Great Barracuda - Sphyraena barracuda

Great Barracuda - Sphyraena barracuda

June 17, 2015


Once again, sharks have made the news, and not for good reasons. While I do not mean to minimize the seriousness of the injuries caused, I feel compelled to re-emphasize the rarity of shark-related injuries.

In the aftermath of recent events, the Washington Post published a blog that put into perspective the chances of being killed by a shark versus being killed by a cow... or a dog... or a wasp. The post did not include statistics about being killed by vending machines (13 per year) or by falling out of bed (450 per year). CLICK HERE or click on image to read post.

When I enter the ocean, I weigh the risk, and understand that when I am making the choice to enter their world. And I keep a length of rope in my truck -- just in case a shark mistakes me, my sons, or anyone near me for a fish.
Safe travels, Val

June 12, 2015

Horseshoe Crabs

Photo credit: Carl Safina
On my way back from the Keys a few weeks ago, I overheard a conversation between two students. One sat next to me in the airport terminal, the other sat on a beach counting birds that were feasting on horseshoe crab eggs.

Then, this morning, Carl Safina posted the following excerpt from his book, "The View from Lazy Point:"

"When horseshoe crabs were new under the sea, fish did not yet have jaws, corals were just evolving, and flowering plants, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals did not exist. Hundreds of millions of years later, dinosaurs would rise, flourish, and vanish. Right around closing time, we've strolled in, and they're still here."

Just a thought...

May 4, 2015

Mackerels, Tunas & Billfishes of the United States.

Mackerels, Tunas & Billfishes of the United States, by Val Kells

This just in... Fresh off the presses! Top-notch quality, spot-on reproduction.
You can get one HERE.

Enjoy, share, and please care for pelagics :)

April 27, 2015

Blacktip Sharks Chasing Topwater Lures

It's no secret... I love sharks. They fascinate me~!

While I'm not close to being a shark-fishing expert, I've caught my share. It's usually a messy experience with lots of knotted line and bent hooks. Grabbing a wriggling shark is a tricky deal -- watch out for the sharp end! Getting the hook out of their very leathery skin is another deal that requires pliers and a strong hand. Fortunately, sharks are hardy creatures, and I've released all alive.

This video is really cool. Blacktip Sharks doing what they are built to do in a swift, tenacious, and aggressive manner. Quite a show.

No worries, the hooks were removed, so no sharks were harmed or landed. Heck, I don't think I'd want to land one of those fishes! I'd probably loose a finger... or two ;)

April 17, 2015


Image by Mike Laptew ©

The Earth is flush with many spectacular rituals and phenomena. Think: mass coral spawning, Northern lights, phosphorescence.

Migrations have always intrigued me. When a Rubythroat Hummingbird recently showed up at my front porch looking for the jar of nectar I keep hanging each summer, I thought: "Holy COW! That little bird came all the way from MEXICO and REMEMBERED how to get back to this very spot in VIRGINIA!" I quickly prepared a new batch of nectar, hung it on the porch, and sure enough, the little bird returned again.

Fish migrations are another source of wonder. Think about it: Salmonids hatch in rivers (sometimes miles upstream), move offshore, and return to the very same stream to spawn as adults. American Eels make the opposite migration.... adults spawn somewhere in the Sargasso Sea, and their offspring move inshore and upstream until maturity. Other fish migrations remain a mystery. To this day, no one knows for sure where Great White Sharks spawn, or really why they travel such long and seemingly random distances.

Shads (collectively called "River Herring") are anadromous and a vitally important link in the food web. They used to have unimpeded pathways to their spawning grounds. When the rivers they traveled were dammed, their numbers plummeted. Aside from the dams and natural predators, they also had to overcome pollution, siltation, water withdrawal, and over-fishing. Today, some of those dams have come down, and other dams have been modified to include fish ladders. It's been proven that once a dam comes down, the fishes return almost immediately! Amazing.... An internal GPS and a drive to reproduce is hard-wired into the fish's DNA and cannot be suppressed, even by a dam.
The beautiful photo above was taken by Mike Laptew of Laptew Productions. His images document the gorgeous and often overlooked diversity of fresh and salt water wildlife, both above and below the surface. Take a look here to see more.

