Species: European Perch (Perca fluviatilis) Location: Lake Pupuke, Auckland, New Zealand Date: February 19, 2014
New Zealand is famous for its trout fishing. It’s also well-known for its freshwater eels. What it is not renowned for is perch.
So when I caught a perch in the small, urban lake at the heart of Auckland, I was surprised. I was even more surprised when the slightly-off coloration of the fish made me realize it was a European or Redfin Perch instead of the Yellow Perch I was used to back in the States.
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.
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: Coho Salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) Location: Puget Sound, Seattle, WA Date: July 23, 2013
Washington has some tremendous fisheries. For that reason, it’s strange that I spent so long without fishing this state.
In fact, when I left on this trip in my newly-purchased 2002 Honda CR-V with my friends Ben Blanchard and his then-girlfriend (now-wife) Autumn, it wasn’t a fishing trip.
I packed some fishing rods because, of course, but I really had no idea when or where I’d be fishing.
Instead, we’d traveled north to Sequim, Washington for the Lavender Festival. It wasn’t really my idea, but I like to travel, and I’d never been to that part of Washington State before.
We made it up safely, and the sight, sound, smell, and taste of lavender permeated everything. I supposed you could say it purpletrated our senses completely because we moved from farm to farm and sampled honey, jam, baked goods, lemonade, and every other food or beverage you can infuse with lavender.
It was delightful.
Though I was a bit skeptical about going to a festival dedicated to flowers, it actually turned out great. It was beautiful and an all-around great experience.
We made sure to take a lot of pictures of the majestic scenery, and despite my low-quality camera, they turned out pretty well.
Though fishing was at the back of my mind, it was still present. Obviously.
I began planning trips here and there, and apart from a brief stop at the famed Lake Crescent where I tried for the Beardslee strain of Rainbow Trout and several stops at small coastal streams in pursuit of Bull Trout, I hadn’t spent enough time fishing.
So as we goofed off and frolicked in the lavender, taking a mock photo shoot, my wheels really began to spin.
The actual fishing trip came a day or two after the festival ended. After riding my first ferry and dining on some delicious Nepalese food when the three of us met up with our friends Christopher Puckett and Logan Moore — both of whom were attending school in Seattle at the time — I crashed hard.
Boarding the boat on two hours’ sleep was rough.
I struggled to stay awake as we ran out to our location, but All-Star Charters was a decent charter operation. We trolled for fish. Though it wasn’t my favorite method, it worked, and we picked up a number of Coho Salmon — my first.
Over the day, I landed two total fish, and added a new species.
Salmon trolling is boring, but it can be effective.
Everything had panned out, but next time, I would make sure to prioritize fishing just a little more. It’s a mantra I’ve lived by ever since.
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.
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.
Species: Spiny Dogfish (Squalus acanthias) Location: San Pablo Bay, San Francisco, CA Date: March 25, 2012
This is the third 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.
In the United States, Atlantic Cod is the fish most commonly used in Fish and Chips, but in England and most of Western Europe, it’s dogfish.
Dogfish of the family Squalidae are a widespread shark that don’t grow very large but still finds their way into nets worldwide.
For whatever reason, North Americans don’t love dogfish as much as Europeans, but they’re missing out. One of the few meals I enjoyed in Portugal was Dogfish Soup and one of the few I enjoyed in Spain was “British-Style Fish and Chips” made of dogfish.
Unfortunately, when I caught my first dogfish, I didn’t know this. So, at the advice of the captain, I released it. Then Ben Blanchard released his. We caught several of them that day, and though they were small, we missed out on some good meat.
Spiny Dogfish have a dorsal spine that can be dangerous, so the captain wouldn’t let me pose with it. Sadly, the only picture of these fish we caught is the one above.
Missed out on meat and a good picture. Live and learn.
Species: Bat Ray (Myliobatis californica) Location: San Pablo Bay, San Francisco, CA Date: March 25, 2012
If you didn’t read the last entry, be sure to catch up here or you’ll be missing out. They tie together.
I’ve fished the salt a lot in the past 15 years. Not anywhere near as much as freshwater, but I’ve still spent an average of five days a year fishing saltwater which is a lot for someone five hours from the ocean.
