Thursday, June 30, 2016

Encino Public Fishing Area

My next California excursion was to the Encino Public Fishing Area, which is a lagoon sandwiched between Carlsbad Blvd and Interstate 5 in the town of Carlsbad.  The shore is made up of rip rap (rocks), and it looked like a good spot to pick up some smaller species.

I fished a piece of bait on a #12 hook, dropping it next to larger rocks that looked likely to have fish hiding under them.  My first catch was a species that was not supposed to be this far north.  It was a largemouth blenny, which are common in Mexico.

Largemouth Blenny (Labrisomus xanti) - new hook & line species #337
The water was fairly clear, so I was able to target individual fish.  I could see opaleye holding in the current, and after a bit of teasing I was able to get one to bite.

Opaleye (Girella nigricans) - new hook & line species #338
Blennies and opaleyes turned out to be the two most common catches, but when the sun began to set the bite switched to juvenile basses.  I was hoping for a spotted sand bass, but I only ended up catching kelp bass and barred sand bass, the two I already have on my lifelist.

Kelp Bass (Paralabrax clathratus)

Barred Sand Bass (Paralabrax nebulifer)
I later found out that the largemouth blennies I caught were the furthest north the species had been recorded.  Ken got me in touch with John Snow, the owner of, who sent my photos to his contacts at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.  They were interested to get some samples for their records, so a few days later I returned to catch more for them.

I switched my bait from squid to mussels on this trip, and it definitely increased the number of bites.  This time I had a hard time keeping the garibaldi from taking my bait.  I released them quickly and unharmed of course.

Garibaldi (Hypsypops rubicundus)
For a moment I thought my next fish was a blenny, but I quicky pulled my hand back when I saw what it was, a scorpionfish!  These fish have venomous spines, and it's very important not to get poked by them.  Apparently it ruins your day.

California Scorpionfish (Scorpaena guttata)
Eventually I was able to locate and catch half a dozen largemouth blennies for John Snow to take to Scripps.  I was very excited that one of them was a male with breeding colors.

Largemouth Blenny (Labrisomus xanti)

Largemouth blennies have hair-like features on their heads called ciri, but you might not notice them when the fish is out of the water.  However, put the fish back under water, and the cirri will stick up like goofy tufts of hair.  Their shape can be useful for distinguishing between similar species, so be sure to take a photo like the one below if you need to confirm what kind of blenny you caught.

As the tide started to come in, a school of small, black fish showed up.  I think they were juvenile blacksmith (Chromis punctipinnis), but I wasn't able to catch one to confirm.  My bait was a tiny piece of mussel on a Tanago hook, but they showed zero interest!

I also saw some tiny silvery fish hanging out on the fringes of the school of black fish.  It was tough reaching them with my 7.5 foot rod, but eventually I was able to drift my bait close enough for one to take it.  I wasn't sure what I had caught, but after I returned home I identified it as a grunion, which is a very interesting fish.  People normally catch them by hand when they show up on sandy beaches to spawn.  You're not technically allowed to target them with hook & line, but in my defense I didn't know what it was when I tried to catch it!

California Grunion (Leuresthes tenuis) - new hook & line species #339

I was pretty impressed with the Encino Public Fishing Area, and I only fished a small stretch of the shoreline when I was there.  Next time I go I'd like to explore closer and further away from the lagoon mouth to see what other species might be hanging out among the rocks.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Cardiff Beach at night

The day after our trip to Oceanside, I heard from Tom and Steve, the legendary anglers from They were planning to fish for sharks and rays that night at Cardiff Beach. I wanted to learn how to fish heavy surf gear, so I left my own tackle at home so I could hang out with Tom and Steve and focus on taking notes. If I brought my micro gear, I guarantee I would have ended up distracted by two inch gobies or something.


Tom had the first fish on, and it was something big and strong. It wore him down pretty well, and I'm going to spill one of his secrets here (sorry Tom!). When his arms got tired, Tom would point the rod tip straight towards the fish and walk slowly backwards up the beach. Once he had walked 20 or 30 feet, he would put the rod tip back up in the air and reel in the line as he walked towards the water. By this point it was pretty clear that he was fighting a big ray, and his technique was useful in getting the fish off the bottom and let him put some line back on the reel.

Tom landed the fish with several bystanders cheering him on, including two police officers. The bright light in the photo below is from one of the officer's flashlights.

Bat Ray (Myliobatis californica)

Meanwhile, Steve had been getting bites closer to the reef. Apparently he caught and released a small leopard shark while Tom was fighting the bat ray, but neither of us saw it. We'll have to take his word on it. Next, he hooked up with the biggest kelp bass I've ever seen. This is the most you'll see Steve smile.

Kelp Bass (Paralabrax clathratus)

Steve's third species of the night was a moray, which is one I would love to catch. However, they are without a doubt the least desired catch when you're fishing for sharks. They're very talented at trashing nice homemade shark rigs.

California moray (Gymnothorax mordax)

The night was getting late, and Steve had one more bite. He was hoping it would be a decent shark. You can see the determined look on his face as he prepares to set the hook.


