

So, when I ended up catching this Yelloweye Mullet in New Zealand’s Coromandel using a beef scrap, I was very surprised. Since then, I’ve caught exactly zero mullet on meat or fish baits, so I now realize just how lucky I was.

I told you this story wasn’t long or exciting. I simply caught a mullet fishing a beef scrap in a river. I kept it for bait and proceeded to catch nothing on the cubes of bloody meat that were supposed to make great bait.

Further, even identification was easy. It was a mullet with a yellow eye, so the first Google search turned up my answer.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #58 — Kahawai.

Species #56 — Shortfin Eel

This Shortfin Eel wouldn’t cooperate, so I couldn’t get a very good picture. It was good enough for an ID, though. Longfin Eels wrinkle when bent while Shortfins like this don’t wrinkle.

Species: Shortfin Eel (Anguilla australis)
Location: Kuaotunu River, Kuaotunu, Coromandel, New Zealand
Date: February 25, 2017

The Tunnifar is a mythical beast found in the waters of New Zealand. It is storied to be half-man, half-eel and comes out to feed when it feels so inclined. It is inspired by real monsters native to this country, and is almost as terrifying in real life.

From the moment I watched Jeremy Wade chase slimy black River Monsters in New Zealand that converged on him by the hundreds and began taking bites at his protective clothing, I knew I had to do this.

The Longfin Eel is endemic to New Zealand, while the Shortfin Eel is found in numerous locations. The Australian Mottled Eel is an invasive transplant from Australia. All three can be found in New Zealand’s beautiful riverine environments.

***

While I wanted to catch eels from the day I landed, it took some trouble finding them. Apart from isolated Maori populations, nobody actually fishes for them except for occasional novelty. This made finding a fishable population difficult.

Since the blood of this species is slightly poisonous, most people avoid using hooks. Instead, they soak wool or other dense fabrics with blood or scent, then wait for a bite. Once the fish entangles its teeth in the fabric, they pull it in.

This sounded great, but I was unable to try it. Instead, I used a simple bait setup with pieces of bloody beef scraps we got for free from a butcher.

***

The Kuaotunu River was a great place. I added more species here than anywhere else in the country — including in the ocean.

Since the water was clear, fish were spooky. Since the water was clear, we could also see what was there.

I spent most of the afternoon trying to catch a 5-foot Australian Mottled Eel. Though I got it to bite twice, it started an alligator-esque death roll that quickly allowed it to get free.

What I did catch was a Shortfin Eel. Then another.

Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner.

Shortfin and Longfin Eels are identical to the untrained eye. You can tell them apart because Longfins “wrinkle” or show visible skin flaps at each of their bends while Shortfins do not.

Neither fish was large, but they were fun to catch. The unique death roll made for quite an enterprise on light tackle. They were too long for my net, so I just had to beach them on the grassy bank.

These sunglasses ruin the picture. Damn.

While I never did catch a monster Mottled or Longfin like Jeremy Wade, I did still manage a river monster or two and had a great time doing it.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #57 — Yelloweye Mullet.

Species #54 — Estuarine Triplefin

This mystery fish took five years to identify.

Species: Estuarine Triplefin (Forsterygion nigripenne)
Location: Kuaotunu River, Kuaotunu, Coromandel, New Zealand
Date: February 25, 2017

Mystery is a genre I love to read but fail to write much of. Even investigative journalism is a reach for me, and I’ve spent five years as a journalist.

The investigative process of which coffee shop makes the best breakfast sandwich in Klamath Falls (it’s the Gathering Grounds Pesto English Muffin Sandwich with bacon and prosciutto, for the record) or something equally trivial pales in comparison to the latest Dean Koontz novel anyway, so sticking to what I know is out of the question if I want to be successful in the Mystery genre.

***

This mystery begins as all stories do, in a sleepy town you’ve probably never heard of with an everyman and his ordinary life.

The man, of course, was me.

The sleepy town was Kuaotunu, a coastal village in New Zealand’s Coromandel where tranquility and paradise are locked in an eternal struggle to determine which makes the better adjective for the subtitle under
“Kuaotunu” under the town’s quaint wooden sign.

A small river which bears the same name as the town itself wends lazily through the floodplain and into the Tasman Sea along grassy slopes so strangely manicured and unlike the coastline in most places that it invokes a surreality reminiscent of Super Mario’s Mushroom Kingdom.

Seriously. It was a magical place.

A massive, gnarled tree with alien-looking branches stands watch over the mouth of the river. From it’s largest branch hangs a tire swing swaying like a pendulum in the waning light of the afternoon, inviting the small children frolicking around the area to sit and play.

