Posted by: 1000fish | July 6, 2021

Gualala Canal Diary


It was a weird summer. Covid continued to hover over everything we did – no movies, no big social gatherings, no trips outside the country. By the time August of 2020 rolled around, I was supposed to be over 2000 species, and I was supposed to have gotten this done in exotic places like the Seychelles and the Amazon. I had visions of species 2000 being a world record on a freshwater stingray somewhere in the wilds of Brazil, but none of this was going to happen. As my grandfather used to say, “Deal with it, boy,” which became “Shit happens” around the time I turned 18. So I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it, except late at night when I couldn’t sleep because I was still at 1960 species. I mean, what if I got hit by a bus? What if Marta was driving it?

Still, we were as well of as we could be. Marta and I were both healthy, we were both employed, and there was plenty of toilet paper at CVS. I had managed to sneak out for a few trips, like Oregon, the desolate west, and Virginia. Without overseas travel available, I figured I would enjoy the summer fishing in California and track down a few things here I hadn’t caught yet. Of course, I was going to do a lot of my “backyard” fishing that I rarely write about, because there are very few species or records for me to chase close to home. But still, I love to fish and these are the places where I learned much of whatever I may know about the sport. So, this whole blog is really only going to be about three small species, but I’m going to do my best to disguise them with all kinds of other stuff I caught just for fun – and at the end of the day, that’s why any of us do this at all.

One of my most beloved summer trips is finding an evening high tide and heading to Tiburon to fish for stingrays. I was introduced to this spot almost 30 years ago by old friend Mike Rapoport, and I’ve been coming here ever since.

“Rapo” poses with a bat ray, circa 1993. He poses this way with everything. You should see his wedding photos.

I picked up an unanticipated fishing partner for much of this summer – Jibril, the teenage son of one of my best friends. His Mother and I worked together more than 20 years, and I have seen him grow from an incontinent lump into a fine young man.

Jibril, circa 2003. He still has that look on his face in most photos, but he smells a lot better now.  

The Tiburon trips are a waiting game, soaking squid on the bottom until a bat ray or leopard shark makes off with it. In the meantime, there are spectacular views of Sausalito and San Francisco, unless the evening fog comes in over Mount Tamalpais and obscures everything. When the fish hit, there is no missing it – they will scream line off the reel and woe unto the angler who doesn’t loosen their drag. We got a few fish, then headed over to Waypoint Pizza, which is exceptional pizza AND has soft serve ice cream. 

Jibril with a California bat ray. Interestingly, Jibril made his first appearance in the 1000fish blog ten years ago.

From the “My Guitar Solo” blog, that’s Jibril, second from left. The kid on the far left, Nicola, still terrifies me.

Sunset at Tiburon.

A week or so later, I made my first species attempt of the month. The Shokihaze goby is an Asian transplant, and they are supposed to be especially abundant in one of the rivers that runs into San Francisco Bay. (Spot courtesy of Pat Kerwin!) I set out to hunt this creature on August 18, the only date from April until mid-September that I hadn’t caught a new species. I have tried – and failed – to get a new species on this cursed date for three years running. This year would be no different. I caught a bunch of chameleon gobies – the fish I had hoped to get in Suisun City on 8/18/18 and eventually got in San Diego, but the Shokihaze was nowhere to be found. There is a Jimi Hendrix song in here someplace.

It got worse. Perhaps an hour into the trip, I saw smoke rising off to the east. In less than an hour, it looked as if someone had dropped an atom bomb on the East Bay. I got on the internet, and there was a fire – a huge fire – in Vacaville, one of the towns on I-80, about halfway between my house and Sacramento. One of my great friends in college, Rick Koelling, was from there, and his Mother always welcomed us for real food when we passed through town.

Really? Couldn’t we have skipped fires for a year?

As if we didn’t have enough problems, Northern California was on fire. There followed some weeks where it wasn’t always safe to breathe outside the house, and the view at high noon looked like late evening. The light that did get through the smoke was a ghastly orange, and big flakes of ash covered everything.

Like I said, it was a weird summer.

Looking up my street. This photo was taken at noon.

Looking west around 5pm. It was bad out there, but we were lucky not to have any fires in our immediate area.

But this wasn’t going to stop me from fishing. Another favorite summer trip is float tubing for spotted bass at Lake Oroville. It’s a three hour drive through the central valley to get there, closer to four with all the fire detours. It seemed even longer because Jibril, who intends to be an engineer, still believes fishing success can be explained in terms of science, and so there were endless questions along the lines of “Why would you choose a purple worm over a blue worm?” and endless answers like “Because Hi’s Tackle Box had them on sale.” We got there eventually, and the lake is positively stuffed with cooperative bass. 

No one looks graceful launching a tube, but it’s nice to be soaking in the water on a hot day.

The kid managed to get a few decent spotties. But I got more.

And I got my personal best fish in Oroville. Don’t panic. It’s a largemouth.

The air at the lake was as smoky as it was in the Bay Area – several more fires had erupted, including one close to Oroville that wiped out a couple of small towns. It was starting to feel like the apocalypse, but at least we were fishing. It’s a late night, because we always fish well after dark, and we always stop at Carl’s Jr. in Marysville. Even if we had to eat in the car, it was still a touch of continuity, and that made me feel better. 

Late in August, I made another species attempt, this time for the California roach. This small cyprinid is part of a complex of species that were recently split apart by scientists at my alma mater, UC Davis. Dr. Peter Moyle, who has helped me with so many local critters and IDs, gave me a spot where they had sampled this creature, about two and a half hours from my house.

