Species #73 — Copper Rockfish

I caught this fish under the Coast Guard station. They eventually saw us and gave us a “random inspection” before encouraging us to leave.

Species: Copper Rockfish (Sebastus caurinus)
Location: Yaquina Bay, Newport, OR
Date: March 24, 2016

If you’ve never been on the open ocean on a small boat intended for use in the lake, then you haven’t lived.

My first trip was on a 17-foot Bayliner with high gunwales out of the Port of Brookings-Habor. It was a little rough, but I wasn’t worried.

My second trip was on a 14-foot flat-bottomed aluminum duck boat, and I was more than a little worried.

Fortunately, before we made it to the end of the bar, the Coast Guard stopped us and told us the bar was closed to small vessels. I was equal parts disappointed and relieved.

My friend, Eric Elenfeldt, was a phenomenal boater, and if I were to go on the ocean in a tiny vessel with anyone, I’d want him driving, but still. It was a rough bar that day.

We made the best of it, dropped our crab pot, and started fishing. He picked up a Red Irish Lord, his first, and we started catching a few rockfish here and there. Before long, the sheet rain started, and we took cover under the Coast Guard station’s large platform. It was the best decision we made all day.

Almost instantly, we caught fish.

Small Lingcod at first and then my first Copper Rockfish obliged me. Then several more.

Smedium Copper Rockfish and small Lingcod were the bulk of the catch here.

Eventually, the guys on the platform spotted us and performed a “random inspection” even though Eric’s inspection sticker was clearly visible on the side of the boat.

They gently asked us not to fish there because it was a matter of national security, and though I’m pretty sure they can’t do that on a navigable waterway, we moved.

It wasn’t long before we saw them fishing from the platform. Huh.

The rest of the day was slow as we struggled to find fish, but we’d learned something: the Coast Guard defends its fishing spots as well as they defend the lives of those out on the ocean.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #74 — Redear Sunfish.

Species #69 — Brown Irish Lord

In all my years fishing the Oregon Coast, I’d never once seen nor heard of a Brown Irish Lord caught. Then my brother Gabe and I each caught one the same day.

Species: Brown Irish Lord (Hemilepidotus spinosus)
Location: Yaquina Bay, Newport, OR
Date: July 22, 2015

This fish frustrates me for a number of reasons.

After returning home from my trip to Washington D.C., I landed in Portland, and my brother Gabe picked me up. I stayed with him in Corvallis and convinced him to come fishing with me in Newport one day.

We fished from the jetty, something that is miserable on all but the nicest days, and we quickly caught fish. I hooked up on the first fish and reeled in what I thought was a Cabezon.

It was dark and didn’t quite look like the Cabezon I was used to catching, but marine sculpin misidentification was one of my specialties at the time, so I kept that tradition going.

Here was (arguably) the shortest-lived All-Tackle World Record of all time: my Brown Irish Lord. It’s barely visible here, but note the notch behind the third dorsal spine and the deep notch between the first and second dorsal fin? Yeah, that, along with the nostril flaps later helped me identify it.

This fish had disturbing, forgein organs in its throat that could only be described as alien, insectoid crushing arms that must have worked like a gizzard. They kept writhing and pulverizing against each other, and it really creeped me out.

I didn’t remember Cabezon having those.

Were the fish a Cabezon, as I assumed, it was too small to keep anyway. Cabezon have to be a minimum of 16 inches long.

So after a few measurements (13 1/4″ long and 1.25 pounds), I let it go.

This fish was really cool, so we took a few pictures.

Little did I know, I’d just released what would’ve been an IGFA All-Tackle World Record Brown Irish Lord. Phenomenal.

I don’t too bad, though, because Gabe caught a bigger one less than 15 minutes later.

His was larger than mine, so my world record was shattered in under 20 minutes. His would’ve been a world record still standing today had I identified it correctly.

Eff.

My brother, Gabe Ovgard, posing with the Brown Irish Lord he caught that would be the current IGFA All-Tackle World Record had I identified it correctly at the time.

Again, we assumed it was a Cabezon, and his was over the 16-inch threshhold, but just barely. Since I love Cabezon meat, we kept it and cooked it later that night.

It took me years to identify this fish, but with the help of Coastal Fish Identification: Alaska to California, a book recommended to me on Twitter by Kelsey Adkisson of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Marine Division, I finally got my ID.

