Species: Yellow Bullhead (Ameiurus natalis) Location: Long Tom River, Monroe, OR Date: June 20, 2016
This was a phenomenal day. I caught a total of 50 fish, including Common Carp, Brown Bullhead, and Yellow Bullhead, the latter being a new species. Strangely enough, all fish took corn. The bullheads were ravenous but annoying as bullheads tend to be.
As for identification, Yellow Bullheads can actually be yellowish like this one, but the easiest way to tell them apart from other species is to look at their chin barbels. A Yellow Bullhead’s are white or yellowish while a Brown Bullhead’s are darker.
This was a busy day, and I learned to “ghost set” for carp this skittish. Basically, you’ll know the carp are feeding nearby, so many of the hooksets should come even if you don’t feel a bite. Just wait a few seconds and lift up, and you’ll often catch carp. The bullheads nibbled pretty overtly, so they weren’t quite as unique a catch.
As bullheads are invasive and worthless, I killed every one I caught.
Carp are invasive but at least fun to catch, so I let those go.
Species: Slender Sculpin (Cottus tenuis) Location: Link River, Klamath Falls, OR Date: December 15, 2015
Some #SpeciesHunters only worry about fish caught in the mouth on hook and line.
Disclaimer: I’m not one of them. While 95% of my fish are caught this way, I personally count any species caught by legal means. There are numerous ways to fish, and snagging a fish, catching one by hand, shooting it with a bow, or spearfishing are all equally viable ways to fish — if legal.
This is the first species on my “Lifelist” that was first caught by means other than a hook in the mouth. Granted, I’ve since caught dozens of them the old-fashioned way since I discovered microfishing (S/O to Ben Cantrell for putting me onto that entirely new way of fishing), but I would count it even if that weren’t the case.
This was a pretty uneventful fish. While trout fishing in the dead of winter in just about the only place worth fishing for trout in the dead of winter, Link River, I realized the water was really low. When this happens, I usually wade out to a few of my favorite rocks to look for lures snagged by hapless anglers out of their element.
I usually find a few.
That day, I found a few of the usually rusted-beyond-hope Rooster Tails and some terminal tackle, I found nothing noteworthy. That is, until I saw a small fish trapped in a small pool of water that had apparently been isolated there when the water level dropped.
It took a minute to grab the speedy little guy, but when I did, I’d just “landed” a Slender Sculpin. My first.
Since then, I’ve caught a few microfishing, and I even helped guide Species Hunting Legend Steve Wozniak to one when he came and visited last month.
Now I catch them by sightfishing with micro gear at night, something I call night-micro-sight-fishing and something I think I’m a pioneer of, especially considering Steve said he didn’t really fish for sculpins at night.
Heck yeah, Luke.
Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #72 — Spotted Bass.
Species: Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio) Location: Malheur River, Princeton, OR Date: August 22, 2015
Imagine seeing a fish fish with some frequency for years when traveling but never having the appropriate gear to target it successfully. That’s the story of me fishing for Common Carp.
There are no carp populations in Klamath County where I live, which, in a county larger than Delaware, says something.
Nearby counties have carp populations, but having neither fished for carp nor known anyone who did for years, it meant carp was basically just a pipe dream.
That is, until my friend Ben Fry told me of this amazing fishery in the middle of the desert where he and his brother, Chuck, slayed carp the weekend before.
I’d just been offered a teaching job at Henley Middle School, and I accepted the position while sitting in my office at Klamath Community College, not having even applied. I was excited, but I was nowhere near ready.
When I told my boss at KCC, I agreed to stay and work the swing shift until they found a replacement. This mdae my schedule crazy, and I knew if I didn’t go fishing this weekend, I might not have another shot.
So I loaded up my car and headed into the desert.
When we arrived at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, the short carp season (August 1 – September 15) was half over. I assumed this meant skittish, heavily pressured fish, but that wasn’t the case.
Within 10 minutes of throwing my corn in the water, I had my first carp on. Ben and his kids, Gabe and Rose, caught theirs shortly thereafter.
Once we figured out how to fish for them and accepted that in 90-to-100-degree heat and thick smoke, it was going to remain unpleasant, we hit our rhythm and started smashing fish left and right.
This season opens as a damage control measure to help curb the invasive carp population which has expanded exponentially since the 1950s introduction until it took over and wiped out native species. It’s now so bad that most aquatic vegetation is gone, and ducks don’t stop here anymore, despite its historic presence as a major Pacific Flyway stopover.
So we killed every carp we caught. For someone who does almost exclusively catch-and-release fishing, this was tough.
At first, the Refuge staff came and picked up them in trucks and carted them away for fertilizer, but then they gave up, leaving us sitting and fishing by a pile of dead carp in 90-plus-degree heat. It wasn’t great.
Fishing two rods at once, we were constantly fighting fish. The kids got tired, so we had to keep them entertained.
We continued to catch fish, and quickly realized they were stunted in the 7-10 pound range. Only one fish was under 6 pounds, and none topped 13. Still, an 8-pound carp is a better stunted fish than an 8-inch bass.
We continued fishing.
It didn’t let up, and neither did we. We scarfed down sandwiches and drinks, but eventually the kids had to call it quits. Ben and I remained in hopes of either a monster carp or a Mirror Carp — neither of which came.
Once the sun started going down, the bite slowed. It didn’t stop, but it slowed. We’d been at it for more than 12 straight hours, and we’d each probably lost two or three pounds of fluid in sweat. It was a long, hot day, and I finished with 44 carp. Ben had something like that many, too.
Read about this from a different, more punny angle here and then read more about what happened to all of the carp we killed here.
Species: White Catfish (Ameiurus catus) Location: Cosca Lake, Washington, D.C. Date: July 16, 2015
For most people, a visit to D.C. means history and tours and American nationalism. It meant all of those things to me, too, but it also meant fishing.
