Species #28 — Northern Anchovy

Anchovies are weird. They’re seemingly everywhere, work as bait for everything that swims, and yet they’re as frail and easy to catch as any fish I’ve ever seen. How do these things survive?

Species: Northern Anchovy (Engraulis mordax)
Location: Brookings-Harbor Marina, OR
Date: September 10, 2009

Rashomon Effect 3-of-6: My Mind

All through the night, I dreamed of catching fish. My unconscious mind raced through the possibilities the dark waters of the ocean holds, stopping only briefly to rest in between visions.

As the marathon of dreams flew my waking mind, the racing continued with a newly awakened sense of reality. My body wasn’t quite ready to cooperate, but my mind urged me up.

***

During breakfast and the drive to the marina, we discussed what we might catch that day. The possibilities seemed endless in the living cornucopia of the ocean where thousands of species of fish have swum for eons.

The pictures on the wall at Tidewinds Sportfishing only played on our fantasies and expectations as we waited to depart.

In the dim light of the morning, we heard our shoes clamor on the metal ramp down to the marina. The fleeting moonlight reflected on a writhing silver mass that we quickly identified as fish.

Desperate longing to catch those fish rang out in my mind, but we were on a schedule. I pried myself away from the fish but I couldn’t stop thinking about them, even as the boat crossed the bar.

***

The fishing on the boat was phenomenal. I landed four species of rockfish (Black, Blue, Brown, and Yellowtail) while Ben also landed four (Black, Blue, Canary, and Yellowtail).

Despite the sweeping nausea and subsequent vomiting, my mind stayed sharp. I thought about all of the fish I’d caught, and as time ran out on our charter, I got a second wind and began thinking of how to spend the rest of our daylight.

***

When we arrived back at the marina, we knew we had 45 minutes to kill while the crew of Tidewinds Sportfishing cleaned our fish (free of charge, I might add, which is why these guys are the best charter on the Pacific Coast). We made a beeline for the car to grab lighter rods and stalked down each slip of the dock, looking for the silver ball of fish.

Before long, we found it. We tried the Sabiki rig (herring jig) for awhile, and Ben landed the first flopping silver sliver. It was maybe three inches long, with a mouth disproportionate to its size.

As he removed the hook, it’s jaw dislocated, and it wriggled violently for a moment before dying. These fish aren’t very resilient.

Since it died, we decided to keep it as bait.

As the fishing picked up, we landed anchovy after anchovy, their voracious feeding and constant terror of anything we dropped into the water causing enigmatic reactions of the school ranging from darting away from the bait to making mad dashes directly at it.

There is an episode of SpongeBob where anchovies come in and almost destroy the Krusty Krab, and it’s not far from the truth.

“That certain smelly smell that smells…smelly. ANCHOVIES!”                    —Mr. Krabs, SpongeBob Squarepants

These things are crazy. Their massive mouths gather in anything they can as quickly as they can while looking terrified. Given almost anything living in the ocean will eat them, it’s no wonder.

We filled a bag with the strange little minnows in short order, grabbed lunch, then headed to the jetty to use the bait we’d just worked so hard to earn.

Now, I’d just use a herring jig/sabiki and not have to snag them. This makes bait last longer, and it’s also a lot of fun. Try it!

***

We did quite well on the jetty at first, landing a number of small fish and some crabs. Then a seagull stole our hard-earned bait, and it was over.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #29 — Pacific Sardine.

 

Hook 6: Highs & Lows

Klamath River, OR
Trip Date: October 3, 2012

Tennyson remains one of the most popular British poets of all time.
Tennyson remains one of the most popular British poets, largely for the relatable nature of his works.

Alfred Lord Tennyson once said: “Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.”

Well, Tennyson was obviously a fisherman, because anyone who has fished enough understands just how painful fishing can be. It doesn’t stop at painful. In fact, at times, it can be downright cruel.

***

I’d long known fishing had a dark side, but it wasn’t until my second trip of the fall season to the Klamath River that I first experienced the painful, gut-wrenching misery that my lifelong passion could wreak.

After powering through classes and an ASOIT (Associated Students of Oregon Institute of Technology) meeting, one of my best friends, David Clarke, and I performed our weekly ritual. We quickly changed into old clothes, grabbed a few McChicken sandwiches and iced teas, then headed to the water.

I’d been unable to fully celebrate my favorite holiday — the October 1st Klamath River Fall Season Opener — two days earlier, and though I’d spent a few hours on the water before school that morning, I was desperate to get down there “for real.”

We caught a few of the healthy Redband Trout that make the Klamath Basin famous almost right away.

The fish of the Klamath are all deep-bodied, healthy fish which range in coloration from chrome-bright to more colorful fish, reminiscent of the Shasta Strain Rainbow Trout that many hatcheries raise for state stocking programs.

