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, is 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.
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.
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.
This fish had disturbing, foreign 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 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.
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. That was my first confirmation it was not a Cabezon. I love Cabezon; it’s probably my favorite meat, and this was not a Cabbie.
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.
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.
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.
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 below:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 nothing 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.
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 immediately 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 un-burying 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.
Species: Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis) Location: San Pablo Bay, San Francisco, CA Date: March 25, 2012
This is the fifth and final story in succession and ties in with the other species I caught on the same day, and you’re best reading them in order: First and Second and Third and Fourth.
The California Delta is famous for bass. Largemouths, Stripers, and Spots all call this area home. I’d love to fish it some day.
This story, however, takes place nearby in the San Pablo Bay, and it involves Stripers.
Years before, after personally striking out for Stripers in the San Pablo Bay but watching my friend, Christopher Puckett, land a double-digit fish, I saw the possibilities.
It was now almost four years later, but I’d booked the trip in hopes of catching sharks, stripers, and sturgeon. We’d already boated three species of shark and lost a fourth, massive one, but the sturgeon and Stripers remained quiet.
Then, Ben Blanchard got a respectable fish of around eight pounds.
Not long after, he caught a second, slightly smaller fish.
Both were keepers.
I’d boated four new species that day, so I couldn’t complain, but since this was a trip where we intended to target three large, edible fish, I’d hoped to take home some meat.
Eventually, a Striper of my own inhaled the shrimp on my hook, and after a fight in which the captain jumped up and down hooting and hollering in excitement, it came to net.
It was 13 pounds, 1 ounce and measured 33 1/2 inches long, making it the largest fish (other than the two Bat Rays I’d caught earlier in the day) I’d ever caught and the largest game fish.
The fish was delicious, making me promise never to release a legal Striper. Plus, the picture Ben took was one of the best fishing pictures I’ve ever had taken of me, and it remained one of my favorite profile pics for years. If only I’d removed the hook the captain put through its lip beforehand…
Species: Leopard Shark (Triakis semifasciata) Location: San Pablo Bay, San Francisco, CA Date: March 25, 2012
This is the fourth story in succession and ties in with the other species I caught on the same day, and you’re best reading them in order: First and Second and Third.
It was so long ago; the memory is fuzzy. The experience was certain, but some details are blurred at the bloodshot, tired edge of reality. Whether it happened this way exactly while the little boy watched, or a fantastical young mind crafted sensory elements to accompany a particularly gripping story is uncertain.
There was a little boy with his family. He might have been three or seven or 10, but he certainly wasn’t any older.
He watched a man in overalls fishing from the beach. Grandpa wore overalls. This guy was wearing overalls, but they were rubber. Or plastic. Like the memory of that day.
Anyway, the man was using an absolutely gigantic fishing pole. Dad didn’t know why. Neither did Mom. That frustrated the boy. He liked to know why.
So as the family passed, the boy asked.
The old fisherman told the boy it was to keep the line above the breakers, another name for waves, apparently.
“What are you fishing for?” the boy asked.
“Surfperch,” replied the man.
The boy wondered aloud if perch could go in the ocean. He’d caught perch before.
These were different perch, though.
Different perch and breakers. The boy was learning.
The man’s rod doubled, and he caught a silverly fish he called a surfperch right then.
The boy ran up to get a better look, his parents cautioning him to not get in the man’s way. The man didn’t mind. He proudly showed off his catch before putting it in a bucket.
The young family grew tired of watching, so they started on down the beach. But the boy kept looking back. He couldn’t focus on the sand dollars or shells or the wet gooey sand between his toes. He was fascinated by the man behind him fishing.
Before the family left for the day, the rod doubled again, but no silvery surfperch broke the surface. This fish was clearly bigger. It ran and dove, and after a few minutes, the boy had frozen, intently watching the action.
What emerged from the water was shocking. It looked like a shark, but it had spots and looked more like a jaguar or a leopard.
As the boy would find out, it was both.
Catching a Leopard Shark became a life goal that day, and though the story’s details blurred, the beautiful fish never did.
The boy, now a man, tried chasing Leopard Sharks during college, but failed the first time. On the second pass, he found more success. His party had already boated two other species of sharks, rays, and his friend Ben even boated a Striped Bass.
Though Leopard Sharks were always a reasonable possibility along the California Coast, the man just didn’t expect it to happen. So, when line began ripping off the baitcaster again, he assumed it was something else.
When the color flashed in the creamy aqua water, the magical moment on the beach all those years before came back to him. He’d finally done it. The little boy’s dream had become a reality all these years later.
The captain began talking about how these beautiful sharks tasted like salmon, so the man was excited to try them. Unfortunately, this fish measured 35 inches in length, and Leopard Sharks have a minimum length of 36 inches in California.
Still, after a few quick pictures and a release, the man still felt privileged to have captured such a gorgeous fish.