Species #128 — Fluffy Sculpin

Species #128 — Fluffy Sculpin

Undoubtedly my favorite marine micros, Fluffy Sculpin are just gorgeous little fish. This picture doesn’t do the species justice.

Species: Fluffy Sculpin (Oligocottus snyderi)
Location: Oregon Coast
Date: June 20, 2018

Do you believe in love at first sight?

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.

Fluffy Sculpins have a scrawled white throat and vivid blue belly.

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.

Gotta love the photo tank. I kept half a dozen species in there at a time. In the back is a partially-obscured Kelp Greenling, a Cabezon, and a Tidepool Sculpin, but the Fluffies stole the show.

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.

Fluffy Sculpins can be red, too.

I haven’t caught one in a minute now, but they remain my favorite Oregon micro.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #129 — Smoothhead Sculpin.


Species #127 — Rosylip Sculpin

This is one of a dozen on so species on my Lifelist that has probably been caught by a total number of anglers in the single digits.

Species: Rosylip Sculpin (Ascelichthys rhodorus)
Location: Oregon Coast
Date: June 20, 2018

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.

 

One unique characteristic is that apart from Cabezon, Rosylips are the only Oregon marine sculpin without scales. The skin is smooth and produces a proportionately insane amount of thick slime. Every Rosylip has this characteristic.

Additionally, Rosylips are the only sculpin — marine or freshwater — found in Oregon that have no pelvic fins. They still have one, long anal fin. Every Rosylip has this characteristic. 

Also, Rosylips tend to hide under stuff. I caught and released this one, but it was the only one I’ve caught that wasn’t hiding under a rock or piece of driftwood. Mainly, I theorize, because it was staging for the pre-spawn. It was incredibly chill and just sat there for a minute or so after release and allowed me to get some good pics. Not every Rosylip has this characteristic, but most do.

Lastly, they have hot salmon edging on the top of the dorsal fin, very visible from above on most species. Not every Rosylip has this characteristic, but most do.

***

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.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #128 — Fluffy Sculpin.


Species #118 — Tidepool Sculpin

What started on a whim has become one of my favorite types of fishing: marine microfishing. Tidepool Sculpins tend to be the most numerous micros in most Oregon coastal locales.

Species: Tidepool Sculpin (Oligocottus maculosus)
Location: Newport, Oregon
Date: December 22, 2017

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.

Can you spot the Tidepool Sculpin? If not, you won’t enjoy the “Where’s Waldo” book series.

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.

ID confirmed.

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.

Tidepool Sculpins often wriggle in your hands which makes them look like tiny, adorable little sea dragons. Like, how cute is this lil guy? Ignore the assorted tidal filth on my palm.

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.

If you have micro gear, it’s virtually impossible not to catch a Tidepool Sculpin on your first attempt. Tides can throw off your success rates, but they feed just as actively during the day as they do at night.

***

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.

But that, my friends, is a story for another day.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #119 — Shortnose Sucker.


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