While the average size has since declined in the Klamath, during that year and the five years prior, fish averaged about 15 inches long and about 1.5 pounds.

David Clarke posing with one of the many fish we caught that day.
David Clarke posing with one of the many fish we caught that day.

That day, we were all about numbers, wanting to catch as many fish in the one-to-three-pound range as we could — not really hunting for trophies. Our lures of choice were Size 3 Blue Fox Vibrax Spinners.

So, when my lure stopped in the current, I assumed it’d snagged one of the countless rock altars submerged in the river, on which I’d sacrificed hundreds of dollars’ worth of gear over the years.

I assumed rock, until it moved.

The fish was big. Really big.

The river was only at about 800 cubic feet per second (CFS), which falls within the ideal range of approximately 400-1200 CFS, but this meant that the current wasn’t doing much of the pulling; it was mostly the fish.

We were wet-wading, as I usually do when fishing there, meaning we were fishing from a rock in the middle of the river, surrounded by water on all sides, and about 50 feet from the nearer shore.

The fish ran, jumped, and dove until I was finally able to bring it to net. Since David was on a rock a little distance away, I tried to net it myself.

I did everything right, too:

  • The fight had lasted several minutes, and it was tired enough to handle, but not too tired to be released.
  • I fought it to the sheltered water behind the large rock I was standing on, taking the current out of the equation.
  • I led it headfirst into the net.

The only problem was that it didn’t fit.

It ran away into the current again.

I was dumbfounded. I’d never had this problem before.

I tried again, easing it into the net, but it got free again.

Horrified that it would throw the hook, I improvised the third time.

Propping the rod beneath my arm, I again led it into the net headfirst, but this time, I grabbed it around the tail, sort of bending it into the net. Both its head and tail stuck out of the net several inches, but I’d done it. It was landed.

For some reason, at this point my brain shut off.

Of the hundreds of fish I net from this river every year, I normally keep about five for the table. This one was by far the largest I’d ever caught, and that’s why it’s now hanging on my wall — or, at least, why it should be.

It does reside in my bedroom. Unfortunately, though, it’s haunting my dreams, not adorning my mantel, because what I did next, I still lose sleep over.

Rather than try to get to shore to weigh, measure, and photograph it, I tried to do that stuff right there. In the middle of the river. On a rock with a surface area the size of a doormat.

Somehow, it let me measure it with the retractable cloth tape measures I use that serve a purpose without hurting fish: 29 inches.

Wait. That can’t be right.

I measured again.

29 inches.

29 inches!

29 INCHES!!!

My longest Redband up to that point had been 22 3/4 inches, and I’d landed that fish almost eight years earlier.

Shocked and stupefied, thinking it was going to cooperate, I decided to weigh it. As I went to slide the scale under the gill plate, dream turned to nightmare.

The fish decided to break free.

The sheer power of this fish, this small salmon, in effect, was immense.

It’s body wriggled and pulsated as if all its demons were being exorcised in my hands.

The first thing I noticed were two of the three trebles finding purchase in the soft flesh of my thumb.

The third treble held tight in the fish, though, meaning every time it wiggled, the hooks drove deeper and deeper into my thumb.

Then the fish came out of the net, and the two hooks in my thumb held up the fish (which was, very conservatively, at least 8 pounds) for several excruciating seconds, before it threw the third hook and returned to the river, immediately darting to freedom, as I sat there, broken.

Not long after this trip, I upgraded to a much larger net.
Note the size difference between the small net (left) and large net (right). I upgraded to the larger one not long after this trip.

 

Both fish pictured here about between 20 and 21" long and about 3.5 pounds.
Both Klamath River ‘bands pictured here are about 20-21 inches long and 3.5-3.75 pounds, but were landed with different nets.

 

 

 

 

 

Dejected, we fished a little longer, but no amount of fish 16-18 inches could ease the pain.

Poor David had to hear me whine and wallow for the next hour, as we approached one of my favorite spots: The River Monster Hole.

I call it this, because you half-expect Jeremy Wade to pull an enormous, toothy beast from its depths when you first see it. You stand on a shelf at the base of a 50-foot cliff that sits just above the punishing current below, a current that has dug the hole almost 20 feet deep in the channel.

Hoping the River Monster Hole would bring a chance at redemption, I changed from a spinner to my go-to CD-9 Rapala in hopes of enticing a larger fish with the larger lure. I dropped the rod to the ground, propping it between my knees as I held the line near the lure and clipped the line further towards the rod tip.

My mistake hit me with the same slow, Earth-shattering realization I’d had just an hour before while trying to weigh my largest freshwater fish ever.

Since I was holding the segment of line I’d just clipped, I watched in helpless slow motion, groping just out of reach, as my rod leaned away from me and plopped into the rushing river below.

I’m sure my slow blinks had cartoony sound effects, as I stood there, speechless.

