Category Archives: Rough Fishing

Species #159 — Freshwater Drum

Everyone marches to a beat, but I march to the beat of my own drum.

Species: Freshwater Drum (Aplodinotus grunniens)
Location: Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada
Date: July 17, 2018

I’ve always been a little different.

I was blessed with some great individual friends, but I was never in a clique, nor was I the cool kid. I felt like I hit my stride just off of everyone around me, the flam to their downbeat.

Making friends was never a problem, but fitting into a group or a team was.

It’s not to say I didn’t like people, but I was bullied and alienated enough growing up that I learned not to need people.

Since I didn’t date much and liked clothes, everyone called me gay.

Since I didn’t drink or smoke or experiment with drugs, everyone called me the “straight arrow” said I was “too good” or just left me out of the conversation. It kept me out of trouble, but it also kept me further from the mainstream.

In fifth grade, after having played the recorder for a full year, I decided to join band. My first choice was to play flute, but after a week of mockery from my classmates, I opted for the drums instead.

It was this concession that (ironically) started a slow and painful process in which I would eventually learn to march to the beat of my own drum.

***

The Freshwater Drum is the only North American member of the Scieaenidae family found exclusively in freshwater. It is capable of fighting almost as hard as Redfish or Black Drum and grows to 50 pounds.

Yet, for some reason, people don’t like it. They leave it out of the conversations as a game fish. Leave it out of the conversations for hardest-fighting fish. Leave it out.

Little did I know that this fish was actively making the case to be my spirit animal…

***

While in Buffalo, New York for a conference, I opted to stay just across the river in Fort Erie, Ontario because it was markedly cheaper. I failed to account for the toll required every time you cross into Canada, but even still, the $65 CAD was a steal.

The only downside of Fort Erie is the poor layout which limits access anywhere but back across the Niagara River or north deeper into Canada.

Apart from a riverfront park that stretched on for miles, there was effectively nowhere to fish.

So when the conference ended, I resigned myself to just fish where I could: along the seawall.

I was hoping for a Golden Redhorse, Walleye, or a Northern Pike, but chose the classic Canadian Nightcrawler (because, well, Canada). I impaled the entire worm on an Owner No. 6 Mosquito Hook at the end of an 18-inch leader held down by a one-ounce slip sinker in the ripping current.

Blind fishing was the name of the game, and I played music on my phone to rock out as I slowly walked the seawall and peered into the clear waters reflecting the sunset.

As I peered into the water, my heart skipped a beat when I saw what appeared, at first glance, to be a school of large Common Carp feeding actively on the riverbed.

Though carp don’t normally take worms, I was optimistic, so I reeled up and drifted my bait into position ahead of the feeding fish.

My rod bounced rhythmically with a tap-tap-thump before I was into a solid fish.

***

The current made the fight even more impressive, and I was forced to jump the seawall and make my way to one of the small stone staircases spread out about 100 yards apart down the length of the structure.

It was impressive, I’m sure, as I vaulted the structure, pushing against each of the two walls with one flip-flop-wielding foot while holding my rod in one hand and bracing myself with the other.

Slowly, I made my way Prince of Persia style down to the water, where I made my first attempt at landing the fish without a net.

I gasped as I realized it wasn’t a carp —  drumroll, please — but a drum. A Freshwater Drum! It was the last fish I was expecting, but I was stoked.

Freshwater Drum are awesome. They grow large, fight hard, and are absolutely gorgeous in parts of their range.

I landed it, took some pictures and let it go.

***

That night and every night for the remainder of the trip found me performing acrobatics I never tried in marching band as I tried again and again to beat the drum.

I’d say I did beat the drum. I landed more than dozen Freshwater Drum (called “Sheepshead” locally for some reason) from three to eight pounds, releasing all of them back into the mighty Niagara.

This fish looked a little sad, but I encouraged it that it had value even if others neglected and spurned it. I convinced it to march to the beat of its own drum.

