Dec 12, 2021

The Buckeye Stops Here

     Our family vacation this summer took us to the great state of Ohio to visit Mrs Bryanlikestofish's parents. We have been there quite a few times before, but somehow I had never brought along a fishing pole.  I was however well aware each time that there were dozens of species to be had there, as most of the native stuff would be new to me. As we planned our trip, it was suggested that I bring a fishing pole and go species hunting for a couple days. Not being one to argue with fantastic ideas like that, I packed up my travel rods and began making plans and a wish list of species to chase. 

     At the very top of my wish list and priority #1 was the Bowfin. These fish are an evolutionary relic from the days of the dinosaurs, and are the sole surviving member of the taxonomic Family Amiidae, and even of the Order Amiiformes. They have sharp teeth, and are aggressive biters (see also - the perfect fish). They get somewhat of an unwarranted bad rap with traditional fishermen as a "trashfish", but to this day I can't wrap my head around that one. 

     Other most wanted species (in order of priority) included Warmouth, Creek Chub (because I assumed it would be an easy one to knock off), and Flathead Catfish, though I sort of knew the flathead might be a long shot. But you can't catch em if you don't try. 

     Often when traveling to new places, I gather intel on fishing spots to try by talking to other lifelist fishermen who are often more than willing to help out a fellow angler. This growing pool of friends includes folks on, or various species hunting Facebook groups. However on this trip, I hadn't come up with much at all, so I decided to try and scout out some spots using a new (to me anyway) method, an app called FishBrain. I won't try to give a comprehensive review of the app, as most of it doesn't really appeal to me. However it does have a very useful feature where it provides a map with hundreds (probably thousands; I didn't count them) of fishing spots across the country. When users of the app upload pictures of their fish, they can tag each location. So this allows you to see pictures of what has been caught at each location. Disclaimer here: an alarming proportion of the fish uploaded on this app are not even close to correctly identified, which bothers me to no end, but as long as I ignored the words and just looked at the pictures, I could get an idea of what species I was likely to encounter at each spot.

      So with several FishBrain scouted spots picked out, I headed out with high hopes of a Bowfin, and possibly two or three more species if I got lucky. Of course the first creek I stopped at, also the most promising for a Bowfin, was completely blown out and high and muddy. I drowned a few worms anyway, but to no avail. The next spot was more clear, and I could see some small fish darting around. Most of the minnow species in Ohio would be new ones for me, so, not being one to pass up an opportunity at a new "micro" species, I pulled out the small hooks and quickly brought a few to hand.

The good news: they were easy to catch. The bad news: these Golden Shiners were not a new species for me. I had found a large group of one of the few minnows that I didn't want to catch.

     I kept a few shiners to use as cutbait, but decided to head to some of the other spots I had scouted out on FishBrain. This was when I realized a key difference between Ohio and the western states I am used to. It became immediately clear that public land was quite limited there. Many of the spots, were private property, or pay/member-only lakes. So after seeing more of the countryside than I wanted to with nothing to show for it, I decided to backtrack and try and find a backwater or something to fish in the first creek I had tried that morning. It was of course still very high and muddy, but I found one possible spot out of the current. I figured if I were a fish living in there, that's probably where I would be waiting out the flood. And surprisingly enough, the plan worked. The bites came quite steadily for the next couple hours, all black bullhead.

Also not a new species. Still fun to catch however.


     I toyed with the idea of moving on as I caught bullhead after bullhead, but I was out of other Bowfin spots to try and I didn't want to give up on the main target of the trip. Luckilly I didn't have to wait too long, as I soon had hooked into a fish that actually fought back. I held my breath as I snaked the fish through the weeds and up onto the bank. I don't think I breathed until my Boga Grip was firmly attached to it's bottom jaw. Target #1 achieved!

Species #140 if you're counting along at home! Note the high muddy water I was fishing in.

The business end of a Bowfin. I tried to get a picture of their teeth which are quite sharp, but they are sort of sheathed by their gums, so they're not easy to see. They're there though!

