Category Archives: Rough Fishing

Species #125 — Dixie Chub

This nasty, diseased chub ranked just below “Retired Porn Star” on the Grossness Scale

Species: Dixie Chub (Semotilus thoreauianus)
Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Date: April 22, 2018

Hotlanta.

Apart from some phenomenal tourist attractions such as the Civil Rights Museum and Coca Cola Headquarters, the mediocre attractions such as the Chik-Fil-A College Football Hall of Fame, and the blissfully above average Southern Food, Atlanta isn’t the best city.

It lives up the “Hotlanta” moniker, but that’s largely because, for a Southern city, it has almost no vegetation. It has no major rivers flowing through the city center, and the streams are limited.

Not only does this mean temperatures will be absurdly high, it means a visiting angler has severely limited options.

Even with a rental car, I struggled to find anything to fish for my one night off to do so on a work trip. I was limited to a 15- or 20-minute radius from the hotel, and that really cramped my style.

To make matters worse, I was there in the late spring, during the peak of the monsoon season, and the few rivers and streams I’d been turned onto by fellow Species Hunters like Ryan Crutchfield of FishMap.org were all blown out.

Torrential rainfall meant fishing even for micros — which is usually a slam-dunk when fishing new water — was out of the question.

I hiked and drove around for hours to the spots I’d been given, but as night fell, I began to take stock of my situation and realized I needed to grab dinner and get home, so I hopped into my rental car, sodden and saddened.

***

As I drove to my restaurant of choice (a Cajun restaurant because dammit, I wasn’t about to let the night be a total loss), I passed over a small stream. It made me stop and think, and after finding a parking lot at a nearby church, I hoofed it through the pouring rain a few hundred yards back down the highway.

Vaulting the guardrail, I climbed down under the bridge.

I had a headlamp on and hoped to find a sculpin or darter willing to play, but the stream, small though it was, was still high and not terribly clear.

Then, as luck would have it, I noticed a larger fish right up against the shore. It was some sort of Cyprinid, though I couldn’t identify it.

I grabbed the rod with an ultra-tiny spinner and threw it onto the bank, then dragged it into the water. The fish was territorial, and struck the gold blade with a lethargic and haphazard move.

The fight was pitiful and I quickly landed the chub. It had some horrible fungus or infection on its head, and as I snapped a picture for later identification, I cringed.

Miraculously, it swam away.

***

I would later reach out to local biologist who identified it initially as a “River Chub or Dixie Chub” depending on the drainage. Further research and a white paper helped me narrow it down: only Dixie Chub were found in that drainage.

And I had a new species that compared to the beautiful little dace in my last post, certainly would’ve never been asked on a hot date to prom. Even in Hotlanta.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #126 — Redside Shiner.


Species #119 — Shortnose Sucker

Shortnose Sucker are probably the most highly-endangered fish in Oregon. The two I’ve caught incidentally have been insane surprises, but given that I fish 150-200 days per year, it was only a matter of time before one took my worm for a spin.

Species: Shortnose Sucker (Chasmistes brevirostris)
Location: Undisclosed Location
Date: January 12, 2018

A few people told me I shouldn’t write about this one, and I both understand and respect their reasoning; however, I think I should write about this precisely because nobody else wants to talk about it.

We have a species at risk of extinction in the next five years, and it’s right in our backyard. The Shortnose Sucker, an endemic to the Upper Klamath Basin, has an estimated 5000 adults left in the wild.

That doesn’t sound so bad when, say, compared to some of the localized pupfish or Alabama Sturgeon, but when we’re talking about a fish that was once so abundant that anglers lined up to snag dozens of them in a day as they moved to spawn, it’s scary.

These fish are notorious for their phenomenal ability to smell the slightest hint of bait in the water at up to a mile away. This, in conjunction with their less-than-prominent proboscis led to their name: Shortnose Sucker.

Of course, only one of those things is true, but you believe it because it was written on the Internet from a seemingly reliable source. Now, I don’t ever lie to my readers, and I’m pretty damn informed about fishing, but even I don’t know every detail relating to the fish I write about.

But some people do. Some people knowingly spread misinformation about fish and the culture of fishing soaks it up without questioning the source. This, in combination with rapid habitat loss, is why Shortnose Sucker populations have declined.

