Houston was a bit disappointing. I mean, this place gave me my 100th Species, and it was a dirty catfish.
Houston is a mudflat stretching for miles in every direction, and I ended up going down a toll road for miles without knowing what the hell I was doing, but as I made my went to the Bay City suburb of Houston, I found myself slinging small baits for a lot of Hardhead and Gaftopsail Catfish.
The first one was cool, but they quickly lost their appeal as I struggled to unhook something with giant spines and a tiny mouth. I unavoidably killed a few fish, and I felt bad about it, but even when cutting the line, I was annoyed by these little monsters.
Anticlimactic. My 100th Species was sixth-season of LOST anticlimactic.
A new species is a new species, but I wasn’t too thrilled about this one. Still, I wrote about Houston and its plight resulting from Hurricane Harvey when the hurricane landed a few weeks after I passed through.
So anticlimactic beats getting caught in the eye of a hurricane, and I guess I can’t complain. In fact, my heart went out to Houston, and I even wrote about it in the Herald and News because at the time, I hadn’t counted my species total yet, and I had no idea the Gaftopsail Catfish was No. 100.
This is likely the most aggressive fish I’ve ever caught. I buy frozen shrimp as bait, allowing a few pieces at a time to slowly defrost in the water to achieve that perfect, almost-frozen-but-not-quite texture that best allows them to stay on a single hook.
Where I happened to be fishing in Pensacola, the shoreline was pockmarked with rocks ranging in size from peas to watermelons. When I plopped a few shrimp in the one- or two-inch-deep water at the edge of the shore, I waded past them and began fishing.
Every time I went back for more bait, I noticed tiny little monsters that could’ve been fish, eels, or some sort of Floridian parasite greedily attacking my bait. It was broad daylight, the water was shallow, and I was two feet from the shrimp, but that didn’t stop the little fishes as they made short work of bait after bait.
Since I had limited shrimp, and the bite was on fire, I was at first upset. I tried digging a little pool a few inches from the shoreline with a rock, filling it with water, and then putting the shrimp there.
That didn’t stop the little beasties, though, as they timed the wave action and used it to propel themselves across the moist, rocky group into the pool and devour the bait only to retreat once the bait was gone.
I was intrigued. This was long before I started microfishing, and the smallest hooks I had were my (roughly) No. 16 Bergie Worm Jr. 1/64-ounce jigs. This is a lot of hook for a three-inch fish, but it proved effective when I put a tiny piece of shrimp on it, and I promptly caught several.
Since I couldn’t notice any other types of gobies amassed there in the rocks, once I caught a few, the novelty wore off, and I was back to chasing larger prey.
Channel Catfish are the bane of the Freshwater Species Hunter’s existence across much of the United States and Canada, but Hardhead Catfish fill this role in the saltwater and brackish environments of the Gulf of Mexico.
By day, Pinfish will ravage your bait. By night, expect Hardhead Catfish to fill in. The first one was exciting, but as I caught almost nothing but these bastages after dark in Pensacola and Houston alike, the excitement faded faster a college football fan drinking too much in an unseasonably warm game.
Apart from the obvious visual similarities between Hardhead and Channel Catfish, Hardheads will also eat virtually anything, can be caught day or night, and have sharp barbs on the pectoral and dorsal fins that while not venomous will still hurt enough to extract all sorts of profanity if you manage to get sliced.
Species: Red Drum (Sciaenops ocellatus) Location: Graffiti Bridge, Pensacola, FL Date: August 1, 2017
Everyone should go fish the Gulf at some point in their life for Redfish or Red Drum. At least, that’s what fishing culture has told us. I have fished in Corpus Christi and parts of Florida where they could be found, but I’ve never landed a “Bull Red” that we all yearn for.
That said, I did manage to get a “Calf Red” if we’re sticking with the bovine terminology while fishing the rocky lagoon for anything and everything that would bite. I was using a No. 8 Sabiki cut in half (three hooks are much easier to manage than six) and tip each with shrimp. I typically use pieces of pre-cooked cocktail shrimp because it’s easy to find anywhere you are, but it’s worth a shot.
The Red Drum didn’t fight as well as other Drums and Croakers I’ve caught since, but it still fought well for a foot-long, one-pound fish. I was especially pleased because it had a few tail spots (two on one side, one on the other) for which the species is so renowned.
