Posted by: 1000fish | August 27, 2014

The Cats of St. John’s

Dateline: October 13, 2013 – St. John’s Island, Singapore

We established a long time ago that I have no shame when it comes to fishing. A species is a species, a country is a country, and a fishing buddy is a fishing buddy, even if he puts live crabs in the pocket of your raincoat.

I have fished Singapore hard over the years with buddies Alex and Jarvis, (see Singapour) and it’s realistic to say I have very few species left to catch there. Still, I am sent to Singapore on business quite a bit, and if I am there, it’s not like I’m going to spend my weekend in a museum, unless it’s an aquarium with no surveillance system.

This trip was at the end of the season and was risking iffy weather, so Alex thought we should try something local. In November of 2009, we tried to squeeze in a three day trip to Indonesia late in the year, and we paid a stiff price in constant wind, persistent cold water, and occasional barf. This time, Alex suggested that we try a local island, St. John’s. It is a short ferry ride from downtown, and Alex thought it might have some interesting small stuff – “panty species,” as he calls them. (See “Angry White Man“)

When I got to Singapore, it was raining hard. The kind of rain where you have to hold your hand up over your mouth so you can breathe, or, if you are smarter than I am, you just stay indoors. I made sure that I had the Gore Tex in my equipment bag, and prepared for a difficult day.

We set out very early – something like 5am – and caught a small ferry over to St. John’s Island. The guys were all set up to cast high-speed jigs and plugs around the island. It’s not as good as Malaysia, but there is still an occasional big jack or queenfish to be had.

St guys

The guys on the ferry ride over. Who the heck is this enthusiastic at 5am?

Despite the vile weather, enthusiasm ran high – not that Alex could ever be anything less than unrelentingly cheerful. He just loves to be near the water – almost as much as he loves putting wildlife into my clothing. (More on that later.) His positive attitude, when it isn’t annoying the heck out of me, has kept me going on some tough days – and we have put some very nice fish in the boat together. (Along with his dark and sinister companion, Jarvis, who couldn’t make this particular adventure.)

St Sign

We set up under a small concrete pier that hung out over some promising mangroves. It had an awning, which was important, because it kept raining. The guys spread out and cast. I put out a larger bait in the middle of the lagoon and then started working the shoreline with tiny sabikis. I caught a few glass perch, which are ubiquitous in this area, but then I got a cardinalfish that looked unfamiliar.

St Cardinal

The humpback cardinalfish – species # 1243. 

The guys were bewildered at my joy over something small enough to be used as bait to catch baitfish, but they smiled quietly and kept fishing. Just then, something furry and warm brushed against my leg. Naturally, I thought it was Alex, but it wasn’t. It was a stray cat. It looked at me imploringly, as only cats can, hoping I would share a squid with it. I have always had a soft spot for animals, and I started to cut it a small meal. That’s when I noticed that it had friends. Dozens of them. In Hitchcockian fashion, they began moving in.

St vertical cats

The cats move in.

I had to shoo them away quite assertively, and it was clear that they were retreating only to consult with one another and come up with a better plan. As I turned back to fishing, they would creep in and stalk the bait, so I had to hold the pail with one hand and cast with the other. The cats were not aggressive, but they were very opportunistic, and any prawn or squid that was even briefly unguarded was quickly snatched.

St alex cats

The cats approach Alex. They apparently didn’t mind the smell. 

Alex noticed some small mudskippers on a stretch of sand by the mangroves. Naturally, I spent much of the day trying to catch one. They took a lot of concentration. They were aggressive, but very skittish, and they only seemed to like a moving bait. So I had to cast perfectly onto the small beach, give it a moment for the mudskippers to calm down, then twitch it quickly enough to get their attention but slowly enough where it didn’t go into the water where they would lose interest. I was at it for more than an hour, and had a couple of hookups but nothing landed.

Finally, in the driving rain, one of the mudskippers stayed on the hook and I flipped it up on the bank. A species! It wriggled off the hook and landed on the ground behind me, and when I was getting my camera to photograph it, a cat raced in and snatched it. Sigh. So I had to spend another 30 minutes catching one for pictures.

St skipper

The second barred mudskipper I caught that day.

St skipper 3

They are adorable if frustrating … kind of like Marta.

Late in the day, during a break in the rain, I took a sabiki rod and one prawn – which can last a long time on # 20 hooks – and headed off to the end of the breakwater. I set up and began catching a few wrasses and damsels, and then, wonderfully, one of the damsels was completely unfamiliar. It turned out to be a silver demoiselle, my third species of the day.

St chromis

It’s at least prettier than the other two. 

I got quite occupied photographing the beast, and when I looked up, my prawn was gone. The feline miscreants had followed me, snatched it, and scampered off. I was facing a half-mile of walking to get more bait. Sigh.

St Gato

The prawn-snatcher. 

That about wound things down for the day. The guys hadn’t gotten much on the jigs, but they were a pleasant bunch, except for Alex, who was even more pleasant. As I repacked my gear, the clouds darkened again, so I put on my rainjacket. I was walking to the ferry dock when I felt something heavy in my pocket, likely a weight I had left there. So I reached in with my hand, and to my surprise, the weight bit me. It was a crab.

I would like to think I uttered a simple, manly grunt – but the fact is I screamed like a little girl and danced around until I had gotten the jacket half off and spun the crab out of its hiding place. Alex and crew, almost 200 yards away, were all laughing hysterically. Jerks.

St Alex

Alex does his crab imitation. Ha, ha, ha.

Alex, because he is an idiot, had put a crab in my pocket and was waiting for my reaction. I didn’t disappoint him. Pranks like this are juvenile, sophomoric, immature, slimy, and Jaime Hamamoto-like, but what upsets me most, what REALLY makes me mad –  is that I didn’t think of it first.

And let’s face it, by the time I got back to Hilton, I was already looking forward to my next trip with these guys. But I’m keeping a close eye on all of my gear and taping my pockets shut.

Steve

Posted by: 1000fish | July 29, 2014

Old Man River

Dateline: July 29, 2014 – Twyford, England

Roger Wyndham Barnes died on a Tuesday, on a bright summer day west of London. We knew it was coming – he had been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor a year before, and he had been on borrowed time for a good while. It was quiet when it came, peaceful. But the world is a sadder place because of it.

