Species: Hardhead (Mylopharodon conocephalus) Location: Pit River, CA Date: July 23, 2018
I wrote about this trip. It’s kind of an interesting read. Check it out here if you missed the last post about my Sacramento Pikeminnow.
If you read it, you’ll remember I talked about going to fish the Pit River in hopes of massive, world record pikeminnows.
I caught what I thought was a nice pikeminnow. At just over a pound, it was a far cry from a world record, but it was a big fish. I took measurements for the world record, got a mediocre-at-best picture, and let it go.
At the time, I was using an old rod because I was already packed for my trip across the country to Texas. I left that rod in the holder and forgot about it.
Forgetting about it for weeks, I traveled to Texas for Health Services Administrator (HSA) School, the Air Force Tech School attached to my AFSC (Air Force Job).
On that trip, I added dozens of lifers, caught over 1000 fish, and had a great time. This further buried that fish in my mind.
In September, I returned and slowly started uploading the summer’s photos. I put everything I wanted to share in my Facebook albums, and a few days after posting, a friendly guy from the North American Native Fishes Association (NANFA) who’d friended me sent me a message.
His name was Brandon Li.
“Hey man,” he wrote, “couldn’t help but stalk your photos a little. Western natives are incredibly fascinating.”
“This is in fact an adult Hardhead. When they get this size, they look more like pikeminnows.”
I was stoked.
He included a picture of a large Hardhead a flyfisherman had caught, roughly the same size as mine.
When he messaged me, I realized I’d probably missed out on a world record because I didn’t have a line sample. Then I remembered: I’d never touched that rod. I check the rod rack, and sure enough, it was sitting there untouched.
I was freaking stoked! The lure was still attached, so I cut off the sample. I already had measurements and pictures because I had thought it was a pikeminnow, and I submitted that world record.
Fast forward to spring 2019. Steve Wozniak and his wife, Marta, came to visit and fish. We were targeting a few California natives when he hooked into a massive fish.
It was a Hardhead twice the size of mine, and he shattered my record. It was his 100th or 200th (can’t remember which), so at least that was a small consolation for me losing my 3rd.
The rich get richer, I suppose.
He told me that his laundry list of records included current All-Tackle and Line Class records as well as “Retired” records, the term used to describe records once held but now broken.
So I guess I still have three world records, but only two of them are current.
#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard
Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #165 — Western Mosquitofish.
Species: Rainbow Darter (Etheostoma caeruleum) Location: Smokes Creek, Buffalo, New York Date: July 18, 2018
“Butterfly in the sky, I can go twice as high
Take a look, it’s in a book,
A Reading Rainbow!
I can go anywhere
Friends to know, and ways to grow
A Reading Rainbow!
I can be anything
Take a look, it’s in a book
A Reading Rainbow
“Reading Rainbow Theme Song”
As a kid, I used to love this show.
It probably helped me learn to like reading, and though I faltered during middle school, I’ve always been a reader.
In fact, I read about 40-50 books per year as I travel around chasing this fish or that. My *coughs* cornucopia *coughs* of vocabulary words overflows because of how much time I spend reading books or listening to audiobooks.
If you don’t listen to audiobooks, consider a free trial with Audible.
Driving, flying, and waiting are a lot less painful with Audible because my mind is occupied while my body carries out rote tasks like driving, bait fishing, or winning the hearts and minds of women everywhere.
I credit my love of reading to The Reading Rainbow.
Upstate New York
I was fortunate enough to have the evenings free after a teaching conference in Buffalo. I spent every waking moment fishing, save for the times I was eating.
The highlight of my trip from a culinary standpoint was the Blackthorn Restaurant and Pub. I got the traditional Beef on Weck, as well as Buffalo Wings. Though they collectively held enough salt to give me hypertension in a single sitting, they were one of the most uniquely wonderful sandwiches and the best wings I’ve ever had, respectively.
If you are headed there, please stop in. Sorry Skittles, but if I tasted the rainbow, it would’ve been that meal. At least, until I got slightly dehydrated from all of the salt.
