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.
I first “met” Ryan Crutchfield on Instagram before I’d even started species hunting. Our social circles overlapped, and I found myself following a guy on Instagram who posted some out of the ordinary fish pictures.
Sure, the tarpon, snook, redfish, and bass pics I expected from a Florida-based account were awesome, but so were the fish he posted that I wasn’t as familiar with.
Knowing Ryan was nearby, I had to fish with him. After all, he’d provided me with several locations that panned out in Orlando.
Besides, after fishing Orlando hard for a week, I moved over to Tampa to try and notch some saltwater species. I mean, it was Florida, after all.
I spent the first night alone, but that’s the norm. Coincidentally, I also fished alone that first night, landing one new species in the White Grunt, as well as a number of unsolicited Hardhead Catfish.
But apart from seeing other people catch small sharks — why can I never catch sharks? — it was sort of a misadventure in the dark.
Misadventure in the Dark sounds like the title of your sex tape. Sorry. That was inappropriate, but I’m just happy Brooklyn Nine-Nine got renewed for a seventh season, and the signature catchphrase is arguably better than “That’s what she said.”
Regardless, Ryan agreed to meet me mid-morning to do some fishing with a window of free time he had.
Between his bait and mine, we had shrimp, squid, and half a dozen artificials. The cocktail assortment of bait proved to be the ticket, and we quickly started catching fish.
The new species came almost immediately: a Spottail Pinfish. It was going to be a good morning; I could feel it.
Species: White Grunt (Haemulon plumierii) Location: Tampa, Florida Date: July 13, 2018
I spent two solid days at ICAST with Fishbrain. From meeting Roland Martin and April Vokey to sitting next to Scott Martin during breakfast, I couldn’t have been happier. It as about as much fun as you can have while not fishing.
Nonetheless, spending two whole days in Florida without catching a new species was killing me. Sure, it was awesome to get so much face time with my heroes and introduce a few new friends to microfishing, species hunting, even watch some nice Florida bass caught on the fly, I was itching for something new.
I arrived in Tampa late, and by the time I made it to my first stop, it was dark.
As I walked up, I saw a small shark caught and was optimistic.
Alas, all I would catch that night were the ever-present Hardhead Catfish and a single new species, the White Grunt.
This White Grunt is a fish and not to be confused with the sound Caucasian men make when espousing manliness during a football game or at a barbecue.
It was no shark, but it was a new species, and it was welcomed.
Freshwater sculpins, especially the Cottus species, are among the most difficult-to-identify fish around.
Marine sculpins aren’t quite as tough, especially with the odd Rosylip Sculpin or Buffalo Sculpin kicking around, but there are a lot of them with blurred edges. One such fish is the Smoothead Sculpin. There are three fish in this genus (Padded, Smoothhead, and Scalyhead), and they’re insanely difficult to tell apart. Strangely, the Scalyhead Sculpin is supposed to be the most common but is the only one I’ve never caught.
Honestly, I don’t even really remember how he distinguished the two, but since I’ve only caught one more in that genus (another Smoothhead) since, it hasn’t been an issue.
But at least I know my flaws and don’t try to *smooth* over them.
I’m not sure I did, but then I looked at a picture of a Fluffy Sculpin, the most beautiful little fish you ever did see. To further sell me on it, God made sure it comes in three designer colors: green, red, and brown.
Fluffy Sculpins are, as much as is possible for a fish, actually fluffy. They have tons of cirri, little sensory receptors common in sculpins, all over the body. They are especially prevalent around the head and lend to the fish’s name.
Add to their fluffy hugability the bright, vivid base palette and a lapis lazuli-and-white checkerboard throat, and you might just be talking about the most striking fish in the Pacific Northwest.
My first one fell for my bold pickup line: a bit of shrimp on a micro hook dangling into a surf-line tidepool on an outgoing low tide.
Though visibility wasn’t great to begin with, I also had to contend with a green fish in a verdant sea of kelp and sea lettuce which didn’t make things any easier.
