Species #124 — Speckled Dace

Speckled Dace are about as handsome of a minnow species as you can find. So pretty.

Species: Speckled Dace (Rhinichthys osculus)
Location: Link River, Klamath Falls, OR
Date: December 15, 2015

As of right now, this is one species. Likely, the Klamath Speckled Dace, Rhinichthys osculus klamathensis, will soon be classified as a separate species.

It, like a number of Oregon endemics, hasn’t seen a lot of attention in the past 100 years, so it’s been left alone by modern taxonomists, but that will soon change.

I caught Speckled Dace as a kid on the tiny egg hooks baited with worms we used to use in streams before the “Bait Ban” that effectively took away bait fishing in streams to protect native trout and sucker populations.

All in all, that was a good move, but it meant that a lot of time passed before I caught another dace.

I’d caught a lot of them, but once I had a good specimen in hand, I felt confident counting it as a species.

Interestingly enough, I’ve only caught Speckled Dace in the Klamath and Goose Lake Basins, so if and when they’re reclassified, I’ll have more species to hunt just hours away.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #125 — Dixie Chub.

Species #119 — Shortnose Sucker

Shortnose Sucker are probably the most highly-endangered fish in Oregon. The two I’ve caught incidentally have been insane surprises, but given that I fish 150-200 days per year, it was only a matter of time before one took my worm for a spin.

Species: Shortnose Sucker (Chasmistes brevirostris)
Location: Undisclosed Location
Date: January 12, 2018

A few people told me I shouldn’t write about this one, and I both understand and respect their reasoning; however, I think I should write about this precisely because nobody else wants to talk about it.

We have a species at risk of extinction in the next five years, and it’s right in our backyard. The Shortnose Sucker, an endemic to the Upper Klamath Basin, has an estimated 5000 adults left in the wild.

That doesn’t sound so bad when, say, compared to some of the localized pupfish or Alabama Sturgeon, but when we’re talking about a fish that was once so abundant that anglers lined up to snag dozens of them in a day as they moved to spawn, it’s scary.

These fish are notorious for their phenomenal ability to smell the slightest hint of bait in the water at up to a mile away. This, in conjunction with their less-than-prominent proboscis led to their name: Shortnose Sucker.

Of course, only one of those things is true, but you believe it because it was written on the Internet from a seemingly reliable source. Now, I don’t ever lie to my readers, and I’m pretty damn informed about fishing, but even I don’t know every detail relating to the fish I write about.

But some people do. Some people knowingly spread misinformation about fish and the culture of fishing soaks it up without questioning the source. This, in combination with rapid habitat loss, is why Shortnose Sucker populations have declined.

People honestly believe they “eat trout eggs” and are actively competing with trout. This is just not accurate. Yes, they probably suction up some eggs, but so do trout. There are numerous videos of trout eating their own eggs. Further, suckers do not compete with mature trout. They have some overlap in their diets, but suckers are bottom feeders while trout are apex predators that cover the entire water column.

Suckers more often serve as food for trout than competition for them.

Without suckers, the niche they fill would be empty, and an already hypereutrophic lake with frequent algal blooms, fish die-offs, and poor water quality would be devastated.

As awesome and adaptable as our trout are, they can’t fill that niche.

***

I caught my first sucker on tiny gear while fishing for the invasive Yellow Perch in a river known to be overrun with them, a tiny Shortnose Sucker took my bait.

Baby Shortnose Suckers aren’t self-conscious about their short snouts yet because society hasn’t shamed them for it yet, and kids are innocent. When fishing for sensitive species, be sure to never put them on dry dirt, pavement, or rocks. I like to use the inside of a heavy-duty plastic bag with a layer of water thrown on top. This helps preserve a fish’s slime.

At first glance, I thought it was a Blue Chub, another endemic that has done remarkably well by comparison. I kill every perch, bullhead, and goldfish I catch in our system, but I always release natives (and Brown Trout, since they don’t really overpopulate and are limited to rivers).

I almost released the “chub” when I realized it looked a little different.

Quickly, I set it down and snapped a quick picture before watching it swim away, hopefully to start a trend in the right direction.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #120 — Pacific Herring.

