Species #164 — Hardhead

I worked so hard for this first Hardhead. The irony was once I switched to lures, it was nonstop action…

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.

My world record Hardhead. It weighed 1 pound, 1 ounce, and I thought it was a Sacramento Pikeminnow until I posted it on Facebook, and a friend enlightened me.

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.

Hardheads are opportunistic feeders, apparently. Photo isn’t 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.

His was a lot bigger. Thank God it was a Hardhead and not a chub of some sort, or this caption would be even more shameful.

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 #105 — Garibaldi

Arguably the most striking fish you’ll ever encounter is the Garibaldi. It’s bright-orange colorway stands out in the briny depths like a blazing traffic cone. Photo courtesy pierfishing.com.

Species: Garibaldi (Hypsypops rubicundus)
Location: Dana Point Marina, Dana Point, CA
Date: August 9, 2017

*climbs onto soapbox*

California.

It’s a…special place full of…special people.

“Warning: This product contains lead, a chemical known to the State of California to cause birth defects and other reproductive harm.”

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.

***

Dumb Laws
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.

– Peacocks have the right-of-way in Arcadia.

– 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.

Keep up the good work #4.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #106 — Chum Salmon.

Species #104 — Largemouth Blenny

Cool fish, right? I hate when the pics I use at the start of every blog post are imperfect, but the sharp contrast of the orange jig head almost works here.

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.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #105 — Garibaldi.

Species #103 — Salema

Salema are like the bite-sized “Tropical Flavors” version of Striped Bass.

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.

Seriously. Google “Salema”, and you’ll find the other, more dangerous fish first.

“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.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #104 — Largemouth Blenny.

Species #102 — Opaleye

Opaleye are the Bluegill of the southern California coast: easy to catch, prevalent, and a blast on light tackle. They also happen to gorgeous. Note the blue edging of the fins and the iridescent blue eye that gives them their name.

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?

LOLZ.

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.

***

I stopped by a grocery store, grabbed some frozen cocktail shrimp, and returned with a low-profile ultralight spinning setup spooled with 10-pound test to account for the rocks.

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?

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #103 — Salema.

Species #101 — Pacific Bonito

I really like a horizontal picture with fish facing to the right. That’s kind of my schtick. Yet for both trips I’ve went fishing for Pacific Bonito, I’ve never gotten one. Here’s to hoping I get one next time.

Species: Pacific Bonito (Bagre marinus)
Location: Bayou Texar, Houston, TX
Date: August 2, 2017

Apart from my immediate family (parents and brothers), I don’t get to fish with family much. I often offer, but few people take me up on it, and that’s okay.

But when I finally convince a family member to go with me, it’s always a blast. Such was the case when I caught my first Pacific Bonito. It was the same trip I hooked my first Yellowtail.

In this photo, I was 100% checking out an attractive girl. She kept calling me “Lucky Duck” and hitting on me, and why didn’t I get her number?

Read the story by clicking here.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #102 — Opaleye.

Species #72 — Spotted Bass

My one and only Spotted Bass came on a deep-diving crankbait.

Species: Spotted Bass (Micropterus punctulatus)
Location: Shasta Lake, Lake Shasta City, CA
Date: January 1, 2016

The fact that I lived three hours from Shasta Lake and didn’t catch a Spot for nearly 26 years is pitiful. Granted, I only fished Shasta like twice and then only for trout, but still, it’s a disgrace.

You know what’s even worse? Since I caught this fish, I haven’t fished Spot water, and I haven’t caught another.

***

Marcus Moss, Zach Wieting, and I decided to head to Shasta on New Year’s Day to chase bass. I mean, they’re supposed to feed actively all winter in warmer climates, and Redding is certainly a warmer winter destination than Klamath, so it seemed like a good bet.

It didn’t start off very well, though.

The water was so low, each of the three ramps Marcus usually fished were well out of the water, and we had to tool around until we found one at Bridge Bay that was usable. It was still a good 10 feet out of the water, but boat ahead of us seemed to have no trouble, so we went for it.

