Species #67 — Warmouth

It was tiny, but I could tell it wasn’t a Bluegill because I’d caught half a dozen of them before this little Warmouth bit. I grabbed a nearby shopping bag and used it to create the contrast necessary for a later ID.

Species: Warmouth (Lepomis gulosus)
Location: Cosca Lake, Washington, D.C.
Date: July 16, 2015

White Catfish checked off, I decided to fish the tiny feeder stream. It was small and crystal-clear which made sneaking up on the spooky sunfish within a challenge.

But I managed.

My go-to Bergie Worm Jr. (now discontinued) tipped with a tiny piece of worm was the ticket, and I landed a number of respectable Bluegill before something smaller darted out from the undercut bank and hit my bait.

I missed the first time, and spent the next few minutes trying to get the little guy to play. This was years before I’d taken up true microfishing, and I desperately wish I’d been up to speed on New Half Moon and Tanago hooks back them.

Using my fingers, I pinched half of the jig’s rubber body off, leaving maybe a quarter-inch of rubber and the tiny pice of worm on the 1/64th-ounce jighead.

It worked, and I pulled up a tiny, flopping sunfish unlike any I’d ever caught.

Though there are dozens of species in the Centrarchidae family, I quickly narrowed it down to a few: Warmouth, Rock Bass, and Redear Sunfish. I’d never caught any of these three fish, but all three were supposed to exist in the area. The pale complexion made the ID tough at first, but eventually I figured it out.

I’d just caught my first Warmouth.

Strangely enough, it would be the only one I captured that day, despite hauling in more than two dozen sunfish. All the rest were Bluegill with one being an obvious hybrid, but one I couldn’t identify as it was different from the “Hybrid Sunfish” (Bluegill x Green Sunfish) I’d caught so often back home.

Still, it was another new species.

***

I figured the trend would continue, but apart from some Largemouth Bass, this lake had given up everything it had to offer, and I left.

#CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #68 — White Perch.

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 Yeti 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 #16 — White Crappie

White Crappie don’t always look that much different from Black Crappie, but you can tell them apart by one obvious feature. Read on to find out.

Species: White Crappie (Pomoxis annularis)
Location: Gerber Reservoir
Date: July 15, 2017

If you’ve kept up with this blog, you probably know that I started keeping fishing journals when I was 14. Let’s be real. I’m quite confident in my writing abilities now, but my early teenage prose wasn’t always the best. Still, as I look back, a few stories actually read well as written.

This is one such story.

***

“After hearing very good reviews of Gerber, we packed up and went there for the day. We had been told there would be an endless supply of crappies and had planned for such results. But, in the first hour, we had only caught a few bullfrogs — no fish.

The day wore on, and we eventually caught some perch on little tree frogs (yes, I’m a monster), but I wanted at least one crappie. I got my wish shortly thereafter when an eight-inch white crappie — my first — graced my line. The hope soon left, and after another hour of poor fishing, so did we.”

***

For those who fish for crappie a lot, you should know how to tell the difference between white and black crappie. It’s not about how dark a fish is (crappie coloration varies widely). It’s not about size.

You can occasionally tell by the spotting patterns (White Crappie have vertical stripes and Black Crappie are just randomly spotted), but where both species exist, they often hybridize. Quickly tell what predominant genes exist in a fish if their patterns aren’t clear.

It’s simple: count the hard dorsal spines. If it has six spines, it’s a White Crappie. More than six? It’s a black. I’ve caught blacks with between seven and nine spines, so there is some variability.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #17 — Tui Chub.

 

Species #14 — Green Sunfish

Ounce-for-ounce, I’d argue that Green Sunfish are the hardest-fighting freshwater fish I’ve ever caught.

Species: Green Sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus)
Location: Lost Creek Lake, OR
Date: July 27, 2005

Every day, we woke up and went on a run.

We’d come back, grab breakfast, do some sort of running game, take a break, and run again.

Lunch would come around, we’d have a short reprieve for the afternoon, then we’d go on an evening run, eat dinner, and play a running game at night.

At the time, I didn’t know how allergic I was to dairy and eggs, so the combination of muggy heat, running miles and miles every day, and fueling myself with a diet containing a lot of both did horrible things to me that I won’t go into in detail.

Anyhow, our coach did a fantastic job of melding these incredibly fun games with running. Whether the game was a timed obstacle course (this was my best game), Extreme Spoons (not my best game), scavenger hunts, or the Mileage Guess (where we’d run along a road and try to stop at exactly one mile), we got in shape while having a blast.

There was one game, however, that I lived for.

It was, as best as I can describe, what Cross Country should be. We would be dropped off in a team of two or three at one location, given a map, then tasked with returning as fast as we could. Just one caveat: we had to fill a gallon bag with ripe blackberries for the evening’s cobbler.

I lived for this. Outside of fishing, I’m honestly not very competitive. For whatever reason, this mattered to me, though. I had to win.

This time, I read the map and convinced my group to take a shortcut through the woods. It shaved off half of a mile and took us right along the lake shore.

I needed to pee, so I detoured from the group briefly as I drained the lizard. As I contemplated life, I noticed a handful of small fish bathing in the summer sun, maybe five feet from my excess hydration.

My drive to win was put on momentary hold, as those fish held my attention.

“You done yet?” came the cry that snapped me out of my daze. I closed up shop and returned to the group, but my heart wasn’t wholly in the competition anymore.

