November 05, 2018

Top Catches 2018

It's getting to be that depressing time of the year in late fall when the fish are becoming inactive but the lakes haven't frozen yet. So I figured I'd write a short summary of my top 10 favourite catches of the open-water season. This year held some pretty epic adventures, which made it quite difficult to choose even 10 fish. But here goes, starting at #10 and working up to my most memorable catch of the season:

#10. Longhorn Sculpin
Longhorn Sculpin makes the list because it is likely the coolest-looking fish I've ever caught. Sharp spines, an interesting pattern, and a cool body shape make for a pretty crazy fish! I caught my first of this species at a public wharf in Nova Scotia using nightcrawlers as bait.

#9. Bigmouth Buffalo
These guys are on the list because they pulled super hard and were very abundant. As a bonus, the one Alex caught was also her biggest fish ever! We caught them below a dam in North Dakota on soft jerkbaits. Unfortunately many were accidentally snagged but we each caught some fair-hooked fish among the numerous catches :)



#8. Micro-Sunfish + Mud Sunfish
I suppose including 4 fish under one heading is cheating, but these were all caught during the same session on the same lake so it seemed fitting. I was super lucky and managed to catch all 3 micro-sunfish of the Enneacanthus genus in one trip! They were caught in New Jersey on specialized tanago gear. Combined, they made for a very memorable outing.
Banded Sunfish
Bluespotted Sunfish
Blackbanded Sunfish
Mud Sunfish
#7. Blue Catfish
This big Blue Catfish was one of my biggest catches this season, maybe the biggest. It had to be at least 30lbs! Alex and I each caught one on our trip down to Washington D.C. They were also some of the first fish I ever caught on cutbait. It was thrilling, we would get hits at least every ten minutes, sometimes just minutes after casting out. The Potomac must be infested with them, and I'm not complaining!

#6. Sockeye Salmon (Kokanee)
Catching Kokanee in the mountains outside the Okanagan valley of British Columbia was one of the top highlights of our big adventure across the country. The surroundings were incredibly beautiful and the fishing was great thanks to the help of a friend I made online. A man I had never met in real life saved the day when we discovered that all of the rental boats were booked for the day. He took us out on his boat and even let us use his gear so we could both catch our first Sockeye Salmon. He really knew the fish and it only took a couple of hours for both of us to catch one.

#5. Eastern Sand Darter
This one might be a bit controversial to some of the hardcore lifelisters because it was dipnetted and not hooked. But I don't have really care lol. This one was special because it was the last fish in the Percidae family present in Quebec that I had not yet caught (and the looks super cool). It required a lot of research and planning as I had to travel to upstate New York where they were not listed as endangered. Everything came together in late October when Alex and I went on a mini road trip to some of my carefully chosen spots.

#4. Bull Trout
How can you not love this species!? As a friend of mine told me: "they can only be found in the most beautiful of areas", I have to agree. I caught my first one from shore on a big lake in Kananaskis Country, Alberta. I had seen a big fish roaming the flat I was wading on and kept casting in hopes it would hit. It took many lure swaps and tons of casts, but finally I got a huge hit! A chipped guide on my rod meant I could only fight the fish at specific angles and still my 6lb line was slowly fraying. After a long and nerve-wracking fight, I landed this beautiful Bull Trout! Bonus: I also caught another big one on the fly a couple days later deep in the backcountry of the Kootenay region of British Columbia with another friend I met online.

#3. Northern Sunfish
Many of you might think this fish would be less special than some of the previous ones mentioned, but something about catching them made me really happy. Not only were they the last fish in the Quebec Centrarchidae family, but there was something purely enjoyable about relaxing and catching Sunfish just for the fun of it. Even after I already had my lifer, I continued to fish longer and catch more of the smallish fish. I even caught a hybrid :) This was in the Kawartha region of southern Ontario.
Northern Sunfish
Hybrid Northern Sunfish
#2. Striped Bass
This may be a relatively common and well-known fish, but it makes #2 because of the situation in which I caught them. Alex and I had been fishing the Miramichi river in New Brunsiwck for hours on end without seeing a single fish. This is a river known for anglers catching hundreds of fish a day. We had pretty much given up and decided to try one last "hail-mary" spot I had marked on the map, that turned out to be the best decision we made all day. We saw stripers busting on smelt and the action was instantaneous. We had hits on nearly every cast, even after our baits had been torn apart!

#1. American Eel
And for #1, the slimy and unappreciated American Eel! I had been trying to catch this one for years now, and it finally came together this spring right near home on the South Shore of Montreal. I knew they were at the spot, I just needed to put the hours in... and more hours, and more hours. I watched friends catch them right beside me on 4 separate occasions but could never get one. Needless to say, I was ecstatic when I finally got mine :) As luck would have it, I caught 4 more this year and now I don't even want to handle them (their slime is incredibly sticky).

