|The fish that started it all.|
I don't collect many oddballs or non-sports cards. Movies and TV shows don't interest me to the point of putting them on cardboard and looking at stills when I can just watch the show or movie when I feel like it. Outside of baseball and hockey, I'm not exactly adventurous when it comes to adding new genres to my collecting.
This is probably why I tend to despise Allen & Ginter's and Goodwin Champions. The magicians, Frisbee dogs and generals of the Crusades is extraneous in a set to me. Others enjoy it, though, which is fine. There's always a niche in the world to be filled.
One major exception to this, for me, is UD Champs. Modern Champs has always had a maple-flavoured flare to it, and 2015-2016 was when this set really peaked. Aside from the nice base cards, easy to land on-card autos and relics, the inserts were Canadian-themed and generally pretty fun, ranging from Canadian food to natural places and even FISH.
Champs in 2015-2016 had a 30-card insert of fish of Canada, and I pulled three from - regrettably - my only box of this product. I was hooked. I knew I needed the complete set, but chipping away at singles ($2-3/each) wasn't going to happen. So I loaded up the old Ebay machine and found myself the complete set of 30 for just $13 shipped, complete with penny sleeves for each card and secured in a team bag.
I love fish, and to fish. Fish have always been important to me, bringing me closer with my Grandfather, dad, brother, friends and nature. I've learned lessons from doing dumb things to catch them, and learned more about the wild from a stream bank than I ever learned in six years of college schooling.
What follows is not a normal review. Sure, the art work is beautiful. The cards are *just* rare enough to elicit a chase. But this review is more autobiographical than anything else. Enjoy this one. I enjoyed writing it.
1. Longnose Gar
Gar are super cool. I've never caught one, but I've tried. Since they don't get very big around here, or are very common, it's difficult to lure the sleek predators in with something you're using to land something like a northern pike. The lineage for these guys goes back almost 100 million years into the fossil record. They are survivors.
2. Black Crappie
Crappie, both black and yellow, are pretty common around here but tend to "sink" to the lower depths of our lakes in the summer, into the darker, cooler water. If you know where to get them you can certainly land a lot at once. My only memory of crappie fishing was nearly hooking my dad with a jig on Salmon River Reservoir back in high school. He wasn't too happy about that.
You'll see it here plenty of times: I'm not a salmon guy, but they are integral to the aquatic food systems and sportfishing industry in the United States and Canada.
Bowfin is probably the most misunderstood fish in the checklist, along with burbot. I caught one when I was younger, a surprisingly strong fight from a fish only coming in at about 14". These guys can breathe out of the water, which confuses a lot of sportsmen when they throw them on shore but they don't die. Unfortunately, this happened often as Bowfin were often viewed as a junk fish, but luckily, this stigma has changed of late. Bowfin are now prized for the fight they give, and some people enjoy the meat smoked.
5. Brown Trout
46 Corners is an assemblage of state forests in Oneida and Lewis Counties in New York's Tug Hill Country. Mostly managed softwoods, 46 corners is a place not unlike the settings of classical American folklore of the Lumberwoods. Brown trout are abundant there among the 55+ miles of trout stream we frequented - strictly in a lawful sense* - of these state forests, as are hillside gougers, squonk, hidebehinds, and even the elusive snipe.
*I say "lawful" in that 46 Corners and the maze of gridded dirt logging roads through the area is where it was pretty easy to have an underage drinking party in high school - of which I was rarely invited, as I was a good little honor student athlete, of course.
6. Flathead Catfish
7. Chinook Salmon
8. Coho Salmon
I'm not a big salmon guy, never have been. Working on Lake Ontario has taught me plenty about these beasts and their role in ecosystem destruction and recovery as it rages its vicious cycle on the Great Lakes and beyond. Part of me is annoyed by them, but the rest of me is impressed with the effect they can have on lake ecosystems.
9. Bull Trout
Bull trout are westerners, so I have no experience with them. They are, however, a handsome fish and it is quite difficult to maintain their populations as their habitat demands (plenty of cover, cold water, deep pools) are hurt by the ongoing destruction of our wilderness.