April 14, 2015

Goblin Shark revistied

Original 1898 illustration showing protruding jaws (feeding/gulping position)
What is a 'goblin', anyway? According to Mirriam-Webster dictionary, a goblin is "a grotesque sprite or elf that is mischievous or malicious toward people." It adds, "Goblins are demons of any size, usually human or animal form, that are supposed to assail, afflict, and even to torture human beings." Wikipedia describes goblins as: "A Goblin is a legendary evil or mischievous grotesquedwarf-like and daemon or monster that appeared in European stories and accounts during the Middle Ages.” They are attributed with various (sometimes conflicting) abilities, temperaments and appearances depending on the story and country of origin. In some cases, goblins are little creatures related to the brownes and gnome. They are usually small, sometimes only a few inches tall, sometimes the size of a dwarf, and have magical abilities; they are greedy, especially for gold and jewelry." 

This is what their jaws look like most of the time. 
When the David Starr Jordan described the Goblin Shark in 1898 goblins were likely still a part of the culture and lore of the time. I don't know if he coined the common name, or if it was assigned at a later date. The scientific name, Mitsukurina owstoni, honors Mr. Allen Owston who secured the first specimen from a fisherman off Japan, and Professor Keigo Mitsukuri who passed the specimen on to Jordan for official description. It is a fitting and honorable name. The unattributed common name, however, cast a spell upon the shark which remains today.

When a specimen was recently caught in a trawl net off of Australia, it was variously called "evil, vile, creepy, ugly, terrifying, disturbing, hideous." NBC news said it can also be found "in your nightmares." Inaccurate descriptors surely meant to drum up attention and feed the public's thirst for drama. The only adjectives to accurately describe it are "prehistoric," and "living fossil," as those are true.

The Goblin Shark is a rare shark indeed, and from one of the oldest lineages of Elasmobranchs. It is one-of-a-kind and the only species within its genus. It is dissimilar to all other sharks with an elongate snout and highly protrusible jaws. It's soft body allows it to live at crushing depths. It occurs in scattered circumglobal locations over deep continental shelves, upper slopes, and around sea mounts to about 4,200 ft. Encountering one in your annual trip to the beach is less likely than winning the lottery.

While I doubt the common name will change in my life time, it would be refreshing to see it done. Heck, the American Fisheries Society renamed the Jewfish~! Why not rename the Goblin Shark? Such a cool fish deserves a more flattering moniker.

March 26, 2015


A Field Guide to Coastal Fishes by Val Kells & Kent Carpenter
I work long hours. Sometimes from 6am to 8 or 9pm. As I write this, it's 8:33pm.
Why? The answer is complicated and would take up more space than this post affords :)
In short, I'm driven. And:
One: I LOVE my work.
Two: I love the people I work with.
Three: I love what we accomplish together.
Four: I get to help other people do their work.
Five: (and this is most important)... my work spreads... it grows... it multiplies.

What I did five years ago is helping someone right now! Or, someone five years from now.

It's cool.

Here is something I came across by accident that rewards my efforts, and also propels me to continue. Scroll down to References :)


Cheers, Val

February 27, 2015

A Move in the Right Direction~!

This should happen across the US. Even the most innocuous bit of plastic will eventually find its way to an ocean. Stop the plastic, stop the problem.

San Francisco Becomes The First City To Ban Sale Of Plastic Bottles.

