Species: Copper Rockfish (Sebastus caurinus) Location: Yaquina Bay, Newport, OR Date: March 24, 2016
If you’ve never been on the open ocean on a small boat intended for use in the lake, then you haven’t lived.
My first trip was on a 17-foot Bayliner with high gunwales out of the Port of Brookings-Habor. It was a little rough, but I wasn’t worried.
My second trip was on a 14-foot flat-bottomed aluminum duck boat, and I was more than a little worried.
Fortunately, before we made it to the end of the bar, the Coast Guard stopped us and told us the bar was closed to small vessels. I was equal parts disappointed and relieved.
My friend, Eric Elenfeldt, is a phenomenal boater, and if I were to go on the ocean in a tiny vessel with anyone, I’d want him driving, but still. It was a rough bar that day.
We made the best of it, dropped our crab pot, and started fishing. He picked up a Red Irish Lord, his first, and we started catching a few rockfish here and there. Before long, the sheet rain started, and we took cover under the Coast Guard station’s large platform. It was the best decision we made all day.
Almost instantly, we caught fish.
Small Lingcod at first and then my first Copper Rockfish obliged me. Then several more.
Eventually, the guys on the platform spotted us and performed a “random inspection” even though Eric’s inspection sticker was clearly visible on the side of the boat.
They gently asked us not to fish there because it was a matter of national security, and though I’m pretty sure they can’t do that on a navigable waterway, we moved.
It wasn’t long before we saw them fishing from the platform. Huh.
The rest of the day was slow as we struggled to find fish, but we’d learned something: the Coast Guard defends its fishing spots as well as they defend the lives of those out on the ocean.
Species: Widow Rockfish (Sebastes entomelas) Location: Off the coast of Depoe Bay, OR Date: December 18, 2014
I wrote about this in my January 30, 2015 column in the Herald and News. Read it below:
In 1988, the United States government outlawed the production and sale of three-wheeled ATVs, commonly known as “three-wheelers,” because the third wheel made the vehicles incredibly awkward and unsafe.
Two years later, I was born.
I grew up blissfully unaware of the ban on three-wheeled vehicles, routinely spending time with my coupled friends and making an awkward triad.
Triad was also the name of my high school, but that’s just a coincidence.
As I got older, I became aware of when it was okay to third-wheel with my friends, and when it was not. First dates? No.
You’ve been dating for months and you’re now sitting at a basketball game? Yes.
Oh. You’re going to propose at this basketball game? That’s awesome!
Don’t worry, I didn’t blow the surprise.
Retroactive congratulations, Shawn and Maddie Elliott!
Understandably, most of my friends desired alone time with their significant other, so I tried to give them space.
We all grew older, and before I knew it, it was 2014.
My best friend, Benjamin Blanchard, was engaged and planning his wedding. The timing of the wedding meant our annual fall fishing trip to the Oregon Coast — that had been our tradition since graduating high school six years earlier — was off the table.
I’m not going to lie, I was a little disappointed.
Still, I was happy for my friend, and I absolutely understood.
Then, he surprised me by saying that he and his then fiancé (now wife), Autumn, wanted us to take our fishing trip, with her, during one of the days of their nearly month-long honeymoon.
Not one to turn down a fishing trip, I immediately agreed.
December rolled around, and we made plans to meet up in Lincoln City where they were staying. I started my weekend with a few days in Portland before heading to the coast.
Ben, Autumn and I met briefly the night before to catch up in their beachside vacation rental, where they were spending their honeymoon, before I retired to their floor.
I retired to the offsite motel room they’d generously rented for me.
The next day started off brisk and cold as we drove to nearby Depoe Bay, the world’s smallest navigable harbor.
We climbed onto the charter boat and got to know some of our fellow passengers.
Once it was discovered that Ben and Autumn were honeymooners, everyone congratulated them.
Once it was discovered that I was third-wheeling their honeymoon, we had a few laughs, one weird look from an older gentleman who thought we might’ve been a trio of lovers, but finally a comment from the captain, who said “Wow. That’s an honor.”
Indeed it was.
While many would feel like a third wheel, I never did with these two.
As we reeled in fish after fish, Autumn battled seasickness with a remarkably positive attitude.
Considering the fact that we were adrift in the middle of the ocean during mid-December, it was remarkably warm. My phone listed the weather in the 50s by mid-morning.
