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.

Species #22 — Northern Pikeminnow

When the dog days of summer hit, and the trout go dormant, fish for pikeminnows during mid-day to slake your thirst for hard-fighting fish.

Species: Northern Pikeminnow (Ptychocheilus oregonensis)
Location: Umatilla River, Pendleton, OR
Date: July 21, 2008

We’ve established I hate baseball.

I respect it and those who play it, but it bores me to tears. So, when my brother Gabe’s team made it to the Little League state championship tournament for a chance at the Little League World Series, I was excited for him. Until I wasn’t.

Then I moved on to other things.

I’d just been given a cell phone as a graduation present. It flipped open and closed which seemed kind of cool, but it looked ridiculous, and it was one more thing I had to carry in my pocket.

I knew these were popular already, but they seemed a little unnecessary for everyday use. Still, I took a few really grainy photos of the fish I caught shortly after ditching the game to fish the river behind the stadium.

At the time, I had no clue what the fish were, but those photos later helped me identify them as Northern Pikeminnow.

These underrated “trash fish” aren’t the most popular sport fish, but they fight well, hit the same things trout do, and can actually grow quite large. The specimens I caught that day were all 7-to-9 inches, though.

Oh well. A new species is always better than baseball.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #23 — Brown Bullhead.

Species #21 — Walleye Surfperch

It wasn’t glamorous, but it was the first pier fish I caught completely on my own. I even caught one of my first world records from a pier. (Source: Ken Jones Fishing).

Species: Walleye Surfperch (Hyperprosopon argenteum)
Location: Seal Beach Pier, Seal Beach, CA
Date: June 13, 2008

Here’s another one straight from my journal:

“Although my last night (of my Senior Trip) happened to be Friday the Thirteenth, I had to try one last time. At eleven I headed out, eager to add one more species to my life list. I fished a long time … I gave up bait fishing and tried lures.

Every night, a swarm of smaller fish had gathered under the lights of the oil rig transport docking area. I had tried throwing everything in my tackle box, but nothing worked. Finally, I caught my first surfperch on a Nordic Kokanee jig half the size of the fish.

This fish bit a lure almost as long as it was. Please excuse the low-quality disposable camera photo.

As soon as I cast again, I got snagged. Maybe Friday the Thirteenth…? Nah.

I gave up the fish as bait but only after I’d taken pictures to better remember the trip. Believe me, I will.”

My first surfperch was quite small, but I was stoked to have landed it. Just look at that grin.

That trip actually hooked me on surfperch fishing, and to this day, it’s one of my favorite types of fishing — albeit now I use gear just slightly more tailored to the species instead of over-sized Kokanee jigs.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #22 — Northern Pikeminnow.

Species #20 — Calico/Kelp Bass

The mainstay of Southern California charter fishing is the Calico or Kelp Bass.

Species: Calico/Kelp Bass (Paralabrax clathratus)
Location: Huntington Beach Coastline, CA
Date: June 12, 2008

I wrote a detailed account on how and when I caught my first Calico/Kelp Bass as part of my How I Got Hooked series.

From How I Got Hooked — The Third Lesson (Part 2/2): Determination.

“The Charter

One day of the trip included a charter fishing excursion, which I had looked forward to for years.

In fact, I’d led the class fundraising efforts throughout high school, starting a concession stand for junior high sporting events, then, seeing its success and noting that hot lunch was only served at our school three Fridays a month, starting a snack bar that served microwavable lunches and snack items once a week. It did quite well.

As our funds grew, we rolled into senior year. One of my best friends, Tony Maddalena, and I, had been given three pages of yearbook ads to sell. We sold about three times that many.

All told, our efforts had resulted in more than $12,000 that we could put towards the trip, but all I cared about was what would become my first-ever chartered fishing trip.

The opportunity to choose a half-day or full-day trip day came, and everybody wanted to do a half-day trip. I was crushed. One of the chaperones, Dan Phelps, either took pity on me or really wanted to go fishing, because he volunteered to accompany me on the full-day trip.

The barracuda had been running, and the last three boats before us had caught hundreds of them, so I was optimistic. Perhaps too optimistic, because our boat caught less than a dozen between the 50-plus anglers on board.

