Thursday, August 30, 2018

Party Boat Wreck Fishing

My grandfather was living with us for the summer, but the busyness of my schedule meant that we weren't able to go fishing as much as I would have liked. 

So when the end of August neared, I decided to take us out to the coast for a day wreck fishing on a party boat. The main targets for the day would be black sea bass and red hake (called "ling" locally), both of which would be new species for me. Funnily enough, I had never fished for these locally abundant species before, despite living so close. I was fairly confident that we would encounter sea bass and red hake, but I knew there were opportunities for several other bottom-dwelling fishes. 

The morning came quickly, and at sunrise the boat motored off towards the Atlantic. 

My grandfather enjoying the sunrise

The boat planned to stop at several inshore wrecks to target Black Sea bass, before moving to deeper water for red hake.

Upon arrival to the first stop, anglers dropped their lines as did I, and within a few seconds I have a bite and cranked up a double-header of black sea bass, a male and a female. We were using high-low rigs with clams as bait and 6-8 oz sinkers.

The black sea bass–species #130.

Both fish were too short, so back they went.

My grandfather and I did eventually tie into several nicer specimens that we kept for dinner.

The action was hot, although most fish were short. My grandfather caught a very plump Atlantic chub mackerel that we cut up for bait in addition to the clams.

Once most people had gotten their limit of two keeper sea bass, the boat left the area and headed east towards deeper water. It took a while to get there, and once we did, it took even longer for the boat to be positioned, since the lack of wind made for a tough drift. The first few spots produced a fish or two for some people, but the action just wasn't present. Finally, at one of the spots I got a little knocked, cranked up 200 feet of line, and pulled up a little baby hake that was missing an eye.

Species #131, the red hake.

As slimy as they are, I was able to position this one nicely enough to get a decent photo. 

After the first ling broke the ice, fishing improved and I caught several more hake. A man next to me was consistently catching American conger eels and ocean pout, but I couldn't replicate his success. 

Then on one drop, I got tangled with one of my neighbors (a common occurrence, especially on crowded days). After clearing the tangle, I felt weight on the line and set the hook into what felt like a much more decent fish than the ling we had been catching. Reeling it to the surface was an effort, but I was delighted to see an ocean pout on the end of the line. 

That's species #132, if you're following along. 

The pout was the highlight of my day, one of the strangest fish that inhabits our waters and one that I was really hoping I would encounter. 

Cool as they may be, they present quite a challenge to any person wishing to straighten one out for a quick photo. 

Beautiful pectoral fins on this specimen. 

I ended up finally getting a decent shot of it before sending it back into the ocean. 

One notable comment regarding the ocean pout: ocean pout are able to produce an antifreeze protein to prevent their body fluids from freezing in sub-freezing saltwater. My final project in Biochemistry is on antifreeze proteins in fish, and in researching it I came upon this knowledge; one more interesting thing about this species. 

No more new species would make an appearance, but as the day wound to an end I did get several nicer-sized red hake. 

A solid day fishing with my grandfather; we combined for a multitude of ling and sea bass to take back home to cook. And I got three new species out of the endeavor, bringing me to 132. I am on the road to 150!

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Scientific Illustrator?

While I was working at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, in my free time I had been experimenting with scientific-style illustration of fishes. In particular, I had drawn a bluespotted sunfish and a satinfin shiner on Procreate, a digital drawing app I use with my iPad.

Just for kicks, I decided to post them in some of the online fish enthusiast communities I am a part of, and one of my fish-related acquaintances noticed it. This particular acquaintance of mine is a graduate student working on his dissertation. We discussed matters for a little while, but soon enough I found myself commissioned for a project that would involve the digital illustration of 6 salmonids for a research manuscript. 

I have attached finished versions below, but for a detailed account of my process, click here.

Spawning male kunimasu (Oncorhynchus kawamurae)

Spawning male stream-spawning sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka)

Spawning male lake-spawning sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka)

Ferox trout (Salmo trutta)

Gillaroo (Salmo stomachicus)

Sonaghan (Salmo nigripinnis)

This project was my first foray into extensive digital painting, and I feel that throughout the process I made notable improvements in technique and understanding of salmonid anatomy. 

Shortly after the six salmonids, another opportunity for me to scientifically illustrate fishes popped up, and this one required work of a significantly simplified style, which was in hindsight very good, as school was just about to begin.

I was commissioned to draw simplified illustrations of 10 Senegalese fish species that have a potential to control the disease schistosomiasis by eating the host snails which carry the disease at one of its life stages. 

The paper: 

Arostegui MC, Wood CL, Jones IJ, Chamberlin A, Jouanard N, Faye DS, Kuris AM, Riveau G, De Leo GA, Sokolow SH. In
         press. Potential biological control of schistosomiasis by fishes in the lower Senegal River basin. American Journal of
         Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
Synodontis ocellifer                                        Synodontis schall

Synodontis nigrita                                        Clarias gariepinus

       Malapterurus electricus                              Chrysichthys nigrodigitatus
      Labeo senegalensis                                    Hemichromus bimaculatus

 Citharinus citharus                                         Protopterus annectens

Sunday, July 1, 2018

ANSP Internship–The beginning

One of the things I was really excited about for the summer was the opportunity to work as a summer intern in the Ichthyology Dep. at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. 