After spending a good chunk of time researching where to fish within a reasonable distance of my Maryland hotel room, I settled on my first stop: Cosca Lake.
The urban lake is not easily accessible. It required a long walk from the parking area, and in late July heat, anything more than five feet might as well be the the Bataan Death March.
I arrived on the lawn surrounding the lake and began to setup shop. I only had one rod, so my first bet was a handline baited with a worm while I tied up my one and only rod for the occasion.
Before I even managed to get the tiny jig on my line, the stick I’d tied the handline to started bouncing, and I pulled in what appeared to be a bullhead.
Technically, it was. Just not a Brown or Yellow Bullhead like I’d seen in my native Oregon. This was a White Bullhead, more commonly called the White Catfish.
Heck yeah! I hadn’t even cast yet, and I had a new species on the board. Sticky, sweaty weather aside, I could tell this day was shaping up nicely.
That is, until some strange dude in absurdly baggy pants came up and kept talking to me while I tried to fish. It was obnoxious, and he was just wrong on every account. After I landed a few Brown Bullhead, I decided to pick up and move to the tiny feeder creek leading into the lake.
Species: Bluehead Chub (Nocomisleptocephalus) Location: Thornton River, Shenandoah National Park, VA Date: July 15, 2015
The National Park so beautiful it inspired a song was on my to-do list the moment I knew I’d be spending time in Washington D.C.
I spent my first-ever evening on the East Coast hanging out with my cousin, Adrian Mateos, after I arrived.
We did a quick tour, and he told me to do my sightseeing the next day while he was at work but to save some stops for us to visit together the next evening.
I visited all sorts of monuments and museums but saved “the big ones” for that evening.
If you missed the date, it was late July. Humidity was thicker than tourists, and I was soaking in a swamp every time I sat down. So I just kept moving. I walked and rode and covered two days worth of sights in about eight hours.
After two days and nights of “doing D.C.” like a tourist, I rented a car and decided to head east to Shenandoah National Park.
I stopped along the way for a softshell crab sandwich — damn, those are good — and continued on my way.
The roads became less and less significant, and before I knew it, I was wandering the wilds of rural Virginia.
Shenandoah National Park is huge. Covering more than 311 square miles and stretching north to south from the northern border of Virginia to the fat middle of the state, it’s not a quick tour like some other national parks.
I entered at the North Entrance near the town of Front Royal and was immediately awestruck by the beauty of it all.
Little did I know, I was about to be all up in my feels from the beauty of this place. The first thing I noticed was the lush greenery and the butterflies and hummingbird moths flitting around it, sipping nectar and adding to an already awesome sight.
Now, I’d told myself this trip was more about sightseeing than fishing, but I still wanted to fish. So my first stop was the ranger station.
The ranger told me about the decent fishing to be had there, including lots of native Brook Trout (my target species) and the occasional “massive Brown Trout that you wouldn’t believe.”
Further exploration revealed the latter to be fish as “massive” as 16 inches long. I suppressed a laugh.
The streams on the mountainside proved shallow and nearly impossible to fish. I noticed no poison oak, ivy, or sumac, but I failed to realize the thick vegetation brushing against my bare legs contained some lesser toxin that made me itch like crazy until I washed myself thoroughly in another stream.
The drive wound on, and I began to worry I might not be able to find fishable water. Then, I noticed the middle exit road just halfway through the park. The topography of the map seemed to indicate a drop in elevation, and I noted the single stream that looked large enough to fish: Thornton River.
I made my careful way, enjoying the scenery.
I even stopped when I found my favorite flower (yes, I have a favorite flower) the Tiger Lily. They were scattered around on the roadside, and I had to take a moment to appreciate them.
Eventually, I realized time was running short. I still had to make it back to D.C., through D.C. traffic during rush hour, and back to the hotel in Maryland to meet up with Adrian.
It was Thornton River or bust.
My first few casts with a tiny spinner proved useless, but once I stumbled upon a gorgeous pool with a massive rock hiding me from view, I began catching small fish I couldn’t identify. No Brookies, but I knew it was a new species.
I like chubs. They’re unique fish, and they fill in for overfished trout populations and keep you from getting skunked.
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 X-Rap 10 through a small school of them in hopes of catching a trout.
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.
Steve came to fish, but Fatheads wouldn’t cooperate. We got other targets, focusing on chubs and sculpins and even trout, but no Fatheads.
After spot-hopping and catching enough chubs to , I took them to the place I’d caught my first and second Fathead Minnows. This, our final stop, had an expiration date because both Steve and his fishing buddy Mark Spellman had to be back home that afternoon.
Time rolled up behind us like a carpet after the big show. We had an hour left, and we could feel the cold stare of the audience waiting for us to finish.
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.
He pulled up a mouth-hooked Fathead. It wasn’t in spawning colors, but it was a male. 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.
Despite fishing with Steve and getting my 15 minutes, the only fat heads that day were of the tiny little invasive minnows that rolled up our trip so nicely.
Species: Yelloweye Mullet (Aldrichetta forsteri) Location: Kuaotunu River, Kuaotunu, Coromandel, New Zealand Date: February 25, 2014
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.
Species: Shortfin Eel (Anguilla australis) Location: Kuaotunu River, Kuaotunu, Coromandel, New Zealand Date: February 25, 2014
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 five-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.
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.
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.
Species: Estuarine Triplefin (Forsterygion nigripenne) Location: Kuaotunu River, Kuaotunu, Coromandel, New Zealand Date: February 25, 2014
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.
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.
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.
Unfortunately, I had no idea what they were. Not that day, not that week, not when I left New Zealand.
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:
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.
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.