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 #14 — Green Sunfish

Ounce-for-ounce, I’d argue that Green Sunfish are the hardest-fighting freshwater fish I’ve ever caught.

Species: Green Sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus)
Location: Lost Creek Lake, OR
Date: July 27, 2005

Every day, we woke up and went on a run.

We’d come back, grab breakfast, do some sort of running game, take a break, and run again.

Lunch would come around, we’d have a short reprieve for the afternoon, then we’d go on an evening run, eat dinner, and play a running game at night.

At the time, I didn’t know how allergic I was to dairy and eggs, so the combination of muggy heat, running miles and miles every day, and fueling myself with a diet containing a lot of both did horrible things to me that I won’t go into in detail.

Anyhow, our coach did a fantastic job of melding these incredibly fun games with running. Whether the game was a timed obstacle course (this was my best game), Extreme Spoons (not my best game), scavenger hunts, or the Mileage Guess (where we’d run along a road and try to stop at exactly one mile), we got in shape while having a blast.

There was one game, however, that I lived for.

It was, as best as I can describe, what Cross Country should be. We would be dropped off in a team of two or three at one location, given a map, then tasked with returning as fast as we could. Just one caveat: we had to fill a gallon bag with ripe blackberries for the evening’s cobbler.

I lived for this. Outside of fishing, I’m honestly not very competitive. For whatever reason, this mattered to me, though. I had to win.

This time, I read the map and convinced my group to take a shortcut through the woods. It shaved off half of a mile and took us right along the lake shore.

I needed to pee, so I detoured from the group briefly as I drained the lizard. As I contemplated life, I noticed a handful of small fish bathing in the summer sun, maybe five feet from my excess hydration.

My drive to win was put on momentary hold, as those fish held my attention.

“You done yet?” came the cry that snapped me out of my daze. I closed up shop and returned to the group, but my heart wasn’t wholly in the competition anymore.

***

We won the race, but I was ambivalent. Sure, victory tasted almost as sweet as the cobbler I’d eat later that night, but those fish that clearly weren’t bass were on my mind.

Sleeping on the hard ground with dozens of teenagers giggling and freestyle rapping badly (yes, we did) all around you is difficult enough without the added distraction of a potential new fish species.

***

I dozed off at some point after the neighboring campsite stopped banging the loud doors of their cooler an impossible number of times. I awoke, powered through the morning run and breakfast, then ran back to the water.

***

This was years before I was a good fisherman, but I still had the passion. God’s mercy alone got a single feisty fish to hit my Brown Rooster Tail (gross, right?) and send my heart racing.

It fought much better than the tiny bass I expected, and I knew I’d hooked one of the mystery fish I’d seen the day before. I didn’t exactly know what it was, but that’s okay because I’d finally crossed the finish line. I’d won the race.

***

We returned to school, and after a week’s worth of reading and searching the still dial-up enabled Internet of the day, I learned it was a Green Sunfish. To-date, it’s still one of my favorite fish, despite how relatively uncommon they are in Southern Oregon.

Still, as an adult who isn’t at running camp, I can drive to one of my favorite Green Sunfish waters any time I want.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #15 — Kokanee.

Species #9 — Black Rockfish

My first saltwater fish, a Black Rockfish, was also my second, third, and fourth saltwater fish.

Species: Black Rockfish (Sebastes melanops)
Location: Brookings Coastline, OR
Date: May 25, 2005

Elementary school was terrible, junior high was better, and high school was all right. As a freshman, I was awkward in the way most freshman are, but I was also extra awkward in my own, special way.

I’m not sure I really knew what I wanted, or what I was interested in outside of hunting, fishing, and trapping. But even those were more intellectual interests than anything else. Sports were okay, and I competed in soccer, cross country, basketball, and track as a freshman, but I hadn’t found my niche.

Then came the Biology Trip.

It was a chance for freshman in Mr. Dean’s biology class to head to the coast for a few days of tide pool examinations, hiking, fishing, and maybe, when left to our own devices, the roasting of a banana slug over the fire and subsequent dares to eat it.

We unpacked the vans, put up the tents, and threw around a football while waiting for instructions. That was fun. I could catch pretty well. Unfortunately, I couldn’t (and still can’t, really) throw very well. So much for impressing anyone and solidifying my position as a cool jock.

I was saved from my miserable throws by an announcement. We were told anyone interested in fishing should hop in the van.

It sounded like a nice break, so I hopped in.

***

The 14- or 15-foot Bayliner was not big. In fact, it was hardly a seagoing vessel in the conventional sense. Even still, I climbed in. The harbor was calm and sheltered, and my dad had told me how “Brookings has the safest bar in Oregon,” so I didn’t think much of it.

The ocean was relatively calm, but being on it for the first time — in a small boat, no less — quickly made me queasy. I wasn’t the only one, either.