I got the news well into the California evening, when a grieving John Buckingham, one of Roger’s best friends who had been by his side every step of the way, sent me the email. I didn’t read it at first. I knew what it was going to say, and I cried before I read it and cried after. Roger was a fishing guide west of London, who I met in 2003 and who became a close friend, even though I only saw him a few times a year. He was a quiet, gentle man, a great friend, truly a kindred spirit, and he deserved more time than this.

Roger perch 1 03

My first fish and first new species with Roger, a European perch, September 2003. This was my 283rd species – I have caught more than a thousand more since I met Roger, and he patiently sat through pictures of almost every one of them.

This all began last summer. John sent me an email that Roger had been having some neurological issues and the doctors had found a tumor. They didn’t know much then – it could have been anything, from benign to worst case, and all we could do is wait. I had been fishing with him just a few months before this, and he seemed fine. It had been a great day – six solid pike despite a blustery spring cold front.

Roger 2013

My last pike with Roger, March 2013.

So we waited. There were tests, then scans, then surgery, then more tests, and waiting, and last August 13, the tumor got a name – Glioblastoma multiforme. I raced to Wikipedia, and the news was awful. Life expectancy less than a year, sometimes much less.

I couldn’t change this, even if I was richer than Bill Gates. There was no money, no anything that could make a difference. This thing was going to kill him. There was no one I could yell at, no one to pay, no second opinion. I felt angry and utterly helpless. Imagine how Roger felt.

We sent some cards, I called a few times. Roger sounded tired when I spoke to him, in as good of a spirits as anyone could expect, and as the months went on, he hung in there stubbornly. Christmas came and went, and Roger hung on through the spring. He is as quietly stubborn a man as I have ever met.

When I scheduled a trip to Europe in May, I took a detour to England to see Roger. We set aside a Saturday for a visit, and John told me we could even try to sneak out and fish a local pond for a few hours. He doubted Roger would be able to come along, but I could hope. I didn’t know what to expect, but I wanted to see him, even if I knew it was to say goodbye.

I took the train out to Twyford from London, as I have so many times. I walked up that path from the train station, just a couple of hundred feet, and I walked up to the door I had knocked on so many times anticipating a great day. Katy greeted me – it occurred to me I had never met Roger’s daughter. She was lovely, a young woman just beginning her career and her life with her fiance Sam.

They brought Roger out to see me. Cancer scares the hell out of me, as it does all of us I’m sure, and I had never been close to it before. Roger was thin and moved slowly, hunched over a bit. He looked tired and in a lot of pain. He shuffled in on his own, gave me a hug, and whispered to me “You look terrible.” I smiled. Roger’s sense of humor was intact. He was still in there.

We moved into the garden, and sat down to chat. It was a warm spring day, the kind of day that never happened the first five years I tried to catch a tench. We spoke for a couple of hours. He could just barely whisper, but I hung on every word. He only mentioned the illness once – “This has been quite a blow.” Mostly, we talked fishing. He remembered so many of our catches – the one barbel late in a rainy October evening, the 21 pound pike on a perch jointed Rapala, the bream that somehow ate a swimbait.  He still made the same jokes, but he sometimes had trouble getting it out – things weren’t firing correctly, but Roger was still in there.

Roger Bream 2009

The bream that ate a swimbait. I am still confused about this.

When Roger took a nap that afternoon, John and I went to a local pond and gave it our level best to catch a Crucian carp, the one English species Roger and I hadn’t captured. John did his best Jaime Hamamoto impression and caught three right next to me, but I couldn’t get one on the hook. Perhaps I had other things on my mind.

Roger Carp

John caught this carp on a three pound leader. Roger once caught a 19 pound pike on similar equipment. 

We went back in the early evening and took Roger out to dinner. It is such a familiar drive over to the Land’s End pub, Steve Collier’s delightful place by the River Loddon on the edge of town where I have spent so many pleasant evenings and heard so much local fishing wisdom exchanged. Roger had a haddock fillet and mushy peas. I hate mushy peas.

Roger Lands End

A happier evening in 2012 – From the left – Steve Collier, the owner of the Land’s End, Roger, some big ugly American, and John Buckingham.

We stayed late and we talked. Roger struggled to walk and sit down and stand up. This was a terrible, unfair disease, and as sad as I felt for Roger, I felt angry at the cancer – angry and helpless. We helped Roger from the car and to the table, and I imagined how much Roger, as independent a man as I ever knew, must have hated that – but he never uttered a word of complaint. But as soon as we sat down and could talk, he got just the faintest twinkle in his eye. He was in there – the jokes were in a quiet whisper, but they were funny. (The man who walks into a pub and orders six beers and drinks them right away. And then he orders six more and drinks them right away. The barkeep asks him “Why are you drinking like that?” The man responds “You would drink like this too if you had what I had.” The bartender leans in and says “What is it that you have?” And the man looks him right in the eye and says “About 20 cents.”)

I wished it wouldn’t end, and thought on how a different night, I might have talked Roger into wading the Loddon with handlines, looking for a stone loach. But finally, he was tired and I knew we had to get him home. We said goodbye in the front room where my luggage always stayed when we fished. I knew it was the last time I would see him.

I sat in bed that night and couldn’t sleep, and the image of Roger, already so ravaged by his disease, haunts me.

They tell me that was a good week for Roger. He was in hospice shortly after that, and two months later, on that July afternoon, he died. When I got the news from John, I first thought back to May and that shadow of Roger I had seen. But that wasn’t fair, and it certainly wasn’t right. He was ill, but that is not how I choose to remember Roger. That would be letting the disease win.

So I choose to remember the quiet man who tried his level best to find me every bizarre fish I requested. The unassuming man who moved schedules and braved vile weather to take me out for a day on the Thames. The proud father. The musician who sang and played the blues harmonica. The historian who could explain every odd place name in the region. The artist who produced beautifully detailed drawings of the birds he could spot when I couldn’t even see the tree. This is how I choose to remember Roger. For the hundreds of jokes … and the three good ones. For patient explanations of British humor and the pre-decimal monetary system. For being one of the few people who knew the music of the Bonzo Dog Band. For sharing the tale of the saber-toothed gudgeon and the postcard in his bathroom that simply said “They got me trousers, Eddie.” I choose to remember Roger as the fisherman, the naturalist, the kindred spirit, the humble, simple guy who probably never guessed how much we all loved him.

In May, when I finally left Roger’s house that night after dinner, the last thing I said to him was “Thank you.” Not goodbye, but thank you. I couldn’t get it all out just then, but I hoped he knew why.

