Species #13 — Smallmouth Bass

Smallies are as hard-fighting as they are beautiful.

Species: Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieu)
Location: Lost Creek Lake, OR
Date: July 26, 2005

Cross County Camp was great. I mean, apart from running 80 or 90 miles in a week, it was awesome.

We always stopped and ran along the highway before we even arrived at our destination: Lost Creek Lake. In those days, I was a veritable gazelle, and though I still didn’t like running, I was young, fit, and I managed.

Our first day was hot, busy, and full of running. Much of that running took us along the paths that skirted the lake shore. The entire time, I just kept thinking of the myriad fish swimming beneath the alluring surface.

***

When Day 2 rolled around and we had some free time to rest and not run, I grabbed my fishing pole and, you guessed it, ran. I ran harder and faster than I had in two days, heading straight to a small inlet where we’d seen bass sunning themselves the day before.

I threw a curlytail crappie jig out and worked it every way I could in the summer heat.

When I finally convinced one of the fish to hit, it didn’t matter that it was only four inches long; it was a new species! It was my first Smallmouth Bass, and I was ecstatic. Even though I didn’t catch another fish during my narrow window of free time, I ran back to camp happy. And sweaty. But mostly happy.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #14 — Green Sunfish.

Species #12 — Pumpkinseed

If these fish were larger, just about anyone and anything that got near them would be in danger.

Species: Pumpkinseed (Lepomis gibbosus)
Location: Lost River, OR
Date: June 18, 2005

Lost River is so named because it bubbles up out of the ground, wanders around for 60 miles, then goes back into the ground not far from its origin. It is rumored to have once held a great Redband Trout fishery, but those days are decades behind us.

Today, Lost River is a weedy cesspool, polluted and overgrown from countless tons of fertilizer and other agricultural runoff. No fewer than a dozen fish species have been captured in the river — most of them invasive — so while the fishing may not be great, it’s one of the best places in Klamath County for a truly surprising fishing experience.

***

Big Springs Park in the heart of Bonanza is one of only a handful of places along the Lost River that provides public access to fishermen. Now, the Lost River still isn’t a mecca for fishermen, but when the conditions are right, it can provide a lot of small, forgettable fish.

That sounds negative, but unless small catfish, sunfish, perch, or chubs are your thing, Lost River will disappoint you most days.

But, on that warm summer day, it had me enamored. Below a tiny wooden dam, I watched as a handful of small fish sunned themselves at the edge of a large shadow cast by the footbridge above.

This was years before I’d discovered my now go-to ice fishing jig, the Bergie Worm Jr., for all fish Centrarchidae, and I was using a small red treble hook baited with a bit of worm.

It took some effort, but I finally landed one of the small-mouthed little sunfish.

In my journal that day, I wrote “It was my first Green Sunfish,” but it wasn’t a Green Sunfish; it was a Pumpkinseed.

Years passed before I actually figured that out, but sunfish mis-identification is a problem so pervasive, I was hardly alone that day.

Pumpkinseed have since become one of my favorite species, and though Green Sunfish do fight harder per ounce than Pumpkinseed, few things that swim in freshwater do.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #13 — Smallmouth Bass.

Species #8 — Black Crappie

Black Crappie are so beautiful underwater, and even after catching thousands of them, they still evoke a certain awe in me when I see them in their flowing fins.

Species: Black Crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus)
Location: Hoover Ponds, OR
Date: March 22, 2005

Geez, I didn’t fish much back then. I hadn’t wet a line since the previous October.

In my journal, a 14-year-old Luke wrote: “I fought the fish close to shore. Thinking it was a perch, I didn’t pay much attention to it; however, I soon saw the flat body of a small crappie. It was my first.”

***

As of the fall of 2017 when I wrote this, I’ve only caught 1500 specimens of two respective species: Bluegill and Rainbow Trout. Bluegill were the first. I caught my 1500th bluegill in 2015. My 1500th Rainbow Trout, which I classify separately in two categories (Rainbow Trout and Redband Trout), actually just happened in 2017 not long before this entry was written.

Black Crappie will almost definitely be the third. At the time of writing, I’m at 1458. It’ll only take one or two good days next spring to add another species to the 1500 Club.

***

Anyhow, my knowledge of panfishing was pretty minimal back then. I actually caught my first crappie on a Brown Rooster Tail — a lure I absolutely despise nowadays not for lack of success, but because so many people kill trout with them — when almost every crappie I’ve caught in the years since has come on a jig of some form or another.

Shockingly, a bluegill also hit that drab, miserable spinner and made my day.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #9 — Black Rockfish.

Species #7 — Brown Trout

Why this Eurasian import, the Brown Trout, is nicknamed the “German Brown,” is not verified, but I believe it’s because (1) it’s native there, and (2) the Red, Yellow, and Black spots are the same as the colors of the German flag.

Species: Brown Trout (Salmo trutta)
Location: Confluence Hemlock Creek and Little Deschutes River, OR
Date: August 28, 2004

Boats have nightmares about this place.

Hundreds of sun-bleached lodgepole pines crisscross the small stream, connecting two grassy meadows split by the crystal-clear water that gives life to an otherwise desolate place.

Native Bull and Redband Trout have long since been out-competed by the invasive Brook and Brown Trout that call the waters of the Little Deschutes and its numerous tributaries home.

It was opening day of bow season, and my dad and I decided to flee to the microclimate of the stream during that hot summer day, knowing full-well the deer would be bedded down anyway.

Using small Panther Martin (Size 2)  spinners, as we always did in those days, we caught a number of fish that looked immediately foreign to me. Dad identified them as Brown Trout, and I quickly became enamored with the idea of another new species.

Before we decided to get back to hunting (I still prioritized hunting in those days), I tallied 10 Browns to 10 inches and an additional 30 smaller Brook Trout.

I haven’t had many days with double-digit numbers of Browns since. Coincidentally, the Cleveland Browns haven’t had many double-digit days since, either.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #8 — Black Crappie.

Species #6 — Largemouth Bass

Species: Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides)
Location: Hoover Ponds, OR
Date: July 31, 2004

Bass fishing is the closest thing the fishing community has to professional sports. A handful of the top competitors even make a living off of it. The millions of dollars spent on endorsements, the fact that people actually watch it on television, and the sponsors lining up to put their stickers all over bass boats make it unlike the rest of the fishing world.

My first bass was so unglamorous that Kevin VanDam will probable never give me a second look. I caught it a seven-inch fish on a gold crappie jig.

It was about eight feet below me, and it was hot enough that it didn’t fight hard.

That’s it. My first bass. I wish it had been more romantic, but it was hot and dirty, and I wondered why it was so highly praised.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #7 — Brown Trout.

Species #3 — Bull Trout

Since catching his first Bull Trout in early 2004, the author has caught just a handful of these highly endangered fish. (Photo: USFWS Flickr).

Species: Bull Trout (Salvelinus confluentus)
Location: Various Southern Oregon Streams
Date: May 29, 2004

This isn’t my photo. I desperately wish it were, but I haven’t captured a Bull Trout on hook and line since high school, and the few populations remaining in Southern Oregon are heavily scattered and/or inaccessible to anglers.

Update: As of late 2018, I found a sustainable Bull Trout fishery open to fishing, and I’ve since caught a lot of them, including the 30-plus-inch behemoth shown on my homepage.

My grandpa, born in 1911, used to tell me stories of bounties paid for Bull Trout in his native Wyoming with the then-more-desirable Rainbow, Brown, and Brook Trout (none of which are native to Wyoming) quickly replacing native Bulls and Cutthroat Trout in much of their range before a policy reversal saved these species.

Oregon’s Bull Trout faced a similar fate, with the “harder-fighting” and “better eating” Brookies quickly rising up the Oregon angler’s target species list.

That fish I caught in 2004 would prove to be just one of six Bulls recorded to-date, and I remember marveling at the size of its mouth compared to its relatively small body.

Today, the only sustainable population of Bull Trout that allows harvest in the Lower 48 resides in Lake Billy Chinook, about three hours north of where I landed this Bull so many years ago.

This spring, I plan to chase these Lake Billy Chinook Bulls for a chance to relive that feeling I first experienced 15 long years ago.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #4 — Bluegill.

Species #2 — Brook Trout

Invasive Brook Trout were a staple in my childhood fishing pursuits.

 

Species: Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis)
Location: Various Southern Oregon Streams
Date: May 29, 2004

I caught dozens of these between my first fish and 2004; however since I didn’t keep records and don’t have pictures, I must defer to the journals I started in 2004 to determine species order.

Brook Trout were widely introduced to Oregon nearly 100 years prior, and they slowly encroached upon the territory of native Bull Trout. Even 15 years ago, I remember catching stringers full of Brookies with my dad and younger brothers on tiny Panther Martin (Size 2) spinners.

Limits on Rainbow Trout dropped from my early childhood 15 to 10, then to five, then ultimately down to two fish in streams before I got out of high school, but there remains no limit on Brook Trout in much of Oregon to encourage anglers to fight back against this invasive, East Coast char.

The tiny streams we fished weren’t conducive for three young boys and a their father, given the lack of fishable water, limited visibility surrounding the water, and the competitive drive I shared with my brothers only when it came to fishing.

Still, we caught fish. A 14-year-old me concluded the journal entry with “We did well today.”

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #3 — Bull Trout.

Species #1 — Rainbow Trout

I’m not sure if my first fish was a hatchery Rainbow Trout (pictured)…
…or a wild Redband Trout.

Species: Rainbow Trout (Oncorynchus mykiss)
Location: Howard Prairie Reservoir, OR
Date: Uncertain

This is hazy. I’m not sure what day or even what year it was that I caught my first Rainbow Trout, but I have a picture, and I have a memory.

My dad used to take me fishing with him, using an old canvas baby carrier with an aluminum frame attached to his back. He told me about all of the times I drooled or spit up on the back of his neck while he chased the wild Redband Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss newberrii) native to Southern Oregon.

He is some strange combination of trout purist and spinfisherman, never using a fly rod but only seriously targeting trout. He preferred wild fish in small streams to hatchery fish in lakes, but that didn’t stop him from chasing the latter.

I distinctly remember reeling in a small wild ‘Band that he’d hooked while we took a break from the family camping trip/reunion we’d taken to Howard Prairie Reservoir in Jackson County, Oregon. I also distinctly remember fighting a big, hatchery ‘Bow on what I’m pretty sure was the same day.

The former was nothing to write home about, but it was eight inches long, so it went on the stringer.

The latter was about 16-18 inches in length. It hit Power Bait and started running. Not knowing what to do, I just started reeling as I walked slowly back up the hill upon which we were fishing. Dad grabbed the fish, and we put it on the stringer like we always did with trout in those days.

***

Nearly 25 years have passed. I no longer keep wild trout, and I almost never fish for hatchery fish of any creed, but I still love stalking wild ‘Bands in tiny streams during the heat of summer, and I hope I can carry my son or daughter on my back someday to carry on the tradition.

Regardless, Redband Trout became my soulmate that day. I just didn’t know it yet.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #2 — Brook Trout.