Species #118 — Tidepool Sculpin

What started on a whim has become one of my favorite types of fishing: marine microfishing. Tidepool Sculpins tend to be the most numerous micros in most Oregon coastal locales.

Species: Tidepool Sculpin (Oligocottus maculosus)
Location: Newport, Oregon
Date: December 22, 2017

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.

Can you spot the Tidepool Sculpin? If not, you won’t enjoy the “Where’s Waldo” book series.

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.

ID confirmed.

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.

Tidepool Sculpins often wriggle in your hands which makes them look like tiny, adorable little sea dragons. Like, how cute is this lil guy? Ignore the assorted tidal filth on my palm.

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.

If you have micro gear, it’s virtually impossible not to catch a Tidepool Sculpin on your first attempt. Tides can throw off your success rates, but they feed just as actively during the day as they do at night.

***

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.

But that, my friends, is a story for another day.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #119 — Shortnose Sucker.

Species #116 — Torrent Sculpin

Still not the best photo, but clear enough to be used to identify your fish. Note the gray coloration and dark saddles.

Species: Torrent Sculpin (Cottus rhotheus)
Location: Corvallis, Oregon
Date: December 18, 2017

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.

Identification tips:
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.

Note the fairly solid gray coloration and visible saddles? Obvious Torrent Sculpin.

Read the story of how my first Torrent bit (not bit torrent, to be clear) by clicking here.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #117 — Chiselmouth.

Species #115 — Prickly Sculpin

Prickly Sculpin look decidedly frog-like from the front. Only the Riffle Sculpin has a mouth anything like them among Oregon sculpins.

Species: Prickly Sculpin (Cottus asper)
Location: Corvallis, Oregon
Date: December 18, 2017

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.

Read the story of all four by clicking here.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #116 — Torrent Sculpin.

Species #114 — Reticulate Sculpin

Oregon’s most common sculpin just so happened to be the first new species I caught microfishing.

Species: Reticulate Sculpin (Cottus perplexus)
Location: Corvallis, Oregon
Date: December 18, 2017

I try to provide content on my blog independent of what I publish in newspapers and magazines, but if I’ve already told a story well, there’s no point retelling it.

This is post 1-of-4 that will just link to an article after providing some basic identification tips.

The tale of my first Reticulate Sculpin was already published. It was my first attempt at microfishing and one of my most successful nights microfishing; I added four new species!

I will add sculpin identification tips here, though, especially because Prickly Sculpin and Reticulate Sculpin are so similar. 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.

Read the story of all four by clicking here.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #115 — Prickly Sculpin.

Species #113 — Lake Trout

My third Lake Trout happened to be a massive, 34×22″ monster that weighed in at 16.375 pounds. It had barotrauma, and I had no descending device to release it at depth, so I was forced to keep it. While not terrible fare compared to other trout, it’s not worth killing a fish close to you in age unless it’s phenomenal table fare.

Species: Yellow Bass (Salvelinus namaycush)
Location: Oregon
Date: November 24, 2017

It’s not often that the planets align and everything goes so swimmingly well that you catch a fish against all odds, but that’s exactly what happened.

After my friend, Dean Limb of Yaktactics, crushed it fishing for lakers from his kayak for several months, I decided to get in on the action.

Fishing a massive lake mid-winter for huge lakers isn’t everyone’s idea of how to spend a winter day, but during my Thanksgiving Break, that’s exactly where I found myself.

I hadn’t accounted for just how bad the roads could be, nor the boat ramp being closed, so I didn’t get on the water as quickly as I’d like. Around 10 a.m., I launched my kayak.

The day was remarkably clear and sunny for late November at 5000 feet, and I was pleasantly surprised to find a calm lake surface as I paddled out.

Dean and his wife, Katey, were supposed to join me later that day, and I figured I’d just mess around until they showed up.

I had a number of things going against me:

1. Apart from one attempt at lakers from my float tube in another lake that took 45 minutes to kick out in high winds and five minutes to be blown back to shore, I’d never chased the species before.

