Nov 7, 2017

Tinca tinca

     Being as the year is almost at an end again, I'm well overdue for a few blog posts. So I'll take you back to the spring of 2017 to begin the process of getting caught up. 
     The spring was full of the usual suspects. I made a few early trips for Lahontan Cutthroats and some nice smallies as well:

     I'm running out of new species close to home though. There are a four likely targets within a couple hours drive: longnose sucker, longnose dace, grass pickerel, and tench. I've tried and failed more times than I care to admit to catch each of them.
     I had a close call in May when I was trout fishing at a nearby high mountain lake and noticed some dace spawning in the shallows. It took a while to get them to bite since they were busy, but my hopes and dreams were dashed, when after a fight that was surely ferocious in scale, I pulled up the first one and his nose was decidedly not long. Some day I'll get a longnose, but it was all speckled dace that day.

     The next week, I heard a rumor that the tench were running shallow and catchable at a lake near Spokane. I'm not one to pass up an opportunity like that, so off I went. I've visited this lake four or five times in the past hoping for a tench but hadn't had any luck. 
     The first fish I spotted in the shallows were some pretty little largemouth bass:

     I harassed the bass for a while, then continued on the hunt for the tench. As I walked down the sidewalk on the edge of the road I began seeing them. Once I found them, and the sunlight was right, I could see dozens of them rooting around in the weeds, or just cruising around. So then began the process of getting one on a hook. Tench (Tinca tinca, which is almost as fun to say as Lota lota) are native to Europe, where they are pursued mostly with bait, like corn, boilies, or even garbanzo beans. However, there's no bait allowed in this lake, so that made things a bit more challenging. A buddy who lives nearby recommended some little tube jigs like those used for crappie fishing. So I began trying to put my jig in the right spot without spooking them in the clear water. I was thoroughly ignored the first 20 or 30 times I tried, but then one of them swooped over and grabbed my jig! So I of course got too excited and promptly broke it off.
     I began the process over again. It took 10 or 15 more tries but I finally got another one interested. A very confused jogger who couldn't understand what I was so exited about, kindly took my picture to officially add the tench to the list. 

     I finished the morning with a total of four tench landed, the biggest of which weighing in about 3 lbs. So now I'm just down to three nearby species (three arch nemeses??).  There are still plenty of critters in salt water though, which is where my next adventure would take me.

Dec 7, 2016

The Complete Box Set

     Living in the pacific northwest, I'm no stranger to salmon fishing. Although in a strange twist of irony, I caught my very first salmon in California of all places (see this post for details).
My first salmon ever, circa 2000. Caught with my Uncle Fred (the one holding more fish than me...) in California's American River.
     But in North America, there are five different species of Pacific Salmon. I have since caught more Chinook, as well as sockeyepink, and coho; but the last one, chum salmon, has eluded me for years. I've tried to get one a couple times (See this post for example), but my timing was always off. This has been killing me because I've always thought chums were the coolest looking of the salmon. When all decked out in spawning coloration, they're greenish with a black lateral stripe and garish purple and black vertical stripes. Also, one of their nicknames is "dog salmon" because of their large canine-like teeth. So basically tiger stripes and teeth to match! 
     When most people go salmon fishing, they plan on eating them, so they want to catch them as early in the run and silvery as possible so they taste better. This was not my objective. I had no interest in eating them. I wanted a big nasty male with a mouth full of teeth and attitude. A buddy of mine figured it out last year and he was kind enough to share his spot and some advice on timing and flow conditions etc. So as the time drew nearer this November, I got all pumped up reading reports, tying jigs, and dreaming of big teeth and crazy stripes.
Some big fluffies ready for action! The one in the middle and the one at about "10:00" ended up being the most useful ones.
     Once the calendar and water levels were where I deemed appropriate, I cleared my schedule and headed to the Green River near Auburn WA. I can tell you that much since it's a popular chum fishing river, but I won't divulge the actual spot. Having failed before at catching chum, I was ready to put in some work to get one. But as I hiked to my spot (to get away from the crowds) and got closer to the run I wanted to fish, I began seeing more and more fish. When I arrived, they were everywhere. I could see about a hundred of them doing their business in the shallows. I took care to cast out into the run itself, well away from the spawners, but even so it only took three casts for the first fish to decide to participate and I soon had the 14th member of the Salmonid family on my list flopping in the shallows at my feet. (For those of you who speak fish, Cottids and Cyprinids are the next most common families on the list, as might be expected.)
Species 113! A Female Chum Salmon. There's a suggestion of some teeth there, but that's not quite gonna cut it...
     So having added the species, my focus became not just catching any fish, but specifically a good size male with as much color and teeth as possible. And they didn't disappoint.
Now we're talking TEETH!!
     Most of the fish were smaller than I had expected, probably averaging from about 4ish to maybe 7 or 8 lbs. But luckily I got into three big males that were well into the teens, and for one of them there was even another dude there to take my picture.
This just might be my favorite salmon picture of mine so far.
Same fish, closer view. It's hard to do those teeth any justice with just a picture though. The tip of that lower jaw was sort of bulbous, so with all the teeth on it, it was sort of like a mace or maybe a flail for you medieval weaponry buffs...