The fishing was pretty good, too, even though both Ben and Autumn out-fished me.
First, the color was wrong. The body was neither blue nor slightly mottled as in all of the Blues I’d previously caught. Its coloration was dark brown/gray, just like a Black Rockfish.
Black 1, Blue 0.
Second, the head was wrong for a Black. It was striped like a Blue. Only the stripes were very faint.
Black 1, Blue 1.
Third, the fins were blue. At least, the ends of the pelvic and pectoral fins were.
Blue 2, Black 1.
Fourth, but then again, with the mouth closed, a Blue’s jaws should be even, and the bottom jaw of this fish was victim of the underbite found in Blacks.
Black 2, Blue 2.
It was tied, but the deckhand told me it was just a variant of Blue Rockfish. I wasn’t convinced and recorded it as a “Black/Blue Rockfish Hybrid” in my journals. I caught three more in the time it took for them to be identified as their own, unique species, recording each one as “Black/Blue Rockfish Hybrid” in my increasingly digital records.
That wasn’t the first time my identification had been corrected, resulting in a new species, but it remains the only time a species I’d already caught became a species new to science.
In the Fall of 2017, I got a Deacon just over two pounds with Tidewinds Sportfishing, thanks to Captain Levi Schlect that will be a world record if I submit it. I saved the line sample, had multiple pictures and witnesses, but I just don’t know if a Deacon of that size is worth the hassle for a record?
Update 2019: I lost the line sample. I’d set it aside with some old fishing gear and threw it away. Guess I’ll have to catch another one…
I rewrote this story later for a column. Read it here.
Species: Red Irish Lord (Hemilepidotus hemilepidotus) Location: Off the coast of Brookings-Harbor, OR Date: September 14, 2011
I began this blog with the first story I ever recorded. That story took place in 2004, and I wrote about it afterwards in a spiral-bound notebook by hand.
My last story from those hand-written journals takes place seven years later, in 2011, and though it wasn’t my last entry, it was the last new species recorded longhand, so this is a little bittersweet.
For awhile, every saltwater fishing trip I took resulted in a new species. Those were the days. Everything was new and exciting.
2011 was still firmly in the middle of this time frame, and after landing a few new species from shore, I was stoked when my rod dipped on our charter boat, and a big, ugly creature I’d never seen in person came up writhing on the end of my hook.
I looked again. Yes, it was ugly, but it was also somehow unbelievably beautiful. It’s red-and-umber tones swept flowing, semi-rigid fins, a brilliantly-hued face, and resulted in a species I’d read about and seen pictures of but never actually seen IRL (that’s In Real Life, ya’ll).
Reareange IRL, and you get RIL, or, Red Irish Lord. #Anagrams
Probably some of the most beautiful members of the Cottidae family, Brown, Red, and Yellow Irish Lords are relatively rare in Oregon, but they often travel in groups.
The first one I caught was eating size, and like every sizable saltwater sculpin, it was a guaranteed keeper if legal.
My pleading eyes apparently spoke volumes, and the apparently nonverbal communication master of a deckhand said “That’s definitely a keeper, bro.”
The first RIL took a leadhead jig at the bottom of the “boat rig,” but on the very next drop, I got a very small fish to eat my curlytail grub. It, too, was a RIL IRL.
The handful of Irish Lords I’ve caught since (Red and Brown) have never been one-offs. Every time, my party and I have always combined for two.
That could be coincidence, but it’s a four-time coincidence now like the Patriots cheating but somehow getting away relatively unscathed.
I happened to be fishing with Ben Blanchard at the time, and though he caught no Irish Lords, he did catch more fish than anyone else on the boat, his 25 beating out my 17 for first place.
Though I switched from pen to programs in my journaling shortly thereafter, I continued keeping records — records that enable me to keep bloggging about my #SpeciesQuest and sharing that quest with anyone who won’t throw me off a cliff if I can’t calculate wingspeed velocities and such.
Species: Canary Rockfish (Sebastes pinnager) Location: Off the coast of Brookings-Harbor, OR Date: September 15, 2010
Many people experiment with drugs in college. Don’t spit out your coffee, but I was one of them.
I experimented with Dramamine in the fall of 2010, and it wasn’t bad.
If you were looking for more dirt, that’s the end of the story. Sorry to disappoint. I still haven’t drank alcohol, used to tobacco or experimented with any actual drugs, but the first time I tried Dramamine was the best, and the handful of times I’ve tried it since never lived up.