That about sums it up for now, I only wish I could have included more fish but this is long enough as it is. There were many other unforgettable catches such as Arctic Grayling, Rudd, Longear Sunfish, four new Sticklebacks, Coho Salmon, Freshwater Drum, Goldeye, Tench, and White Bass. Perhaps more importantly than the awesome catches were all the amazing experiences and adventures with new and old friends :)

October 21, 2018

Dipnetting Upstate New York

It was Saturday, Alex and I had planned to hike up Mt. Mansfield but a rainy weather forecast made for a change of plans. Instead, we decided on a mini road trip into Upstate New York. We enjoyed the Fall colours, went for a walk in a state forest, and I did some dipnetting. I had recently received some great intel on fish species in New York state and had been wanting to make the drive over for a couple weeks.


First two spots were on the Salmon River and Little Salmon River in Fort Covington, they didn't produce very much. I found Spotfin Shiners, Tessellated/Johnny Darters, and a small Fantail Darter.


Next spot was further upstream on the Little Salmon River near the town of Bombay. It was more of a creek at this point, but a beautiful little place with great species diversity! I didn't get any lifers, but did catch a few fish I don't get to see very often. Species list for this spot included: Spotfin Shiners, Tesellated/Johnny Darters, Fantail Darters, Cutlip Minnows, an Iowa Darter, and a Stonecat.






Last stop of the day was on the Deer River in Brasher Falls State Forest. The first place where I walked into the river was swampy and didn't seem very promising. I was catching mostly tadpoles with a few Golden Shiners and Tessellated/Johnny Darters mixed in. But I did see a sand bank and a riffle upstream so I pushed on. It was well worth the effort. I haven't mentioned it until now, but my main target on this adventure was the Eastern Sand Darter. A rather rare species and protected in Canada, I didn't think I'd ever have the opportunity to see one. You know where this is going, after a lengthy amount of time sifting through sand, I saw the desired darter in the bottom of my net! What an amazing species, they are pretty much completely translucent and spend much of ther time hiding in a sandy substrate. I was ecstatic just to be able to see one of these guys, got my heart rate going and everything haha.


That completed my goal of catching every fish from the percidae family present in Quebec. I may not have them all on hook & line but I felt lucky to have seen them all :) The total list is comprised of: Eastern Sand Darter, Rainbow Darter, Iowa Darter, Fantail Darter, Johnny Darter, Tessellated Darter, Common Logperch, Channel Darter, Yellow Perch, Sauger, and Walleye.

October 16, 2018

Adventures in Ontario

This post will sum up two separate adventures I went on into the neighbouring province of Ontario. The first was was at the end of August, after Alex and I had returned from our adventure down to DC. The main goal was to investigate some observations of Northern Sunfish I had seen posted on iNaturalist near Peterborough. On the way there, I stopped at a friend's house on Lower Rideau Lake to try for Yellow Bullhead. As expected, they were nowhere to be found and I maintain my theory that they are an inexistent species made up to waste a lifelister's time. I did manage to catch my first hybrid Sunfish though: a Bluegill x Pumpkinseed cross.


I also stopped at some smaller creeks with the hopes of finding a Brassy Minnow, one of the last two cyprinids I had yet to catch in the region. No luck with the Brassy but I did get my first Blackchin Shiner on hook & line.


Next up was the main event for the mini-trip: the Northern Sunfish. It was the last fish I had yet to catch from the species in the Sunfish family that had been sampled in Quebec. Needless to say, I was very happy when my plan worked out and I caught the desired species :) Another family complete. Oh yeah, I even got a hybrid Northern!


On the way home, I tried two Lake Ontario tribs for an unlikely shot at a Coho Salmon. I only fished a couple hours and just found Chinooks.


Trip 2:
Trip 2 was much later in the Fall, and the main goal was fishing the Salmon run. I kept my hopes up for a Coho and my friend Tim would have been happy with a Chinook. We tried a new stream a friend had suggested that had very little angling pressure; we didn't see any other fishermen the whole time we were there. It took a couple hours of fishing, but I finally hooked and landed my Coho Salmon! It only took me about 5 years of annual trips to the tribs haha.







Having successfully caught my target, I left Tim to continue trying for Salmon while I drove over to Peterborough to catch a Hornyhead Chub. A biologist friend had suggested some spots where I would have a good shot at catching one... it didn't take long:


I then rejoined Tim on the tribs and did my best to help put him onto fish. Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful in this task and he went home skunked :( I did catch one more Chinook at the end of the day though, a nice way to end a great day.




Cross-Canada 2018 - Mountains, Mountains, & Mountains


In this next part of the trip, we travel through the mountains from Edmonton and out to Vancouver, then down to Yellowstone, before heading home through the US. Since we left off, the next interesting things we saw were a bunch of Bison at Elk Island National Park. We were worried we wouldn’t see any but as the sun started going down they came out, and nothing scares these guys! They were even walking down the main road.
 

