Species #132 — Vermiculated Sailfin Catfish

Catching these guys was tricky. I tried snagging them outright at first, but their armor plating makes that tough. I switched gears and worked on my timing to snag it in the mouth. Then I repeated it.

Species: Vermiculated Sailfin Catfish (Pterygoplichthys disjunctivus)
Location: Lake Fran Urban Wetlands, Orlando, FL
Date: July 7, 2018

My first night in Florida amounted to me being terrified for my life as I tried night fishing for Florida Gar and Bowfin.

A gun went off within 50 yards of where I was standing, and I lost it. Read that terrifying/embarrassing story here.

I caught a single Spotted Sunfish and a Florida Bass by hand. This isn’t a legal fishing method in Florida, and every other species on my list hasn’t been counted unless it was caught by traditional fishing techniques. Plus, I’m pretty sure catching bass by hand isn’t legal in Florida, so I deferred it down the list until I caught one for real.

I did notice some massive plecostomus right up against the shoreline after awhile and opted to try for those. They wouldn’t touch bait, so I tried to snag them. It’s legal, and I normally count any legal methods.

I hooked one in the side after numerous failed attempts, but it was not a good hookup, and the surprisingly strong fish quickly popped free.

By then it was almost 1:30 a.m., and reverse jet-lag or not, I needed some sleep.

***

I returned the next day and decided to start with other fish, though I caught nothing new.

Eventually, I found myself looking at the loud designs of a Vermiculated Sailfin Catfish once again.

I tried and failed to snag it, so I changed gears.

“What about flossing?” I wondered aloud.

The technique anglers use to float a hook into the open mouth of a salmon with lockjaw far enough into its spawning journey that it’s not longer feeding. It’s ethically gray, but a common practice among many PNW salmon anglers I know.

For a widespread invasive species, though, I had absolutely no ethical qualms.

I put on a treble hook and positioned it ahead of the feeding exotic. It took about an hour, but eventually, I got it to swim right over the hook. Once it’s mouth was over the hook, I raised up.

Fish on!

It fought well, but I got it in without much issue. A few quick pictures, and I turned it loose.

I wasn’t kidding. The patience and timing required for this was one of my greatest accomplishments.

These fish are decent-sized, and I’ve heard rumors they taste like lobster, but I’d imagine cleaning one would be a nightmare. Further, Florida’s freshwater landscape is a disgusting near-cesspool of reclaimed water, so I wouldn’t eat anything out of there to begin with.

I repeated this a second time, snagging another one in the mouth, and then left the algae eaters alone and focused on other fish.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #133 — Eastern Mosquitofish.

Species #131 — Umpqua Pikeminnow

The Umpqua system has been overtaken by Smallmouth Bass, so Umpqua Pikeminnow are few and far between.

Species: Umpqua Pikeminnow (Ptychocheilus umpquae)
Location: Umpqua River, Oregon
Date: June 25, 2018

Odds are, you’ve heard of the Umpqua River.

After all, it’s home to Oregon’s only real Striper fishery (though it’s still not great). Fish likely don’t even spawn but every few years, so the fish there are there in limited numbers. But the fish there are massive. Oregon’s 68-pound state record was caught there.

The Umpqua once had one of the largest average-size Steelhead runs in the country (not in total numbers, but size of fish). Then much fish from other runs like the Alsea were stocked to supplement declining runs, and the average size fish plummeted.

But the Umpqua today is home to one of the best numbers Smallmouth fisheries on the West Coast. Anglers can expect 30-plus-fish days routinely, with 100-fish days fairly commonplace. Though the river is so saturated with fish, they tend to stunt, and true beasts are hard to find.

One side effect of the Smallmouth Bass is the massive decline in native fishes. The native Rainbows and Cutthroats suffer, and people lament them. But nobody mourns for the Umpqua Chub, Umpqua Dace, and Umpqua Pikeminnow that have fueled the explosion of smallies.

***

In fact, when I took a summer afternoon and evening to chase what I thought would be the easiest of the three endemic minnows, the Umpqua Pikeminnow, I was horrified to find myself striking out at my first stop on the South Umpqua. I caught a seemingly endless supply of smallies as I tried the spinners and Rapalas and bait I’d caught Northern Pikeminnow on dozens of times before. All I caught were smallies.

