Species: Shiner Perch (Cymatogaster aggregata) Location: Newport Public Docks, Newport, OR Date: June 10, 2017
Surfperch, seaperch, or perch. Whatever you call them, these marine delights are one of my favorite groups of fish to chase in and around the piers, jetties, and surf breaks of the Oregon Coast.
Though some species are relatively common and well-known, others are less pervasive. One such species is the Shiner Perch, a small, silver-and-yellow species that rarely tops six inches in length and has a mouth too small for hooks larger than No. 14 or so.
I’d long seen these fish flitting in and out of the shadows below the piers and docks in Yaquina Bay, but I’d never caught one before.
Then one day, the bite was just amazing. I caught tons of fish on sabikis and small jigs, including a few salmon smolts and my first Shiner Perch. The silver dollar-sized fish with the bright, yellow stripes made my day, as I landed a handful and added a new species.
Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #86 — White Bass.
Species: Striped Mullet (Chelon labrosus) Location: Guadalquivir River, Seville, Spain Date: July 13, 2016
My second European species was another mullet found in the United States. Not ideal, but I was happy. From what I’ve found online, this fish is actually raised for commercial harvest in Seville, Spain where I caught it.
Finding water that didn’t have just Goldfish in Europe was difficult. The construction of the Spanish Armada effectively deforested Spain, and their agriculture-first water policies have basically left a hot, dry desert with lots of dried-up riverbeds and lakes-turned-mud puddles.
It’s honestly a cautionary tale for how not to manage fisheries, but I digress.
The only place I found water to fish in Seville was the Guadalquivir River, a channelized river with a large, concrete-lined riverwalk.
Though it fails in so many other areas, Spain encourages street art, so the concrete is beautifully-decorated with graphic art at every turn. It makes for a unique, modern aesthetic.
When I finally had a chance to get to the river, I’d been able to find only corn and bread, so my bait options were limited. I tried casting out into the river in hopes of catching an Andalusian Barbel (the fish I’d booked a guide for in Portugal but struck out on that you can read about here). The river was channelized and had a tiled, concrete bottom as well, which basically made fishing with a traditional on-bottom setup hopeless.
After breaking off half a dozen times, I switched my attention to the mullet feeding on the surface.
Eventually, I coaxed one into biting my bread ball.
It was my first Striped Mullet.
I landed another shortly thereafter, but since Spain only sells fishing licenses at three or four regional offices in the entire country and fishing is not allowed at night, I decided not to press my luck.
Eventually, I found a pond with Crucian Carp x Goldfish Hybrids in a park in Madrid, but since it wasn’t pure, I didn’t count it as a new species. Maybe I should have? Read the unique story about handlining in a public park for those hybrid fish while fighting off turtles and ducks here.
Species: Goldfish (Carassius auratus) Location: Long Tom River, Monroe, OR Date: June 23, 2016
I spent countless hours trying to catch a bloody goldfish. It’s embarrassing in more ways than one, I know.
Topsy Reservoir was the obvious choice, as Goldfish represent more than 50 percent of the whole biomass there, but I just couldn’t get one of the small reverted specimens or the larger, more traditionally colored ones to bite. Some of these fish run five pounds or more, but I never could figure it out. Lame.
So the day I went carp fishing at Long Tom River and caught this pretty little guy above, I was shocked and excited. It was far from glamorous, but anyone fishing Long Tom knows it’s not a glamorous place.
Apparently, all you need to do to catch a target species is not try for them at all.
Long Tom has since produced several more Goldfish for me. Nothing large and all were reverted, though.
What it did produce was a Common Carp x Goldfish Hybrid. And then another.
Long Tom is a cess pool for invasive species. I have caught a few puss-gut hatchery trout and a single Largemouth Bass, but otherwise, it’s carp, goldfish, and bullheads for days.
The carp and occasional Goldfish are fun to catch, so I stomach the less-than-desirable location.
Species: Yellow Bullhead (Ameiurus natalis) Location: Long Tom River, Monroe, OR Date: June 20, 2016
This was a phenomenal day. I caught a total of 50 fish, including Common Carp, Brown Bullhead, and Yellow Bullhead, the latter being a new species. Strangely enough, all fish took corn. The bullheads were ravenous but annoying as bullheads tend to be.