Along one bank of the river, a campground complete with small cabins hugged the shore while further from the water, at the base of a small hillock, the town’s lone restaurant, Luke’s Kitchen, cast an unassuming shadow over the cars parked out front.

Luke’s Kitchen was, in fact, its name. My name is Luke, and while that small similarity was not lost on me, neither was the connection it drew to Gilmore Girls’ flagship diner, I’m ashamed to admit.

Jandals (that’s Kiwi for flip-flops), guitars, beach bums joined me at every meal here.

Incongruities of Mystery and Rom-Com aside, the diner served a wonderful Green Mussel Special that I gorged myself upon at least twice while spending time there before returning to the river to fish for any number of species found in its intertidal zone.

My target species was Longfin Eels, endemic to New Zealand, but I had no such luck. I managed half a dozen species and even hooked two species of eel (Shortfin and Australian Mottled) but never got my Longfin.

Since fishing for those eels was sightfishing, I noticed a lot. With my eyes intent and fixed on the water below, I noticed a lot of little fish darting around on the bottom. They looked like sculpins, so I figured I’d be able to catch a few with the tiny jigs I used Stateside.

My instincts were correct. The tiny fish barely longer than my finger devoured the small jig. I caught a lot of them in short order before trying to for something else.

This fish was both totes adorbs and an uggo.

Unfortunately, I had no idea what they were. Not that day, not that week, not when I left New Zealand.

***

I bought a few books about fish identification in the South Pacific later in 2013. Nothing.

I read countless papers, species lists, and forums. Nothing.

2014 came and went without an answer.

Years passed, and I revisited “Unknown New Zealand Species” again because in writing the story of each and every species I’ve caught, I knew “Unknown New Zealand Species” was fast-approaching, and I refused to have an unidentified species on my list.

Since it was neither a game fish nor a freshwater fish (New Zealand has a relatively short list of native freshwater fishes), it continued to elude me.

Then, on a whim, I decided to read an article about New Zealand’s Marine Reserves. It included a contact email for questions, and I decided to give it a try.

Within 48 hours, I got a reply:

“Hi Luke,

Your fish is the estuarine triplefin, Forsterygion nigripenne. Note the three dorsal fins from which it gets its name (bullies only have 1 or 2). The triplefins are mostly a marine group but this species penetrates into estuaries and the lower reaches of rives that are a bit brackish.

Regards,

Malcolm Francis”

I had an ID! After five years of searching, my #SpeciesQuest within a #SpeciesQuest had come to an end.

***

Crazily, in the research process, I actually found a bonus species. That’s the next story: a Sci-Fi tale about cloning gone wrong, how one fish became two.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #55 — Northern Kahawai.

Species #52 — Common Rudd

Common Rudd look like dozens of other cyprinids, but they’re upturned mouths and relatively small dorsal fins distinctly separate them from goldfish.

Species: Common Rudd (Scardinius erythrophthalmus)
Location: Lake Pupuke, Auckland, New Zealand
Date: February 19, 2017

There aren’t many native freshwater fish in New Zealand. There aren’t many non-native ones, either.

Along with European Perch and Brown Trout, the Common Rudd is one of several species European settlers brought with them to the tiny island nation, and it has thrived where planted.

So, when I managed to entice a small, gold fish to inhale my jig after having already caught several European Perch, it was just icing on the cake.

It looked like a goldfish, but I knew it wasn’t. Namely, the dorsal fin was too small. I’d spent a lot of time researching what was available, and I quickly identified the Common Rudd I’d just caught.

Night fell hard, and the bite died, so David and I decided to head out.

***

We hopped into the car and made our way back to the park’s entrance only to find a locked gate across the road.

***

A call to David’s parents got us a ride, but our car was stuck there for the duration of the evening. We came back the next day, the car no worse for wear.

This was the last new entirely freshwater species I caught down under, but it would not be the last time I got locked in someplace while fishing.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #53 — Blue Cod.

 

Species #41 — Klamath River Lamprey

Klamath River Lamprey are otherworldly creatures that don’t quite look Earth-born.
Photo courtesy UC Davis.

Species: Klamath River Lamprey (Lampetra similis)
Location: Klamath River, Keno, OR
Date: June 3, 2012

Up until this point in my Blogosphere, every species has been captured directly on hook and line. Every fish was, in fact, legally captured after being hooked in the mouth. I know what you’re thinking, and this fish wasn’t snagged.

I typically count a new species as long as it was legally captured. For some species, hands and snag hooks are legal. For others, bow-and-arrow, spear, or even net suffice. For Species #40, neither hook nor hand caught it, but it was still a first.

***

Anyone who has fished the Klamath Basin has seen the telltale pockmarks and battle wounds our large native Redbands wear with honor. Many think these are leech marks, and while some of the minor marks might be, most are caused by another type of parasite: lampreys.