I was devastated. It wasn’t the same caliber rod and reel I use today, but it was still a quality setup. It was the two pieces of equipment I’d recommend to anyone starting to get into fishing who wants a good setup but doesn’t want to break the bank: an Ugly Stik Elite 7-foot Medium-Fast Rod and a Pfleuger President Spinning Reel. Together, they’ll run you about $100 and work great for the average weekender for years.

But for me, they were an extension of who I was.

David did his best to console me, but he’d fallen in earlier and was soaked head-to-toe. Well, not quite. He was in a cast and had managed to keep his arm above water and dry, despite being soaked everywhere else. The October air had begun to turn crisp, and we looked at each other with one unspoken thought in common: leave.

The walk up to the car and the drive home were both largely silent affairs as we commiserated together.

***

It took me four days of bitterness and depression to finally climb back onto the horse. I purchased a new rod, tied on a lure (very carefully this time), and returned to the same river that had rewarded and punished me so extremely earlier that week.

***

It took me almost five years, but I did catch a trout bigger than that. Then another. Then several more. I’ve now landed a lot of massive trout, but even bigger fish remain.

I know that fish and its peers still swim those waters, because in Winter of 2011, my friend Ben Fry landed this one.

My friend, Ben Fry, landed this 32" Klamath River Redband about the same time I caught mine. He didn't have a scale, but this fish was well into double digits.
My friend, Ben Fry, landed this 32″ Klamath River Redband about the same time I caught mine. He didn’t have a scale, but this fish was well into double digits.

He didn’t have a scale on him at the time, but it measured 32 inches long — even larger than the fish I’d landed. And, after a good photo, he released it back into the river, a gesture Tennyson would have applauded.

#CaughtOvgard

Read Hook #7: Danger.

Hook #5: 100-Fish Day

Big Butte Creek, Little Butte Creek, Medco Pond, Willow Lake, OR
Trip Date: August 5, 2011

“A good plan implemented today, is better than the perfect plan implemented tomorrow.”

General George S. Patton’s words should be taken to heart in our daily lives, but are especially true when it comes to fishing. Research and reading are incredibly important, but no matter how knowledgeable you are, you can’t catch fish from behind a computer or magazine.

When I set out the morning of August 5, 2011, I had a good plan: try to break my personal record for fish caught in a single day (57).

Little Butte Creek
If the first stop, Little Butte Creek, was any indicator, I had no chance.

The two Brook Trout I caught there on my favorite small Rainbow Holographic Panther Martins were beautiful, but small, and I burned almost half an hour getting them to bite.

Running Total: 2

A particularly beautiful Little Butte Creek brookie.
A particularly beautiful Little Butte Creek brookie.

Willow Lake
Day-Use Fees are commonplace at lakes throughout Southern Oregon, including at my second stop that day: Willow Lake. Unfortunately, for a broke college student who often didn’t eat on days he went fishing to account for the gas spent driving to and from the lake, paying to park was not an option.

Since the fee is charged to park a vehicle on the grounds, and hikers and cyclists don’t have to pay, I always tried to find a free place to park and then walked in when possible.

At Willow, I always parked on the Forest Service land just outside the gate on the south side of the road, then walked in to fish the corner of the dam, where the Yellow Perch congregate.

You’ll cast in a crappie jig or worm and reel it in. Maybe one or two fish will follow and nip at it. The next cast, four or five. Then a dozen. That day, despite a small school of maybe 25-30 fish trailing my jig, I caught just three of the bait-stealing fish.

It was now late afternoon, and my chances were not looking good.

Running Total: 5. 

Big Butte Creek
A few miles down the Butte Falls Highway, I stopped at Big Butte Creek, hoping the trout there would be more compliant. While I did catch two-of-three sport species found there (Coastal Cutthroat Trout, Rainbow Trout), I only caught one of each, putting my record still 50 fish away.

Running Total: 7. 

Coastal Cutthroats often hybridize with Rainbows to produce "Cutbows," but many of the fish do retain genetic purity.
Coastal Cutthroats often hybridize with Rainbows to produce “Cutbows,” but many of the fish do retain genetic purity. The fish pictured here is likely a hybrid.

Medco Pond
Driving up to Medco Pond is kind of anticlimactic. After driving 12.5 miles on the winding, dangerous Butte Falls-Prospect Road, you arrive at a gravel parking lot with no amenities. The setting is pretty, but it doesn’t look like the destination fishing spot it really is.

Most people fish along that gravel parking area, sitting in or near their cars while soaking a worm or Rainbow Power Bait for the skinny hatchery ‘bows that rarely top 10″ in length. On a good day, these folks might catch three-to-five fish apiece.

Another group will fish with a worm or crappie jig suspended under a bobber. They will often do a little better, sometimes catching as many as 10-15 fish in a day.

