Species #32 — Cabezon

Cabezon are both ugly and beautiful. The massive, over-sized fins, widely variable color palette, and aggressive nature make them great quarry.

Species: Cabezon (Scorpaenichthys marmoratus)
Location: Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf, Santa Cruz, CA
Date: March 24, 2010

During college, trips to the coast were a somewhat regular occurrence for Ben Blanchard and myself. But when our other friend Christopher Puckett decided to go as well, we were pleasantly surprised.

Christopher is a good friend, but he was never really the outdoorsy type. Usually, the three of us would play video games or board games, joke around, or have deep discussions, but we didn’t really do a lot of fishing together.

We’d all started in the same class in school, but Christopher graduated a year early. So for his junior year and Ben and my sophomore year Spring Break trip, we piled into my car and drove down to California, where it would be warm. Or so we told ourselves.

***

The San Francisco Bay, however, is not warm in March. It’s warmer than Oregon but only just.

We spent the first night in San Rafael, a city on the north end of the Bay, in a fleabag motel. The only reason we weren’t robbed blind is because my car was so unimpressive.

Would-be thieves thought: “Yikes. This guy needs it more than we do.”

The next morning, our charter for Striped Bass and White Sturgeon was a flop. Jim Cox Sportfishing was the name of the boat, and despite the guide and the three of us fishing, we only managed only one striper, and it was Christopher who caught it.

Now apart from our Biology Trip as freshman in high school where we caught a bunch of bottomfish and the one time he went trout fishing with at Spencer Creek, this was his only fish. The 27-inch striper was nearly 10 pounds. Not bad for maybe his tenth fish.

He also caught a stingray pushing 20 pounds, and Ben caught a respectable Starry Flounder.

I was skunked. Not the best way to drop $180 for a guy who, at the time, only made about $5000 per year.

***

We went to a nice seafood dinner at Fisherman’s Wharf then drove to Santa Cruz. I really wanted to catch a fish, so we headed to the Santa Cruz Municipal Pier.

Sure enough, I caught a fish. I setup the rod, and when I went to the bathroom, I came back to see Ben reeling in a White Croaker.

It wasn’t long before I started catching fish, too. That night I caught three small sculpins, and everyone else fishing on the pier kept calling them “Bullheads,” so I thought they were Pacific Staghorn Sculpins. The Internet existed, but I didn’t have a laptop and Christopher’s iPhone 1 was reserved solely for navigation, so I just went on in ignorance.

***
It wasn’t until I got home that I compared pictures and realized they’d been Cabezon.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #33 — Cabezon.

Species #31 — Pacific Staghorn Sculpin

The commonly used term “bullhead” is not accurate when used for any of a host of species, but the Pacific Staghorn Sculpin is the fish most victimized by this label.

Species: Pacific Staghorn Sculpin (Leptocottus armatus)
Location: Chetco River South Jetty, Brookings-Harbor, OR
Date: September 10, 2009

Rashomon Effect 6-of-6: My Hands

The phone started beeping, and I fumbled for it in the blackness. My hand found it in the dark, but as I flipped it open with my thumb, the split at the base of the thumbnail cried out with the motion.

I knew I should’ve put on hand lotion the night before.

The salt and sand and fish blood weren’t going to do me any favors, but the shower soothed my aches and pains momentarily.

***

Buckling my belt wasn’t pleasant, nor was tying my shoes. Getting my gear ready wasn’t a picnic, either. Why do so many things require using your hands?

***

Finally, I was fishing.

Braided line carves through wet skin. My left hand learned this lesson almost immediately. The weight of the line worked against me, as numerous cuts and slices joined the splits and nicks from the night before.

There was no freshwater on board, so in order to get the blood off, my only recourse was saltwater. Nothing feels better in a wound like saltwater.

Since my hands were so ravaged, I didn’t even want to use them to wipe the vomit from the corners of my mouth, so I used my sleeve. Man, I was disgusting. But I didn’t even care.

***

The boat returned to the marina, and despite the prospect of catching our own bait fish on ultralight tackle, I made a beeline for the bathroom.