Metaphors, like memes, lend to overuse. For that reason, I apologize for all of my rainbow-related jokes and metaphors in advance.
Fully satiated with salty Americana, I looked for the nearest creek. I hadn’t planned out every location as well as I do now, so I planned to sort of stumble into them.
When fishing, you’re always looking for a unicorn. Fortunately, everyone knows that rainbows are unicorns’ natural habitat.
I found a small rainbow created by a sprinkler system in the grassy rim of some sort of massage therapy parking lot. I ambled down the grass and figured there were micros to be had in the creek below.
Almost immediately, I began catching Creek Chubs left and right.
I’d hoped they were Lake Chub, which would’ve been a new species, but they were just plain ‘ole Creek Chubs.
I quickly realized the swarm of cyprinids I was fishing to were all Creek Chub, so I shifted gears and started targeting what I hoped would be my first darters.
There was no pot of gold at the end of that rainbow, but there was a new species. Don’t worry; I’m getting to that.
They were everywhere on the sandy bottom, but they wouldn’t bite.
I played around with worms, artificials, and even killed a crayfish I found onsite and used a portion of it’s tail.
The latter did the trick, and I landed my first fish.
Unfortunately, the slippery little bugger slipped out of my hands. I’m about 90% sure it was a Tesselated Darter, but since I couldn’t confirm, I didn’t count it.
I did count the next darter species I caught. The weather was great, so I was admittedly a little surprised when I caught a Rainbow, a Rainbow Darter.
I didn’t get great photos because I was dumb, and I figured darters were easy to identify and plentiful. My phone was slightly overheated, so I was limited to two or three blurry pics.
Fortunately, they were enough to identify it.
The most frustrating part were the Tesselated Darters that just wouldn’t bite. They were there, somewhere, but I just couldn’t get over the Rainbows.
#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard
Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #162 — Sacramento Pikeminnow.
Species: Emerald Shiner (Notropis atherinoides) Location: Buffalo, New York Date: July 18, 2018
Microfishing is still relatively new to me, and the newness of it all is partially why I love it so much. This method has yet to hit the mainstream, but microfishing is a gem.
In combination, the ability to sight fish, to actually see the fish you’re targeting and the inherent challenge in getting small fish to bite on tiny tackle is an incredibly underrated pursuit.
Further, there are micros everywhere — even in the heavily pressured waters nearby you don’t think twice about — and given its relative lack of awareness, you can probably microfish within walking distance of your house.
Micros are tough to “fish out” because they’re typically too small to have food value to humans, and though they can be delicate, they are usually plentiful.
Everywhere you go, there are sculpins, chubs, minnows, killifish, anchovies, shad, darters, or shiners.
One of my favorite experiences microfishing started out with me chasing Northern Pike the size of my leg and ended with me catching fish the size of my toe.
While visiting Buffalo, New York for a teaching conference, I used every afternoon to get out and fish. After the conference, I bowed out to the Niagara River faster than the Bills have bowed out of the playoffs in recent years.
Sorry, Lt. Colonel Schultz. I couldn’t resist.
Arriving at my destination, the Tifft Nature Reserve, I grabbed a heavy rod for pike and a smaller rod just in case any micros were visible.
I quickly spotted a nice pike. Unfortunately, it was more lifeless than the Raptors’ Finals hopes before LeBron went to the Western Conference.
The second thing I saw was a school of micros, patrolling the shoreline just far enough out that I couldn’t easily reach them with my micro rod. Still, fish you can see should take priority when microfishing, so I opted to try anyhow.
I set down my regular rod which happened to be tipped with a jig and worm. It fell into the water and caught a Rock Bass, which I quickly reeled in, released, and resumed microfishing.
Some micros are notoriously difficult to catch. Most micros — especially cyprinids — are notoriously tough to identify. I couldn’t tell what these fish were in the water, and as I battled the wind to place my tiny piece of worm in the path of the school, I had no idea what they were.
The Great Lakes are home to dozens of micros alone. Often, identifying micros is tougher than catching them and if the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources didn’t haveThe Baitfish Primer(Free PDF for Lake Ontario Micros), identification would be rough.
