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.
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.
Species: White Bass (Morone chrysops) Location: American Fork Marina, Utah Lake, Provo, UT Date: June 22, 2017
As I drove across the West on my way to Commissioned Officer Training (COT) in Montgomery, Alabama, I carefully planned my route to include stops at places I wanted to see. From Klamath Falls, my first long day of driving ended at Salt Lake City, and I stopped in at Utah Lake in nearby Provo for an evening of fishing.
Utah Lake is home to several species of Utah natives, including the endangered June Sucker, and though I hoped I might luck into one of these embattled fish, I realistically hoped to catch both a White Bass and a Channel Catfish — two invasive species that I’d never hooked into before given that the former doesn’t exist at all in Oregon, and the latter is very rare.
I found myself at the mouth of the American Fork where I hoped the flowing water would congregate fish looking for respite from the summer heat.
All I had for bait were worms, and I set up my first rod with a crappie rig that included two small baited hooks on dropper loops.
Before I could even tie a lure onto my second rod, the first dipped, and I was holding my first White Bass.
The spunky little dude was what I had hoped for, and it came so easily that I expected something bad to happen that night.
I landed several more White Bass that night, but the two other species I landed were what made the stop so worthwhile.
Species: Widow Rockfish (Sebastes entomelas) Location: Off the coast of Depoe Bay, OR Date: December 18, 2014
I wrote about this in my January 30, 2015 column in the Herald and News. Read it below:
In 1988, the United States government outlawed the production and sale of three-wheeled ATVs, commonly known as “three-wheelers,” because the third wheel made the vehicles incredibly awkward and unsafe.
Two years later, I was born.
I grew up blissfully unaware of the ban on three-wheeled vehicles, routinely spending time with my coupled friends and making an awkward triad.
Triad was also the name of my high school, but that’s just a coincidence.
As I got older, I became aware of when it was okay to third-wheel with my friends, and when it was not. First dates? No.
You’ve been dating for months and you’re now sitting at a basketball game? Yes.
Oh. You’re going to propose at this basketball game? That’s awesome!
Don’t worry, I didn’t blow the surprise.
Retroactive congratulations, Shawn and Maddie Elliott!
Understandably, most of my friends desired alone time with their significant other, so I tried to give them space.
We all grew older, and before I knew it, it was 2014.
My best friend, Benjamin Blanchard, was engaged and planning his wedding. The timing of the wedding meant our annual fall fishing trip to the Oregon Coast — that had been our tradition since graduating high school six years earlier — was off the table.
I’m not going to lie, I was a little disappointed.
Still, I was happy for my friend, and I absolutely understood.
Then, he surprised me by saying that he and his then fiancé (now wife), Autumn, wanted us to take our fishing trip, with her, during one of the days of their nearly month-long honeymoon.
Not one to turn down a fishing trip, I immediately agreed.
December rolled around, and we made plans to meet up in Lincoln City where they were staying. I started my weekend with a few days in Portland before heading to the coast.
Ben, Autumn and I met briefly the night before to catch up in their beachside vacation rental, where they were spending their honeymoon, before I retired to their floor.
I retired to the offsite motel room they’d generously rented for me.
The next day started off brisk and cold as we drove to nearby Depoe Bay, the world’s smallest navigable harbor.
We climbed onto the charter boat and got to know some of our fellow passengers.
Once it was discovered that Ben and Autumn were honeymooners, everyone congratulated them.
Once it was discovered that I was third-wheeling their honeymoon, we had a few laughs, one weird look from an older gentleman who thought we might’ve been a trio of lovers, but finally a comment from the captain, who said “Wow. That’s an honor.”
Indeed it was.
While many would feel like a third wheel, I never did with these two.
As we reeled in fish after fish, Autumn battled seasickness with a remarkably positive attitude.
Considering the fact that we were adrift in the middle of the ocean during mid-December, it was remarkably warm. My phone listed the weather in the 50s by mid-morning.
The fishing was pretty good, too, even though both Ben and Autumn out-fished me.
Species:Northern Kahawai (Arripis xylabion) Location: Kuaotunu River, Kuaotunu, Coromandel, New Zealand Date: February 25, 2014
Fishing in New Zealand is all about trout. At least, that’s what we’re told.
In reality, throughout most of the North Island, saltwater fishing is king. Snapper, Kingfish, and Kahawai are the big three for anglers in the brine, and everything else plays second fiddle.
While this saltwater trinity reigns supreme on the water, there is relative little information posted or printed about fishing for them.
The saltwater fishermen keep tight lips, and for that reason, I had no idea that the term “Kahawai” was actually comprised of four separate species until this year — five years after I returned from catching them.
While we’re dispelling rumors about this place, let’s start with kiwis, Kiwis, and Kiwis. Two aren’t native to the island; one is.
