Species #59 — Widow Rockfish

It was tiny, but I caught my first Widow Rockfish while third-wheeling on my best friend’s honeymoon. Read the story; it’s not as weird as it sounds.

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 here:

“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.

I think.

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.

Kidding.

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.

In total, we landed more than 40 fish, representing a variety of species. Black rockfish, blue rockfish and yellowtail rockfish made up the majority of our catch, but we also landed several vividly orange, threatened canary rockfish, several lingcod, and I even caught a species I’d never caught before: a widow rockfish.

They survived the first stormy seas their marriage would see (literally), and we had a great time together.

They never called me a third wheel, and though some of you might, I’ll counter with this: apart from the steering column, boats don’t have wheels.”

See the original H&N piece here.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #60 — Pacific Sardine.

Species #55 — Northern Kahawai

Look at this beautiful beast! It wasn’t big, but it was all that it took for an ID.

Species:Northern Kahawai (Arripis xylabion)
Location: Kuaotunu River, Kuaotunu, Coromandel, New Zealand
Date: February 25, 2017

Fishing in New Zealand is all about trout. At least, that’s what we’re told.

In reality, throughout most of the North Island, saltwater fishing is king. Snapper, Kingfish, and Kahawai are the big three for anglers in the brine, and everything else plays second fiddle.

While this saltwater trinity reigns supreme on the water, there is relative little information posted or printed about fishing for them.

The saltwater fishermen keep tight lips, and for that reason, I had no idea that the term “Kahawai” was actually comprised of four separate species until this year — five years after I returned from catching them.

***

While we’re dispelling rumors about this place, let’s start with kiwis, Kiwis, and Kiwis. Two aren’t native to the island; one is.

The first kiwi, also called Chinese gooseberry, is the fruit. It’s not native and comes from Asia.

The second Kiwi is term New Zealanders use to describe themselves. They are not native, either.

The warrior Maori arrived in the 1400s in large sea canoes and proceeded to kill and eat the actual natives of the island.

The other (predominantly white) Kiwis arrived about 200 years later and set a singular precedent among white settlers of that era by making peace with the Maori and affording them (almost) all of the same people privileges as Captain James Cook’s people.

No massive wars. No forced relocations en masse. No genocide. It was so unlike the settlement of North America, South America, Australia, and Africa it restores hope in humanity — however small that hope may be.

The third Kiwi is the native bird that gave the other two their names. The bird looks like a large kiwi fruit with legs and a long bill.

The renown of the bird ultimately led to then people taking the name, too.

I’d hoped to learn that Kiwis eat kiwis like an apple — skin on — as I do, but alas, they mostly used spoons to scoop out the delicious green or yellow (golden kiwis were way more popular there) flesh. So I’m a weirdo everywhere, apparently. Cool cool.

***

Rumors dispelled, let’s talk fish. I caught a juvenile Kahawai in the lower, brackish reaches of a river using the small beef scraps I’d used in hopes of catching an eel.

It was beautiful: somewhat like a trout in shape and canvas but with vibrant purple and yellow stripes and markings. I took a few quick photos, thinking it was a juvenile Kahawai, and left it at that.

The Kahawai I caught later on the trip were adults, much larger and more memorable, so the juvenile slipped my mind.

Then, in a frenzy to identify the Estuarine Triplefin, Species #54, and get the blog post done in time without having to list “Species #54 — Unidentified,” I stumbled across a research paper discussing the four species of Kahawai:

Arripis georgianus (Called Ruff or Australian Herring)
Arripis trutta 
(Called Kahawai)
Arripis truttaceus (Called Western Australian Salmon)
Arripis xylabion (Called Giant or Northern Kahawai)

All four species live around Australia and New Zealand. All four species spend most of their lives in saltwater, migrating up rivers and streams to spawn. All four species are notorious for fighting incredibly hard per pound.

Only A. trutta and A. xylabion are routinely found in Kiwi waters, but Kahawai are more common and more widespread than their Northern counterparts and apart from size, they are almost identical.

The main difference is the upper lobe of the caudal (tail) fin. Northern Kahawai have longer tails, typically representing more than 30% of the overall body length (not including the tail) while Kahawai’s are shorter. Using software, I measured my fish from the old picture and found it to be roughly 34% of the tail-excluded body length.

Ignore my alien eyes. This is a cool fish.

It was a Northern, a Giant, an A. xylabion, a new species.

