Saturday, June 16, 2018

Local Socal fishing June 2018

I've been thinking about trying for white sea bass in the surf for a while, and with the latest grunion run wrapping up Friday night I decided to hit the surf Saturday morning to see if a lure that looks like a grunion would attract some predators.  The lure in question was the Lucky Craft Surf Pointer 115 in sexy smelt, and I had a few alternatives to try if it didn't produce.

I hit the beach a few minutes after sunrise.  Wading out a little past knee deep, I threw my first cast.  A few turns of the handle and fish on!  This was looking to be a good morning!  I reeled in my first surf halibut caught on a lure.  It wasn't big, probably a few inches shy of the 22 inch limit to keep, but I was stoked.

California halibut (Paralichthys californicus)
The sexy smelt color is definitely good for post grunion run surf fishing.

After watching the halibut swim off I continued casting, walking north a few yards in between each throw.  Around my tenth cast I hooked up again!  I knew I had a ray of some sort, because it didn't fight other than dragging itself along the bottom.  It was a butterfly ray - a not very rare but also not very common - species in the surf.  The hook wasn't technically inside the mouth, but it certainly looked like he chased it down and tried to eat it.

California Butterfly Ray (Gymnura marmorata)
At this point I was feeling pretty good, but it was short lived because I snagged one of the reef patches and lost my sexy lure.  I tied on a Yo-Zuri Hydro Minnow LC, which is an inch and a half longer, hoping that it would grab the attention of a larger fish than my previous two (such as a white sea bass!).  The bite had died though.  I suspect the lure didn't match the hatch as well as the Lucky Craft, but it could have also been the increasing light or the changing tide.

On Sunday I got the kayak out after a month and a half paddling hiatus.  I met Dave near the J Street launch, and we paddled around the south end of San Diego Bay, trolling lures as we went.  I usually don't talk much about the tackle I use, but this post is an exception.  I was trying out two new lures: a Rapala Xrap 10 in Silver and a Daiwa Salt Pro Minnow in Laser Green Shiner.  As soon as we got out of the shallow eel grass beds I got a take down on the Rapala and reeled in a nice shortfin corvina, which is a fish I've only caught once before.

Shortfin Corvina (Cynoscion parvipinnis)
Floating eel grass was a pain, so we spent most of the morning paddling around looking for stretches of water clean enough to troll through.  My second fish hit as I was reeling in my line to check if the lure had grass on it.  Corvina number two for the day!

Here's an obligatory shot of their fangs and orange mouth.  Don't put your fingers in there!

I took a break from trolling to soak some chunks of frozen queenfish on dropper loops.  The wind had really picked up, so we were drifting pretty quickly.  I tried two strategies: paddling slowly to hold my position and letting the wind push me along.  The cut bait didn't get any interest other than something picking the eyeballs out (probably crabs), so I put it away and got back to trolling.

As I was paddling to catch up to Dave I got a hit from something small.  I was surprised to see that it was a needlefish, and I quickly got it into the kayak in case it came off the hook.  A new species!  And once again it was on the same Rapala Xrap.

California Needlefish (Strongylura exilis) - new hook & line species #555
You can't help but love these guys.  I've heard some people say they can become annoying, but for some reason I've never come across them until now.

From above their pectoral fins look like little wings.  You can see how they're able to maneuver so quickly as they zip around just under the surface.

At this point I swapped out the Daiwa Salt Pro Minnow for a Yo-Zuri Crystal 3D Minnow with the trebles replaced with single hooks.  It was one of my best lures trolling in Baja.  However, I didn't get to use it very long because I got another hit on the Rapala, and this fish was putting up a better fight than the corvina!  When I got it to color I saw that it was a bonito, which is an unusual catch for the back part of the bay.  I grabbed its tail and pulled it in.

Pacific Bonito (Sarda lineolata)

Just like a corvina, do not put your fingers in a bonito's mouth.

I haven't caught a bonito since last October, and it was good seeing one again.  I took some closeup shots of the pattern on its side, which I'm sure you will enjoy.

