Baitfish question

Discussion in 'Saltwater' started by MrP, Nov 25, 2005.

  1. MrP

    MrP Member

    Sometime back I was fishing a local saltwater beach. It was a calm and pleasant day. I was only in water up to my knees. After fishing for about 90 minutes (without the slightest evidence of any fish present) a school, no, an army of baitfish proceeded to move right at me. They were heading directly parallel to the beach. As they got to me they made a perfect left turn out towards the open water, moved about 24 inches, and then turned 90 degrees to again move directly up the beach. It was fascinating. Fascinating because they were so close to me, because they weren't scared off by me, because I could see the dang things so clearly, and because they all followed exactly the same route. At any one time the column was only 30-36 inches wide but I couldn't begin to estimate how long the column was since it traveled by me for more than 20 straight minutes. I stopped casting just to watch the darn things for almost the entire time. As they moved towards me they were within inches of my leg before they turned out to the open water. I was trying to make note of their shape and coloration without disturbing them.

    After the fish army had moved by, I began casting again. Shortly after that I hooked a nice silver. I got it to hand and one of the baitfish soldiers was in its mouth next to my fly. I quickly released the salmon but retained the baitfish. (Okay you WFFC regulations police, don't scold me for briefly keeping a baitfish. I had a license, I had a punch card, I was fishing in open water, and I was using a single barbless fly. I didn't actually hook the baitfish; it was in the salmon's mouth and appeared to be dead. I wasn't targeting baitfish. It was an incidental catch.) I measured it. It was a strapping 2 3/4 inch long specimen. It was 1 1/2 inches across. It didn't have the profile of a sand lance or a herring. Most interesting of all to me was that the upper body was brown/gold, and there was a distinct purple stripe down the side. After measuring the specimen I gently dropped it in the water.

    I've tried tying some imitations of what I saw that day and have caught a few fish on it. My question is what were those baitfish soldiers?
  2. Smalma

    Smalma Active Member

  3. MrP

    MrP Member

    Thanks for the reply Smalma. I've searched on the internet for my soldier and I can't find him. The back was brown/gold and there was a distinct purple stripe down almost the entire length of the body. My soldier didn't have any yellow or black vertical stripes. Okay, I'm a simple guy, I really don't know that many names of colors--probably only 8 like were in my first box of crayons. I just went and looked at my Soldier Fly imitation and the materials I'm using. The top is gold angel hair and the middle is fushia ice angel hair. Purple isn't really accurate. Sorry I was still back in my crayon days. That fushia ice color is virtually identical to my soldier. (Except for fly tying I would never, never, say anything is fushia ice. As a middle age guy I'm a bit more relaxed and open than I once was. That means I can describe the world in 16 colors now. Fushia ice surely is not one of them!!) The back of my soldier was really closer to gold than brown. That fushia ice stripe was decidely the most distinct characteristic of the all the soldiers in the parade; I could even see it as they swam by.
  4. salt dog

    salt dog card shark

    MrP, you mention local saltwater beach, so I presume local to Mukilteo area, and that it was some time ago; what time of the year?
  5. Jim Wallace

    Jim Wallace Smells like low tide

    Sounds like a Surf Smelt. Except your description sounds likei t had a deeper body. Its the only thing that comes close to it in my old Audubon field guide.

    To 10" (25 cm). Elongate, fusiform, compressed: olive green or brown above, silvery below, bright stripe along side. Maxilla does not extend beyond midpoint of eye. Pelvic fin insertion in front of dorsal origin;anal fin rays about one third of head length; small sickle-shaped adipose fin.

    Habitat: Close to shore off sandy beaches.

    Range: From Prince William Sound, AK to Long Beach, CA."

    Was that it?

  6. MrP

    MrP Member

    Point No Point, August 23.
  7. MrP

    MrP Member

    Thanks Jim for the suggestion. My Soldier was longer and proportionately deeper than a Surf Smelt. It also had a distinct "fuchsia ice" line down the side. I talked to a few other guys on the beach. One other fly rodder saw the army go by. I described my incidental catch to him and he had no idea what it was either. Since that August day, I have begun to think that the army was a school of lost tropical fish. Not only were they on the wrong beach they were in the wrong part of the dang world! Thanks again Jim.
  8. Jim Wallace

    Jim Wallace Smells like low tide

    Hmmmm...Maybe a large school of baby Striped Sea Perch? The adults have several thin purple stripes down the side...don't really know what the small ones look like or even if they school up so large.:confused: stumped!