It was probably the most unexpected way for a fishing trip in Canada to turn out, but what can I say? This little drummer boy has always been a little different.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #160 — Rock Bass.


Species #158 — Shorthead Redhorse

The only sucker I’ve caught that was easy: the Shorthead Redhorse.

Species: Shorthead Redhorse (Moxostoma macrolepidotum)
Location: Caledonia, Ontario, Canada
Date: July 16, 2018

I live in Oregon, a place where half of our native suckers are threatened or endangered, and the other half can be difficult to locate and catch. Apart from Largescale Sucker, none of the sucker species we have are caught very often.

Oh how strange this is when compared to the rest of North America and the 100 or so sucker species found there. Suckers are not only common, but they can be downright easy to catch in certain places outside of our wonderfully strange state.

Take, for instance, the Shorthead Redhorse.

On a tip from Ken Tse (read his blog here), I headed outside of Toronto proper to a semi-rural community on the Grand River. He put me just below a small dam in a scenic, grassy park. There were obviously fish around, and I quickly caught a small Smallmouth Bass.

I could see a few micros, but the fast current and skittish nature of those particular micros only held my attention for 20 minutes or so. When I finally caught a micro, it was another smallie, so I opted to pursue the redhorse I’d actually driven there to catch.

Several species were on the table, though Shorthead Redhorse were supposed to be the most common.

My intel proved correct, and after about an hour of sitting on half of a nightcrawler purchased at the bait shop up the hill, my first rod bounced.

Given the strange angle I was fishing below the dam, I had one rod out perpendicular to the shore and another sort quartering away downstream.

Without going into the science of it all, and the fact that there was so much water to cover, it would’ve been nearly impossible for me to hit my target with just one rod. There had to be a second rod.

I reeled the second rod (or was it the first?) as a small, unsuspecting crowd watched from picnic blankets on the grassy knoll.

The last thing they expected was for my shot to ring out over the din, my splitshot, that is.

Unfortunately, I was in the process of retying my micro rod and spilled splitshot all over as I fumbled towards my bouncing rod.

Regardless, I connected.

I was stoked. Not only had I caught a new species, but it was one of the most beautiful fish I’ve ever caught in freshwater.

Knowing at least enough to snap pictures of the fish in profile as well as pictures of its mouth, I released it. I knew it was a Shorthead thanks to a particularly helpful infographic I found online.

Know Your Redhorses! If only someone could make one of these for Pacific Northwest freshwater sculpins…

The bite died, and I decided to move, instead going to the less accessible side that required a minimal hike down.

While the first fish had taken an hour or two, the second took less than five minutes.

The river on the other side was more conducive to fishing for suckers, which tend to prefer transitional zones between current and slower water, specifically behind current breaks.

Lo and behold, a redhorse was waiting behind the first rock I cast to.

I was pretty stoked at this point, thinking I’d figured them out. Also, this is a pretty good picture of me. At least, 1-in-50 women in Tinder think so.

Again, I took the profile and mouth pictures even though I knew at first glance this was a Shorthead.

My other rod bounced while I was taking this picture, and I had Fish No. 3.

Don’t be jealous of how pretty my fish are.

At this point, I was having fun, but I realized I had a long drive back to Fort Erie, the Canadian town right across the border from Buffalo, where I was staying.

I hopped in the car and drove on.

***

After spending my evenings chasing the fish that surpassed Common Carp as my favorite “rough fish” for the next few evenings — Species #159 — I tied into something else.

I battled it to the bank against the current of the staunch Niagara River and landed it with some impressive acrobatics while flagging down a passerby to take a picture for me.

I originally identified this fish as a Golden Redhorse because it didn’t have the red tail I’d seen on the other Shortheads I’d captured, but I was later told it was another Shorthead.

Cross-referencing the infographic above confirmed it was a Shorthead — just a monster. The notched dorsal fin and 44 lateral line scales were enough to overshadow the lack of red tail.

Still, it was a beast of a Shorthead at 25″ and 4.6 pounds.