Raw bonito is one of my favorite things to eat, but I didn't have ice to keep this one fresh, so I bled him out, and Dave and I paddle back in.  When I got home I had sashimi, soy sauce, wasabi, and rice on the side.  Delicious.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Idaho 2018 part 2 - Barney Hot Springs and Little Lost River

We woke up the next day in the town of Blackfoot and ventured north to Barney Hot Springs. Matt has brought several of our mutual friends to this spot in the past. Despite its remoteness, the drive is worthwhile because you can catch an interesting variety of tropical aquarium fish such as Mozambique tilapia, convict cichlid, zebra mbuna, and green swordtail.

However, Matt was dismayed when we pulled up to the spring-fed pond and saw that it was murky brown and choked with algae. He said the water should be clear and blue, so something must be wrong. We walked around the pond trying to understand what had happened. There were a few signs of life, so we got out our microfishing gear to see if we could still catch something.

Eventually I pulled up a small goldfish. We were relieved that the pond wasn't completely dead.

Goldfish (Carassius auratus)
Matt and I quickly began to suspect that goldfish were the only species living in the pond. Most of them had reverted to their natural wild color, but a few still had yellow or orange.

I had left one rod in a rod holder with a bait sitting in the center of the pond. It got one a hit, which turned out to be the biggest goldfish of the day. As we were packing up to leave, two graduate students showed up with sampling gear. They confirmed our fears - a flash flood during the previous winter had wiped out all of the warm-water tropical species. The goldfish were the only survivors.

There was nothing we could do but continue on our journey. We headed west, discussing other fishing opportunities in Idaho such as grayling up in the mountains. The scenery was great, and there was lots of wildlife to stop and see such as this willet standing on a fence post.

I was very excited to see my first pronghorn in the wild. We even saw a pair of adults with a group of young. My photos really don't do them justice.

The drive west was long, so we broke it up by stopping briefly at the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve.

All around us was left over lava from a long extinct volcano. It was a really unique landscape.

Finally we arrived at our destination, a small stream in the Big Wood River drainage. It flowed through land with public access which we were happy to take advantage of.

Our primary target for this stream was bridgelip sucker, but we had trouble finding them. There weren't many pools, and even fewer that seemed deep enough to hold suckers. To pass the time as we hunted, I microfished to see if I could find anything else new. The fish near the riffles seemed to all be speckled dace.

Speckled Dace (Rhinichthys osculus)
The dace were quite variable with their patterns, but I'm pretty sure they were all the same species.

The deeper, slower pools had redside shiners in them, which were a new species for me. After a few drab colored ones I pulled up a beautifully colored male!

Redside Shiner (Richardsonius balteatus) - new hook & line species #554
Here's one of the larger females I caught for comparison.

We moved further downstream hoping to find better sucker habitat, but it was more of the same. I did spot several Wood River sculpin, a protected species in Idaho. It was neat seeing them, but I resisted the urge to microfish one for my list.

Wood River Sculpin (Cottus leiopomus)
Our last spot for the day was the South Fork Boise River. It contains bull trout, which would be the catch of a lifetime, but we were mostly focused on mountain whitefish.

Unfortunately the water was high and made fishing difficult. Matt instructed me to fish a bead-head nymph under a float, so that's what I did. The current was so strong that you had to reel in and reset just a few seconds after each cast.

Further downstream I switched to a small Kastmaster with the barb crimped down. I caught one rainbow trout, and had a few follows from others, but no mountain whitefish.

Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)

It was a tough day being in a new state and getting only one new species on the second day. However, I think Matt and I both learned a lot, and we have some ideas of what to do differently next time.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Idaho 2018 part 1 - Boise River and Snake River

It took several years after the idea was first pitched, but I finally made it to Idaho to visit my friend Matt Miller.  Matt writes for The Nature Conservancy, and is quite good at it.  You can find his articles on a wide range of nature, science, and conservation topics at:

Matt lives in the Boise River watershed, which has a number of interesting native species that I've not fished for.  The diversity isn't great, but that's part of its charm.  On our first day Matt took me to a tributary of the Boise River a short drive into the mountains.

