Species #59 — Widow Rockfish

It was tiny, but I caught my first Widow Rockfish while third-wheeling on my best friend’s honeymoon. Read the story; it’s not as weird as it sounds.

Species: Widow Rockfish (Sebastes entomelas)
Location: Off the coast of Depoe Bay, OR
Date: December 18, 2014

I wrote about this in my January 30, 2015 column in the Herald and News. Read it here:

“In 1988, the United States government outlawed the production and sale of three-wheeled ATVs, commonly known as “three-wheelers,” because the third wheel made the vehicles incredibly awkward and unsafe.

Two years later, I was born.

I grew up blissfully unaware of the ban on three-wheeled vehicles, routinely spending time with my coupled friends and making an awkward triad.

Triad was also the name of my high school, but that’s just a coincidence.

I think.

As I got older, I became aware of when it was okay to third-wheel with my friends, and when it was not. First dates? No.

You’ve been dating for months and you’re now sitting at a basketball game? Yes.

Oh. You’re going to propose at this basketball game? That’s awesome!

Don’t worry, I didn’t blow the surprise.

Retroactive congratulations, Shawn and Maddie Elliott!

Understandably, most of my friends desired alone time with their significant other, so I tried to give them space.

We all grew older, and before I knew it, it was 2014.

My best friend, Benjamin Blanchard, was engaged and planning his wedding. The timing of the wedding meant our annual fall fishing trip to the Oregon Coast — that had been our tradition since graduating high school six years earlier — was off the table.

I’m not going to lie, I was a little disappointed.

Still, I was happy for my friend, and I absolutely understood.

Then, he surprised me by saying that he and his then fiancé (now wife), Autumn, wanted us to take our fishing trip, with her, during one of the days of their nearly month-long honeymoon.

Not one to turn down a fishing trip, I immediately agreed.

December rolled around, and we made plans to meet up in Lincoln City where they were staying. I started my weekend with a few days in Portland before heading to the coast.

Ben, Autumn and I met briefly the night before to catch up in their beachside vacation rental, where they were spending their honeymoon, before I retired to their floor.

Kidding.

I retired to the offsite motel room they’d generously rented for me.

The next day started off brisk and cold as we drove to nearby Depoe Bay, the world’s smallest navigable harbor.

We climbed onto the charter boat and got to know some of our fellow passengers.

Once it was discovered that Ben and Autumn were honeymooners, everyone congratulated them.

Once it was discovered that I was third-wheeling their honeymoon, we had a few laughs, one weird look from an older gentleman who thought we might’ve been a trio of lovers, but finally a comment from the captain, who said “Wow. That’s an honor.”

Indeed it was.

While many would feel like a third wheel, I never did with these two.

As we reeled in fish after fish, Autumn battled seasickness with a remarkably positive attitude.

Considering the fact that we were adrift in the middle of the ocean during mid-December, it was remarkably warm. My phone listed the weather in the 50s by mid-morning.

The fishing was pretty good, too, even though both Ben and Autumn out-fished me.

In total, we landed more than 40 fish, representing a variety of species. Black rockfish, blue rockfish and yellowtail rockfish made up the majority of our catch, but we also landed several vividly orange, threatened canary rockfish, several lingcod, and I even caught a species I’d never caught before: a widow rockfish.

They survived the first stormy seas their marriage would see (literally), and we had a great time together.

They never called me a third wheel, and though some of you might, I’ll counter with this: apart from the steering column, boats don’t have wheels.”

See the original H&N piece here.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #60 — Pacific Sardine.

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 #42 — Grass Rockfish

Grass Rockfish are relatively rare catches along the Oregon Coast. After catching this one in Brookings, I had to wait more than 5 years before catching another.

Species: Grass Rockfish (Sebastes rastrelliger)
Location: Mill Beach, Brookings-Harbor, OR
Date: July 14, 2012

Over the years, I’ve been admittedly quite blessed when it comes to fishing. I’ve captured rare species, rare color morphs, rare body types, and frankly, I can’t complain.

