Posted by: 1000fish | September 13, 2022

Transplant vs. Transplant


I pretty much ran out of California “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. (Current definition is a trip I can complete in roughly 24 hours, sleep optional.)

Late one night, I was breathlessly flipping through Dr. Peter Moyle’s outstanding Inland Fishes of California.  To my surprise and delight, he mentioned that there is a population of brook stickleback in California. I had never caught a brook stickleback. The details were troubling – the fish were sampled in one remote pond, and possibly a related stream system, and the reports were roughly 20 years old. The pond was faintly near Gazelle, well up into the northern reaches of California, and would involve over 700 miles of driving. I considered this a reasonable idea, which should give you some concept of the stupidity it takes to catch 2000 species of fish.

It is unclear how brook stickleback ended up in this particular pond. It’s not like this is a major fishing destination where someone would have dumped a bucket of minnows that contained a random stickleback, but it would be even weirder to think someone did this on purpose. I personally believe there was a cult involved. (Warning – digression ahead.) Heck, there was a “Blue Oyster Cult,” so why not a “Brook Stickleback Cult?” That would be an awesome band name – I’ll keep that in mind if I ever start a band. I have a list ready – my personal favorite is still “Bad Fennec,” but I also like “Romanian Snorkeling Accident,” “Mercy Flush”, and, for a punk band, “Phantom Booger.”

In any case, this isolated population of transplants was probably there, and I, another California transplant, was going to go find them.

I decided to break it up with an overnight stop in Yreka, which is near Gazelle 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 am. As it turns out, he had the stickleback, but he mentioned that there was another species possible in Yreka – the marbled sculpin. We agreed to meet that next afternoon, presuming I was still not up in the hills chasing the stickleback, giving me the a shot at two new fish on the same trip.

Interestingly, or more likely not, I had tried for this sculpin on a previous trip with Luke – in the well-known “Fishing in the Time of Covid” episode. And speaking of Luke, and this jumps ahead a few months in the blog, but I would like to congratulate him for catching his 1000th species, a silver moony in Singapore this July. There are now six people who have gone into four figures. 

Well done, Luke.

It’s a long drive to Yreka. This is normally a rather scenic road trip, but California – AGAIN – was having a series of big wildfires and visibility was limited to a few hundred smoky yards in the central valley.

This was taken in late afternoon. There were no clouds.

Even worse, the Arby’s in Redding was out of Arby’s sauce, a fact they shared with me only after I paid. Arby’s without Arby’s sauce is morally wrong, but the teenagers running the place battled me for my refund. They lost. I headed over to Dairy Queen, which had all the proper dipping sauces and, as an added bonus, ice cream.

Martini is not upset that he missed this meal.

By morning, the air had cleared a bit, revealing some of the scenery. Once I got off I-5 and on to the state roads, it was endless mountains and ranchland on an increasingly winding two-lane highway that I had all to myself. It’s a beautiful part of the world.

Somewhere west of Gazelle, California.

There is also plenty of wildlife. I saw dozens of deer, a herd of elk, assorted eagles, and one very confused bear cub.

More than one person asked me why I didn’t get out of the car to help him. These people have not seen The Revenant.

And yes, his Mother showed up moments later. This wasn’t cute. It was terrifying. If you don’t know why, watch The Revenant.

About 30 miles later, I started seeing a creek on the north side of the road. As soon as I found some accessible pools, I stopped to try my luck. I caught speckled dace, but there were no sticklebacks in evidence. I tried a few more places on the creek, up to the junction with the dirt road that led to the lake. 

At that spot, a local rancher pulled over to ask me what the heck I was doing – I imagine he didn’t see a lot of people fishing there. Once I got through the initial awkwardness of explaining that people really do try to catch two-inch fish, we ended up having a pleasant conversation and he wished me well in my quest.

There were 30 more miles of dirt road ahead of me, but it was well-maintained and went quickly. I had plenty of time to consider the obvious risks – my information was dated, so the lake could be fishless, or it could have disappeared in one of the droughts.

It was late morning when I finally got there. It was there – a perfect little mountain lake, partially-shaded, and loaded with structure. I parked, took a deep breath, and got out to look. In less than five seconds, I saw fish, and in less than six, I could tell they were brook sticklebacks.

The nameless lake, somewhere in remote Northern California. You can call me for coordinates or buy the book, which is much easier than calling me. 

Now, I would have to get them to bite, and I was prepared to spend all afternoon there if needed. This too was anticlimactic – they swarmed the first bait I put in the water, and I caught one within seconds. 

Species 2028. Was it worth the drive? Hell yes. I couldn’t help but think of my first three-spined stickleback, with Roger Barnes in 2011.

I then retraced my route back toward civilization, and about 90 minutes later, I was in Yreka, pulling up next to Luke in some parking lot behind a liquor store.

That sounds a lot darker than I meant it to. There is a creek behind the store. We were going to fish in there, because he was pretty certain there were marbled sculpin running around.

The place certainly looked fishy.

The marbled sculpin turned out to be my favorite kind of long-range micro fish – undramatic. They were all over the place and they were aggressive. Luke and I both got one in just a few minutes.

The beast in question – species 2029. Yes, I drove 12 hours to fish six minutes.



The triumphant anglers.

It was late afternoon by the time we finished taking pictures, and while I knew I would hit a bit of traffic in Fairfield, I could get home just in time to get dinner with Marta. I called to let her know this wonderful news, and she immediately told me I could take another week if I wanted to. 



The IGFA is proud to announce recently that their youth education programs, launched in 2018 with an audacious goal to teach 100,000 kids to fish, has hit that very goal. Through “Passport to Fishing” kits, online training, and key partnerships, the IGFA has reached out to an unprecedented number of our younger generation worldwide, and given them the knowledge and tools to begin enjoying a lifetime on the water. Visit for more information, and feel free to reach out to me with questions as well. 

A group of Fishing School grads in Athens, Greece.



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