Everyone on our boat was some level of seasick, but I wasn’t the worst-off, so I was able to fish. My four-inch Wild Eye Swim Shad, the swimbait I know use more than almost any other lure, quickly snagged the bottom, and it wouldn’t be the only time that afternoon. Fortunately, I eventually got it to work long enough to catch a black fish that looked remarkably similar to a Largemouth Bass — except an evil-looking version of it: black and sinister with large spines.

Three more eventually followed suit before another angler on the boat landed the fish of a lifetime, and I later put my head entirely inside of its mouth (read about that here).

Something in me changed that day, I got a stronger sense of identity: I was a fisherman now.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #10 — Blue Rockfish.

Species #8 — Black Crappie

Black Crappie are so beautiful underwater, and even after catching thousands of them, they still evoke a certain awe in me when I see them in their flowing fins.

Species: Black Crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus)
Location: Hoover Ponds, OR
Date: March 22, 2005

Geez, I didn’t fish much back then. I hadn’t wet a line since the previous October.

In my journal, a 14-year-old Luke wrote: “I fought the fish close to shore. Thinking it was a perch, I didn’t pay much attention to it; however, I soon saw the flat body of a small crappie. It was my first.”

***

As of the fall of 2017 when I wrote this, I’ve only caught 1500 specimens of two respective species: Bluegill and Rainbow Trout. Bluegill were the first. I caught my 1500th bluegill in 2015. My 1500th Rainbow Trout, which I classify separately in two categories (Rainbow Trout and Redband Trout), actually just happened in 2017 not long before this entry was written.

Black Crappie will almost definitely be the third. At the time of writing, I’m at 1458. It’ll only take one or two good days next spring to add another species to the 1500 Club.

***

Anyhow, my knowledge of panfishing was pretty minimal back then. I actually caught my first crappie on a Brown Rooster Tail — a lure I absolutely despise  nowadays not for lack of success, but because so many people kill trout with them — when almost every crappie I’ve caught in the years since has come on a jig of some form or another.

Shockingly, a bluegill also hit that drab, miserable spinner and made my day.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #9 — Black Rockfish.

Species #6 — Largemouth Bass

Species: Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides)
Location: Hoover Ponds, OR
Date: July 31, 2004

Bass fishing is the closest thing the fishing community has to professional sports. A handful of the top competitors even make a living off of it. The millions of dollars spent on endorsements, the fact that people actually watch it on television, and the sponsors lining up to put their stickers all over bass boats make it unlike the rest of the fishing world.

My first bass was so unglamorous that Kevin VanDam will probable never give me a second look. I caught it a seven-inch fish on a gold crappie jig.

It was about eight feet below me, and it was hot enough that it didn’t fight hard.

That’s it. My first bass. I wish it had been more romantic, but it was hot and dirty, and I wondered why it was so highly praised.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #7 — Brown Trout.

Species #5 — Yellow Perch

Yellow Perch are one of the most prevalent invasive species in Oregon, but they’re fun to catch and arguably the best-tasting freshwater fish.

Species: Yellow Perch (Perca flavescens)
Location: Hoover Ponds, OR
Date: July 31, 2004

The bluegill were lined up in the shallows, but slightly larger, more insidious fish skirted the edge of visibility, feinting in and out of the shadows in a cruel tease.

I had no idea what they were, but Dad thought they might be perch. He recommended using a crappie jig to try and entice them to bite. Sure enough, the tiny gold tube jig I found in the bottom of our old metal tackle box worked like a charm, and I promptly landed my first Yellow Perch.

My jig went down to the same spot, and I witnessed the telltale pointed gill flare for the first time. It resulted in a hookset and my second Yellow Perch.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #6 — Largemouth Bass.

Species #4 — Bluegill

The first Bluegill I ever caught was extra special because it was the first fish I ever caught that wasn’t a trout.

Species: Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)
Location: Hoover Ponds, OR
Date: July 31, 2004

Baseball is like Trump’s Twitter: hard to watch. For that reason, I decided to take a break from my brother’s game in White City to walk around.

As I neared the back fence, I caught sight of a pond. It wasn’t large, but I saw lots of birds around, and I was intrigued.

The small dirt path rimming the pond got just close enough to show me a glimpse of the fish inside, and as I walked, numerous grasshoppers committed suicide by jumping into the pond where a line of piranha-like fish awaited them with open jaws.

Bug after bug was slurped from the surface, and I desperately wished I had a fishing pole.

***

When I returned for the next game, I was ready. I marched over the water and caught a handful of grasshoppers to use as bait.

The second the first quivering pile of misfortune hit the water, it was gobbled up by a waiting bluegill. My first panfish was a bit anticlimactic, as the fight lasted just a few seconds.

