Species #9 — Black Rockfish

My first saltwater fish, a Black Rockfish, was also my second, third, and fourth saltwater fish.

Species: Black Rockfish (Sebastes melanops)
Location: Brookings Coastline, OR
Date: May 25, 2005

Elementary school was terrible, junior high was better, and high school was all right. As a freshman, I was awkward in the way most freshman are, but I was also extra awkward in my own, special way.

I’m not sure I really knew what I wanted, or what I was interested in outside of hunting, fishing, and trapping. But even those were more intellectual interests than anything else. Sports were okay, and I competed in soccer, cross country, basketball, and track as a freshman, but I hadn’t found my niche.

Then came the Biology Trip.

It was a chance for freshman in Mr. Dean’s biology class to head to the coast for a few days of tide pool examinations, hiking, fishing, and maybe, when left to our own devices, the roasting of a banana slug over the fire and subsequent dares to eat it.

We unpacked the vans, put up the tents, and threw around a football while waiting for instructions. That was fun. I could catch pretty well. Unfortunately, I couldn’t (and still can’t, really) throw very well. So much for impressing anyone and solidifying my position as a cool jock.

I was saved from my miserable throws by an announcement. We were told anyone interested in fishing should hop in the van.

It sounded like a nice break, so I hopped in.

***

The 14- or 15-foot Bayliner was not big. In fact, it was hardly a seagoing vessel in the conventional sense. Even still, I climbed in. The harbor was calm and sheltered, and my dad had told me how “Brookings has the safest bar in Oregon,” so I didn’t think much of it.

The ocean was relatively calm, but being on it for the first time — in a small boat, no less — quickly made me queasy. I wasn’t the only one, either.

Everyone on our boat was some level of seasick, but I wasn’t the worst-off, so I was able to fish. My four-inch Wild Eye Swim Shad, the swimbait I know use more than almost any other lure, quickly snagged the bottom, and it wouldn’t be the only time that afternoon. Fortunately, I eventually got it to work long enough to catch a black fish that looked remarkably similar to a Largemouth Bass — except an evil-looking version of it: black and sinister with large spines.

Three more eventually followed suit before another angler on the boat landed the fish of a lifetime, and I later put my head entirely inside of its mouth (read about that here).

Something in me changed that day, I got a stronger sense of identity: I was a fisherman now.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #10 — Blue Rockfish.

Species #8 — Black Crappie

Black Crappie are so beautiful underwater, and even after catching thousands of them, they still evoke a certain awe in me when I see them in their flowing fins.

Species: Black Crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus)
Location: Hoover Ponds, OR
Date: March 22, 2005

Geez, I didn’t fish much back then. I hadn’t wet a line since the previous October.

In my journal, a 14-year-old Luke wrote: “I fought the fish close to shore. Thinking it was a perch, I didn’t pay much attention to it; however, I soon saw the flat body of a small crappie. It was my first.”

***

As of the fall of 2017 when I wrote this, I’ve only caught 1500 specimens of two respective species: Bluegill and Rainbow Trout. Bluegill were the first. I caught my 1500th bluegill in 2015. My 1500th Rainbow Trout, which I classify separately in two categories (Rainbow Trout and Redband Trout), actually just happened in 2017 not long before this entry was written.

Black Crappie will almost definitely be the third. At the time of writing, I’m at 1458. It’ll only take one or two good days next spring to add another species to the 1500 Club.

***

Anyhow, my knowledge of panfishing was pretty minimal back then. I actually caught my first crappie on a Brown Rooster Tail — a lure I absolutely despise  nowadays not for lack of success, but because so many people kill trout with them — when almost every crappie I’ve caught in the years since has come on a jig of some form or another.

Shockingly, a bluegill also hit that drab, miserable spinner and made my day.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #9 — Black Rockfish.

Species #7 — Brown Trout

Why this Eurasian import, the Brown Trout, is nicknamed the “German Brown,” is not verified, but I believe it’s because (1) it’s native there, and (2) the Red, Yellow, and Black spots are the same as the colors of the German flag.

Species: Brown Trout (Salmo trutta)
Location: Confluence Hemlock Creek and Little Deschutes River, OR
Date: August 28, 2004

Boats have nightmares about this place.