I know for a fact my fish was a Brown Irish Lord. Gabe’s could’ve been a Red Irish Lord, and the biologists I’ve asked have been split on that one. So maybe, just maybe, I do still have that (unofficial) world record.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #70 — Common Carp.

Species #48 — California Halibut

California Halibut are one of a handful of flatfish that can be left-eyed or right-eyed which makes identification a pain in the butt. Photo courtesy mexican-fish.com.

Species: California Halibut (Paralichthys californicus)
Location: Chetco River South Jetty, Brookings-Harbor, OR
Date: July 13, 2013

While fishing with my friend David Clarke, I tried to relive an amazing trip to Brookings I’d had years earlier. Sadly, it wasn’t happening.

The charter boat had provided good fishing, but David was so seasick, he didn’t get to wet a line much. He did manage some respectable rockfish and a nice Lingcod.

I, meanwhile, avoided the seasickness and boated 15 rockfish (Black, Canary, Yellowtail) and two Lingcod.

The meat in the cooler, we opted to try shore fishing the next day, and it was slow. Apart from a few Pacific Staghorn Sculpin, we were more or less getting nothing.

So we improvised, and I goofed off which my relatively new smartphone and its built-in camera.

*ominous music plays in background*

All we caught were tiny flatfish after that, and at the time, I couldn’t identify them. That’s partly because California Halibut, a species I’d hooked before but never landed, can be left- or right-eyed.

To the non-flatfish aficianados out there, flatfish are completely flat and have all coloration and external organs on one side while the other side is plain, semi-translucent white. The white side rests on the bottom while the side with eyes, camouflage, and the mouth goes up. They rest in the sand or mud for some hapless prey species to come by, and it’s all over.

Most species are either right- or left-eyed, but California Halibut can be both. It’s more problematic that they’re usually left-eyed, and we caught five that were right-eyed that day.

Eventually, I got my ID, and Species #48 was in the bag.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #49 — Coho Salmon.

 

Species #61 — Widow Rockfish

It was tiny, but I caught my first Widow Rockfish while third-wheeling on my best friend’s honeymoon. Read the story; it’s not as weird as it sounds.

Species: Widow Rockfish (Sebastes entomelas)
Location: Off the coast of Depoe Bay, OR
Date: December 18, 2014

I wrote about this in my January 30, 2015 column in the Herald and News. Read it here:

“In 1988, the United States government outlawed the production and sale of three-wheeled ATVs, commonly known as “three-wheelers,” because the third wheel made the vehicles incredibly awkward and unsafe.

Two years later, I was born.

I grew up blissfully unaware of the ban on three-wheeled vehicles, routinely spending time with my coupled friends and making an awkward triad.

Triad was also the name of my high school, but that’s just a coincidence.

I think.

As I got older, I became aware of when it was okay to third-wheel with my friends, and when it was not. First dates? No.

You’ve been dating for months and you’re now sitting at a basketball game? Yes.

Oh. You’re going to propose at this basketball game? That’s awesome!

Don’t worry, I didn’t blow the surprise.

Retroactive congratulations, Shawn and Maddie Elliott!

Understandably, most of my friends desired alone time with their significant other, so I tried to give them space.

We all grew older, and before I knew it, it was 2014.

My best friend, Benjamin Blanchard, was engaged and planning his wedding. The timing of the wedding meant our annual fall fishing trip to the Oregon Coast — that had been our tradition since graduating high school six years earlier — was off the table.

I’m not going to lie, I was a little disappointed.

Still, I was happy for my friend, and I absolutely understood.

Then, he surprised me by saying that he and his then fiancé (now wife), Autumn, wanted us to take our fishing trip, with her, during one of the days of their nearly month-long honeymoon.

Not one to turn down a fishing trip, I immediately agreed.

December rolled around, and we made plans to meet up in Lincoln City where they were staying. I started my weekend with a few days in Portland before heading to the coast.

Ben, Autumn and I met briefly the night before to catch up in their beachside vacation rental, where they were spending their honeymoon, before I retired to their floor.

Kidding.

I retired to the offsite motel room they’d generously rented for me.

The next day started off brisk and cold as we drove to nearby Depoe Bay, the world’s smallest navigable harbor.

