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 #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 #39 — Deacon Rockfish

As Deacons share characterisitics of both Blue and Black Rockfish, I recorded them as Blue/Black Hybrids until 2015 when they were officially described by the scientific community.

Species: Deacon Rockfish (Sebastes diaconus)
Location: Off the coast of Brookings-Harbor, OR
Date: September 14, 2011

My last entry featured a Red Irish Lord. I noted this was the last “new species” I’d recorded in my paper fishing journals, and as of the time those journals were written, that was true.

But as of August 27, 2015, the day after my 25th Birthday, I received a surprise gift in the form of science validating a new species I’d first caught four years earlier.

***

Flash back to 2011.

I knew something was up. This fish was different. I’d learned to tell the difference between Black and Blue Rockfish, but this one featured characteristics of both fish.

Though my first instinct was “Blue Rockfish,” it didn’t add up.

First, the color was wrong. The body was neither blue nor slightly mottled as in all of the Blues I’d previously caught. Its coloration was dark brown/gray, just like a Black Rockfish.

Black 1, Blue 0.

Second, the head was wrong for a Black. It was striped like a Blue. Only the stripes were very faint.

Black 1, Blue 1.

Third, the fins were blue. At least, the ends of the pelvic and pectoral fins were.

Blue 2, Black 1.

Fourth, but then again, with the mouth closed, a Blue’s jaws should be even, and the bottom jaw of this fish was victim of the underbite found in Blacks.

Black 2, Blue 2.

It was tied, but the deckhand told me it was just a variant of Blue Rockfish. I wasn’t convinced and recorded it as a “Black/Blue Rockfish Hybrid” in my journals. I caught three more in the time it took for them to be identified as their own, unique species, recording each one as “Black/Blue Rockfish Hybrid” in my increasingly digital records.

That wasn’t the first time my identification had been corrected, resulting in a new species, but it remains the only time a species I’d already caught became a species new to science.

***

In the Fall of 2017, I got a Deacon just over two pounds with Tidewinds Sportfishing, thanks to Captain Levi Schlect that will be a world record if I submit it. I saved the line sample, had multiple pictures and witnesses, but I just don’t know if a Deacon of that size is worth the hassle for a record?

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #40 — Klamath River Lamprey.

 

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 #27 — Brown Rockfish

Brown Rockfish are rare in Oregon waters. So when I pulled up not one but two of them at the same time, everyone on the boat was pleasantly surprised. Photo courtesy of kenjonesfishing.com.

Species: Brown Rockfish (Sebastes auriculatus)
Location: Brookings-Harbor Coastline, OR
Date: September 10, 2009

Rashomon Effect 2-of-6: My Heart 

The dark majesty of the Oregon Coast rests in it’s rugged, untamed power. The shaded mystery of the forest and what lies within speaks to the adventurer in all of us.

The whistling nocturne played by whipping winds over the salt-peppered cliffs always hatches butterflies in my stomach and a longing in my heart.

When I’m at my most taxed and exhausted from the intensity of hiking the steep trails, climbing the jagged rock faces, and fishing the roiling waters, it’s only my passion for the sport that gets me out of bed the next time to start the process over.

That dark morning was no different, especially after a successful night fishing for surfperch that left us wet, cold, tired, and smiling nonetheless.

My body screamed “Go back to sleep!” but the longing for a day on the water got me out of the safety of my sleeping bag.

***

The instant oatmeal, bland coffee, and physical exhaustion weren’t enough to keep me off the boat, and the resultant seasickness wasn’t enough to keep me from fishing.

Despite the horrible knots my stomach was twisted into, I relished the time between each esophageal release because it meant I could catch a fish or two.

I landed Black and Blue Rockfish left and right, then Yellowtail Rockfish.

Just as we began to near limits, I fought my queasiness long enough for another drop. When I pulled up two small fish at the same time, I was ecstatic. When they didn’t quite look like any rockfish I’d caught before, I was even more so.

“Hey Kyle,” the deckhand said. “Are these Brownies?”