      With my main target achieved, I decided to move on to some of the other species. The next spot I owe entirely to FishBrain, as it was clearly on private property, but in the location description on the app, a note was left by the landowner giving permission to access a particular little creek via a spot on his property. I decided that was good enough for me. I expected Creek Chubs at this spot, but not necessarily anything else. I'm used to western streams, where if you find minnows, they are usually mostly one or two species. When I got down to the tiny stream which was small enough to jump across in spots, I could see little "Creek Chubs" swimming around. And sure enough, I pulled a couple out and they were indeed Creek Chubs.

Species #141!


    Another main target down! At this point I was feeling pretty good about the trip. I had added two species in a single day, which is a good day! Plus there were some nasty rain clouds right next door and heading my way fast. I ALMOST decided to pack it up and head to the next spot, which in hindsight would have been a huge blunder. Just out of curiosity, I decided to walk around a bit and catch a few more of the "Creek Chubs" to see if I could get a big one or something. Then my favorite thing happened: I pulled one up that looked a little funny! Then another! As it happened, they were not actually all Creek Chubs. I would end up adding four more additional species just from this one tiny little trickle of a stream.

The Silverjaw Minnow became the first surprise guest of the trip and became species #142

Followed by this Redside Dace at #143


And this Western Blacknose Dace. #144!


     By far my favorite fish of this little creek encounter though, was my first darter species ever. Darters, for you non-species hunting folk, are a very diverse group of tiny and often brightly colored fish in the perch family. Because of their color and their diversity (there are over 200 species of darters in the US; 22 in Ohio alone) they are quite popular among species hunters, but I had never even seen one in person (they live mostly in the eastern half of the US), so I didn't really quite understand all the hype. However as I stood there huddled under a tree in the rain holding this brightly colored male Rainbow Darter, I immediately understood.

So much color packed into a 2 inch fish! I also now understand when people say that it's hard for a picture to do these fish justice.


I was also visited by several creek creatures including this bullfrog.
And this beautiful damselfly. I believe this species is called an Ebony Jewelwing. And even if it's not called that, I think it should be because the name fits very well.


      After catching an unexpected number of species out of the creek, I reluctantly decided that I really did need to move along. The next target: a Warmouth. I have tried for these unsuccessfully in Washington, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Arkansas, and Oregon, but according to the pictures I was seeing on the FishBrain map, this next little lake I was headed to offered the best legitimate chance I had seen to date. I could see little sunfish cruising around the shallows basically as soon as I got to the lake, and it didn't take long to start catching them. I put on a tiny jig and tipped it with a fleck of worm and sorted through a couple dozen Bluegill and Redear sunfish before deciding to try a different tactic. I put on a small swim bait, my favorite rig for jumbo Crappie. This resulted in much fewer bites but I got a couple darker looking fish to follow. I walked around the lake and cast around a promising looking submerged log. I got hit, and it wasn't a Bluegill or a Redear!

Bringing this fish to hand resulted in equal measurements of excitement, confusion, and indigestion.


     Looking at the above fish, I first thought I had my Warmouth, but the more I looked at it, the more I doubted it. Sunfish (Warmouth included) are notorious for hybridizing, and I suspected that was the case with this fish. I consulted some knowledgeable folks on Facebook and the consensus seemed to be that this was likely a Warmouth x Green Sunfish hybrid. So I guess it was half of what I was looking for. But I don't count hybrids as species, so the hunt had to continue. 

     Luckily I wouldn't have to wait too much longer. I continued my lap around the lake, and spotted another dark colored fish near another submerged log. I cast past it and reeled back to the fish. I paused near the fish and twitched it and my jig disappeared! I set the hook and quickly brought in the following fish, which was clearly a Warmouth with all the correct facial markings, flank coloration, and patterning!

#146! The mighty Warmouth at last!

Quite a colorful little guy up close.