People honestly believe they “eat trout eggs” and are actively competing with trout. This is just not accurate. Yes, they probably suction up some eggs, but so do trout. There are numerous videos of trout eating their own eggs. Further, suckers do not compete with mature trout. They have some overlap in their diets, but suckers are bottom feeders while trout are apex predators that cover the entire water column.

Suckers more often serve as food for trout than competition for them.

Without suckers, the niche they fill would be empty, and an already hypereutrophic lake with frequent algal blooms, fish die-offs, and poor water quality would be devastated.

As awesome and adaptable as our trout are, they can’t fill that niche.

***

I caught my first sucker on tiny gear while fishing for the invasive Yellow Perch in a river known to be overrun with them, a tiny Shortnose Sucker took my bait.

Baby Shortnose Suckers aren’t self-conscious about their short snouts yet because society hasn’t shamed them for it yet, and kids are innocent. When fishing for sensitive species, be sure to never put them on dry dirt, pavement, or rocks. I like to use the inside of a heavy-duty plastic bag with a layer of water thrown on top. This helps preserve a fish’s slime.

At first glance, I thought it was a Blue Chub, another endemic that has done remarkably well by comparison. I kill every perch, bullhead, and goldfish I catch in our system, but I always release natives (and Brown Trout, since they don’t really overpopulate and are limited to rivers).

I almost released the “chub” when I realized it looked a little different.

Quickly, I set it down and snapped a quick picture before watching it swim away, hopefully to start a trend in the right direction.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #120 — Pacific Herring.


Species #111 — Grass Carp

Though I’m ashamed of how I handled this fish, it did swim away (seemingly) unharmed. It had obviously been caught before and had some missing scales, so I’m sure I didn’t help its cause. Please practice good fish handling practices.

Species: Grass Carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella)
Location: Phoenix, Arizona
Date: November 16, 2017

Though Common Carp and White Sturgeon were my first freshwater species to break the 30-inch mark, the third species was this vegetarian gentle giant.

I already wrote a story about these golden ghosts, and it’s not scary, but I’m sure you’d still appreciate reading it around a campfire.

Click here to read it.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #112 — Yellow Bass.


Species #110 — Nile Tilapia

My third tilapia species shot into my life. Quite literally.

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.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #111 — Grass Carp.


Species #91 — Creek Chub

I didn’t get a good picture, but having a fish on the hot sidewalk for this picture hurt my soul as an angler, so getting it back into the water was my first concern.

Species: Creek Chub (Semotilus atromaculatus)
Location: Globe Creek, Fountain Heights, TN
Date: August 1, 2017

This might be the most “Species Hunter” post of my entire blog. After staying with my friend, Marcus Moss, in northern Alabama for a week of subprime bass fishing that culminated in a few gar and a lot of small bass, I headed to Nashville.

I spent one night there, taking in the Music City before moving my way towards Pensacola, the next intended stop on my roundabout return trip to Oregon. As a sidenote, Nashville is awesome. One of the first cities to receive Google Fiber and (at time of writing) the cheapest airport to fly into, it has a lot to offer. The food, music, street art, and general vibe (I know, I hate that word, too) were generally impressive. I look forward to returning someday soon.

But in all of the excitement, I forgot to fish.

Realizing I never fished in Nashville as I made my way south, I wondered if there was any way I could stop and catch a fish in Tennessee before I made it back to Alabama. I’d never caught one in this state, and there were countless new species to be had even if I hadn’t really identified myself as a “Species Hunter” just yet.

***

It felt like a longshot, but when I stopped for gas a few hours south of Nashville, I took note of the small, semi-stagnant creek I crossed en route to the gas station. After filling up, I crossed the access road, turned off onto a road that led to several houses and was dismayed to see fences blocking the access to the creek below.

Eff.

I thought about giving up when I realized that I didn’t need to touch the water — just access it. I tried dipping my jig (not a euphemism) in the water some 20 feet below, but the little fish I could weren’t having it.

I had yet to discover microfishing and had no artificial baits. As my heart sank, and I went to put my rod away, a grasshopper flitted away from where it had sat, baking on the hot road moments before. I spent a minute trying to catch on one the road, and once I did, it paid off.

Tipping the jig with a writhing, mangled hopper proved the right incentive to get the cyprinids below to bite, and I landed my first Creek Chub. I didn’t love dropping it down almost 20 feet to the water because fish care is important to me even when dealing with “trash fish,” but it swam away fine.

