Species #162 — Rainbow Darter

My first darter species was arguably the most common. Unfortunately, this Rainbow Darter didn’t photograph well and came with absolutely zero pots of gold.

Species: Rainbow Darter (Etheostoma caeruleum)
Location: Smokes Creek, Buffalo, New York
Date: July 18, 2018

“Butterfly in the sky, I can go twice as high
Take a look, it’s in a book,
A Reading Rainbow!
I can go anywhere
Friends to know, and ways to grow
A Reading Rainbow!

I can be anything
Take a look, it’s in a book
A Reading Rainbow
Reading Rainbow!
Ooooooooooh”

“Reading Rainbow Theme Song”
Chaka Khan

As a kid, I used to love this show.

It probably helped me learn to like reading, and though I faltered during middle school, I’ve always been a reader.

In fact, I read about 40-50 books per year as I travel around chasing this fish or that. My *coughs* cornucopia *coughs* of vocabulary words overflows because of how much time I spend reading books or listening to audiobooks.

If you don’t listen to audiobooks, consider a free trial with Audible.

I love audible. I’m a long-time Platinum member, and that’s worth every penny when you drive 30,000 miles per year in pursuit of fish. Click here to try audible for free.

Driving, flying, and waiting are a lot less painful with Audible because my mind is occupied while my body carries out rote tasks like driving, bait fishing, or winning the hearts and minds of women everywhere.

I credit my love of reading to The Reading Rainbow.

I’m 90% sure this famous meme-inspiring image from Spongebob was inspired by Reading Rainbow. I know I was.

Upstate New York

 I was fortunate enough to have the evenings free after a teaching conference in Buffalo. I spent every waking moment fishing, save for the times I was eating.

The highlight of my trip from a culinary standpoint was the Blackthorn Restaurant and Pub. I got the traditional Beef on Weck, as well as Buffalo Wings. Though they collectively held enough salt to give me hypertension in a single sitting, they were one of the most uniquely wonderful sandwiches and the best wings I’ve ever had, respectively.

If you are headed there, please stop in. Sorry Skittles, but if I tasted the rainbow, it would’ve been that meal. At least, until I got slightly dehydrated from all of the salt.

Metaphors, like memes, lend to overuse. For that reason, I apologize for all of my rainbow-related jokes and metaphors in advance.

Fully satiated with salty Americana, I looked for the nearest creek. I hadn’t planned out every location as well as I do now, so I planned to sort of stumble into them.

When fishing, you’re always looking for a unicorn. Fortunately, everyone knows that rainbows are unicorns’ natural habitat.

I found a small rainbow created by a sprinkler system in the grassy rim of some sort of massage therapy parking lot. I ambled down the grass and figured there were micros to be had in the creek below.

Almost immediately, I began catching Creek Chubs left and right.

It wasn’t my first Creek Chub. I caught my lifer in a similarly blind fashion, when I fished a random creek behind a gas station in Tennessee. Read about that here.

I’d hoped they were Lake Chub, which would’ve been a new species, but they were just plain ‘ole Creek Chubs.

I quickly realized the swarm of cyprinids I was fishing to were all Creek Chub, so I shifted gears and started targeting what I hoped would be my first darters.

There was no pot of gold at the end of that rainbow, but there was a new species. Don’t worry; I’m getting to that.

Darters

They were everywhere on the sandy bottom, but they wouldn’t bite.

I played around with worms, artificials, and even killed a crayfish I found onsite and used a portion of it’s tail.

The latter did the trick, and I landed my first fish.

Unfortunately, the slippery little bugger slipped out of my hands. I’m about 90% sure it was a Tesselated Darter, but since I couldn’t confirm, I didn’t count it.

I did count the next darter species I caught. The weather was great, so I was admittedly a little surprised when I caught a Rainbow, a Rainbow Darter.

I didn’t get great photos because I was dumb, and I figured darters were easy to identify and plentiful. My phone was slightly overheated, so I was limited to two or three blurry pics.

Fortunately, they were enough to identify it.