Bluegills are everyone's first fish, it seems. They're easy to catch with a hook and worm and sometimes a bobber if needed, and there's millions of the out there. There's no fight in these shallow water panfish, and some say they're quite tasty when fried or grilled, but beware of the little bones.
Cisco, or lake herring, have been an incredibly important fish in American history, and very few people seem to know about it. The first are integral to the food chain in the Great Lakes, acting as one of the main food sources for walleye, lake trout, and other predatory fishes.
12. Brook Trout
Brookies are popular where I currently live, where anglers don't have boats for open water and where public fishing access points are common. The State has been great at providing these sites of late, using money from fishing licences and fines (in theory) to provide access to all, especially, in recent years, to handicapped fisherman. Despite being severely undermanned, they keep doing great stuff with the personnel they do have. I've only really targeted brookies once, and I ended up with No. 30 on this list instead.
14. Lake Trout
Did you know the burbot is the only freshwater cod or cod-like fish? It's true. I remember catching one when I was pretty young, through the ice on Oneida Lake. My dad called it a "lawyer" which certainly confused me back then, and even now doesn't make a whole lot of sense. There's a lot of things he taught me the name of that weren't 100% correct, but he was right on with this one.
Even then, we didn't appreciate burbot as much as we should. They're hard to catch, and sometimes this makes sportsmen appreciate them less. Not like the following...
Now we're rolling. Muskies are the apex predator of North American waters. Take a gander at YouTube and you'll find videos of anglers reeling in nice northern pike, only to have a muskie take the fish for itself. They're notoriously difficult to catch and at up to 40 pounds they are a monster to get out of the water.
Here in NY, they're often cross-bred with northern pike into a hybrid monster, the Tiger Muskie, which is sadly absent from this list. A true marvel of the fishmaker's art. They are, however, sterile, and cannot breed in the wild, and are bred by The State purely for sport fishing.
17. Northern Pike
Northern pike are my favorite fish. Every year on opening day of walleye season, I secretly target them instead. Most don't enjoy the meat and personally I've never tried it, there's just something primal about this incredible predator of our mostly unknown aquatic worlds. I think part of it comes from their aggressiveness in striking a lure, often breaking the water's surface in their own moment of predatory maximum.
But northerns also represent one of my favorite, and most recent, fishing memories. I think it was over one of my winter breaks from college when I was ice fishing with my dad and brother on Oneida. My brother hooked something big, but we didn't know what it was.
"Take off your gloves" he said. "and when you see its head, pull him out of the hole." I had no idea what to expect, but I knew that he knew more than me and it would be worth sticking my hands into the super-cooled lake to take whatever lies beneath, not long after, the head of a northern pike made it into the hole, and I grabbed it, and threw all 30" of the behemoth onto the ice before it could use its 1/2" teeth to rip through my arms. It was, by far, more exhilarating than any other take of my life.
18. Pacific Salmon
Again, I'm not a salmon guy. I just cannot give the time and effort at this juncture of my being. Someday? "Pacific Salmon" itself is misleading in this context, a trading card checklist, and it's the one thing about this insert set I am annoyed by. You see, Chinook, Coho and Sockeye are all represented in these thirty cards, but they're all Pacific Salmon, just in different life stages and habitats. Now, I don't expect perfect accuracy in the scientific fact here, but this overlook could have been corrected and other fish species, such as the Atlantic Sturgeon could have been featured.
I'm going to use this space here as a brief plug for sturgeon, which we are actively looking to restore in NY State. If you would like to learn more about New York's programs into helping reintroduce and invigorate sturgeon in the Northeast, please visit NY Sturgeon For Tomorrow.
Pumpkinseeds, like bluegill, are mostly admired by youth and not seasoned anglers. Despite being easy to catch, they're beautiful fish and as I have heard. plenty good to eat.
20. Rainbow Trout
I used to work on Skaneateles Lake in the Finger Lakes, and rainbow trout were a huge commodity there and in the tributaries of the lake. Every year, the town I went to school in stocks a couple hundred of these in the 8-10" range and kids get a chance to fish for free, and the fishing is good in the small, man-made pond that they toss them in. It gets them hooked early, and the beautiful rainbow-like coloration goes a long way in making that happen.