Somewhat smugly, I tucked my ultralight back into the back of my car, closed the door, and hit the road again, one species richer.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #92 — Spotted Sunfish.


Species #90 — Shortnose Gar

Shortnose Gar and Spotted Gar have an overlapping range and are capable of hybridizing. It was dark, and I don’t have good photos, so mine was likely a hybrid. Photo courtesy Texas Parks and Wildlife.

Species: Shortnose Gar (Lepisosteus platostomus)
Location: Alligator Preserve Pond, Madison, Alabama
Date: July 30, 2017

I’ve caught more than 200 species at the time of writing. Of those, the only one I’ve counted without 100% certainty of identification was the Shortnose Gar. I fully expect to catch another, but since I counted it as Species #90 and caught more than 100 species since, I’m counting it with an asterisk.

The one I caught was likely a hybrid Spotted x Shortnose Gar, and I don’t have good photos because it was caught at night. So here we have a pitiful story, an excuse, and no pictures. Excellent.

Sadly, I know way too many anglers who feed us this line on the regular. I promise it’s a one-off for me, though, and I have it on the shortlist, so I’ll get one “for real” very soon.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #91 — Creek Chub.


Species #89 — Spotted Gar

Gar are awesome, but Spotted Gar have a special place in my heart because they’re so uniquely beautiful. Photo courtesy: Wikipedia.

Species: Spotted Gar (Lepisosteus oculatus)
Location: Indian Creek, Madison, Alabama
Date: July 30, 2017

So I’ve now written for the Herald and News for five years. At the time of writing, I’ve now written two pieces for Game and Fish Magazine, too, and I plan to continue that.

As I write more and more, there becomes an increased likelihood that an occasional blog post will merely be a link to a story I’ve already written as opposed to entirely new content.

My first Spotted Gar was a story originally written for the Herald and News, and it is one of my all-time fives, so I’m not gonna mess with it.

You can read it by clicking this link.

Tight lines!

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #90 — Shortnose Gar.


Species #87 — Channel Catfish

Channel Catfish are something special to a person who has grown up without them nearby, but like Bullheads, they are an invasive menace most places they’ve been established.

Species: Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)
Location: American Fork Marina, Utah Lake, Provo, UT
Date: June 22, 2017

I don’t think my attitude towards a species has changed so quickly.

When I threw my worm up against the far rocky shoreline of the American Fork Marina, it was hammered so hard, the rod almost went into the water. I was stoked, thinking I’d hooked into some massive beast of a fish, but as I got the fish close enough to see it in the milky water, I was surprised to see it wasn’t a massive White Bass or a massive June Sucker, but rather a respectable catfish.

I knew Channel Catfish were present in Utah Lake, but I didn’t really expect to catch one in broad daylight. Yet here I was.

I was impressed with the fight and tenacity of the two-foot fish, and when I landed it, I was further impressed with the pugnacious attitude it carried with it.

Lipping a catfish really isn’t that bad. The spines are terribly painful (I’ve learned this at least half a dozen times), so lipping them or tail gripping is your best bet.

Then I caught another, and the magic was lost a little.

I hate to even say it, but every time I hooked one on my light tackle, it would drag me into the rocks and make me change the horribly abraded line — a pain with only a few hours to fish.

When I saw some folks fishing lures from a boat for these massive beasts, I was wistful about a truly massive Channel Catfish, but it never came. My two five-pounders would have to suffice.

Channel Catfish get bigger than this, but the two five-pound-class Channel Cats I caught that first day in Utah remain some of the biggest I’ve caught to date.***

Since then, fishing the South has made me hate these fish. Invasive in much of their current range, they displace suckers and redhorse and other native bottom feeders. They often get stunted like Bullheads and Yellow Perch, and they really have no value as a species.

Further, their spines are especially painful, and every time I throw one on the bank where invasive (as I do with Yellow Perch and Bullheads back in Oregon), I get stabbed by their damn spines, as they inflict one final blow on society.

Sadly, they’re here to stay. So where invasive, kill every one you catch (when legal) — whether or not it’s big enough to eat.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #88 — Walleye.