The most frustrating part were the Tesselated Darters that just wouldn’t bite. They were there, somewhere, but I just couldn’t get over the Rainbows.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #162 — Sacramento Pikeminnow.

Species #161 — Emerald Shiner

Not to flex too hard, but Ontario’s DFW calls the Emerald Shiner “the most important commercial baitfish,” so catching one is a pretty big deal.

Species: Emerald Shiner (Notropis atherinoides)
Location: Buffalo, New York
Date: July 18, 2018

Microfishing is still relatively new to me, and the newness of it all is partially why I love it so much. This method has yet to hit the mainstream, but microfishing is a gem.

In combination, the ability to sight fish, to actually see the fish you’re targeting and the inherent challenge in getting small fish to bite on tiny tackle is an incredibly underrated pursuit.

Further, there are micros everywhere — even in the heavily pressured waters nearby you don’t think twice about — and given its relative lack of awareness, you can probably microfish within walking distance of your house.

Micros are tough to “fish out” because they’re typically too small to have food value to humans, and though they can be delicate, they are usually plentiful.

Everywhere you go, there are sculpins, chubs, minnows, killifish, anchovies, shad, darters, or shiners.

Play hard

One of my favorite experiences microfishing started out with me chasing Northern Pike the size of my leg and ended with me catching fish the size of my toe.

While visiting Buffalo, New York for a teaching conference, I used every afternoon to get out and fish. After the conference, I bowed out to the Niagara River faster than the Bills have bowed out of the playoffs in recent years.

Sorry, Lt. Colonel Schultz. I couldn’t resist.

Arriving at my destination, the Tifft Nature Reserve, I grabbed a heavy rod for pike and a smaller rod just in case any micros were visible.

I quickly spotted a nice pike. Unfortunately, it was more lifeless than the Raptors’ Finals hopes before LeBron went to the Western Conference.

Sadly, upon my arrival at a public slough of the Niagara River, this dead three-foot Northern Pike was the first thing I saw.

The second thing I saw was a school of micros, patrolling the shoreline just far enough out that I couldn’t easily reach them with my micro rod. Still, fish you can see should take priority when microfishing, so I opted to try anyhow.

I set down my regular rod which happened to be tipped with a jig and worm. It fell into the water and caught a Rock Bass, which I quickly reeled in, released, and resumed microfishing.

Micros

Some micros are notoriously difficult to catch. Most micros — especially cyprinids — are notoriously tough to identify. I couldn’t tell what these fish were in the water, and as I battled the wind to place my tiny piece of worm in the path of the school, I had no idea what they were.

The Great Lakes are home to dozens of micros alone. Often, identifying micros is tougher than catching them and if the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources didn’t have The Baitfish Primer (Free PDF for Lake Ontario Micros), identification would be rough.

Catching them was no walk in the park, but eventually I did get one to bite my Owner New Half Moon Hook.

It was obviously a cyprinid, and I assumed a shiner, but I wasn’t sure on the species. I was sure that the iridescent green-blue contrasted with bright silver was absolutely gorgeous.

 

Often, I’ll spend hours fishing a school of micros in hopes of catching more than one species, but these were pretty obviously the same species. I hadn’t identified the species yet, but I was enough of a naturalist to see they were the same, and it was time to move to greener (or at least slightly less Emerald) pastures.

I carefully unhooked the fish and put it into the photo tank to take pictures.

Photo Tanks are glass or plastic boxes not actually designed for holding fish but re-purposed by enterprising microfishermen to take highly detailed photographs of fish with their fins fully extended.

Most species retract their fins when handled, and the number of anal fin rays, dorsal fin rays, fin shape, fin size, and a host of other factors can be lost if fish are held out of the water.

I’ve always tried holding fish in my wet palm just under the surface of the water to spread out their fins, but it doesn’t always work. You also risk losing the fish before a good picture is taken.

Thus, Photo Tank.

I took a few pictures, but the tank I had at the time was old and all scratched up. Further, it was windy and I didn’t have anything to wipe water droplets off the side of the tank, so I couldn’t get the best photo.

In this case, it was enough to identify the fish: Emerald Shiner.

Fitting, considering just 750 words ago I told you that microfishing is a hidden gem.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #162 — Rainbow Darter.