That catch was a Grass Rockfish, and I caught it on a trip that was as unlikely as any I’ve taken.

***

Over the years, my fishing buddy group has shifted and changed. As friends have married, had kids, and moved away, their availability to fish has changed, too. I don’t fault them for it, and I’m happy they’ve found happiness in off-the-water pursuits, but I’ve never really outgrown fishing.

We started out casual, but after high school, she became my soulmate.

“Don’t worry,” well-meaning folks tell me from time to time, “you’ll find a girl who likes to fish someday.”

But I have found girls who like to fish before, and that’s great, but I don’t like to fish. I love to fish. In fact, I live to fish.

If I ever found someone who shared that passion, I might eventually give my mom the grandkids I know she wants someday, but I’ve always thrived on flying solo. Despite good friends over the years, I’ve always preferred my own company to that of anyone else’s, and so #SingleByChoice has been my honest mindset for decade in which almost all of my friends traded reels for rings.

Now, that’s not a slight against them or their wives in any way. All of my closest fishing buddies today are married with wives who let them fish a lot, but they are still certainly more restricted than I am.

I digress.

One friend who moved away was Travis Lyman. He and I fished all of the time when he lived in Klamath, but when he moved and had kids, we basically stopped fishing together. Crazy, because at the time, we fished together often.

He even introduced me to one of his friends, a guy named Brian Ryckewaert, who invited me along on a spur-of-the-moment fishing trip to Brookings. For $100 toward expenses (a great deal), he let me tag along for a weekend of shore-based fishing for rockfish — something I’ve never had much success with.

***

We woke up incredibly early. We hoofed a lot of gear down the beach and over the rocks at low tide to our perch. We had a long board that we used to shimmy across gaps in the rocks, and when we finally made it to our destination, it was still dark.

Never in a million years would I have thought to fish from these rocks, but the four of us did quite well.

Using anchovies as bait, we did quite well on Black Rockfish and even picked up a few Lingcod. As time wore on, I decided to mix it up and started throwing lures. I got a few smaller Blacks to dart out from the rocks and kelp and smash my swimbait before I decided to switch to shrimp and target surfperch.

I got a few surfperch and my largest Kelp Greenling at that time.

 

At the time, this was the biggest Greenling I’d ever caught.

The surfperch and greenling were a nice bonus, but I released the greenling, thinking I could catch a bigger groundfish instead. I also released the surfperch because my one experience eating them had been poor, so I thought they tasted bad. Idiot. I now know they taste great, and I kick myself for releasing the big Redtail and Calico I caught that day, since I’ve never been able to eat Calico.

Oh well.

I stuck with shrimp and got a bigger fish to play. I was surprised to see it was a rockfish as I brought it close, and I immediately thought it was a brown because of the coloration.

I later learned it was a Grass Rockfish.

To this day, it remains the only rockfish over 8 inches that I’ve ever caught on shrimp.

I was in a “wear your oldest, crappiest clothes to fish” phase at the time, but that didn’t affect my joy to have caught my first Grass Rockfish.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #43 — Brown Smoothhound.

Species #41 — Klamath River Lamprey

Klamath River Lamprey are otherworldly creatures that don’t quite look Earth-born.
Photo courtesy UC Davis.

Species: Klamath River Lamprey (Lampetra similis)
Location: Klamath River, Keno, OR
Date: June 3, 2012

Up until this point in my Blogosphere, every species has been captured directly on hook and line. Every fish was, in fact, legally captured after being hooked in the mouth. I know what you’re thinking, and this fish wasn’t snagged.

I typically count a new species as long as it was legally captured. For some species, hands and snag hooks are legal. For others, bow-and-arrow, spear, or even net suffice. For Species #40, neither hook nor hand caught it, but it was still a first.