Our strategy was pretty simple: throw a piece of worm out into the eddies and hope for largescale sucker, northern pikeminnow, chiselmouth, and mountain whitefish.  We expected the sucker to be the first catch, but to our surprise it was a nice sized chiselmouth!

Chiselmouth (Acrocheilus alutaceus) - new hook & line species #549
Chiselmouths get their name from their chisel-shaped lower jaw that they use to scrape algae off of rocks.  They're not vegetarians though, because they savagely attacked my bait every time I cast.  In fact, I caught seventeen of them in a row before I caught another species.

Matt was baffled why we were catching nothing but chiselmouths, so he suggested we move a little ways upstream to try a deeper pool.  After two more of those quickly-becoming-annoying large minnows, I hooked into my first sucker, and boy was it a handsome one!

Largescale Sucker (Catostomus macrocheilus) - new hook & line species #550
I'm not going to explain where largescale suckers get their name, because I think you can probably figure it out for yourself.  There aren't any other suckers in the area that could be confused with them, but here's an obligatory photo of its lips just in case.

Matt followed with a sucker of his own, and it also posed nicely for a photo.  His had tubercles on its tail, which meant it was getting ready to spawn soon.

I tried a few different lures for northern pikeminnow, but there were no takers.  We moved locations again to a stretch of the creek with more boulders.

Earlier I had been using a fish finder rig that would stay still on the bottom, but at this spot I used split shot on my line so my worm would drift along the bottom with the current.  I hoped this method would give me a better shot at a pikeminnow, but instead it attracted the attention of a non-native predatory fish.

Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieu)

And of course the chiselmouths would not leave it alone either.  Several of them were definitely over a pound!

I spotted a school of smaller minnows, so I got out my Tenkara rod, which still had a fly on it from our golden trout adventure in the Eastern Sierras.  I dropped the fly in the school and gave it a few twitches.  One of the "larger" fish grabbed it, and I laughed when I saw that it was a tiny pikeminnow.

Northern Pikeminnow (Ptychocheilus oregonensis) - new hook & line species #551
Grow bigger little fella.  Put that big mouth to good use and start eating your smaller schoolmates.

Matt had forgotten his rod holders at the previous spot, so he drove back to get them and I waded the riffle to look for sculpins.  I nudged a few rocks with my foot and saw one dash out to find a new hiding place.  After a bit of cursing because of the fast water, I was able to get my tiny piece of bait in front of him.  As sculpins tend to do, he gobbled it up.

Columbia Sculpin (Cottus hubbsi) - new hook & line species #552

The Columbia sculpin in this part of the state used to be lumped together with mottled sculpin, but it looks like now it's considered a distinct species.  However, the recent literature says that more work is needed, so this one may get changed to something else in the future.

Our destination for the next day was many hours to the east and very remote, so we decided to head out that way and grab a motel.  Along the way we stopped at the Snake River below one of its reservoir spillways.  Our friends Steve and Martini had caught Utah chubs here a few years back, so we were hoping for an easy lifer.

We fished pieces of worm on small hooks.  There were lots of nibbles, but they all ended up being either yellow perch or juvenile smallmouth bass.  Neither are native, but I haven't seen yellow perch in a few years, so there's that.

Yellow Perch (Perca flavescens)

The sun was starting to disappear over the hills, and we were beginning to get worried.  We lucked out though, because all of the sudden the chubs showed up in force.  We went from not being able to catch a single one to getting them on every cast.  Either a big school moved into the area, or they were there the whole time and had just started to feed.

Utah Chub (Gila atraria) - new hook & line species #553

This was Matt's first lifer of the day, which made both of us quite happy.  I'm always glad when whoever I'm fishing with can get something new as well.

We watched a few of the locals catch juvenile white sturgeon, but we didn't try to target them since we only had our microfishing gear.  It was funny watching people lay down on their bellies on the dock with their arms outstretched to keep the sturgeon in the water while they unhooked them.  Even if the fish is only a foot long, you have to keep it in the water per the regulations.