One of my teachers, Dr. Clark, knew someone who used to work there and urged me to contact him, as he knew I had a passion for fish and the natural sciences. I got in touch with Dr. L, Dr. Clark's acquaintance, and he pointed me to Dr. S.

After several conversations with Dr. S, we came to an agreement for me to work several weeks at the Academy.

This would be the start of a wonderful experience; one that would foster my personal development in addition to being exciting and fulfilling.

June rolled around, and it was time for me to head to Philly. I had never lived alone in a big city for such an extended period of time before, so I was happy to see how I would fare in a new environment. I had found a college dorm that a student was sub-leasing for the summer in a great location that allowed me to walk pretty much anywhere I needed to go. Still, it was a lot of walking. I regret not bringing a bike, and going back home to get one was not worth the effort. 

The first couple days at ANSP was primarily a learning experience for me. Although I have a strong passion for fish, with regards to ichthyology I have barely scratched the surface.

I spent much of my time reading publications and books and learning fish skeletal anatomy.

I also familiarized myself with the software that I would be using in the future to digitally dissect and label CT scans of fishes too small to clear and stain or physically dissect. This method of analyzing a species' morphology provides clearer data to make distinctions between specimens based off of morphology.

My favorite part of the Academy were the collections: There were walls upon walls filled with jars of preserved fishes. I had never seen anything remotely like it, and each jar was just as fascinating as the next.

One particular specimen from one of the oldest collections in the Academy caught my eye: the label read Catostomus elongates. The reason it caught my eye was that I wasn't aware of any such species existing. Upon opening the box, however, it became clear that this was Cycleptus elongatus, the blue sucker, but the specimen was so old, that at the time taxonomists had placed it in the Catostomus genus with the long nose and white suckers. Incredible.

 Ah, yes: reading. 

When I had some free time I would walk over to the Fairmount dam and watch Northern Snakeheads (Channa argus) swim in the heaving current by the surface. What they were doing is unclear, but they would not respond to any lures the local fisherman were throwing at them. Several were snagged, however, and tossed onto the bank.

 I spotted a cheeky longnose gar on one of the statues in the city. 

Some of the structures I was studying. 

A coelacanth replica mount in the department library, where I would spend much of my time reading or doing an errand of sorts.

As  nonnative as they are (just like almost every other fish in the river, btw), you hate to see wanton waste like this. 

Thursday, June 21, 2018

A Channel Catfish Attempt

The start of the contest meant the annual rite of the channel catfish trip. The previous summer, I had landed my personal best of ~12 lbs. As this spot has always produced for me, I thought of it as sure-fire for my contest channel.

Thus, on a fine afternoon my friend Alex and I headed to the locale armed with cutbait and bottom and float rigs.

A northern watersnake holding his prize catch of the day greeted us.

A yellow bullhead meets an unfortunate fate

While the action was hot, we initially had trouble connecting with takes. While tossing out bigger cutbait on sliding sinker rigs, I also placed a smaller suspended bait under a float right next to shore by some overhanging brush.

Lo and behold, that rig was the first to go off. There's no adrenaline rush like seeing a float trotting off and shooting underwater, whether that be fishing for bluegills in a creek or casting livebaits for pike.

I tightened up, and realized quickly that I was connected to a very solid brown bullhead—my biggest ever, actually. It didn't take long for me to get it in, but I did baby it a little since the fish was hooked by a tiny flap of skin. Absurdly enough, this bullhead completely cleared the water twice, almost tailwalking—a behavior I had never observed nor heard of any catfish species doing.

I do believe that this brown bullhead is my personal best for this species, which is always a good achievement. Furthermore, it added to my tally for the June contest.

Later on, while we were still lacking any sign of channel catfish, I was messing around with freelining chunks of bait by a ledge when I inadvertently tangled my line with an angry watersnake (there was no shortage of snakes in the area that day). After a struggle in getting the creature free, I realized that a fish of decent caliber was on the other end of the line. I passed the rod to Alex, so he could have a go at it.

In the meantime, another bottom rig went off with a hard hit, but upon reeling it in I knew it was  a small bass. Landing the bass quickly, I then netted the channel catfish which Alex had at this point brought to shore.

A double header! Quite ironic, after going so long without any sign of life.

While Alex had caught a channel catfish, I had yet to do so and I still needed one for the contest. As a last resort, I send out some smaller rigs with half a nightcrawler on each instead of half a bluegill, and quickly picked up my smallest channel ever, a cute and oddly blue-colored specimen. A species is a species!

With that we decided to call it an outing—a personal best and two more contest entries were  more than enough, although we never did encounter a behemoth catfish.