Lampreys are terrifying, parasitic eel-like creatures stranger than fiction that would seem to be more at home in the Cretaceous  than modern times. They attach themselves to larger fish with a circular mouth full of irregular teeth that cleave to the host and allow the lamprey to suck blood.

Pacific Lamprey is a well-known species that are fished for by a number of specialty anglers. There are several lesser-known lampreys living in the Klamath Basin that are related to these larger, ocean-going menaces. These include the Klamath River and Miller Lake Lampreys — both of which are rarely caught by anglers — and some others that may or may not just be subspecies like the lampreys once found in Miller Creek below Gerber Dam.

Regardless, they are neither well-known nor hotly pursued fish.

***

Deep in the Klamath River Canyon, I landed another respectable Redband Trout. As I lifted the net, I noticed a black, writhing mass that I initially mistook for a leech. It was, in fact, a succubus of pescal proportions.

As the black form contorted in ways only a creature possessed could manage, I took a moment to try and photograph the horrendous monstrosity.

It didn’t really take, and I wasn’t too keen to hold it for any longer than necessary.

I released it and with it, a case of the willies, knowing I’d just caught my first lamprey.

Like many other species I’ve caught, it wasn’t until the trip ended, and I’d had time to do some research that I learned its name: Klamath River Lamprey.

The picture came out blurry, but this is the first lamprey I caught.
These fish don’t cooperate for photos very well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

***

I’ve netted several with large trout since, and I even caught one by hand that was rooting for hapless prey at the waterline in Upper Klamath Lake. Though all have been 5-7 inches long, I know they get a lot bigger.

While microfishing for sculpins in Link River last month, I noticed a snake rooting in the substrate. Only it wasn’t a snake. This fish was every bit of 10 inches long and maybe larger. Its diameter was much larger than a 12-gauge shotshell, and it, too, was a lamprey.

These fish are officially protected, though anyone who has fished the lake and seen their mark will know they’re doing just fine.

I’ve wanted to try targeting them with a bloody piece of meat as I used for freshwater eels in New Zealand, but you’re not supposed to target protected fish, and there’s really no other justification for using red meat in local waters.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #42 — Grass Rockfish.

Species #22 — Northern Pikeminnow

When the dog days of summer hit, and the trout go dormant, fish for pikeminnows during mid-day to slake your thirst for hard-fighting fish.

Species: Northern Pikeminnow (Ptychocheilus oregonensis)
Location: Umatilla River, Pendleton, OR
Date: July 21, 2008

We’ve established I hate baseball.

I respect it and those who play it, but it bores me to tears. So, when my brother Gabe’s team made it to the Little League state championship tournament for a chance at the Little League World Series, I was excited for him. Until I wasn’t.

Then I moved on to other things.

I’d just been given a cell phone as a graduation present. It flipped open and closed which seemed kind of cool, but it looked ridiculous, and it was one more thing I had to carry in my pocket.

I knew these were popular already, but they seemed a little unnecessary for everyday use. Still, I took a few really grainy photos of the fish I caught shortly after ditching the game to fish the river behind the stadium.

At the time, I had no clue what the fish were, but those photos later helped me identify them as Northern Pikeminnow.

These underrated “trash fish” aren’t the most popular sport fish, but they fight well, hit the same things trout do, and can actually grow quite large. The specimens I caught that day were all 7-to-9 inches, though.

Oh well. A new species is always better than baseball.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #23 — Brown Bullhead.

Species #17 — Tui Chub

I remember catching chubs while fishing as a kid, but I didn’t keep records until 2004, and it was four years after that before I caught another of these underappreciated creatures.

Species: Tui Chub (Gila bicolor)
Location: Lost River
Date: April 13, 2008

Before I learned where to chase big trout in the spring, I used to drive out to Crystal Springs County Park during Spring Break or any time I had free from sports. Lonely Luke would fish for anything that would strike his lonely worm.

I’d camp on the bridge or off a point upstream of the bridge for a few hours and soak worms, rain or shine.

***

Dad had told me stories of how he used to fill his bike basket with plate-sized crappie there as a kid, and I went out with high hopes every trip. Sadly, they’d be crushed time after time.

My catch rate was miserable. I caught next-to-nothing, and I sure as Hell didn’t catch any crappie.

***

But one fine day, I caught a slimy, silver, trout-looking thing without teeth. It fought well, and it took me a moment to realize it was a chub.

I’d caught them before, but in the four years’ time since I’d decided to keep track of my fishing endeavors, and clearly it had been at least four years since I caught one.

While it technically wasn’t Species #17, for the sake of my list, it is.

And that, kids, is how to end a relatively uneventful story on a resounding low note.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #18 — Tui Chub.