One I landed the fish and saw it’s unmistakable underside, I knew I had a Fluffy.
It was my first time microfishing with a photo tank, but the water was so salty that it made my photos turn out worse than I’d expected.
Still, I got some decent pictures.
I landed dozens of fish that day. Though Tidepool Sculpin and Kelp Greenling were the most numerous, I did manage a few more fluffies, including a red one.
I haven’t caught one in a minute now, but they remain my favorite Oregon micro.
The nearshore saltwater species diversity in Oregon is pretty low. Excluding micros, there are only about 20 species you can catch from shore with any sort of realistic possibility.
This sounds high, but when compared to southern California, Florida, or even the similarly temperate Puget Sound, it’s minimal.
Sure, we have things like Pacific Sandfish and Salmon Sharks that are technically possible, but in the same way its technically possible for Shay Mitchell to finally notice me.
It ain’t gonna happen.
Though micros add some diversity, but it’s still not the most diverse place, with Black Rockfish accounting for nearly a third of all sport catch on the Oregon coast. No kidding.
So when I first discovered microfishing and then decided to try it in tidepools, it opened up a whole new world.
I will note that I’ve never heard of another (sport) angler-caught Rosylip Sculpin. I’ve caught half a dozen now, and a contact who works exclusively with Pacific Northwest marine sculpin research asked me where I’d caught mine, so they could get some much-needed samples, and that makes me feel pretty special.
So you think you caught one? Use the identification tools below to make sure.
Identification aside, I’m not here to brag (that much). I’m here to tell a story. I wrote this story already, so read about it here.
As I toyed around with crappie jigs, I switched to a smaller ice fishing jig and tipped it with a bit of worm. I let it fall over the edge of the large, submerged boulders supporting my weight. As it dropped, I fell a tiny tap.
I pulled in a small sculpin that looked more like a freshwater sculpin than the saltwater sculpin I was expecting. It was a relatively boring-looking Padded Sculpin.
Now, I wish I’d known this myself, but I had to call upon the expertise of Thaddeus Buser (@Cottus_rex on Twitter), a PhD student who is an absolute master at identifying Pacific sculpins. He does all of my stunts, and then I repeat them later with markedly less confidence.
He helped me figure out this one, which is good, because I switched to micro gear and caught a second one just a few casts later.
Padded Sculpin are supposed to max out at about five inches, and the smaller of the two was five inches, but the first, larger one was well over seven. NBD.
Later that night, I went back to the freshwater and caught a massive Prickly Sculpin, a species I already had. Icing on the cake.
Proposition 65 In case you weren’t aware, lead is harmful. Good ‘ol Pb has all manner of damaging effects to humans, and for this reason, it has been banned in most household goods, including paint.
Reasonably intelligent people are aware of this. Tragically, in a trend started in the 1990s, many Americans proved themselves not to be reasonably intelligent.
Starting with the famous 1992 lawsuit where an Albuquerque woman sued McDonald’s for spilling hot coffee on her lap, we’ve lived in an overly-litigated society.
California has led the charge with frivolous lawsuits, narrowly beating out Florida (naturally) as the fourth-worst state in a ranking by the American Legislative Exchange Council. The ALEC uses a complicated metric that basically measures (1) how likely a company is to be sued over something stupid and (2) how likely the court system in that state is to treat the case fairly. Only Illinois, Missouri, and Louisiana are better stomping grounds for people looking to capitalize on their own stupidity for a payday.
But it was arguably prior to that 1992 lawsuit that California set the stage for stupid people to thrive. Six years before that first, famous, frivolous lawsuit, California decided to “protect” its citizens by requiring labels on potentially hazardous chemicals.
It’s 1986, Proposition 65, also known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, started with the best of intentions, began asking companies to label hazardous chemicals.
Essentially, businesses selling products in the State of California must provide “clear and reasonable warnings” to their would-be customers if they sell a product with significant risk of causing cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm based on historical records.