It having been a few days since we caught our last standard-sized fish, I was getting pretty antsy to do some fishing. Luckily, the next 2 days were all fishing :) I convinced Alex to agree on a “small” detour up Grande Prairie and then back down to Jasper so I could have a shot at a few northern species. Finding info for this area proved very difficult so I decided to just go for it and stop at any nice rivers we saw.


The first stop didn’t really pay off. I did catch a decent pike but that was pretty disappointing considering I expected it to be a big Bull Trout. The second stop didn’t seem to be much better, water was high and we weren’t getting any hits. I had given up and was wading back to the car, while “trolling” my lure behind me… of course this is when the fish hit. My lifer Arctic Grayling! Just a small one but a major bucket list species for me :) There aren’t too many fish I care for catching a second time but this is definitely one of them.


After the Grayling, the fishing continued to be difficult, as expected. This was early June and the rivers were still experiencing runoff from the wintermelt. Didn’t catch anything for the rest of that day or for the first half of the next day. Finally, on the last open river of the detour, I found a nice pool with a bunch of Rocky Mountain Whitefish. Another salmonid in the books :)


Next we were back to a few days without fishing and instead did the tourist thing and hiked around Jasper and Banff. I’ll spare you the details but basically it’s a spectacular region and here are some photos to prove it, send me a message if you’d like any travel suggestions.




After the national parks, we headed to k-country, where I hoped to catch a Cutthroat Trout. Incredibly, I could not find a single one! These guys are supposed to be like the Brook Trout of the west XD Rainy weather and bad stream fishing led to us trying a lake out of desperation, good thing we did because I caught a big Bull Trout!! Totally unexpected, I knew the lake had them but never thought I’d get one in shallow water from shore. What a crazy fight, like lakers on steroids.


We also started seeing Grizzlies at this point. They kept to themselves but seeing them was a good warning that we weren’t the biggest predators around anymore.


In the interest of brevity, let’s say we headed to the Kootenay region of BC next. On the way, I fished one river where I caught a fish that was way cooler than I realized at the time: the Mountain Sucker. Wish there was a cooler story to tell about how I poured through documents for hours or something… but nope. Alex visited a wolfdog sanctuary and got some very cool pictures as well.

 


Quick teleport and we were in the Kootenays. A friend I made online had graciously agreed to meet up with us and guide us around his home waters back in the mountains. I was amazed at his generosity, he essentially spent all day bringing us to all his best spots, the kind of places you could never find online. Unfortunately, the runoff came back to bite us and the fishing wasn’t spectacular, but I did catch another Bull Trout! This one was especially cool because it was caught on the fly in a small river way back in the bush: a place I’d never expect to catch something bigger than a pound or two.


 





Hop, skip, and a jump later and we had driven through the rest of the mountains and out to Kelowna and the Okanagan Valley. One last Canadian fishing stop was at a relatively small lake to try for landlocked Sockeye Salmon (Kokanee). To our dismay, all of the boats were already rented out and so we were out of options. Luckily, another friend I had made online said he was on the lake that day and offered to bring us out on his boat! People are amazing. Needless to say, he really knew his stuff and it didn’t take long for both of us to have our lifers.


We then drove out to Vancouver just to say that we had reached the Pacific. Mandatory ocean photo and we were on our way down to Yellowstone. Incredible what living out of a small Toyota can do to your hair, I swear I woke up with it like this.
We had high expectations for Yellowstone seeing as its one of the most popular U.S. national parks. To our dismay, it was quite disappointing :( Sure, it was cool to see the geysers and hot springs, but it’s nothing compared to the grandeur of the Rockies and it seemed poorly managed compared to Banff. Brief failure with some Cutthroat Trout and we agreed to be on our way ASAP.


 















This is getting long so let’s just say it was almost a straight shot from there to home. One last memorable stop was at the Garrison Dam in North Dakota where Roughfish member Paul Schumann had been posting pictures of mystical Blue Suckers, Shovelnose Sturgeon, Buffalo, and more. Just about anything here would be a lifer for us since we’ve never been in the central U.S. Indeed, it didn’t take long for us both to get into some Bigmouth Buffalo. Alex caught her biggest fish ever and we both enjoyed some epic battles in the current. We also caught some good Pike :) Oh yeah, and we visited the hatchery and got to see/hold some Paddlefish, Shovelnose, and Pallid Sturgeon.

















And that’s about it for our big trip. Incredible adventure and we’re super excited for the next one. Only one province and three territories left to go, and I’m sure it won’t be long before we make our way over to them :) Here's a couple extra wildlife shots, couldn't think of the right place to fit them in the report.