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Coastal Casts: spiny dogfish

May 26, 2019

Howdy everyone!

Remember how for the past two or three months I’ve been telling you how the ocean has been too rough to fish most days and that the wind doesn’t seem to stop?

Well guess what? It’s still been too rough to get out.

There’s the odd early morning that allows a two- or three-hour window but that’s about it.

Inland waters are faring better with bass, trout and shad to be had by all. I personally got out and had my best day ever on the Umpqua for smallmouth bass followed by a bay trip in my kayak, where I caught the best grade of rockfish I have ever caught inside the bay.

Speaking of Umpqua, the red-tailed perch are coming in at Winchester Bay, so don’t forget to call Norma Evans, Tim Abraham or Brian Gill to get out on a guided trip to load up the freezer with perch for all the summer fish-fries y’all are going to have this year.

This past weekend was another set of three halibut fishing days but the aforementioned weather kept anyone I know from even trying. We recently talked about a “big skate” that was caught while halibut fishing and today we’re going to talk about another non-halibut critter that was caught while out on the grounds.

Tabitha from Team Basin Tackle caught her first shark last weekend and it was nice to see that type of excitement for a species that doesn’t get much attention or thought. The species she caught wasn’t really one of the “cool kids” in the shark world, like a mako or great white. But by golly, catching a shark is still catching a shark!

This particular one was a dogfish or, more specifically, a spiny dogfish. It turns out that here in Oregon, we are allowed to keep seven spiny dogfish per day as part of our marine bag limit. Why would we want to keep seven of these or even one for that matter?

Well it turns out these critters are pretty good eating, in fact they are the fish in proper English (as in England) fish and chips. Sometimes referred to as “rock salmon” (“rock salmon”…snicker) by the British, these fish were once the most common species of shark on the planet but the increasing demand for their meat and the fact they are readily available and easy to catch has caused a great decline in their numbers.

Trawling and gillnets are the preferred method of capture for this species, but we don’t have much of a commercial fishery for them here in America and most of their capture occurs in European waters.

The spiny dogfish has couple distinctive features that helps identify it: a series of white dots along its sides and a protruding spine in front of each of its dorsal fins — hence the name spiny dogfish.

I have had some commercial fishermen tell me these spines are mildly toxic and pack a good punch in the pain department, so it sounds like a game of “toss the dogfish” ought to be thought out before attempting.

The male spiny dogfish rarely exceeds 3 1/2 feet in length and the female rarely exceeds 5 feet. Its relatively small size limits most of its diet to squid, octopus and smaller fish. This species of shark has teeth different from what we generally think of when we imagine what shark teeth look like, with rows of overlapping, relatively blunt teeth that are engineered for grinding rather than tearing.

These dogfish will often hunt in schools, which may number in the thousands in deeper waters out to 3,000 feet, but are found in much smaller numbers high in the intertidal zones.

Mating takes place in the winter, and the gestation period is 18 to 24 months. It is the longest of any known animal and which generally leads to the male drinking heavily through the eight trimesters of pregnancy (I may have made that drinking part up) with a litter of six or seven being the average.

This fish matures at eight years for males and 21 years for females, and either of them may live for more than 100 years. So next time you catch one, you may want to consider trying some 100 year old fish and chips.

Whether you’re on the Umpqua catching bass or on the ocean chasing halibut, I hope to see you out there.

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