***

Anyone who has fished the Klamath Basin has seen the telltale pockmarks and battle wounds our large native Redbands wear with honor. Many think these are leech marks, and while some of the minor marks might be, most are caused by another type of parasite: lampreys.

Lampreys are terrifying, parasitic eel-like creatures stranger than fiction that would seem to be more at home in the Cretaceous  than modern times. They attach themselves to larger fish with a circular mouth full of irregular teeth that cleave to the host and allow the lamprey to suck blood.

Pacific Lamprey is a well-known species that are fished for by a number of specialty anglers. There are several lesser-known lampreys living in the Klamath Basin that are related to these larger, ocean-going menaces. These include the Klamath River and Miller Lake Lampreys — both of which are rarely caught by anglers — and some others that may or may not just be subspecies like the lampreys once found in Miller Creek below Gerber Dam.

Regardless, they are neither well-known nor hotly pursued fish.

***

Deep in the Klamath River Canyon, I landed another respectable Redband Trout. As I lifted the net, I noticed a black, writhing mass that I initially mistook for a leech. It was, in fact, a succubus of pescal proportions.

As the black form contorted in ways only a creature possessed could manage, I took a moment to try and photograph the horrendous monstrosity.

It didn’t really take, and I wasn’t too keen to hold it for any longer than necessary.

I released it and with it, a case of the willies, knowing I’d just caught my first lamprey.

Like many other species I’ve caught, it wasn’t until the trip ended, and I’d had time to do some research that I learned its name: Klamath River Lamprey.

The picture came out blurry, but this is the first lamprey I caught.
These fish don’t cooperate for photos very well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

***

I’ve netted several with large trout since, and I even caught one by hand that was rooting for hapless prey at the waterline in Upper Klamath Lake. Though all have been 5-7 inches long, I know they get a lot bigger.

While microfishing for sculpins in Link River last month, I noticed a snake rooting in the substrate. Only it wasn’t a snake. This fish was every bit of 10 inches long and maybe larger. Its diameter was much larger than a 12-gauge shotshell, and it, too, was a lamprey.

These fish are officially protected, though anyone who has fished the lake and seen their mark will know they’re doing just fine.

I’ve wanted to try targeting them with a bloody piece of meat as I used for freshwater eels in New Zealand, but you’re not supposed to target protected fish, and there’s really no other justification for using red meat in local waters.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #42 — Grass Rockfish.

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 #35 — Buffalo Sculpin

Buffalo Sculpin are tenacious, tough, and tremendous fighters for their size.

Species: Buffalo Sculpin (Enophrys bison)
Location: Chetco River South Jetty, Brookings-Harbor, OR
Date: September 13, 2010

This is a story about misidentifying sculpins and feral cats and world records. Yes, you read that right.

I’ll start with the record. Here’s the picture of my record-setting fish.

This guy fought like a creature possessed. Even at World Record-size, I didn’t feel it was worth filleting.

My first saltwater All-Tackle World Record was for Buffalo Sculpin (2017), but little did I know, I actually caught my first one seven years earlier.

My first saltwater fish to earn me an All-Tackle World Record was a Buffalo Sculpin. Source: http://wrec.igfa.org/WRecordsList.aspx?lc=AllTackle&cn=Sculpin,%20buffalo.

***

For many years, the South Jetty in Brookings was home to an absurdity. When my friend Ben Blanchard and I walked out to the jetty with high hopes, we caught a furry blur dart between the rocks. It wasn’t the first time we’d seen elusive beasts living among the jetty’s numerous boulders. At first, we thought they might otters or fishers or raccoons, but then we saw a black cat.

Clear as day, it was a black cat. We’d been joking about the “Jetty Cats” that entire trip, using the tune from the commercials for Jitterbug, the white flip phone with giant buttons marketed to the elderly, to say “Jetty Cats”. It probably wasn’t as funny as we thought it was. Yet we laughed.