As for identification, Yellow Bullheads can actually be yellowish like this one, but the easiest way to tell them apart from other species is to look at their chin barbels. A Yellow Bullhead’s are white or yellowish while a Brown Bullhead’s are darker.
This was a busy day, and I learned to “ghost set” for carp this skittish. Basically, you’ll know the carp are feeding nearby, so many of the hooksets should come even if you don’t feel a bite. Just wait a few seconds and lift up, and you’ll often catch carp. The bullheads nibbled pretty overtly, so they weren’t quite as unique a catch.
As bullheads are invasive and worthless, I killed every one I caught.
Carp are invasive but at least fun to catch, so I let those go.
Species: Spotted Bass (Micropterus punctulatus) Location: Shasta Lake, Lake Shasta City, CA Date: January 1, 2016
The fact that I lived three hours from Shasta Lake and didn’t catch a Spot for nearly 26 years is pitiful. Granted, I only fished Shasta like twice and then only for trout, but still. It’s a disgrace.
You know what’s even worse? Since I caught this fish, I haven’t fished Spot water, and I haven’t caught another.
Marcus Moss, Zach Weiting, and I decided to head to Shasta on New Year’s Day to chase bass. I mean, they’re supposed to feed actively all winter in warmer climates, and Redding is certainly a warmer winter destination than Klamath, so it seemed like a good bet.
It didn’t start off very well, though.
The water was so low, each of the three ramps Marcus usually fished were well out of the water, and we had to tool around until we found one at Bridge Bay that was usable. It was still a good 10 feet out of the water, but boat ahead of us seemed to have no trouble, so we went for it.
Already, more than an hour of fishing time had burned up when we got the boat in the water. None of us had waders, and the dock was too far from the boat, so the complications continued.
I volunteered to get wet (smart in mid-winter, right?) because I didn’t want to give up.
Once we got the boat in the water, it wouldn’t start.
Another hour passed as we re-trailered it, fiddled with it, and finally got it purring.
By now, it was well past noon, and it was supposed to be dark in four hours.
We spent two of those hours getting one fish apiece, all on deep-diving 10XD Crankbaits and then called it a day when the wind picked up past 25 MH.
That is the story of my first (and, as of June 23, 2018) last Spotted Bass.
Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #73 — Copper Rockfish.
Species: Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio) Location: Malheur River, Princeton, OR Date: August 22, 2015
Imagine seeing a fish fish with some frequency for years when traveling but never having the appropriate gear to target it successfully. That’s the story of me fishing for Common Carp.
There are no carp populations in Klamath County where I live, which, in a county larger than Delaware, says something.
Nearby counties have carp populations, but having neither fished for carp nor known anyone who did for years, it meant carp was basically just a pipe dream.
That is, until my friend Ben Fry told me of this amazing fishery in the middle of the desert where he and his brother, Chuck, slayed carp the weekend before.
I’d just been offered a teaching job at Henley Middle School, and I accepted the position while sitting in my office at Klamath Community College, not having even applied. I was excited, but I was nowhere near ready.
When I told my boss at KCC, I agreed to stay and work the swing shift until they found a replacement. This mdae my schedule crazy, and I knew if I didn’t go fishing this weekend, I might not have another shot.
So I loaded up my car and headed into the desert.
When we arrived at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, the short carp season (August 1 – September 15) was half over. I assumed this meant skittish, heavily pressured fish, but that wasn’t the case.
Within 10 minutes of throwing my corn in the water, I had my first carp on. Ben and his kids, Gabe and Rose, caught theirs shortly thereafter.
Once we figured out how to fish for them and accepted that in 90-to-100-degree heat and thick smoke, it was going to remain unpleasant, we hit our rhythm and started smashing fish left and right.
This season opens as a damage control measure to help curb the invasive carp population which has expanded exponentially since the 1950s introduction until it took over and wiped out native species. It’s now so bad that most aquatic vegetation is gone, and ducks don’t stop here anymore, despite its historic presence as a major Pacific Flyway stopover.
So we killed every carp we caught. For someone who does almost exclusively catch-and-release fishing, this was tough.