Dr. Moyle on the left. And I spent four years at UCD trying to avoid science classes.

It was a pleasant drive up the valley, part of my route for countless steelhead trips with Ed Trujillo.   The whole trip was hazy with smoke from the fires, which were now all over Northern California. I got to the creek around 2pm, and set to it with my trusty micro setup. I caught a mosquitofish. This caused a brief emotional crisis, when my imagination ran wild into a scenario where all I was going to catch would be the cursed Gambusia. Luckily, the next 11 fish were California roach. I was on the board with species 1961. 

My Mother graduated college in 1961.

I wore my UC Davis hat for the occasion. As it turns out, Jibril will be attending UC Davis. We are all quite proud of him for this, and we secretly believe he chose UCD so he could be closer to us.

Early September saw decent sea conditions, so I headed out after coastal rockfish. First, I caught up with Jibril and did a Half Moon Bay excursion. I have been doing this trip for around 30 years, so there are very low odds of anything new, but I love tossing jigs on light tackle for whatever will bite down there. Jibril is a solid fisherman and does not display the moral weakness that is seasickness, so he is only minimally troublesome to bring along.

He got his first cabezone on this trip. It took Ben Cantrell years to get a cabbie. I prefer Uber.

And a decent ling. But he has to get that look off his face,

But yes, my vermilion was bigger than his ling. Not that I’m competitive. Note that Jamie Hamamoto has not caught a vermilion.

Less than a week later, Marta messed up. She persuaded me to book some spots on a Farralones rockfish boat for friends of hers to go fishing with me. This is the advanced class – great fishing but three hours off the coast in open water. As you can imagine, this is a wonderful trip as long as the water is reasonably calm. It wasn’t, and her guests understandably bailed. I found a few last-minute replacements, including the ever-reliable Jibril and Scott Perry, a good buddy since 1992, but there were no volunteers for that last spot, and with the deposit being on my credit card, Marta ended up going.

The Farralone Islands, on a nice day.

The fishing was good, but the conditions were lousy. Marta never uttered a word of complaint, but perhaps this was because she was too busy throwing up. Oh, did she throw up – a rail bunny performance for the ages. During her few breaks, she would catch a fish, maybe drink a little water, then throw up again. Although I cannot prove it, I believe she threw up her shoes, and that has to hurt.

She really put her back in to it. Great form.

But the important thing is that I caught a nice ling cod and won the pool. 

As soon as we passed under the Golden Gate, Marta was fine. That’s Scott on the right.

A few days later, I took a shot at another species. The Gualala Roach is another of the aforementioned new roach species, which resides (obviously) in the Gualala River, some four hours away from my home. It’s a lovely but grueling drive up the coast, and of course, the entire way, I had to consider whether the fish would be there. Such are the risks of species hunting – it’s not like the local newspaper is going to have a weekly Gualala Roach report. Highway 1 is gorgeous, except that there is always construction. 

Still an amazing view, and you can take nice pictures when you’re stopped waiting for one-way traffic control.

Jenner, California – where the Russian River empties into the Pacific. I saw a killer whale eat a seal here once.

I got there midafternoon and the river looked fantastic. Sure, it was a river rather than a canal, but you’ll have to allow me the artistic license here – how often do I get to make an obscure WWII reference?

The Gualala. It was jammed with roach.

I peered down from the bridge, to the bemused glances of locals, and I immediately spotted small fish – too big to be mosquitofish, in the wrong places to be trout. I raced to get to the water, and my enthusiasm kept me from thinking out the access problem very thoroughly. Instead of looking at a map, which would have revealed an open gravel bar about 150 yards down from where I parked, I instead left my vehicle and took the most direct route possible, through a thick patch of woods liberally carpeted with poison oak. It took me 35 minutes to bushwhack my way to the water, whereas the other path would have taken four minutes and not involved Caladryl. 

I baited up a hook, stepped into the water, and moments later, landed my fish. It was species 1962, and these are the moments when I realize things like the fact I would end up driving close to eight hours to catch this small creature. Of course, imagine how much sillier I would have felt if I didn’t catch it.

Species 1962. By late 1962, my Mother was pregnant with me, assuming that I was born after a normal human gestation period.

I made one more species trip in September, again searching for the elusive Shokihaze goby. (“Shokihaze” is Japanese for “No you can’t.”) Foolishly, I went to the same spot I went before, hoping that the oppressively hot August weather had put them off somehow and that they would be back in numbers. And even though my theory was completely ridiculous, this blind pig found a truffle. Actually, a lot of truffles. But the first fish I hooked was a beastly yellowfin goby.

They aren’t supposed to get this big.

On the next cast, caught my first Shokihaze, and I caught at least eight more after that. I had reached species 1963.

I was born in 1963. 

Their heads look like little sevengill sharks.

So it was a summer well-spent, but by my math, I still needed 37 species to hit 2000. I had no idea where they were going to come from, especially with overseas travel out of the question. I knew the quest was going to stretch into 2021 or even longer, and with the holidays coming up, I presumed the local species hunting (and any serious fishing) was pretty much over for the year. In less than two weeks, I would prove myself spectacularly wrong.













  1. […] a week after the thresher, I went down to Santa Cruz with Jibril, the fishing-crazed son of one of my best friends. The surf was perfect, allowing for light tackle, and we got at least a dozen barred and walleye […]

  2. […] “day trip” species years ago. Once in a while, something obscure pops up, like the Gualala Roach, but even for that, I have stretched the criteria for “day trip” to a logical extreme. […]

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