Species: Golden Shiner (Notemigonus crysoleucas) Location: Orlando, Florida Date: July 10, 2018
A school of Golden Shiners pestered me for almost an hour at the Lake Fran Urban Wetlands. I knew what they were, and I knew I’d never caught one, but for the life of me, I just couldn’t get one to bite.
They were holding far out from shore, and I didn’t want to soak my boots or go to the car for a longer rod, so I spent a fruitless hour trying to get one to bite. To make matters worse, they were holding just under the surface, wouldn’t touch anything more than two inches below the surface.
Add to that my lack of floats, and my confidence sunk faster than my micro rig.
After trying a pond I was told was full of them and fighting off Bluegill and turtles for the better part of an hour with no Golden Shiners to show for it, I returned to the spot from the day before.
Though it was slow-going, it proved the right idea. Eventually, my bread chumming paid off, and I got a Golden Shiner, then a few more.
All the commotion even attracted the attention of the tiniest little predator around, a certain topminnow species that I desperately wanted to catch…
Species: Coastal Shiner (Lepomis auritus) Location: Little Wekiva River, Florida Date: July 8, 2018
One of my favorite professors in college used to say “If you haven’t ____________, you haven’t lived.” He honestly had a lot of great catch phrases, but this was my favorite — especially as it relates to fishing.
If you haven’t waited chest-deep in the tannin-stained waters of a central Florida stream in pursuit of a tiny minnow species, gators be damned, you haven’t lived.
One caveat: if you have done this and continue to make this type of choices, you probably won’t live very long. But hey, at least you’ll be living both sides of the best line from Shawshank Redemption: “Get busy living, or get busy dying.”
When I arrived at the river, the sunfish came faster than I expected, but that happens from time to time.
With one fish marked off so quickly, I had to figure out how to spend the rest of my time. Darters are shiners were both present, but the river was running really high.
Orlando had seen a lot of rain, and there was no way I could sight-fish darters in the dark waters when I couldn’t even see the bottom.
After catching all of the sunfish (yes, all of them) in that stretch of river, I grabbed micro gear and decided to look for greener pastures or at least clearer waters.
The shoreline flora was impenetrable, and I’d already spent a lot of time and energy finding this access point to the water, so I was SOL (that’s Spanish for “sun”, kids).
I did a quick check for gators, and, seeing none, jumped in.
My first thought was “I really hope I’m far enough from the city to be out of hypodermic needle range.”
My second thought was “No, I’m good. This is Florida. Nothing bad ever happens here.”
Used hypodermic needles are endemic to Florida, but they tend to occur in isolated pockets around the state, closer to population centers. In recent years, the range of the used hypodermic needle has contracted due to prescription opioids. Pills have out-competed the less convenient and infinitely less sanitary method for destroying brain cells and soiling perfectly good spoons.
So S/O to pills.
Fortunately, apart from some broken glass, the creekbed was fairly forgiving, and the sandy bottom actually felt good between my toes, so long as I didn’t think about all of the reclaimed water that was flowing over them.
I waded across with a fluid grace you would’ve been impressed by and began moving in the shallower water along the bank, searching diligently for water moving slowly enough to hold micros.
Gators must not like white meat because I survived long enough to find what I was looking for: happiness.
Well, sort of. I found a small school of shiners which made me happy.
The current was so fast that I struggled to keep the bait in their face in the middle of the water column, but I finally did it and caught a Coastal Shiner.
Wading back across the river and busting brush to the paved trail wasn’t great, but neither was my last colonoscopy, and I survived that.
If you’re not a Species Hunter, you probably laughed nervously as I told this story, wondering why some dumbass would risk his life for a tiny fish. If you are a Species Hunter, you’re nodding quietly to yourself as you look around to fistbump me only to realize this is a story, and I’m not actually there.
That’s okay. If you haven’t forgotten one of my stories was just a narrative while reading it on your phone or computer at least once, you haven’t lived.
#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard
Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #140 — Black Acara.
Freshwater sculpins, especially the Cottus species, are among the most difficult-to-identify fish around.