My collection was finally complete!
Clockwise from top right: Chinook, chum, sockeye, pink, and coho salmon.
     Now the more ichthyologically savvy among you will probably point out at this point that technically I'm still missing one pacific salmon,  the masu or cherry salmon. To that end, I would point out that that's why I said I'd now caught all the North American pacific salmon. If I want to really top off the Pacific grand slam and get that last one, it'll require a trip to Japan, Russia, or Korea. I just haven't quite figured out how to do that in a weekend road trip yet. Maybe some day...
     But for the time being I was pretty happy with my box set as it stood. So, being that close to Puget Sound and having already accomplished the primary objective of the trip, there was no way I wasn't going to try out a pier or two. It's starting to get a little more difficult as the list grows, but I usually still scrape up a species or two from most piers. This time I ended up at one of the ones in Tacoma, and I put in as close to an all-nighter as I could muster. Squid were caught, as were the typical Puget Sound residents. But I also managed to rack up two more new species, the pacific herring, and the roughback sculpin!
The Les Davis pier is a crowded location all through the night in November. See, it's not just me!
If you're not familiar with squid fishing, here's some typical rigs. Glow-in-the-dark and spiky is the general theme.
The market or opalescent inshore squid. Goofy looking critters.
114! Pacific Herring. Sure, you can go buy them at most bait stores, but that wouldn't count as number 114 now would it?
Cute little roughback sculpin. That's 11 sculpin species now if you're counting along at home!
This roughback was smaller than the first one, but I like the picture better so I had to show it to you. You're welcome.
     In a state where I'm sort of running out of stuff to catch without getting really creative, three new ones, including one of the big salmonids, in a weekend is a raging success in my book.

