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.
Species: Salema (Xenistius californiensis) Location: Dana Point Marina, Dana Point, CA Date: August 9, 2017
If an advertising team were to market the Salema, they’d describe it as a bite-sized, “Tropical Flavors” version of the Striped Bass.
It truly looks like a tiny striper with slightly more vivid coloration. It even feeds like one on a tiny scale, cruising the marinas and rocky shorelines of California to feed on tiny fish and microorganisms that get in its way.
When I caught my first one, I assumed it was some sort of surfperch species, but as I did some research later that night, I was surprised/slightly horrified when I read that it wasn’t their vivid colors to worry about but the vivid hallucinations they cause.
“Salema are known to cause vivid hallucinations when consumed.”
Granted, that was describing the Salema Porgy found in the Mediterranean.
It still provided a little excitement for an otherwise not-too-exciting fish, and that’s all I can ask for as Species Hunter.
Species: Opaleye (Girella nigricans) Location: Dana Point Marina, Dana Point, CA Date: August 9, 2017
After a long day on a boat in the taxing summer heat of Southern California, the last thing most people would do is go fishing again, but as we’ve established, my judgment is impaired when it comes to fishing.
As my cousin, Will Silvey, and I disembarked from the boat, I looked down into the water and noticed lots of little greenish-black fish shaped like Bluegill and a few slightly thicker, bright orange fish in the rocks of the marina.
Will is a die-hard spearfisherman, and the finality of the sport makes spearos’ fish identification skills better than the average conventional angler. You have to know what you’re shooting before you pull the trigger, right?
I asked Will, and he told me the greenish fish were Opaleye, an incredibly common fish along the SoCal coast. The orange fish, he told me, were Garibaldi. The latter are protected in California because they’re the state fish. According to the IUCN Red List, Garibaldi are a species of “Least Concern”. This means that they’re not at all Threatened. Rather, California protects them on purely emotional grounds as its state fish. Emotion has never trumped science in wildlife management before, so it’s shocking, right?
Anyway, I decided that as soon as we returned to his hilltop apartment in nearby Laguna Niguel, I’d return to chase those little fish. He had class that evening, so sadly he couldn’t join me, but that didn’t stop me.
The signs on the marina read very clearly “No Fishing From Walkways”, and I didn’t wanna attract negative attention, especially with hundreds of people swarming the marina.
I looked around and failed to find an area without those signs. Then, I looked down. At the base of the walkways was a slight lip of concrete sticking out at the base of the eight-foot wall maybe six-to-12 inches in length.
It was summer, and I rarely wear shoes during the summer. I briefly regretted my style choices as I gritted my teeth, grabbed the railing with one hand and vaulted onto the tiny strip below.
My flip-flops grabbed, and I breathed a silent prayer before tipping my tiny, 1/64-ounce jighead with about a quarter of a cocktail shrimp and began sight-fishing to the little fish in the rocks.
I caught an Opaleye so quickly that I was a bit shocked. Then another. I had several Opaleye before I caught any other fish. Sadly, that little concrete lip was still a few feet above the rock-filled water below and getting a good picture was out of the question.
Fortunately, I did get a solid profile of an Opaleye facing to the right this year while fishing a lagoon not far from that original catch.
Fun fact: though I caught my first (and most of my subsequent) Opalaye on shrimp, mussels, and squid bits, the go-to bait is apparently frozen peas. I’ve yet to try it, but I have it on good authority that it is untouchable. Maybe worth a try sometime?
Houston was a bit disappointing. I mean, this place gave me my 100th Species, and it was a dirty catfish.
Houston is a mudflat stretching for miles in every direction, and I ended up going down a toll road for miles without knowing what the hell I was doing, but as I made my went to the Bay City suburb of Houston, I found myself slinging small baits for a lot of Hardhead and Gaftopsail Catfish.
The first one was cool, but they quickly lost their appeal as I struggled to unhook something with giant spines and a tiny mouth. I unavoidably killed a few fish, and I felt bad about it, but even when cutting the line, I was annoyed by these little monsters.
Anticlimactic. My 100th Species was sixth-season of LOST anticlimactic.
A new species is a new species, but I wasn’t too thrilled about this one. Still, I wrote about Houston and its plight resulting from Hurricane Harvey when the hurricane landed a few weeks after I passed through.
So anticlimactic beats getting caught in the eye of a hurricane, and I guess I can’t complain. In fact, my heart went out to Houston, and I even wrote about it in the Herald and News because at the time, I hadn’t counted my species total yet, and I had no idea the Gaftopsail Catfish was No. 100.