Spines. I realized it had spines. The second my hand clasped around them, I realized the flagship species of the family Centrarchidae was very different from the trout I was used to catching.

Still, sight-fishing to these feisty little monsters was a blast, and I caught fish after fish on grasshoppers and even one on a bare red treble hook, the total coming to 15 before I opted to fish for some of the other species this pond held.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #5 — Yellow Perch.

Species #3 — Bull Trout

Since catching his first Bull Trout in early 2004, the author has caught just a handful of these highly endangered fish. (Photo: USFWS Flickr).

Species: Bull Trout (Salvelinus confluentus)
Location: Various Southern Oregon Streams
Date: May 29, 2004

This isn’t my photo. I desperately wish it were, but I haven’t captured a Bull Trout on hook and line since high school, and the few populations remaining in Southern Oregon are heavily scattered and/or inaccessible to anglers.

My grandpa, born in 1911, used to tell me stories of bounties paid for Bull Trout in his native Wyoming with the then-more-desirable Rainbow, Brown, and Brook Trout (none of which are native to Wyoming) quickly replacing native Bulls and Cutthroat Trout in much of their range before a policy reversal saved these species.

Oregon’s Bull Trout faced a similar fate, with the “harder-fighting” and “better eating” Brookies quickly rising up the Oregon angler’s target species list.

That fish I caught in 2004 would prove to be just one of six Bulls recorded to-date, and I remember marveling at the size of its mouth compared to its relatively small body.

Today, the only sustainable population of Bull Trout that allows harvest in the Lower 48 resides in Lake Billy Chinook, about three hours north of where I landed this Bull so many years ago.

This spring, I plan to chase these Lake Billy Chinook Bulls for a chance to relive that feeling I first experienced 15 long years ago.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #4 — Bluegill.

Species #2 — Brook Trout

Invasive Brook Trout were a staple in my childhood fishing pursuits.

 

Species: Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis)
Location: Various Southern Oregon Streams
Date: May 29, 2004

I caught dozens of these between my first fish and 2004; however since I didn’t keep records and don’t have pictures, I must defer to the journals I started in 2004 to determine species order.

Brook Trout were widely introduced to Oregon nearly 100 years prior, and they slowly encroached upon the territory of native Bull Trout. Even 15 years ago, I remember catching stringers full of Brookies with my dad and younger brothers on tiny Panther Martin (Size 2) spinners.

Limits on Rainbow Trout dropped from my early childhood 15 to 10, then to five, then ultimately down to two fish in streams before I got out of high school, but there remains no limit on Brook Trout in much of Oregon to encourage anglers to fight back against this invasive, East Coast char.

The tiny streams we fished weren’t conducive for three young boys and a their father, given the lack of fishable water, limited visibility surrounding the water, and the competitive drive I shared with my brothers only when it came to fishing.

Still, we caught fish. A 14-year-old me concluded the journal entry with “We did well today.”

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #3 — Bull Trout.

Species #1 — Rainbow Trout

The author isn’t sure if his first fish was a hatchery Rainbow Trout (pictured)…
…or a wild Redband Trout.

 

 

 

 

 


Species:
Rainbow Trout (Oncorynchus mykiss)
Location: Howard Prairie Reservoir, OR

This is hazy. I’m not sure what day or even what year it was that I caught my first Rainbow Trout, but I have a picture, and I have a memory.

My dad used to take me fishing with him, using an old canvas baby carrier with an aluminum frame attached to his back. He told me about all of the times I drooled or spit up on the back of his neck while he chased the wild Redband Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss newberrii) native to Southern Oregon.

He is some strange combination of trout purist and spinfisherman, never using a fly rod but only seriously targeting trout. He preferred wild fish in small streams to hatchery fish in lakes, but that didn’t stop him from chasing the latter.

I distinctly remember reeling in a small wild ‘Band that he’d hooked while we took a break from the family camping trip/reunion we’d taken to Howard Prairie Reservoir in Jackson County, Oregon. I also distinctly remember fighting a big, hatchery ‘Bow on what I’m pretty sure was the same day.

The former was nothing to write home about, but it was eight inches long, so it went on the stringer.

The latter was about 16-18 inches in length. It hit Power Bait and started running. Not knowing what to do, I just started reeling as I walked slowly back up the hill upon which we were fishing. Dad grabbed the fish, and we put it on the stringer like we always did with trout in those days.

***

Nearly 25 years have passed. I no longer keep wild trout, and I almost never fish for hatchery fish of any creed, but I still love stalking wild ‘Bands in tiny streams during the heat of summer, and I hope I can carry my son or daughter on my back someday to carry on the tradition.

Regardless, Redband Trout became my soulmate that day. I just didn’t know it yet.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here Species #2 — Brook Trout.