Posted by: 1000fish | December 1, 2018

That New Car Smell

Dateline: July 1, 2018 – Del Mar, California

There is no better excuse for a road trip than a new car. I loved my old X5, but BMW repair bills are unfriendly, and when the mechanic told me all the hoses would have to be replaced but that still might not fix the problem, it was time. I fully intended to get another X5, but Marta, in her own shy way, pointed out that a Honda would be a lot less expensive, and that the only reason I would want a fancy import would be to impress young women, and that there was no chance that I would impress young women even if I had the Batmobile.

With that dose of harsh reality still dripping down my face, I bought a Honda Pilot. Truthfully, I love the thing – and I no longer get to look forward to some snotty guy at the BMW dealership  saying “Yes, Mr. Wozniak, $4000 is the discounted price. But these are very nice windshield wipers.” And even though the guy is American, I always remember him saying it in a light German accent.

I miss Otto.

Once I had the new vehicle in the driveway, I felt a strong urge to do some road trips. This blog will actually cover three of them – all with old friend Mark Spellman. (Because I know you will ask, no one ended up covered with poop.)

The first round was in late May, and will introduce another member of the species hunting fraternity into the 1000fish blog. Luke Ovgard is a high school teacher who looks more like a high school senior, but remember that anyone under 40 looks like a high school senior to me. Luke is based in Klamath Falls, Oregon, and has caught almost everything you possible can catch in his area. He is the current world record holder on the Klamath largescale sucker, which is a species I have never caught, so you would think I hate him, but he’s a good guy. I also just found out he has caught a calico surfperch, so I am reconsidering whether he is a good guy.

Luke and his record sucker.

It was a short weekend – we got on the road Friday afternoon and needed to be home Sunday by lunch. We drove it in about six hours, although it felt like 14 because of the horrible bay area traffic. It’s a beautiful run up I-5, reminding me of all the steelhead trips with Ed Trujillo. We talked nonstop about those long weekends, but of course, it kept coming back to that one magical day on the Eel river  – March 31, 2007 – when we both got our personal best steelies. We had dinner at Taco Bell, so that pretty much took care of the new car smell, and we got up to Klamath Falls around 7pm. Luke met us at a lakeside park, and we headed out to cast the shoreline for the big rainbows that make the area famous. Upper Klamath Lake is an odd place – huge, very shallow (like six feet in most places,) so most of the trout are actually stacked up on the shoreline. This makes it ideal for the bank-based lure throwing types, and Luke would qualify as an expert.

Annoyingly, Spellman caught a beast immediately.

We’re talking ten pounds here.

It’s quite a scenic location.

Unlike me, Spellman is not a competitive jerk, so he didn’t rub it in too much and soon, it was dark and we could do some species hunting. We explored some shallow backwaters, and I quickly found two new additions to the list – the blue chub and the slender sculpin.

The blue chub. I hate taking fish photos at night.

Because most of them turn out like this.

The slender sculpin. This was the 14th try for this photo.

We then drove to several other spots, looking for rare sculpin species until the wee hours, but these would not cooperate. We ended up at a Denny’s well after midnight. Luke is a passionate angler and a talented outdoor writer, and we carried on a spirited conversation about both the species we had already caught and the many that we hope to get. He travels a good bit for continuing education, and he definitely has the bug to hunt down anything that swims.

And he wrote a nice article about the trip.

Inspiration to what?

Spellman was in it, but to be fair, he caught the biggest fish.

Saturday became one of those awful days that I occasionally inflict on myself. Here I was, in a gorgeous location and good conditions for huge trout. We spent part of the morning at a spring looking for more sculpins, and while we were doing that, I saw some Klamath Largescale Suckers. At least I think they were Klamath Largescale Suckers. I’ll never know for sure, because despite me spending hours casting baits right in front of their little noses, they ignored me all day. This can happen with suckers, and it is either an advantage or a curse that I firmly believe that a fish that has not eaten baits right in its face for hours is always just about to bite. (Marta theorizes that this means I am either bad at math or fish psychology.) Spellman and Luke gave up on me, went elsewhere, and caught some nice trout.

Luke catches some big trout.

Luckily, the night ended with pizza. Anything that ends with pizza can’t be all bad.

We had a long drive ahead of us on Sunday, but we decided to fish the morning. Luke’s knowledge of the lake was astonishing – I thought I could read nooks, crannies, and rocks, but he knew exactly which ones held fish. I put in a decent effort for trout, hooking (and botching) two, which left me surly, but not as surly as I would have been if there had been a new species at stake. About an hour before we had to leave, my attention span failed and I started micro-fishing. There was one micro in the lake that I needed – the fathead minnow.

And I got one!

Three species only six hours from home is a pretty good haul at this stage of my career, and a big thanks to Luke. I’m sure we’ll fish with him again.

Mark, Steve, Luke. I must be standing in a hole.