May 12, 2014

Fish Porn - AKA: Eye Candy

When I first saw this trailer on FB, I thought I was in for another dose of meat fishing.
Not so!
To my happy surprise, I was served a healthy dose of catch and release. Extreme catch and release.
Those barnacles have got to hurt...
I look forward to the full length version.
For more information click here: Morning Tide Fishing

May 3, 2014

The Fish Cave

The Fish Cave (aka: my office)

Life in the Fish Cave has been something of a pressure cooker. I've had little time to think about anything other than illustrating and therefore, no time to post. Work has ramped up in the past year and I'm currently producing a new poster and three new books:
A Field Guide to Coastal Fishes - from Alaska to California, Tunas and Billfishes of the World, and Florida Saltwater Fish ID.
We recently published Gulf of Mexico Saltwater Fish ID.
The first two books in the list have competing 2015 deadlines. And while I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, I also foresee very little wiggle room! For the next ~12 months, my days and weekends will be filled with work work work, research, painting, planning, copy editing, designing.... Don't get me wrong, I actually LOVE working! Producing something tangible, meaningful, lasting, and educational is tremendously rewarding.
That said, my neglect of this little space became too much to ignore.
My Mom mentioned how much she liked reading this blog. Friends have repeatedly told me they worry about my lack of 'balance'. My husband complains that I spend too much time working.
So, I've made a promise to post something fun, interesting, or thought-provoking at least once per week. While this entry may not fall under any of those catagories, it at least marks my re-entry.

June 11, 2013

Ospreys are cool.

I've been following this pair of Ospreys as a way to fill my head with happy distractions and to find hope and light in the face of so much bad news. The Chesapeake Conservancy Osprey Webcam has become my favorite reality TV show. It's real, it's natural, and it's unaffected. It is the opposite of MTV, SPIKE, and all the other mind-numbing black holes.

Enjoy. Be real. Do real.

 To learn more about the Chesapeake Conservancy, please CLICK HERE. Cheers!


Repeat after me: "Don't eat farm-raised Salmon."

May 9, 2013


I should start saving cartoons... this one hits it.
Happy Friday, visitors!
Go Fishing :)

April 18, 2013

Would you do this to your Cats or Dogs?

I hate this practice.
Stringing, hanging, or pegging dead fishes just plain goes against my moral center.
It's embarrassing...
Congratulations. You caught dinner.
Now show some humility.
And some humanity.
(Photo via Facebook. A deep well of offensive images...)

Octopuses Really ARE Cool ~!

Every once in a while I'm reminded that there are other creatures besides fishes that deserve the 'COOL' label.
Yep, Octopuses are cool.

April 14, 2013


I just finished my taxes.
I should be depressed... I'm being taxed for working!
But right now I'm actually quite happy.
After getting over the amount due and the accompanying self-pity, I logged onto FB and pulled up this photo:

It dawned on me:
My net-worth is not measured in dollars.
Intangibles can't be measured...

Take my money, government.
Please use it well.

But this can never be taxed or taken, because it's immeasurable.

April 12, 2013

Saving Shad

Boy Howdy.
Seems like I go through long droughts of no news, no news... then, tons of NEWS!

This is great!
A well-organized and planned effort to re-establish the pre-existing shad fishery in the Delaware River. The results of these efforts will also benefit the Atlantic Bight and beyond. While I have not had one-on-one conversations, it's pretty obvious that these folks are determined to undo huge obstacles.

Shad and their brethren need to spawn. Until such time as the dams come down and the rivers run free and clean, it appears to me that the Delaware River Shad Fishermen's Association are willing to transport the fish one, two, three, and four at a time. So that the fish can do just that... spawn.

Below is a fellow named Phil Papineau with a net-full of the future. We have never met and may never will. Regardless, he has my deep thanks and admiration.
Way to go.
That is so cool.


Bragging on a Good Thing

Bragging on my cohort and coauthor, Luiz Rocha, Ichthyologist and Curator at the California Academy of Sciences. He is not only a gifted scientist, but also a passionate educator and conservationist.

To visit Luiz's California Academy of Sciences' page, please CLICK HERE.