For 11 years of close friendship. For 44 days on the water. For 535 fish. For 167 pike. For 16 new species. For a dozen secret corners in England that will be part of my heart until the day someone has to send that same email about me. I hated to lose Roger, but I am a lot better off for knowing him. Godspeed you, old man.

Steve

 

Roger Katy

Roger and a very young Katy. This was the first photo he ever showed me. 

Roger Pike muddy

Another photo of Roger that is proudly displayed in his home. Note the name of the boat.

Roger Steve Pike first 03 0916

My first pike with Roger, September 2003. I would catch 166 more with him in the 11 years afterward.

Roger first double 03

My first “double” (1o pounds +) with Roger, September 2003. I would catch 46 more doubles with him.

RogerSteve

Steve and Roger, Marlow Weir, 2004. This is my favorite picture of Roger.

Roger Marta First Pike really 05

Roger liked Marta a lot – she never wanted to fish for 14 straight hours in the rain. This is her first pike with Roger, October 2005.

Roger Barbel 05

My first and only barbel. Driving rain, about 3 hours after any other guide would have left for home, October 2005. Roger called it “Finny Todd, the Demon Barbel.”

Roger Bisham

Bisham Abbey, October 2005. Sight like this were almost – almost – as treasured as the fishing.

Roger Twyford 08

On a frozen, flooded March afternoon in Twyford, March 2007.

Roger LE 07

Trying to warm up at the Land’s End, March 2007.

Roger Marta First 07

Marta and another pike with Roger, May 2007. As fellow musicians, they had a lot to talk about. 

Roger Blues

A video of Roger belting out a blues song. He was good. 

Roger grovel 08

Roger would risk life and limb to retrieve a lure. Marlow Weir, February 2008.

Roger Barrymore 08

One of Roger’s many connections in the music world – Barrymore Barlow, drummer for Jethro Tull, at Shiplake Weir, July 2008. I went to a Jethro Tull concert in 1980. Barrymore didn’t remember me. 

Roger Shiplake 08

Roger on a summer day at Shiplake. We got seven good pike, July 2008.

Roger tench 2009

Tench warfare, July 2009. I finally, finally caught one after six years of trying, and I had to hijack John’s swim to do it.

Roger John Steve 2009

We celebrate the tench, July 2009.

Roger Boat

Sometimes they wouldn’t even let me ride in the boat. Marlow Weir, July 2009.

Roger Temple

Temple Weir, July 2009. The weed patch in the background has produced dozens of pike for me. 

RogerHat

Getting under the hood, July 2009.

Roger Lands End 09

At the Land’s End pub, October 2009. Roger had haddock and mushy peas. On the left is Dave Harding, bass player, angler, and great friend of Roger’s.  

Roger Barton 09

Barton Court, October 2009. This quiet chalk stream is where Roger introduced me to float fishing for trout.

Roger Barton

Barton Court, October 2011. Roger refuses to lose a float rig.

Roger Wyndham

“Wyndham in the willows.”  Undated, from the Buckingham collection. 

Roger Dee

Roger with Dee, November 2009. (Dee is Roger’s girlfriend – not a younger niece as people often guess from the photos.)

Roger Marta

Marta’s biggest pike with Roger, 11 pounds, July 18 2010. 4pm.

Roger Monster

My biggest pike with Roger. 21 pounds. July 18 2010, 4:01 pm. Take that, Marta.

Roger Fog

In rain or shine – motoring through the fog at Bisham Abbey, October 2011.

Roger Stickle

We celebrate a three-spined stickleback, Ewell, October 2011. 

Roger Creek

Roger at one of his childhood fishing holes, the River Mole, October 2011.

Roger Greek

Wait! That’s no Greek statue! Temple Weir island. June 2012.

Roger Chair

Roger in the front room at home. I rarely saw him out of fishing kit, but he cleans up nicely. From the Buckingham collection. 

http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2010/07/18/countdown-to-1000-the-compleat-angler/

http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2010/07/17/countdown-to-1000-a-visit-to-seasickshire/

http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2011/10/18/rogers-magic-culvert/

http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/alls-welsh-that-ends-welsh/

 

 

Posted by: 1000fish | September 16, 2013

Feeble Redemption for Santiago

Dateline: September 16, 2013 – Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Santiago was a proud man. He could hold his head high as he came back to the village after his epic battle with a ton of angry marlin, even if he was left with just some scraps of forensic evidence and a moral victory. For me, I had no marlin, no victory, and arguably, no morals.

Five bitter months had passed since my April attempt at an Atlantic Blue marlin. (Details HERE)  This had not been the prime time for blues, and as much as I enjoyed catching white marlin and dorados, this was a hunt for THE Atlantic Blue, and I had failed. Captain Corey Hexter had been a superstar, trying every possible option and location, but it was not to be. Still, I was not going to let this fish defeat me.

Dom tzzer

That’s Corey on the right. Contact him at captcoreyfish@comcast.net – if you follow his advice, you’re going to catch fish.

As soon I stopped weeping, I called Corey to discuss a return trip. He told me that the week before a full moon in September is THE time, and I trust this guy. I booked it, and I had a second chance that Hemingway’s finest protagonist never did. I dedicate this trip to Santiago.

I called up trusted booking agent Anna Lisa Brache – serviciosmultiples_sa@hotmail.com – and set up accommodations at Cap Cana. The flight from Miami is quick, and the logistics from the airport to the luxury condo were seamless. The resort is fabulous, and as this is not the summer high season, there was no crowd and I got upgraded to a three-level villa I never did fully explore.

After I checked in, I raced down to the marina to touch base with Corey. He was on the T-zzer, rigging marlin baits, checking gear, changing lines, tying leaders. He was in a great and optimistic mood – I could tell this was going to be a different trip than April. We chatted strategy for an hour or so, then I headed off to dinner. I was awash in positive marlin vibes.

That evening began a three-day game of cat and mouse with the resort security staff. Before I signed up to stay here, both now and in April, I had repeatedly verified that it was OK to fish from the shore. (I had gotten a new species and a world record from the beach in April.) You see where this is going.

My first night on the rocks, a soft, pleasant topical evening, began well. I was casting a small jig and thinking back about the huge bluestriped grunt I had caught here in April, when I caught a huger grunt. No, a hugerer grunt. The hugerest. A pound and a half of steaming bluestriped grunt, breaking my already improbable record. Things were looking good.

Marlin Grunt

Bluestriped grunts aren’t supposed to take line.