I owe my math teacher an apology. Math had come in handy.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #56 — Shortfin Eel.

Species #52 — Common Rudd

Common Rudd look like dozens of other cyprinids, but they’re upturned mouths and relatively small dorsal fins distinctly separate them from goldfish.

Species: Common Rudd (Scardinius erythrophthalmus)
Location: Lake Pupuke, Auckland, New Zealand
Date: February 19, 2017

There aren’t many native freshwater fish in New Zealand. There aren’t many non-native ones, either.

Along with European Perch and Brown Trout, the Common Rudd is one of several species European settlers brought with them to the tiny island nation, and it has thrived where planted.

So, when I managed to entice a small, gold fish to inhale my jig after having already caught several European Perch, it was just icing on the cake.

It looked like a goldfish, but I knew it wasn’t. Namely, the dorsal fin was too small. I’d spent a lot of time researching what was available, and I quickly identified the Common Rudd I’d just caught.

Night fell hard, and the bite died, so David and I decided to head out.

***

We hopped into the car and made our way back to the park’s entrance only to find a locked gate across the road.

***

A call to David’s parents got us a ride, but our car was stuck there for the duration of the evening. We came back the next day, the car no worse for wear.

This was the last new entirely freshwater species I caught down under, but it would not be the last time I got locked in someplace while fishing.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #53 — Blue Cod.

 

Species #51 — European Perch

Species: European Perch (Perca fluviatilis)
Location: Lake Pupuke, Auckland, New Zealand
Date: February 19, 2017

New Zealand is famous for its trout fishing. It’s also well-known for its freshwater eels. What it is not renowned for is perch.

So when I caught a perch in the small, urban lake at the heart of Auckland, I was surprised. I was even more surprised when the slightly-off coloration of the fish made me realize it was a European or Redfin Perch instead of the Yellow Perch I was used to back in the States.

David and I each got our perch and then noticed bright flashes from little fish right under the concrete at the shoreline.

We were intrigued, but as night fell, we were hoping to catch one.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #52 — Common Rudd.

Species #50 — Jack Mackerel

It turns out mackerel really aren’t popular anywhere — except as bait.

Species: Jack Mackerel (Trachurus symmetricus)
Location: Russell Municipal Wharf, Bay of Islands, Northland, New Zealand
Date: February 19, 2017

New Zealand’s Bay of Islands was undoubtedly the coolest place I’d visited at the time — it remains one of the coolest to this day.

After a solid first day of sea kayaking and getting the lay of the land, we decided to mix it up the second day.

It was great in theory, but kayaking for miles in high winds all day was exhausting. Carrying the kayaks five blocks back to the hostel we were saying at was excruciating.

When we repeated the next day, even higher winds blew us onto an island. The island was absolutely covered in sea glass, and after I filled up a small bag with it, we shoved off again.

***

The wind didn’t let up, and we were forced to land on another beach.

Little did we know that the beach was Waitangi Beach.

For those not familiar with New Zealand’s history, the country is unique among white-settled nations in that white settlers didn’t rape, pillage, enslave, and subjugate the natives. Instead, the native Maori and the white settlers signed a document called the Treaty of Waitangi which basically served as teh country’s founding document.

Every year, on February 6, a ceremony is held at the location of the original treaty when a war canoe is launched from a sacred beach. A beach two fishermen had unintentionally landed on in a windstorm, nearly creating an international incident.

We were mortified. Once we realized the gravity of the situation, we hopped back in the kayaks and paddled like mad.

The wind was blowing at 10 to 15 miles per hour, right in our faces, and it took us almost two hours to paddle the three miles or so back to the beach from which we’d launched.

Once we landed, we decided to leave the kayaks on shore.

***

We took a ferry to the town of Russell, where we grabbed lunch and fished from the wharf there. David landed a fish the locals called a Spot, while I landed Species #50 — Jack Mackerel.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #51 — European Perch.

Species #49 — Australasian Snapper

Called “Snapper” in much of the Indo-Pacific, this species is actually a porgy.

Species: Australasian Snapper (Pagrus auratus)
Location: Paihia, Bay of Islands, Northland, New Zealand
Date: February 14, 2017

Love was in the air. It was Valentine’s Day, and I was joined for the romantic holiday with the love of my life: fishing. To make the holiday even more romantic, I was living out a lifelong fantasy: I was in New Zealand.