The captain, Kyle, came up and inspected the catch.

“Yeah, those are Brownies! We don’t see a lot of those,” Captain Kyle said to the deckhand, turning to me and adding: “Man, that’s a rare catch.”

The word “rare” evoked a sense of pride that *almost* overcame my nausea.

Little did I know that they were so rare, that in 20-plus charter trips, numerous shore fishing excursions, and miles of jetty walking over almost a decade, I wouldn’t see another “Brownie” captured. And here I’d been fortunate enough to get two on one drop? Damn.

That is something special.

***

The rest of the day was even better. We fished anchovies out of the marina for bait, filled a bag and used them to catch more fish and a few crabs on the jetty, and then ended the day with a delightful dinner that really felt like a reward after an already rewarding day.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #28 — Northern Anchovy.

 

Species #26 — Yellowtail Rockfish

Yellowtail Rockfish aren’t the most sought-after Oregon bottomfish species, but my only real complaint is that they don’t grow as large as Blacks or Blues in our waters.

Species: Yellowtail Rockfish (Sebastes flavidus)
Location: Brookings-Harbor Coastline, OR
Date: September 10, 2009

Good and bad often go hand-in-hand. This was one of those days. In less than 12 hours, I landed 26 fish representing 11 species (six of them new).

Since this series on my blog showcases a story for each individual species, I was presented with a problem I’ve faced before. I’ve been writing a fishing column in the Herald and News as well as stories for my blog. I occasionally have to tell the same story in different ways, using different lenses, perspectives, or even a different focus entirely.

Fortunately, I watch a lot of television, and this style — called the “Rashomon Effect” and inspired by a Kurosawa film of the same name — goes through the same story from multiple perspectives. Different characters are living the same experience, or, the same character is living different experiences based on a single choice.

I’ve written to the Rashomon Effect from one, two, or even three perspectives before, but since I captured six species on this trip, I’ll be putting my skills to the test by writing the same story from six different perspectives though I only experienced my own existence.

Here goes.

Rashomon Effect 1-of-6: My Stomach

A gentle purr clawed at the back of my dreams, itching me ever-closer to consciousness.

My dream-state mind, not fully in my control, rolled my body over, and my stomach sloshed.

Roaring broke the silence of the cool fall morning, and sleep fled my existence. Groggy, but fully conscious, I felt the overarching hunger and willed myself to sit up.

My bare shoulders left the covers, and the shivering — a testament to my metabolism — crawled quickly over my exposed skin.

The beast roiling in my stomach called out again, begging me to satiate it’s wild nature.

The coastal cold slept in, and as I clamored to get my things together for a walk to the showers, the chilled fog blew through me.

Another growl called out in darkness, as I nudged my friend Ben Blanchard in the sleeping bag beside my own.

“It’s time.”

***

Warmed by the shower and draped in temperature-appropriate clothing, I set to answering the call my stomach had been making all morning.

Before it was fully saturated, I quaffed some oatmeal. I was so hungry that I pretty much just gulped it down. The beast was far from tamed, though, so down went two more packets of oatmeal before we drove to the marina.

***

The boat pinballed off the waves, sloshing around as we boated fish after fish. I was excited at the prospect of filleting these stout, bass-like rockfish and eating them.

After numerous Black and Blue Rockfish found a home in my bucket, I landed a new rockfish. This fish was a muted olive-yellow with gray mottling, and the deckhand identified it as a Yellowtail Rockfish.

Species #26 was in the bag, but I was feeling awful.

All of that oatmeal satisfied my hunger but left me bloated and full. Not a good feeling when you’re prone to motion sickness on rough seas.

Each packet of oatmeal came back to haunt me. I’d catch a fish, retch. Fish, puke. Fish, barf. Fish, yak. Fish, spew.

It wasn’t great.

One thing I’ll never understand is why people clap during timeouts. Another is why I count the number of times I puke when sick. That day? 12 times.

