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 #98 — Frillfin Goby

The most fearless fish on earth are the size of your thumb: Frillfin Goby.

Species: Frillfin Goby (Bathygobius soporator)
Location: Graffiti Bridge, Pensacola, FL
Date: August 1, 2017

This is likely the most aggressive fish I’ve ever caught. I buy frozen shrimp as bait, allowing a few pieces at a time to slowly defrost in the water to achieve that perfect, almost-frozen-but-not-quite texture that best allows them to stay on a single hook.

Where I happened to be fishing in Pensacola, the shoreline was pockmarked with rocks ranging in size from peas to watermelons. When I plopped a few shrimp in the one- or two-inch-deep water at the edge of the shore, I waded past them and began fishing.

Every time I went back for more bait, I noticed tiny little monsters that could’ve been fish, eels, or some sort of Floridian parasite greedily attacking my bait. It was broad daylight, the water was shallow, and I was two feet from the shrimp, but that didn’t stop the little fishes as they made short work of bait after bait.

Since I had limited shrimp, and the bite was on fire, I was at first upset. I tried digging a little pool a few inches from the shoreline with a rock, filling it with water, and then putting the shrimp there.

That didn’t stop the little  beasties, though, as they timed the wave action and used it to propel themselves across the moist, rocky group into the pool and devour the bait only to retreat once the bait was gone.

I was intrigued. This was long before I started microfishing, and the smallest hooks I had were my (roughly) No. 16 Bergie Worm Jr. 1/64-ounce jigs. This is a lot of hook for a three-inch fish, but it proved effective when I put a tiny piece of shrimp on it, and I promptly caught several.

Since I couldn’t notice any other types of gobies amassed there in the rocks, once I caught a few, the novelty wore off, and I was back to chasing larger prey.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #99 — Pigfish.

Species #91 — Creek Chub

I didn’t get a good picture, but having a fish on the hot sidewalk for this picture hurt my soul as an angler, so getting it back into the water was my first concern.

Species: Creek Chub (Semotilus atromaculatus)
Location: Globe Creek, Fountain Heights, TN
Date: August 1, 2017

This might be the most “Species Hunter” post of my entire blog. After staying with my friend, Marcus Moss, in northern Alabama for a week of subprime bass fishing that culminated in a few gar and a lot of small bass, I headed to Nashville.

I spent one night there, taking in the Music City before moving my way towards Pensacola, the next intended stop on my roundabout return trip to Oregon. As a sidenote, Nashville is awesome. One of the first cities to receive Google Fiber and (at time of writing) the cheapest airport to fly into, it has a lot to offer. The food, music, street art, and general vibe (I know, I hate that word, too) were generally impressive. I look forward to returning someday soon.

But in all of the excitement, I forgot to fish.

Realizing I never fished in Nashville as I made my way south, I wondered if there was any way I could stop and catch a fish in Tennessee before I made it back to Alabama. I’d never caught one in this state, and there were countless new species to be had even if I hadn’t really identified myself as a “Species Hunter” just yet.

***

It felt like a longshot, but when I stopped for gas a few hours south of Nashville, I took note of the small, semi-stagnant creek I crossed en route to the gas station. After filling up, I crossed the access road, turned off onto a road that led to several houses and was dismayed to see fences blocking the access to the creek below.

Eff.

I thought about giving up when I realized that I didn’t need to touch the water — just access it. I tried dipping my jig (not a euphemism) in the water some 20 feet below, but the little fish I could weren’t having it.

I had yet to discover microfishing and had no artificial baits. As my heart sank, and I went to put my rod away, a grasshopper flitted away from where it had sat, baking on the hot road moments before. I spent a minute trying to catch on one the road, and once I did, it paid off.

Tipping the jig with a writhing, mangled hopper proved the right incentive to get the cyprinids below to bite, and I landed my first Creek Chub. I didn’t love dropping it down almost 20 feet to the water because fish care is important to me even when dealing with “trash fish,” but it swam away fine.

Somewhat smugly, I tucked my ultralight back into the back of my car, closed the door, and hit the road again, one species richer.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #92 — Spotted Sunfish.

Species #56 — Estuarine Triplefin

This mystery fish took five years to identify.