April 10, 2013

Fishing for Litter - Scotland

This is great.
Rather than turning their backs on a problem that is pre-existing, ongoing, and might seem overwhelming -- these fishermen have adopted a positive attitude and taken up the cause.
Our oceans have become our dumping grounds. Out of sight out of mind, as they say. But for those who make their livings on the water, the problem is never out of sight.
My hat off to the folks who thought up this initiative, and to the fishermen who are making it happen.

Wouldn't it be fabulous if this program goes GLOBAL?

April 1, 2013

Ripples into Waves

I received this photo today from Dr. Donald Orth who teaches Ichthyology at Virginia Tech.
Needless to say, it made my day... week... month! It's tremendously rewarding to see my work help others with their work. These terrific students are the future!

It will remind me why I invested 5.5 years into A Field Guide to Coastal Fishes - from Maine to Texas, any why I'm investing another 4 into its Pacific counterpart. It will also serve as big motivation to keep on illustrating, to stay focused, and to remember the big picture:

Conservation, education, preservation.

Virginia Tech Ichthyology

March 26, 2013

Cordell Bank - a sound investment

I love this!
A simple concept set to simple music and illustrated in simple fashion.

Water > phytoplankton > krill > fish > bigger fish > even BIGGER fish.

Krill are one of the most important links in the chain.

But let's not forget: the chain really starts with water. Keep it clean, folks!

March 22, 2013

How Do I Count the Ways?

This evening I received a copy of my book so that I could personalize it as a send-off for a student who is moving on to greater things.
When I opened the cover I was blown away.

THIS is why I spent 5.5 years constructing the book, and why I'm investing another 4 more years into it's West Coast companion... the book means something. It's doing good work.

The student's name is Rachael, and I've never met her.
But, she's used my book and used it well. Clearly.

I've written my best in my best scrawl in the lower corner left specially for me.
Oh my handwriting is horrible!
("Stick to painting, cousin.")

I hope she's one of many stewards of the future.
Signs point that way...
Cheers, Rachael!

March 15, 2013

Fishy Friday - Sculpins DON'T Rock

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know, I know.
I'm on the record as saying that I love all fishes. It's true.
But for Pete's sake, I'm allowed to get tired of certain families of fishes, no? I'm only human, yes?

Having finished illustrating ALL of the Rockfishes for our upcoming book (see post below), I quickly moved on to Sculpins.

Ugh. Sculpins.
Most are small. All are cryptic. Many have numerous color variants in addition to sexually dimorphic male and female forms. Most rarely, if ever, get themselves off the bottom long enough to show off their pelvic and anal fins. Additionally, they are one of the most diverse and successful groups of fishes on Earth... There are 93 (93!) species of Sculpins from Alaska to California. If you include related fishes such as Grunt Sculpin, Sea Ravens, Poachers, and Fathead Sculpins, the number inflates to 132 species.

So, how do I attack the whole lot without going out of my mind? One complicated illustration at a time.

Below is the Crested Sculpin which is not even a Sculpin -- it's a Sea Raven. This painting is in the final stages of illustration, is about life-size, and took no less than 13 hours to complete. No wonder, it's more exasperatingly complex than any Cottid ever hoped to be.

Man oh man, am I looking forward to illustrating good 'ole boring Perciforms!

OK, end of rant.
On to another...

March 3, 2013

Fins in Motion

Cut a piece of paper into a long, narrow strip.
Fold in half.
Hold the ends of the paper in your fingertips with the apex of the fold pointing up.
The folded paper should look like a tall, skinny tent.

Now, move your fingers up and down in opposite directions:
Right side down, left side up.
Your finger motion recreates the muscle motion at the ray base, moving the ray back and forth.

Now imagine 20 or 30 rays all in sync like a line of chorus girls... undulating.

And THAT is how many fish propel themselves.

Cool, huh?

February 17, 2013

Work, Fate, Accomplishment...