My reverie – and a perfectly cold Red Bull – were interrupted by a frantic security guard who sprinted out onto the rocks and announced that fishing was “impossible” and insisted that I go with him. I tried to explain that I had been told fishing was OK, but there are pets who speak better Spanish than I do. He was so wound up it was actually hard to take him too seriously – somewhere in the discussion, he actually demanded my passport. It was getting late anyway, so I went in with him. As he headed briskly to the resort security office with what likely the most important criminal collar of his career, he got quite some distance ahead of me, and as we passed by the garage for my condo, I figured I would make a night of it and I slipped away. I got upstairs, peeked outside, and saw several guards running around looking for me. I felt loved.

In the morning, I checked with the front office about the fishing situation. The manager sighed. She explained that the night security manager was a bit “overenthusiastic” and had invented some rules, but that fishing was OK and I could not be arrested or beaten. This put to rest any worries I had about a small room with a metal chair and one light bulb.

I then headed over to the boat. Corey was there, smiling broadly and saying “Let’s go get one!” My mind was wandering to topics like how MANY marlin I would catch. The Fish Gods don’t put up with this. We reached the trolling grounds quickly and set out our spread, and within minutes, nothing happened. The radio crackled with reports of other boats landing blues – 100, 125, 140 – and almost everyone was getting multiple fish. The boat a mile off our stern got a double hookup. It couldn’t be long for me, I figured. But the hours dragged on, and to my complete astonishment, no marlin. Disbelief settled in. I had upset the Fish Gods, and we weren’t going to get a blue marlin today. But I refused to give in to depression. I had two more days to go, the fish were here, I had a great skipper, and it was going to happen, dammit.

We did some bottom fishing on the way in and jigged up more beautiful snappers. This caused me to forget the marlin situation for a few minutes, but the idea of facing Marta after a second unsuccessful and pricey DR trip terrified me.

Marlin Dog

The place is LOADED with snappers like this. 

Marlin Chub

I also caught a big Bermuda chub. One of these pooped on Spellman once.

I set up in stealth mode for the second night of shore fishing. I walked out to the furthest rockwall away from the security office, wore dark clothes, and minimized my flashlight usage. This bought me a couple of hours of good fishing – I got some nice snappers and a surprise new species – the purplemouth moray.

Marlin Eel

Yes, the mouth is really purple.

Just when I thought the security guards had found something better to do, a brilliant beam of light started playing across the jetties. They had brought out one of those German prison camp spotlights, and they were sweeping it over each section of rock and sand, looking for me. I made myself as flat as possible behind some of the boulders, but my Loomis spinning rod turns out to reflect light really, really well. Several excited voices started shouting in Spanish, and as I could hear them coming closer, I realized the jig was up, so to speak. I stood and waited for them to walk all the way out onto the rocks before I acknowledged them. This time, two of them marched me back toward the security office, one in front, one behind. I was in no hurry, however, and they eventually both got well in front of me. We passed by my garage, and that was it for my night with security. I was starting to feel a bit like the Road Runner.

When I got upstairs, I sat on the balcony with a cold Pepsi and watched the guards running around the complex and felt faintly unsettled but faintly amused. I talked to the front desk again; they smiled and told me not to worry about it.

The morning came quickly, and Corey had arranged for us to leave early to get us to the prime fishing areas before everyone else. It paid off. We had trolled for no more than 15 minutes when the port outrigger snapped and a fish started greyhounding downrange. Corey shouted “It’s a blue!!!” and the fight was on. I took the rod and went into battle mode, just me and the fish, total focus on the rod and the line, trying to stay one step ahead of a very athletic, very smart animal. It was not a huge fish – about a hundred pounds, and after about 30 minutes, we got him close to the boat.

Marlin float

My first blue marlin. Don’t worry – the gaff is just for grabbing the leader. 

In marlin fishing, the mate touching the leader is considered a good release. These were fairly light leaders – 80 pound fluorocarbon – so grabbing a fish is a bit of a delicate operation, and most times, when the mate grabs the leader, it snaps off for a clean release. That is exactly what happened. Corey ran up and hugged me and said “You got your blue!!” and I was thrilled, but faintly unsatisfied because I did not have the great picture I had always imagined I would have of my blue.

So we put the trolling gear back down, and shortly, we got another hookup. Again, great photos of the fish in the water, but not the one in my lap.

Marlin swimming

My second marlin.

Foolishly, I told Corey we should get one more, and try to leader it delicately and bring it up for a really good picture. We wouldn’t have to hurt the fish to do this, but it would require some fancy wiring work by the crew. It apparently wasn’t enough for me to catch the darn thing, now I needed to put conditions on the photos. The Fish Gods would punish me severely for my hubris.

We put the lures out again, and right on queue, a pair of 100 pound fish nosed into the spread. We were so intent on them that we didn’t see the big one that grabbed the long bait on the port side. The rig, a mere 30 pound setup, folded over and screamed drag. I wrestled it out of the rod holder, jammed the gimbal into my fighting belt, and assumed the fish battling position.

That is how I spent the next three hours and one minute of my life.

For the first hour, I could deal with the situation. I knew it was a bigger fish, well over 200 pounds, and we had her close enough a couple of times to convince me that she was tired. I was wrong. She was just getting started. In the 75th minute or so, was had already drifted a couple of miles, and she had run the line around a buoy. Corey had to guess which side to run by it, and we were all keenly aware that if he was wrong, the 30 pound line would break in an instant. He guessed right, and we were back at it.

Marlin backing 2

We drove backwards a lot that day.

By the time 90 minutes had gone by, it was getting a bit old. I was tired of water splashing up over the transom as we backed down, and who knew toes could cramp?

The last hour was just a weight-lifting contest. No strategy, no subtlety – just the fish hanging hard about 200 feet down and refusing to budge. I would gain three feet, then lose four. Gain eight, lose six.

Things began to hurt. Other things began to hurt. The things that had begun to hurt initially began to hurt even more. The seas were choppy, so I was having to maintain balance and pull hard on an angry fish. I gulped water and still sweated like a pig in a sauna. They poured water over my head and on the reel, two things I had on my bucket list – and they actually used a bucket! My shins cramped, and my back, normally not an issue, warned me that disks were going to go flying if I didn’t stop this stupidity. I labored on.