That’s normal with drugs, right? You spend your whole time chasing that first high. Well seasickness be damned. I tried Dramamine and while I was very tired, I didn’t feel seasick at all.
Christopher Puckett, Ben Blanchard and I all climbed onto the boat knowing we’d had past problems with green gills but confident in our Dramamine-induced haze.
I was the very last person on the boat to catch a fish, but when I did finally get one, it was a brilliant orange fish that I’d never caught before, but, having studied the rockfish ID charts religiously, I immediately recognized it as a Canary Rockfish.
It was a whopping 17 inches and 2.7 pounds, but at the time, harvest was closed, so I sent it back to nature.
Now, I’m not condoning drug use, but my first time using Dramamine definitely left me with a lasting high and a good story.
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 that the criminals all around it must have pitied us.
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 (a fish I’ve seen caught just that once and have failed to catch myself in the years since).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Species: Lingcod (Ophiodon elongatus) Location: Brookings Coastline, OR Date: May 26, 2005
It had started the day before. My first time on the ocean, I rode out in a small Bayliner in the afternoon. The handful of students and three chaperones who decided to brave the afternoon waves thought it would be worth it.
The newness of the experience alone would have made it worth it to me, but after watching half a dozen Black Rockfish find their way into our boat, Perry Fields, one of our chaperones, hooked into something that seemed a little bigger.
He battled the beast for awhile.
Then his rod doubled over.
If it was fighting hard before, it was now a creature possessed. His rod bobbed and bounced, and I asked if it would break. Everyone had stopped fishing now. We watched in awe as what could be nothing other than a sea monster slowly rose in the water column and made its way closer to us.
In a moment frozen in time, we saw it. Maybe 10 feet below the boat in relatively clear water, was a fish that looked positively demonic. At first, I thought it had two heads, or maybe a head shaped like a Hammerhead Shark, but it was just a large fish clamped horizontally onto a smaller fish.
It was a Lingcod. The Lingcod.
The smaller fish was maybe 16-18 inches in length, but the fish that had attempted to eat it was easily twice that length, maybe more.
As our teacher, Mr. Dean, went to gaff it, its jaws released the poor, hapless smaller fish, and this beast stuck momentarily in the water column maybe four feet below the boat.
“Grab me,” Mr. Dean commanded, and Mr. Wehr, our other chaperone, steadied him as he plunged the gaff over the gunwale and bent impossibly far over the boat. His body flexed, and he arched backward, the massive, writing beast hanging from the end of the three-foot gaff.
Leviathan itself railed about on the floor of the boat, actively trying to bite any- and everything it could like a cobra in its death throes. It connected with the edge of a boot, unable to sink its sinister teeth into the hard leather.
Acting quickly, Mr. Wehr cut its gills and the beast decided not to go down without a fight. It sprayed warm, frothy blood all over. My new jeans caught a globule of the deathly-dark blood and stained them.
When we got it back to shore, we were saddened to find ourselves without a scale large enough to weigh it, but it measured 45 inches in length. As teenage boys do, we dared each other to place our heads inside its massive jaws. Mine fit with room to spare.
We filleted the beast out before I remember getting any pictures. The carcass was tossed into the garbage, but I asked if I could cut the cheeks out, since I’d read they were quite good. They agreed.
My grandfather’s butchery skills did not pass to me, and as I awkwardly dug out the almost-priceless meat with my old Rapala Fillet Knife in jagged strokes, the nerve endings in the sea monsters face all fired off, causing the head to shake in my hand like something out of a horror movie.
Each cheek weighed about a pound and a quarter, but my inexperience with a fillet knife probably left a quarter pound of meat in each cheek.
Still, it was the most epic thing I’d ever experienced, and I longed for a chance to catch one.
The next day was uneventful by comparison, but I did manage to catch a Lingcod. I’d thought I was snagging the bottom too frequently, but I soon realized at least a few were fish, so I tried fighting them. On light trout tackle with eight-pound mono, it was an uphill battle (literally), but I managed to get it to the surface, where, after several attempts, my friend Christopher netted it.
The minimum length was 24 inches back then, and, you guessed it, it was 23 1/4″ long. I was forced to release my first sea monster, but I’d added a new species and set a lifelong quest in motion: catch a sea monster the size of Mr. Fields’ someday.