      At this point I was beside myself. I had just caught my seventh new species of the day! My previous best day ever was 5 species in Florida in 2017. I did not expect this from Ohio, but I was certainly pleased! I decided to try to really swing for the fences and see if I could track down a Flathead Catfish as dusk approached. That would have really been the icing on the cake. But it was not to be that night. This was one of those times where the fish gods pat you on the head and tell you to calm down. But I did find another cool spot and catch a few spunky little Channel Catfish; not a bad consolation prize.


      But wait, there's more! A few days later, I had another chance to get out fishing again. I couldn't decide if I should try to luck into more random stuff or go hit the spots that I tried on the first day. I went with the latter. I decided to try to get a bigger Bowfin, and a better picture, as I wasn't too happy with the results of the first day in that regard. I like to have at least one "good" picture of each species if possible. I went back to the first creek that was previously all high and muddy, and was pleased to find it much lower and much more fishable this time. I caught more Golden Shiners for bait, and almost dropped my rod in shock when I hooked up with a nice Bowfin almost immediately. For the next few hours, I was thoroughly entertained catching Bowfin after Bowfin. I didn't get any monsters, but some of them were easily 4-5 lbs, which I was perfectly happy with. And I even rounded out the day catching another new species of minnow, the Spotfin Shiner. And just like that Ohio went from a state where I had caught 0 new species, to 8. It is now tied for 5th place with Minnesota on my list behind Washington (50 new species), Idaho (29), Oregon (19), and Florida (11).

I'm MUCH happier with this picture than the one from the first day. This one even has hints of green in the fins. The fins of the males turn bright green during spawning.

Pretty cute for a dinosaur.

Not a super convincing false eye, but better than nothing I suppose.

Bowfin skin.

And last but not least, the mighty Spotfin Shiner, Species # 147!

Jul 11, 2021

My Natural Habitat

      As I am writing this, it's now July of 2021. The Pacific Northwest is still reeling from and dealing with one of the craziest heat waves I ever remember experiencing. Where I live, it's common for temperatures to dabble in the low triple digits a few times per summer, but we're setting records for high temperatures and general consecutive days over 100 degrees left and right this summer. And worse, it peaked at 117 degrees! And now the fires have begun. But at least the smoke provides a little shade from the sun. 

     What I'm getting at, is that this seems like a great time to daydream of cooler times. So let's talk ice fishing. 

     I try to get out as much as possible if the ice is thick enough to stand on, and this past winter was no exception. 

My fleet of tiny rods ready for action. Far left and far right are my two favorites.
This bright green one is called a Radioactive Pickle. It's by far my favorite perch getter.
It works ok.

      I've been trying to catch a tiger trout through the ice for a few years now at my home lake. I can catch them from my boat just fine, but through the ice they've eluded me. I kind of checked that box this winter with this tiny tiger. I'll get a bigger one next winter. You'll see.

My first ice fishing tiger trout. More of a tiger cub, but still pretty.

Brook Trout, invasive (at least in the Western US) but beautiful.

      As you may or may not know (you two faithful readers surely already do), I am always trying to catch new stuff, or catch stuff in different ways. So I began seriously looking into a quasi-nearby lake which is home to catchable populations of both Lake Trout and Burbot. I had caught both of those species before, but never through the ice. For previous Burbot and Lake Trout excursions, see the following links: Initiation, and Inappropriate Wintertime Activities, or Just a Special Kind of Crazy?

I actually have a pretty good open water Burbot spot. Here's a limit of them from This past January.

My first (and only) Lake Trout. Big enough to count as a caught species. But for a species that can reach sizes of 50+ lbs, certainly nothing to brag about.

     My Burbot spot is consistent, but not great for big fish. I catch quite a few 2-4 pounders, but that's about where they seem to top out. I wanted a bigger one, and I of course wanted a big lake trout. My previous best of of around 2 pounds would be hard not to beat if I managed to catch one at all. 

     The lake I was eying is a hike-in lake during the winter, and Burbot are often best caught at night, so I decided to make a camping trip out of it! I have a good pop-up shanty, a cot, and a heater. Good enough for me! So I picked a weekend, loaded up my sled, and began the hike to the lake!