Still, when we arrived and saw the cats, we were surprised to see a woman with a bag of cat food leaving.

Our eyes were opened to the strangeness of people that day.

I’m neither a cat person nor a dog person. I hate the idea of pet ownership and would never allow one of those filthy beasts in my house.

But Ben’s a cat person, and even he thought it was a little crazy.

The lady had noticed there were feral cats living in the jetty and began setting cage traps for them. She’d take them to get spayed or neutered (I thought this part was admirable, at least), then bring them back.

More than 20 feral cats lived among the rocks after a few years of this behavior, and the natural food supplies of crab and fish scraps wore thin (one of the many reasons why feral cats should be shot on sight: they destroy wildlife populations), she began bringing bowls and feeding them catfood.

She thought it was completely normal. Crazy Cat Lady.

She left, and we had no shortage of jokes for the rest of the afternoon.

Sidenote: In 2017, I came back found that the cats were either all gone or mostly gone, having been replaced by a number of surprisingly-fearless raccoons. 

***

Cats aside, this is a fishing blog.

Using Berkely Gulp! Sandworms, we’d done quite well before. But alas, it wasn’t to be that day. I caught a single fish that we misidentified as a Cabezon and wouldn’t correctly identify for a long time after as the Buffalo Sculpin it was.

The fish was all head. Though it was just over eight inches long, its head was probably four inches wide. These fish have a weird body shape, but fight really well — even when small.

Buffalo Sculpins have a strange body shape. This was my All-Tackle World Record and at 14 inches long, it was almost 8 inches across the head.

It wasn’t glamorous, but it was a new species and a great story to go with it. Years later, when I set my world record, I still remembered the first one I’d caught some many years and so many Jetty Cats ago.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #36 — Canary Rockfish.

Species #34 — Cutthroat Trout

Coastal Cutthroat Trout are some of the most beautiful creatures on God’s Green Earth.

Species: Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii)
Location: Big Butte Creek, Butte Falls, OR
Date: August 14, 2010

I debated how to record this species. The reason being that there are 10-to-14 living subspecies of Cutthroat Trout, and many anglers document and note each subspecies separately. Obviously I do.

And while I’d like them to be classified as separate species for my own purposes, they aren’t. So what I’ll do is tell you the stories of the subspecies of Cutthroat Trout I’ve caught so far.

Unlike my other individual species posts, I’ll add to this one every time I catch a new subspecies. So here it is: a chronological list of the all of the Cutthroat subspecies I’ve caught, beginning with the first one (Coastal), the one that made Cutthroat Trout Species #34 in my #SpeciesQuest.

Coastal Cutthroat TroutMary’s River in Corvallis is one of the best year-round fisheries for Coastal Cutts. This fish was
likely a Cutbow, though. 

Speed limits are the worst. I openly oppose highway speed limits and long for the days of old where motorists could careen down the highway at absurd speeds, using only their forearms as seat belts for children bouncing around in the front seat of the car.

I kid a little, but I still think speed limits are dumb.

Unfortunately, the officer didn’t agree with me, and I was cited for doing 70 in a 55 as I made my way to Fourmile Lake to chase some of the massive Brook Trout I’d seen caught there in years’ past.

My mood was further soured when I was skunked at Fourmile Lake, beginning a lifelong hatred of a place so beautiful, yet so unproductive as a fishery (disgusting Hatchery Rainbows aside).

***

I decided I’d go to my  native streams, making my way to Little Butte Creek. I landed a bunch of little brookies and met a guy who told me he’d caught a bunch of Westslope Cutthroat Trout in nearby Big Butte Creek earlier that day.

I didn’t think Westslope Cutthroat Trout were found West of the Cascades (in actuality, they’re not), but I hopped back into my car and drove.

***

Trout in streams fish the same almost everywhere, and I quickly landed small rainbows and a fish that bore faded red slashes below its jaws but otherwise looked like a Rainbow. It was, in fact, a Cutbow.