A range of emotions went through my head during the whole process. I started out in awe of the fish – the raw power, the wildness, the will. Then I got mad at it. It was making me hurt. And then I felt stupid, because it was hurting just as much and I’m the one who started the fight. I finally lapsed into my default emotion – stubbornness. I was going to finish this because, well, I started it. Why would anyone stay in this position for three hours? Was a picture really that damn important?

Of course it was.

Four feet up, three feet down. Six feet up, seven feet down. Three feet up. I was making agonizing progress, but I was not sure if I would make it. My hands cramped and my fingertips were turning odd colors. The outcome was very much in doubt. The marlin was not epic size – perhaps 250 pounds – but I was fighting it on tackle better suited to big striped bass, and tiring the fish out required a lot of consistent pressure but also some degree of finesse – 30 pound line isn’t as hard to break as one might think.

At two hours and forty-five minutes, we saw the fish. She was about 40 feet down now, electric blue, swimming along with us, giving up a foot at a time.

Marlin Action

The last few moments of an epic battle. 

The moment the fish swung up to the side of the boat, Corey was on it instantly. He somehow reached over, cradled the leader, and got hold of the fish’s bill. He then held on for dear life, as the marlin wasn’t as tired as we thought. One of the deckhands got a grip on it, and I knew we had landed it. The other deckhand and I got on the swim step and grabbed the tail, and all four of us swung the fish up for the picture you see here.

Marlin Marlin

There were high-fives all around, and instead of the primal bellow that I was too tired to utter, I let out sort of a contented whimper as the fish regained her strength and swam off into the depths. I collapsed into the chair and laughed most of the way back to port.

I went to sleep looking at that picture of the Atlantic blue marlin, giving the guards the night off.

Marlin Flag

The final day, we had the luxury of being able to focus on bottom fishing. Corey, a marlin expert by trade, had researched a bunch of bottom spots and we planned out a day of deep dropping and jigging. It was all gravy from there – I had my marlin.

The best cast of the day was before we left the dock. I fired a sabiki into a school of baitfish, and as it turns out, got TWO  new species, the scaled sardine and the mackerel scad.

Marlin bait

Two species on one cast. It doesn’t get much better, although my personal best is four new wrasses on one sabiki rig in Belize, December 2005.

The day was a pleasant one. The water, normally choppy, laid down nicely for us, and we had hours of pleasant drifting over reefs shallow and deep. We loaded up on snappers – which made for a marvelous dinner back at the marina – and I added one new species, the black jack.

Marlin Black

I caught just one black jack. The limit is 21.

Marlin Corey

Steve and Corey with an assortment of snappers. 

That evening, after a celebratory dinner and a few beers, I decided to give it one more round with the security guards. It was late and my flight was early, so I wasn’t going to fish, but my inner child – the 12 year-old who makes most of my decisions for me – hit on a plan. One of my flashlights was getting a bit old, so I took it and some heavy mono and snuck out to the rockwall in front of my condo. I tied the flashlight to a piece of driftwood that was sticking up, and found the light swung perfectly in the wind, about 5 feet off the ground. I turned it on and ran.

From the safety of my living room window, I watched the flashlight twinkle off on the end of the rocks, looking a whole lot like someone waving it around. Moments later, two groups of four security guards came trotting out, hunched down in the combat position, and raced out to the end of the jetty, where they arrested my flashlight. This pleased me a great deal.

Just to show I am a good sport, I bought a case of beer for the night security crew, to be delivered through a thoroughly bewildered concierge, along with a note that will likely never be adequately translated.

Marlin Note

Steve

Posted by: 1000fish | September 12, 2013

Coconut Rum and Oreos

Dateline: September 12, 2013 – Bimini, Bahamas

My last trip to the Bahamas was the most important vacation I ever took. It was July of 2011, and I had just spent three weeks trying to come to grips with my mother passing away. I needed to be anywhere but Michigan, and I needed to be on the water. My family had been shattered, but 2011 was also the summer I seemed to be accepted as the tallest but least attractive Arostegui. (Click HERE for details.)

The fishing on that trip was a bit difficult – a lot of things that we expected to catch were off the bite. Still, I got some important species, including two beautiful golden tilefish, but to tell the truth, and I don’t say this very often, but it wouldn’t have mattered if we didn’t catch anything. It was great to be out on the water. I also knew we would go back.

It took a couple of years, but the schedules aligned in September of 2013, and armed with three pair of travel underwear and 30 pounds of jigs, I set out to revisit Bimini, as a guest of the Arostegui family. We spent a couple of days in Miami getting ready, getting bait and groceries, poking around for oddball local species, and packing and repacking my boxes of jigs.

We got a very early start on the ninth. It was a couple of hours of smooth sailing over to Bimini – a low, reefy island that sits just above the clear Caribbean waters. We checked in with the hotel and customs, then raced out to the first reef and tied on some big jigs.

Ahhh, jigs. There is nothing I love more than dropping a big lure down someplace where something is actually likely to eat it. I had quite a backlog of big leadheads, grubs, scampi tails, and similar things that have been accumulating around my garage since the Lions were respectable. And I brought them ALL.

I hooked up immediately, and I thought to myself – now this is going to be a trip to remember. I guessed the fish as a big grouper – a powerful fight but not fast, slugging it out deep but not racing off to the horizon. I pulled on it hard for about ten minutes, and as it gradually surfaced, my jaw dropped. It was a shark, hooked fair and square in the mouth on a jig. A Caribbean reef shark, one of those species that I had inexplicably missed in 2011. I felt better already.

Bimini Shark

The Caribbean reef shark. I was completely OK with letting Martini do the wrestling with it. 

Bimini Shark Jig

Note the jig just at the end of the gaff handle. Go figure.

Then it got weird. I have to do weird things to find new species, and deep dropping is one of those things. Deep dropping is miserable work. It starts with the unbridled optimism of loading gobs of bait onto circle hooks, attaching these rigs to two or more pounds of lead, and letting fly. It takes about six minutes for one of these rigs to hit 1000 feet, and about three minutes in, you begin to realize it’s going to take a lot longer than that to reel it up. Most drops do not result in a hookup, which seems grossly unfair considering the amount of work involved.

Our first few drops followed the statistical pattern mentioned above, and my arm was ready to fall off. But the fourth drop – down some 1200 feet, which is a lot of feet, resulted in bites. Martini hooked up first and, because he is young and athletic, got his fish off the bottom and toward the surface much more quickly than I did. This meant that the shark saw his first and ate it, and mine came to the top unscathed, which is terribly unfair but worked out fine as far as I’m concerned.