We climbed onto the charter boat and got to know some of our fellow passengers.

Once it was discovered that Ben and Autumn were honeymooners, everyone congratulated them.

Once it was discovered that I was third-wheeling their honeymoon, we had a few laughs, one weird look from an older gentleman who thought we might’ve been a trio of lovers, but finally a comment from the captain, who said “Wow. That’s an honor.”

Indeed it was.

While many would feel like a third wheel, I never did with these two.

As we reeled in fish after fish, Autumn battled seasickness with a remarkably positive attitude.

Considering the fact that we were adrift in the middle of the ocean during mid-December, it was remarkably warm. My phone listed the weather in the 50s by mid-morning.

The fishing was pretty good, too, even though both Ben and Autumn out-fished me.

In total, we landed more than 40 fish, representing a variety of species. Black rockfish, blue rockfish and yellowtail rockfish made up the majority of our catch, but we also landed several vividly orange, threatened canary rockfish, several lingcod, and I even caught a species I’d never caught before: a widow rockfish.

They survived the first stormy seas their marriage would see (literally), and we had a great time together.

They never called me a third wheel, and though some of you might, I’ll counter with this: apart from the steering column, boats don’t have wheels.”

See the original H&N piece here.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #62 — White Sturgeon.

Species #60 — Kahawai

Kahawai are the hardest-fighting fish pound-for-pound I’ve ever caught.

Species: Kahawai (Arripis trutta)
Location: Kuaotunu River, Kuaotunu, Coromandel, New Zealand
Date: February 25, 2014

After going it alone for weeks, my friend David Clarke and I decided to get a charter. We’d planned to chase tuna and kingfish and marlin off the coast with one of this friends, but when that fell through, we scrambled for a backup plan.

With no cell service (I should’ve paid for it, but I was naive and cheap) and WiFi only available at a per-MB fee in hotels and hostels, I didn’t research it as much as I should have.

So what we ended up doing was a ‘Land-Based Charter’ with a gentleman who owned a bait shop in a town near where we were staying in the Coromandel region.

He promised us big snapper, kahawai, and chances at other fish as well.

I paid the bill as a thank-you. I mean, he let me stay with him for weeks and saved me thousands of dollars on hotels, so it was the least I could do.

***

It started out pretty well. We met up at sunset and hiked a windswept batch of grassy foothills to a rock landing. The guide tossed out a bag of burley (that’s Kiwi for chum), and we started fishing.

Biodiversity around New Zealand is low, and this day was no different. We caught almost exclusively Australasian Snapper from about half a pound to the three-pound beast David landed. All great-eating fish, but nothing like the Kingfish (very closely related to the Yellowtail found in California) we were hoping for.

Australasian Snapper represented the bulk of our catch that day. They weren’t very big, but they grilled up deliciously in avacado oil, lemon, and fresh ground black pepper in a foil sleeve put on the BBQ.

***

The day wore on in the beautiful setting, and though fishing wasn’t great, it was entertaining.

The guide’s burley bag got snagged against the cliff face,  and for some reason, he decided to dive down and unsnag it. I think it was for show, but it was still pretty badass. He dove down and freed the bag while avoiding any sharks, so I’d count that as a win.

***

In the last few hours of fishing, a school of tuna-like fish starting aggressively feeding. The guide, who was fishing with us and not handing off fish as guides normally do, hooked up first.

This ferocious beast ripped line off of his reel and fought impossibly hard for its apparent size. After a few minutes, he landed it on the rocks. It was roughly the same shape as a trout and probably only 24-25 inches long, but it fought like a 20-pound salmon. I couldn’t believe it.

His fish had hit on the drop, but he didn’t tell us that. He just kept fishing. After he caught #2, I cut off my weight and hooked a pilchard head onto an unweighted hook tied directly to my mainline.

It sunk very slowly and stayed in the eyeline of the prowling fish, and I hooked up almost immediately. This fish fought like crazy. Nothing I’ve caught before or since pulled like that Kahawai, pound-for-pound. I was using a heavy spinning rod with 25-pound mono, and this five-pound fish stretched it to the absolute limit.

See? They weren’t monstrous, but they fought like they were. Also, look at that outfit. Man.