     Once I got there, the first order of business was to catch some bait. I headed to a certain rocky point on a tip from a buddy, and sent some tiny jigs down to do some work. I soon began seeing likely looking marks on the vexilar and it didn't take too long to get the feel for the bite. I soon had what I deemed enough bait for the evening.

Peamouth Chub. Another ice fishing first for me.
Adorable little Peamouth.

     A buddy joined me for the evening, and we had grand plans and dreams of three foot Burbot. We of course promptly caught... nothing. I saw a couple swim by on my underwater camera, but they didn't show the slightest interest in our jigs or bait. Oh well. My motto is that you can't catch them if you don't try. My buddy stuck it out well into the evening hours, but then headed home for the night as most sane folks would do. I on the other hand, assembled my cot, and settled in for the night. Some time later, I was busy snoring away under my fur hat and sleeping bag when I was confusedly awakened by some jingling. It took me a long moment to realize what was happening. Then I frantically extracted myself at least from the arms up from all my layers, sat up in the cot, and grabbed the pole out of the holder and hung on. Before going to sleep I had set up a rod with some bait and a bell about a foot from my head, hoping I'd wake up if it started jingling from a bite. I didn't necessarily expect it to work, but was pleasantly surprised that it did!

Not the three footer I was looking for, but I was on the board anyway! And this is one of my better Burbot pictures I've ever taken. They don't like holding still, or laying on their sides!

     With the burbot box at least somewhat checked, and the action quite slow, I changed gears and headed to what I thought might be a good Lake Trout spot on the lake once it got light the next morning. I was somewhat disappointed to find that I was not alone. But I was able to get some good tips from some of the other guys there. I set up shop in around 110 feet of water, and began jigging as enticingly as I could manage whenever I saw fish on the flasher. I saw several of what I'm sure were Lake Trout based on how they moved, and the size of the mark. I did see several lakers iced nearby, but couldn't buy a bite myself.

     Having a two pole endorsement pays off quite often though, and this was one of those times. My bell again began jingling over in the corner of my shanty. I ran over and set the hook into what felt like a much nicer fish. I was of course hoping Lake Trout, but not sure. Bringing it up from 110 feet took a little while, but I eventually saw that it was by far my biggest Burbot ever. I use an 8 inch diameter auger, and this thing filled the whole thing and barely fit through the hole! I snapped the picture below as my insurance picture, then walked over to my pack to get a better camera out, and while doing that, the fish flopped it's way back to the hole! So I didn't get any official measurements, and only have one crappy picture for proof, but I had caught my big Burbot! My best guess was that it was somewhere in the 7 lb range. They get bigger than that, but that's a good one for me!

Not to be too cliché here, but the picture really doesn't do this fish justice.


     With one of two itches scratched at that point, and not seeing any other action at all, I headed home. The laker would have to wait. This of course bothered me, but if they were easy, everybody would do it and it wouldn't be exciting. 


     I talked strategy and tactics with some online buddies for the next week. Then, with some new tips and tricks in hand, I mustered another trip the following weekend. This trip was to be a Lake Trout or bust kind of trip. I'd jig my jigs until they jigged up a Lake Trout, or I'd go home defeated; nothing in-between.

     I dragged my butt out of bed well before dawn and hiked out there and set up not too far from my spot the previous weekend and began jigging in 150 feet of water and watching for marks. This time I had a new strategy though. I'll call it the "fleeing baitfish" strategy, and that's all I'm willing to say. I missed a promising looking bite early in the morning, then went back to my routine of not getting bites at all. At 10:00 one of the guys next to me came over to chew the fat with me. We were busy pontificating about what really goes on deep in the inner psyche of a Lake Trout, when I noticed a solid mark 80 feet down. My jig was on the bottom at the time, so I quickly reeled in 70 feet of line to bring my jig up to it, and was almost startled when I immediately felt a solid tug at the other end!