My poor stomach just couldn’t win. Despite the excellent fishing, I was distracted by the constant gurgling and the acrid, acidic fumes permeating my sinuses.

***

While we waited for our fish to be filleted, Ben and I tried to catch the tiny, silver schools of minnows in the marina. Crappie jigs seemed to get a few bites, but we quickly changed tactics and just started snagging them.

We filled a small bag with baitfish for use on the jetty.

***

Our bait in hand, we refilled our stomachs at The Hungry Clam, and I appreciated food that much more.

I ordered fish and chips, some fries, coleslaw, and a big bowl of creamy clam chowder. It wasn’t the best I’d had, but the fish was moist with a crispy coating, the fries were thick and crunchy, and the soup was creamy and filling.

Money is no object when it comes to food, and the meal wasn’t cheap considering the source. But my stomach was reinvigorated with the hot, fried food.

***

We fished on the jetty until we got hungry. Dinner was at O’Holleran’s Steakhouse, and I ordered the sea scallops. Food has always been something I don’t shy away from spending money on, and the meal proved worth it.

The salad and bread started us off on the right foot, but the main course made my night.

***

We relaxed in front of the fire that night, further engorging ourselves with s’mores as we talked and reminisced about the day’s events.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here:  Species #27 — Brown Rockfish.

Species #11 — Lingcod

I’ve yet to catch a Lingcod over 20 pounds, but I get closer every year.

Species: Lingcod (Ophiodon elongatus)
Location: Brookings Coastline, OR
Date: May 26, 2005

It had started the day before. My first time on the ocean, I rode out in a small Bayliner in the afternoon. The handful of students and three chaperones who decided to brave the afteroon waves thought it would be worth it.

The newness of the experience alone would have made it worth it to me, but after watching half a dozen Black Rockfish find their way into our boat, Perry Fields, one of our chaperones, hooked into something that seemed a little bigger.

He battled the beast for awhile.

Then his rod doubled over.

If it was fighting hard before, it was now a creature possessed. His rod bobbed and bounced, and I asked if it would break. Everyone had stopped fishing now. We watched in awe as what could be nothing other than a sea monster slowly rose in the water column and made its way closer to us.

In a moment frozen in time, we saw it. Maybe 10 feet below the boat in relatively clear water, was a fish that looked positively demonic. At first, I thought it had two heads, or maybe a head shaped like a Hammerhead Shark, but it was just a large fish clamped horizontally onto a smaller fish.

It was a lingcod. The lingcod.

The smaller fish was maybe 16-18 inches in length, but the fish that had attempted to eat it was easily twice that length, maybe more.

As our teacher, Mr. Dean, went to gaff it, its jaws released the poor, hapless smaller fish, and this beast stuck momentarily in the water column maybe four feet below the boat.

“Grab me,” Mr. Dean commanded, and Mr. Wehr, our other chaperone, steadied him as he plunged the gaff over the gunwale and bent impossibly far over the boat. His body flexed, and he arched backward, the massive, writing beast hanging from the end of the three-foot gaff.

Leviathan itself railed about on the floor of the boat, actively trying to bite any- and everything it could like a cobra in its death throes. It connected with the edge of a boot, unable to sink its sinister teeth into the hard leather.

Acting quickly, Mr. Wehr cut its gills and the beast decided not to go down without a fight. It sprayed warm, frothy blood all over. My new jeans caught a globule of the deathly-dark blood and stained them.

When we got it back to shore, we were saddened to find ourselves without a scale large enough to weigh it, but it measured 45 inches in length. As teenage boys do, we dared each other to place our heads inside its massive jaws. Mine fit with room to spare.

I shuddered.

We filleted the beast out before I remember getting any pictures. The carcass was tossed into the garbage, but I asked if I could cut the cheeks out, since I’d read they were quite good. They agreed.

My grandfather’s butchery skills did not pass to me, and as I awkwardly dug out the almost-priceless meat with a fillet knife in jagged strokes, the nerve endings in the sea monsters face all fired off, causing the head to shake in my hand like something out of a horror movie.