2. I was on a kayak — not the ideal winter fishing craft.

3. I had no fishfinder, a necessity when fishing for lakers.

4. My net wasn’t really large enough for big lakers because I’d yet to purchase the RS King Landing Net capable of fitting 30-plus-inch fish with ease.

Yet, even still, I paddled out maybe half a mile from shore to a spot I’ve since mapped with my fishfinder and know is about 80 feet deep. I dropped my jig down and let it hit the bottom. I bounced it once and felt resistance: my first laker.

I fought it to the surface, and boated my first-ever 30-plus-inch fish. Balancing on my kayak, I was able to get a decent picture.

My first 30-plus-inch trout was a laker I caught on my first drop laker fishing. It measured 32 1/4″ long.

I texted Dean “Fishfinder Smishfinder” with this picture, and I will never live that down.

Read another version of this story by clicking here.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #114 — Reticulate Sculpin.

Species #85 — Shiner Perch

These notorious bait-stealers can be tough to catch on conventional gear, but I caught several that day. Since that day, I’ve only caught them on micro gear in tidepools.

Species: Shiner Perch (Cymatogaster aggregata)
Location: Newport Public Docks, Newport, OR
Date: June 10, 2017

Surfperch, seaperch, or perch. Whatever you call them, these marine delights are one of my favorite groups of fish to chase in and around the piers, jetties, and surf breaks of the Oregon Coast.

Though some species are relatively common and well-known, others are less pervasive. One such species is the Shiner Perch, a small, silver-and-yellow species that rarely tops six inches in length and has a mouth too small for hooks larger than No. 14 or so.

I’d long seen these fish flitting in and out of the shadows below the piers and docks in Yaquina Bay, but I’d never caught one before.

Then one day, the bite was just amazing. I caught tons of fish on sabikis and small jigs, including a few salmon smolts and my first Shiner Perch. The silver dollar-sized fish with the bright, yellow stripes made my day, as I landed a handful and added a new species.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #86 — White Bass.

Species #84 — American Shad

American Shad were introduced to the West Coast in the 1800s and have flourished ever since.

Species: American Shad (Alosa sapidissima)
Location: Willamette River, Oregon City, OR
Date: June 11, 2017

Oregon is weird. We have a culture built around gamefish, but not all of our gamefish are native.

Rainbow Trout are the most popular species in the state, but most fish caught annually by Oregon anglers aren’t native fish; they’re mostly hatchery trout.

Though Rainbows, Cutthroats, and Bulls are Oregon’s only native trout, we have a slew of other introduced/invasive (depending on who you ask) trout that are afforded gamefish status.

Likewise, all five Pacific salmon species and Steelhead (genetically still a Rainbow Trout) are all native fish treated like kings.

Sturgeon gets the same treatment.

Bass aren’t native, and they’re certainly invasive and problematic in riverine environments and arguably so in some lakes. But bass don’t get all of the gamefish protections. You can fish for them at night. There is no dedicated bass season. At time of writing, no Oregon waters have purist trophy bass catch and release stipulations.

“They’re invasive, though” critics would argue.

My counterargument? So are shad.

***

Named for an 18th century frat boy, shad are anadromous, silver torpedoes that look — for all intents and purposes — like gamefish.

I was kidding about the frat boy. It’s the other way around.

The American Shad is an intriguing species. So intriguing, in fact, that I actually read an entire novel about these fish. I’ve never done that for any other fish species (no novels, that is).

When I read a book called The Founding Fish, I found it slow in places, but I was taken, and it was a worthwhile read.

I finished the book before I’d even caught a shad of my own.

***

I wrote in detail about these fish already. I framed one story through my own lens, through my first experience with these freshwater herring.

Read that here.

If my fishing stories bore you to tears, I would ask why you’re reading, but I guess I am somewhat handsome, so you could just be admiring me from afar, but am I that good-looking?

I don’t know. I haven’t broken any mirrors lately, but they rarely thank me after using them, either.

I digress.

There is a third option, though. Maybe you prefer the fact that I try to intersperse knowledge and science and history into my writing along with the fishing trips and self-deprecating humor. If that’s the case, click here for my history of American Shad in the PNW (that’s hipster for Pacific Northwest, if you’re not from here).