Already, more than an hour of fishing time had burned up when we got the boat in the water. None of us had waders, and the dock was too far from the boat, so the complications continued.

I volunteered to get wet (smart in mid-winter, right?) because I didn’t want to give up.

Once we got the boat in the water, it wouldn’t start.

Another hour passed as we re-trailered it, fiddled with it, and finally got it purring.

By now, it was well past noon, and it was supposed to be dark in four hours.

We spent two of those hours getting one fish apiece, all on deep-diving 10XD Crankbaits and then called it a day when the wind picked up past 25 MH.

That is the story of my first (and, as of June 23, 2018) last Spotted Bass.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #73 — Copper Rockfish.

Species #50 — Chinook Salmon

Though this is a jack (juvenile) and not the fish I caught that day, Chinook Salmon live up to the title of “King”.

Species: Chinook Salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha)
Location: Humboldt Bay, Eureka, CA
Date: August 11, 2013

This trip was something special. With my brother and a few of his friends, we opted to go to the Central California Coast. Of course fishing was on the docket, but my main reason for the trip was Glass Beach, California, a location not far from Fort Bragg.

We stayed in Woodland on the way down, with my Uncle Sam and Aunt Mary, and after parting ways, we headed west to the coast.

From left to right: my brother Gabe, his friends Nate Nickel and Will Brain, a much more physically-prime me (I worked out then and wore smaller shirts to make others aware of that crucial fact). Photo credit: Aunt Mary.

Everything went south from there. Since this story will be an upcoming column this summer (it already ran, so read it here), I won’t go into too much detail, but basically these things happened:

1) My headlights went out as I made my way north along Highway 1 (a notoriously windy and dangerous road), and we basically drove blind.

2) We couldn’t afford a hotel, and there were no showers, so we paid for a carwash after visiting Glass Beach to wash each other off. We used the car to block traffic, as we stripped down to our underwear and pressure washed one another.

3) Glass Beach itself was a disappointment. Years of unregulated commercial gathering had destroyed this once-beautiful destination.

Sea glass has always fascinated me. Though it pales in comparison to fishing, collecting it is one of my only other hobbies.

4) I took a salmon charter out of Eureka. I caught mostly Coho Salmon (which had to be released), but I did manage to catch a few Chinooks.

It wasn’t monstrous, but the 13-pound Chinook I landed remains one of my larger fish to-date. I’ve only caught White Sturgeon, Bat Rays, Striped Bass, and Common Carp larger at the time of writing in June 2018. It was also my first Salmonid over 30 inches. Note my matching shoes and sweater, too. I’ve always been fly.

5) The largest salmon boated was nearly taken by a sea lion. Fortunately for the angler who caught it, the gaff can be a persuasive tool.

This is one of the best fishing pics I’ve ever taken on a boat.

That was more or less it. I’ll keep it simple because I don’t want to cannibalize my own writing.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #51 — Australasian Snapper.

Species #47 — Striped Bass

Striped Bass are truly one of the world’s great gamefish. Photo courtesy Maryland DNR.

Species: Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis)
Location: San Pablo Bay, San Francisco, CA
Date: March 25, 2012

This is the fifth and final story in succession and ties in with the other species I caught on the same day, and you’re best reading them in order: First and Second and Third and Fourth.

The California Delta is famous for bass. Largemouths, Stripers, and Spots all call this area home. I’d love to fish it some day.

This story, however, takes place nearby in the San Pablo Bay, and it involves Stripers.

***

Years before, after personally striking out for Stripers in the San Pablo Bay but watching my friend, Christopher Puckett, land a double-digit fish, I saw the possibilities.

On two separate occasions, I was out-fished by close friends while chasing Striped Bass. First was Christopher Puckett (pictured here) in 2009 then Ben Blanchard in 2013.

It was now almost four years later, but I’d booked the trip in hopes of catching sharks, stripers, and sturgeon. We’d already boated three species of shark and lost a fourth, massive one, but the sturgeon and Stripers remained quiet.