At first, the Refuge staff came and picked up them in trucks and carted them away for fertilizer, but then they gave up, leaving us sitting and fishing by a pile of dead carp in 90-plus-degree heat. It wasn’t great.
Fishing two rods at once, we were constantly fighting fish. The kids got tired, so we had to keep them entertained.
We continued to catch fish, and quickly realized they were stunted in the 7-10 pound range. Only one fish was under 6 pounds, and none topped 13. Still, an 8-pound carp is a better stunted fish than an 8-inch bass.
We continued fishing.
It didn’t let up, and neither did we. We scarfed down sandwiches and drinks, but eventually the kids had to call it quits. Ben and I remained in hopes of either a monster carp or a Mirror Carp — neither of which came.
Once the sun started going down, the bite slowed. It didn’t stop, but it slowed. We’d been at it for more than 12 straight hours, and we’d each probably lost two or three pounds of fluid in sweat. It was a long, hot day, and I finished with 44 carp. Ben had something like that many, too.
Read about this from a different, more punny angle here and then read more about what happened to all of the carp we killed here.
Species: White Perch (Morone americana) Location: Potomac River, Maryland Date: July 16, 2015
Why are they called White Perch? Well, White Bass is already taken. Though they’re in the Moronidae family with White, Yellow, and Striped Bass, they’re far from stupid. They should be called “Ass Pains” because they’re nothing more.
Fishing the Potomac River had long been a dream of mine, but finding access in and around Washington D.C. proved almost impossible.
When I did find access, it was on National Parks land with Lewis and Clark in the name, but I honestly don’t remember the specifics and a five minute Google Maps search came up empty, so here we are.
Anywho, I fished from a public pier that was rife with the type of people who usually find solace at Denny’s or Walmart or the DMV. People who kept Pumpkinseed three to four inches long like it was nothing.
Probably 20 people share the pier with me, but since the Potomac is so shallow and muddy in this area, I didn’t really have a choice. I saw a few Pumpkinseed caught, then a Blue Catfish (an invasive that has been destroying this fishery) and finally a White Perch. It wasn’t mine, but I held out hope.
I had tons of bites and even got a fat Pumpkinseed, but the White Perch just kept nibbling and not getting hooked.
Eventually, persistence won out, and I got my own little six-inch White Perch. I tossed it back and proceeded back to my car, hoping to try some of the nearby streams for anything else.
Species: Warmouth (Lepomis gulosus) Location: Cosca Lake, Washington, D.C. Date: July 16, 2015
White Catfish checked off, I decided to fish the tiny feeder stream. It was small and crystal-clear which made sneaking up on the spooky sunfish within a challenge.
But I managed.
My go-to Bergie Worm Jr. (now discontinued) tipped with a tiny piece of worm was the ticket, and I landed a number of respectable Bluegill before something smaller darted out from the undercut bank and hit my bait.
I missed the first time, and spent the next few minutes trying to get the little guy to play. This was years before I’d taken up true microfishing, and I desperately wish I’d been up to speed on New Half Moon and Tanago hooks back them.
Using my fingers, I pinched half of the jig’s rubber body off, leaving maybe a quarter-inch of rubber and the tiny pice of worm on the 1/64th-ounce jighead.
It worked, and I pulled up a tiny, flopping sunfish unlike any I’d ever caught.
Though there are dozens of species in the Centrarchidae family, I quickly narrowed it down to a few: Warmouth, Rock Bass, and Redear Sunfish. I’d never caught any of these three fish, but all three were supposed to exist in the area. The pale complexion made the ID tough at first, but eventually I figured it out.
I’d just caught my first Warmouth.
Strangely enough, it would be the only one I captured that day, despite hauling in more than two dozen sunfish. All the rest were Bluegill with one being an obvious hybrid, but one I couldn’t identify as it was different from the “Hybrid Sunfish” (Bluegill x Green Sunfish) I’d caught so often back home.
Still, it was another new species.
I figured the trend would continue, but apart from some Largemouth Bass, this lake had given up everything it had to offer, and I left.
Species: White Catfish (Ameiurus catus) Location: Cosca Lake, Washington, D.C. Date: July 16, 2015
For most people, a visit to D.C. means history and tours and American nationalism. It meant all of those things to me, too, but it also meant fishing.