Each cheek weighed about a pound and a quarter, but my inexperience with a fillet knife probably left a quarter pound of meat in each cheek.

Still, it was the most epic thing I’d ever experienced, and I longed for a chance to catch one.

***

The next day was uneventful by comparison, but I did manage to catch a lingcod. I’d thought I was snagging the bottom too frequently, but I soon realized at least a few were fish, so I tried fighting them. On light trout tackle with eight-pound mono, it was an uphill battle (literally), but I managed to get it to the surface, where, after several attempts, my friend Christopher netted it.

The minimum length was 24 inches back then, and, you guessed it, it was 23 1/4″ long. I was forced to release my first sea monster, but I’d added a new species and set a lifelong quest in motion: catch a sea monster the size of Mr. Fields’ someday.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #12 — Pumpkinseed or read more about this unique, life-changing trip here: The Second Lesson: Fish of a Lifetime.

Species #10 — Blue Rockfish

Blue Rockfish don’t get as large as their melanistic cousins, but they are arguably more beautiful.

Species: Blue Rockfish (Sebastes mystinis)
Location: Brookings Coastline, OR
Date: May 26, 2005

This part of the trip was uneventful. After catching several of the larger Black Rockfish, I pulled up a much smaller fish with a bluish tint and faint stripes on its face.

I was told “that’s just a small blue,” and I should “throw it back.” I followed orders and repeated them when I caught any of the smaller bottomfish.

I was more concerned with avoiding the bottom. I kept snagging. Or at least, I thought I was snagging.

Little did I know that I was about to tie into the coolest-looking fish I’d caught yet.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #11 — Lingcod or read more about this unique, life-changing trip here: The Second Lesson: Fish of a Lifetime.

Species #9 — Black Rockfish

My first saltwater fish, a Black Rockfish, was also my second, third, and fourth saltwater fish.

Species: Black Rockfish (Sebastes melanops)
Location: Brookings Coastline, OR
Date: May 25, 2005

Elementary school was terrible, junior high was better, and high school was all right. As a freshman, I was awkward in the way most freshman are, but I was also extra awkward in my own, special way.

I’m not sure I really knew what I wanted, or what I was interested in outside of hunting, fishing, and trapping. But even those were more intellectual interests than anything else. Sports were okay, and I competed in soccer, cross country, basketball, and track as a freshman, but I hadn’t found my niche.

Then came the Biology Trip.

It was a chance for freshman in Mr. Dean’s biology class to head to the coast for a few days of tide pool examinations, hiking, fishing, and maybe, when left to our own devices, the roasting of a banana slug over the fire and subsequent dares to eat it.

We unpacked the vans, put up the tents, and threw around a football while waiting for instructions. That was fun. I could catch pretty well. Unfortunately, I couldn’t (and still can’t, really) throw very well. So much for impressing anyone and solidifying my position as a cool jock.

I was saved from my miserable throws by an announcement. We were told anyone interested in fishing should hop in the van.

It sounded like a nice break, so I hopped in.

***

The 14- or 15-foot Bayliner was not big. In fact, it was hardly a seagoing vessel in the conventional sense. Even still, I climbed in. The harbor was calm and sheltered, and my dad had told me how “Brookings has the safest bar in Oregon,” so I didn’t think much of it.

The ocean was relatively calm, but being on it for the first time — in a small boat, no less — quickly made me queasy. I wasn’t the only one, either.

Everyone on our boat was some level of seasick, but I wasn’t the worst-off, so I was able to fish. My swimbait quickly snagged the bottom, and it wouldn’t be the only time that afternoon. Fortunately, I eventually got it to work long enough to catch a black fish that looked remarkably similar to a Largemouth Bass — except an evil-looking version of it: black and sinister with large spines.

Three more eventually followed suit before another angler on the boat landed the fish of a lifetime, and I later put my head entirely inside of its mouth (read about that here).

Something in me changed that day, I got a stronger sense of identity: I was a fisherman now.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #10 — Blue Rockfish.