We had some surprisingly good Mexican for dinner and then headed to our motel.  Five new species in the first day was a lot more than I was expecting!  I fell asleep dreaming about the tropical fish I'd see in the hot springs the next morning.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

2017 NANFA convention part 2 - Meramec River

Gerry and I had fishing plans for day 2 of the NANFA convention, but they were not as ambitious as the previous day because we were attending presentations in the morning and the banquet and auction in the evening.  We started out at the Meramec River in the state park.  Gerry fished bank rods, and I caught micros near shore.  I caught northern studfish, bigeye shiner, wedgespot shiner, and rainbow darter.  I needed help with the ID of this wedgespot shiner - thanks Bob!

Wedgespot Shiner (Notropis greenei)

After the presentations - which were very good - we snuck out for a bit more microfishing.  We drove a half hour away to Blue Springs Creek.  Here we found active chub mounds with carmine shiners, Ozark minnows, bleeding shiners, and rainbow darters.  I held my camera underwater and snapped a few photos.  They're not great, but if you look closely you can see all four species in the photo below.

The rainbow darters looked like they were only hanging around so they could eat freshly deposited eggs.  If you look in the bottom of the photo below, you can see a few with their heads buried in the rocks, looking for food.  The fish on the right is an Ozark minnow.

It's pretty easy to catch fish when they're in spawning mode.  We took the time to catch one of each of the shiners.  Man were they colorful!  The carmine shiners were blazing, and the Ozark minnows were interesting because their fins were yellow instead of red, which I've seen in other drainages such as the Current River.

Carmine Shiner (Notropis percobromus)

Ozark Minnow (Notropis nubilus)

Bleeding Shiner (Luxilus zonatus)

Further downstream I found a school of Ozark minnows in a riffle.  They must be comfortable spawning without chub mounds, whereas the carmine shiners were concentrated on the mounds.  This is my favorite photo from the trip.

I spotted a saddled darter in the riffle, but it quickly darted out of view (no pun intended).  The species in the Meramec drainage has been split from the Missouri saddled darter that we saw in the Gasconade drainage.  I looked around for another one, but all I could find were rainbow darters.

Rainbow Darter (Etheostoma caeruleum)

This riffle was pretty small, so I headed downstream looking for a bigger one.  The next riffle was very shallow and very fast.  It looked like good habitat for saddled darters, but seeing them would be an issue.  I got in the water near the middle and slowly worked upstream.  The surface of the water becomes smooth at the upstream end of a riffle, so that was the only place I'd be able to sight fish darters.

Sure enough, this riffle had several saddled darters.  They spooked more easily than the rainbow darters, but eventually I found one that didn't bold and was feeling hungry.  Success!

Meramec Saddled Darter (Etheostoma erythrozonum) - new hook & line species #445

I showed Gerry the saddled darters, and soon he had caught his lifer as well.  We continued exploring downstream and found another riffle with even more of them.  We also saw a pair of greenside darters, a lone fantail darter, northern hogsuckers, hornyhead chubs, stonerollers, northern studfish, and smallmouth bass.  After much frustration, Gerry entered a zen like state and was able to catch one of the stonerollers.  We grabbed fast food for lunch and headed back to the convention to catch the rest of the talks.

On the drive home the next morning we stopped at Carlyle on the Kaskaskia River.  I spent roughly four hours trying to catch a gizzard shad, but ended up empty handed.  However, between the two of us we did catch shortnose gar, spotted gar, bighead carp, yellow bass, white bass, bluegill, and freshwater drum.  A lot of shad were snagged by accident.  We saw someone else catch a silver carp, and Gerry had something big on the end of his line that broke off before we could ID it.

Shortnose Gar (Lepisosteus platostomus)

Thanks to Gerry for being an excellent road trip and allowing your car to become very dirty over the course of three days.  It was good to fish central Missouri again, and it was really good to see old NANFA friends as well as make new ones.  Next year's convention is going to be in Georgia.  I'm not sure if I'll be able to make it, but it sounds like a good one!