Relief washed over my ailing hands with soap and water that might as well have been ecstasy in the moment.

Hands clean, I returned to the marina to chase bait.

***

The tiny fish and tiny hooks didn’t cooperate with my sausage fingers, stiffened lightly from the infection slowly setting in.

Still, we filled a bag with bait in short order and headed to the jetty.

***

After catching several species on the jetty, including my first Pacific Staghorn Sculpin, the laterally-compressed big-headed things that look more alien than fish, I was pretty excited even if they were all relatively small fish. Then my rod bent sharply, and I knew I had something bigger on the line. After a short fight, I pulled the mystery creature up to the edge of jetty and lifted it from the water.

I was dismayed to see it was a Dungeness Crab, but then hope sparked in me as I realized it might be a keeper. Not knowing how to hold crabs, I just grabbed it. It rewarded my stupidity by slicing my already-mangled finger open.

Crawfish pinch, and it can hurt a little, but it doesn’t break the skin. Crabs can carve you up like a hapless Thanksgiving turkey.

The high-pitched screech reeked of masculinity, and I watched in horror as the crustacean from Hell maintained its death grip on my finger. Finally, Ben pried it off, and we released it, realizing it was a female.

I was out of tissues, so I ripped a small strip off fabric off of my tee shirt and tried to cobble together a makeshift bandage, but it was impractical, hindering every reel and basically making my right hand useless.

We ended on a low note and headed back down the jetty to start the long journey home, where I coated my hands in the only lotion I’ve ever found that actually fixes my hands after long fishing trips: Goldbond Diabetic Hydrating Foot Lotion. It seems strange, but it works.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #32 — Cabezon.

Species #30 — Kelp Greenling

Hicks call them “Lingcod Candy Bars,” but the Kelp Greenling is a good failsafe against being skunked when fishing from shore.Species: Kelp Greenling (Hexagrammos decagrammus)
Location: Chetco River South Jetty, Brookings-Harbor Marina, OR
Date: September 10, 2009

Rashomon Effect 5-of-6: My Feet

Danner Vanish. I still remember them because they were both the most expensive non-wading boots I’ve ever purchased and some of the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn fishing.

They certainly weren’t stylish, but they felt great. After spending all day on my feet, landing fish after fish and adding nearly half a dozen new species to my Life List, puking my guts out, and then walking all over the marina chasing bait, I should’ve had aching feet. But I didn’t.

I felt great.

***

So when Ben and I loaded up a bag of bait, we decided to take to Round 3 of our glorious day of fishing.

We headed to the jetty.

***

The sand squished under my feet as I made my way from the car to the massive boulders that comprised the jetty.

I didn’t like it.

Once my boots found purchase on the rock, I nearly lost my footing as one of the many “Jetty Cats” that we loved to joke about darted into the shadows.

Hopping from boulder to boulder probably didn’t require the level of bravado I put into each leap, but I trusted them, and it gave me a bit of rush knowing that one slip could spell disaster. The thrill was titillating.

Making our way to the water wasn’t easy, what with the slick rocks, creeping tide, and fog creeping in slowly, obscuring our view. Still, we managed to get down to the the large flat rock at the end of the structure and catch a few fish.

Ben got the first few fish and then I hooked one. It was a Kelp Greenling. My fifth new species of the day brought to me by the great folks at Danner. The problems of that day aside, those Danner hiking boots are still my favorite boots ever.

Only one left.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #31 — Pacific Staghorn Sculpin.

Species #29 — Pacific Sardine

Occasionally, a wandering sardine or salmon smolt schools up with the anchovies in the marina. It’s always a nice surprise when a much larger baitfish surprises you.

Species: Pacific Sardine (Sardinops sagax)
Location: Brookings-Harbor Marina, OR
Date: September 10, 2009

Rashomon Effect 4-of-6: My Eyes

Black.

I rubbed them.

Gray.

I rubbed them again.

Rheumy, blurry darkness.