Then, Ben Blanchard got a respectable fish of around eight pounds.

Not long after, he caught a second, slightly smaller fish.

On two separate occasions, I was outfished by close friends while chasing Striped Bass. First was Christopher Puckett in 2009 then Ben Blanchard (pictured here) in 2013.

Both were keepers.

***

I’d boated four new species that day, so I couldn’t complain, but since this was a trip where we intended to target three large, edible fish, I’d hoped to take home some meat.

Eventually, a Striper of my own inhaled the shrimp on my hook, and after a fight in which the captain jumped up and down hooting and hollering in excitement, it came to net.

It was 13 pounds, 1 ounce and measured 33 1/2 inches long, making it the largest fish (other than the two Bat Rays I’d caught earlier in the day) I’d ever caught and the largest game fish.

Though my friends beat me to the punch, the fish I eventually caught was the largest of the four at 33 1/2 inches and 13 lbs 1 oz. That over-sized safety pin in its mouth was a way for the captain to easily move and count the fish, but in retrospect, I should’ve taken it out before the picture.

The fish was delicious, making me promise never to release a legal Striper. Plus, the picture Ben took was one of the best fishing pictures I’ve ever had taken of me, and it remained one of my favorite profile pics for years. If only I’d removed the hook the captain put through its lip beforehand…

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #48 — California Halibut.

Species #32 — Cabezon

Cabezon are both ugly and beautiful. The massive, over-sized fins, widely variable color palette, and aggressive nature make them great quarry.

Species: Cabezon (Scorpaenichthys marmoratus)
Location: Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf, Santa Cruz, CA
Date: March 24, 2010

During college, trips to the coast were a somewhat regular occurrence for Ben Blanchard and myself. But when our other friend Christopher Puckett decided to go as well, we were pleasantly surprised.

Christopher is a good friend, but he was never really the outdoorsy type. Usually, the three of us would play video games or board games, joke around, or have deep discussions, but we didn’t really do a lot of fishing together.

We’d all started in the same class in school, but Christopher graduated a year early. So for his junior year and Ben and my sophomore year Spring Break trip, we piled into my car and drove down to California, where it would be warm. Or so we told ourselves.

***

The San Francisco Bay, however, is not warm in March. It’s warmer than Oregon but only just.

We spent the first night in San Rafael, a city on the north end of the Bay, in a fleabag motel. The only reason we weren’t robbed blind is because my car was so unimpressive that the criminals all around it must have pitied us.

Would-be thieves thought: “Yikes. This guy needs it more than we do.”

The next morning, our charter for Striped Bass and White Sturgeon was a flop. Jim Cox Sportfishing was the name of the boat, and despite the guide and the three of us fishing, we only managed only one striper, and it was Christopher who caught it.

Now apart from our Biology Trip as freshman in high school where we caught a bunch of bottomfish and the one time he went trout fishing with at Spencer Creek, this was his only fish. The 27-inch striper was nearly 10 pounds. Not bad for maybe his tenth fish.

He also caught a stingray pushing 20 pounds, and Ben caught a respectable Starry Flounder (a fish I’ve seen caught just that once and have failed to catch myself in the years since).

I was skunked. Not the best way to drop $180 for a guy who, at the time, only made about $5000 per year.

***

We went to a nice seafood dinner at Fisherman’s Wharf then drove to Santa Cruz. I really wanted to catch a fish, so we headed to the Santa Cruz Municipal Pier.

Sure enough, I caught a fish. I setup the rod, and when I went to the bathroom, I came back to see Ben reeling in a White Croaker.

It wasn’t long before I started catching fish, too. That night I caught three small sculpins, and everyone else fishing on the pier kept calling them “Bullheads,” so I thought they were Pacific Staghorn Sculpins. The Internet existed, but I didn’t have a laptop and Christopher’s iPhone 1 was reserved solely for navigation, so I just went on in ignorance.

***
It wasn’t until I got home that I compared pictures and realized they’d been Cabezon.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #33 — Sacramento Perch.