Shad are one of the most underrated fisheries in Oregon. They fight way better than a comparably-sized salmon or steelhead, and just because they aren’t the best-tasting fish, they get relegated to “crab bait” by most anglers.

***

Apart from there being no limit on the fish, American Shad are otherwise managed as a gamefish because they fight like one, challenge you like one, and there’s a dedicated following for Oregon shad.

I know I am among them now.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #85 — Shiner Perch.

Species #82 — Monkeyface Prickleback

The only fish with a face and disposition uglier than its name: the Monkeyface Prickleback.

Species: Monkeyface Prickleback (Cebidichthys violaceus)
Location: Newport Public Docks, Newport, OR
Date: November 21, 2016

Time can be so fluid when fishing. Seconds, minutes, and hours can all meld together when you feel weight or a tick on the end of your line, melting into a soup of suspended timeflow that is so personal and subjective you cannot look back after the fact and know the real duration of an event.

When I felt weight, it had to be just a second or two, but I felt the dark shadow of eternity creep into that moment as I began to mentally debate whether my hook had found purchase in a fish or a the salt-aged wood of the pilings below.

After all, it was heavy, and though I’d caught rockfish and Cabezon up to two pounds or so, this felt heavier. And unlike the popular bottomfish, it wasn’t pulling.

Until it was.

***

The fight was not unlike the Shortfin Eels I caught in New Zealand: a roiling mass, death-rolling with all the tenacity and venom of a Presidential hopeful trailing in the primaries.

When the squirming creature finally broke the surface some 20 feet below, the disconnect was palpable. I knew it wasn’t a snake, but it looked like a snake.

A part of my mind knew it was a fish I’d long dreamed of catching, but another more aggressive part of my mind was focused on the impending peril of the nearby sea lion that had clearly noticed my prize.

I take care to use light enough gear to enjoy the fight of the surfperch I target, but I also use line heavy enough to lift a two- or three-pound fish up the 20 feet to the pier at low tide.

This fish wasn’t going easily, though. Clearly not tired out, it twisted and writhed in a mesmerizing, serpentine dance of Satanic origin.

The ever-present gawkers shrieked and gasped and held their children close as I brought it onto the damp wooden landing of the pier.

While most fish flop on their sides when removed from the water, this fish turned onto its belly, coiled and ready to strike.

Reaching for the hook with my bare hand, it lunged at me. Well, lunged is a bit dramatic, but it made an effort to bite me.

Its teeth were certainly sharp, but small, so I unhooked it as it wrapped its body around my hand, intent on suffocating the hapless appendage and dragging it down to Hades.

This was a much better fish than most of what I’d caught that day, and since I’d dreamed of catching a Monkeyface Prickleback since I first heard of the fish nearly 15 years earlier, it was a special moment.

Naturally, the fish wouldn’t pose for a good picture, but I got its profile and tossed it back into the water, where its slinky dark form returned to hide in the structure of the pier to lurk in the unthinkable blackness of a nightmare.

It was only then that a gentleman on the pier spoke up and said, “You should’ve kept that. They’re the best-eating fish I’ve ever had.”

***

I caught another,much larger Monkeyface Prickleback later that year, and I confirmed what the gentleman had said. Along with Cabezon and Lingcod, Monkeyface Prickleback is as good as any fish I’ve ever eaten — a validation of the saying “Never judge a book by its cover,” I suppose.

What a looker, right? This Hellbeast wasn’t my first Monkeyface Prickleback, but at just 3 ounces shy of the IGFA All-Tackle World Record, it was certainly my largest.

***

These fish are relatively uncommon for those fishing with standard angling gear, but anglers on the Northern California Coast target them with a method called “Poke Poling”. Poke Poling is essentially using a long pole with a baited hook attached to the end that they stick into rock crevices. Inhabited holes yield fish that bite in age-old fashion.

Since this species is difficult if not virtually impossible to target outside of poke poling, it isn’t sold commercially. That means if you catch one, you need to try it.

Just be careful — it will definitely try to bite you.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #83 — Lost River Sucker.