***

We won the race, but I was ambivalent. Sure, victory tasted almost as sweet as the cobbler I’d eat later that night, but those fish that clearly weren’t bass were on my mind.

Sleeping on the hard ground with dozens of teenagers giggling and freestyle rapping badly (yes, we did) all around you is difficult enough without the added distraction of a potential new fish species.

***

I dozed off at some point after the neighboring campsite stopped banging the loud doors of their cooler an impossible number of times. I awoke, powered through the morning run and breakfast, then ran back to the water.

***

This was years before I was a good fisherman, but I still had the passion. God’s mercy alone got a single feisty fish to hit my Brown Rooster Tail (gross, right?) and send my heart racing.

It fought much better than the tiny bass I expected, and I knew I’d hooked one of the mystery fish I’d seen the day before. I didn’t exactly know what it was, but that’s okay because I’d finally crossed the finish line. I’d won the race.

***

We returned to school, and after a week’s worth of reading and searching the still dial-up enabled Internet of the day, I learned it was a Green Sunfish. To-date, it’s still one of my favorite fish, despite how relatively uncommon they are in Southern Oregon.

Still, as an adult who isn’t at running camp, I can drive to one of my favorite Green Sunfish waters any time I want.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #15 — Kokanee.

Species #12 — Pumpkinseed

If these fish were larger, just about anyone and anything that got near them would be in danger.

Species: Pumpkinseed (Lepomis gibbosus)
Location: Lost River, OR
Date: June 18, 2005

Lost River is so named because it bubbles up out of the ground, wanders around for 60 miles, then goes back into the ground not far from its origin. It is rumored to have once held a great Redband Trout fishery, but those days are decades behind us.

Today, Lost River is a weedy cesspool, polluted and overgrown from countless tons of fertilizer and other agricultural runoff. No fewer than a dozen fish species have been captured in the river — most of them invasive — so while the fishing may not be great, it’s one of the best places in Klamath County for a truly surprising fishing experience.

***

Big Springs Park in the heart of Bonanza is one of only a handful of places along the Lost River that provides public access to fishermen. Now, the Lost River still isn’t a mecca for fishermen, but when the conditions are right, it can provide a lot of small, forgettable fish.

That sounds negative, but unless small catfish, sunfish, perch, or chubs are your thing, Lost River will disappoint you most days.

But, on that warm summer day, it had me enamored. Below a tiny wooden dam, I I watched as a handful of small fish sunned themselves at the edge of a large shadow cast by the footbridge above.

This was years before I’d discovered my now go-to ice fishing jig, the Bergie Worm Jr., for all fish Centrarchidae, and I was using a small red treble hook baited with a bit of worm.

It took some effort, but I finally landed one of the small-mouthed little sunfish.

In my journal that day, I wrote “it was my first Green Sunfish,” but it wasn’t a Green Sunfish; it was a Pumpkinseed.

Years passed before I actually figured that out, but sunfish mis-identification is a problem so pervasive, I was hardly alone that day.

Pumpkinseed have since become one of my favorite species, and though Green Sunfish do fight harder per ounce than Pumpkinseed, few things that swim in freshwater do.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #13 — Smallmouth Bass.

Species #5 — Yellow Perch

Yellow Perch are one of the most prevalent invasive species in Oregon, but they’re fun to catch and arguably the best-tasting freshwater fish.

Species: Yellow Perch (Perca flavescens)
Location: Hoover Ponds, OR
Date: July 31, 2004

The bluegill were lined up in the shallows, but slightly larger, more insidious fish skirted the edge of visibility, feinting in and out of the shadows in a cruel tease.

I had no idea what they were, but Dad thought they might be perch. He recommended using a crappie jig to try and entice them to bite. Sure enough, the tiny gold tube jig I found in the bottom of our old metal tackle box worked like a charm, and I promptly landed my first Yellow Perch.

My jig went down to the same spot, and I witnessed the telltale pointed gill flare for the first time. It resulted in a hookset and my second Yellow Perch.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #6 — Largemouth Bass.

Species #4 — Bluegill

The first Bluegill I ever caught was extra special because it was the first fish I ever caught that wasn’t a trout.

Species: Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)
Location: Hoover Ponds, OR
Date: July 31, 2004

Baseball is like Trump’s Twitter: hard to watch. For that reason, I decided to take a break from my brother’s game in White City to walk around.

As I neared the back fence, I caught sight of a pond. It wasn’t large, but I saw lots of birds around, and I was intrigued.

The small dirt path rimming the pond got just close enough to show me a glimpse of the fish inside, and as I walked, numerous grasshoppers committed suicide by jumping into the pond where a line of piranha-like fish awaited them with open jaws.

Bug after bug was slurped from the surface, and I desperately wished I had a fishing pole.

***

When I returned for the next game, I was ready. I marched over the water and caught a handful of grasshoppers to use as bait.

The second the first quivering pile of misfortune hit the water, it was gobbled up by a waiting bluegill. My first panfish was a bit anticlimactic, as the fight lasted just a few seconds.

Spines. I realized it had spines. The second my hand clasped around them, I realized the flagship species of the family Centrarchidae was very different from the trout I was used to catching.

Still, sight-fishing to these feisty little monsters was a blast, and I caught fish after fish on grasshoppers and even one on a bare red treble hook, the total coming to 15 before I opted to fish for some of the other species this pond held.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #5 — Yellow Perch.