Just a pound shy of the world record. Too bad. It would’ve been my first international record.

I was targeting something else, but when this bad boy hooked, I wasn’t disappointed. Notice Buffalo in the background. Also notice the flexing right bicep. Don’t notice that this shirt was too small.

I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end the evening and an incredible trip.

I’d really enjoyed Canada, and I smiled when I got to get my redhorse on and ride into the sunset.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #159 — Freshwater Drum.


Species #150 — Golden Shiner

America’s favorite baitfish proved a little harder to catch than I anticipated.

Species: Golden Shiner (Notemigonus crysoleucas)
Location: Orlando, Florida
Date: July 10, 2018

A school of Golden Shiners pestered me for almost an hour at the Lake Fran Urban Wetlands. I knew what they were, and I knew I’d never caught one, but for the life of me, I just couldn’t get one to bite.

They were holding far out from shore, and I didn’t want to soak my boots or go to the car for a longer rod, so I spent a fruitless hour trying to get one to bite. To make matters worse, they were holding just under the surface, wouldn’t touch anything more than two inches below the surface.

Add to that my lack of floats, and my confidence sunk faster than my micro rig.

***

After trying a pond I was told was full of them and fighting off Bluegill and turtles for the better part of an hour with no Golden Shiners to show for it, I returned to the spot from the day before.

Though it was slow-going, it proved the right idea. Eventually, my bread chumming paid off, and I got a Golden Shiner, then a few more.

Eventually, I got one. Then I got three more in quick succession. Then, I stopped because they’re Golden Shiners.

All the commotion even attracted the attention of the tiniest little predator around, a certain topminnow species that I desperately wanted to catch…

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #151 — Golden Topminnow.


Species #149 — Walking Catfish

Had I caught my first Walking Catfish by jigging, this story would be longer.

Species: Walking Catfish (Clarias batrachus)
Location: Orlando, Florida
Date: July 10, 2018

I remember reading about Walking Catfish in one of the dozen or so outdoor magazines I subscribed to growing up. Yes, I spent virtually all of my disposable income in junior high and high school on magazines, but that’s beside the point.

At the time, Walking Catfish were relatively isolated and just beginning to march across much of their current range in Florida. Magazines painted them to be some vicious monster that would decimate fisheries on a large scale.

Some 15-20 years later, we know that was overblown. Like most invasives, they do cause harm to the environment because the niche they carve out displaces some other (usually native) species, but in the case of Walking Catfish, they haven’t radially changed the Florida scumsucker hierarchy. Lawyers still rule, followed slightly by Channel Catfish, Flatheads (where present), and then Brown Bullheads, Walking Catfish, and Brown Hoplo. The latter is another invasive and one “easy” species I failed to capture on my first trip to Orlando, but I’m not bitter.

Brown Bullhead, a Florida native, are so widely established across the country that even though they may have lost some territory to the Walking Catfish, they are doing just fine.

***

As for my Walking Catfish, I caught it in a disgusting swill hole at a park. It was flush with Eastern MosquitofishBowfin, and Walking Catfish. I finally added this species while soaking half a nightcrawler on a No. 8 hook.

The fight was forgettable, and though at the time it was a vacant world record, I knew that was short-lived, so I made like a ball and bounced. The record of six-plus pounds has since been recorded, reaffirming my decision to leave when I did.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #150 — Golden Shiner.


Species #148 — Longnose Gar

The first Longnose Gar I got to hit was a monster. This fish was respectable. Not monstrous, but I was still stoked.

Species: Longnose Gar (Lepisosteus osseus)
Location: Orlando, Florida
Date: July 9, 2018

Admittedly, tarpon was my favorite catch in Florida, and the biggest prize for me as an angler, but the Longnose Gar I caught was a close second.

Read about it here.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #149 — Walking Catfish.


Species #143 — Bowfin

Bowfin are awesome fish. They can breathe air, will hit everything from cutbait to topwaters, and they’re incredibly tenacious.

