Species #159 — Freshwater Drum

Everyone marches to a beat, but I march to the beat of my own drum.

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.

Freshwater Drum are awesome. They grow large, fight hard, and are absolutely gorgeous in parts of their range.

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.

This fish looked a little sad, but I encouraged it that it had value even if others neglected and spurned it. I convinced it to march to the beat of its own drum.

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.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #160 — Rock Bass.

Species #156 — Gulf Kingfish

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.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #157 — Round Goby.

Species #97 — Atlantic Croaker

Put shoulders on a small Red Drum, and you get Atlantic Croaker. These were the hardest-fighting fish of my first Florida experience.

Species: Atlantic Croaker (Micropogonias undulatus)
Location: Graffiti Bridge, Pensacola, FL
Date: August 1, 2017

Here’s the unsung hero of my Pensacola trip. These things fought like crazy, and I could always tell I’d hooked another Atlantic Croaker if it fought like crazy and made my imagination run wild.

All of the Atlantic Croaker I caught were less than 14 inches long and none weighed more than a pound and a half, but they were bright spots between the Pinfish.

I’ve only caught one since that first day in Pensacola, and it, too, hit a shrimp-tipped No. 8 Sabiki that was mostly only being considered by Pinfish in the waters of Corpus Christi, Texas.

They don’t get much bigger than five pounds, but you can bet I’d be over-the-moon to catch a five-pounder even though that’s almost four pounds shy of the 8 pound, 11-ounce All-Tackle World Record.

How that fish must’ve fought on light tackle…

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #98 — Frillfin Goby.

Species #95 — Red Drum

You don’t think of foot-long specimens caught on ultralight gear when you think of Red Drum (Redfish), but if you’ve come to expect glamorous stories from me, I’m sorry I’ve disappointed you for so long.

Species: Red Drum (Sciaenops ocellatus)
Location: Graffiti Bridge, Pensacola, FL
Date: August 1, 2017

Everyone should go fish the Gulf at some point in their life for Redfish or Red Drum. At least, that’s what fishing culture has told us. I have fished in Corpus Christi and parts of Florida where they could be found, but I’ve never landed a “Bull Red” that we all yearn for.

That said, I did manage to get a “Calf Red” if we’re sticking with the bovine terminology while fishing the rocky lagoon for anything and everything that would bite. I was using a No. 8 Sabiki cut in half (three hooks are much easier to manage than six) and tip each with shrimp. I typically use pieces of pre-cooked cocktail shrimp because it’s easy to find anywhere you are, but it’s worth a shot.

The Red Drum didn’t fight as well as other Drums and Croakers I’ve caught since, but it still fought well for a foot-long, one-pound fish. I was especially pleased because it had a few tail spots (two on one side, one on the other) for which the species is so renowned.

***

I fished for them again in Corpus Christi and in a freshwater lake near San Antonio this summer (yes, really), and I caught other fish but no big Redfish.

This is one species I will continue to chase even though I’ve now caught my “lifer” and registered it here.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #96 — Hardhead Catfish.