The first kiwi, also called Chinese gooseberry, is the fruit. It’s not native and comes from Asia.
The second Kiwi is term New Zealanders use to describe themselves. They are not native, either.
The warrior Maori arrived in the 1400s in large sea canoes and proceeded to kill and eat the actual natives of the island.
The other (predominantly white) Kiwis arrived about 200 years later and set a singular precedent among white settlers of that era by making peace with the Maori and affording them (almost) all of the same people privileges as Captain James Cook’s people.
No massive wars. No forced relocation en masse. No genocide. It was so unlike the settlement of North America, South America, Australia, and Africa it restores hope in humanity — however small that hope may be.
The third Kiwi is the native bird that gave the other two their names. The bird looks like a large kiwi fruit with legs and a long bill.
The renown of the bird ultimately led to then people taking the name, too.
I’d hoped to learn that Kiwis eat kiwis like an apple — skin on — as I do, but alas, they mostly used spoons to scoop out the delicious green or yellow (golden kiwis were way more popular there) flesh. So I’m a weirdo everywhere, apparently. Cool cool.
Rumors dispelled, let’s talk fish. I caught a juvenile Kahawai in the lower, brackish reaches of a river using the small beef scraps I’d used in hopes of catching an eel.
It was beautiful: somewhat like a trout in shape and canvas but with vibrant purple and yellow stripes and markings. I took a few quick photos, thinking it was a juvenile Kahawai, and left it at that.
The Kahawai I caught later on the trip were adults, much larger and more memorable, so the juvenile slipped my mind.
Then, in a frenzy to identify the Estuarine Triplefin, Species #56, and get the blog post done in time without having to list “Species #56 — Unidentified,” I stumbled across a research paper discussing the four species of Kahawai:
Arripis georgianus (Called Ruff or Australian Herring)
Arripis trutta (Called Kahawai) Arripis truttaceus (Called Western Australian Salmon) Arripis xylabion (Called Giant or Northern Kahawai)
All four species live around Australia and New Zealand. All four species spend most of their lives in saltwater, migrating up rivers and streams to spawn. All four species are notorious for fighting incredibly hard per pound.
Only A. trutta and A. xylabion are routinely found in Kiwi waters, but Kahawai are more common and more widespread than their Northern counterparts and apart from size, they are almost identical.
The main difference is the upper lobe of the caudal (tail) fin. Northern Kahawai have longer tails, typically representing more than 30% of the overall body length (not including the tail) while Kahawai‘s are shorter. Using software, I measured my fish from the old picture and found it to be roughly 34% of the tail-excluded body length.
It was a Northern, a Giant, an A. xylabion, a new species.
I owe my math teacher an apology. Math had come in handy.
Species: Jack Mackerel (Trachurus symmetricus) Location: Russell Municipal Wharf, Bay of Islands, Northland, New Zealand Date: February 19, 2014
New Zealand’s Bay of Islands was undoubtedly the coolest place I’d visited at the time — it remains one of the coolest to this day.
After a solid first day of sea kayaking and getting the lay of the land, we decided to mix it up the second day.
It was great in theory, but kayaking for miles in high winds all day was exhausting. Carrying the kayaks five blocks back to the hostel we were saying at was excruciating.
When we repeated the next day, even higher winds blew us onto an island. The island was absolutely covered in sea glass, and after I filled up a small bag with it, we shoved off again.
The wind didn’t let up, and we were forced to land on another beach.
Little did we know that the beach was Waitangi Beach.
For those not familiar with New Zealand’s history, the country is unique among white-settled nations in that white settlers didn’t rape, pillage, enslave, and subjugate the natives. Instead, the native Maori and the white settlers signed a document called the Treaty of Waitangi which basically served as teh country’s founding document.
Every year, on February 6, a ceremony is held at the location of the original treaty when a war canoe is launched from a sacred beach. A beach two fishermen had unintentionally landed on in a windstorm, nearly creating an international incident.
We were mortified. Once we realized the gravity of the situation, we hopped back in the kayaks and paddled like mad.
The wind was blowing at 10 to 15 miles per hour, right in our faces, and it took us almost two hours to paddle the three miles or so back to the beach from which we’d launched.
Once we landed, we decided to leave the kayaks on shore.
We took a ferry to the town of Russell, where we grabbed lunch and fished from the wharf there. David landed a fish the locals called a Spot, while I landed Species #52 — Jack Mackerel.
Species: Brown Smoothhound (Mustelus henlei) Location: San Pablo Bay, San Francisco, CA Date: March 25, 2012
Shark Week isn’t for a few months. I desperately wish I could’ve timed this to release then, but I didn’t want my readers to wait around for months and lose interest. I’ve already had enough women lose interest in me.
I kid. Kind of.
Still, the moment when I caught my first shark was something special. I was fishing with Sole-Man Sportfishing out of San Francisco, and it was my second attempt for Striped Bass, sturgeon, and sharks in the Bay.