I fished for them again in Corpus Christi and in a freshwater lake near San Antonio this summer (yes, really), and I caught other fish but no big Redfish.
This is one species I will continue to chase even though I’ve now caught my “lifer” and registered it here.
When I finally caught a fish that wasn’t a Pinfish in Pensacola, I was stoked. I was fishing below the Graffiti Bridge and if the name doesn’t suggest this, it’s not the place you go to feel safe.
In my time there, I quickly befriended two people fishing nearby who were entertained by the small fish I was catching even as they tried for something bigger.
Their squid and minnows weren’t working as well as my shrimp, and they were entertained by all of the Pinfish I was catching. But not catching fish was the least of their worries.
The woman in the pair decided to try and “wade” in the filthy, brackish water. After removing her flip-flops, she promptly sliced her foot open on the sharp rocks below. It was a deep cut, and I was terrified she’d be dead from infection before night fell, but she was a trooper and continued fishing.
It wasn’t long before I caught the Mangrove Snapper — a new species. Like the Pinfish, it hit shrimp. I promptly released it and went back to fishing, but it was at this point I noticed an obvious drug deal going down in the parking lot.
I made sure to lock my car, and the telltale “BEEP BEEP” drew the attention of the guys in the car. I locked my eyes back on the lagoon and hoped I wasn’t about to feel a bullet tear through my flesh. Fortunately, the regulators mounted up and got out of there without incident.
The bleeding person to my left was clearly bleeding a lot, and I worried if I’d outlast them in this corner of Hell I’d parked in that just happened to have great fishing…
Your first specimen of a common species is exciting. Your second and third are, too. Sometime shortly after that, though, it goes downhill.
Anyone who’s fished the Gulf knows the world of annoyance Pinfish can induce. As I fished a lagoon in backwater Pensacola, they proved a nuisance that limited my species total.
I caught a dozen or so that first night, and I have since caught hundreds. Pinfish are one of just a handful of saltwater species I’ve caught more than 100 of in a day, but most anyone could do that, so I don’t feel special.
Pinfish keep the skunk off, make good cutbait and livebait alike, and supposedly even taste good. I’ve never eaten one, but I filled a bucket with 50-60 for a family on a pier in Corpus Christi this summer, so people do eat them.
Still, it was the other species in that lagoon I was most interested in.
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. Now I know that you should buy a SIM Card, but then? Nope.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Species: Striped Seaperch (Embiotoca lateralis) Location: Chetco River North Jetty, Brookings-Harbor, OR Date: September 14, 2011
I first saw Striped Seaperch as a kid. The beautiful, coppery iridescence paired with stunning cerulean lines made the cooler full of these beautiful fish stand out in stark contrast to the muted colors of the rockfish, salmon, lingcod carcasses strewn about the fillet station at the Brookings-Harbor Public Fish Cleaning Station.
They were big, bright, and beautiful, and the owner of the fish (which realistically were all two to three pounds) had said he caught them while trolling for salmon in the Chetco. I was skeptical about his methods, but I couldn’t deny his results.
These fish were probably the most beautiful fish I’d seen at that point, and I was smitten.
The year I graduated high school, I’d go on annual trips to the coast with my friends Ben Blanchard and Christopher Puckett. They both liked fishing, but I loved it, so they’d often fish with me for a few hours then take the car and do other things while I fueled my obsession.
In 2008, the same year after graduating high school, we struck out for Striped Seaperch.
In 2009, same story.
In 2010, I really put in some effort, did some research, and was only that much more frustrated when I struck out again.
This time, with the waning daylight, I threw out what I now know was a too-large hook with too-large bait. By some miracle, in between battling the horrendous weeds, I caught a fish.
It was a Striped Seaperch just over a pound, and I disparaged the fading daylight and my cheap, digital camera for not being able to accurately capture its beauty.
Since then, I’ve caught a lot more of these amazing fish, including a 1.72-pounder just 0.03 pounds off of the 1.75-pound record held by Species Fishing Legend Steve Wozniak (who I actually fished with in 2018).
I sincerely believe this will be the next All-Tackle World Record I set. I’ve seen a lot of fish over two pounds and though I’ve never caught one myself, I believe it’s only a matter of time. After all, that’s what I initially said about catching my first Striped Seaperch, and it came to fruition, so I’m optimistic.