Species #160 — Rock Bass

These little sunfish are gorgeous.

Species: Rock Bass (Ambloplites rupestris)
Location: Buffalo, New York
Date: July 18, 2018

People always look to be exceptional. They long for that place where they stick out, are the exception to the rule.

Alas, I’m no different. My first Rock Bass, pictured above, was obviously a Rock Bass. I caught it in a park-like slough of the Niagara River where it looked natural on one side and completely artificial on the other.

The Niagara River is a pretty incredible place. This channelized slough was remarkably pretty, and I caught a Rock Bass in no time.

The fish were plentiful, and I saw schools of micros almost immediately. They were far from shore, and I struggled to reach them, so I reached for my smaller rod.

I propped the micro rod against a rock but dropped my other rod, fitted with a small worm-tipped jig. It fell into the water, with the jig dangling just a few feet off shore.

Before I could even pick it up, a small sunfish had pummeled my jig.

My lifer Rock Bass was that simple.

I took a few pictures of the fish, and the lighting, crystal-clear water, and pretty little fish made for a perfect photo shoot.

So pretty…

I switched to targeting micros after that.

***

Changing gears after the productive micro session, I went to a small pond. I was hoping for a Norther Pike or Northern Sunfish, but the creek flowing into the pond was full of everything but.

It wasn’t long before I caught something a little unique.

My first thought was Shadow Bass, a close relative of the Rock Bass, but it was out of range for the species. It looked nothing like the Rock Bass I’d caught hours before, and it was a sight to behold.

It looked so much like a Shadow Bass. The only problem? I was in Upstate New York.

It could’ve been a Shadow Bass, but given the range and no physically observable differences, everyone on NANFA voted Rock Bass.

Like most other people, I wanted to be that one-off. That once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence, but Occam’s Razor told me that probably wasn’t the case.

Assuming the simplest solution is probably the right one (Occam’s Razor), this was probably a Rock Bass, but a small part of me still holds out that it was an out-of-range Shadow Bass.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #161 — Emerald Shiner.

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 #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 #100 — Gaftopsail Catfish

As a kid, I read about these in the New Encyclopedia of Fishing and thought they were really cool. Oh how naive I was.

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

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.

Talk about mundane.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #101 — Pacific Bonito.

Species #66 — White Catfish

The slightly-forked tail is what distinguishes White Catfish from the various bullhead species. Even though White Catfish are in the same family as bullheads, they have that one, distinctive feature.

Species: White Catfish (Ameiurus catus)
Location: Cosca Lake, Washington, D.C.
Date: July 16, 2015

For most people, a visit to D.C. means history and tours and American nationalism. It meant all of those things to me, too, but it also meant fishing.

After spending a good chunk of time researching where to fish within a reasonable distance of my Maryland hotel room, I settled on my first stop: Cosca Lake.

The urban lake is not easily accessible. It required a long walk from the parking area, and in late July heat, anything more than five feet might as well be the the Bataan Death March.

I arrived on the lawn surrounding the lake and began to setup shop. I only had one rod, so my first bet was a handline baited with a worm while I tied up my one and only rod for the occasion.

Before I even managed to get the tiny jig on my line, the stick I’d tied the handline to started bouncing, and I pulled in what appeared to be a bullhead.

Technically, it was. Just not a Brown or Yellow Bullhead like I’d seen in my native Oregon.  This was a White Bullhead, more commonly called the White Catfish.

Heck yeah! I hadn’t even cast yet, and I had a new species on the board. Sticky, sweaty weather aside, I could tell this day was shaping up nicely.

That is, until some strange dude in absurdly baggy pants came up and kept talking to me while I tried to fish. It was obnoxious, and he was just wrong on every account. After I landed a few Brown Bullhead, I decided to pick up and move to the tiny feeder creek leading into the lake.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #67 — Warmouth.

Species #56 — Estuarine Triplefin

This mystery fish took five years to identify.