It did turn out to be a shark, but it was not one that you would brag to your friends about. It was a smoothhound, one of the smallest shark species on the Pacific coast. Look at the size of the mackerel head Steve was using as bait compared to the size of the smoothhound.

Gray Smoothhound (Mustelus californicus)

I have to admit, I did get a little distracted as the evening progressed. There are some pretty neat tidepools at Cardiff that become exposed at low tide, and I wanted to see if any fish hung out in them. The tidepools are teeming with life, as you can see in this photo from one of the shallow depressions in the rock.


The deeper pools did indeed have fish, and I was able to get a few good photos. The fish were swimming around in the open until my light caused them to hide under a rock ledge. I was able to count four different species: zebra chub, opaleye, a true sculpin, and a blenny.

Zebra Chub (Hermosilla azurea)

Opaleye (Girella nigricans)

Sculpin species - camouflaged behind the opaleye

Blenny species - small and highly mobile

Thanks to Tom and Steve for inviting me out and showing me the ropes. It was probably an average outing for the two of you, but I learned a lot by watching and talking to you guys. It was pretty exciting to know that this spot can add quite a few species to my lifelist: sevengill shark, soupfin shark, leopard shark, grey smoothhound, California moray, and all of the tidepool critters. I'll be back!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Oceanside Pier Summer 2016

At the end of June I headed out to California to visit Ruoxi.  Her dad was also in town, visiting from China.  He was leaving in a few days, so the first thing we did together was head over to Oceanside Pier to go fishing.  We brought a couple of medium-light rods, picked up some frozen squid from the pier bait shop, and tossed out pieces on small Octopus hooks.  Needless to say, the bite was very slow.  Ruoxi's dad caught a small sand bass though, so we considered it a success.

Barred Sand Bass (Paralabrax nebulifer)

I switched to a sabiki with very small hooks in hopes of getting something different to bite.  Eventually something did, and it was a fish I couldn't ID.  I knew it was a new lifer, but I'd have to look up what it was when I got home.  Unfortunately, this little fish would not lie still for a photo, and it beat itself to a pulp in a matter of seconds.  I feel bad about posting this photo, but at least the fish got used as bait.  Ironically, it's name ended up starting with "red-eye".

Red-Eye Round Herring (Etrumeus teres) - new hook & line species #335
The sabiki saved what would have otherwise been a really slow day of fishing.  I only caught a total of three fish, but two of them ended up being new species.  The other new one was a topsmelt, and the fish I had already caught was a salema, which I had encountered last December while fishing for bat rays in Mission Bay.

Topsmelt (Atherinops affinis) - new hook & line species #336

Salema (Xenistius californiensis)
Ruoxi's dad caught one more sand bass, and that was it for the day.  Despite the slow fishing, we had a great time.  The sun was shining, the breeze was pleasant, and we didn't skunk out.  That's about all you can ask for.  However, I hope someday I can take Ruoxi's dad out and have him catch some big fish!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Ryan's visit to Illinois part 2 - Embarras and Big Muddy

We had a little bit of daylight left when we arrived in Charleston, so we fished the Embarras River for a bit.  My first fish was a beautiful shorthead redhorse (or possibly and intergrade between shorthead and smallmouth redhorse).  Ryan wanted one as well, but that ended up being the only one we caught.  He focused on small sunfish hiding in the rocks by shore, and eventually caught his lifer orangespotted sunfish.  The rest of our catches were juvenile channel cats and miscellaneous sunfish.

Shorthead Redhorse (Moxostoma macrolepidotum)
The next morning we decided to skip the main Embarras and go strait to one of its tributaries.  This creek is great for spotted bass, longear sunfish, and an impressive number of micros.  I had hoped that we could sight fish redhorse, but we didn't end up seeing any.

Spotted Bass (Micropterus punctulatus)

Longear Sunfish (Lepomis megalotis)

I had fished with Michael and Ken at this spot just a few weeks earlier, so I was surprised to find that the micros we were catching were different.  The sunfish had built nests to spawn on, and they were packed with shiners that were spawning as well or waiting to eat eggs laid by other fish.  The male steelcolor shiners in particular were stunning with their spawning colors.

Spotfin Shiner (Cyprinella spiloptera)
Steelcolor Shiner (Cyprinella whipplei)
Redfin Shiner (Lythrurus umbratilis)
We  packed up after Ryan caught a brindled madtom that was barely over an inch long.  It was probably for the best that no one saw how excited we were about it.  Our last target for the day was spotted gar below the Rend Lake spillway near Benton.

It was incredibly hot when we arrived.  The water level was low, and there were a lot of dead fish with arrow holes littering the bank.  The smell was nauseating.  We focused on the task at hand though.  Ryan tried for spotted gar, and I used small sabiki hooks to try for gizzard shad.  The spotted gar weren't cooperating, and neither were the gizzard shad (but come on, that was to be expected).  Mostly I caught yellow bass and bluegill, but one surprise was a juvenile grass carp.