Often, I’ll spend hours fishing a school of micros in hopes of catching more than one species, but these were pretty obviously the same species. I hadn’t identified the species yet, but I was enough of a naturalist to see they were the same, and it was time to move to greener (or at least slightly less Emerald) pastures.
I carefully unhooked the fish and put it into the photo tank to take pictures.
Photo Tanks are glass or plastic boxes not actually designed for holding fish but re-purposed by enterprising microfishermen to take highly detailed photographs of fish with their fins fully extended.
Most species retract their fins when handled, and the number of anal fin rays, dorsal fin rays, fin shape, fin size, and a host of other factors can be lost if fish are held out of the water.
I’ve always tried holding fish in my wet palm just under the surface of the water to spread out their fins, but it doesn’t always work. You also risk losing the fish before a good picture is taken.
I took a few pictures, but the tank I had at the time was old and all scratched up. Further, it was windy and I didn’t have anything to wipe water droplets off the side of the tank, so I couldn’t get the best photo.
In this case, it was enough to identify the fish: Emerald Shiner.
Fitting, considering just 750 words ago I told you that microfishing is a hidden gem.
#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard
Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #162 — Rainbow Darter.
Species: Rock Bass (Ambloplites rupestris) Location: Buffalo, New York Date: July 18, 2018
People always look to be exceptional. They long for that place where they stick out, are the exception to the rule.
Alas, I’m no different. My first Rock Bass, pictured above, was obviously a Rock Bass. I caught it in a park-like slough of the Niagara River where it looked natural on one side and completely artificial on the other.
The fish were plentiful, and I saw schools of micros almost immediately. They were far from shore, and I struggled to reach them, so I reached for my smaller rod.
I propped the micro rod against a rock but dropped my other rod, fitted with a small worm-tipped jig. It fell into the water, with the jig dangling just a few feet off shore.
Before I could even pick it up, a small sunfish had pummeled my jig.
My lifer Rock Bass was that simple.
I took a few pictures of the fish, and the lighting, crystal-clear water, and pretty little fish made for a perfect photo shoot.
I switched to targeting micros after that.
Changing gears after the productive micro session, I went to a small pond. I was hoping for a Norther Pike or Northern Sunfish, but the creek flowing into the pond was full of everything but.
It wasn’t long before I caught something a little unique.
My first thought was Shadow Bass, a close relative of the Rock Bass, but it was out of range for the species. It looked nothing like the Rock Bass I’d caught hours before, and it was a sight to behold.
It could’ve been a Shadow Bass, but given the range and no physically observable differences, everyone on NANFA voted Rock Bass.
Like most other people, I wanted to be that one-off. That once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence, but Occam’s Razor told me that probably wasn’t the case.
Assuming the simplest solution is probably the right one (Occam’s Razor), this was probably a Rock Bass, but a small part of me still holds out that it was an out-of-range Shadow Bass.
Species: Freshwater Drum (Aplodinotus grunniens) Location: Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada Date: July 17, 2018
I’ve always been a little different.
I was blessed with some great individual friends, but I was never in a clique, nor was I the cool kid. I felt like I hit my stride just off of everyone around me, the flam to their downbeat.
Making friends was never a problem, but fitting into a group or a team was.
It’s not to say I didn’t like people, but I was bullied and alienated enough growing up that I learned not to need people.
Since I didn’t date much and liked clothes, everyone called me gay.
Since I didn’t drink or smoke or experiment with drugs, everyone called me the “straight arrow” said I was “too good” or just left me out of the conversation. It kept me out of trouble, but it also kept me further from the mainstream.
In fifth grade, after having played the recorder for a full year, I decided to join band. My first choice was to play flute, but after a week of mockery from my classmates, I opted for the drums instead.
It was this concession that (ironically) started a slow and painful process in which I would eventually learn to march to the beat of my own drum.
The Freshwater Drum is the only North American member of the Scieaenidae family found exclusively in freshwater. It is capable of fighting almost as hard as Redfish or Black Drum and grows to 50 pounds.
