Dateline: December 23, 2012 – The Guest Bathroom, San Ramon, California
A lot of what I do is breathtakingly dull, but I rarely let that stop me from taking at least 2000 words to describe it. In this case, however, I was stumped. Between September and December of 2012, I added 7 additional species to my total, bringing me up to a year-end score of 1178. None of these, however, had much of a backstory, so I have opted to lump them into a year-end hodgepodge that will bring the 2012 posts to a (merciful?) conclusion.
The first noteworthy event (by my standards) took place on September 19, when I took a few hours after a business meeting in Denver and added Colorado to my state total. I still feel bad for the guide – Nate Zelinsky at www.tightlineoutdoors.com. Nate is a top-notch walleye expert, but I wanted to fish for suckers. While we didn’t get any new species, at least he gave it a Rocky Mountain try. I did get some nice trout and bluegill, so that’s state number 40 – just 10 to go.
The rainbow trout that added Colorado to my state total.
We then fast forward to October 6, 2012. Scott Perry and I headed down to the central coast of California for a day of salmon fishing, and of course, since I have caught salmon before, I began looking for other creatures. Dropping cut anchovies great depths onto a sandy bottom, I didn’t expect much except sand dabs, but it’s always worth a try. Predictably, I caught interminable dabs for an hour or so, but then I got a more robust bite. It was another sand dab. Moments after that, I hauled up what I was certain was either yet another one of these pestilential flounders, or a lump of kelp, but I was stunned to see that it was a Pacific hake.
The first hake ever proudly displayed in a fishing photo.
This creature is caught in droves by salmon fishermen who are trying NOT to catch them, so it follows that since I was trying to catch one, I would probably get salmon. And I did in fact get a salmon.
Sometimes I just feel the need to prove I can occasionally catch a gamefish. It doesn’t hurt that Jaime has never caught a king salmon.
Of course, once I got this nice fish, I started TRYING to catch a salmon, and the only logical outcome of this was that I caught something else entirely odd – a sablefish. These commercially-important creatures are usually in deeper water, but this juvenile must have decided to ignore the regulations.
The elusive sablefish. Catching this one saved me some serious deep-drop fishing later in life.
To finish off the day, we stopped on some shallow reefs and picked limits of rock cod. Scott got some very solid reds and blacks.
Scott and some fine rockfish.
Toward the end of our day, we were treated to a bunch of sea lions frolicking behind our boat – see: http://youtu.be/5Uud0ot1dGc
Oddly, someone commented on my YouTube channel, complaining that I am “glorifying” sea lions, who are, in his opinion, fish stealing vermin. This is America, so I guess we all have our right to miss the point.
We then take you to November 3. Martini Arostegui and I spent that day wandering across northern California, with a main purpose of getting Martini a redeye bass, which requires a jaunt to the Cosumnes River east of Sacramento. (See http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2011/09/10/a-bridge-too-near/) It was a beautiful day, and we got the redeyes quickly. Moving down to the Highway 16 Bridge to take a shot at some other odd species, we had caught a few nice spotted bass when Martini almost jumped out of his shorts. (Ironic choice of phrase, as you will see a couple of paragraphs down.) He pointed out to a rocky outcrop about 10 feet offshore and said “There is a HUGE bass on that edge.” I cast and hooked up right away – it was a solid spot about 2 pounds. I looked up at Martini, and he was still peering into the water. He said “That wasn’t the big one.” He cast to the same spot and immediately got crushed. The fish peeled line off of his light spinning reel, but he turned the fish and started working back toward the shore. Moments later, he landed the largest spotted bass I have ever personally seen – over five pounds.
This is a flat-out hog of a spotted bass. Annoyingly, he also caught redeye bass here, which I wasn’t able to do on my first trips here, necessitating a lot more driving.
We then headed over to the American River in Sacramento to hunt the elusive Sacramento suckers. We did not get any, but I did get a tiny, tiny bite that turned out to be the start of an odd journey that brought me closer to my alma mater, UC Davis. I somehow managed to catch a tiny freshwater sculpin.
This creature turned out to be a riffle sculpin, species #1174.
Because I respect Martini, and because I fear his cat, I did not publish the unedited photo. I thought I was doing my standard arm’s length shot with a lovely background of the American River, but to my dismay, I discovered later that young Mr. Arostegui had photobombed me. (While continuing to fish – how’s that for manual dexterity?) 1000fish is a family blog, and we always censor such prurient items. (Unedited prints available for $5 at Martinimoon.com)
These sculpins are quite difficult to identify. Subtle characteristics like fin ray counts, toenail shape, and musical tastes make a difference, and without the kindness of Dr. Peter Moyle at my alma mater, UC Davis, I would have been lost.