Bimini Scombrops

The fish turned out to be an Atlantic Scombrops, a great species and an even better dinner. Martini got one shortly afterward. Doug Olander, editor over at Sport Fishing Magazine, holds the world record for this species and was aghast that we would try to break it. 

To close out the day, we anchored up and started fishing the shallow reefs, and although I had caught many of the critters before, let’s face it, this was fun. In the middle of all this, I caught a black durgon – a type of triggerfish that frequents the area, and unwittingly entered into a bizarre five-way tie for the all-tackle record on this species. Someone needs to get a bigger one to free up space in the book.

Bimini Durgon 2

Two of the five record holders on the black durgon.

The next day, we got on the water early and hit some shallow reefs. The jigs continued producing. I got some gorgeous groupers, including the big strawberry below. Note the size of the jig it ate.

Bimini Strawberry

Strawberry grouper. Another very good dinner. 

We moved off the deeper reefs mid-morning and anchored up on some shallow rockpiles. As we chummed behind the boat, I noticed some baitfish with bright red tails streaking in and out of the trail. Breaking out one of the 316 sabiki rigs I carry for just such an occasion, I soon hooked a redtail scad, and added species 1233.

Bimini Scad

It’s a small fish, but it’s bigger than many other small fish I’ve caught, AND Jaime Hamamoto hasn’t caught one so there.

A lot of the fun, as always, was back at the dock. The harbor in Bimini is jammed with fish, anything from tropical mini-critters to respectable sharks and cobia. Of course, this means that I was completely rude to my hosts and raced off the boat and rushed through dinner so I could be on the water as much as I could. If any of you are surprised by me choosing fishing over general good manners, you must be new readers. Welcome!

I focused on the smaller stuff, and a few shrimp later, I landed a beautiful surgeonfish. These little fellows are called surgeonfish because they have a scalpel-like blade on their tail, a fact I found out the hard way a few years ago in Hawaii.

Bimini Surgeon

The ocean surgeonfish. Supposed to be vegetarian, but this one liked shrimp.

Bimini smallmouth

I also got a smallmouth grunt, yet another species. This trip, with five species already, was quickly becoming epic. I hope the Arosteguis can forgive me for rushing out on dinner and probably not even chewing my lobster that thoroughly.

The next day, I added a species, but it wasn’t the one I thought I did. If this confuses you, that makes two of us.

From time to time, I mess up an identification. Eight years ago, in Belize, I caught a nice-sized jack. I identified it as a bar jack because it had a &^%$ bar on the back like the book says. I have been trying to catch the similar yellow jack ever since but had not connected.

As we anchored up off a beautiful reef and dropoff, a school of big fish slashed through bait right behind the boat. Marty said “Yellow jacks! Get a plug in the water!!” I fumbled around and tied something on, then cast. After a few misses, I latched onto something big and solid, and the fight was on. After a few blazing runs, I brought a beautiful jack on board and said “Darn – another bar jack.” Martini said “No – that’s a yellow jack.”

Foolishly, I said “Bar jack, it has a bar on the back.” And Martini said “They both have a bar, but the bar jack’s bar comes all the way onto the lower lobe of the caudal fin and it doesn’t have YELLOW marks like the yellow jack you are holding.” Oops. In retrospect, it was inadvisable to pick this fight with a marine biology student who has been fishing in this area for 20 years, but just as in hockey, I plowed ahead heedless of common sense.

Bimini Yellow

Marty separates us and holds up my yellow jack.

In a conciliatory tone, Martini told me there were some bar jacks on the reef and told me to get casting. You know what happened next, and nobody likes a smartass.

Bimini Bar

My bar jack. Yes he was laughing at me. I would have laughed at me. I had probably thrown back three dozen small ones over the years thinking I had already caught the species.

Just to be snotty, I am going to publish a childhood picture of Martini.

Bimini Martini

Maybe this will teach Martini to correct me. You might point out that he was completely right, but don’t change the subject. 

The fishing was wide open, with big jacks chasing jigs and poppers everywhere behind the boat. It was a full-on feeding frenzy, and the Bahamas had shown what a special place they could be. We stuck at it for a couple of hours, and the fishing was once-in-a-lifetime. Martini went down in his snorkel gear and speared a monster hogfish.

Bimini Hog

Yes, this is a real fish. Dr. Seuss did not invent it.

On the way back to the harbor, Marty parked us on one more reef, and the fishing, which had already been spectacular, got even better. Indeed, for roughly a golden hour, it was just stupid good – every jig seemed to get slammed, every bait seemed to get eaten. It was like the fishing shows you see on TV, only we didn’t need to film for three days to get the action.

Bimini Black

Black grouper. I don’t even remember if I caught this or Martini did. It doesn’t really matter – we all got big fish.

Bimini Mutton

Mutton snapper. Not as beastly as the one in Brazil that I had hoped was a stingray, but nice. (Click HERE for the ugly details. Parental advisory for nudity and Ricky Martin music.)

That evening, I didn’t fish. I did something even more important. I wasn’t rude for once. The Arosteguis are a marvelously close family. Martini’s relationship with his father I truly admire – I was never close to my Dad, and while I have managed to reach adulthood and be a productive member of society, this is still something that leaves a void. There is something just plain nice about seeing people who care about each other this much, and sometimes it is the smallest things – like cooking dinner together – that are the most important.

Martini had captured a couple of lobsters, and as soon as we docked, Marty set to creating a stir-fry of epic proportions. I knew it was not the night to fish, and for once, I sat around the boat and was sociable. The dinner was simply outstanding, and I took seriously my role of ensuring that there are no leftovers. We spoke well into the evening, and as it got late, I was included in an important ritual. Roberta produced a bottle of coconut rum and a bag of Oreos. Although both are excellent on their own, in combination, they are transcendent, doubly so after a few shots of the rum. We talked well into the evening, and I didn’t want it to end. These are truly special people and a special family to make me stop fishing for a few hours.

Bimini Lobster

Marty and his world-famous lobster stir-fry.

Our last day, we started by working our way around some shallows near the harbor. Roberta nailed a nice bonefish on a sand flat, just to show us she could catch something beside world record black durgon. (I jest of course. Roberta has more world records than I do.)

Bimini Bone

Just your basic bonefish before breakfast.