What is significant risk? Well if that compound is linked to one additional case of cancer in 100,000 people over a 70-year lifetime, California considers that “significant risk”. There are similar standards for reproductive harm.
Companies have some freedom in how they do this, but labels seem to work best.
This is phenomenal, in theory, but in practice it means more than 800 chemicals now require products to have the “Warning: this product contains a chemical known to the state of California to cause cancer, birth defects, and other reproductive harm” disclaimer.
Since California is the largest economy within the United States, that effectively guarantees all products with those chemicals will bear that label, allowing non-Californians to balk.
So next time you buy those sinkers, thank the Californian lawmakers of the 1980s for keeping you from making a sandwich after organizing your lead sinker collection. God knows you certainly would have done so without government direction from the all-knowing State of California.
California has put a lot of stupid laws on the books.
Plastic Bag Ban Some of the laws, though viewed as dumb by many, can at least make a case for their existence. Take for instance the ban on plastic bags. California started this trend Stateside in the summer of 2014.
It makes sense and helps the environment, but it led to the wholesale use of paper bags — arguably the worst idea in human history since people first learned not to use poison oak as toilet paper. Banning plastic bags? Good. Encouraging paper bags rather than creating environmentally-friendly plastic bags from seaweed? Bad.
It’s this sort of “Problem Identification Without Solution Identification” mindset that Californians must deal with on a daily basis.
Other Stupid Laws Sadly, many other California laws have no real, viable reason. These include:
– Animals are banned from mating publicly within 1,500 feet of a tavern, school, or place of worship. Sorry kids, you’ll have to stick to the Discovery Channel to witness this sort of thing in the Golden State.
– Bathhouses are illegal. You want to bathe in public? Stick to your local gym or Walmart late at night.
– You can’t wear cowboy boots unless you own cows in Blythe.
– In Carmel, you can’t eat ice cream on the sidewalk. Men cannot mix suit separates; their pants and jacket must match. Women can’t wear high heels within the city limits. Applying for a job with their police force will literally make you a part of the actual Fashion Police.
Garibaldi Perhaps one of the stupidest laws on the books is the emotionally-charged law that makes Garibaldi, California’s State Fish, protected.
According to the IUCN Red List, Garibaldi are a “Species of Least Concern,” meaning there is no reason to protect them.
Yet California, in its infinite wisdom, protects them anyway.
Granted, there was a time when they were protected because of over-collection for use in the aquarium trade because of their high aesthetic value and relative ease of capture (they’re bright orange, after all), but their stocks have long since recovered.
I’m a strong advocate for catch-and-release fishing, but the recreational harvest of fish should be allowed if the population is healthy.
So even though Garibaldi are numerous in Southern California, especially in and around rocks, you cannot even intentionally target them. My own Garibaldi was incidental, but at more than two pounds, it would have filled the vacant IGFA All-Tackle World Record — if it hadn’t been captured in California.
In fact, when I landed the fish, I couldn’t even get a picture because some tourist overhead was harassing me about catching a long Garibaldi.
“You’re not gonna keep that are you?” he said.
Of course not, buddy. I wouldn’t keep fish anyway, but just the fact that you can’t pose for a picture with one is proof that California is a sad, broken place.
Species: Largemouth Blenny (Labrisomus xanti) Location: Dana Point Marina, Dana Point, CA Date: August 9, 2017
Sculpins are awesome. Greenling are awesome. Blennies, which sort of look like a cross between the two, are also awesome.
Few fish will try to bite you, but blennies, found in warmer temperate and tropical waters all over the world, are one of them. Their size means nothing to them, and these relatively small fish will often bite or try to bite you if handled.
The deep red Largemouth Blenny I captured were beautiful fish and arguably the most surprising fish I captured fishing the Dana Point Marina.
Unlike the highly-visible Opaleye and Salema, these blue-speckled red phantoms zipped in and out of the rocks with surprising speed, and I never saw them coming.
The two I caught were hard to handle, and I had limited space to work with, so I only got one picture before the writhing beast got free. It bit me, but it was surprising more than painful.