A few weeks later, Spellman and I took a random shot at one of the very few species close to my house that I have yet to catch – the Tahoe sucker. This is a fool’s errand 11 months of the year, as these fish are randomly distributed in deep mountain lakes, but in late spring, they move up creeks to spawn and can allegedly be reliably located. It’s a beautiful drive up I-80 into the mountains, with memories from childhood and college scattered throughout. I attended UC Davis, and anyone who has had the misfortune to drive through that area with me knows they will be subjected to those stories, most of which involve me accidentally hitting a baseball or someone throwing up. As we get into the mountains, I always recall childhood car trips to Tahoe with my father and stepmonster, most of which involved my sister throwing up.

Our actual destination was a few miles short of Tahoe – a place called Donner Lake. Interestingly, this scenic venue was the site of the worst dinner party in recorded history – the Donner party. (You can look it up, but a brief and vaguely accurate summary is that a the settlers in a 19th century wagon train didn’t check, got stuck in the snow, and ended up eating each other. I have been to some terrible parties, but cannibalism crosses a line.)

We caught a couple of nice trout in a small spillway, then waded our way half a mile up a creek.

I love wet wading.

We spotted squillions of redsides, but it was only on our return walk that Spellman’s sharp eyes picked out a fish that wasn’t a redside or a small trout. He pointed and made the universal hand sign for “Tahoe sucker by the log” and I was on it. I started casting a micro-rig, and in between dozens of redside, I saw a couple of small suckers come up and peck at it. I knew it was just a matter of time, but I also knew it could be a lot of time. Luckily, about 30 minutes later, I got one. We were ecstatic – this fish has been on my “back of the burner” list for years.

The beast.

We celebrate the beast.

A special shout out to Martini, who provided key information and spots for this fish.

We had the whole rest of the day to run around the central valley. As we needed to head back through Sacramento, we decided to visit Ed Trujillo. Ed wasn’t doing well – indeed, this was the last time I saw him before he died in August. He was still delighted to see us, and we went on with old stories and photos for a couple of hours. Spellman and I headed out in the late afternoon, and make a quick swing by Putah Creek, one of my old college stomping grounds, where I went fishing when I was putting off homework, which was most of the time. We caught a couple of nice Sacramento Pikeminnows, then hit the road, found some burgers, and headed home to our real lives. We’ve been doing this together for 26 years.

Spellman and a Putah Creek pikeminnow. I caught my first one in 1982 in Paradise, California, and I can’t tell you how sad it makes me that the whole town – a lovely little mountain community – was obliterated in the recent Camp Fire. There are a lot of people in need right now, especially as the holidays are here. You can help by donating to the Red Cross here

The next weekend, Spellman and I both got “hall passes” from home, likely because Marta and Heather were out doing something erudite or expensive that they never told us about. Mark and I decided to make the run to San Diego. It’s a long way, but I had some very important species in mind, like corbina and corvina, and I also knew I was one record away from changing the IGFA standings. San Diego (and Captain James Nelson) has been very good to me on world records, and even though I didn’t have anything specific in mind, I knew there was always a chance.

We got there late in the evening, and caught up with old friend Ben Cantrell, the Illinois native who had moved to San Diego and is rampaging his way through the local species and swimsuit models. He generously allowed us to stay with him, which he probably regretted as soon as we had Mexican for dinner.

The next two days did not go well for me. They went well for everyone else, even Spellman, so fishing must have been wide open, but apparently, I had done something to displease the Fish Gods. We went out Saturday morning to hit Del Mar, making a quick stop in the estuary where we found some bay blennies. I added what would turn out to be my only species of the trip.

Blennies are cool.

Filled with optimism, we headed to the beach where we would search for corbina and spotfin croaker, two surf residents I have been longing to catch for many years. These are difficult species – fishing the shallow wash with very light tackle – but I felt good about my chances. Ben had gotten both in the last few weeks. We dug up a batch of sand crabs for bait, then waded out into the breakers, taking care to shuffle our feet lest we step on a stingray.

Beautiful Del Mar. That’s me in the surf, in case you thought it was Brad Pitt.

There is no way to put this that won’t give me PTSD. Ben caught a big corbina. Spellman caught a big corbina. I caught NOTHING. I am supposed to be a decent fisherman, or at least that’s what the marketing people tell me. Ben is pretty good, so I could live with that, but Spellman? Seriously? We have an arrangement – I never beat him at tennis, and he never kicks my ass on the water. I was beside myself. I could see the things swimming in eight inches of water between me and the beach, but I could not hook up if my life depended on it. Now I know what Jim LaRosa feels like in a singles bar.

Spellman’s corbina.

That’s Ben under the mask.