I blinked a few times and then fumbled in the darkness for my glasses.

Rheumy, clear darkness.

I shuffled through the cold morning fog to the shower, the heat cleaning my eyes of the night’s sleep, but the blur remained.

My contacts cleared the blur, and I looked at my red, sleep-deprived eyes in the naked light of the single bulb above the mirror.

It would be worth it, I told myself.

***

The salt stung my eyes, and the bracing wind dried them out. I was sick to my stomach, but the sun helped. I donned the practically disposable sunglasses I buy in bulk on Amazon or at Walmart and caught yet another rockfish.

The boat was pleasant, but staring into the water with salt spray and flecks of fish blood flying around, blazing sun, and whipping wind makes your eyes much more tired than a day on the shore.

When the boat docked back in its slip, Ben and I took to chasing silver flashes in the marina.

***

As we hooked anchovies one after the next, I noticed one fish that looked different. While the anchovies looked silver in the brackish water, this fish was blue. I tried placing my bait in its path, but the rhythmic dancing of the school was choreographed to avoid my hooks then surround them, so the odds of getting that one blue fish to bite were small.

Still, as we followed the school around the marina, darting this way and that, that elusive blue glint appeared more than once. Finally, as I walked to retrieve our bait bag, I noticed an isolated blue fish that looked injured.

Since we were snagging as many anchovies as we were hooking them in the mouth, I lowered my crappie jig (the Sabiki proved to be a pain when you’d hook multiple fish due to tangles), and found purchase in the face of the lonely baitfish.

It fought and dove much harder than the anchovies, but it was still a small fish: maybe five inches in length.

As it flopped onto the dock, telltale two-toned coloration and the horizontally-aligned black spots told me it wasn’t an anchovy. The guys on the boat would later tell me it was a Pacific Sardine — the one and only sardine I’ve ever caught.

I felt fortunate to have kept my eyes on the prize, especially when Ben landed one himself a few minutes later.

***

The jetty was dangerous because of the massive boulders, oceanic damp, and deep holes between footholds. Eyes wide, we stepped carefully around the jetty as we caught fish for the rest of the day in the close isolation of that rock spit just a few hundred yards from the bustling beach.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #30 — Kelp Greenling.

Species #28 — Northern Anchovy

Anchovies are weird. They’re seemingly everywhere, work as bait for everything that swims, and yet they’re as frail and easy to catch as any fish I’ve ever seen. How do these things survive?

Species: Northern Anchovy (Engraulis mordax)
Location: Brookings-Harbor Marina, OR
Date: September 10, 2009

Rashomon Effect 3-of-6: My Mind

All through the night, I dreamed of catching fish. My unconscious mind raced through the possibilities the dark waters of the ocean holds, stopping only briefly to rest in between visions.

As the marathon of dreams flew my waking mind, the racing continued with a newly awakened sense of reality. My body wasn’t quite ready to cooperate, but my mind urged me up.

***

During breakfast and the drive to the marina, we discussed what we might catch that day. The possibilities seemed endless in the living cornucopia of the ocean where thousands of species of fish have swum for eons.

The pictures on the wall at Tidewinds Sportfishing only played on our fantasies and expectations as we waited to depart.

In the dim light of the morning, we heard our shoes clamor on the metal ramp down to the marina. The fleeting moonlight reflected on a writhing silver mass that we quickly identified as fish.

Desperate longing to catch those fish rang out in my mind, but we were on a schedule. I pried myself away from the fish but I couldn’t stop thinking about them, even as the boat crossed the bar.

***

The fishing on the boat was phenomenal. I landed four species of rockfish (Black, Blue, Brown, and Yellowtail) while Ben also landed four (Black, Blue, Canary, and Yellowtail).

Despite the sweeping nausea and subsequent vomiting, my mind stayed sharp. I thought about all of the fish I’d caught, and as time ran out on our charter, I got a second wind and began thinking of how to spend the rest of our daylight.