I switched to micro gear in hopes of catching one of the minnow species flitting in and out of the weeds. The good news is that smallies weren’t the only fish I caught. The bad news is that they were only joined by Green Sunfish.

After a few hours of only seeing a few flitting minnows here and there, and a few small suckers that wouldn’t touch anything, I decided to switch spots.

***

The mainstem Umpqua seemed like a better option. More water means deeper holes and faster flow, right? Wrong.

The smallies were even more prevalent here, mobbing my worm at every turn.

***

I finally ended up at the North Umpqua River, having covered a lot of miles in my “easy little trip” for UPM. I was frustrated, but I was equally disillusioned by the reality of a real-life invasive takeover of a fishery.

Smallies were everywhere. Pikeminnow were nowhere to be found.

My final spot for the night was the confluence of the North Umpqua and the mainstem. There were rapids, and a slow-swirling pool just upstream of the mouth.

Though I caught a few little trout in the rapids and a few more bass in the swirling pool, it wasn’t until I switched to micro gear that I finally got my Umpqua Pikeminnow.

I hooked and lost one on micro gear, broke off, then caught this just as the park host came and yelled at me to get out because the park was closing.

***

A few days later, I would discover that there is a much healthier population of Umpqua Pikeminnow in a nearby river system. I landed 15 of them in a few hours there, and all of them were decent-sized fish like the 10-incher at the beginning of this post.

Nature has a way of balancing itself, I guess.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #132 — Vermiculated Sailfin Catfish.

Species #130 — Mountain Whitefish

Whitefish are underrated gamefish.

Species: Mountain Whitefish (Prosopium williamsoni)
Location: Deschutes River, Oregon
Date: June 21, 2018

The fish most Central Oregon anglers can’t avoid avoided me for decades. Probably because I didn’t know much about them. If you want to catch one, you should know the facts. All of these are 100% true.

Whitefish Facts

1) My first Mountain Whitefish was not caught on a mountain.

2) Whitefish aren’t actually white, though they’re rumored to be incapable of jumping, so you can see where the confusion lies. In fact, I’ve never heard of one jumping while hooked.

3) Whitefish do have white meat. That’s the real reason for their name.

4) Though they’re gaining a little respect, they’re often viewed as trash fish which is crazy because they’re Salmonids. They’re more closely related to trout than chubs even though they resemble the latter somewhat.

5) There is town in Montana named Whitefish.

6) Whitefish is good smoked, but I’ve never had it vaped.

7) Whitefish are afforded “Game Fish” status in Oregon. Call it “whitefish privilege”.

8) Identifying whitefish is easy when you understand there are only two types of fish: whitefish and wrong fish.

9) My friend once caught a three-pound whitefish on a massive jig while fishing for Lake Trout, one of the chief predators of whitefish.

10) I already wrote the story of my first whitefish. Read it by clicking here.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #131 — Umpqua Pikeminnow.

Species #125 — Dixie Chub

This nasty, diseased chub ranked just below “Retired Porn Star” on the Grossness Scale

Species: Dixie Chub (Semotilus thoreauianus)
Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Date: April 22, 2018

Hotlanta.

Apart from some phenomenal tourist attractions such as the Civil Rights Museum and Coca Cola Headquarters, the mediocre attractions such as the Chik-Fil-A College Football Hall of Fame, and the blissfully above average Southern Food, Atlanta isn’t the best city.

It lives up the “Hotlanta” moniker, but that’s largely because, for a Southern city, it has almost no vegetation. It has no major rivers flowing through the city center, and the streams are limited.

Not only does this mean temperatures will be absurdly high, it means a visiting angler has severely limited options.

Even with a rental car, I struggled to find anything to fish for my one night off to do so on a work trip. I was limited to a 15- or 20-minute radius from the hotel, and that really cramped my style.

To make matters worse, I was there in the late spring, during the peak of the monsoon season, and the few rivers and streams I’d been turned onto by fellow Species Hunters like Ryan Crutchfield of FishMap.org were all blown out.

Torrential rainfall meant fishing even for micros — which is usually a slam-dunk when fishing new water — was out of the question.

I hiked and drove around for hours to the spots I’d been given, but as night fell, I began to take stock of my situation and realized I needed to grab dinner and get home, so I hopped into my rental car, sodden and saddened.