Species: Estuarine Triplefin (Forsterygion nigripenne)
Location: Kuaotunu River, Kuaotunu, Coromandel, New Zealand
Date: February 25, 2014

Mystery is a genre I love to read but fail to write much of. Even investigative journalism is a reach for me, and I’ve spent five years as a journalist.

The investigative process of which coffee shop makes the best breakfast sandwich in Klamath Falls (it’s the Gathering Grounds Pesto English Muffin Sandwich with bacon and prosciutto, for the record) or something equally trivial pales in comparison to the latest Dean Koontz novel anyway, so sticking to what I know is out of the question if I want to be successful in the Mystery genre.

***

This mystery begins as all stories do, in a sleepy town you’ve probably never heard of with an everyman and his ordinary life.

The man, of course, was me.

The sleepy town was Kuaotunu, a coastal village in New Zealand’s Coromandel where tranquility and paradise are locked in an eternal struggle to determine which makes the better adjective for the subtitle under
“Kuaotunu” under the town’s quaint wooden sign.

A small river which bears the same name as the town itself wends lazily through the floodplain and into the Tasman Sea along grassy slopes so strangely manicured and unlike the coastline in most places that it invokes a surreality reminiscent of Super Mario’s Mushroom Kingdom.

Seriously. It was a magical place.

A massive, gnarled tree with alien-looking branches stands watch over the mouth of the river. From it’s largest branch hangs a tire swing swaying like a pendulum in the waning light of the afternoon, inviting the small children frolicking around the area to sit and play.

Along one bank of the river, a campground complete with small cabins hugged the shore while further from the water, at the base of a small hillock, the town’s lone restaurant, Luke’s Kitchen, cast an unassuming shadow over the cars parked out front.

Luke’s Kitchen was, in fact, its name. My name is Luke, and while that small similarity was not lost on me, neither was the connection it drew to Gilmore Girls’ flagship diner, I’m ashamed to admit.

Jandals (that’s Kiwi for flip-flops), guitars, beach bums joined me at every meal here.

Incongruities of Mystery and Rom-Com aside, the diner served a wonderful Green Mussel Special that I gorged myself upon at least twice while spending time there before returning to the river to fish for any number of species found in its intertidal zone.

My target species was Longfin Eels, endemic to New Zealand, but I had no such luck. I managed half a dozen species and even hooked two species of eel (Shortfin and Australian Mottled) but never got my Longfin.

Since fishing for those eels was sightfishing, I noticed a lot. With my eyes intent and fixed on the water below, I noticed a lot of little fish darting around on the bottom. They looked like sculpins, so I figured I’d be able to catch a few with the tiny jigs I used Stateside.

My instincts were correct. The tiny fish barely longer than my finger devoured the small jig. I caught a lot of them in short order before trying to for something else.

This fish was both totes adorbs and an uggo.

Unfortunately, I had no idea what they were. Not that day, not that week, not when I left New Zealand.

***

I bought a few books about fish identification, including Vic Dunaway’s Sport Fish of the Pacific later in 2013. Nothing.

I read countless papers, species lists, and forums. Nothing.

2014 came and went without an answer.

Years passed, and I revisited “Unknown New Zealand Species” again because in writing the story of each and every species I’ve caught, I knew “Unknown New Zealand Species” was fast-approaching, and I refused to have an unidentified species on my list.

Since it was neither a game fish nor a freshwater fish (New Zealand has a relatively short list of native freshwater fishes), it continued to elude me.

Then, on a whim, I decided to read an article about New Zealand’s Marine Reserves. It included a contact email for questions, and I decided to give it a try.

Within 48 hours, I got a reply:

“Hi Luke,

Your fish is the Estuarine Triplefin, Forsterygion nigripenne. Note the three dorsal fins from which it gets its name (bullies only have 1 or 2). The triplefins are mostly a marine group but this species penetrates into estuaries and the lower reaches of rives that are a bit brackish.

Regards,

Malcolm Francis”

I had an ID! After five years of searching, my #SpeciesQuest within a #SpeciesQuest had come to an end.

***

Crazily, in the research process, I actually found a bonus species. That’s the next story: a Sci-Fi tale about cloning gone wrong, how one fish became two.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #57 — Northern Kahawai.