Bycatch, a term that applies to commercial fishers catching fish other than the species they were targeting, applies to my efforts on the homestead as well. I’ve had a few unintended catches that, while falling short of providing food, have at least contributed to our education.
One day while fishing off the rocks, I cast out over the edge of the shelf and allowed my lure to sink down into the deeper water before reeling in. I hoped to either tempt a salmon hunting the darker depths, or possibly attract a halibut. Instead, I caught a fish I’d never seen before. I took a photo and released it. I checked my reference books, but found no answers. A few days later I went to the library, and found photos that lead me to believe the fish is a ronquil.
I learned much later that ronquil are decent eating, but this one was too small to worry about, even if I had known it was edible.
One day while fishing for halibut, I hooked something that didn’t fight, but put a fair amount of weight on the line. Halibut and ling cod sometimes don’t fight until you pull them close enough to the surface for them to sense danger, so I resolutely reeled in hundreds of feet of line. On my hook I found a long, flesh-colored tube with a little bit of mud on it. I have hooked sea cucumbers off the bottom many times before, and at first I thought this was another one that had turned itself inside out (an escape technique). I threw it in the bottom of the boat and returned to fishing.
By the time I got it home I realized my sea cucumber theory didn’t work. The body of this thing was rigid, almost like a stalk. Again, I took some photos, and went to the books. Eventually I learned that it is a sea pen, a colony of organisms closely related to coral. One of the organisms forms the stalk, and the rest of the colony become fronds on the stalk.
When we move goods to and from the property by boat, I like to drag a lure behind the canoe, on the off chance I might catch dinner. One evening we’d brought a load around the peninsula to the property, and I paddled back around to deliver the canoe to its usual spot on the bay. I fished, but it got too deep and snagged the bottom. I worked to free the lure, and it came loose, but not free. When I reeled it in, I found a beautiful basket star! Not much to do but take a quick photo and send it back down.
I’d rather catch dinner, but at least on those occasions when I catch something unexpected, it’s never dull.