***

As I drove to my restaurant of choice (a Cajun restaurant because dammit, I wasn’t about to let the night be a total loss), I passed over a small stream. It made me stop and think, and after finding a parking lot at a nearby church, I hoofed it through the pouring rain a few hundred yards back down the highway.

Vaulting the guardrail, I climbed down under the bridge.

I had a headlamp on and hoped to find a sculpin or darter willing to play, but the stream, small though it was, was still high and not terribly clear.

Then, as luck would have it, I noticed a larger fish right up against the shore. It was some sort of Cyprinid, though I couldn’t identify it.

I grabbed the rod with an ultra-tiny spinner and threw it onto the bank, then dragged it into the water. The fish was territorial, and struck the gold blade with a lethargic and haphazard move.

The fight was pitiful and I quickly landed the chub. It had some horrible fungus or infection on its head, and as I snapped a picture for later identification, I cringed.

Miraculously, it swam away.

***

I would later reach out to local biologist who identified it initially as a “River Chub or Dixie Chub” depending on the drainage. Further research and a white paper helped me narrow it down: only Dixie Chub were found in that drainage.

And I had a new species that compared to the beautiful little dace in my last post, certainly would’ve never been asked on a hot date to prom. Even in Hotlanta.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #126 — Redside Shiner.

Species #119 — Shortnose Sucker

Shortnose Sucker are probably the most highly-endangered fish in Oregon. The two I’ve caught incidentally have been insane surprises, but given that I fish 150-200 days per year, it was only a matter of time before one took my worm for a spin.

Species: Shortnose Sucker (Chasmistes brevirostris)
Location: Undisclosed Location
Date: January 12, 2018

A few people told me I shouldn’t write about this one, and I both understand and respect their reasoning; however, I think I should write about this precisely because nobody else wants to talk about it.

We have a species at risk of extinction in the next five years, and it’s right in our backyard. The Shortnose Sucker, an endemic to the Upper Klamath Basin, has an estimated 5000 adults left in the wild.

That doesn’t sound so bad when, say, compared to some of the localized pupfish or Alabama Sturgeon, but when we’re talking about a fish that was once so abundant that anglers lined up to snag dozens of them in a day as they moved to spawn, it’s scary.

These fish are notorious for their phenomenal ability to smell the slightest hint of bait in the water at up to a mile away. This, in conjunction with their less-than-prominent proboscis led to their name: Shortnose Sucker.

Of course, only one of those things is true, but you believe it because it was written on the Internet from a seemingly reliable source. Now, I don’t ever lie to my readers, and I’m pretty damn informed about fishing, but even I don’t know every detail relating to the fish I write about.

But some people do. Some people knowingly spread misinformation about fish and the culture of fishing soaks it up without questioning the source. This, in combination with rapid habitat loss, is why Shortnose Sucker populations have declined.

People honestly believe they “eat trout eggs” and are actively competing with trout. This is just not accurate. Yes, they probably suction up some eggs, but so do trout. There are numerous videos of trout eating their own eggs. Further, suckers do not compete with mature trout. They have some overlap in their diets, but suckers are bottom feeders while trout are apex predators that cover the entire water column.

Suckers more often serve as food for trout than competition for them.

Without suckers, the niche they fill would be empty, and an already hypereutrophic lake with frequent algal blooms, fish die-offs, and poor water quality would be devastated.

As awesome and adaptable as our trout are, they can’t fill that niche.

***

I caught my first sucker on tiny gear while fishing for the invasive Yellow Perch in a river known to be overrun with them, a tiny Shortnose Sucker took my bait.

Baby Shortnose Suckers aren’t self-conscious about their short snouts yet because society hasn’t shamed them for it yet, and kids are innocent. When fishing for sensitive species, be sure to never put them on dry dirt, pavement, or rocks. I like to use the inside of a heavy-duty plastic bag with a layer of water thrown on top. This helps preserve a fish’s slime.

At first glance, I thought it was a Blue Chub, another endemic that has done remarkably well by comparison. I kill every perch, bullhead, and goldfish I catch in our system, but I always release natives (and Brown Trout, since they don’t really overpopulate and are limited to rivers).

I almost released the “chub” when I realized it looked a little different.

Quickly, I set it down and snapped a quick picture before watching it swim away, hopefully to start a trend in the right direction.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #120 — Pacific Herring.