Species #83 — Lost River Sucker

Targeting the Lost River Sucker can get you in trouble, as this is a Federally Endangered Species. I love these fish, and I do catch them incidentally on occasion, but I’m always careful to release them quickly and keep them in the water or on wet vegetation (as shown above) if they must be removed from the water, say to remove a hook or wrapped line. Note: It is illegal to target this fish.

Species: Lost River Sucker (Deltistes luxatus)
Location: Undisclosed Location, OR
Date: March 24, 2017

Every post up until now has included a location, but this one will remain secret to protect this incredible species, as it is endangered.

I should also be clear that I do not advocate fishing for endangered species, nor do I actively target them. That said, as an avid angler who has averaged 100-220 days on the water annually for a decade, I do catch endangered fish from time to time.

When that happens, I take care to handle the fish properly, release them as quickly as possible, and ensure these scarce and vulnerable fish are treated with the utmost respect.

Interestingly enough, as a friend and dedicated biologist once told me, “It’s a shame we live in a world where we’re supposed to feel bad for accidentally catching these amazing fish.” So I don’t feel bad; I feel honored. I view every incidental hookup as a chance to set a positive example, a chance to, in my own way, offer condolences and make amends to a species for what my own did to it.

I also view it as a promise, a promise that I will do everything in my power to help and support the future of these fish so that one day we can target what have the potential to be truly world-class freshwater gamefish.

***

When I caught this Lost River Sucker, I wasn’t really expecting it. A friend had told me he’d landed several trout and a surprise sucker in that general area earlier that month, but it was so cold and snowy, I had pretty well tempered my expectations.

Then I got a bump.

When fishing steelhead jigs in Upper Klamath Lake, I usually throw out, wait a second or two, then twitch up. I repeat this sink-jerk motion on most retrieves.

Trout usually hit on the initial drop or during a subsequent jerk.

The fish pictured below was no different.

When fishing with marabou jigs for trout, expect to snag a lot.

I hooked and lost another good trout before a wind knot distracted me long enough to allow the jig to sink to the bottom. I expected to be snagged, so when I pulled up and felt weight, I wasn’t surprised. Until it moved.

A trout had grabbed my jig off the bottom, and I was thrilled.

It started sucking line off my reel so viciously that I imagined I’d hooked into something big. I wasn’t wrong.

When the fish jumped and did a front-flip out of the water, I noted how unusual it was for trout to jump like that in cold weather. Our Redbands jump, but if you fight them with skill, you can usually avoid this. Not always, but usually.

When it jumped a second time, I noticed how dark it was.

When it jumped a third, fourth, and fifth time, I realized it wasn’t a trout.

***

In 1984, the Lost River Sucker was listed under the Endangered Species Act.

I’m a sucker for pretty fish. Lost River Suckers can be photographed during the late spring and summer in the Williamson River where they spawn. Be careful not to touch them, but if you move slowly, you can often get close enough for a good picture.

My Species #83, endangered in ’84. Is that darkly poetic? I don’t know, but it certainly adds value to a species I already treasure.

***

I landed that fish, and it was, in fact, a Lost River Sucker. It wasn’t huge, but I’ve since caught quite a few of them, and many have been over 10 pounds.

These fish live upwards of 30 years, and the average fish I’ve caught has been about 26-28 inches long and weighed in between six and nine pounds depending on whether it was male or female, pre-spawn or post-spawn.

Tragically, almost all spawning fish are 15 years old or more, with many of the spawners in their 20s and 30s.

If recruitment does not improve, these gorgeous fish will be extinct within my lifetime, likely before I go gray.

***

Not wanting to disturb the fish too much or risk snagging one, I threw a few more casts before calling it a day.

There are more than a dozen sites in the lake where they spawn, and you don’t have to look far to find dead fish in the spring. Some die of old age, some of disease, some of predation or the pressures of the spawn, but an unacceptable number are caught and killed intentionally by anglers. Either snagged with treble hooks or hooked legitimately with worms, many ignorant anglers throw them on the bank even now, some 30 years after it became clear the species was at risk of extinction.

I’ve snagged my share of suckers over the years while trout fishing, and for that reason, I now only use single hook lures (typically either swimbaits or jigs) in places frequented by Lost River Suckers.