Hundreds of sun-bleached lodgepole pines crisscross the small stream, connecting two grassy meadows split by the crystal-clear water that gives life to an otherwise desolate place.

Native Bull and Redband Trout have long since been out-competed by the invasive Brook and Brown Trout that call the waters of the Little Deschutes and its numerous tributaries home.

It was opening day of bow season, and my dad and I decided to flee to the microclimate of the stream during that hot summer day, knowing full-well the deer would be bedded down anyway.

Using small Panther Martin (Size 2)  spinners, as we always did in those days, we caught a number of fish that looked immediately foreign to me. Dad identified them as Brown Trout, and I quickly became enamored with the idea of another new species.

Before we decided to get back to hunting (I still prioritized hunting in those days), I tallied 10 Browns to 10 inches and an additional 30 smaller Brook Trout.

I haven’t had many days with double-digit numbers of Browns since. Coincidentally, the Cleveland Browns haven’t had many double-digit days since, either.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #8 — Black Crappie.

Species #6 — Largemouth Bass

Species: Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides)
Location: Hoover Ponds, OR
Date: July 31, 2004

Bass fishing is the closest thing the fishing community has to professional sports. A handful of the top competitors even make a living off of it. The millions of dollars spent on endorsements, the fact that people actually watch it on television, and the sponsors lining up to put their stickers all over bass boats make it unlike the rest of the fishing world.

My first bass was so unglamorous that Kevin VanDam will probable never give me a second look. I caught it a seven-inch fish on a gold crappie jig.

It was about eight feet below me, and it was hot enough that it didn’t fight hard.

That’s it. My first bass. I wish it had been more romantic, but it was hot and dirty, and I wondered why it was so highly praised.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #7 — Brown Trout.

Species #5 — Yellow Perch

Yellow Perch are one of the most prevalent invasive species in Oregon, but they’re fun to catch and arguably the best-tasting freshwater fish.

Species: Yellow Perch (Perca flavescens)
Location: Hoover Ponds, OR
Date: July 31, 2004

The bluegill were lined up in the shallows, but slightly larger, more insidious fish skirted the edge of visibility, feinting in and out of the shadows in a cruel tease.

I had no idea what they were, but Dad thought they might be perch. He recommended using a crappie jig to try and entice them to bite. Sure enough, the tiny gold tube jig I found in the bottom of our old metal tackle box worked like a charm, and I promptly landed my first Yellow Perch.

My jig went down to the same spot, and I witnessed the telltale pointed gill flare for the first time. It resulted in a hookset and my second Yellow Perch.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #6 — Largemouth Bass.

Species #4 — Bluegill

The first Bluegill I ever caught was extra special because it was the first fish I ever caught that wasn’t a trout.

Species: Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)
Location: Hoover Ponds, OR
Date: July 31, 2004

Baseball is like Trump’s Twitter: hard to watch. For that reason, I decided to take a break from my brother’s game in White City to walk around.

As I neared the back fence, I caught sight of a pond. It wasn’t large, but I saw lots of birds around, and I was intrigued.

The small dirt path rimming the pond got just close enough to show me a glimpse of the fish inside, and as I walked, numerous grasshoppers committed suicide by jumping into the pond where a line of piranha-like fish awaited them with open jaws.

Bug after bug was slurped from the surface, and I desperately wished I had a fishing pole.

***

When I returned for the next game, I was ready. I marched over the water and caught a handful of grasshoppers to use as bait.

The second the first quivering pile of misfortune hit the water, it was gobbled up by a waiting bluegill. My first panfish was a bit anticlimactic, as the fight lasted just a few seconds.

Spines. I realized it had spines. The second my hand clasped around them, I realized the flagship species of the family Centrarchidae was very different from the trout I was used to catching.

Still, sight-fishing to these feisty little monsters was a blast, and I caught fish after fish on grasshoppers and even one on a bare red treble hook, the total coming to 15 before I opted to fish for some of the other species this pond held.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #5 — Yellow Perch.

Species #3 — Bull Trout

Since catching his first Bull Trout in early 2004, the author has caught just a handful of these highly endangered fish. (Photo: USFWS Flickr).