***

When we arrived back at the marina, we knew we had 45 minutes to kill while the crew of Tidewinds Sportfishing cleaned our fish (free of charge, I might add, which is why these guys are the best charter on the Pacific Coast). We made a beeline for the car to grab lighter rods and stalked down each slip of the dock, looking for the silver ball of fish.

Before long, we found it. We tried the Sabiki rig (herring jig) for awhile, and Ben landed the first flopping silver sliver. It was maybe three inches long, with a mouth disproportionate to its size.

As he removed the hook, it’s jaw dislocated, and it wriggled violently for a moment before dying. These fish aren’t very resilient.

Since it died, we decided to keep it as bait.

As the fishing picked up, we landed anchovy after anchovy, their voracious feeding and constant terror of anything we dropped into the water causing enigmatic reactions of the school ranging from darting away from the bait to making mad dashes directly at it.

There is an episode of SpongeBob where anchovies come in and almost destroy the Krusty Krab, and it’s not far from the truth.

“That certain smelly smell that smells…smelly. ANCHOVIES!”                    —Mr. Krabs, SpongeBob Squarepants

These things are crazy. Their massive mouths gather in anything they can as quickly as they can while looking terrified. Given almost anything living in the ocean will eat them, it’s no wonder.

We filled a bag with the strange little minnows in short order, grabbed lunch, then headed to the jetty to use the bait we’d just worked so hard to earn.

Now, I’d just use a herring jig/sabiki and not have to snag them. This makes bait last longer, and it’s also a lot of fun. Try it!

***

We did quite well on the jetty at first, landing a number of small fish and some crabs. Then a seagull stole our hard-earned bait, and it was over.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #29 — Pacific Sardine.

 

Species #27 — Brown Rockfish

Brown Rockfish are rare in Oregon waters. So when I pulled up not one but two of them at the same time, everyone on the boat was pleasantly surprised. Photo courtesy of kenjonesfishing.com.

Species: Brown Rockfish (Sebastes auriculatus)
Location: Brookings-Harbor Coastline, OR
Date: September 10, 2009

Rashomon Effect 2-of-6: My Heart 

The dark majesty of the Oregon Coast rests in it’s rugged, untamed power. The shaded mystery of the forest and what lies within speaks to the adventurer in all of us.

The whistling nocturne played by whipping winds over the salt-peppered cliffs always hatches butterflies in my stomach and a longing in my heart.

When I’m at my most taxed and exhausted from the intensity of hiking the steep trails, climbing the jagged rock faces, and fishing the roiling waters, it’s only my passion for the sport that gets me out of bed the next time to start the process over.

That dark morning was no different, especially after a successful night fishing for surfperch that left us wet, cold, tired, and smiling nonetheless.

My body screamed “Go back to sleep!” but the longing for a day on the water got me out of the safety of my sleeping bag.

***

The instant oatmeal, bland coffee, and physical exhaustion weren’t enough to keep me off the boat, and the resultant seasickness wasn’t enough to keep me from fishing.

Despite the horrible knots my stomach was twisted into, I relished the time between each esophageal release because it meant I could catch a fish or two.

I landed Black and Blue Rockfish left and right, then Yellowtail Rockfish.

Just as we began to near limits, I fought my queasiness long enough for another drop. When I pulled up two small fish at the same time, I was ecstatic. When they didn’t quite look like any rockfish I’d caught before, I was even more so.

“Hey Kyle,” the deckhand said. “Are these Brownies?”

The captain, Kyle, came up and inspected the catch.

“Yeah, those are Brownies! We don’t see a lot of those,” Captain Kyle said to the deckhand, turning to me and adding: “Man, that’s a rare catch.”

The word “rare” evoked a sense of pride that *almost* overcame my nausea.

Little did I know that they were so rare, that in 20-plus charter trips, numerous shore fishing excursions, and miles of jetty walking over almost a decade, I wouldn’t see another “Brownie” captured. And here I’d been fortunate enough to get two on one drop? Damn.

That is something special.

***

The rest of the day was even better. We fished anchovies out of the marina for bait, filled a bag and used them to catch more fish and a few crabs on the jetty, and then ended the day with a delightful dinner that really felt like a reward after an already rewarding day.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #28 — Northern Anchovy.