Species: Bowfin (Amia calva)
Location: Orlando, Florida
Date: July 8, 2018

My seventh and final new species of the day made for a grand finale. This was my third-best day for new species, taking the Bronze to Croatia’s Gold and California’s Silver.

The final species was one of my top targets, the Bowfin. Along with tarpon and gar, few things were up so high on my list.

Though Bowfin aren’t considered trophies by most, they are aggressive toothy predators often compared to bass and snakehead, though I find them cooler than either of the other species.

I’d struck out several times, mainly because catfish and gar and bass kept getting in the way. When I finally did hook one, it was short-lived. Almost immediately, the beast broke me off in a submerged snag.

I tied again and hoped for the best.

I didn’t have to wait long. My rod doubled, and I reeled in my first Bowfin. It wasn’t huge and 20 inches long and just over three pounds, but I was stoked.

You can totally lip a Bowfin if you grab it right.

As I was taking the above picture, my other two rods doubled over.

Unfortunately, one of the fish broke off and the other just came free. I have a feeling one was more than twice the size of my little three-pounder, but I was just happy to add a new species.

Heck to the yeah.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #144 — Ladyfish.


Species #135 — Florida Gar

If I could one family of fish we don’t have in Oregon to bring to Oregon, it would be gar. Then again, a single Florida Gar like the one pictured was found in an Oregon river in 1999, so you never know…

Species: Florida Gar (Lepisosteus platyrhincus)
Location: Lake Fran Urban Wetlands, Orlando, FL
Date: July 7, 2018

Gar are so cool, man.

These fish can gulp air, will take most lures as well as bait, flies, and topwaters. I once had a four-foot Longnose Gar hit a Whopper Plopper three times during the retrieve.

Not to mention, gar are more durable than trout, less pressured than bass, and have giant teeth. What’s not to love?

***

My first night in Florida, I tried for Bowfin and Florida Gar in vain. I spotted a few in the flooded grass as I walked with my headlamp cutting away the darkness, but they were skittish.

I returned the next day with Florida Gar atop my very long target list.

***

Since Florida, like most states other than Oregon, allows the use of live bait, I figured I’d try throwing on a small, live sunfish in hopes of enticing a massive Florida Bass. I’d already caught some small ones, but this was Florida. I needed a monster, and I hadn’t seen a single gar in daylight.

I tried sight-fishing my live Bluegill up against the bank to a nearby bass, opening the spool to let it run for what I thought was an inevitable take. I was standing a good 20 feet above the water, on a high bank that lined a canal connecting two sections of the flooded wetlands-turned-lake.

On my very first cast, I could feel my bait getting violated by a much larger fish, so I let it sit for just a moment, but not long enough to allow the fish to swallow — I didn’t want a gut-hooked fish, after all.

I closed the bail, tightened my line, and set the hook hard. Too hard, really.

I was using my the heaviest spinning rod I’d brought to Florida, a G. Loomis GL2 Salmon/Steelhead rod, and as I yanked on the link, a fish that was very much not a bass came flying out of the water, in a direct trajectory for my face, at easily 20 or 30 miles per hour.

I ducked under the toothy missile, just saving my beautiful face from becoming all garred up. Sorry, scarred up.

As the line reached full extension on the grassy bank behind me, the hook popped free and boomeranged the gar back at my ankles.

It landed inches away, sitting surprisingly calmly in the grass still soaked from the previous night’s rain.

All of this elapsed in about five seconds, and I was panting and shaking with fear as much as excitement from landing my first Florida Gar — unconventional though it was.

I grabbed a quick picture and let it go.

When handling these toothy beasts, you have to exercise caution. Safety is not gar-anteed.

I swear the armor-plated fish gave me the ole side eye, as if to say “Are you sure you’re a real fisherman?” as it swam away.

Hooking into several more of them over the next few days using cutbait, Rapalas, and even a worm would prove to that high-flying gar that I did know what I was doing.