Nov 19, 2016

I Smell a Rat

     Hello my name is Bryan and I am a fish nerd. 
     I have put in a fair bit of thought as to what makes me so fascinated with fishing and fish in general. It's honestly a hard thing to put my finger on. To that end, I have decided that there are several types of fishermen. When most people go fishing, it's just a form of release, or recreation, or even an odd form of grocery shopping for those that are just out there to fill a cooler. Then there are the serious fishermen who go all out and often dive head first into one or more of the subgenres of fishing, eg. fly fishing, salmon fishing, bass fishing etc.. Joining one of these subcultures can certainly be rewarding, and many people can and do spend their lifetimes exploring and learning the ins and outs of each genre. I've met people, for example, who focused all their efforts strictly on fishing dry flies on spring creeks for trout. And if that's what turns your crank, I say go for it. The point of getting out fishing is to have fun after all, do it in a way that's enjoyable to you. 
     But to me, being pigeon-holed into one style of fishing would leave me wondering what I was missing out on elsewhere. In my opinion, there is an untapped wealth of fishing adventures off the proverbial beaten path. This often requires some outside-the-box thinking, and these types of fishing perhaps may not be as popular in the mainstream (no pun intended...) fishing media, but they are every bit as rewarding, once the stereotypes are laid aside. I haven't found one single mainstream subgenre that quite does it for me. I enjoy fly fishing, salmon fishing, and bass fishing, and I want to be good at all of them! This desire to be good at all of them, coupled with the fascination that I've always had for the diversity of fishes that exist in the world, eventually lead me to a little known corner of the fishing world called species fishing, or life-listing. Whatever you want to call it, adding new species to my list has become my favorite thing to do. I still enjoy fishing for the same old species. It's still fishing after all. But I find it fascinating to pick a species, do my homework and learn enough about it to figure out where, when, and how to catch it. Then when it actually all comes together and I catch the fish; that's the icing on the cake. 
     For example, one species that I have ogled for years was the spotted ratfish or chimaera. Now if you're a purist-type salmon fishermen anywhere on the pacific coast, I probably just lost you there. And that's OK, I won't judge. They are considered a nuisance fish in some places, particularly in Puget Sound, where they actually make up a large portion of the biomass and are sometimes incidentally caught by people fishing for other things. But they're one of the most unique fish I've encountered anywhere. They're in the same taxonomic class as sharks and rays, but pretty much they're just way out in left field taxonomically speaking. They've got a lateral line that branches and extends through the side of their face, giant reflective eyes, and pectoral fins that they flap like butterfly wings. Long story short, I wanted one. 
     Ratfish often inhabit very deep water (up to 3,000 feet!) but I learned that they can be caught fairly easily at night as they swim into much shallower waters then to feed. Somewhere in my wanderings on the internet, I heard that somebody had caught one on Pier 86 in Puget Sound. So, when I was recently sent to Seattle for a week on a business trip, it didn't take too long to connect the dots. It was pretty obvious what I would be doing in the evenings after work.
The Elliot Bay (Pier 86) fishing pier. There are worse places to spend an evening.
Seattle is a funny place. This is what passes for graffiti there.
     The fishing was pretty slow while the sun was still up, but I caught several brown and quillback rockfish.
Brown Rockfish
The tiniest quillback rockfish I've ever seen.
     But I wasn't really expecting anything till after dark anyway. Martini lives not too far away, so he met me there once he finished with school and work for the day. He also needed a rat for his list. As it got darker, we wondered if we were crazy or if we actually had a chance at the chimaera. I missed a pretty good bite, and we joked that it was probably my one shot at it. But really I was assuming it was just a big staghorn sculpin or maybe a dogfish, both common nighttime catches. 
     Pretty soon though I got another good bite and didn't miss this time. Whatever it was got closer to the surface and I began to see a glowing green ball shining up at us. We soon realized that it was a ratfish eye reflecting back at us! As I swung the fish over the rail, I was glad that Martini was the one there since he's one of the few people who would be as excited as I was about seeing such a crazy fish. We high-fived and celebrated the catch, taking in it's other-worldly features. I knew beforehand about the butterfly-wing fins, and the big eyes, but I didn't know about the crazy teeth or the huge (mildly venomous...) dorsal spine! The males also have claspers (to aid in mating) in the middle of their freaking foreheads! I've geeked-out a few times while fishing, but this definitely took the cake.
They can be caught! Weirdest fish I've ever seen. Ever.
     We released the little guy and kept on fishing. It didn't take long before we had both caught several more.
Martini with one of his several ratfish of the night. This one's a female - no clasper in the forehead...
Another female. The fish I mean.
Did I mention the dorsal spine? And it's venomous too!
Tell me that's not the weirdest critter you've seen.
Adorable. And I almost stuck my finger in there to get my hook out. In the words of the great Steve Wozniak, "Do not put that in your pants."
     That was pretty much the extent of the excitement for that trip. Though I did add another species the next evening at a different pier. In an unprecedented display of shamefully-tiny-hook fishing, I pulled up a cast with not only a new species on the end, but three examples of said species at once!
Can't say I've ever added a new species by catching three of them at once before. Till now!
The mighty pacific sanddab! Incidentally, this is not the first time I've been photobombed by a wasp while photographing a new species (see this post for details).
     So while I didn't catch any species of fish that the mainstream fishing media would call exciting or noteworthy, to me and my fish-nerd ways, the ratfish will be a serious contender for fish of the year this year. Homework was done, target fish were caught, pictures were taken, the catch was celebrated with somebody just as excited as I was. That's what it's all about if you ask me.

Sep 19, 2016

The Best Laid Plans...

     I think I'm pretty decent at rolling with the punches. It takes a bit of prodding to really put a damper on my spirits, particularly on fishing trips. But every once in a while, the stars align ever so conspiratorially and the result is a perfect storm of kicks square to the shorts. I've not experienced many such storms, but a recent road trip to a family reunion in Idaho was definitely one of those storms.

     It all made sense on paper. We had plans to drive to southeast Idaho and stay in a cabin just across the border from Yellowstone National Park. That area is one of my favorite destinations ever (see Ol' Hank) so I was pretty excited about the fishing prospects. The plan was simple. We would stop at spot or two in Montana along the way, where I could get a couple new species. Then, while "at the reunion" I would hit some of my favorite spots both in Yellowstone and nearby. Then on the way home, I had a spot picked out where I was sure to finally get a white crappie with minimal extra driving. Basically it was to be five days packed with driving and fishing (see also "the perfect vacation"). 
     The first inkling that things might take a turn to the south was when Mrs. Bryanlikestofish suddenly realized she had to attend a training retreat for work at the same time as our trip, so she was bailing on me. No big deal though. My kids are old enough that they usually travel pretty well, and they're pretty fun to hang out with. And there would be grandparents and cousins galore to entertain them. Surely it would be fine.

