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 the practically disposable sunglasses I buy in bulk on Amazon or at Walmart 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.

Species #18 — White Croaker

The Southern California Coast is lousy with White Croaker. They don’t get very big, they don’t fight well, and they’re basically the saltwater equivalent of Brown Bullhead, but they’re a new species.

Species: White Croaker (Genyonemus lineatus)
Location: Seal Beach Pier, Seal Beach, CA
Date: June 11, 2008

You meet all sorts of people fishing. Some of them are terrible. Some of them are great.

My senior year of high school, the Class of 2008 went to Seal Beach, California. Within an hour of arriving, I’d already started fishing. I camped on the pier with some of my classmates and threw out all sorts of lures and bait. I witnessed a guy land a skate of some sort or the other, and I was so excited about the possibilities.

We stayed out way too late that night trying to catch a fish but to no avail.

***

Two full days passed. I landed zero fish. Zero.

It was depressing. Though I did hook a nice California Halibut that might have hit 10 pounds, I was unable to bring it up the 30 feet or so to the pier, and just as I thought about how to do it, it broke my line.

***

On day three, I met a meth addict who helped me catch a fish.

Yeah, you read that right.

He had become addicted to meth as a teenager in Mexico. After his wife became pregnant with their first child, he found Jesus, got clean, and emigrated to the States.

When I spoke to him, he’d just celebrated his son’s fourth birthday now nearly five years clean.

He caught fish after fish, and since I was using a trout rod completely unprepared for the saltwater situation it was facing, I continued down the path of failure.

I think he felt bad for me, and he said I could fish one of his rods for awhile.

Less than an hour passed before I caught my first fish outside of the state of Oregon.

Humble doesn’t begin to describe the eight-inch White Croaker I pulled out of the brine that day, but it made my day.

I parted ways with my new friend, thanking him and wishing him the best.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #19 — Pacific Chub Mackerel.

Species #17 — Tui Chub

I remember catching chubs while fishing as a kid, but I didn’t keep records until 2004, and it was four years after that before I caught another of these underappreciated creatures.

Species: Tui Chub (Gila bicolor)
Location: Lost River
Date: April 13, 2008

Before I learned where to chase big trout in the spring, I used to drive out to Crystal Springs County Park during Spring Break or any time I had free from sports. Lonely Luke would fish for anything that would strike his lonely worm.

I’d camp on the bridge or off a point upstream of the bridge for a few hours and soak worms, rain or shine.

***

Dad had told me stories of how he used to fill his bike basket with plate-sized crappie there as a kid, and I went out with high hopes every trip. Sadly, they’d be crushed time after time.

My catch rate was miserable. I caught next-to-nothing, and I sure as Hell didn’t catch any crappie.

***

But one fine day, I caught a slimy, silver, trout-looking thing without teeth. It fought well, and it took me a moment to realize it was a chub.

I’d caught them before, but in the four years’ time since I’d decided to keep track of my fishing endeavors, and clearly it had been at least four years since I caught one.

While it technically wasn’t Species #17, for the sake of my list, it is.

And that, kids, is how to end a relatively uneventful story on a resounding low note.

#CaughtOvgard #SpeciesQuest

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #18 — Tui Chub.