Species: Bull Trout (Salvelinus confluentus)
Location: Various Southern Oregon Streams
Date: May 29, 2004

This isn’t my photo. I desperately wish it were, but I haven’t captured a Bull Trout on hook and line since high school, and the few populations remaining in Southern Oregon are heavily scattered and/or inaccessible to anglers.

My grandpa, born in 1911, used to tell me stories of bounties paid for Bull Trout in his native Wyoming with the then-more-desirable Rainbow, Brown, and Brook Trout (none of which are native to Wyoming) quickly replacing native Bulls and Cutthroat Trout in much of their range before a policy reversal saved these species.

Oregon’s Bull Trout faced a similar fate, with the “harder-fighting” and “better eating” Brookies quickly rising up the Oregon angler’s target species list.

That fish I caught in 2004 would prove to be just one of six Bulls recorded to-date, and I remember marveling at the size of its mouth compared to its relatively small body.

Today, the only sustainable population of Bull Trout that allows harvest in the Lower 48 resides in Lake Billy Chinook, about three hours north of where I landed this Bull so many years ago.

This spring, I plan to chase these Lake Billy Chinook Bulls for a chance to relive that feeling I first experienced 15 long years ago.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #4 — Bluegill.

Species #2 — Brook Trout

Invasive Brook Trout were a staple in my childhood fishing pursuits.

 

Species: Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis)
Location: Various Southern Oregon Streams
Date: May 29, 2004

I caught dozens of these between my first fish and 2004; however since I didn’t keep records and don’t have pictures, I must defer to the journals I started in 2004 to determine species order.

Brook Trout were widely introduced to Oregon nearly 100 years prior, and they slowly encroached upon the territory of native Bull Trout. Even 15 years ago, I remember catching stringers full of Brookies with my dad and younger brothers on tiny Panther Martin (Size 2) spinners.

Limits on Rainbow Trout dropped from my early childhood 15 to 10, then to five, then ultimately down to two fish in streams before I got out of high school, but there remains no limit on Brook Trout in much of Oregon to encourage anglers to fight back against this invasive, East Coast char.

The tiny streams we fished weren’t conducive for three young boys and a their father, given the lack of fishable water, limited visibility surrounding the water, and the competitive drive I shared with my brothers only when it came to fishing.

Still, we caught fish. A 14-year-old me concluded the journal entry with “We did well today.”

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #3 — Bull Trout.

Species #1 — Rainbow Trout

The author isn’t sure if his first fish was a hatchery Rainbow Trout (pictured)…
…or a wild Redband Trout.

 

 

 

 

 


Species:
Rainbow Trout (Oncorynchus mykiss)
Location: Howard Prairie Reservoir, OR

This is hazy. I’m not sure what day or even what year it was that I caught my first Rainbow Trout, but I have a picture, and I have a memory.

My dad used to take me fishing with him, using an old canvas baby carrier with an aluminum frame attached to his back. He told me about all of the times I drooled or spit up on the back of his neck while he chased the wild Redband Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss newberrii) native to Southern Oregon.

He is some strange combination of trout purist and spinfisherman, never using a fly rod but only seriously targeting trout. He preferred wild fish in small streams to hatchery fish in lakes, but that didn’t stop him from chasing the latter.

I distinctly remember reeling in a small wild ‘Band that he’d hooked while we took a break from the family camping trip/reunion we’d taken to Howard Prairie Reservoir in Jackson County, Oregon. I also distinctly remember fighting a big, hatchery ‘Bow on what I’m pretty sure was the same day.

The former was nothing to write home about, but it was eight inches long, so it went on the stringer.

The latter was about 16-18 inches in length. It hit Power Bait and started running. Not knowing what to do, I just started reeling as I walked slowly back up the hill upon which we were fishing. Dad grabbed the fish, and we put it on the stringer like we always did with trout in those days.

***

Nearly 25 years have passed. I no longer keep wild trout, and I almost never fish for hatchery fish of any creed, but I still love stalking wild ‘Bands in tiny streams during the heat of summer, and I hope I can carry my son or daughter on my back someday to carry on the tradition.

Regardless, Redband Trout became my soulmate that day. I just didn’t know it yet.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here Species #2 — Brook Trout.