     I like to joke about some of the tiny fish I happily catch, but I have also caught my fair share of bigger fish too: Salmon, steelhead, sturgeon etc. What I haven't done though is pull a big fish out of an ice hole. My biggest ice fish was a 25 inch cutbow from Henry's Lake in Idaho (see Ol' Hank for details). But this fight was entirely unlike anything else I'd ever caught or experienced while ice fishing and an experience that I will not soon forget. It was not unlike catching a salmon, complete with bulldogging drag screaming runs, and huge head shakes, but all playing out directly beneath me while attached to a three foot pole. My helpful neighbor watched the whole thing play out, and I was appreciative of his help when the head finally somehow popped up through the hole. He pulled it onto the ice and I honestly didn't know what to say.  I believe my exact words were something poignant and wise like, "Holy Crap".

I might get this framed.
The motor.

And the business end.

Kind of unusual muted coloration on this old girl. It didn't have the typical distinctive white spots that most Lake Trout do

Catching a fish longer than the pole I caught it on is a life goal of mine. This is about as close as I've come. A few more inches would have done it (story of my life).

     The final stats were 36 inches long and a skinny 13 lbs (post-spawning female). Huge for me. It's crazy to me to think that even this "monster" isn't a particularly large Lake Trout. Again, they can reach weights of 50+ lbs. This blew my mind again. Before leaving that afternoon, I also landed another 7 pounder which was quickly released, so no pictures, but I was still riding high from that first one. This particular lake doesn't always have safe ice every winter, but suffice it to say, when it does, I'll be back! And by the way, if you're reading this, and you figure out where this lake is; for the love of Mike, keep it to yourself. Hot spotting doesn't help anybody.

     One final, but crazy side note here: warning, the following may get a little nerdy, so proceed at your own risk!

     I knew that Lake Trout can reach very old ages (for a fish), and though this was only my second one that I had caught, I had a hunch by the general look of it that this fish was pretty old. Looking through the literature on the subject, I learned that lake trout have been aged at over 60 years old, but that most don't typically live past 25 or so. I decided to check this one out a little closer. Aging fish is one of the things that I do for work pretty routinely. So I stayed after work one day (off the clock *disclaimer*) and processed the otoliths from this old gal. Otoliths, if you don't know, are the inner ear bones of the fish. They develop yearly growth rings as the fish ages. If you cut them just right, you can count the rings just like you do on a tree trunk and see how old the fish was. So I did that. I figured she was old, but didn't expect her to be the same age as me! By my count she was at least 37 years old!  Pictured below is half of the cross section, of the otolith showing the growth rings. The top right portion of the picture is the center of the otolith, or the part that the fish grew in it's first year of life (think of that like the center of the tree trunk), then as it grew, it added a layer each year just as a tree would (denoted by the red dots).

You might have to click on it to zoom in to see the smaller layers, if you're into that kind of thing.

Jan 10, 2021

A Dumpster Fire Yes, But a There Were Fish Involved

     I'm not going to pretend that the year 2020 was anything less than a raging dumpster fire for the most part, and I certainly don't want downplay at all any of the hardships that millions of people worldwide have gone through this year. My sincere condolences go out to all those that lost loved ones this year due to the pandemic. My intent here is merely to share some of the events that helped me get through this crazy year. "Focus on the positive" is an easy thing to say, if not always an easy thing to do. BUT, the social distancing and restrictions in place meant that some of the best places to be were alone on a lake, or alone on a mountain, or alone on a pier. As it turns out, these are some of my favorite places anyway!
My wife takes great care each year to select the perfect Christmas tree ornament to represent the year. This year she outdid herself. I present you the most appropriate ornament in the history of ornaments.

      My home lakes put out some nice fish this summer, which was helped by the fact that 2020 was the year I bought my first real boat! It's just a tiny thing, but perfect for social distance fishing, and it has an outboard big enough to get up on plane with, a decent foot controlled electric motor on the bow, a fish finder, and even a down-rigger (which I haven't yet had occasion to use).
Big panfish are hard to beat in my opinion.

     Foraging for wild edible things has become another socially distant favorite pastime of mine. I spent a good portion of the year hiking around various trails, mountains, and shorelines picking berries, mushrooms, and whatever else my book said was edible. It wasn't always delicious, but it was always fun! 