 

Species #26 — Yellowtail Rockfish

Yellowtail Rockfish aren’t the most sought-after Oregon bottomfish species, but my only real complaint is that they don’t grow as large as Blacks or Blues in our waters.

Species: Yellowtail Rockfish (Sebastes flavidus)
Location: Brookings-Harbor Coastline, OR
Date: September 10, 2009

Good and bad often go hand-in-hand. This was one of those days. In less than 12 hours, I landed 26 fish representing 11 species (six of them new).

Since this series on my blog showcases a story for each individual species, I was presented with a problem I’ve faced before. I’ve been writing a fishing column in the Herald and News as well as stories for my blog. I occasionally have to tell the same story in different ways, using different lenses, perspectives, or even a different focus entirely.

Fortunately, I watch a lot of television, and this style — called the “Rashomon Effect” and inspired by a Kurosawa film of the same name — goes through the same story from multiple perspectives. Different characters are living the same experience, or, the same character is living different experiences based on a single choice.

I’ve written to the Rashomon Effect from one, two, or even three perspectives before, but since I captured six species on this trip, I’ll be putting my skills to the test by writing the same story from six different perspectives though I only experienced my own existence.

Here goes.

Rashomon Effect 1-of-6: My Stomach

A gentle purr clawed at the back of my dreams, itching me ever-closer to consciousness.

My dream-state mind, not fully in my control, rolled my body over, and my stomach sloshed.

Roaring broke the silence of the cool fall morning, and sleep fled my existence. Groggy, but fully conscious, I felt the overarching hunger and willed myself to sit up.

My bare shoulders left the covers, and the shivering — a testament to my metabolism — crawled quickly over my exposed skin.

The beast roiling in my stomach called out again, begging me to satiate it’s wild nature.

The coastal cold slept in, and as I clamored to get my things together for a walk to the showers, the chilled fog blew through me.

Another growl called out in darkness, as I nudged my friend Ben Blanchard in the sleeping bag beside my own.

“It’s time.”

***

Warmed by the shower and draped in temperature-appropriate clothing, I set to answering the call my stomach had been making all morning.

Before it was fully saturated, I quaffed some oatmeal. I was so hungry that I pretty much just gulped it down. The beast was far from tamed, though, so down went two more packets of oatmeal before we drove to the marina.

***

The boat pinballed off the waves, sloshing around as we boated fish after fish. I was excited at the prospect of filleting these stout, bass-like rockfish and eating them.

After numerous Black and Blue Rockfish found a home in my bucket, I landed a new rockfish. This fish was a muted olive-yellow with gray mottling, and the deckhand identified it as a Yellowtail Rockfish.

Species #26 was in the bag, but I was feeling awful.

All of that oatmeal satisfied my hunger but left me bloated and full. Not a good feeling when you’re prone to motion sickness on rough seas.

Each packet of oatmeal came back to haunt me. I’d catch a fish, retch. Fish, puke. Fish, barf. Fish, yak. Fish, spew.

It wasn’t great.

One thing I’ll never understand is why people clap during timeouts. Another is why I count the number of times I puke when sick. That day? 12 times.

My poor stomach just couldn’t win. Despite the excellent fishing, I was distracted by the constant gurgling and the acrid, acidic fumes permeating my sinuses.

***

While we waited for our fish to be filleted, Ben and I tried to catch the tiny, silver schools of minnows in the marina. Crappie jigs seemed to get a few bites, but we quickly changed tactics and just started snagging them.

We filled a small bag with baitfish for use on the jetty.

***

Our bait in hand, we refilled our stomachs at The Hungry Clam, and I appreciated food that much more.

I ordered fish and chips, some fries, coleslaw, and a big bowl of creamy clam chowder. It wasn’t the best I’d had, but the fish was moist with a crispy coating, the fries were thick and crunchy, and the soup was creamy and filling.