Executive Editor, Vince Burke, and Bebby Bors, Senior Production Editor, JHUPress
I firmly believe that if you work hard, invest fully in your goal, keep your nose clean, and mix it up with like-minded and similarly-driven people, good things are bound to happen.

Yes, fate steps in now and again: a right turn here, a left turn there... luck, chance, stars aligning. However randomly paths seem to meander, paths DO cross. Paths can cross in wonderful ways and result in wonderful accomplishments. If you're lucky?

Above is a photo of my fantabulous executive editor, Vince Burke, and my equally fantabulous production editor, Debby Bors. They stand in the entry hall of the Johns Hopkins University Press holding our latest achievement: A Field Guide to Fishes of the Chesapeake Bay. Behind them are shelves and shelves of other note-worthy books and numerous awards our nation's oldest university press has amassed.

Some five years ago I had an idea: revamp the out-dated and out-of-print Fishes of Chesapeake Bay. I posed the idea to Vince not knowing that he ALREADY had plans to do the same. He made phone calls, set up meetings, and ba-da-bing, ba-da-bong: the team of Murdy, Musick, and Kells was assembled; the proposal was written; the contracts were signed. Soon thereafter we began work on a current, comprehensive, and much-needed guide to fishes of one the of the largest estuaries in North America. The paths of many determined people had crossed.

It's hard to describe how fulfilling it is to see years of past work come to fruition many months later and long after the project was put to bed. Every one had moved on to other projects, other work, new goals. Suddenly... surprise! It's in print! Look what we did!

It was no accident. Stars aligned for a reason.

Fish on.

February 7, 2013

Tarpon Rock...

For no other reason than sharing the gorgeousness of Tarpon...

Fishy Friends

I have lots of cool friends. Many share my fish-geeky tendencies, others do not. Yet those who do not still have an appreciation for my passion, just as I have an appreciation for theirs. That's what friends do! They get behind each other, cheer, commiserate, and share the challenges, failures, and successes.
Even though I may never go fishing with some of my friends, it doesn't matter... and never will.

This is my friend Carlin. I've known her for over 25 years. We are very different, but very alike. We both love nature. We both love our families. We're both sensitive and creative. Neither of us cares about high-falutin' cocktail parties or pretentious fund-raisers - we'd rather wear our torn blue jeans and make an anonymous donation. We're comfortable in our own skin. I know who I am, she knows who she is, and we don't worry about impressing.

Carlin has more energy than a hurricane and is busier than a damselfish. She owns one of the most original, successful, and eclectic shops in town: C&A Camp. She poured her soul into making just so. It reflects her unique blend of whit and diversity. It oozes with enthusiam, as does she.

When she got ahold of my book she flipped her lid. It struck her in her heart. She saw the passion I'd poured into it. And true to form, she had to share it with her close core of passionate compatriots. So she bought a box full of books and found some time to meet me so we could personalize them before she sent them off to places far and wide.

Here she sits in her make-shift office writing heart-felt notes in my heart-wrent book. God bless her.

One of my mini goals is to get her into a boat with me and take her fishing. It will probably never come to pass, but that's OK. We are bound by deeper ties.

February 1, 2013

Fish boy goes skiing

So, my son is my best fishing bud. I taught him at a very early age, and thank goodness he still likes fishing with me. It's a copasetic and competitive deal. He can out-fish me when he tries and there's a lot of "Who got more?" or, "Who's fish was bigger?" But we always have a great time and don't really care about the score. Keeping score just makes it more interesting.

Anyway, he's now a student at Montana State University. He's a long way away from the ocean. And yet, he rode his bike miles and miles, then hiked a few more to go fishing for trout. When the season turned and the snow started to fall, he hung up the fly rod and bought a season pass to Bridger Bowl - the ginormous ski resort outside of Bozeman.

Big mountains. Steep runs. Deep passes and drop-offs. Lots of snow.

Thus, his latest and greatest back-flip into snow that will evaporate or melt into water which will eventually find its way to the ocean. So we can catch more fish. Together.