Heading west toward Miami, we stopped on a few reefs, shallow and deep. Martini pulled a bizarre soldierfish from about 1200 feet down, and we got a few other nice snappers. And then, just as in 2011, the last spot produced a miracle. About 150 feet down, one of my last leadheads got smashed. My guess was another nice strawberry grouper, and as I peered into the depths looking for the first hint of color, I saw red and thought I was right. But then it got redder. And redder. And redder. It was a yellowfin grouper, one of the most colorful fish in the ocean, and a species I had once bitterly lost at boatside. The trip had a perfect ending, and we motored back to Miami without the grins ever leaving our faces.

Bimini Yellowfon

This is not Photoshopped. I think they glow in the dark.

The next day, as I left Miami, I couldn’t help but feel a bit out of sorts. This is a group where I feel completely welcome, and while I am not quite at their level of fishing skill, they still put up with me and make me feel part of the family whenever we are together. I could not wait for the next visit.

Heading to the airport, my focus changed. I wasn’t heading home – not just yet. I was heading east, a thousand miles out into the Caribbean, for a shot at getting one of the most elusive big game species on the planet. A species that had flat-out humiliated me in April. But with luck, in a day or two, I would have a date with destiny – and an Atlantic Blue Marlin.

Steve

 

Posted by: 1000fish | September 7, 2013

Miami’s Real Big Three

Dateline: September 7, 2013 – Miami, Florida

Sports Illustrated will tell you that Miami’s “big three” are basketball players – Bosh, Wade, and LeCramp. But these people have never heard of the REAL big three in that town – Salvin’s Cichlid, the Green Severum, and the true star of the bunch, the Striped Mojarra. And unlike the basketball players, these stars will stay in Miami*.

To be truthful, I didn’t expect to do much fishing in Miami. I was there because the Arosteguis had generously invited me to join them for a few days in the Bahamas, and I wanted to give United Airlines plenty of time to find my luggage. But Martini always has something fishy up his sleeve, or his underpants, and it usually involves incredibly detailed research on obscure species.

In this case, two of the species were old friends of the family. But one of them – Salvin’s cichlid –  took Martini hours rooting through the shadowy world of online fishing chat rooms, until he found a site  – Roughfish.com – that is both reputable and filled with species-hunting kindred spirits. The first time I pulled up the site, the first four posts were for fish I have never caught, from people who get just as excited as I do about creatures that will never be on an LL Bean catalog cover. This is awesome.

In between getting the big boat ready for the trip across to Bimini, we had a free morning to run out and chase these critters. Marty, Martini, and I got into the car and headed north, up to a park somewhere south of Orlando, armed with some light rods, worms, and a bag of Publix enriched white bread. As we arrived, Martini got out his notes and directed us to a very specific 25 feet of shoreline. We cast out some small float rigs, and immediately, we got bites and pulled up some attractive cichlids – Salvin’s cichlids, according to the books. I have no idea who Salvin was or why he cavorted with cichlids, but I was grateful for the species. Thank you Roughfish.com!

Three Salvin S

It is possible that Martini’s tongue is bigger than my fish, but a species is a species.

Three Salvin

They are a good-looking thing.

With that task accomplished, we drove back down to Coral Gables and picked up the Arostegui’s small boat. We launched in one of the many canals that criss-cross the area, and again, headed to a very specific corner of a back channel where they had seen green severum. I set up a light float and bread and waited while Marty and Martini looked for the fish. After a few moments, Marty pointed and said “There he is.”

I cast where I thought Marty had pointed, and asked “There?” Marty looked at me patiently and said “You only missed by about 10 feet.” We were 10 feet from the bank. Once I hit the correct spot, the float went down, but whether it was adrenaline or a lack of caffeine, I missed the bite completely. Then I missed the cast again. The Arosteguis looked at me patiently, as they always do. Finally, I got one. The green severum, another cichlid that has made its way into the canals from some foreign land via the aquarium trade, had joined my species list.

Three Severum

The green severum.

On the way back to the ramp, we cast for some peacock bass, and Marty, unassuming though he may be, but just because he really is that good, landed a seven pound largemouth.

Three Bass

It took me a long time to catch a largemouth this big. 

We had one more species to go after, and Marty had dreamed up this one. The saltwater canals in the area have a number of mojarra species, and I have not gotten a particular one – the striped mojarra. Marty recalled that he had seem some of these in the University of Miami campus canals when he was a student there. This is no mean feat – he graduated many years ago, when their football program was actually honest. We gave it a try, as students streamed by us, crazed with joy over the day’s defeat of rival Florida. We got quite a few small fish – mojarras, tilapia, and others, but we did not find the striped creature we pursued. So we packed it in and went home to prepare for Bimini and enjoy a nice dinner.

After dinner, the canal behind the boathouse called to me. “Steve, Steve.” it called. I knew there would be a few mosquitoes, but I have caught several new species in this canal, and I thought I would give it a try. Martini was watching some TV with his family, but he told me to call if I got anything good and he would be there quickly with a net. I had no idea how quickly.

I set up right by the boathouse and was soon catching solid mangrove snappers and even one of my favorite fish of all time – the lookdown. The evening went on, cooling , pleasant, very few mosquitoes, plenty of fish, no alligators.

Three Lookdown

The Atlantic lookdown. They’re cool.

I had a very light rod – four pound line – out with a #18 hook in case one of the striped mojarras happened by. I viewed these as a micro – something along the lines of the boathouse goby and other smallish creatures. At around 10pm, something that was not a micro got a taste for very small bits of shrimp and took off, peeling line off the reel and heading for the pilings. There is a lot of structure in the area, and I gave myself a Spellman’s chance of landing it, but the fish, which I presumed to be a decent snapper, shot perfectly back between the posts and the rocky wall, and after a few tense minutes, it surfaced.

It was a huge striped mojarra – about a pound and a half. I didn’t know they got that big, and I certainly couldn’t lift it up on the lawn with the gear I had. Holding my rod out as far as possible, I edged over to the cleaning table, and at full extension, I could just reach my phone. I texted Martini a single word – “Net.”

It is approximately 200 feet to go from the house to the garage for the net and then out to where I was fishing. If the speed net grab was an Olympic event, Martini would be the gold medalist. In what seemed like seven seconds, I heard rapid footsteps, and then Martini burst through the bushes at the top of the retaining wall, soared down five feet onto the grass, and scooped up my fish.

Three striped

Who knew they got this big? Next time, I won’t use a #18 hook and one pound – that’s right – one pound leader. 

I had added three unanticipated species in a single day. I know there won’t always be one available when I wander through Miami, but I know the Arosteguis will always give it their best shot, and that’s as good a chance as anyone could have.