Marine sculpins aren’t quite as tough, especially with the odd Rosylip Sculpin or Buffalo Sculpin kicking around, but there are a lot of them with blurred edges. One such fish is the Smoothead Sculpin. There are three fish in this genus (Padded, Smoothhead, and Scalyhead), and they’re insanely difficult to tell apart. Strangely, the Scalyhead Sculpin is supposed to be the most common but is the only one I’ve never caught.
Honestly, I don’t even really remember how he distinguished the two, but since I’ve only caught one more in that genus (another Smoothhead) since, it hasn’t been an issue.
But at least I know my flaws and don’t try to *smooth* over them.
I’m not sure I did, but then I looked at a picture of a Fluffy Sculpin, the most beautiful little fish you ever did see. To further sell me on it, God made sure it comes in three designer colors: green, red, and brown.
Fluffy Sculpins are, as much as is possible for a fish, actually fluffy. They have tons of cirri, little sensory receptors common in sculpins, all over the body. They are especially prevalent around the head and lend to the fish’s name.
Add to their fluffy hugability the bright, vivid base palette and a lapis lazuli-and-white checkerboard throat, and you might just be talking about the most striking fish in the Pacific Northwest.
My first one fell for my bold pickup line: a bit of shrimp on a micro hook dangling into a surf-line tidepool on an outgoing low tide.
Though visibility wasn’t great to begin with, I also had to contend with a green fish in a verdant sea of kelp and sea lettuce which didn’t make things any easier.
One I landed the fish and saw it’s unmistakable underside, I knew I had a Fluffy.
It was my first time microfishing with a photo tank, but the water was so salty that it made my photos turn out worse than I’d expected.
Still, I got some decent pictures.
I landed dozens of fish that day. Though Tidepool Sculpin and Kelp Greenling were the most numerous, I did manage a few more fluffies, including a red one.
I haven’t caught one in a minute now, but they remain my favorite Oregon micro.
After school got out, I loaded my car and drove up to visit my brother, Gabe.
I knew it would be the last summer he lived in Corvallis with his roommates, the guys who had been surrogate brothers to me in the dozens of times I’d visited them over the years. Sure, I wanted to spend time with my brother, but I also liked the change of pace.
Jake called it “Hotel Gabe,” and I guess that was partly true. I did always take time to fish when visiting. In fact, I fished a lot out of that Corvallis apartment in five years’ time.
I changed careers, finished a Master’s degree, became a species hunter, and even started writing about fishing while they lived there. It held more memories than any other place I’d never actually lived in.
Like always, I wanted to fish.
So as I went out to the Willamette River to try for a species that was put on my radar since I started microfishing six months earlier from that very spot, I got emotional.
I caught my Redside Shiner, though I had to work for it. Species #126.
But I was still sad. This wasn’t like all of the other times I’d fished there.
This time was different.
We were celebrating Gabe’s graduation, and his then-girlfriend (now fiance), Rylee Salutregui and her family were there for the festivities, as she was graduating, too.
After catching a Redside Shiner just a few minutes from Gabe’s house, I surveyed the place I’d come to love as a second home and said my goodbyes to the place.
The people would be a little tougher.
The next day, we went fishing as a group. There were no new species, but it was worth sharing nonetheless.
Of those original four roommates that Gabe had lived with for so long, all of whom played Oregon State Football, only Adam Soesman and Drew Kell are still in Corvallis.
Marcus McMaryion transferred to Fresno State and got snubbed for an NFL Combine Invite, but he’ll probably at least make an NFL roster next year.
Trent Moore, one of his roommates and best friends, now lives with Gabe in Beaverton.
Gabe will be moving out to get a place with Rylee when they get married this fall, and life moves on.
Their core friend group has gone different directions, and I miss those guys. I never had college roommates (I lived with my parents), and these guys were the closest I ever came. I’d visit about once per month for almost five years. It was a way of life for me, and change is tough — even for the brother who only visits on occasion.
Read about saying goodbyes even as we said new hellos by clicking here.
After discovering microfishing in the Willamette a few days earlier, I took my time staying with my brother, Gabe, during Christmas Break to expand my microfishing horizon.
After finding about as much success fishing from the pier as I’ve found dating in my late 20s, I decided to grab some dinner.