January 24, 2013


Straight-forward and to-the-point.
Time to take reverse-action!
Reduce, reuse, recycle.
Conserve, preserve, protect...

January 22, 2013


Your child, your children... strangled, left to suffocate, die, and rot.
Mother sharks have no vote, no say about how we treat their offspring.
We are obligated to speak and do for them what they can't do for themselves.


Saving Animals (whether they know it or not!)

When ever given the opportunity to rescue an animal, I take the chance - even if it means putting myself at risk. Some folks are simply predisposed to act when an animal is in need.

Some of the animals I've rescued seem oblivious. Others are frightened. Still others seem to know that I'm helping... they relax and allow me to handle them without fighting back.

In this video the dolphin clearly seems to know that the divers are trying to help. The animal repeatedly returns to the diver and turns itself so the diver can work on removing the fishing line. The only logical conclusion for this behavior? The dolphin knows it's hurt, and knows the diver is helping. Intelligent thinking...

January 14, 2013

Even Embryos Know

Evolution is so cool.
Fishes have developed a multitude of ways to detect prey and avoid being detected by predators:
Sight, smell, taste, sound, vibration... electrical current.
Turns out even embryonic sharks have ways to sense if a possible predator is near.
Another argument to support shark conservation... We've only just begun to understand them. And clearly, there is still much to be learned.

January 3, 2013

Two Kinds of Bears

Every once and again someone creates a video that is all at once goofy, spoofy, and funny while also being educational. Enjoy!

December 29, 2012


On December 26, the US Coast Guard confiscated five miles of illegal gill net off of San Padre Island, Texas, USA. They were set at night by Mexican fishermen who crossed into US waters. The net killed 345 sharks and an untold number of other species. The fishermen were not caught or prosecuted. Their only loss was their time, fuel, and nets. The sharks paid the ultimate cost.

CLICK HERE for more information.

December 14, 2012

SCORE ONE FOR Menhaden!!!

Sorry for the long delay between posts. I've been so busy with work that this had to take the back seat for a spell. BUT, I've finished illustrating all (count 'em, ALL) of the ROckfishes, and having moved on to Sculpins I'm finding small windows of time to share news, resources, and personal insights... at least for now :)

Menhaden have been call "The most important fish in the sea." It might be an overstatement, but not for those living along or in the western Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. They are small, very oily, schooling fishes that have played an important role ecologically and commercially for many many years. Innumerable sea birds, marine mammals, sharks, and other predatory fishes prey on Menhaden. Their flesh is packed with high-quality energy. 

In the past 30 years, purse seiners have scooped up so much Menhaden to process into fish oil products, pellets, and fertilizer that the Menhaden stocks have literally crashed. The large, dark clouds of Menhaden schools are no longer a common sight in the Chesapeake Bay. As a result, other fish stocks, such as Striped Bass, have also declined. The ensuing debate between the fish oil companies, environmentalists, scientists, fishermen, and government about how to manage the fish stocks has been mired in grid lock. Reducing catch limits puts the fish oil companies in jeopardy. But, allowing the catches to go on at current levels ALSO puts the oil companies at jeopardy. If they were allowed to take every fish, they'd put themselves, and a multitude of other companies out of business. Oh, and never mind the top predators who feed on Menhaden but don't get a vote in the process.

I realize this is a very simplified explanation, and the issue is more complex than this space allows... Bottom line: the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission today passed new regulations to cut catch of Menhaden by 20%. There are many caveats to this of course. But it is a move in the right direction and will hopefully allow Menhaden to repopulate. If they can rebound (and I think they can), businesses and marine life that depend on their presence might hopefully flourish again, too. 

CLICK HERE to read more.