Money is no object when it comes to food, and the meal wasn’t cheap considering the source. But my stomach was reinvigorated with the hot, fried food.

***

We fished on the jetty until we got hungry. Dinner was at O’Holleran’s Steakhouse, and I ordered the sea scallops. Food has always been something I don’t shy away from spending money on, and the meal proved worth it.

The salad and bread started us off on the right foot, but the main course made my night.

***

We relaxed in front of the fire that night, further engorging ourselves with s’mores as we talked and reminisced about the day’s events.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here:  Species #27 — Brown Rockfish.

Species #25 — Speckled Sanddab

Most Speckled Sanddab specimens are left-eyed, but they one of a handful of flatfish species that can occasionally go the other way. I’ve caught two and both happened to be right-eyed versions.

Species: Speckled Sanddab (Citharichthys stigmaeus)
Location: Myers Creek Mouth, Gold Beach, OR
Date: September 9, 2009

After an eventful day, today paled in comparison.

My friend Ben Blanchard and I tried fishing the Rogue River Jetty in Gold Beach, but the sea lion sirens were deafening, so we didn’t stay there long.

***

On the drive back to Brookings, we noticed a small creek flowing over the beach between some large rock formations. It looked idyllic, so we parked and walked down.

Myers Creek is a gorgeous beach with extreme terrain that includes monoliths so large, they make people look like insects.

It ended up being Myers Creek, and we fished in the surf where it flowed in. We managed a few small Redtail Surfperch, but the fish weren’t interested in our shrimp. The beach was littered with mussels, and on a whim, we decided to use them as bait.

Almost immediately, I caught a right-eyed flatfish. It took years for me to identify it as a Speckled Sanddab because these fish are usually left-eyed flatfish (meaning their eyes are on the left side of their bodies), but occasionally, they can be right-eyed.

It was barely five inches in length, but I’m always happy to add a new species.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #26 — Yellowtail Rockfish.

Species #24 — Redtail Surfperch

Redtail Surfperch are common on the south coast, but so are Calico Surperch. Redtails can be distinguished by two distinguishing features: (1) the markings on the sides of Redtails appear more like stripes or columns, and (2) the longest dorsal ray is noticeably longer than the rest of the rays.

Species: Redtail Surfperch (Amphistichus rhodoterus)
Location: Winchuck River Mouth, Brookings-Harbor, OR
Date: September 8, 2009

From a journal entry of a same date:

“With careful planning, and about $220 apiece, Ben (Blanchard) and I got to go on an incredible trip. The drive was full of conversation and excitement. The worst part of the drive was the last 20 miles to Brookings, where construction was underway.

When we got to Harbor, we ate lunch and planned the rest of the day. The seagulls here were even more voracious, eating every scrap that we did not want. Once I was done with my pear, I threw the core on the ground, thinking that the birds would pick it apart. One greedy seagull proceeded to eat the whole thing in one bite. Imagine how horrified it was when it realized the pear core was too big to swallow. For several minutes he entertained us with his gluttonous ways, hopping around, flapping this way and that, and making some sort of pained combination of wheezing and squawking noises before finally getting it down.

We spent some time finding the location of the charter boat we expected to take the next day, scouting bait shops, and getting some answers from the owner of Chetco Outdoor Store. He said we reminded him of himself at his age and gave us the tackle we needed free of charge.

***

Arriving at the Winchuck River Mouth at Crissey Field State Park just a few minutes’ walk from the California border, we were ready to fish. “Crappie rigs” baited with shrimp almost assured our success. Or so we thought.

It took a few hours, but eventually I did catch two small Redtail Surfperch (one just under six inches and the other eight) as daylight faded.

We crossed over to the north side of the river and prepared for an evening bite. Before we started that process, though, I decided to put on a blue-and-silver Nordic jigging iron. This lure, initially designed for Kokanee, had enticed my first surfperch (a Walleye Surfperch) on the pier in Southern California at the start of that summer, and I thought the combined shininess and castability might earn me a striper or other aggressive game fish.