Where these species in the same genus overlap, they often hybridize. Rainbow-loving anglers have transplanted these fish all over the West outside their native range in Northern California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska. While they provide great fisheries if and when the populations establish wild populations, they often out-compete native Cutthroats and/or hybridize them out of existence in much the same way invasive Brook Trout have overtaken Bull Trout.

Calling a Rainbow Trout invasive would cause most flyfishermen to have a conniption, but they are often true invasive species.

Nonetheless, both species are native to the Rogue Watershed where I was fishing, but Rainbows were just more aggressive, I guess.

When I moved upstream of a small dam between the Butte Falls Fish Hatchery and the town of Butte Falls, the small yet deep impoundment there looked perfect for a Rapala.

The respectable, 10 1/4″ Cutthroat Trout that smashed my lure agreed. The fish was more than half a pound and remains one of the larger Cutts I’ve ever caught.

For awhile I believed it had been a Westslope Cutthroat, but I eventually learned it was a Coastal Cutthroat Trout.

These elongated, piscivorous silver bullets are heavily spotted everywhere except their bellies and have much longer heads and larger mouths than comparably-sized Rainbows.

Lahontan Cutthroat Trout

Color variability between Cutts is tremendous. Note the Lahontan Cutthroat Trout buck on the top and the hen on the bottom.I first tried to catch Lahontans in Willow Valley Reservoir, a reservoir in Klamath County along the California border during the summer of 2016 (some six years after first catching Coastals). Unbeknownst to me, it had dried up the year before, and I was left catching Yellow Perch in the middle of the desert.

***

My second try came later that summer. On my way to fish the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge’s short carp season, I decided to take the back roads to Burns. That took me through Denio, Nevada then north to the Alvord Desert.

Once you hit the Alvord Hot Springs, the pavement ends, and you’re left on a northbound gravel road. It’s easy to drive too fast on a road that wends its way between two massive mountain ranges.

It’s also easy to hit one jackrabbit every two miles. I hit 13 (not intentionally) of the eared plaguebringers. I wondered if that was unlucky…

My destination was Mann Lake. While Apple Maps had Mann Lake and nearby Juniper Lake swapped, I eventually course-corrected.

I parked on the north shore and proceeded to fish my way around it. Seriously. Wading in the wet mud and shallow water, my legs were assaulted by some unseen menace. I’m still not sure if it was bugs or the alkalinity or what, but my legs were raw after I’d finished my loop.

It was weedy and shallow, and though I had a single trout chase a spoon up to the end of my rod and actually come out of the water after it, splashing just a yard from me, I got skunked. You can read about that trip at Mann Lake here: Taking the road less traveled from Herald and News. 

Lahontan Cutthroats are truly beautiful.

***

The third time proved to be the charm. My friend Ben Fry and I were invited to join a group of Insta-famous anglers, including Bryan Glass (@wildtrout) and Brier Kelly (@brier_kelly).

This strain of Lahontan Cutthroat Trout almost went extinct before rebounding to become a success story, and you can read my article Second Chance at Survival from Herald and News here.

I won’t go into too much detail about this trip on my blog, because I already wrote about it. Check out Fishing Pyramid Lake — in pursuit of Lahontan Cutthroat Trout from the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and Getting Reel with Bryan Glass from the Herald and News.

Bear River Cutthroat TroutThe pink-on-brown coloration of these fish is really unique. Coloration is one of the reasons Bear River Cutthroats are worth the trip to Utah or Wyoming.

My third subspecies of this fish was a surprise. I was hoping for a number of other Cutthroat subspecies as I traveled across Utah, Wyoming, and Nebraska on my way to Officer Training School in Alabama during the summer of 2017, but the Bear River Cutthroat was the last fish I expected to catch.

I actually wrote a pretty in-depth article about Bear River Cutthroat Trout for the Herald and News last year, so if you’re in the mood for an interesting, science-heavy read, check out Testing the waters of Wyoming — Bear River Cutthroat.