I had a five-footer strike my anchovy right as I brought it to the surface, slurping the soft-bodied bait right off of my hook.

I stood there, momentarily frozen, before the shock and disappointment set in.

Sure, we caught lots of Pacific Mackerel, Calico Bass, and Dan even got a brilliantly-colored, red-orange California Scorpionfish — which we were told had dorsal spines as poisonous as its flesh was delicious — but no barracuda.

On my first-ever charter fishing trip in 2008, I caught and released 8 Pacific Mackerel and kept 5 Calico Bass.
On my first-ever charter fishing trip in 2008, I caught and released eight Pacific Mackerel and kept five Calico Bass.

Returning to the house, we learned the guys on the half-day trip had caught almost a dozen species between them, including barracuda, yellowtail, and even a four-foot shark.

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #21 — Walleye Surfperch.

Species #19 — Pacific Chub Mackerel

Common in Southern California waters, Pacific Chub Mackerel fight well and reach a pound or two offshore. The only problem? They’re basically inedible. Photo Credit: kenjonesfishing.com.

Species: Pacific Chub Mackerel (Scomber japonicus)
Location: Huntington Beach Coastline, CA
Date: June 12, 2008

This week, a classmate contacted me about planning our 10-Year Class Reunion. It’s crazy that I’m in that phase of my life because it feels like only yesterday that I wrote about it in my fishing journal.

It was the culmination of four years’ worth of hard work, and I was excited to chase barracuda. But while we were getting bait, I was lucky enough to catch a few Pacific Chub Mackerel. I caught them on live bait as well as Hammered Silver Little Cleo Spoons (my favorite spoon). They fought like tanks, and I was happy to catch a total of eight of them. They all fell between one and two pounds.

Fortunately, the fishing wouldn’t end there. It was bound to be a life-altering day. I mean, I’d worked so hard for it. It had to be, right?

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #20 — Calico/Kelp Bass.

Species #18 — White Croaker

The Southern California Coast is lousy with White Croaker. They don’t get very big, they don’t fight well, and they’re basically the saltwater equivalent of Brown Bullhead, but they’re a new species.

Species: White Croaker (Genyonemus lineatus)
Location: Seal Beach Pier, Seal Beach, CA
Date: June 11, 2008

You meet all sorts of people fishing. Some of them are terrible. Some of them are great.

My senior year of high school, the Class of 2008 went to Seal Beach, California. Within an hour of arriving, I’d already started fishing. I camped on the pier with some of my classmates and threw out all sorts of lures and bait. I witnessed a guy land a skate of some sort or the other, and I was so excited about the possibilities.

We stayed out way too late that night trying to catch a fish but to no avail.

***

Two full days passed. I landed zero fish. Zero.

It was depressing. Though I did hook a nice California Halibut that might have hit 10 pounds, I was unable to bring it up the 30 feet or so to the pier, and just as I thought about how to do it, it broke my line.

***

On day three, I met a meth addict who helped me catch a fish.

Yeah, you read that right.

He had become addicted to meth as a teenager in Mexico. After his wife became pregnant with their first child, he found Jesus, got clean, and emigrated to the States.

When I spoke to him, he’d just celebrated his son’s fourth birthday now nearly five years clean.

He caught fish after fish, and since I was using a trout rod completely unprepared for the saltwater situation it was facing, I continued down the path of failure.

I think he felt bad for me, and he said I could fish one of his rods for awhile.

Less than an hour passed before I caught my first fish outside of the state of Oregon.

Humble doesn’t begin to describe the eight-inch White Croaker I pulled out of the brine that day, but it made my day.

I parted ways with my new friend, thanking him and wishing him the best.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #19 — Pacific Chub Mackerel.

Species #17 — Tui Chub

I remember catching chubs while fishing as a kid, but I didn’t keep records until 2004, and it was four years after that before I caught another of these underappreciated creatures.

Species: Tui Chub (Gila bicolor)
Location: Lost River
Date: April 13, 2008

Before I learned where to chase big trout in the spring, I used to drive out to Crystal Springs County Park during Spring Break or any time I had free from sports. Lonely Luke would fish for anything that would strike his lonely worm.

I’d camp on the bridge or off a point upstream of the bridge for a few hours and soak worms, rain or shine.