     So the day came, and off we went. I had high hopes for the trip. If my plans came together like they were supposed to, I had a very good chance to catch at least 5 new species, and some bonus fish to boot. So off we went. Destination: middle of nowhere Montana under a certain bridge to catch a certain species. Everything went fine for the first 20 minutes of our 10 hr drive. Then the gastrointestinal pyrotechnics began. My younger daughter, normally a cute little ballerina, decided to tap into her inner Linda Blair. I looked in the rear view mirror just in time to see her head spin around 360 degrees and pea soup come rocketing out of her mouth. Luckily, I had brought a small garbage can to serve as a pea soup receptacle just in case, but still... Yuck was the theme for the next 8 hours. I thought there might be hope in sight as we drew nearer to the certain bridge, but by that point we were running very much behind schedule and the 35 mph winds didn't look very promising. We stuck it out for a half hour but didn't catch any of the three species I was counting on there. One tiny brown trout was all I had to show for my efforts. Oh well, on to the reunion. The kid was feeling better after the fresh air anyway. Maybe there was still hope. Roll with the punches.
Don't let the cute little smile fool you. She's planning something! On a side note, this is probably the most cheerful face I made on the whole trip.
     The next day, the kids were feeling much better, so I headed off to do a little redemption fishing. I'd check out a couple new spots, and hit some old favorites. Sure to be a success one way or another.
      I decided to start the day by checking out Red Rock Creek just over the Idaho/Montana border since I hadn't ever been there. This beautiful little creek is home to some nice size arctic grayling, and is accessible via a long gravel road which includes Red Rock Pass (Elevation 7,120 ft.). The drive was beautiful, but when I got there, the water was very low, and there were a bunch of people, none of whom appeared to be catching anything. So I decided to chock it up to a bucket list scenic drive and head to the next spot.
The Red Rock Creek Valley. It's pretty or whatever.
     I enjoyed the drive anyway, and was in a pretty good mood as I drove past all the snow-capped 10,000+ ft peaks. Then right as I got to 7,120 ft elevation, at the very crest of the pass, my low tire pressure warning light started to warn me of some low tire pressure. Upon closer inspection, the warning light wasn't joking at all, and I was thrilled to discover that I had not one, but two flat tires. TWO! I can handle one just fine, but two is sort of a game-changer, especially in the middle of nowhere on top of a mountain! To make a long story short, I ended up pulling both tires off the car, hitching a ride with a VERY nice gentleman who happened to be heading back to town anyway. I then had to get a ride from my mom to the tire store (an hour away). Both tires ended up being beyond repair so I had to buy 4 new ones. Yay. I bummed a ride from an uncle with a pickup back up to the top of the mountain that evening to put on my two new tires, then I had to limp back to the cabin, and wait till Monday to go get the other two new tires put on.
Ol' Betsy wasn't looking her best...
     Now I don't know how your fishing budgets typically look, but having to spend 700 unplanned bucks REALLY put a damper on my plans. Plus I couldn't drive my car for the rest of the weekend. Oh well, I still had the trip home. I had a couple spots picked out along the way in southern Idaho if I went the long way home.
     But wait! There's more. Monday morning at about 0400, I heard the oh so familiar sound of gastrointestinal pyrotechnics, yet again, this time coming from the bathroom. Not what you want to hear on the morning of a 10+ hr drive. I gave up. There was obviously not going to be any taking the long way home, or fishing whatsoever on this trip. I went and had my other two tires put on, stopped and picked up some Dramamine, tucked my tail between my legs, and began the odyssey back home. I'll spare you most of details of the trip. It went about as you might expect, with one kid who gets carsick, and the other just plain sick. We did have one near miss in a gas station in Butte where I was at the counter buying some snacks, and I looked down just in time to see my 9 year old dry heaving and bug-eyed. I shoved her out the front door just in time, but still.
     We all made it home safe, and everybody has since made a full recovery, so I suppose I should be grateful for that, but that trip certainly left a sour taste in my mouth (figuratively), and also in my nose for that matter (literally). 
    
