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 #37 — Calico Surfperch

Calico Surfperch can be discerned from Redtails by the faint vertical bars that look more like mottling than stripes and the fact that their spiny dorsal rays aren’t noticeably longer than the soft rays.

Species: Calico Surfperch (Ampistichus koelzi)
Location: Chetco River South Jetty, Brookings-Harbor, OR
Date: September 12, 2011

Misidentification is to fishing what the New England Patriots are to football: an unfortunate everyday reality that can’t be ignored.

Fortunately, just like tonight’s Patriots’ Super Bowl loss, good can get a foothold in the fight against evil and make that unfortunate everyday reality just a little quieter.

Every year, Oregonians flock to the South Coast to fish for “pinkfins” near the mouths of the Rogue, Umpqua, and Winchuk Rivers. Ask almost any angler, and they’re fishing for Redtail Surfperch. While the majority of “pinkfins” are actually Redtails, a substantial minority are Calico Surfperch — an entirely different species.

Calico Surfperch
Redtail Surfperch

 

 

 

 

 

This post won’t be long, but I hope it is helpful. Where their range overlaps (Southern Oregon and Northern California), these two species often get lumped into the same “pinkfin” category. Just use this comparison to be able to tell they’re not.

That is, don’t just avoid being a part of the problem; be a part of the solution.

***

I caught my first Calico off of the jetty in Brookings. After striking out for Striped Surfperch on the river side, we followed the Biblical example and threw to the other side. I landed a Redtail and a Calico in an hour, proving these two species not only overlap ranges but overlap the same feeding grounds at the same time.

Since I thought they were different-looking enough, I took a photo with my disposable camera. After processing and comparing them side-by-side and doing some online research, I was able to tell the two “pinkfins” apart.

Hopefully, now you can too.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Coming Soon.

 

Species #36 — Canary Rockfish

Canary Rockfish are probably the most beautiful fish I’ve caught.

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 Dopamine 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 Dopamine 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 Dopamine 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 Dopamine-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 Dopamine definitely left me with a lasting high and a good story.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #37 — Calico Surfperch.

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 #25 — Speckled Sanddab

Most Speckled Sanddab specimens are left-eyed, but they one of a handful of flatfish species that can occasionally go the other way. I’ve caught two and both happened to be right-eyed versions.

Species: Speckled Sanddab (Citharichthys stigmaeus)
Location: Myers Creek Mouth, Gold Beach, OR
Date: September 9, 2009

After an eventful day, today paled in comparison.

My friend Ben Blanchard and I tried fishing the Rogue River Jetty in Gold Beach, but the sea lion sirens were deafening, so we didn’t stay there long.

***

On the drive back to Brookings, we noticed a small creek flowing over the beach between some large rock formations. It looked idyllic, so we parked and walked down.

Myers Creek is a gorgeous beach with extreme terrain that includes monoliths so large, they make people look like insects.

It ended up being Myers Creek, and we fished in the surf where it flowed in. We managed a few small Redtail Surfperch, but the fish weren’t interested in our shrimp. The beach was littered with mussels, and on a whim, we decided to use them as bait.

Almost immediately, I caught a right-eyed flatfish. It took years for me to identify it as a Speckled Sanddab because these fish are usually left-eyed flatfish (meaning their eyes are on the left side of their bodies), but occasionally, they can be right-eyed.

It was barely five inches in length, but I’m always happy to add a new species.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #26 — Yellowtail Rockfish.

Species #23 — Brown Bullhead

My least favorite fish? That’s easy. The Brown Bullhead.

Species: Brown Bullhead (Ameiurus nebulosus)
Location: Topsy Reservoir, OR
Date: May 29, 2009

If pigeons are rats with wings, bullheads are rats with fins. For whatever reason, Brown Bullhead catfish have established themselves as the invasive every real angler loves to hate in almost every major basin across the country.

Oregon is no different.

Why someone would ever decide to put these slimy filthwads in their favorite water is beyond me. They don’t grow very big. They don’t fight hard at all. They do taste okay, but they’re hard to clean, and given their all-inclusive diet and propensity for scum-dwelling, eating one is downright risky.

Still, when the sun goes down, they can pass warm summer nights and elevate a bonfire above simply drinking around a carcinogenic pit.

This particular May night was extra special because it managed to turn fishing for the lowest quarry into an even less pleasant endeavor.

***

The crappie bite was slow, and the “catfish” bite was slower. For some reason, the two Brown Bullhead I landed that night were the first I’d recorded up to that point, though I’m pretty sure I caught them before the ripe old age of 18.

On the drive home, I was pulled over right by the now-defunct Eternal Hills Cemetery. Coincidentally, this would be the first of three times I was pulled over in this exact location after a fishing trip, but that’s beside the point.

With my friend, Ben Blanchard, in the passenger seat, the cop walked up to his side of the car and motioned for me to roll down the window. Unfortunately, my window was broken at the time, and I couldn’t roll it down.

I was worried he’d be upset by having to talk through my rear passenger window. He moved past it and told me my license plate light was out. In retrospect, that car had more ailments than a hypochondriac, but I drove it five years and got a lot of traffic stops out of it.

After I told him I’d fix it, he asked simply “How much have you been drinking?”

My honest reply: “None. I don’t drink,” came automatically.

He wished us a good evening, and allowed us to go. The same guy would pull Ben and I over a month later after another trip to Topsy with the same question and the same answer.

Sometimes I miss the days where I was profiled for my car, but mostly I just appreciate being able to drive something that doesn’t look like it funnels drugs from one drop to the other.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #24 — Redtail Surfperch.

Species #17 — Tui Chub

I remember catching chubs while fishing as a kid, but I didn’t keep records until 2004, and it was four years after that before I caught another of these underappreciated creatures.

Species: Tui Chub (Gila bicolor)
Location: Lost River
Date: April 13, 2008

Before I learned where to chase big trout in the spring, I used to drive out to Crystal Springs County Park during Spring Break or any time I had free from sports. Lonely Luke would fish for anything that would strike his lonely worm.

I’d camp on the bridge or off a point upstream of the bridge for a few hours and soak worms, rain or shine.

***

Dad had told me stories of how he used to fill his bike basket with plate-sized crappie there as a kid, and I went out with high hopes every trip. Sadly, they’d be crushed time after time.

My catch rate was miserable. I caught next-to-nothing, and I sure as Hell didn’t catch any crappie.

***

But one fine day, I caught a slimy, silver, trout-looking thing without teeth. It fought well, and it took me a moment to realize it was a chub.

I’d caught them before, but in the four years’ time since I’d decided to keep track of my fishing endeavors, and clearly it had been at least four years since I caught one.

While it technically wasn’t Species #17, for the sake of my list, it is.

And that, kids, is how to end a relatively uneventful story on a resounding low note.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #18 — Tui Chub.

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 #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.”

***

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 for everything nowadays — 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.