Amanita muscaria is one of my favorite mushrooms, and certainly one of the prettiest. These were not foraged however as they are too psychoactive for me.

     Berries were often the focus, and huckleberries are and will always be my favorite, so I spent more time filling the freezer with those than anything else. 

Huckleberry-Purplefinger is the best kind of skin condition to have.
Plus huckleberries are found in the prettiest of places!

      However, this year I decided to branch out and see what the other berry varieties had to offer. I believe I encountered 12 different kinds of berries all together and made eight of them into jelly, which has become one of my favorite hobbies.

The OCD in me is very bothered by the fact that the order of the berries in the bowls doesn't match the order of the jars, but I tried my best here. Berry varieties shown (jar order...) include huckleberry, mountain blueberry, Oregon grape, elderberry, chokecherry, wax currant, red elderberry, and salmonberry.

     Generally though just being outside in nature is my coping mechanism. As long as I can get out into the woods, or by some water periodically, I'll get by. It's even more fun when I can drag the kids along. 

This may be my favorite hiking picture ever. This was about 4 miles up the mountain.
We eventually made it to the top though and she added a rock to the top to make the mountain a few inches taller, "just like Moana did".
She's usually much more agreeable when hiking.
We did our best to break in the 'new' boat.
The new boat helped me get my personal best tiger trout
It helped us see this 40+ inch tiger musky right at the boat launch, but we couldn't get it to bite unfortunately.
Turtle hunting is always a favorite summertime activity. This is our smallest one to date.

A first for me, we discovered these snail case caddis flies. That's family Helicopsychidae for you entomology buffs out there.


     Other quarantine activities in our house included such shenanigans as custom mask making, giant Jenga, and my wife's favorite, adopting new kittens. 

If you have long hair, and you have to wear a mask, why not kill two birds with one stone?

She's getting into woodworking, so giant Jenga was a fun afternoon activity. Calculating, measuring, cutting, sanding, then knocking it all down!

This was the first kitten of the summer. I can't complain too much though. I have WAY more tarantulas than she has cats.

     The highlights of the year for me though were a couple fishing trips over to the west side of the state. The pandemic made this kind of thing harder to do safely, but I'm not exactly social when I fish, so I felt pretty safe just keeping to myself and getting some long sought after new species. I managed to knock off my two most wanted Puget Sound residents, and a few bonus ones as well.

     My first arch nemesis to bite the dust was the striped surfperch. I can't count the times I've gone somewhere specifically to try and catch one of these. Because it was a lot. I even went scuba diving at one of my fishing spots, and saw hundreds of them swimming around down there, but I can never get them to bite. I have sight fished to dozens of them. Nothing. My arch nemesis.

     Backing up to December 2019, one of my friends, Luke who is an amazing angler and species hunter (see, was going to be in the Puget Sound area, so we exchanged some spots. I told him where I had caught a few species, hoping he could catch some of the same too. His trip came and went, and he caught (as he does) a LOT of fish. He sent me the list of species that he had encountered, and lo and behold he had found SOME (as in >1) striped surfperch, AND to add insult to injury he'd also caught some kelp perch. I had never even seen a kelp perch! Well played Luke. Well played. He of course shared how he had encountered these species, so I had a new game plan. 

     When I finally made the trip over there, I headed strait to the spot Luke had indicated. And proceeded to catch.. nothing on my old stand-by baits. But there was an older grandmotherly-type lady just down the pier from me pulling out small fish hand over fist. After some investigation and navigating a language barrier, I figured out that raw shrimp was the ticket. And soon I began to catch fish as well. I mostly caught the always ubiquitous shiner perch, which are common throughout the pacific northwest, but then a different colored one popped up! Species 133, the mighty kelp perch!

The first kelp perch I had ever seen!
These are not large fish, this is about as big as they get, but they have strikingly bold blue highlights mixed in with the orange if you look closely enough.

     I was excited to have caught my first target species of the trip, but still couldn't get the striped surfperch quest done, though the nice lady with the shrimp caught a few as I watched. I did add another sculpin species to the list (the padded sculpin), but I lost patience with the perch and went and hit some of my other favorite spots in the hopes of lucking into a starry flounder. 