We left around noon, the guys giving each other high-fives while I shook my head in disbelief. Even Taco Bell didn’t help. We made the short trip down to San Diego Bay, where 1000fish favorite Captain James Nelson had agreed, against his better judgement, to take us out for an afternoon trip. It was windy, which is why he generally doesn’t do this sort of thing, but it was still nice to be on the water. We ventured outside, into some moderate chop, and drifted some live baits. Ben got a solid takedown out in the middle of nowhere, and I watched the fight with great curiosity and minor envy. A few minutes later, he landed his first white seabass – an amazing and elusive species that is a big moment in the life of anyone who gets even a small one.

I’ve only ever caught two. They weren’t much bigger than this one, but the point is that they were bigger.

To keep me from puking, we headed back inside the bay, and gave it a shot for another elusive species – shortfin corvina. It eluded me again, but at least Spellman didn’t get one. As it got toward evening, we set up some bottom baits to see what was biting. I had some odd species in mind, like a horn shark or banded guitarfish, but a world record, ANY kind of world record, was also front and center. One more would put me in 4th place by myself, and this is a big deal to at least half the people who live in my house. The guys got a couple of small bat rays, and then, finally, my rod got bumped. It didn’t feel very big, but it started to run a bit, and I set the hook hard. Whatever it was took off just as hard, and the fight was on. It wasn’t fast enough to be a bat ray, and I started thinking that if it was a butterfly ray, it was going to be a big one. I knew I needed to tie 21.5 pounds, the current record held by an attractive lady from Texas, who I am sure is a nice person but was standing between me and a little piece of angling posterity.

The fish surfaced about 10 minutes later, and it was a butterfly. A big one. I knew it was going to be close, but 21.5 is a big mark to beat. James landed it, and I took a preliminary weight. It was close, but records need to be weighed on dry land. We slipped it into the livewell and raced for a pier. I weighed it, and weighed it, and weighed it. Then I had the guys look at it over and over. Twenty one and a half pounds. I had done it.

The beast. Butterfly rays have been very kind to me in the record department.

Briefly, I forgot all about the morning’s events and the choppy water and the lack of species. I had accomplished something I had wanted to for a long time, and I got to celebrate it there with some of my best friends in one of the most beautiful places on earth. I couldn’t help but think of one of Marta’s favorite quotes – “Behind every successful man … is a surprised woman.”

The group celebrates. Ben has perfect teeth. That happens when you don’t play hockey.

The morning was another dose of humility. We went back to the surf, but it had gotten just a touch higher, and the corbina were not to be found. Ben had hopes of a shortfin corvina in the surf, for which I mocked him, and you all know how this is going to turn out.

Ben and his caught-in-the-surf-on-a-lure shortfin corvina.

He got three of them. Standing right next to me. Sometimes, you have to tip your hat to someone, and then, when no one is looking, quietly plot revenge. Sure, I could print an inexplicable photo of Ben when he was staying at our house, but I wouldn’t do something mean like that.

Or would I?

But more importantly, I needed to plot how the heck I was going to catch the corbina and the corvina – two very different fish despite being one letter apart. I knew if I kept making the trip, I would get them sooner or later. Spellman was upbeat the whole way home, reminding me that many people have caught a corbina, which didn’t sound helpful at the time, but he also pointed out that only three people had more world records than me, which was something of a consolation. This is part of being pointlessly, relentlessly competitive, which helps in this game but doesn’t always make me the best company. Still, Mark, as a true and loyal friend, did convince me I would eventually catch both species. I had no idea that I would be getting another chance in less than six weeks.






  1. Nice report , wish five groups to Egypt !
    B R

  2. […] a lousy trip, returning to the same place does not mean you will do better. You might do worse. But my early July San Diego trip had been so bad, so humbling, that I was eager to get that bitter taste out of my mouth. Some […]

  3. […] Luke Ovgard, he of blue chub fame, joined us. I trusted his guidance, as he happened to hold the world record on hardhead. Unfortunately, the river was completely blown out, but luckily, this did not stop the hardhead from biting. We had great action through the evening, interrupted only for an excellent Italian meal. The next morning, while Marta hiked a local mountain, I unintentionally but gleefully shattered Luke’s record. […]

  4. […] fishing won, although Marta gently telling me “GET OUT” also helped. I caught up with old 1000fish friend Luke Ovgard, and we agreed to meet in Yreka, California – not to be confused with Eureka – and go […]

  5. […] next morning, I met up with old 1000fish friend Luke Ovgard to poke around for a few California micros. I am proud to report that I captured one – the […]

  6. […] talk to each other a lot, because we rarely have other friends. In one of these conversations, with old 1000fish friend Luke Ovgard, he actually referred to a calico surfperch as a “slam dunk.” In most cases, I would […]

  7. […] I’ve never gotten a corbina this big. Ben has. Even Spellman has. […]

  8. […] the holiday fishing break had been long enough. Courtesy of old 1000fish friend Luke Ovgard, who got the spot from a local kid named Vince (who will be featured more prominently in the next […]

  9. […] and should not be confused with Eureka, which is on the coast. I called species hunting friend Luke Ovgard in case he needed this fish, since he’s based in Southern Oregon, closer to the spot than I […]

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