Yet, for some reason, people don’t like it. They leave it out of the conversations as a game fish. Leave it out of the conversations for hardest-fighting fish. Leave it out.
Little did I know that this fish was actively making the case to be my spirit animal…
While in Buffalo, New York for a conference, I opted to stay just across the river in Fort Erie, Ontario because it was markedly cheaper. I failed to account for the toll required every time you cross into Canada, but even still, the $65 CAD was a steal.
The only downside of Fort Erie is the poor layout which limits access anywhere but back across the Niagara River or north deeper into Canada.
Apart from a riverfront park that stretched on for miles, there was effectively nowhere to fish.
So when the conference ended, I resigned myself to just fish where I could: along the seawall.
I was hoping for a Golden Redhorse, Walleye, or a Northern Pike, but chose the classic Canadian Nightcrawler (because, well, Canada). I impaled the entire worm on an Owner No. 6 Mosquito Hook at the end of an 18-inch leader held down by a one-ounce slip sinker in the ripping current.
Blind fishing was the name of the game, and I played music on my phone to rock out as I slowly walked the seawall and peered into the clear waters reflecting the sunset.
As I peered into the water, my heart skipped a beat when I saw what appeared, at first glance, to be a school of large Common Carp feeding actively on the riverbed.
Though carp don’t normally take worms, I was optimistic, so I reeled up and drifted my bait into position ahead of the feeding fish.
My rod bounced rhythmically with a tap-tap-thump before I was into a solid fish.
The current made the fight even more impressive, and I was forced to jump the seawall and make my way to one of the small stone staircases spread out about 100 yards apart down the length of the structure.
It was impressive, I’m sure, as I vaulted the structure, pushing against each of the two walls with one flip-flop-wielding foot while holding my rod in one hand and bracing myself with the other.
Slowly, I made my way Prince of Persia style down to the water, where I made my first attempt at landing the fish without a net.
I gasped as I realized it wasn’t a carp — drumroll, please — but a drum. A Freshwater Drum! It was the last fish I was expecting, but I was stoked.
I landed it, took some pictures and let it go.
That night and every night for the remainder of the trip found me performing acrobatics I never tried in marching band as I tried again and again to beat the drum.
I’d say I did beat the drum. I landed more than dozen Freshwater Drum (called “Sheepshead” locally for some reason) from three to eight pounds, releasing all of them back into the mighty Niagara.
It was probably the most unexpected way for a fishing trip in Canada to turn out, but what can I say? This little drummer boy has always been a little different.
I live in Oregon, a place where half of our native suckers are threatened or endangered, and the other half can be difficult to locate and catch. Apart from Largescale Sucker, none of the sucker species we have are caught very often.
Oh how strange this is when compared to the rest of North America and the 100 or so sucker species found there. Suckers are not only common, but they can be downright easy to catch in certain places outside of our wonderfully strange state.
Take, for instance, the Shorthead Redhorse.
On a tip from Ken Tse (read his bloghere), I headed outside of Toronto proper to a semi-rural community on the Grand River. He put me just below a small dam in a scenic, grassy park. There were obviously fish around, and I quickly caught a small Smallmouth Bass.
I could see a few micros, but the fast current and skittish nature of those particular micros only held my attention for 20 minutes or so. When I finally caught a micro, it was another smallie, so I opted to pursue the redhorse I’d actually driven there to catch.
Several species were on the table, though Shorthead Redhorse were supposed to be the most common.
My intel proved correct, and after about an hour of sitting on half of a nightcrawler purchased at the bait shop up the hill, my first rod bounced.
Given the strange angle I was fishing below the dam, I had one rod out perpendicular to the shore and another sort quartering away downstream.
Without going into the science of it all, and the fact that there was so much water to cover, it would’ve been nearly impossible for me to hit my target with just one rod. There had to be a second rod.
I reeled the second rod (or was it the first?) as a small, unsuspecting crowd watched from picnic blankets on the grassy knoll.
The last thing they expected was for my shot to ring out over the din, my splitshot, that is.