One of my closest friends in college was David Clarke, a native Kiwi who came to the states to play basketball at Oregon Tech.

David is about as personable of a guy as you’ll meet, and his appreciation of sports, food, humor, and the outdoors made us fast friends.

After college, his parents, Jim and Jane, came to graduation where I met them for the first time. We got on well, and they offered to have me stay if I ever visited.

At the time, I didn’t think that was plausible, but I thanked them anyway.

***

A few months after graduation, I realized that I wanted to change careers. I’d been an insurance agent for the five years I’d spent in college, and though I liked the people I worked with and for, I didn’t love sales.

So I gave plenty of notice and started studying for the LSAT, deciding to pursue a career in law. Well, I bought the study materials and took a “cold test” to see where my score was at the time, so I’d know how much to realistically study.

December 13, 2013 was the last day of my job. I’d go back and help out part-time a few months later, but this is the day I cleared out my office and said my goodbyes.

On December 16, 2013, I took my LSAT cold test. I know this because of Twitter Advanced Search which has enabled me to pinpoint exact dates in my past using powerful keyword filters and my favorite social media site.

I scored a 158 on my first attempt, which, as you can see in the screenshot of the tweet above, is respectable. I knew my target score of 170 was very possible for my target school: Stanford.

David FaceTimed me that same night. We caught up and on December 18, I tweeted again.

Five minutes after I told David, he told me his mom had already begun planning our itinerary.

I put the studying on hold — okay, I stopped altogether — and prepared for the trip. And boy was it a trip.

***

My flight from SFO – AKL was booked with Hawaiian Airlines.

Klamath Falls (LMT) has had a love-hate relationship with air service over the years, allowing for limited flight availability.

It just so happened that the flight from Klamath Falls to San Francisco was available through our flavor of the month sole carrier, United, so I booked a separate flight to SFO. Unfortunately, as a rookie traveler who’d never left the country, I booked my flights separately, without linking the itinerary.

So, when the flight from LMT to SFO diverted to SJC because of heavy fog, I was worried. They bussed us up to SFO in nice charter buses, but by the time I got there, I’d missed my flight.

Further, it was a flight that only went out three times per week, and my flight happened to be the last Hawaiian departure of the day.

For nearly three hours, I scrambled on the phone to get help, but they refused. Their customer service was effectively useless, so by the time I finally agreed to pay hundreds of dollars in change fees, they informed me I could fly out of Oakland two days hence or wait for five days in San Francisco for the next flight.

What followed built from a comedy of errors into madness.

I had a lot of luggage for the month-long trip in which I planned to do a lot of fishing, and since I was only 23 at the time, renting a car wasn’t really an option. So, using the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system, I traveled from SFO to OAK.

It took half a dozen connections, walking more than half a mile fully encumbered in Oakland at night, but I made it without being assaulted, robbed, or raped.

The change fees, motels, and transportation costs totaled an additional $500 — money reserved for blackwater rafting in caves and an additional charter fishing trip — that was no longer available to me.

But eventually, I made the 14-hour trek from OAK – AKL.

 

***

This post is already running long for the usual fare on my blog, but stick with me. Just like that travel fiasco, it was long and convoluted but worth it in the end.

***

David and I met up, I got a good night’s sleep, then we stocked up on Red Bull from his fridge (his brother Johnny was the regional rep for New Zealand) and almost immediatley headed north to the Bay of Islands. It was wonderful.

We checked into our hostel and found piles of South Americans and Europeans with a healthy appetite for Red Bull and traded cans for money and meals more than once.

The hostel had two crappy plastic kayaks the guest could use, and after the rude Australian owner shouted at us for not being gentle enough when unburying the kayaks from a pile of garbage behind the hostel, we lined them up parallel to one another, loaded our gear, and grabbed on.

One of us grabbed the nose of each with one hand, the other grabbed the rear of each with one hand, and we made our way across the five blocks or so to the beach.

By the time we put in, our forearms were already sore, but we hit the water and caught the most common fish in the New Zealand nearshore biomass, the Australasian Snapper, using a variety of baits.

None were large, but we boated enough to keep us entertained before making the long trek back to the hostel where we got to know the primary German, French, and Argentinian guests staying nearby.

Apart from the excessive cigarette smoking, it was a great. And despite how different New Zealand was from my home, it quickly found its way into my heart.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #50 — Jack Mackerel.