At this time in my life, I had limited fishing experience and even more limited gear. Using the same light tackle trout rods in the surf wasn’t ideal, but it was my only option. As such, each cast required a lot of force. One of my casts sailed out through a small group of circling, feeding seagulls. When the lure hit the water, I felt a tension and resistance almost immediately.

Thinking I had a big fish, I worked the rod in a pump-reel motion. Before long, I noticed that a gull resting on the water was swimming toward me. Frantically, I began to worry that it was chasing my hooked fish. Then came the horrible realization: I had caught a seagull.

The hook wasn’t actually connected with bird — thankfully — but the bird was wrapped with the line. Working together, Ben and I unwrapped the line from around the poor bird and set it free.

This poor seagull had the misfortune of flying under my cast and being wrapped in line. As I tried to free the creature from entanglement, Ben stopped to take a picture.

 

I was a late bloomer. So what?

***

Darkness fell, and we fished off the rocky part of the beach and managed to catch half a dozen small lingcod (something I haven’t caught in the surf since).

Wet, cold, and hungry, we headed back to camp.

***

After the very full day, we got back to the car. A large van drove up and put its lights on us. We were terrified. Our first real trip out on our own after high school, and we were about to be kidnapped before we’d even survived alone for one night.

A man rolled down the window, and we braced for the tranquilizer darts.

***

They never came. A rather cross man informed us that the park closed at 9:00 p.m. every night. We played the ‘Dumb Kids Card’ and avoided a fine, while just missing being locked in for the night.

We hurriedly returned to Harris Beach State Park, where we were camping, and enjoyed a nice campfire meal of hot dogs and beans finished with a blackberry-peach cobbler cooked right in the coals. We relaxed, quietly reminiscing about all of the near-misses two wide-eyed teenage boys had managed in a single day.

Through it all, we still agreed: freedom sure was sweet.”

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #25 — Speckled Sanddab.

Species #23 — Brown Bullhead

My least favorite fish? That’s easy. The Brown Bullhead.

Species: Brown Bullhead (Ameiurus nebulosus)
Location: Topsy Reservoir, OR
Date: May 29, 2009

If pigeons are rats with wings, bullheads are rats with fins. For whatever reason, Brown Bullhead catfish have established themselves as the invasive every real angler loves to hate in almost every major basin across the country.

Oregon is no different.

Why someone would ever decide to put these slimy filthwads in their favorite water is beyond me. They don’t grow very big. They don’t fight hard at all. They do taste okay, but they’re hard to clean, and given their all-inclusive diet and propensity for scum-dwelling, eating one is downright risky.

Still, when the sun goes down, they can pass warm summer nights and elevate a bonfire above simply drinking around a carcinogenic pit.

This particular May night was extra special because it managed to turn fishing for the lowest quarry into an even less pleasant endeavor.

***

The crappie bite was slow, and the “catfish” bite was slower. For some reason, the two Brown Bullhead I landed that night were the first I’d recorded up to that point, though I’m pretty sure I caught them before the ripe old age of 18.

On the drive home, I was pulled over right by the now-defunct Eternal Hills Cemetery. Coincidentally, this would be the first of three times I was pulled over in this exact location after a fishing trip, but that’s beside the point.

With my friend, Ben Blanchard, in the passenger seat, the cop walked up to his side of the car and motioned for me to roll down the window. Unfortunately, my window was broken at the time, and I couldn’t roll it down.

I was worried he’d be upset by having to talk through my rear passenger window. He moved past it and told me my license plate light was out. In retrospect, that car had more ailments than a hypochondriac, but I drove it five years and got a lot of traffic stops out of it.

After I told him I’d fix it, he asked simply “How much have you been drinking?”

My honest reply: “None. I don’t drink,” came automatically.

He wished us a good evening, and allowed us to go. The same guy would pull Ben and I over a month later after another trip to Topsy with the same question and the same answer.

Sometimes I miss the days where I was profiled for my car, but mostly I just appreciate being able to drive something that doesn’t look like it funnels drugs from one drop to the other.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #24 — Redtail Surfperch.