Grass Carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella)

Yellow Bass (Morone mississippiensis)
The combination of the sun beating down on us and the stench of rotting fish really wore us down.  We hiked up the stairs to my car feeling pretty demoralized.  Once we sat in the air conditioning and drank a few chilled bottles of water, we felt better.  On the drive back to the St. Louis airport we talked about the highlights from the trip and put the Rend Lake spillway experience behind us.  Overall it was a fantastic trip.  We saw a lot of Illinois fish in two days!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Ryan's visit to Illinois part 1 - Kaskaskia River

The weekend after our Indiana Roundup, my friend Ryan flew up from Florida for some good old fashioned Illinois spillway fishing.  I picked him up at the St. Louis airport, and the next morning we started our day at Carlyle Dam.  This is one of the spots people visit to add fair hooked silver and bighead carp to their lifelists, and that's what we were after.

Silver Carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix)
We  started off casting green curly tails on plain hooks, which is known to get the attention of feeding silver carp.  However, Ryan's first fish was a shortnose gar, which was unexpected.  Usually they like something more flashy that looks like a bait fish.

Shortnose Gar (Lepisosteus platostomus)
Ryan borrowed one of my heavier rods once we found a school of carp and buffalo.  If you cast your jig upstream of the school and let it drift naturally with the current, you would almost always get a bite.  It seemed like every time I looked over Ryan was fighting a fish.

Silver Carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix)
Not all of the fish were fair hooked, like the bigmouth buffalo below.  This opens up the debate about whether or not the silver carp are actually feeding.  My experience over the last few years has been that in spring and early summer, nearly all of your fish will be fair hooked in the mouth.  The hits also feel active (but of course that's not really something you can prove).  However, in late summer when it gets hot, almost all of the silver carp you catch are foul hooked, usually somewhere on the face.  The percentage of foul hooked fish is probably 20% in the spring and 80% in late summer.  I think that's pretty conclusive evidence.

Bigmouth Buffalo (Ictiobus cyprinellus)
We  also had plenty of smaller fish hitting our lures.  I didn't want to catch any more carp, so I switched to jigs and spinners.  I even fished a plain bronze hook hoping to finally get a gizzard shad, but all that would bite were juvenile yellow bass.  I really hate gizzard shad, haha.

Black Crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus)
White Bass (Morone chrysops)
We  felt like we had caught everything we were going to catch at Carlyle, so we drove a few towns over to Shelbyville to fish the next spillway.  I promised Ryan common carp and smallmouth buffalo at this spot, and it didn't take long before he had both.  His lifer count was doing pretty well, and we hadn't even microfished yet!

Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio)

Smallmouth Buffalo (Ictiobus bubalus)
There were some large gar cruising the surface.  I couldn't get them to chase lures, but a piece of cut bait freelined on a small treble hook proved irresistable.  The largest one I landed had a broken beak.  We joked that he was the old prospector gar.  He was a good sport about it.

Shortnose Gar (Lepisosteus platostomus)

I joined Ryan fishing for carp and buffalo before we called it a day.  For some reason I couldn't get a buffalo to pick up my bait, but there were plenty of carp.  About a third of the ones at this spot are really dark, almost black, and a little higher bodied than the other common carp.  I'm curious if they have some goldfish genetics.  They never seem to be very large, which would also support that theory.

Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio)
We  ended the night in Charleston so we could get up the next day and fish the Embarras River and its tributaries.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Indiana roundup

In the first week of June I drove over to Lafayette, IN to meet up with some friends: Olaf from Illinois, Miciah from Michigan, and Mike from Indiana.  It was a tri-state roundup!  I don't think any of us had any lifelist ambitions other than perhaps some rare suckers like river redhorse, spotted sucker, or black buffalo.  Mostly we were getting together to hang out and catch up.  I started off throwing a pearl colored curly tail jig and was surprised to hook up with a pretty sizeable buffalo.

Smallmouth buffalo (Ictiobus bubalus)
Next I switched to fishing a small piece of worm on the bottom.  Drum were a common catch, and silver chubs were as well.  Until this point I had only caught one silver chub in my life, so it was neat to see more of them.

Freshwater Drum (Aplodinotus grunniens)
Silver Chub (Macrhybopsis storeriana)
At  this point it began to rain pretty steadily, so we packed up our gear and moved to a tributary where we could fish under a bridge.  Again, we had hopes for redhorse and other suckers but mostly just wanted to see some variety.  Fishing under the bridge wasn't as productive as we hoped.  My only catch was this one rock bass.

Rock Bass (Ambloplites rupestris)
The rain died down after we had lunch at the local diner, and we went back to our original spot to continue fishing.  I didn't want to catch more drum, so I tied on a spoon to see what predatory fish were biting.  It was slow, but eventually I hooked up with a nice skipjack.  What a beautiful fish!

Skipjack Herring (Alosa chrysochloris)
I switched to a small black spinner and before long caught another cool fish, a goldeye.  This was the second one I've ever caught.

Goldeye (Hiodon alosoides)
I continued swapping out my lures, and the last catch of the day was this darkly colored smallmouth bass that hit a larger spinner.  It was a satisfactory last fish of the day.

Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieu)
As  always it was good to catch up with friends, and the fish diversity made for an good day of fishing.  I've explored very little of Indiana, but so far I've had nothing but good experiences.