Species #46 — Leopard Shark

Leopard Sharks are easily one of the neatest species I’ve caught. I’d love to catch a big one. Photo courtesy California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Species: Leopard Shark (Triakis semifasciata)
Location: San Pablo Bay, San Francisco, CA
Date: March 25, 2012

This is the fourth story in succession and ties in with the other species I caught on the same day, and you’re best reading them in order: First and Second and Third.

***

It was so long ago; the memory is fuzzy. The experience was certain, but some details are blurred at the bloodshot, tired edge of reality. Whether it happened this way exactly while the little boy watched, or a fantastical young mind crafted sensory elements to accompany a particularly gripping story is uncertain.

There was a little boy with his family. He might have been three or seven or 10, but he certainly wasn’t any older.

He watched a man in overalls fishing from the beach. Grandpa wore overalls. This guy was wearing overalls, but they were rubber. Or plastic. Like the memory of that day.

Anyway, the man was using an absolutely gigantic fishing pole. Dad didn’t know why. Neither did Mom. That frustrated the boy. He liked to know why.

So as the family passed, the boy asked.

The old fisherman told the boy it was to keep the line above the breakers, another name for waves, apparently.

“What are you fishing for?” the boy asked.

“Surfperch,” replied the man.

The boy wondered aloud if perch could go in the ocean. He’d caught perch before.

These were different perch, though.

Different perch and breakers. The boy was learning.

The man’s rod doubled, and he caught a silverly fish he called a surfperch right then.

The boy ran up to get a better look, his parents cautioning him to not get in the man’s way. The man didn’t mind. He proudly showed off his catch before putting it in a bucket.

The young family grew tired of watching, so they started on down the beach. But the boy kept looking back. He couldn’t focus on the sand dollars or shells or the wet gooey sand between his toes. He was fascinated by the man behind him fishing.

Before the family left for the day, the rod doubled again, but no silvery surfperch broke the surface. This fish was clearly bigger. It ran and dove, and after a few minutes, the boy had frozen, intently watching the action.

What emerged from the water was shocking. It looked like a shark, but it had spots and looked more like a jaguar or a leopard.

As the boy would find out, it was both.

Catching a Leopard Shark became a life goal that day, and though the story’s details blurred, the beautiful fish never did.

***

The boy, now a man, tried chasing Leopard Sharks during college, but failed the first time. On the second pass, he found more success. His party had already boated two other species of sharks, rays, and his friend Ben even boated a Striped Bass.

Though Leopard Sharks were always a reasonable possibility along the California Coast, the man just didn’t expect it to happen. So, when line began ripping off the baitcaster again, he assumed it was something else.

When the color flashed in the creamy aqua water, the magical moment on the beach all those years before came back to him. He’d finally done it. The little boy’s dream had become a reality all these years later.

The captain began talking about how these beautiful sharks tasted like salmon, so the man was excited to try them. Unfortunately, this fish measured 35 inches in length, and Leopard Sharks have a minimum length of 36 inches in California.

Still, after a few quick pictures and a release, the man still felt privileged to have captured such a gorgeous fish.

My first Leopard Shark was just an inch too short to keep, but it was still a great fight on relatively light tackle.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #47 — Striped Bass.

 

Species #40 — Striped Seaperch

Three words to describe Striped Seaperch: beautiful, delicious, tenacious.

Species: Striped Seaperch (Embiotoca lateralis)
Location: Chetco River North Jetty, Brookings-Harbor, OR
Date: September 14, 2011

I missed this one. Though it was Species #40, I skipped it when retelling every story, so I’m posting it now. If you’ve been following every post, you’ll be glad to know I was only five fish off. So if you’ve read about Species #45 — Spiny Dogfish, you can jump to Species #46 — Leopard Shark after reading this one.

***

I first saw Striped Seaperch as a kid. The beautiful, coppery iridescence paired with stunning cerulean lines made the cooler full of these beautiful fish stand out in stark contrast to the muted colors of the rockfish, salmon, lingcod carcasses strewn about the fillet station at the Brookings-Harbor Public Fish Cleaning Station.

They were big, bright, and beautiful, and the owner of the fish (which realistically were all two to three pounds) had said he caught them while trolling for salmon in the Chetco. I was skeptical about his methods, but I couldn’t deny his results.

These fish were probably the most beautiful fish I’d seen at that point, and I was smitten.