  9. Banzai

    Banzai FFing and VWs...Bugs & Bugs

    I think you may be right about the juvenile seaperch theory Jim. I have had several surf perch and pile perch females do a spontaneous expulsion of young (fry) upon landing that closely match the description given by MrP. They are decidedly golden in color with a noticeable lateral stripe. I have never seen schools of perch fry that large before, although I admit I haven't done that much beach wading while fishing for them. It was mostly with gear at the time.
  10. MrP

    MrP Member

    Thanks for the information gentlemen. I enjoy much of what gets posted on this site--the responses on this thread are positive and interesting.

    I have seen a herring and a candlefish. I've seen the individuals, the schools, and the bait balls being herded by the predators. Clearly My Soldier was not one of these. I did not consider any type of perch when I started looking for My Soldier on line. Based on the suggestion that it might be a Sea Perch I found this URL:

    The Sea Perch on this site has the correct body proportions. The striping I referenced was a single lateral stripe not a group of vertical ones. However the parade of fish I saw could have easily been juveniles. That said, the coloration and the stripping pattern could change as they approach maturity. I'm starting to think this may be my boy. (or girl as the case may be) Very cool!
  11. Jim Wallace

    Jim Wallace Smells like low tide

    MrP, Now that you've got our interest, we have to solve this mystery.
    The Striped Surfperch's stripes are lateral. (The terminology in the Audubon field guide for vertical stripes is "bars," and horizontal or lateral stripes as "stripes," so I'm going with that, for the sake of discussion).

    I have caught adult Striped Surfperch off the beach here and off the South Jetty. I know they travel in schools, but I have a hard time imagining a long column of juviniles parading by!

  12. TomB

    TomB Active Member

    while conducting beach seines this summer to look at fish habitat use by juvenile salmonids, I encountered many juvenile perch including shiner, striped, and pile. Juvenile striped perch are generally the same color as the adults (a bronze-orange) and show multiple horizontal stripes like the adults. The stripes are sometimes less pronounced than on adults. Occasionally the lack of stripes on the shiners as juveniles can make them easy to confuse with juvenile pile perch, which are lighter colored than adults, and often have a similar orange hue. We most frequently encountered striped perch around eelgrass beds which would be consistent with the habitat on the south side of point no point.

    I should add that I, like Jimbo have never seen large schools of juvenile striped perch, but frequently saw large schools of shiners.
  13. MrP

    MrP Member

    What does a Shiner look like Tom? Does it have a fuchsia lateral stripe? This exchange is very interesting gentlemen; thanks.
  14. TomB

    TomB Active Member

    shiner perch look like the one in the link Smalma posted. Juveniles often don't display the yellow bands very prominently though. I suppose their lateral line could look fuschia, but your description doesn't quite match how I would describe them.
  15. MrP

    MrP Member

    I wish I had my camera with me the day I found that darn baitfish in that salmon's mouth. Maybe next summer it will all play out again. I see myself catching a nice Silver with the mystery baitfish in the back of its mouth and My Soldier pattern in its maxillary. I'd love to get a picture of that! Fishing, tying, life...ahh yes, hope springs eternal.
  16. salt dog

    salt dog card shark

    MrP, I need those kinds of pictures in my mind's eye to keep me going through the long winter. It helps to keep one motivated at the vise, too.
  17. Bob Triggs

    Bob Triggs Your Preferred Olympic Peninsula Fly Fishing Guide

    Mr P, I doubt it was Perch since the line orientation is not the same, horizontal vs vertical). What about smelt or juvenile sandlance?
  18. MrP

    MrP Member

    Hi Bob,

    Decades ago my family rented hand nets for $1 each and we dipped smelt in the surf near Kalaloch. I've seen Candlefish/Sand Lance on several occasions. The body shape of both of these, at least the ones I have seen, is too long and narrow. The juveniles may be different but they would have to be dramatically different. Dang it Bob, next time I'll get a picture.

    Salt Dog, winter tying, ah yes, it's so satisfying.
  19. TomB

    TomB Active Member

    juvenile smelt and sand lance are very skinny and way would either be 1.5 inches by 2.75....dimensions dont work.