#134 the padded sculpin!
These weird fish wouldn't bite anything I threw at them either.
Spiny dogfish closeup. Their skin feels like sandpaper.
This is one of the spines that gives them their name. Gotta watch out or they'll stick ya.

I even went and hit a surfperch beach and caught some nice redtail surfperch.
And of course, no trip to the Puget Sound would be complete without catching a few squid. This was one of my doubles. I still haven't got a triple yet, and I've only seen pictures of quadruples.
Whitespotted greenling continue to be one of my more common catches in the Sound. This one wasn't particularly large, but had nice coloration.
Ratfish are also quite common. Still one of the coolest fish out there.
This big female is probably one of my biggest ones yet.
This was only my second ever painted greenling. Another beautifully colored fish. They fight surprisingly hard for their size.
I like to pick through the seaweed when I bring it up. I couldn't decide who was cuter the seabug on the left, or the tiniest shrimp ever on the right.  Just kidding, the seabug is the clear winner.

     The next chance I got to hit the perch spot, I decided to just put in a day of sorting through as many shiner perch as it took. This was likely to get old pretty fast, but I needed to catch one! About an hour into this process, I pulled up what could have been another kelp perch, but I swung it over the rail gingerly just in case. After closer inspection, it was a striped surfperch! A very small one, but it still counted as a species!

I've never been so excited to catch such a tiny example of a species.

     With still plenty of the day left, I put on some bigger baits to see if I could get one of the bigger ones that I had seen caught. Yes I had caught the species, and yes it counted, but it would be nice to have something north of tiny to show for my efforts. It took a while but I eventaully found a spot with some larger specimens willing to play.

This one, I was more excited about. It's still not a big one, but it's starting to show some of the vibrant blue coloration and striping that this species is known for.

     Having caught what I decided was a respectible enough specimen, I decided to go hit one of my old favorite spots again. The spot where I had previously seen (and not caught) hundreds of striped surfperch both while scuba diving and while fishing.

      I of course saw plenty of striped surfperch there, but they of course wanted nothing to do with my offerings as usual. I did catch plenty of the normal stuff there though, just enjoying the day, until I decided it was time to go. I began cleaning up my things, packing up my rods, and I had a few extra pieces of shrimp left over, so I dropped them into the water for the crabs to eat. I gathered all my things and was heading back to the car. Before I did though, I decided to take one last glance over the edge at the surfperch. They were still there of course, and in fact there were more of them than there had been, and as I watched them, I realized that they were eating the shrimp! Well, not being one to miss an oportunity, I got out some more shrimp and re-baited my hooks and sent them down. To my great astonishment, I actually got a bite! And of course missed it, but that was the most action from those fish I had ever seen there! There were some real brutes swimming around, but I tried not to get my hopes up. I sent my hooks back down again, and waited. Just then, the largest fish of the bunch started swimming eratically and it took me a half second to realize that my rod was also bouncing! I had just hooked the best fish of the bunch! I had to stear it away from the barnacle covered pilons, and a ladder on the edge of the pier, but I managed to get him safely to the surface. I held my breath as I swung it over the railing. THIS was a striped surfperch! The electric blue splotches on its face, and stripes on its flanks. This was obviously one of the most beautiful fish I had ever held!

This will go down as my favorite catch of 2020.
Easily one of the most striking fish I've ever seen.
They really are that colorful.

     One arch nemesis was down, which left only the starry flounder. These are another fairly common one, that I for the life of me could not catch. For years. I have seen a couple of them swimming near the surface while squid fishing at night, but could never catch them. I think they get fished out from the piers pretty readilly as they're apparently quite tasty. Easier to catch from a boat, but tougher for a shore-bound fellow like myself. 