After spending a good chunk of time researching where to fish within a reasonable distance of my Maryland hotel room, I settled on my first stop: Cosca Lake.
The urban lake is not easily accessible. It required a long walk from the parking area, and in late July heat, anything more than five feet might as well be the the Bataan Death March.
I arrived on the lawn surrounding the lake and began to setup shop. I only had one rod, so my first bet was a handline baited with a worm while I tied up my one and only rod for the occasion.
Before I even managed to get the tiny jig on my line, the stick I’d tied the handline to started bouncing, and I pulled in what appeared to be a bullhead.
Technically, it was. Just not a Brown or Yellow Bullhead like I’d seen in my native Oregon. This was a White Bullhead, more commonly called the White Catfish.
Heck yeah! I hadn’t even cast yet, and I had a new species on the board. Sticky, sweaty weather aside, I could tell this day was shaping up nicely.
That is, until some strange dude in absurdly baggy pants came up and kept talking to me while I tried to fish. It was obnoxious, and he was just wrong on every account. After I landed a few Brown Bullhead, I decided to pick up and move to the tiny feeder creek leading into the lake.
Species: Bluehead Chub (Nocomisleptocephalus) Location: Thornton River, Shenandoah National Park, VA Date: July 15, 2015
The National Park so beautiful it inspired a song was on my to-do list the moment I knew I’d be spending time in Washington D.C.
I spent my first-ever evening on the East Coast hanging out with my cousin, Adrian Mateos, after I arrived.
We did a quick tour, and he told me to do my sightseeing the next day while he was at work but to save some stops for us to visit together the next evening.
I visited all sorts of monuments and museums but saved “the big ones” for that evening.
If you missed the date, it was late July. Humidity was thicker than tourists, and I was soaking in a swamp every time I sat down. So I just kept moving. I walked and rode and covered two days worth of sights in about eight hours.
After two days and nights of “doing D.C.” like a tourist, I rented a car and decided to head east to Shenandoah National Park.
I stopped along the way for a softshell crab sandwich — damn, those are good — and continued on my way.
The roads became less and less significant, and before I knew it, I was wandering the wilds of rural Virginia.
Shenandoah National Park is huge. Covering more than 311 square miles and stretching north to south from the northern border of Virginia to the fat middle of the state, it’s not a quick tour like some other national parks.
I entered at the North Entrance near the town of Front Royal and was immediately awestruck by the beauty of it all.
Little did I know, I was about to be all up in my feels from the beauty of this place. The first thing I noticed was the lush greenery and the butterflies and hummingbird moths flitting around it, sipping nectar and adding to an already awesome sight.
Now, I’d told myself this trip was more about sightseeing than fishing, but I still wanted to fish. So my first stop was the ranger station.
The ranger told me about the decent fishing to be had there, including lots of native Brook Trout (my target species) and the occasional “massive Brown Trout that you wouldn’t believe.”
Further exploration revealed the latter to be fish as “massive” as 16 inches long. I suppressed a laugh.
The streams on the mountainside proved shallow and nearly impossible to fish. I noticed no poison oak, ivy, or sumac, but I failed to realize the thick vegetation brushing against my bare legs contained some lesser toxin that made me itch like crazy until I washed myself thoroughly in another stream.
The drive wound on, and I began to worry I might not be able to find fishable water. Then, I noticed the middle exit road just halfway through the park. The topography of the map seemed to indicate a drop in elevation, and I noted the single stream that looked large enough to fish: Thornton River.
I made my careful way, enjoying the scenery.
I even stopped when I found my favorite flower (yes, I have a favorite flower) the Tiger Lily. They were scattered around on the roadside, and I had to take a moment to appreciate them.
Eventually, I realized time was running short. I still had to make it back to D.C., through D.C. traffic during rush hour, and back to the hotel in Maryland to meet up with Adrian.
It was Thornton River or bust.
My first few casts with a tiny spinner proved useless, but once I stumbled upon a gorgeous pool with a massive rock hiding me from view, I began catching small fish I couldn’t identify. No Brookies, but I knew it was a new species.
I like chubs. They’re unique fish, and they fill in for overfished trout populations and keep you from getting skunked.