On the first trip, I’d went with two friends, Christopher Puckett and Ben Blanchard. One caught a respectable striper and a Bat Ray while the other caught a Starry Flounder (a fish I’ve seen caught several times but have yet to boat myself). I got skunked.
It just so happened that for Round Two, Ben and I had returned. We were on a different charter and immediately liked the captain.
When I met him, he said something to the effect of, “You’re surprised I’m not white, huh?”
He was about the least stereotypical charter boat captain I’ve ever met. In 30 or more charter trips, he remains arguably my favorite.
Captain Don Franklin was raised in inner city Oakland and had a rough upbringing. He told us that many of his friends had gotten caught up in gangs, but he’d gotten caught up in fishing, and it changed his life.
Little did I know, he was about to change mine.
Captain Don had given Ben and I a special deal because he was training his son to be a deckhand. As the day progressed, his son caught on quickly. Despite being maybe 13 or 14 years old — the youngest deckhand I’ve ever seen — he was polite, professional, hardworking, and learned quickly.
The stripers remained elusive early, but the first fish I caught was a shark. It was small, but as I got it close to the boat, I was ecstatic. It was a shark!
Freaking out like a small child who’s just been granted his heart’s desire, the two-foot creature writing on my hook made my day.
The captain wasn’t too impressed with the Brown Smoothhound I’d just caught, but he appreciated my enthusiasm.
Ben caught one early, too, and after we’d posed for a few quick pictures, he tossed back the relatively harmless little sharks.
We motored to the next spot and happened to pass the captain with whom we’d went striper fishing years before, and Captain Don told us it was the other guy’s last trip. Apparently, we weren’t the only clients who’d been disappointed by the experience.
Captain Don cracked jokes, informed us, and made the day all-around pleasant. We actually caught several more species that day, but the last hookup I had ended tragically.
My rod sat in the rod holder, minding its own business, when something massive picked up my bait. It ran hard as I lifted the rod, and I feared it might spool me. With the lightest possible pressure, I gently put my thumb on the spool, and the 20-pound mono snapped like thread.
I was informed I’d likely just lost a massive Sevengill Shark of several hundred pounds. This is still the largest fish I’ve ever hooked. My own personal Shark Week wasn’t bad, but that fish would’ve made my life — especially considering that those sharks are both edible and delicious.
I pouted a bit, but Captain Don quickly lifted my spirits as his honorary deckhand, a cat in a life vest, pranced around the cabin.
That’s not a joke. He really had a cat in a life vest on board, and though it made my allergies flare up all day, it was still the most unique fishing experience I’ve had on a boat.
Apart from being one of my most unique days fishing, it remains one of my best, despite losing the fish of a lifetime.
Species: Grass Rockfish (Sebastes rastrelliger) Location: Mill Beach, Brookings-Harbor, OR Date: July 14, 2012
Over the years, I’ve been admittedly quite blessed when it comes to fishing. I’ve captured rare species, rare color morphs, rare body types, and frankly, I can’t complain.
One such catch was a Grass Rockfish, and I caught it on a trip that was as unlikely as any I’ve taken.
As I’ve aged, my fishing buddy group has shifted and changed. As friends have married, had kids, and moved away, their availability to fish has changed, too. I don’t fault them for it, and I’m happy they’ve found happiness in off-the-water pursuits, but I’ve never really outgrown fishing.
We started out casual, but after high school, she became my soulmate.
“Don’t worry,” well-meaning folks tell me from time to time, “you’ll find a girl who likes to fish someday.”
But I have found girls who like to fish before, and that’s great, but I don’t like to fish. I love to fish. In fact, I live to fish.
If I ever found someone who shared that passion, I might eventually give my mom the grandkids I know she wants someday, but I’ve always thrived on flying solo. Despite good friends over the years, I’ve always preferred my own company to that of anyone else’s, and so #SingleByChoice has been my honest mindset for decade in which almost all of my friends traded reels for rings.
Now, that’s not a slight against them or their wives in any way. All of my closest fishing buddies today are married with wives who let them fish a lot, but they are still certainly more restricted than I am.
One friend who moved away was Travis Lyman. He and I fished all of the time when he lived in Klamath, but when he moved and had kids, we basically stopped fishing together. Crazy, because at the time, we fished together often.
He even introduced me to one of his friends, a guy named Brian Ryckewaert, who invited me along on a spur-of-the-moment fishing trip to Brookings. For $100 toward expenses (a great deal), he let me tag along for a weekend of shore-based fishing for rockfish — something I’ve never had much success with.
We woke up incredibly early. We hoofed a lot of gear down the beach and over the rocks at low tide to our perch. We had a long board that we used to shimmy across gaps in the rocks, and when we finally made it to our destination, it was still dark.