I landed several more beasts that day, each one taking an unweighted pilchard head in the churning surf and putting up a fight for the ages. None of them topped seven pounds, but I was physically sore after fighting the last one.

***

We hiked out at day’s end and were shocked to learn the guide had kept most of the fish for himself. Despite catching maybe 50 pounds of fish and then packing it out on our backs for miles, we took home maybe five pounds.

I didn’t tip, and I left a review detailing all of his antics. He was a nice enough guy, but he’d basically charged us $450 NZD to go out and fish with him. He didn’t really guide us, and apart from cleaning the fish (of which he kept 90%), he didn’t do much else.

It wasn’t the worst guided trip I went on, but it was up there. To make matters worse, the guide sent me an angry response on Facebook after I reviewed his service with an (in my opinion) a very generous 3-out-of-5 stars.

I guess it proves there are jerks everywhere.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #61 — Widow Rockfish.

Species #57 — Northern Kahawai

Look at this beautiful beast! It wasn’t big, but it was all that it took for an ID.

Species:Northern Kahawai (Arripis xylabion)
Location: Kuaotunu River, Kuaotunu, Coromandel, New Zealand
Date: February 25, 2014

Fishing in New Zealand is all about trout. At least, that’s what we’re told.

In reality, throughout most of the North Island, saltwater fishing is king. Snapper, Kingfish, and Kahawai are the big three for anglers in the brine, and everything else plays second fiddle.

While this saltwater trinity reigns supreme on the water, there is relative little information posted or printed about fishing for them.

The saltwater fishermen keep tight lips, and for that reason, I had no idea that the term “Kahawai” was actually comprised of four separate species until this year — five years after I returned from catching them.

***

While we’re dispelling rumors about this place, let’s start with kiwis, Kiwis, and Kiwis. Two aren’t native to the island; one is.

The first kiwi, also called Chinese gooseberry, is the fruit. It’s not native and comes from Asia.

The second Kiwi is term New Zealanders use to describe themselves. They are not native, either.

The warrior Maori arrived in the 1400s in large sea canoes and proceeded to kill and eat the actual natives of the island.

The other (predominantly white) Kiwis arrived about 200 years later and set a singular precedent among white settlers of that era by making peace with the Maori and affording them (almost) all of the same people privileges as Captain James Cook’s people.

No massive wars. No forced relocations en masse. No genocide. It was so unlike the settlement of North America, South America, Australia, and Africa it restores hope in humanity — however small that hope may be.

The third Kiwi is the native bird that gave the other two their names. The bird looks like a large kiwi fruit with legs and a long bill.

The renown of the bird ultimately led to then people taking the name, too.

I’d hoped to learn that Kiwis eat kiwis like an apple — skin on — as I do, but alas, they mostly used spoons to scoop out the delicious green or yellow (golden kiwis were way more popular there) flesh. So I’m a weirdo everywhere, apparently. Cool cool.

***

Rumors dispelled, let’s talk fish. I caught a juvenile Kahawai in the lower, brackish reaches of a river using the small beef scraps I’d used in hopes of catching an eel.

It was beautiful: somewhat like a trout in shape and canvas but with vibrant purple and yellow stripes and markings. I took a few quick photos, thinking it was a juvenile Kahawai, and left it at that.

The Kahawai I caught later on the trip were adults, much larger and more memorable, so the juvenile slipped my mind.

Then, in a frenzy to identify the Estuarine Triplefin, Species #56, and get the blog post done in time without having to list “Species #56 — Unidentified,” I stumbled across a research paper discussing the four species of Kahawai:

Arripis georgianus (Called Ruff or Australian Herring)
Arripis trutta 
(Called Kahawai)
Arripis truttaceus (Called Western Australian Salmon)
Arripis xylabion (Called Giant or Northern Kahawai)

All four species live around Australia and New Zealand. All four species spend most of their lives in saltwater, migrating up rivers and streams to spawn. All four species are notorious for fighting incredibly hard per pound.

Only A. trutta and A. xylabion are routinely found in Kiwi waters, but Kahawai are more common and more widespread than their Northern counterparts and apart from size, they are almost identical.

The main difference is the upper lobe of the caudal (tail) fin. Northern Kahawai have longer tails, typically representing more than 30% of the overall body length (not including the tail) while Kahawai’s are shorter. Using software, I measured my fish from the old picture and found it to be roughly 34% of the tail-excluded body length.

