Posted by: 1000fish | January 17, 2021

Exploring my Intertidal Side

DATELINE: JUNE 13, 2020 – BROOKINGS, OREGON

The calico surfperch is another fish that just pisses me off. It’s there. I know it’s there, because many of my friends have caught one, but every time I try, I fail. In surfperch terms, they are widespread, ranging from British Columbia to Southern California, but they seem to gather in very specific areas that they do not publicly disclose. I like surf fishing, and I had come to just hope I would eventually catch one by accident, but late at night, I would lay awake and agonize about how to target one.

The Great Western Road Trip had given me some confidence that I could travel without dying. As I settled into a Covid routine and the toilet paper supply chain stabilized, Marta again began hinting that it would be nice if I got out of the house so she could get some work done. (She claims that my constant interruptions prevent her from focusing on projects. Ridiculous.)

Species hunters 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 have dismissed this as inexcusable hubris. But Luke is a tremendous fisherman, so I had to take him seriously, even though his statement made me spit Pepsi all over my keyboard. As we discussed further, I had to remember he lives in Oregon and can get to the coast fairly easily, and over the years, he had consistently caught calicos in the region.

This would need to be an overnight trip – the Oregon coast is at least seven hours away from my home. It would also be ideal to attempt a few other species in the area, because even though I have done 14 hour round trips for one species (heck, I’ve done 14,000 mile round trips for one species,) it would be nice to have some backup options. As Luke and I discussed further, it became apparent that the Oregon coast is a hotbed of tidepool critters, and I figured that this was worth a weekend.

In my ideal world, Marta and I would have made a getaway out of this, but in her ideal world, me being out of the house IS a weekend getaway. Young men – consider your emotional needs before you move in with someone. Young women – picture that man 30 pounds heavier and wearing sweatpants, with stains you can only hope are coffee.

The drive, long though it may be, is a gorgeous route filled with memories. A few hours north on 101, I entered the Redwoods and passed the Benbow Inn, a lovely Tudor-style inn where I first stayed in the mid-1970s with my stepmonster’s parents. (They were lovely people, which always confused me.) There is the Avenue of the Giants, where Marta and I chased each other through the woods back when we could run fast. Further north is Miranda, on the Eel River, where Ed Trujillo guided me and Mark Spellman to our greatest day of steelhead fishing.

Just before Eureka, the road leaves the mountains and runs along the ocean. It’s often cold and foggy there, but the scenery is sublime. I smiled as I passed Patrick’s Point, a state park where, in September of 1982, I went camping with a college girlfriend. I am really bad at camping, so bad that the relationship ended shortly thereafter. (And that’s all I’m going to say, except that our friends called it the “Camping Without Sharp Objects” trip. Hi Cindy.)

Trinidad, California – one of the north coast ports.

Just north of there, Martini and I had an epic day on surfperch in Orick. I’ve only ever caught two redtail surfperch, but one of them is still the world record. North Coast anglers – this one is easy to beat. Go do it. Just leave me the Tiera Batfish.

I pulled into Brookings at around 4pm. I had a couple of hours of daylight, a rising tide, and a big tub of pileworms. The spot was easy to find on GPS, but parking was another story entirely, and I ended up walking a mile in waders. This is a recipe for sweating and chafing, but I’ll put up with sweating and chafing any time to go fishing.

That’s a long walk in waders.

The beach was perfect. The surf was calm, the wind was light, and I could see rock and kelp structures within easy casting distance. I clipped on a weight, baited the hooks, and cast. I was fishing. It’s always a great feeling to have made a plan, taken a long drive to a strange place, found the spot, and actually gotten a bait in the water.

I waited for the sinker to hit bottom so I could set the rod in my sand spike. It never hit the bottom. A fish took off with it, and after a moment of sphincter lock, I set the hook. “Ha ha.” I said as I reeled in something spunky, expecting a barred surfperch. “Wouldn’t it be funny if this was a calico?”

It was a calico. A nice one. I had been fishing less than a minute and had my target. Go Luke. I bellowed in triumph.

Immediately post-bellow.

With the pressure off, I could just enjoy myself until dark and then run out for a nice meal. I scaled down to eight pound gear, and got nine more calicos. I love surf fishing, especially now.

Beautiful fish, but I should have shaved.

I had two doubles.

I got lucky. It isn’t always this nice in Oregon.

Starting the chafy walk back to the car.

I then headed to the Superfly Martini Bar and Grill and had marvelous fish and chips. They were seating people at tables back then, which felt odd but somehow reassuring. I hate eating in my car.

And they had chocolate cake.

