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 #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.