Species: Estuarine Triplefin (Forsterygion nigripenne)
Location: Kuaotunu River, Kuaotunu, Coromandel, New Zealand
Date: February 25, 2014

Mystery is a genre I love to read but fail to write much of. Even investigative journalism is a reach for me, and I’ve spent five years as a journalist.

The investigative process of which coffee shop makes the best breakfast sandwich in Klamath Falls (it’s the Gathering Grounds Pesto English Muffin Sandwich with bacon and prosciutto, for the record) or something equally trivial pales in comparison to the latest Dean Koontz novel anyway, so sticking to what I know is out of the question if I want to be successful in the Mystery genre.

***

This mystery begins as all stories do, in a sleepy town you’ve probably never heard of with an everyman and his ordinary life.

The man, of course, was me.

The sleepy town was Kuaotunu, a coastal village in New Zealand’s Coromandel where tranquility and paradise are locked in an eternal struggle to determine which makes the better adjective for the subtitle under
“Kuaotunu” under the town’s quaint wooden sign.

A small river which bears the same name as the town itself wends lazily through the floodplain and into the Tasman Sea along grassy slopes so strangely manicured and unlike the coastline in most places that it invokes a surreality reminiscent of Super Mario’s Mushroom Kingdom.

Seriously. It was a magical place.

A massive, gnarled tree with alien-looking branches stands watch over the mouth of the river. From it’s largest branch hangs a tire swing swaying like a pendulum in the waning light of the afternoon, inviting the small children frolicking around the area to sit and play.

Along one bank of the river, a campground complete with small cabins hugged the shore while further from the water, at the base of a small hillock, the town’s lone restaurant, Luke’s Kitchen, cast an unassuming shadow over the cars parked out front.

Luke’s Kitchen was, in fact, its name. My name is Luke, and while that small similarity was not lost on me, neither was the connection it drew to Gilmore Girls’ flagship diner, I’m ashamed to admit.

Jandals (that’s Kiwi for flip-flops), guitars, beach bums joined me at every meal here.

Incongruities of Mystery and Rom-Com aside, the diner served a wonderful Green Mussel Special that I gorged myself upon at least twice while spending time there before returning to the river to fish for any number of species found in its intertidal zone.

My target species was Longfin Eels, endemic to New Zealand, but I had no such luck. I managed half a dozen species and even hooked two species of eel (Shortfin and Australian Mottled) but never got my Longfin.

Since fishing for those eels was sightfishing, I noticed a lot. With my eyes intent and fixed on the water below, I noticed a lot of little fish darting around on the bottom. They looked like sculpins, so I figured I’d be able to catch a few with the tiny jigs I used Stateside.

My instincts were correct. The tiny fish barely longer than my finger devoured the small jig. I caught a lot of them in short order before trying to for something else.

This fish was both totes adorbs and an uggo.

Unfortunately, I had no idea what they were. Not that day, not that week, not when I left New Zealand.

***

I bought a few books about fish identification, including Vic Dunaway’s Sport Fish of the Pacific later in 2013. Nothing.

I read countless papers, species lists, and forums. Nothing.

2014 came and went without an answer.

Years passed, and I revisited “Unknown New Zealand Species” again because in writing the story of each and every species I’ve caught, I knew “Unknown New Zealand Species” was fast-approaching, and I refused to have an unidentified species on my list.

Since it was neither a game fish nor a freshwater fish (New Zealand has a relatively short list of native freshwater fishes), it continued to elude me.

Then, on a whim, I decided to read an article about New Zealand’s Marine Reserves. It included a contact email for questions, and I decided to give it a try.

Within 48 hours, I got a reply:

“Hi Luke,

Your fish is the Estuarine Triplefin, Forsterygion nigripenne. Note the three dorsal fins from which it gets its name (bullies only have 1 or 2). The triplefins are mostly a marine group but this species penetrates into estuaries and the lower reaches of rives that are a bit brackish.

Regards,

Malcolm Francis”

I had an ID! After five years of searching, my #SpeciesQuest within a #SpeciesQuest had come to an end.

***

Crazily, in the research process, I actually found a bonus species. That’s the next story: a Sci-Fi tale about cloning gone wrong, how one fish became two.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #57 — Northern Kahawai.