Ignore my alien eyes. This is a cool fish.

It was a Northern, a Giant, an A. xylabion, a new species.

I owe my math teacher an apology. Math had come in handy.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

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

Species #56 — 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, 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.

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, including Vic Dunaway’s Sport Fish of the 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 #57 — Northern Kahawai.

Species #55 — Blue Cod

Blue Cod are one of the more popular nearshore saltwater fisheries in New Zealand, but due to the water we fished (most rocky bottom and over structure), these sandy bottom dwellers were hard to come by. I caught one and David caught two.

Species: Blue Cod (Parapercis colias)
Location: Kuaotunu Coastline, Coromandel, New Zealand
Date: February 24, 2014

Sometimes you luck into a wide variety of species early and catch lucky breaks with every cast. This is not one such tale.

***

David Clarke and I had been plying the coastal waters of New Zealand for weeks before the species variety started up in force. After catching almost nothin but Australasian Snapper in the salt, I finally got lucky when we drifted away from the structure I was so used to fishing in Oregon waters and drifted over a sloping, sandy bottom.

Shrimp was expensive — even cocktail shrimp — so we’d taken to trying other baits. Cicadas we caught on a small island quickly became a favorite.

Though finding live ones was difficult, the kicking insects attracted fish within 30 seconds of every drop. It worked like a charm.

Dead ones produced, albeit more slowly, so as I impaled the final, writhing bug on my hook, I sent a silent prayer.

God was listening.

I felt a tap, then fought up a light weight. I was shocked to realize it was an entirely different fish: Blue Cod.

We’d heard great things about the second-place Kiwi marine fish, but it was too small too keep, so I snapped a quick pic and sent it back to the depths.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #56 — Estuarine Triplefin.

Species #52 — Jack Mackerel

It turns out mackerel really aren’t popular anywhere — except as bait.

Species: Jack Mackerel (Trachurus symmetricus)
Location: Russell Municipal Wharf, Bay of Islands, Northland, New Zealand
Date: February 19, 2014

New Zealand’s Bay of Islands was undoubtedly the coolest place I’d visited at the time — it remains one of the coolest to this day.

After a solid first day of sea kayaking and getting the lay of the land, we decided to mix it up the second day.

It was great in theory, but kayaking for miles in high winds all day was exhausting. Carrying the kayaks five blocks back to the hostel we were saying at was excruciating.

When we repeated the next day, even higher winds blew us onto an island. The island was absolutely covered in sea glass, and after I filled up a small bag with it, we shoved off again.

***

The wind didn’t let up, and we were forced to land on another beach.

Little did we know that the beach was Waitangi Beach.

For those not familiar with New Zealand’s history, the country is unique among white-settled nations in that white settlers didn’t rape, pillage, enslave, and subjugate the natives. Instead, the native Maori and the white settlers signed a document called the Treaty of Waitangi which basically served as teh country’s founding document.

Every year, on February 6, a ceremony is held at the location of the original treaty when a war canoe is launched from a sacred beach. A beach two fishermen had unintentionally landed on in a windstorm, nearly creating an international incident.

We were mortified. Once we realized the gravity of the situation, we hopped back in the kayaks and paddled like mad.

The wind was blowing at 10 to 15 miles per hour, right in our faces, and it took us almost two hours to paddle the three miles or so back to the beach from which we’d launched.

Once we landed, we decided to leave the kayaks on shore.

***

We took a ferry to the town of Russell, where we grabbed lunch and fished from the wharf there. David landed a fish the locals called a Spot, while I landed Species #52 — Jack Mackerel.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #53 — European Perch.

Species #51 — Australasian Snapper

Called “Snapper” in much of the Indo-Pacific, this species is actually a porgy.

Species: Australasian Snapper (Pagrus auratus)
Location: Paihia, Bay of Islands, Northland, New Zealand
Date: February 14, 2014

Love was in the air. It was Valentine’s Day, and I was joined for the romantic holiday with the love of my life: fishing. To make the holiday even more romantic, I was living out a lifelong fantasy: I was in New Zealand.

One of my closest friends in college was David Clarke, a native Kiwi who came to the states to play basketball at Oregon Tech.