Like I said, I love these fish, and as I catch more subspecies, I’ll add to this post.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Buffalo Sculpin.

Species #33 — Sacramento Perch

Sacramento Perch kind of look like crappie, but if you look a little closer, they have their own unique aesthetic among sunfish.

Species: Sacramento Perch (Archoplites interruptus)
Location: Topsy Reservoir, Keno, OR
Date: June 14, 2010

There wasn’t anything crazy about this day. In fact, apart from the fact that spelling the word “Sacramento” has been a lifelong struggle, there isn’t much to tell.

I always spell it “Sacremento” instead of “Sacramento,” but I live with my imperfections.

But this is a story about fishing — not spelling — and I spell fishing “S-U-C-C-E-S-S”.

As it happens, that day was quite successful. Using a small crappie jig, I landed 20 fish. My catch was composed of Black Crappie (13), Tui Chub (4), Pumpkinseed (2), and my first-ever Sacramento Perch.

Sac Perch look similar enough to Black Crappie that, to the unobservant angler, they might be just another fish for the cooler. But these fish are unique for a number of reasons:

1) They’re the only fish in the family Centrarchidae (bass and sunfish) native west of the Mississippi), swimming with a native range in Central California.

2) They spawn later than all other sunfish, so in waters where other sunfish live, Sac Perch are usually out-competed. Bluegills and Redears and Pumpkinseed spawn, then all of their fry hatches and eats the eggs of the Sac Perch which spawn as much as six weeks later.

3) Sacramento Perch are one of the only species of fish that is almost entirely extinct in its native range yet nowhere near extinct as a species because of its other, non-native distributions like those in Oregon.

4) Sacramento Perch are only found — officially — in two locations in Oregon: Topsy Reservoir (Klamath River) and the Lost River. I’ve since caught them in at least three ponds where they don’t officially exist, but that’s beside the point.

I’ve caught less than 50 of these fish over the past 15 years. They’re still special to me, and along with Pumpkinseed, I feel that Sacramento Perch is likely my best shot at catching an Oregon State Record.

So I guess I had something to say about this fish, after all.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #34 — Cutthroat Trout.

Species #31 — Pacific Staghorn Sculpin

The commonly used term “bullhead” is not accurate when used for any of a host of species, but the Pacific Staghorn Sculpin is the fish most victimized by this label.

Species: Pacific Staghorn Sculpin (Leptocottus armatus)
Location: Chetco River South Jetty, Brookings-Harbor, OR
Date: September 10, 2009

Rashomon Effect 6-of-6: My Hands

The phone started beeping, and I fumbled for it in the blackness. My hand found it in the dark, but as I flipped it open with my thumb, the split at the base of the thumbnail cried out with the motion.

I knew I should’ve put on hand lotion the night before.

The salt and sand and fish blood weren’t going to do me any favors, but the shower soothed my aches and pains momentarily.

***

Buckling my belt wasn’t pleasant, nor was tying my shoes. Getting my gear ready wasn’t a picnic, either. Why do so many things require using your hands?

***

Finally, I was fishing.

Braided line carves through wet skin. My left hand learned this lesson almost immediately. The weight of the line worked against me, as numerous cuts and slices joined the splits and nicks from the night before.

There was no freshwater on board, so in order to get the blood off, my only recourse was saltwater. Nothing feels better in a wound like saltwater.

Since my hands were so ravaged, I didn’t even want to use them to wipe the vomit from the corners of my mouth, so I used my sleeve. Man, I was disgusting. But I didn’t even care.

***

The boat returned to the marina, and despite the prospect of catching our own bait fish on ultralight tackle, I made a beeline for the bathroom.

Relief washed over my ailing hands with soap and water that might as well have been ecstasy in the moment.

Hands clean, I returned to the marina to chase bait.