***

The year I graduated high school, I’d go on annual trips to the coast with my friends Ben Blanchard and Christopher Puckett. They both liked fishing, but I loved it, so they’d often fish with me for a few hours then take the car and do other things while I fueled my obsession.

In 2008, the same year after graduating high school,  we struck out for Striped Seaperch.

In 2009, same story.

In 2010, I really put in some effort, did some research, and was only that much more frustrated when I struck out again.

In 2011, though, I had a good feeling. I’d already landed two new species that trip (Calico Surfperch and Red Irish Lord), and I was optimistic.

***

This time, with the waning daylight, I threw out what I now know was a too-large hook with too-large bait. By some miracle, in between battling the horrendous weeds, I caught a fish.

It was a Striped Seaperch just over a pound, and I disparaged the fading daylight and my cheap, digital camera for not being able to accurately capture its beauty.

Two words: lady killer.

Since then, I’ve caught a lot more of these amazing fish, including a 1.72-pounder just 0.03 pounds off of the 1.75-pound record held by Species Fishing Legend Steve Wozniak.

I sincerely believe this will be the next All-Tackle World Record I set. I’ve seen a lot of fish over two pounds and though I’ve never caught one myself, I believe it’s only a matter of time. After all, that’s what I initially said about catching my first Striped Seaperch, and it came to fruition, so I’m optimistic.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #41 — Klamath River Lamprey.

Species #45 — Spiny Dogfish

I don’t have a good picture because the captain wouldn’t let me hold my first Spiny Dogfish. Photo courtesy elasmodiver.com.

Species: Spiny Dogfish (Squalus acanthias)
Location: San Pablo Bay, San Francisco, CA
Date: March 25, 2012

This is the third story in succession and ties in with the other species I caught on the same day, and you’re best reading them in order: First and Second.

In the United States, Atlantic Cod is the fish most commonly used in Fish and Chips, but in England and most of Western Europe, it’s dogfish.

Dogfish of the family Squalidae are a widespread shark that don’t grow very large but still finds their way into nets worldwide.

For whatever reason, North Americans don’t love dogfish as much as Europeans, but they’re missing out. One of the few meals I enjoyed in Portugal was Dogfish Soup and one of the few I enjoyed in Spain was “British-Style Fish and Chips” made of dogfish.

***

Unfortunately, when I caught my first dogfish, I didn’t know this. So, at the advice of the captain, I released it. Then Ben Blanchard released his. We caught several of them that day, and though they were small, we missed out on some good meat.

Spiny Dogfish have a dorsal spine that can be dangerous, so the captain wouldn’t let me pose with it. Sadly, the only picture of these fish we caught is the one above.

Missed out on meat and a good picture. Live and learn.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #46 — Leopard Shark.

Species #44 — Bat Ray

Some consider them a pest, but Bat Rays are a blast to catch and can easily top 100 pounds. Photo courtesy California Department of Fish and Wildlife.10

Species: Bat Ray (Myliobatis californica)
Location: San Pablo Bay, San Francisco, CA
Date: March 25, 2012

If you didn’t read the last entry, be sure to catch up here or you’ll be missing out. They tie together.

***

I’ve fished the salt a lot in the past 15 years. Not anywhere near as much as freshwater, but I’ve still spent an average of 5 days a year fishing saltwater which is a lot for someone 5 hours from the ocean.

In all that time, I’ve only landed two fish over 25 pounds.

Both happened to be on the same day, minutes apart, while chasing sharks, sturgeon, and stripers with Sole-Man Sportfishing.

The first was a massive Bat Ray. It’s body was maybe 30 inches long (not including the three-foot tail) and 40 inches wide. The captain estimated it at 60 pounds but wouldn’t bring it on board because it presented a safety hazard.

So all I have of the largest fish I’ve ever landed in saltwater is this picture.

This fish weighed around 60 pounds, but I never got to measure it or hold it for a picture.

While I would’ve liked a better picture, fighting this creature on 20-pound mono was a blast. Imagine pulling a piece of sheet metal with suction cups off the bottom. But the sheet metal pulls back. Hard.

After catching the 60-pounder, I got a smaller one the captain estimated at around 40 pounds. Though I’ve caught a lot of 10-20 pound saltwater fish, I haven’t broken 20 pounds in the salt since.

Fortunately, I did manage a few pics of Ben fighting a beast of his own, and that’s where this story ends.

Ben battles a massive Bat Ray.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #45 — Spiny Dogfish.