     Don't go yet. I told you that story so I could tell you this next one!
     The next week, my wife, who was about to reassert her claim to the title of Best Wife Ever, suggested that I recover some dignity and go catch some fish. So I packed my things and headed to Puget Sound for a couple days!
     This was my favorite kind of trip; no particular destination, just a few leads on some potential new species here and there, and some time to wander. I did have flashbacks as I gained elevation and drove over the pass on the North Cascades Highway, but this time I made it without even one flat tire!
Fwew! Made it over this pass without any flat tires!
     I did have a close call in a gas station bathroom somewhere along the way though. Thank goodness it was clearly labeled, or that would have been embarrassing!
Good thing they put up the sign because I was going to use that one!
     By the time I got to Puget Sound, my daylight was fading fast, so I quickly chose a destination. I ended up on the pier at Oak Harbor hoping to catch a few "Forage Fish" as the state of Washington classifies them. Unfortunately, I couldn't get past the hoards of shiner surfperch to anything more interesting. It was fun trying though.
     As night approached, I picked out a particularly comfortable picnic table on the pier and settled in for the night. I fished through the night hoping for a ratfish or some sort of new critter.  Nothing new was captured but there were plenty of dogfish that were willing participants. These are not a very popular fish, since fishermen often catch them while fishing for other more "desirable" species. But I still don't get that. Even if it's not what I'm fishing for, I can't say I've ever reeled in a fish and wished I hadn't. These dogfish put up a great fight on light tackle and they certainly kept me entertained.
Spiny Dogfish. I hadn't seen one of these since I had to dissect one in ichthyology class in college. And yes they do have spines. On both dorsal fins. If you look closely you can see a drop of blood on my left arm caused by one of them.
Not exactly a man-eater, but still, probably shouldn't stick your finger in there. Come to think of it, "probably shouldn't stick your finger in there" is a just a good all around rule to live by in general.
     I left the pier early the next morning and continued my wanderings along the Strait of Juan de Fuca (I'm still leery of the pronunciation there...). I heard a rumor at a tackle shop of a spot where I could catch a surf smelt, so off I went. I made a couple random stops and fished along the way.
Here's a random Kelp Greenling.
      Then I found the surf smelt spot! I always love catching new species, and I definitely like learning new ways to fish. There were obviously smelt in the surf (duh...) as they could be seen running up onto the beach then splashing their way back into the surf as the wave receded.
I tried really hard to get a picture of them in the surf, but this was as good as I could do. If you look closely there are about four or five in this picture swimming back out toward the waves.
     I tried to catch some on hook and line, but there was too much seaweed, and they weren't interested anyway (they had other things on their minds...). However, there was another guy and his wife there using a "Forage Fish Dipnet". It took me a while to plow through the jumbles of terms and definitions in the fishing regulations to make sure it was legal, but in the end, it was on the up and up, so I went over and watched (secretly hoping he'd let me give it a go). It was a pretty fascinating, if uncomplicated, process. The dipnet had a frame on the end with netting inside. So they waded out into the waves a bit and put the net down, then when the fish tried to swim back out, they got caught in the net.
Like so. Just plop the net down and wait for the fish to swim in, or pull it back through the water.
Here's a typical scoop, lots of weeds and a few fish.
They were quite successful at it. I was told that they are very good to eat when smoked.
      He graciously gave me a couple turns with the net and I quickly added species 107!
The mighty surf smelt
Cute little critters.
     Having added to "the list", the trip was instantly worth it in my book. I thanked the guy and his wife and headed on my way.  I ended up on the Port Angeles City Pier following another hunch that there might be some squid fishing possible later that night. I had tried, and failed, once to catch squid in Seattle (see this post for details), so I figured I was due. Sure enough, once it got dark, the lights of the pier seemed to bring the squid in by the thousand. I've never seen so many squid in one place. They were a lot smaller than I expected, and it took me a few tries to get the hang of it, but soon I was bringing them in no problem.
My first market squid.
Watch out, they ink!
     I squid fished until early in the morning  after which I began the sleepy process of getting home on very little sleep in the last 72 hours. I use a tried and true method which requires alternating treatments of undisclosed amounts of caffeine, rolling down the windows, and yanking out bunches of nose hairs as needed to stay awake. 

     As redemption trips go, this one was pretty decent. I added a new species to the list, with some bonus fish and squid on top of that; and to make it even better, nobody even barfed, or got flat tires. I'm not sure it quite made up for all the kicks to the shorts during the previous week's shenanigans, but it was a good start for sure!