Using anchovies as bait, we did quite well on Black Rockfish and even picked up a few Lingcod. As time wore on, I decided to mix it up and started throwing lures. I got a few smaller Blacks to dart out from the rocks and kelp and smash my WildEye Swim Shad before I decided to switch to shrimp and target surfperch.
At the time, this was the biggest Greenling I’d ever caught.The surfperch and greenling were a nice bonus, but I released the greenling, thinking I could catch a bigger groundfish instead. I also released the surfperch because my one experience eating them had been poor, so I thought they tasted bad. Idiot. I now know they taste great, and I kick myself for releasing the big Redtail Surfperch and Calico Surfperch I caught that day, since I’ve never been able to eat Calico.
I stuck with shrimp and got a bigger fish to play. I was surprised to see it was a rockfish as I brought it close, and I immediately thought it was a brown because of the coloration.
I later learned it was a Grass Rockfish.
To this day, it remains the only rockfish over eight inches that I’ve ever caught on shrimp.
First, the color was wrong. The body was neither blue nor slightly mottled as in all of the Blues I’d previously caught. Its coloration was dark brown/gray, just like a Black Rockfish.
Black 1, Blue 0.
Second, the head was wrong for a Black. It was striped like a Blue. Only the stripes were very faint.
Black 1, Blue 1.
Third, the fins were blue. At least, the ends of the pelvic and pectoral fins were.
Blue 2, Black 1.
Fourth, but then again, with the mouth closed, a Blue’s jaws should be even, and the bottom jaw of this fish was victim of the underbite found in Blacks.
Black 2, Blue 2.
It was tied, but the deckhand told me it was just a variant of Blue Rockfish. I wasn’t convinced and recorded it as a “Black/Blue Rockfish Hybrid” in my journals. I caught three more in the time it took for them to be identified as their own, unique species, recording each one as “Black/Blue Rockfish Hybrid” in my increasingly digital records.
That wasn’t the first time my identification had been corrected, resulting in a new species, but it remains the only time a species I’d already caught became a species new to science.
In the Fall of 2017, I got a Deacon just over two pounds with Tidewinds Sportfishing, thanks to Captain Levi Schlect that will be a world record if I submit it. I saved the line sample, had multiple pictures and witnesses, but I just don’t know if a Deacon of that size is worth the hassle for a record?
Update 2019: I lost the line sample. I’d set it aside with some old fishing gear and threw it away. Guess I’ll have to catch another one…
I rewrote this story later for a column. Read it here.
Species: Red Irish Lord (Hemilepidotus hemilepidotus) Location: Off the coast of Brookings-Harbor, OR Date: September 14, 2011
I began this blog with the first story I ever recorded. That story took place in 2004, and I wrote about it afterwards in a spiral-bound notebook by hand.
My last story from those hand-written journals takes place seven years later, in 2011, and though it wasn’t my last entry, it was the last new species recorded longhand, so this is a little bittersweet.
For awhile, every saltwater fishing trip I took resulted in a new species. Those were the days. Everything was new and exciting.
2011 was still firmly in the middle of this time frame, and after landing a few new species from shore, I was stoked when my rod dipped on our charter boat, and a big, ugly creature I’d never seen in person came up writhing on the end of my hook.
I looked again. Yes, it was ugly, but it was also somehow unbelievably beautiful. It’s red-and-umber tones swept flowing, semi-rigid fins, a brilliantly-hued face, and resulted in a species I’d read about and seen pictures of but never actually seen IRL (that’s In Real Life, ya’ll).
Reareange IRL, and you get RIL, or, Red Irish Lord. #Anagrams
Probably some of the most beautiful members of the Cottidae family, Brown, Red, and Yellow Irish Lords are relatively rare in Oregon, but they often travel in groups.
The first one I caught was eating size, and like every sizable saltwater sculpin, it was a guaranteed keeper if legal.
My pleading eyes apparently spoke volumes, and the apparently nonverbal communication master of a deckhand said “That’s definitely a keeper, bro.”
The first RIL took a leadhead jig at the bottom of the “boat rig,” but on the very next drop, I got a very small fish to eat my curlytail grub. It, too, was a RIL IRL.
The handful of Irish Lords I’ve caught since (Red and Brown) have never been one-offs. Every time, my party and I have always combined for two.
That could be coincidence, but it’s a four-time coincidence now like the Patriots cheating but somehow getting away relatively unscathed.
I happened to be fishing with Ben Blanchard at the time, and though he caught no Irish Lords, he did catch more fish than anyone else on the boat, his 25 beating out my 17 for first place.
Though I switched from pen to programs in my journaling shortly thereafter, I continued keeping records — records that enable me to keep bloggging about my #SpeciesQuest and sharing that quest with anyone who won’t throw me off a cliff if I can’t calculate wingspeed velocities and such.