***

Dad had told me stories of how he used to fill his bike basket with plate-sized crappie there as a kid, and I went out with high hopes every trip. Sadly, they’d be crushed time after time.

My catch rate was miserable. I caught next-to-nothing, and I sure as Hell didn’t catch any crappie.

***

But one fine day, I caught a slimy, silver, trout-looking thing without teeth. It fought well, and it took me a moment to realize it was a chub.

I’d caught them before, but in the four years’ time since I’d decided to keep track of my fishing endeavors, and clearly it had been at least four years since I caught one.

While it technically wasn’t Species #17, for the sake of my list, it is.

And that, kids, is how to end a relatively uneventful story on a resounding low note.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #18 — Tui Chub.

Species #16 — White Crappie

White Crappie don’t always look that much different from Black Crappie, but you can tell them apart by one obvious feature. Read on to find out.

Species: White Crappie (Pomoxis annularis)
Location: Gerber Reservoir
Date: July 15, 2017

If you’ve kept up with this blog, you probably know that I started keeping fishing journals when I was 14. Let’s be real. I’m quite confident in my writing abilities now, but my early teenage prose wasn’t always the best. Still, as I look back, a few stories actually read well as written.

This is one such story.

***

“After hearing very good reviews of Gerber, we packed up and went there for the day. We had been told there would be an endless supply of crappies and had planned for such results. But, in the first hour, we had only caught a few bullfrogs — no fish.

The day wore on, and we eventually caught some perch on little tree frogs (yes, I’m a monster), but I wanted at least one crappie. I got my wish shortly thereafter when an eight-inch white crappie — my first — graced my line. The hope soon left, and after another hour of poor fishing, so did we.”

***

For those who fish for crappie a lot, you should know how to tell the difference between white and black crappie. It’s not about how dark a fish is (crappie coloration varies widely). It’s not about size.

You can occasionally tell by the spotting patterns (White Crappie have vertical stripes and Black Crappie are just randomly spotted), but where both species exist, they often hybridize. Quickly tell what predominant genes exist in a fish if their patterns aren’t clear.

It’s simple: count the hard dorsal spines. If it has six spines, it’s a White Crappie. More than six? It’s a black. I’ve caught blacks with between seven and nine spines, so there is some variability.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #17 — Tui Chub.

 

Species #15 — Kokanee

Kokanee are some of the most beautiful fish I’ve ever captured. The variability of the species is part of its appeal.

Species: Kokanee Salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka)
Location: Odell Lake, OR
Date: August 6, 2005

As a kid, I think I fished from a boat maybe half a dozen times. For that reason, I remember every time I had this opportunity afforded only to the wealthy very clearly.

***

When the family headed to Odell Lake for the first time, I worked my early teenage charms on my parents to convince them to rent a boat.

“The limit is 25 kokanee,” I argued.

“The boat will pay for itself.”

After spending nearly $100 on jigs, spoons, spinners, and flashers, another $50 for the boat rental was gravy.

As we loaded our trout poles — complete with undersized reels spooled with six-pound mono — onto the boat, we spotted several anglers cleaning stringer after stringer of chrome-bright kokanee, and we were very optimistic.

***

Many of my fishing stories from this stage in my life begin with naivete and end with disappointment.

This is one such story.

Despite trolling all over the bloody lake, somehow snagging half of the gear in water more than 100 feet deep, and losing two very nice fish (likely either big Browns, Bulls, or Lakers) on our way to matching sunburns, we’d picked up just a handful of fish.

The day was redeemed when we picked up a few fish jigging Gibbs and Nordic Kokanee Jigs, though that was just my family. I still only had one fish.

I was quite proud to have landed the largest fish, a 14-inch buck, which is really quite sad if you think about it.

The handful of fish we boated came home with us, as most fish we caught in my youth did. They tasted delicious, but it was a small consolation for an otherwise disappointing trip.

***

It would be more than a decade before I landed kokanee again, but the two fish pictured in this post did come on back-to-back casts in the fall of 2014. These ones were much larger, but I misidentified them as pre-spawn rainbows and released them.

I’ve since caught a lot more kokanee, but I haven’t kept another. This I regret and plan to change. Hopefully very soon.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #16 — White Crappie.