That is, as long as we don’t tell it that the final gar stole a worm intended for a Brown Hoplo and sliced my finger open when I tried to unhook it barehanded without the help of pliers.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #136 — Dollar Sunfish.


Species #132 — Vermiculated Sailfin Catfish

Catching these guys was tricky. I tried snagging them outright at first, but their armor plating makes that tough. I switched gears and worked on my timing to snag it in the mouth. Then I repeated it.

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

My first night in Florida amounted to me being terrified for my life as I tried night fishing for Florida Gar and Bowfin.

A gun went off within 50 yards of where I was standing, and I lost it. Read that terrifying/embarrassing story here.

I caught a single Spotted Sunfish and a Florida Bass by hand. This isn’t a legal fishing method in Florida, and every other species on my list hasn’t been counted unless it was caught by traditional fishing techniques. Plus, I’m pretty sure catching bass by hand isn’t legal in Florida, so I deferred it down the list until I caught one for real.

I did notice some massive plecostomus right up against the shoreline after awhile and opted to try for those. They wouldn’t touch bait, so I tried to snag them. It’s legal, and I normally count any legal methods.

I hooked one in the side after numerous failed attempts, but it was not a good hookup, and the surprisingly strong fish quickly popped free.

By then it was almost 1:30 a.m., and reverse jet-lag or not, I needed some sleep.

***

I returned the next day and decided to start with other fish, though I caught nothing new.

Eventually, I found myself looking at the loud designs of a Vermiculated Sailfin Catfish once again.

I tried and failed to snag it, so I changed gears.

“What about flossing?” I wondered aloud.

The technique anglers use to float a hook into the open mouth of a salmon with lockjaw far enough into its spawning journey that it’s not longer feeding. It’s ethically gray, but a common practice among many PNW salmon anglers I know.

For a widespread invasive species, though, I had absolutely no ethical qualms.

I put on a treble hook and positioned it ahead of the feeding exotic. It took about an hour, but eventually, I got it to swim right over the hook. Once it’s mouth was over the hook, I raised up.

Fish on!

It fought well, but I got it in without much issue. A few quick pictures, and I turned it loose.

I wasn’t kidding. The patience and timing required for this was one of my greatest accomplishments.

These fish are decent-sized, and I’ve heard rumors they taste like lobster, but I’d imagine cleaning one would be a nightmare. Further, Florida’s freshwater landscape is a disgusting near-cesspool of reclaimed water, so I wouldn’t eat anything out of there to begin with.

I repeated this a second time, snagging another one in the mouth, and then left the algae eaters alone and focused on other fish.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #133 — Eastern Mosquitofish.


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 #130 — Mountain Whitefish

Whitefish are underrated gamefish.

Species: Mountain Whitefish (Prosopium williamsoni)
Location: Deschutes River, Oregon
Date: June 21, 2018

The fish most Central Oregon anglers can’t avoid avoided me for decades. Probably because I didn’t know much about them. If you want to catch one, you should know the facts. All of these are 100% true.

Whitefish Facts

1) My first Mountain Whitefish was not caught on a mountain.

2) Whitefish aren’t actually white, though they’re rumored to be incapable of jumping, so you can see where the confusion lies. In fact, I’ve never heard of one jumping while hooked.

3) Whitefish do have white meat. That’s the real reason for their name.

4) Though they’re gaining a little respect, they’re often viewed as trash fish which is crazy because they’re Salmonids. They’re more closely related to trout than chubs even though they resemble the latter somewhat.

5) There is town in Montana named Whitefish.

6) Whitefish is good smoked, but I’ve never had it vaped.

7) Whitefish are afforded “Game Fish” status in Oregon. Call it “whitefish privilege”.

8) Identifying whitefish is easy when you understand there are only two types of fish: whitefish and wrong fish.

9) My friend once caught a three-pound whitefish on a massive jig while fishing for Lake Trout, one of the chief predators of whitefish.

10) I already wrote the story of my first whitefish. Read it by clicking here.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #131 — Umpqua Pikeminnow.


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