August 26, 2012


Well, I'm back. Took a little time off to spend on Ocracoke Island(awesome!) and get my son off to college...
So much to report ~!
Until I find the time to elaborate, here's a really cool video of a Coelacanth (pronounced 'see LA canth').
Ancient ancient bony fish found in remote pockets off of eastern South Africa and Indonesia. It was believed to have gone extinct some 65 million years ago until a scientist found a specimen in a fish market in 1938! Lo and behold, living fishes were found sporadically since then.
This is the best recording I've seen so far. Healthy, robust.

July 23, 2012

Culling is not a Solution

As long humans swim in proximity of meat-eating sharks, they put themselves at risk. Period.
If we're willing to take the risk, we must also be willing to accept the possible outcome. It's not a cold or unfeeling point of view. It's simply the raw truth.

I think about this each and every time I step into the surf.

Below is a link to a compelling editorial against culling Great White Sharks off Australia in the wake of another shark 'attack'. The author makes many valid arguments in opposition of a cull, none of which are new. But he does make an interesting point I hadn't considered before: other sharks would most certainly die in the pursuit of one. Sound familiar?

CLICK HERE for article.

July 14, 2012

Illustrating Rockfishes

Rockfishes. Oh, Rockfishes...
Rockfishes are a diverse and highly successful group of fishes within the Family Scorpaenidae, or Scorpionfishes. There are currently 102 known species of Scorpaenids worldwide. They live primarily in temperate to cold seas in the northern and southern hemispheres. Most are demersal, meaning, they live close to the bottom. Most are spiny, some are venomous. They have a thing on the cheek that I can't begin to explain.

Some of you may know that I am in the midst of coauthoring and illustrating a new book to be published by the Johns Hopkins University Press. Our expected publication date is 2015. It will be titled: A Field Guide to Coastal Fishes - from Alaska to California. It will follow the layout and design of the first book (see sidebar) and will serve as a companion. The overall goal is to illustrate and describe in field guide form all of the fishes to about 600 ft. from both coasts of the continental United States. It's a Guinness Book of World Records kind-of-thing... no body has ever done this before. I'll be the first - with a lot of help, or course. Duh. It is an enormous and sometimes daunting task. But having worked for over five years on the Atlantic and Gulf book, and having been rewarded by it's tremendous success, I'm up to the challenge. (Alternative: play golf every day? Uh... no.) And when the Pacific book is out in print, wow... on to what next one? Bahamas and Caribbean Sea?

Anyway, back to Rockfishes...

Two of the largest families I illustrated for the Atlantic and Gulf book were Gobies and Flounders. I toiled over Gobies for weeks. Flounders would have done me in if I hadn't planned ahead and designated Fridays and 'Flounder Friday'. I illustrated one flounder per week for six months, thus avoiding insanity and bodily harm (think: throw myself out the window!) When I finally got to the Flounder section, the paintings were done and I only had to write and design.

Illustrating Gobies and Flounders pales in comparison to illustrating Rockfishes. (Sorry, Ed!) Gobies are slender, small, and mostly scaleless. Flounders are mostly brown, frustrating, and aesthetically boring. Regardless, I gave all my best and all illustrations are spot-on. But in true confession -- I was glad to move on.

Rockfishes just freakin' rock. They're deep-bodied, tall-spined, and often psychedelic in color and pattern. Complex. Complicated. Tricky. Many species resemble an other. There are multiple variations within many species. They change color and pattern. And when they're dead, they look nothing like themselves alive. Illustrating and describing all of the Northeastern Pacific Rockfishes will take the better part of three to four months, depending upon how many color variants we elect to include. What's three or four months? On the grander scale: A drop in the bucket. When Rockfishes are done, I'll move quickly on to Greenlings and then... Sculpins.

Guess what? There are even more Sculpins than Rockfishes. But that's another story.

Below is a short and amateurish video I shot while completing my 14th Rockfish illustration. I shot it on a Friday after having been punch drunk on Rockfishes for five previous days. It's not the best quality, and the lighting is poor, but it should give you an idea of what I'll be doing through Thanksgiving. Cheers. And, enjoy!