This was the highlight of my evening, as I headed to Local Ocean Seafood, which, in my opinion, is the best seafood restaurant in the state and one of the best I’ve ever had. Their crab chowder isn’t quite to die for, but it would certainly be a part of my last meal if given the choice.
Their rotating dinner menu and desserts are also phenomenal. Seriously. Take a moment and try them out.
I returned to the pier that night and did a little fishing in the blackness before a lightbulb emerged over my head. I could try microfishing at night in saltwater, chasing sculpins just like I did in freshwater!
The figurative lightbulb was replaced with a literal one as I donned my headlamp and took to the waters underneath the piers on the Newport waterfront.
Tides were a little higher than I’d like, and I was wearing rubber boots instead of waders, but through a spot-and-stalk effort more akin to hunting than fishing, I finally hooked a sculpin … and promptly lost it.
Fishing for these little guys involves a keen eye. You’ll have to spot their saddles against the aggregate, broken shells, rocks, sand, and kelp. It’s easier said than done over a broken bottom.
This excruciating process repeated itself two or three times before I finally landed one.
I knew it was a Tidepool Sculpin, and I was stoked.
Handling it wasn’t terribly easy, especially for a microfishing novice with cold, worn-out hands dealing with an Owner New Half Moon hook, but I managed to hold it long enough to snap this less-than-ideal photo for identification. I took that picture and began reading the Mola Marine Sculpin Guide, a link you definitely want to copy and save, just to make sure.
Tidepool Sculpins are not only the most common Oregon intertidal sculpin, they have (1) smooth skin and (2) a prominent saddle in between the dorsal fins with the open end of the V-shape facing back toward the head. It’s reversed in the species with which you might otherwise confuse it.
Though I thought I had it figured out, that was my one and only fish that night. I’d rose with the dawn, fished all day, and I was tired. I still had an hour to drive back to Corvegas, so I hopped in the car and went back to Gabe’s house one species richer.
I’ve since discovered the beauty of tidepool microfishing, and though there are limited options on the Oregon Coast due to habitat protection laws, I’ve figured out a few places.
Trout fishing, specifically walking and casting the shoreline with spinning gear, remains my favorite type of fishing. I also love fishing for bass with topwaters, chasing staging crappie and sunfish with ultralight tackle, tossing streamers for hungry perch
It’s pretty rare to catch any sort of micro cyprinid at night. It’s even rarer when the water is cold. I was just lucky enough to not only land a minnow on my first night microfishing, but a rare cyprinid in the middle of December.
This is post 3-of-4 that will just link to an article after providing some basic identification tips.
Torrent Sculpin is the easiest sculpin species to identify in the Willamette River Basin. At least, in my opinion.
Not only do they behave differently (they’re very skittish and will shy away from light), but they look different from the other two common Willamette sculpins.
1. The overall color of every Torrent Sculpin I’ve caught has been gray, whereas all Prickly and Reticulate Sculpin I’ve caught have had a brown base color. Torrents are also more consistently one base color whereas the other two area heavily mottled.
2. Torrents tend to be bigger. Every one I’ve caught has been at least four inches, with the largest almost seven. Now the other species get that big, but I’ve only caught one Reticulate over four inches long.
3. Torrents have three dark saddles beginning at the second dorsal fin. These saddles don’t extend all the way around the fish like they do in some saltwater sculpin species, but Torrents look more like saltwater sculpins than any other freshwater sculpins in Oregon.
Read the story of how my first Torrent bit (not bit torrent, to be clear) by clicking here.
Here’s another post that will just link to a story I’ve already written. Ideally, I’ll catch another Prickly Sculpin soon, so I can put it side-by-side with my Reticulate Sculpin to help with identification.
Sadly, my only photo of a Prickly Sculpin (above), is terrible.
I will add sculpin identification tips here, though, especially because Prickly Sculpin and Reticulate Sculpin. Though side-by-side, the fish do look slightly different because Prickly Sculpin have an anal fin with longer soft rays, when caught individually, they can be tough to separate.
The main characteristic is in the name: Prickly Sculpin are prickly. Their skin feels like sandpaper, while Reticulate Sculpin have smooth skin.
They share water, so that’s the most reliable way to identify them.