Unfortunately, I was in the process of retying my micro rod and spilled splitshot all over as I fumbled towards my bouncing rod.
Regardless, I connected.
Knowing at least enough to snap pictures of the fish in profile as well as pictures of its mouth, I released it. I knew it was a Shorthead thanks to a particularly helpful infographic I found online.
The bite died, and I decided to move, instead going to the less accessible side that required a minimal hike down.
While the first fish had taken an hour or two, the second took less than five minutes.
The river on the other side was more conducive to fishing for suckers, which tend to prefer transitional zones between current and slower water, specifically behind current breaks.
Lo and behold, a redhorse was waiting behind the first rock I cast to.
Again, I took the profile and mouth pictures even though I knew at first glance this was a Shorthead.
My other rod bounced while I was taking this picture, and I had Fish No. 3.
At this point, I was having fun, but I realized I had a long drive back to Fort Erie, the Canadian town right across the border from Buffalo, where I was staying.
I hopped in the car and drove on.
After spending my evenings chasing the fish that surpassed Common Carp as my favorite “rough fish” for the next few evenings — Species #159 — I tied into something else.
I battled it to the bank against the current of the staunch Niagara River and landed it with some impressive acrobatics while flagging down a passerby to take a picture for me.
I originally identified this fish as a Golden Redhorse because it didn’t have the red tail I’d seen on the other Shortheads I’d captured, but I was later told it was another Shorthead.
Cross-referencing the infographic above confirmed it was a Shorthead — just a monster. The notched dorsal fin and 44 lateral line scales were enough to overshadow the lack of red tail.
Still, it was a beast of a Shorthead at 25″ and 4.6 pounds.
Just a pound shy of the world record. Too bad. It would’ve been my first international record.
I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end the evening and an incredible trip.
I’d really enjoyed Canada, and I smiled when I got to get my redhorse on and ride into the sunset.
The north is a tough place. If the elements don’t kill you, there’s always the next power-hungry leader, plague, or toothy beast waiting in line to give it their best shot.
Though civilizations north of the equator have more or less dominated the rest of the world for all of human history, their rule has rarely been uncontested. Even the most beneficent societies have elements of darkness waiting to overtake the light, these elements that so crave power or those that often achieve it — for better or worse.
In fact, some leaders have led to power specific cultures so predominantly violent, vile, and vilified (turns out V is for more than just vendettas) that history remembers them as such.
From the Vikings to the Scythians to the Mongol Hordes, darkness has found its place in the north many times.
These societies could best be viewed as a scourge on all those they encountered.
*cut to scene of violence, rape, pillaging*
While one culture may choose to raise its children, another may vie to raze them.
In modern times, a balance of power seemed to exist in a place viewed by many as the pinnacle of modern achievement. A place piggybacked on the success and dominance of its neighbor to the south, the United States.
We speak, of course, of Canada.
From it’s legendary cleanliness to its legendary friendliness, Canada is paradise. At least, it was.
Its innocent utopia was interrupted by something terrible that has since become a scourge —
*cue epic instrumental music*
a Scourge of the North.
*cue opening credits*
The beautiful province, by far Canada’s most populous (it accounts for one-third of the entire country) is a land of extremes. From sprawling lakefront to modern cityscape to quaint farming communities, Ontario has a little of everything.
Toronto, the nation’s largest city, is nothing short of spectacular. It is the second-most diverse place on earth, second only to Queens, New York, and it shows in the food, the architecture, and the people.
Of course, it’s the food that got and held my attention.
I landed in the Buffalo and immediately took my rental car across the border.
My first night in Toronto, one of just two I had there, didn’t pan out.
At this point, I was about three weeks into a stint away from home that had started in Florida, and I’d yet to go out and get skunked fishing, so of course it happened that night.
I fished a park and saw a few skittish micros dart away from my headlamp but walked away empty-handed.
That night, I drowned my misery in way too much delicious Nepali food.
The next morning got off to a good start.
It didn’t take me long to find the best donut place in town. Sorry, this is Canada.
It didn’t take me long to find the best doughnut place in town: Glory Hole Doughnuts.
