Answer to the sculpin problem

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Howdy everyone!

IT’S TUNA SEASON! Guys and gals have been getting out and putting a serious smack-down on these tasty critters as of late and I have eaten a LOT of these tasty meat bites in poppers, deep-fried, steaked and grilled, smoked, canned, well you get the idea.

When the ocean isn’t blown out we have been seeing fish all over the place but most of our catches have been in the 40-45 mile range and to the North. Winchester Bay Charters scored over 80 fish the other day and Fishin’ Trips Charters caught so many on rod and reel that his clients begged him to stop! Now that’s how to catch tuna.

Let’s move on now to our fishing report for a moment.

We are seeing salmon! Not a ton of ‘em but we have seen fin clipped coho and a handful of chinook from the ocean lately and while it’s not enough to drive an economy, it’s still a relief to see.

Rockfish and lingcod are still good to very good but remember that the ODFW recently reduced our rockfish limit to four from the 5 at the beginning of the year and the 7 we were at last year. Rocks, reefs, and the like are producing a really good grade of fish and we have recently seen some lingcod in the twenty plus pound range.

Crabbing off the docks is still on the slow side, good in the bay and really good in the ocean if you leave them out for an overnight soak. Surf perch is about right with hit or miss days and some nice ones to be had off the beaches. Winchester Bay is still having a strange run of perch with amazing days where you limit out in an hour and the next day you can’t catch any but you can fill a bucket with sculpins.

Speaking of sculpins, I want to propose something: if we can get every charter business in the area and all the local folks to get on board with this plan we can pretty much get rid of sculpins once and for all and make some money. Those of you that fish perch, salmon with bobbers and eggs, steelhead, and so many other fisheries know what a blight these little creatures can be.

Here’s what I propose: if you are a charter guide out with clients and the fishing is slow and you start catching sculpins you should act surprised and amazed when someone lands one. Say something like “I haven’t seen one of those in years! I remember the massive sculpin runs we had up to the sculpin cannery back in the ’70s. Yep, some of the finest eating seafood the world has to offer.”

When you catch the next one, and you will because there are approximately five hundred trillion in our bay alone of these slimy nasty bait thieves, get on the VHF radio and call out to a buddy that you are catching sculpins. Your “buddy” who may or may not be someone you actually know but will be in the inner circle of the sculpin ruse will reply with “that’s amazing! We’re catching them too, I called the wife and she’s so excited to get some fresh sculpin tonight!” At this point you should actually convince your clients that y’all should be targeting sculpin instead of whatever else you are currently fishing for.

As a private citizen, any time you are going fishing and a tourist or someone from out of town asks what you are fishing for you should reply with “Sculpin! It’s the best run we’ve seen in decades!” Tackle shops should dedicate some square footage to a Sculpin section and double, no, triple the price of the “specialized” gear to harvest these rare and amazingly tasty bits of seafood.

Eventually people from near and far will come to harvest our sculpin and feast on them like kings and queens used to do centuries ago. Yep, that’s how we get rid of our sculpin problem and build an industry around it. Of course the ODFW will get involved and shut down this new fishery once the dockside sculpin checkers notice a seasonal drop in numbers so we have to act fast folks.

The sculpin or more accurately the staghorn sculpin derives its name from the little “horns” that protrude from the side of its head when threatened. It is extremely common in shallow water estuaries from Mexico to Alaska and anyone that fishes for salmon with bobbers and eggs has caught one or two (thousand) of these little fellas.

These fish can readily adapt to fresh water and those bobbers and eggs will catch them all the way up past tide-water. The staghorn sculpin is an opportunist and will feed on most anything they can get. Some of their diet includes small crab, insect larvae, shrimp, small fish, and fish eggs, especially the ones you are fishing with!

These sculpin spawn from October to April and lay from two to five thousand eggs which hatch in ten days. The young will move into shallow fresh water sometime after hatching and spend about three months there, where they are relatively safe and sound. After this they will venture out and steal bait for a living for about ten years or until our new industry takes off.

We are currently accepting applications for seats on the Pacific Northwest Sculpin Commission, the application fee is $500.00. Oh, and please make your checks payable to “cash.”

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I'm a writer who focuses on the outdoors and travel. I share my time between Alaska and Colorado, where, when I'm not writing, I enjoy camping, kayaking, hiking, fishing, and skiing (often with dogs in tow). My byline may also be seen in publications such as The New York Times, National Geographic, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, and others.


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