Again, use jigs and single-hook swimbaits only when fishing around spawning sites. You might snag one even still, but it’s unlikely. If you do, it will cause less damage. The trout still readily take these jigs, too, so don’t fret.Though the trout fishing in that spot where I caught my first blued-up male is phenomenal (the trout come to eat sucker eggs), I hesitate to fish there for fear of snagging a sucker on traditional trout gear. When I do try for trout there now, I’m careful to only use jigs and swimbaits with single hooks. No spinners, spoons, or Rapalas.

I’ve seen people intentionally snagging them in the back, and anyone throwing a treble hook out there knows what they’re doing. Not only is it disgusting and irreverent, it’s highly illegal.

Male Lost River Suckers develop white tubercules on their skin which help them maintain contact with the female during mating. They are absolutely gorgeous. They are also susceptible to snagging from unethical and uneducated anglers while spawning.

***

The suckers, often erroneously called “sucker fish”, are a treasure that should be appreciated. These fish grow to 40 inches and 20 pounds, and I’ve never caught one that didn’t jump. The potential for a sport fishery if and when this species recovers should be enough incentive to treat them with respect, but if it’s not, know this. If the suckers die out, the greatest wild native Rainbow Trout fishery in the United States — the Klamath Basin — will suffer.

The single greatest draw for tourists will suffer.

The community will suffer.

The largest fish I’ve ever landed from Klamath Lake was this 32-inch, 12-pound Lost River Sucker that took a jig. Anglers should pull for this species’ recovery, so we can pursue this fish as a top-notch sport species someday.

A few things to note if  you do catch a sucker: 

1) Handle it as little as possible. Some intepretations of the law suggest even posing for a photo is illegal. The maximum of 10 seconds I’ve taken to pose for a picture with my larger suckers was a risk I was willing to take. I released them quickly, but know you could potentially get in trouble for doing so.

2) Keep it wet. Measurements can be done in the water (if at all) and should not result in unnecessary air exposure.

3) Keep the location secret. If you do find the suckers, especially during the spawn, don’t share that information. For one, there are people out there still who would massacre them. Don’t take that risk.

Sometimes, I set my rod down and just take pictures of the fish while they spawn. If I move slowly, I can get surprisingly close and get some great pictures.

This fish was chilling in water barely deep enough to hold it. The current was light, and I was able to get an awesome picture from above.

Avoid standing on gravel, but if you happen to float by or see one from the, it’s completely okay to take a picture. I like taking pictures of them to show others the beauty I see and inspire action to protect these amazing fish.

Not all suckers will pose for a photo. Some get out of there as soon as they see you.

The Williamson River holds most of the suckers I’ve seen, but they can be anywhere. For that reason, I’m careful to use only single-hook lures when they’re around — just in case.

When the trout bite picks up, you can occasionally catch suckers, but you can’t target them. Then again, with less than 10,000 fish remaining in the wild, you really couldn’t target them if you wanted to.

Last summer, I snagged a massive sucker while trolling at Rocky Point that was every bit of 15 pounds. I fought it almost 10 minutes, and it tail-walked half a dozen times. It pulled my kayak almost half a mile before the hook came out. Since that day, I’ve stopped trolling spoons.

As great as these fish are, and as fun as it is to catch one incidentally, the stress of being snagged could kill a fish, and that means one less spawner. Don’t risk it.

I initially wrote about these amazing fish here and gave the impression I was urging people to fish for them. That wasn’t the case. In my follow-up article, I emphasized that it is illegal to target them, but I’d love to see this species recover so that is no longer the case. Wouldn’t you?

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #84 — American Shad.


Species #80 — Klamath Largescale Sucker

My first IGFA All-Tackle World Record was this Klamath Largescale Sucker. I’ve yet to catch another one.

Species: Klamath Largescale Sucker (Catostomus snyderi)
Location: Sprague River, Sprague River, Oregon
Date: November 6, 2016

While I occasionally reference and link to articles I’ve written for the Herald and News or other newspapers on my blog, I try to generate new content for this site. But every now and then, I’ve already told the story of a new species in a way I like and don’t want to change, and the story of my first IGFA All-Tackle World Record is one such story.

Check out this story, as originally written for the Herald and News  by clicking this link and feel free to check out my record by clicking here.

My first world record came in late 2016. I was fishing during November in a place that hadn’t been open to fishing during that month in my lifetime and was closed the very next year. Further, the species is incredibly rare (I’m the only known angler-caught one in decades), so this might hold awhile.

Tight lines!

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #81 — Whitespotted Greenling.


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