Dr. Peter Moyle, UC Davis. He knows how to tell sculpins apart. This makes him my hero.
Ironic that I am keeping in touch with science professors at UCD when I devoted my academic career there to avoiding them. (I was most comfortable where essays were required. Imagine that. Although I did once get partial credit on a chemistry exam for drawing a box of Wheaties when asked to diagram a carbohydrate.)
That one “sympathy point” made a big difference in my grade, and I don’t even like Wheaties. Now Quisp – there’s a good cereal.
A few days later, still attempting to catch the elusive Sacramento sucker, I did a trip with old friend Ed Trujillo on the American River in Sacramento. (See http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2011/01/29/trout-blasphemy/ for more on Ed.) The sculpins, which I had never seen in 30 years of fishing the American river, had taken over.
The prickly sculpin. Pound for pound, they are one of the more savage sculpins. That’s Ed Trujillo, steelhead guide extraordinaire, in the background, back in the saddle and being forced to catch undignified creatures.
I caught over a dozen sculpins, even on some fairly large hooks. I donated a Pepsi bottle full of them to UC Davis, and Dr. Moyle had one of his classes identify the beasts. I was in for a magnificent surprise, like when I went in to beg for more time on a paper and found out my professor had broken his leg skiing and wouldn’t be back for a week. Dr. Moyle informed me I had captured not one, but two different species of freshwater sculpin, the riffle and the prickly (which would be a great name for a pub in an edgy part of London.)
I then turned my attention to the California splittail. Teejay O’Rear at UC Davis made me aware of this Delta species, although I was not sure of it being actually catchable, but Martini Arostegui actually found data on people fishing for them. I made three trips up to the Suisun area. Everyone I spoke to had a different idea on how to catch them – on a float, on the bottom, close to the shore, out in deep water … so I tried everything. While I didn’t even sniff a splittail on my first two trips, on November 7, I did get a Shimofuri Goby, a lovely import from the far east that has taken up residence in our brackish waters.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know it’s small. But it’s not the size of the fish that matters … well, who am I kidding. Of course size matters. I need to go catch a marlin somewhere.
A few evenings later, as I struggled with the fact that Delta mosquitoes apparently don’t mind cool weather, I landed a splittail. Not a beast of a splittail, but a decent one. I will be going back there in the spring, albeit wearing a full mosquito net or maybe a full suit of armor, because there are bigger ones to be had.
I can’t explain the look on my face either, because I’m the one who took the photo. How is it that I surprised myself?
The final species of the year was added in the guest bathroom in my house. No, I was not fishing in there, although I have been guilty of worse. I was just sitting there, minding my own business and contemplating the wonder of fiber, when an email arrived. This email, from sharp-eyed 1000fish reader Thorke Ostergaard of Denmark, suggested that the weever I caught in Croatia (http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2011/07/10/where-have-all-the-vowels-gone/) appeared to be different from the weever I caught in Morocco (http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2011/12/30/hamak-for-samak/) A bit more research and an email to Dr. Carvalho later, it turns out that these were 2 different species, the great weever and the spotted weever. Sometimes, I just miss one. I have yet to catch a basket weever.
I wanted to thank Thorke and publish a nice fish picture of his, and what do I get but a %#$&ing plaice. Perhaps he had no idea what a bitter memory this species of flatfish holds for me, but for those of you who care to read about a particularly humiliating day in my life, check http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2010/07/23/a-plaice-in-the-sun/. Thorke also warned me that this pictures is, as his wife put it, “a few haircuts ago.”
A plaice? A plaice? Really?? My most bitter fishing memory and Thorke has caught one from the shore?
So ended another year in my fishing career, the time when we look back at the numbers and engage in deep personal reflection. Or not. The numbers were up to 1178 – new species are certainly getting harder to come by, but the fact that I got so many within an hour of my home also fills me with hope. The record count was 67, and these too were getting harder – Martini had warned me that the last 10 seem to take forever, and I am nowhere near the last 10.
But looking back a few months later, it was a great fall. I got to fish with some of my best friends, I continued running up the species total, and best of all, I to wear my stunning new pair of holiday pants, which were a big hit at the office Christmas party.