***

The tiny fish and tiny hooks didn’t cooperate with my sausage fingers, stiffened lightly from the infection slowly setting in.

Still, we filled a bag with bait in short order and headed to the jetty.

***

After catching several species on the jetty, including my first Pacific Staghorn Sculpin, the laterally-compressed big-headed things that look more alien than fish, I was pretty excited even if they were all relatively small fish. Then my rod bent sharply, and I knew I had something bigger on the line. After a short fight, I pulled the mystery creature up to the edge of jetty and lifted it from the water.

I was dismayed to see it was a Dungeness Crab, but then hope sparked in me as I realized it might be a keeper. Not knowing how to hold crabs, I just grabbed it. It rewarded my stupidity by slicing my already-mangled finger open.

Crawfish pinch, and it can hurt a little, but it doesn’t break the skin. Crabs can carve you up like a hapless Thanksgiving turkey.

The high-pitched screech reeked of masculinity, and I watched in horror as the crustacean from Hell maintained its death grip on my finger. Finally, Ben pried it off, and we released it, realizing it was a female.

I was out of tissues, so I ripped a small strip off fabric off of my tee shirt and tried to cobble together a makeshift bandage, but it was impractical, hindering every reel and basically making my right hand useless.

We ended on a low note and headed back down the jetty to start the long journey home.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Cabezon.

Species #29 — Pacific Sardine

Occasionally, a wandering sardine or salmon smolt schools up with the anchovies in the marina. It’s always a nice surprise when a much larger baitfish surprises you.

Species: Pacific Sardine (Sardinops sagax)
Location: Brookings-Harbor Marina, OR
Date: September 10, 2009

Rashomon Effect 4-of-6: My Eyes

Black.

I rubbed them.

Gray.

I rubbed them again.

Rheumy, blurry darkness.

I blinked a few times and then fumbled in the darkness for my glasses.

Rheumy, clear darkness.

I shuffled through the cold morning fog to the shower, the heat cleaning my eyes of the night’s sleep, but the blur remained.

My contacts cleared the blur, and I looked at my red, sleep-deprived eyes in the naked light of the single bulb above the mirror.

It would be worth it, I told myself.

***

The salt stung my eyes, and the bracing wind dried them out. I was sick to my stomach, but the sun helped. I donned sunglasses and caught yet another rockfish.

The boat was pleasant, but staring into the water with salt spray and flecks of fish blood flying around, blazing sun, and whipping wind makes your eyes much more tired than a day on the shore.

When the boat docked back in its slip, Ben and I took to chasing silver flashes in the marina.

***

As we hooked anchovies one after the next, I noticed one fish that looked different. While the anchovies looked silver in the brackish water, this fish was blue. I tried placing my bait in its path, but the rhythmic dancing of the school was choreographed to avoid my hooks then surround them, so the odds of getting that one blue fish to bite were small.

Still, as we followed the school around the marina, darting this way and that, that elusive blue glint appeared more than once. Finally, as I walked to retrieve our bait bag, I noticed an isolated blue fish that looked injured.

Since we were snagging as many anchovies as we were hooking them in the mouth, I lowered my crappie jig (the Sabiki proved to be a pain when you’d hook multiple fish due to tangles), and found purchase in the face of the lonely baitfish.

It fought and dove much harder than the anchovies, but it was still a small fish: maybe five inches in length.

As it flopped onto the dock, telltale two-toned coloration and the horizontally-aligned black spots told me it wasn’t an anchovy. The guys on the boat would later tell me it was a Pacific Sardine — the one and only sardine I’ve ever caught.

I felt fortunate to have kept my eyes on the prize, especially when Ben landed one himself a few minutes later.

***

The jetty was dangerous because of the massive boulders, oceanic damp, and deep holes between footholds. Eyes wide, we stepped carefully around the jetty as we caught fish for the rest of the day in the close isolation of that rock spit just a few hundred yards from the bustling beach.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #30 — Kelp Greenling.