Species #99 — Pigfish

They kind of snort, so I guess that’s how Pigfish got their name?

Species: Pigfish (Orthopristis chrysoptera)
Location: Graffiti Bridge, Pensacola, FL
Date: August 1, 2017

The second-most popular baitfish in the Gulf of Mexico is just one letter away from the first (Pinfish). I’m speaking, of course, of the Pinfish.

I caught my one and only Pigfish fishing from a public pier in Pensacola minutes after night fell. There were mullet everywhere, as well as small species I still have yet to catch such as a few species of baitfish, Ballyhoo, and Atlantic Needlefish.

That was frustrating, but after being approached late at night by some guy in a sweatshirt who was very obviously holding a knife, it was the least of my worries.

I watched in horror as a he extended his arm, brandishing four inches of gleaming steel reflecting light from the pier lights.

I had some pliers in my bag. Oh! And some scissors. I could fight with that. Maybe I could throw some semi-rancid shrimp in his face, and then lunge with the knife?

He must have detected my bristling because he turned the blade back towards himself and asked “Hey man, is this yours?”

It wasn’t, and I told him so, visibly relieved as he walked away.

I continued fishing.

***

A few minutes later, another sketchy-but-not-that-sketchy-for-Florida guy came up to me. He was twitchy and awkward, obviously a tweaker.

He told me his car had broken down and asked if I had jumper cables he could borrow. I told him to wait a few minutes, and when he was a good 200 yards away, I went to the car and grabbed them, careful not to turn my back to a Floridian sketchmonger in the dark.

I gave him the cables, fully expecting them to be stolen.

Fifteen minutes later, he called out “Thanks man!” and left them on my hood.

I felt a little bad for thinking the worst of him, but then again, Florida has a reputation, and I’d be stupid not to take precautions.

***
So yeah. That’s how I caught my one and only Pigfish.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #100 — Gaftopsail Catfish.

Species #96 — Hardhead Catfish

Another menace of the Gulf of Mexico: the Hardhead Catfish.

Species: Hardhead Catfish (Ariopsis felis)
Location: Graffiti Bridge, Pensacola, FL
Date: August 1, 2017

Channel Catfish are the bane of the Freshwater Species Hunter’s existence across much of the United States and Canada, but Hardhead Catfish fill this role in the saltwater and brackish environments of the Gulf of Mexico.

By day, Pinfish will ravage your bait. By night, expect Hardhead Catfish to fill in. The first one was exciting, but as I caught almost nothing but these bastages after dark in Pensacola and Houston alike, the excitement faded faster a college football fan drinking too much in an unseasonably warm game.

Apart from the obvious visual similarities between Hardhead and Channel Catfish, Hardheads will also eat virtually anything, can be caught day or night, and have sharp barbs on the pectoral and dorsal fins that while not venomous will still hurt enough to extract all sorts of profanity if you manage to get sliced.

Be smart and avoid them if at all possible. If you can’t, use long-handled pliers.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #97 — Atlantic Croaker.

Species #95 — Red Drum

You don’t think of foot-long specimens caught on ultralight gear when you think of Red Drum (Redfish), but if you’ve come to expect glamorous stories from me, I’m sorry I’ve disappointed you for so long.

Species: Red Drum (Sciaenops ocellatus)
Location: Graffiti Bridge, Pensacola, FL
Date: August 1, 2017

Everyone should go fish the Gulf at some point in their life for Redfish or Red Drum. At least, that’s what fishing culture has told us. I have fished in Corpus Christi and parts of Florida where they could be found, but I’ve never landed a “Bull Red” that we all yearn for.

That said, I did manage to get a “Calf Red” if we’re sticking with the bovine terminology while fishing the rocky lagoon for anything and everything that would bite. I was using a No. 8 Sabiki cut in half (three hooks are much easier to manage than six) and tip each with shrimp. I typically use pieces of pre-cooked cocktail shrimp because it’s easy to find anywhere you are, but it’s worth a shot.

The Red Drum didn’t fight as well as other Drums and Croakers I’ve caught since, but it still fought well for a foot-long, one-pound fish. I was especially pleased because it had a few tail spots (two on one side, one on the other) for which the species is so renowned.

***

I fished for them again in Corpus Christi and in a freshwater lake near San Antonio this summer (yes, really), and I caught other fish but no big Redfish.

This is one species I will continue to chase even though I’ve now caught my “lifer” and registered it here.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #96 — Hardhead Catfish.

Species #93 — Pinfish

The first one was great, but I’ve had a pretty negative opinion of this super-common pest since I knocked Pinfish off the target list.

Species: Pinfish (Lagodon rhomboides)
Location: Graffiti Bridge, Pensacola, FL
Date: August 1, 2017

Your first specimen of a common species is exciting. Your second and third are, too. Sometime shortly after that, though, it goes downhill.

Anyone who’s fished the Gulf knows the world of annoyance Pinfish can induce. As I fished a lagoon in backwater Pensacola, they proved a nuisance that limited my species total.

I caught a dozen or so that first night, and I have since caught hundreds. Pinfish are one of just a handful of saltwater species I’ve caught more than 100 of in a day, but most anyone could do that, so I don’t feel special.

Pinfish keep the skunk off, make good cutbait and livebait alike, and supposedly even taste good. I’ve never eaten one, but I filled a bucket with 50-60 for a family on a pier in Corpus Christi this summer, so people do eat them.

Still, it was the other species in that lagoon I was most interested in.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #94 — Mangrove Snapper.

Species #92 — Spotted Sunfish

The spotted sunfish is the most beautiful subdued sunfish, in my humble opinion.

Species: Spotted Sunfish (Lepomis punctatus)
Location: Whataburger Parking Lot, Century, Florida
Date: August 1, 2017

Florida is the destination fishery in the lower 48. As cool as salmon and steelhead and halibut are, it might even beat Alaska.

So when I was driving back from Officer Training School in Alabama, I figured a small detour to Florida was a no-brainer. Pensacola was only a few hours off my beaten path, and I knew I could grab some new experiences and species with the detour.

For some reason, before I hit Pensacola, I decided to fish a tiny freshwater stream running through the town of Century. I parked in a Whataburger parking lot, grabbed my ultralight rod, and walked 100 feet to the little stream. It was no more than a few pools of water, but I knew they held fish.

I wasn’t wrong, and my tiny worm-tipped 1/64-ounce jig earned me a fish in no time. I thought Bluegill at first until I realized it wasn’t.

It was a beautiful Spotted Sunfish! A new species and a beautiful one, at that.

The baby blue eyeshadow, greenish-gray overtones and hundreds of black flecks that give the fish their name.

Florida was looking to be the right call.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #93 — Pinfish.