The lightly sweet cake donut was covered in a light, crème fraîche-like frosting topped with crumbled breadcrumbs.
It was so wonderful in its simplicity and light-yet-buttery taste that I had no problem buying all of the donuts they had left, which, thankfully for my overworked pancreas, was just three.
I paired it with Toronto’s most famous coffee chain, the one with the yellow lid, Jimmy’s Coffee.
Fat and happy, I set my sights on the sights.
I did a little touring around the city, which, mid-morning, meant sitting in traffic. The weather was intermittently bad or not great, so that wasn’t the worst thing.
Deciding that the CN Tower looked close enough to the one’s I’d visited in Seattle and Auckland, New Zealand, I opted to just visit a museum.
This brought me to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). I found this funny because I’d just finished reading a book, Calculating God, which took place there. It’s an interesting read about aliens, God, and the foundations of the universe and holds a surprisingly not-hostile secular viewpoint towards Creationism which made it unique in and of itself.
Anywho, the ROM proved to be just another museum — albeit a good one — so I finally felt like I’d soaked in enough cutlure to justify fishing for the rest of the trip.
I had to be back in Buffalo for a conference the next day, so it was now or never.
I settled on a park where I proceeded to quickly catch a small fish, a Round Goby.
Then I caught another.
Then a salmon angler returned, filleted his catch, and threw the carcass near where I was fishing from shore. In less than two minutes, it was covered in swarming black monsters.
The Scourge of the North!
Round Gobies were introduced (most believe) from the ballast water of a ship from the Old World and have found their way into most of the Great Lakes.
They now dominate the biomass and can be found anywhere and everywhere in this region.
Apart from a few sunfish and perch, I didn’t catch another species that trip to Toronto. No sculpins. No shiners. No nothing.
It was honestly kind of tragic.
Fortunately, I reached out to Ken Tse (http://muskiebaitadventures.blogspot.com/), albeit a little late on my part, and he gave me some spots that redeemed the trip.
I killed all of the invasive monsters, but like the unwashed hordes many had to endure in days of yore, I couldn’t outrun this scourge…
There were some specific reasons I arrived at this being an Atlantic Kingfish as opposed to a Gulf Kingfish, but I can’t remember them now. I do remember the Hardhead Catfish I caught shortly after this fish that impaled my finger, made me fall backwards and slice my foot on a rock, though.Species: Gulf Kingfish (Menticirrhus littoralis) Location: Saint Petersburg, Florida Date: July 14, 2018
After spending most of the day fishing at two separate piers and finding plenty of fish but little in the way of species variety, I opted to move to the outer edges of Tampa Bay.
I found myself not far from Saint Petersburg fishing an inlet where tides carved the sand relatively deep as it narrowed between a rocky point and a concrete causeway.
At this point in the trip, I was tired, sunburned, and sore, so I admittedly wasn’t at the top of my game.
I was lazy and just tossed out a truncated Sabiki rig with cocktail shrimp that was almost not at the top of its game. With a light weight, I’d cast out as far as I could and then slowly reel in line, drifting the bait like you might do for salmon or steelhead.
It was slow-going, but I finally landed this kingfish, making 25 species on my first trip to Florida. Not bad for a guy still relatively new to the Species Hunting game who hadn’t even set up his own Fishing Map yet. If you can relate, learn How to Build Your Fishing Map, so you can be more prepared moving forward.
Species: Black Sea Bass (Centropristis striata) Location: Tampa, Florida Date: July 13, 2018
Perhaps the biggest surprise of my first “real” Florida trip was this Black Sea Bass. Note: my actual first trip to Florida was a single night fishing in Pensacola the summer before, but this was an extended stay. The Black Sea Bass took a piece of shrimp on a Sabiki rig, and I was shocked. I had no idea these fish made it as far south as Central Florida.
Though it wasn’t the rich blue-black with white tubercules I’d seen in pictures, it was still a Black Sea Bass, and I was up to 24 species on this trip. Not bad.
I released it after a quick pic and moved on to the final fish of my Florida trip.