     A day or two after my striped surfperch adventure, I was daydreaming my way through YouTube as one does, and I came across a video on there showing exactly where and how to catch starry flounder, and it looked very promising. I have taken trips on much weaker leads than that, so on my next free day, off I went. The spot was just as good as it was in the video for me, with one exception; the starry flounder were absent. I enjoyed the day and did very well catching flat fish after flat fish all on plastic swim baits on drop shot rigs. It was great fishing, and I caught what I'm sure is my personal best rock sole, but again, no starry flounders.

This is a beast of a rock sole. I've caught a bunch of them, and this is by far the biggest.
It's tail reminded me of a big bear paw.

     Also of note, in Puget Sound, there are actually two species of rock sole; the southern rock sole (Lepidsetta bilineata) and the northern rock sole (Lepidopsetta polyxystra). They are very hard to tell apart visually. I've been told that really the only reliable way to tell them apart is by counting the gill rakers. However, in order to count the gill rakers, you have to kill the fish. I don't like eating fish from Puget Sound becasue of the polution, so I've never actually done gill raker counts on them. However, since both species are present in good numbers, statistically speaking, I'm all but positive I've caught both species, as I've caught several hundred rock soles over the years. But I've never been able to prove it, or been confident enough to count a fish as a northern rock sole. That was until on this day while searching for a starry flounder, I pulled up a fish that just looked different. They all pretty much look the same, but this one was off just enough that I took note. My fish ID books say that the space between the eyes is wider in northern rock soles, and that they also lack the creamy white highlights on the blind side that are present in southern rock soles. So I took a good look at this particular fish, and to make a long story short, I'm pretty sure that I'm almost positive that I think it was a northern rock sole, making it species number 135! 

     I do include the foot note on this one, that although I didn't count the gill rakers, the other characteristics look pretty convincing to me. I THINK I'm correct. But, even if I did manage to be wrong about this particular fish; statistically I have caught both species, so I can live with this being the token northern rock sole for my list. I would rather do it that way than kill a fish that I won't eat just to count it's gill rakers.

Here's what I'm calling a southern rock sole (left) and a northern rock sole (right). Note that the coloration is quite different between these two individuals, but that's not what I'm trying to point out. Coloration isn't actually a very good indicator here, as the coloration and paterning can vary quite a bit.
The space between the eyes (interorbital space) is narrower in southern rock soles (left) than northern rock soles (right).
On the blind side (the side of these fish with no eyes) southern rock soles (left) have creamy highlights, seen here as the ligher white patterns that almost looke like flattened out "W" shape. The northern rock soles (right) lack those highlights as seen here.

     Well that was surely more information than you've ever wanted on the differences between two virtually identical fish species, but there you have it. So anyway, I continued to be thoroughly entertained throughout the day catching nice rock sole (whatever species) after rock sole. But still the starry flounders were nowhere in sight. I was bummed, but not surprized. As sunset drew nearer I needed to start the long drive home, so I set an alarm on my phone for when I needed to for sure pack things up. 
     I got a hit on what was to be one of my last few casts of the day and set the hook into a fish just as I had done so many times that day. It fought just the same as all the other flat fish I had caught. I didn't think anything of it until I finally caught a glimpse of it and made out the signature spotting on the fins of a starry flounder! I pulled it over the rail and let out a yell of triumph, just as the alarm on my phone went off. Talk about botom of the ninth! But I had done it. I caught my other arch nemesis.
It may not be much of a looker, but this is a beautiful face to me!

#137! Now that I've caught one, I'm sure they'll show up everywhere but I'm sure glad I don't have to chase these things anymore.
Their fins looked like someone colored them with a sharpie and didn't stay in the lines.
     What do you do if you run out of arch nemeses?? I had to do some serious thinking on that one. I still have two freshwater nemeses, the longnose sucker and longnose dace. But these were my last two big ones for saltwater. There is always the chance of something random coming up when you fish in the ocean, but I'm running out of the targetable stuff. Maybe it's time to move. I have some ideas, though. I have some plans to try for a blue shark next summer, there's flathead catfish to catch not too far away in Idaho, warmouth scattered around somewhere, sand rollers near my old hometown. There's possibilities, they're just becoming fewer and farther between, but I suppose if it were too easy it wouldn't be much fun would it!