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: Spotted Sunfish (Lepomis punctatus) Location: Whataburger Parking Lot, Century, Florida Date: August 1, 2017
Florida is the destination fishery in the lower 48. As cool as salmon and steelhead and halibut are, it might even beat Alaska.
So when I was driving back from Officer Training School in Alabama, I figured a small detour to Florida was a no-brainer. Pensacola was only a few hours off my beaten path, and I knew I could grab some new experiences and species with the detour.
For some reason, before I hit Pensacola, I decided to fish a tiny freshwater stream running through the town of Century. I parked in a Whataburger parking lot, grabbed my ultralight rod, and walked 100 feet to the little stream. It was no more than a few pools of water, but I knew they held fish.
I wasn’t wrong, and my tiny worm-tipped 1/64-ounce jig earned me a fish in no time. I thought Bluegill at first until I realized it wasn’t.
It was a beautiful Spotted Sunfish! A new species and a beautiful one, at that.
The baby blue eyeshadow, greenish-gray overtones and hundreds of black flecks that give the fish their name.
Species: Creek Chub (Semotilus atromaculatus) Location: Globe Creek, Fountain Heights, TN Date: August 1, 2017
This might be the most “Species Hunter” post of my entire blog. After staying with my friend, Marcus Moss, in northern Alabama for a week of subprime bass fishing that culminated in a few gar and a lot of small bass, I headed to Nashville.
I spent one night there, taking in the Music City before moving my way towards Pensacola, the next intended stop on my roundabout return trip to Oregon. As a sidenote, Nashville is awesome. One of the first cities to receive Google Fiber and (at time of writing) the cheapest airport to fly into, it has a lot to offer. The food, music, street art, and general vibe (I know, I hate that word, too) were generally impressive. I look forward to returning someday soon.
But in all of the excitement, I forgot to fish.
Realizing I never fished in Nashville as I made my way south, I wondered if there was any way I could stop and catch a fish in Tennessee before I made it back to Alabama. I’d never caught one in this state, and there were countless new species to be had even if I hadn’t really identified myself as a “Species Hunter” just yet.
It felt like a longshot, but when I stopped for gas a few hours south of Nashville, I took note of the small, semi-stagnant creek I crossed en route to the gas station. After filling up, I crossed the access road, turned off onto a road that led to several houses and was dismayed to see fences blocking the access to the creek below.
I thought about giving up when I realized that I didn’t need to touch the water — just access it. I tried dipping my jig (not a euphemism) in the water some 20 feet below, but the little fish I could weren’t having it.
I had yet to discover microfishing and had no artificial baits. As my heart sank, and I went to put my rod away, a grasshopper flitted away from where it had sat, baking on the hot road moments before. I spent a minute trying to catch on one the road, and once I did, it paid off.
Tipping the jig with a writhing, mangled hopper proved the right incentive to get the cyprinids below to bite, and I landed my first Creek Chub. I didn’t love dropping it down almost 20 feet to the water because fish care is important to me even when dealing with “trash fish,” but it swam away fine.
Somewhat smugly, I tucked my ultralight back into the back of my car, closed the door, and hit the road again, one species richer.
Species: Shortnose Gar (Lepisosteus platostomus) Location: Alligator Preserve Pond, Madison, Alabama Date: July 30, 2017
I’ve caught more than 200 species at the time of writing. Of those, the only one I’ve counted without 100% certainty of identification was the Shortnose Gar. I fully expect to catch another, but since I counted it as Species #90 and caught more than 100 species since, I’m counting it with an asterisk.
The one I caught was likely a hybrid Spotted x Shortnose Gar, and I don’t have good photos because it was caught at night. So here we have a pitiful story, an excuse, and no pictures. Excellent.
Sadly, I know way too many anglers who feed us this line on the regular. I promise it’s a one-off for me, though, and I have it on the shortlist, so I’ll get one “for real” very soon.
Species: Walleye (Sander vitreus) Location: American Fork Marina, Utah Lake, Provo, UT Date: June 22, 2017
When doing my research about Utah Lake, I’d read that it contained Walleye, but I’d always heard that the coolwater species like to stay deep and rarely fed during daylight — especially in the dog days of summer.
So when my worm was taken, I assumed it was a small White Bass.
Nothing could’ve pleased me more than the long, perch-like fish on the end of my line. My Walleye was neither big nor pretty as this fish can be, and stretched the tape to just 16 inches.
I knew they had teeth, so I was careful as I handled the fish, but I quickly realized a fish this size was harmless, so I was able to lip it for a quick photo before letting it swim free.
Some of my blog posts are like Oompa Loompas: short and lame. This is one of them. I just hope that “you will live in happiness too. Like the Oompa Loompa, doompety do.”
For the record, the original Willy Wonka was better than the remake, and it was a great film, despite the Oompa Loompas.
Species: Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) Location: American Fork Marina, Utah Lake, Provo, UT Date: June 22, 2017
I don’t think my attitude towards a species has changed so quickly.
When I threw my worm up against the far rocky shoreline of the American Fork Marina, it was hammered so hard, the rod almost went into the water. I was stoked, thinking I’d hooked into some massive beast of a fish, but as I got the fish close enough to see it in the milky water, I was surprised to see it wasn’t a massive White Bass or a massive June Sucker, but rather a respectable catfish.
I knew Channel Catfish were present in Utah Lake, but I didn’t really expect to catch one in broad daylight. Yet here I was.
I was impressed with the fight and tenacity of the two-foot fish, and when I landed it, I was further impressed with the pugnacious attitude it carried with it.
Lipping a catfish really isn’t that bad. The spines are terribly painful (I’ve learned this at least half a dozen times), so lipping them or tail gripping is your best bet.
Then I caught another, and the magic was lost a little.
I hate to even say it, but every time I hooked one on my light tackle, it would drag me into the rocks and make me change the horribly abraded line — a pain with only a few hours to fish.
When I saw some folks fishing lures from a boat for these massive beasts, I was wistful about a truly massive Channel Catfish, but it never came. My two five-pounders would have to suffice.
Channel Catfish get bigger than this, but the two five-pound-class Channel Cats I caught that first day in Utah remain some of the biggest I’ve caught to date.***
Since then, fishing the South has made me hate these fish. Invasive in much of their current range, they displace suckers and redhorse and other native bottom feeders. They often get stunted like Bullheads and Yellow Perch, and they really have no value as a species.
Further, their spines are especially painful, and every time I throw one on the bank where invasive (as I do with Yellow Perch and Bullheads back in Oregon), I get stabbed by their damn spines, as they inflict one final blow on society.
Sadly, they’re here to stay. So where invasive, kill every one you catch (when legal) — whether or not it’s big enough to eat.