July 12, 2012

Advantage: Shark

When I was Tarpon fishing, my guide went off about how evil sharks are. He'd seen a lot of gamefish taken by sharks while he or a client were reeling them in or about to boat them. My son sided with this view and agreed that sharks are to blame until I later explained the following:

"He put the fish in that situation. The fish has no escape. The fish is trapped at the end of the line. The shark is only taking advantage of the situation they created." With this different perspective, my son said, "Hmmm. I guess you're right." I know I'm right.

Now for the video below: Pretty dramatic. Cool slow-mo at the end. More than likely a Bull Shark. They like to hang out in marshes and estuaries. A powerful animal once again taking advantage of an opportunity. What do we expect? They're sharks!

July 9, 2012

Barber Lab Quartet

(Power outages due to multiple summer storms... between trying to beat the heat and stay ahead on my work, I've gotten a bit behind on the fun...)

This is great. A clever spin on evolution in the 'Coral Triangle' which has been found to be home to the largest diversity of fishes on Earth. Science set to music with a few funny inside jokes thrown in... Every researcher dreams of finding new species ~!

June 26, 2012

The Amazing Diversity of Fishes

Clearly anyone who visits this little sight has an interest in fishes, fishing, diving, etc. I think for some, interest becomes fascination which becomes amazement. Fishes are... amazing!

Here is a very nice little primer on the Diversity of Fishes. It's fairly long, and only scratches the surface of the topic, but well worth the time to watch. Skip forward to about 4:00....


The Grand Diversity of Fishes: Form, Function, and Evolution from HMNH on Vimeo.

June 20, 2012

Pond Scum Fly? You Betcha!

This cracks me up... Pond Scum Fly. Never heard of such a thing until this morning. I was actually joking when I chimed in on a Facebook post about fly fishing for Grass carp: "Tie a pond scum fly -- salad for a carp!" Turned out, someone had already invented a Pond Scum Fly. No joke....

Apparently it is fished like, well, scum! Let it drift. Twitch it like it's got a bug in it.

I have very little desire to catch a Grass carp on rod and reel. I caught some by net while relocating critters from a pond slated to be drained and filled. Grass carp are BIG, slimy, and stinky.
That said, should any of my carp-fishing readers want to try this... let us know the results!

CLICK HERE for full Pond Scum Fly post. Cheers!

June 9, 2012

Time to Kill

One of the reasons I keep rigged rods in my truck is:
This evening.
Going to formal supper.
An hour to kill.
Pond on the way.
I'm ready!
Pull over, catch 9-10 bass, have cocktails, cheese and crackers, watch Belmont Stakes, and enjoy supper all with bass slime on my hands.
Completely and absolutely normal.

Oh, I fished again on the way home:
Who wouldn't?

May 22, 2012

Teacher and Student

If you are a parent, you are a teacher. If you are a son or daughter, you are your parent's student. How we parents teach our children reflects upon us. But more importantly, how we teach our children will effect the world around them in the years to come, and long after they leave our nests.

When I first taught my boys to fish I emphasized respect, care, and stewardship above catching fish. To this day, they treat wildlife with deep reverence.

When I came across this video, I was ecstatic! Great to see another parent teaching the same important foundations. These two clearly had a great time together bonding over a stingray... But really? What a terrific role model this dad is -- and what a great role model his son will become. I hope it goes viral.

May 16, 2012


If this doesn't make you laugh... check your pulse ;)

May 7, 2012

It's An Octopus Eat Bird World

It's often been said that Octopi are among the most intelligent animals on Earth. Clearly, this picture shows how opportunistic they can be... I imagine the octopus creeping up from behind - quietly reaching a suction cup-loaded arm toward the leg of a seagull - grabbing the leg, and not letting go. This has probably happened over and over again, but this may be the first time it's been recorded. After all, seagulls and octopi live in close quarters. And the octopus is one smart dude.

CLICK HERE to read more!