In all that time, I’ve only landed two fish over 25 pounds.
Both happened to be on the same day, minutes apart, while chasing sharks, sturgeon, and stripers with Sole-Man Sportfishing.
The first was a massive Bat Ray. It’s body was maybe 30 inches long (not including the three-foot tail) and 40 inches wide. The captain estimated it at 60 pounds but wouldn’t bring it on board because it presented a safety hazard.
So all I have of the largest fish I’ve ever landed in saltwater is this picture.
While I would’ve liked a better picture, fighting this creature on 20-pound mono was a blast. Imagine pulling a piece of sheet metal with suction cups off the bottom. But the sheet metal pulls back. Hard.
After catching the 60-pounder, I got a smaller one the captain estimated at around 40 pounds. Though I’ve caught a lot of 10-20 pound saltwater fish, I haven’t broken 20 pounds in the salt since.
Fortunately, I did manage a few pics of Ben fighting a beast of his own, and that’s where this story ends.
Species: Brown Smoothhound (Mustelus henlei) Location: San Pablo Bay, San Francisco, CA Date: March 25, 2012
Shark Week isn’t for a few months. I desperately wish I could’ve timed this to release then, but I didn’t want my readers to wait around for months and lose interest. I’ve already had enough women lose interest in me.
I kid. Kind of.
Still, the moment when I caught my first shark was something special. I was fishing with Sole-Man Sportfishing out of San Francisco, and it was my second attempt for Striped Bass, sturgeon, and sharks in the Bay.
On the first trip, I’d went with two friends, Christopher Puckett and Ben Blanchard. One caught a respectable striper and a Bat Ray while the other caught a Starry Flounder (a fish I’ve seen caught several times but have yet to boat myself). I got skunked.
It just so happened that for Round Two, Ben and I had returned. We were on a different charter and immediately liked the captain.
When I met him, he said something to the effect of, “You’re surprised I’m not white, huh?”
He was about the least stereotypical charter boat captain I’ve ever met. In 30 or more charter trips, he remains arguably my favorite.
Captain Don Franklin was raised in inner city Oakland and had a rough upbringing. He told us that many of his friends had gotten caught up in gangs, but he’d gotten caught up in fishing, and it changed his life.
Little did I know, he was about to change mine.
Captain Don had given Ben and I a special deal because he was training his son to be a deckhand. As the day progressed, his son caught on quickly. Despite being maybe 13 or 14 years old — the youngest deckhand I’ve ever seen — he was polite, professional, hardworking, and learned quickly.
The stripers remained elusive early, but the first fish I caught was a shark. It was small, but as I got it close to the boat, I was ecstatic. It was a shark!
Freaking out like a small child who’s just been granted his heart’s desire, the two-foot creature writing on my hook made my day.
The captain wasn’t too impressed with the Brown Smoothhound I’d just caught, but he appreciated my enthusiasm.
Ben caught one early, too, and after we’d posed for a few quick pictures, he tossed back the relatively harmless little sharks.
We motored to the next spot and happened to pass the captain with whom we’d went striper fishing years before, and Captain Don told us it was the other guy’s last trip. Apparently, we weren’t the only clients who’d been disappointed by the experience.
Captain Don cracked jokes, informed us, and made the day all-around pleasant. We actually caught several more species that day, but the last hookup I had ended tragically.
My rod sat in the rod holder, minding its own business, when something massive picked up my bait. It ran hard as I lifted the rod, and I feared it might spool me. With the lightest possible pressure, I gently put my thumb on the spool, and the 20-pound mono snapped like thread.
I was informed I’d likely just lost a massive Sevengill Shark of several hundred pounds. This is still the largest fish I’ve ever hooked. My own personal Shark Week wasn’t bad, but that fish would’ve made my life — especially considering that those sharks are both edible and delicious.
I pouted a bit, but Captain Don quickly lifted my spirits as his honorary deckhand, a cat in a life vest, pranced around the cabin.
That’s not a joke. He really had a cat in a life vest on board, and though it made my allergies flare up all day, it was still the most unique fishing experience I’ve had on a boat.
Apart from being one of my most unique days fishing, it remains one of my best, despite losing the fish of a lifetime.