Species #111 — Grass Carp

Though I’m ashamed of how I handled this fish, it did swim away (seemingly) unharmed. It had obviously been caught before and had some missing scales, so I’m sure I didn’t help its cause. Please practice good fish handling practices.

Species: Grass Carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella)
Location: Phoenix, Arizona
Date: November 16, 2017

Though Common Carp and White Sturgeon were my first freshwater species to break the 30-inch mark, the third species was this vegetarian gentle giant.

I already wrote a story about these golden ghosts, and it’s not scary, but I’m sure you’d still appreciate reading it around a campfire.

Click here to read it.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #112 — Yellow Bass.

Species #110 — Nile Tilapia

My third tilapia species shot into my life. Quite literally.

Species: Nile Tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus)
Location: Phoenix, Arizona
Date: November 16, 2017

This story is part of a larger story involving me, a bold cockroach, disappointment, and elusive Grass Carp.

Since I’m going to retell much of this story in the subsequent post about Species #111 — Grass Carp, I’ll just focus on the tilapia here.

***

After meeting Chris Moore (@arizona_anglers on Instagram), and getting a ton of great fishing spots from him, I’d vowed to be sure to chase Grass Carp, called White Amur locally, since they’re in virtually every waterway in the Phoenix area.

My quest led me to a pond in the heart of the city known to contain Grass Carp upwards of 30 pounds. Knowing this, I brought only gear for large Grassies. I had the usual Owner No. 6 Mosquito hooks I like for carp when fishing corn. I also had some smaller doughbait trebles on-hand for floating bread balls on the surface.

What I didn’t have was any hook smaller than a No. 6. So as I sat in the low light cast by a nearby lamppost and watched tiny fish I knew to be tilapia stripping my floating bread off of the surface, and then, to my horror, off my hook, I was frustrated.

It wasn’t long before I lost hope in the Grass Carp and decided to try catching one of these bastages. So I waited, and fished the little bread ball like a dry fly, waiting until I watched it dip and then lifting up on my rod. I lifted up too slowly and missed.

This series of events repeated half a dozen times before I finally lifted up hard and fast. A fish had been hooked, however briefly, and I watched as it lifted out of the water. My line tightened, and the barely-hooked fish came free of my line, the hook pulled out by inertia.

That little fish rocketed five or ten feet into the air, arcing right down into the space between my legs.

You can call it a fish story, but you’re just in de-Nile if you do.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #111 — Grass Carp.

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 #90 — Shortnose Gar

Shortnose Gar and Spotted Gar have an overlapping range and are capable of hybridizing. It was dark, and I don’t have good photos, so mine was likely a hybrid. Photo courtesy Texas Parks and Wildlife.

Species: Shortnose Gar (Lepisosteus platostomus)
Location: Alligator Preserve Pond, Madison, Alabama
Date: July 30, 2017

I’ve caught more than 200 species at the time of writing. Of those, the only one I’ve counted without 100% certainty of identification was the Shortnose Gar. I fully expect to catch another, but since I counted it as Species #90 and caught more than 100 species since, I’m counting it with an asterisk.

The one I caught was likely a hybrid Spotted x Shortnose Gar, and I don’t have good photos because it was caught at night. So here we have a pitiful story, an excuse, and no pictures. Excellent.

Sadly, I know way too many anglers who feed us this line on the regular. I promise it’s a one-off for me, though, and I have it on the shortlist, so I’ll get one “for real” very soon.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #91 — Creek Chub.

Species #89 — Spotted Gar

Gar are awesome, but Spotted Gar have a special place in my heart because they’re so uniquely beautiful. Photo courtesy: Wikipedia.

Species: Spotted Gar (Lepisosteus oculatus)
Location: Indian Creek, Madison, Alabama
Date: July 30, 2017

So I’ve now written for the Herald and News for five years. At the time of writing, I’ve now written two pieces for Game and Fish Magazine, too, and I plan to continue that.

As I write more and more, there becomes an increased likelihood that an occasional blog post will merely be a link to a story I’ve already written as opposed to entirely new content.

My first Spotted Gar was a story originally written for the Herald and News, and it is one of my all-time fives, so I’m not gonna mess with it.

You can read it by clicking this link.

Tight lines!

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #90 — Shortnose Gar.