With 50 fish to go, I knew it was a long shot, but I also knew I didn’t fish like either group. Using a tiny ice fishing jig tipped with the smallest piece of worm I could pinch off, I caught fish after fish.

Cast, let the lure sink, then reel up a few times and repeat. It was insanely effective.

I caught 43 quite quickly, paired with the seven I’d already caught, it made 50.

Then 57. I’d tied my record.

58.

60.

70.

80.

Then it slowed. I was already breaking my personal record with each fish, but I was greedy. This close to 100, I pushed until the bitter end, hitting the mark just before dark.

Pitch counters are a great way to keep track of how many fish you've caught. I used them for almost 10 years.
Pitch counters are a great way to keep track of how many fish you’ve caught. I used them for almost 10 years.

I don’t know if it was because I liked the movie 101 Dalmatians, or maybe just because I was compulsive, but I decided to end at 101.

It took me nearly 20 minutes to catch #101. Irritating, because there had been times that day when I’d catch five or six fish on as many casts but now that I wanted just one more … well, I really couldn’t complain.

At the time, I used a pitch counter to keep track of the fish I’d caught in a day, and few things in life were more satisfying than clicking it that final, 101st time on that balmy August night.

Totals: 
84 Bluegill
6 Black Crappie
4 Largemouth Bass
3 Yellow Perch
2 Brook Trout
1 Coastal Cutthroat Trout
1 Rainbow Trout

#CaughtOvgard

Read Hook #6: Highs and Lows.

Hook #3: Ethics

Seal Beach Pier, Seal Beach, CA
Trip Date: June 9-13, 2008

The Jetty

The night before graduation, I decided to scrap the speech I’d written weeks in advance and start a new one. I finished it around midnight, and it is, to this day, the best speech I’ve ever written. While my delivery was a little shaky, that speech remains one of my proudest moments.

From there, everything happened so fast: the ceremony, the party, the packing. Suddenly my senior class was on its way to Seal Beach, California.

Fourteen long hours in that same red van we took on our Biology Trip four years earlier, and we were unloading our stuff at a beach house just 200 yards from the Naval Weapons Station.

We poured our savings into a beach house, with the guys on one floor, the girls on the other.
We poured our savings into a beach house, with the guys on one floor, the girls on the other.

As we resigned ourselves to cook under the cloudy lid that kept heat and humidity in, we scoured the space we’d worked four long years to rent. We found a tandem bike, which quickly surged in popularity, but didn’t really interest me. What did were the two dusty pieces of graphite tucked into the back of the mildew-kissed garage. There were two sturdy old Shakespeare surf fishing rods, spooled with thick monofilament line years past its usefulness, which just sat there, forgotten.

We had plans interspersed throughout the week, but when the sun and moon performed a solar shift change and darkness permeated the beach, I convinced the other guys in my class to try and catch a fish or two, but only after goofing around on the beach.

Pictured left to right: Ben Blanchard, Sean Reese, Sky Smith, Tony Maddalena, Shawn Elliott, the author, and Jon Howard.
Pictured left to right: Ben Blanchard, Sean Reese, Sky Smith, Tony Maddalena, Shawn Elliott, the author, and Jon Howard.

We headed first for the rocky finger that stretched out several hundred yards from the beach and was bisected by a military-grade chain link fence that marked the northern boundary of the naval base. We fished with those two ocean rods, as well as my fast action, six-foot Ugly Stik Elite with its equally ill-suited Shakespeare Crusader Spinning Reel.

We had no bait, so we tried to catch the small crabs lurking warily in the rocks at our feet. Despite an hour of effort, soaking ourselves with sweat, and providing our shins and knees as bloody sacrifices for the wet rocks, we remained baitless.

Instead, we got our adrenaline rush by taking two bold steps onto a naval base soaked in darkness, before realizing the jointly pathetic and stupid actions we’d made and headed back to the house.

*****

Throughout the next few days, that jetty would bring a variety of experiences.

I would watch one of the fisherman catch several California Halibut and White Seabass on swimbaits. One fisherman landed a White Seabass that died. Those fish were supposed to be 24 inches long, but this was just short. He decided to keep it.

Illegal.

Another day, I watched a gentleman catch a five-foot shark. Apparently, several Asian gentleman saw it, too, because they ran up and paid the guy several hundred dollars for it, loaded it into their van, and disappeared.

Also illegal.

I finally decided to give up fishing the jetty after a particularly pervy old fisherman made unsettling comments about my female classmates visible on the beach maybe a quarter mile away.

 Not illegal, but creepy.

*****

After our excursion onto the naval base, most of the other guys retired to a chaperoned house full of girls to watch movies and enjoy the creature comforts of civilization, but a few of us headed to the pier. And the pier is what this story is really about.

#CaughtOvgard

Read Hook #4: Determination.