David is about as personable of a guy as you’ll meet, and his appreciation of sports, food, humor, and the outdoors made us fast friends.

After college, his parents, Jim and Jane, came to graduation where I met them for the first time. We got on well, and they offered to have me stay if I ever visited.

At the time, I didn’t think that was plausible, but I thanked them anyway.

***

A few months after graduation, I realized that I wanted to change careers. I’d been an insurance agent for the five years I’d spent in college, and though I liked the people I worked with and for, I didn’t love sales.

So I gave plenty of notice and started studying for the LSAT, deciding to pursue a career in law. Well, I bought the LSAT study materials and took a “cold test” to see where my score was at the time, so I’d know how much to realistically study.

December 13, 2013 was the last day of my job. I’d go back and help out part-time a few months later, but this is the day I cleared out my office and said my goodbyes.

On December 16, 2013, I took my LSAT cold test. I know this because of Twitter Advanced Search which has enabled me to pinpoint exact dates in my past using powerful keyword filters and my favorite social media site.

I scored a 158 on my first attempt, which, as you can see in the screenshot of the tweet above, is respectable. I knew my target score of 170 was very possible for my target school: Stanford.

David FaceTimed me that same night. We caught up and on December 18, I tweeted again.

Five minutes after I told David, he told me his mom had already begun planning our itinerary.

I put the studying on hold — okay, I stopped altogether — and prepared for the trip. And boy was it a trip.

***

My flight from SFO – AKL was booked with Hawaiian Airlines.

Klamath Falls (LMT) has had a love-hate relationship with air service over the years, allowing for limited flight availability.

It just so happened that the flight from Klamath Falls to San Francisco was available through our flavor of the month sole carrier, United, so I booked a separate flight to SFO. Unfortunately, as a rookie traveler who’d never left the country, I booked my flights separately, without linking the itinerary.

So, when the flight from LMT to SFO diverted to SJC because of heavy fog, I was worried. They bussed us up to SFO in nice charter buses, but by the time I got there, I’d missed my flight.

Further, it was a flight that only went out three times per week, and my flight happened to be the last Hawaiian departure of the day.

For nearly three hours, I scrambled on the phone to get help, but they refused. Their customer service was effectively useless, so by the time I finally agreed to pay hundreds of dollars in change fees, they informed me I could fly out of Oakland two days hence or wait for five days in San Francisco for the next flight.

What followed built from a comedy of errors into madness.

I had a lot of luggage for the month-long trip in which I planned to do a lot of fishing, and since I was only 23 at the time, renting a car wasn’t really an option. So, using the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system, I traveled from SFO to OAK.

It took half a dozen connections, walking more than half a mile fully encumbered in Oakland at night, but I made it without being assaulted, robbed, or raped.

The change fees, motels, and transportation costs totaled an additional $500 — money reserved for blackwater rafting in caves and an additional charter fishing trip — that was no longer available to me.

But eventually, I made the 14-hour trek from OAK – AKL.

***

This post is already running long for the usual fare on my blog, but stick with me. Just like that travel fiasco, it was long and convoluted but worth it in the end.

***

David and I met up, I got a good night’s sleep, then we stocked up on Red Bull from his fridge (his brother Johnny was the regional rep for New Zealand) and almost immediatley headed north to the Bay of Islands. It was wonderful.

We checked into our hostel and found piles of South Americans and Europeans with a healthy appetite for Red Bull and traded cans for money and meals more than once.

The hostel had two crappy plastic kayaks the guest could use, and after the rude Australian owner shouted at us for not being gentle enough when unburying the kayaks from a pile of garbage behind the hostel, we lined them up parallel to one another, loaded our gear, and grabbed on.

One of us grabbed the nose of each with one hand, the other grabbed the rear of each with one hand, and we made our way across the five blocks or so to the beach.

By the time we put in, our forearms were already sore, but we hit the water and caught the most common fish in the New Zealand nearshore biomass, the Australasian Snapper, using a variety of baits.

None were large, but we boated enough to keep us entertained before making the long trek back to the hostel where we got to know the primary German, French, and Argentinian guests staying nearby.

Apart from the excessive cigarette smoking, it was a great. And despite how different New Zealand was from my home, it quickly found its way into my heart.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #52 — Jack Mackerel.