21. Rock Bass
Rockies kind of fit in between the sunfish (bluegill and pumpkinseed) and crappie. They are always fun to catch and are super common, and often are a food source for refugees in Syracuse because of that. It's not super-evident in the card, but there's often some red coloring around the eye, which when you hook them on a bright day, stands out quite a bit in the water. One of my favorite fishing spots behind the house I grew up on has plenty of rock bass. In the spring and early summer they sit on their nests, and just by dragging a lure by they will attack defensively, making them an easy take.
23. Largemouth Bass
There exists a rivalry between walleye and bass fishermen on our local waters. Basically, the walleye fisherman are likened to technicians, silent stalkers of a ferocious predators, where bass fisherman are mostly regarded as lethargic, beer-bellied loudmouths with too-fast boats, destroying wake laws and scaring all the damn fish away. And the stigma, sadly, is deserved.
Still, largemouth bass are fun to catch on occasion where you don't really want a challenge and I always am brought back to fishing flooded timber of the Salmon River Reservoir as a teenager with my brother and cousin. When the waters rise it's generally harder to catch fish, that is until they spill into the surrounding forests into 6-10" of water and graze the bugs and such of early spring. That was certainly a fun day, but the snags were brutal.
24. Smallmouth Bass
Smallmouth are pretty common on the river which I grew up, but I don't really have any specific memories of them, other than watching them swin lazily through the crystal clear waters of a place called Green Pond as a kid. Green Pond was accessible only by floating through an 8' culvert in a canoe. If you approached by land, you were trespassing, but if you're just floating, you're on state property.
25. Sockeye Salmon
26. Brook Stickleback
27. Golden Shiner
Well, this is a rough patch for me. I'm not a salmon fisherman and shiners and sticklebacks aren't fish sportsmen target very often. Shiners, though, are common in pretty much all swift water here and I've caught more than a few. Some might say that shiners and sticklebacks have no value, but that reminds me of an Aldo Leopold quote:
“The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant: 'What good is it?”
That's right, I've unwittingly lulled you into a conversation of ecology in the guise of a trading cards post. Devilishly clever, I must say.
Okay, moving on...
Walleye is the fish of our family. The State stocks an incredible amount in the waters nearby, and the annual beginning of the season is a holiday. As a Little Leaguer, walleye season always started the same day as Opening Day - the first Saturday in May. The parade in down town, which doesn't happen anymore, would be lined with moms and dads in fishing gear, fresh off the water to watch their kids walk down main street, still decked out in hip waders or camouflage muck boots.
The sport carries on into the spring and summer, and especially in the winter through the ice. Out on the ice, dawn-drinking is the norm, as is freezing yourself to the bone with intent on landing a limit of three "eyes" or "walldos."
29. Yellow Perch
I would almost always prefer landing a perch, a cousin of the walleye. They're better eating, manageable in size, and are in much stronger populations here. They tend to school up, and with a daily limit of 50 per person, you can stock your freezer in just a couple of hours with a pile rivaling that of the beer cans next to the ice shanty.
30. Yellow Bullhead
I'm glad bullhead is No. 30. I've caught more bullhead than anything. They're fun, they look cool, and they're delicious.
When a river meanders across a broad plain, eventually the meanders are cut off an separated into what we call oxbow lakes. Whatever was inside the channel at the time fills out the population of the meander in the future. In one such meander, we found only bullhead, growing fat off bugs and other benthic goodies. Sometimes a pickerel would move in during high water and if the channel reconnected to the main branch of the river, but never enough of them to drive the bullhead population down.
Anyways, we used to drag our canoes a few hundred feet through cow pasture to fish these oxbows, which formed around Fish Creek just before it drained into Oneida Lake. We would bring two five-gallon pails each, one to sit on and the other to fill our creel. We would come home, sometimes, with 200-300 bullhead, sunburned, stinking of cow shit and stale lager. It was The Best of Times.