I got to sleep in the next morning, as the low tide wasn’t until noon. I love tidepool fishing. You never know what you’ll find, especially in Australia, but at least in Oregon nothing could come out from under a rock and kill me. Luke had caught quite a few species in the area, although his favorite tidepools, a bit north of here, were closed due to the pandemic. God forbid we give Covid to an oyster.

The tidepools. Every single rock hides a potential species.

I started on the south side of the point, and eased myself into tidepool mentality. It’s a very detailed visual process that involves entering a Zen space where you are trying to spot tiny parts of well-camouflaged small fish, and, even more importantly, places where they might be hiding. You are concurrently trying to see where they are and where they might be, and my expectations were high.

Of course, anyplace I fish is going to have a dominant pest – a creature I have caught before, usually with great effort, that suddenly becomes viciously aggressive and gets caught in droves, to the exclusion of whatever I am targeting. Introducing today’s dominant pest – the wooly sculpin. I caught eight of them to start the morning, and this had me close to apoplectic. My visions of exotic sculpins and pricklebacks were being dashed. So I had a talk with myself, but still proceeded to catch a few more wooly sculpins. Then, a miracle happened. As I explored a likely crevice with my micro hook and bit of shrimp, a distinctly different head popped out and grabbed it.

It was a tidepool sculpin, species 1940. (A good milestone for me, a bad year for Winston Churchill.)

Shortly thereafter, I got a rosylip sculpin, species 1941, and now I felt like I was in business. Spots were standing out to me, and the wooly sculpins started thinning out.

The rosylip sculpin.

I worked my way along a set of pools at the edge of deeper water. At this stage, I was having the best luck blind fishing. I had crawled up to a small ledge in a hot tub-sized tidepool, and something kept poking its head out to inspect my bait. It was very cautious, and I was careful to raise and lower the bait slowly. As I lifted it past the top of the crevice, something astonishing (at least by my standards) happened. A small head appeared from the underside of the ledge, completely upside down, and nipped at my bait. It was a northern clingfish, and it was on the prowl. I have always pictured these improbable little beasts as completely sedentary, and here was one charging at the micro-worm. And the split shot. It hit four times and finally got hooked.

I was completely beside myself, and as excitable as I am, that’s saying something.

The Weipa hat was a gift from Scotty Lyons during a particularly epic trip to the Gulf of Carpenteria in 2009. Sadly, that was a few months before the blog commenced, but I’ll get to it sooner or later. The high-level summary – 41 species, lots of amazing fish, very little personal hygiene.

That’s the sucker disk that they use to cling to rocks.

And they’re cute.

I returned my attention to the fish at the base of the crevice, and moments later, it came out and attacked. It was a prickleback – a small, eel-like creature that comes in several flavors. Being large and fast by tidepool standards, it was actually quite a fight. It got lodged under the rock twice, which is delicate when you’re working with one-pound leader. Luckily, I eased it out and we had the fifth and final species of the trip, the Rock Prickleback.

Their marketing people asked me to tell you all that pricklebacks are not eels.

They are beautifully marked. I need to learn to take Ben Cantrell-level photos.

That’s number 1943 if you’re playing along at home. A good number for me, a bad year for Van Paulus. (Free pizza for the first reader who isn’t Lee Sullivan who gets this reference.)

The tide crept up, and soon the pools were covered up and I was done.

I still drool when I look at this photo.

I headed back to the car, switched gear, and made the sweaty, chafy walk back to the perch spot, just for the joy of it. I figured it HAD to be great – I had the same tide, the same time of day, and the same weather. I caught one small one. The Fish Gods sometimes giveth, and the Fish Gods sometimes don’t giveth, and it’s completely on their terms. We’re just along for the ride.

But I had five new species in a difficult year, some ideas to get even more in the same area when things returned to normal, and the ride home was even more beautiful than the way up. My next socially-distanced adventure, which would also involve an elusive surf fish, would be coming up in less than two weeks, and was already fully approved by Marta.

Steve

SPECIAL BONUS SECTION – NEW WORLD RECORD SPOTTED SUCKER

I was thrilled to hear that 1000Fish friend and frequent fishing buddy Tyler Goodale has booked his first individual IGFA world record, taking a monstrous 5.25 pound spotted sucker from Duck Creek, MO, where I have never caught a damn thing.

If you plan on fishing the Ozarks, you have to fish with this guy. You can reach him on 573-714-9256 or etheostoma83@gmail.com.


Responses

  1. Cool stuff man. Heading up north for some sturgeon fishing with my dad. Bringing my boat. Sadly its a quick turnaround or I’d invite you out for a day.

    ________________________________


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Categories

%d bloggers like this: