I’m not sure I did, but then I looked at a picture of a Fluffy Sculpin, the most beautiful little fish you ever did see. To further sell me on it, God made sure it comes in three designer colors: green, red, and brown.
Fluffy Sculpins are, as much as is possible for a fish, actually fluffy. They have tons of cirri, little sensory receptors common in sculpins, all over the body. They are especially prevalent around the head and lend to the fish’s name.
Add to their fluffy hugability the bright, vivid base palette and a lapis lazuli-and-white checkerboard throat, and you might just be talking about the most striking fish in the Pacific Northwest.
My first one fell for my bold pickup line: a bit of shrimp on a micro hook dangling into a surf-line tidepool on an outgoing low tide.
Though visibility wasn’t great to begin with, I also had to contend with a green fish in a verdant sea of kelp and sea lettuce which didn’t make things any easier.
One I landed the fish and saw it’s unmistakable underside, I knew I had a Fluffy.
It was my first time microfishing with a photo tank, but the water was so salty that it made my photos turn out worse than I’d expected.
Still, I got some decent pictures.
I landed dozens of fish that day. Though Tidepool Sculpin and Kelp Greenling were the most numerous, I did manage a few more fluffies, including a red one.
I haven’t caught one in a minute now, but they remain my favorite Oregon micro.
The nearshore saltwater species diversity in Oregon is pretty low. Excluding micros, there are only about 20 species you can catch from shore with any sort of realistic possibility.
This sounds high, but when compared to southern California, Florida, or even the similarly temperate Puget Sound, it’s minimal.
Sure, we have things like Pacific Sandfish and Salmon Sharks that are technically possible, but in the same way its technically possible for Shay Mitchell to finally notice me.
It ain’t gonna happen.
Though micros add some diversity, but it’s still not the most diverse place, with Black Rockfish accounting for nearly a third of all sport catch on the Oregon coast. No kidding.
So when I first discovered microfishing and then decided to try it in tidepools, it opened up a whole new world.
I will note that I’ve never heard of another (sport) angler-caught Rosylip Sculpin. I’ve caught half a dozen now, and a contact who works exclusively with Pacific Northwest marine sculpin research asked me where I’d caught mine, so they could get some much-needed samples, and that makes me feel pretty special.
So you think you caught one? Use the identification tools below to make sure.
Identification aside, I’m not here to brag (that much). I’m here to tell a story. I wrote this story already, so read about it here.
After discovering microfishing in the Willamette a few days earlier, I took my time staying with my brother, Gabe, during Christmas Break to expand my microfishing horizon.
After finding about as much success fishing from the pier as I’ve found dating in my late 20s, I decided to grab some dinner.
This was the highlight of my evening, as I headed to Local Ocean Seafood, which, in my opinion, is the best seafood restaurant in the state and one of the best I’ve ever had. Their crab chowder isn’t quite to die for, but it would certainly be a part of my last meal if given the choice.
Their rotating dinner menu and desserts are also phenomenal. Seriously. Take a moment and try them out.
I returned to the pier that night and did a little fishing in the blackness before a lightbulb emerged over my head. I could try microfishing at night in saltwater, chasing sculpins just like I did in freshwater!
The figurative lightbulb was replaced with a literal one as I donned my headlamp and took to the waters underneath the piers on the Newport waterfront.
Tides were a little higher than I’d like, and I was wearing rubber boots instead of waders, but through a spot-and-stalk effort more akin to hunting than fishing, I finally hooked a sculpin … and promptly lost it.
Fishing for these little guys involves a keen eye. You’ll have to spot their saddles against the aggregate, broken shells, rocks, sand, and kelp. It’s easier said than done over a broken bottom.
This excruciating process repeated itself two or three times before I finally landed one.
I knew it was a Tidepool Sculpin, and I was stoked.
Handling it wasn’t terribly easy, especially for a microfishing novice with cold, worn-out hands dealing with an Owner New Half Moon hook, but I managed to hold it long enough to snap this less-than-ideal photo for identification. I took that picture and began reading the Mola Marine Sculpin Guide, a link you definitely want to copy and save, just to make sure.
Tidepool Sculpins are not only the most common Oregon intertidal sculpin, they have (1) smooth skin and (2) a prominent saddle in between the dorsal fins with the open end of the V-shape facing back toward the head. It’s reversed in the species with which you might otherwise confuse it.
Though I thought I had it figured out, that was my one and only fish that night. I’d rose with the dawn, fished all day, and I was tired. I still had an hour to drive back to Corvegas, so I hopped in the car and went back to Gabe’s house one species richer.
I’ve since discovered the beauty of tidepool microfishing, and though there are limited options on the Oregon Coast due to habitat protection laws, I’ve figured out a few places.