Steve

 

1000Fish Reader Update -

Congratulations to Jim Tolonen, long-time 1000fish reader and fishing buddy, on his first IGFA world record. On August 21, 2013, Jim captured this beast of a sand sole off Santa Cruz, California and put his name in the book.

Three Tolonen

Maybe Jim will stop reminding me that he has caught a 40 pound white seabass.

* Obviously, the delay between the trip and publishing dates gave me some additional insight, but I always thought LeCramp would go back to Cleveland – the first person since 1932 to move there voluntarily without being part of the Federal Witness Protection Program.

 

 

Posted by: 1000fish | August 3, 2013

The Road to Orick

Dateline: August 3, 2013 – Orick, California

Road trips have formed the inspiration for countless adventure and “buddy” movies. Who could ever forget the classics – The Road to Rio … Easy Rider … Harold and Kumar … Harold and Maude.

Redtail HM

It was late when I wrote this. It all made sense at the time. 

Martini Arostegui and I are known to jump into the car at the slightest hint of a species within a day’s drive, and obviously, or not, the road trip I am about to recount must have been successful, or I wouldn’t be talking about it. Or would I? Well, partially. To be truthful, our first road trip of 2013 was a disaster, but luckily, this post is about the second one. In the interest of complete disclosure and getting this above 2000 words, there was also a third trip, which rivaled the first for utter futility. We were one for three, which might be good in baseball or venture capital but is not as good when you are 500 miles from clean underwear. Still, Martini knows the rules. There are no guarantees in fishing, or everyone would do it.

There isn’t much constructive to say about the first trip. We ventured ten hours from home into remote parts of the west that don’t have Burger King, and we did not so much as sniff the fish we were after. The highlight of the trip was my discovering that Martini could walk, for some distance, on his hands.

Redtail Gymnasty

Now that’s a talent. 

Redtail BM

Oh, and we saw one of the greatest road signs EVER. 

The second road trip happened in August. Over the past two years, Martini and I had put quite a hurting on the local surfperch species, racking up something like 18 records, which was lucky and a whole lot of fun. (Details HERE) But a couple of species had eluded us. One of these, the redtail surfperch, was a vacant world record and apparently abundant on the north coast, about six hours north of San Francisco.

We researched for hours, and through the kindness of some north coast fishermen, we found some promising spots near the tiny town of Orick. We headed out on a Friday afternoon, full of hope and caffeine. The drive up Highway 101 goes through coastal mountains and redwoods, places full of childhood and adult memories. It was here I saw my first redwood tree, on one of those amazing California summer exploration trips my sister and I used to take with my stepmonster’s parents. They were truly nice people, generous, kind, and mentally stable, which always makes me wonder if you-know-who was adopted.

Of course, once it got dark, my view was reduced to the path of my headlights and occasional glimpses – and smells – of Martini. We should have saved Taco Bell for the last night of the trip. The conversation on these trips leans heavily to fishing, and as the miles rolled by, we consulted on topics ranging from odd species like the silver redhorse, to our upcoming trip to the Bahamas in September, to exotic peacock bass in Suriname, to the Indian Ocean, where we both have a lot of fishing to do. We talked about my chances of an IGFA lifetime achievement award – he thought I would get to 100 records, but he warned me, from his own experience, that the last ten were the hardest. There are very few people in the world who can relate to my level of obsessiveness with fishing, but Martini is not only a kindred spirit, not only someone who can commiserate with me and offer moral support, but who can also teach me a thing or two. Especially about diet. I could have done without that second Burrito Supreme. Even though he’s 22, he is mature and focused well beyond his years – he’s like the older brother I never had.

It was very late when we got to McKinleyville, and even later when we discovered that there were no hotel rooms available there and had to retreat to Eureka, where we did finally find lodging, iffy at best, which required lasting through an awkward moment where the desk clerk and night manager got into a shouting match about whether the room was actually available.

Morning came quickly, and mornings here are cold and foggy. This is a beautiful but desolate place, and as we parked on the windswept beach and walked about a mile south, we wondered if it would all be worth it. As we reached our spot, we pulled out a container of Safeway shrimp. Conventional wisdom calls for digging sand crabs, but Martini has caught numerous records on Safeway shrimp, and I wasn’t worried.

Redtail surf

The rods are set up and we are ready to go.

It is always disquieting to cast into the roaring surf. It never seems like anything could be living in there, let alone feeding, yet surfperch can be there in droves. And this time, our target was there. In less than five minutes, Martini pulled up a beautiful one pounder – a world record for him, adding to his remarkable total. There are only two fishermen in the world with more records than Martini, and one of those is his father. (Marty has over 400 and leads the pack by far.) So even with a huge world record count, every one was important for Martini as he tried to join his father at the very top of the scoreboard – imagine being one and two in the world at something with your father.

Redtail Martini

Martini gets on the scoreboard – one pound and a new world record.

Just as Martini released his catch, I added the species with a smaller fish. I was so thrilled that I didn’t notice my wet feet and the freezing wind.

Redtail First Perch

Steve gets in to the act with species 1227.

Moments later, I landed a larger one that qualified as a record. (Note to the north coast surf fishermen – yes, there are many bigger ones out there. Turn them in!!)

Redtail Steve

A pound and a quarter of payback for a lot of driving. It was so worth it. 14 records to go. Three years ago, I would have a good idea of where the next 14 would come from, but at this stage, I have no idea.

The mission was accomplished, and we fist-bumped in quiet triumph. Normal, well-adjusted people would have enjoyed the rest of the morning catching large perch in the surf, but hey, it’s us. We raced for the car and drove south to Trinidad, fishing the scenic pier there for any of the coastal species that have eluded us, especially the rock greenling which hates me as much as spearfish hates me or possibly more.

Redtail Lighthouse

The lighthouse at Trinidad harbor. Gorgeous, but no rock greenling.

After an hour or so, we realized this wasn’t going to work, so we did something stupid. Calculating that if we drove really fast for six hours and didn’t stop for lunch or bathroom breaks, we could barely make Putah Creek at Davis in time for a shot at a Sacramento sucker. We raced out of Trinidad, zoomed our way through the coastal mountains, and arrived at Putah just in time to see a bunch of suckers race by us and not take any of our baits. A philosopher might wonder who the suckers really were.

If my 2013 road trips with Martini had ended here, this would have been a better story, but unfortunately, they did not. Two weeks after the Orick adventure, I messed up on a level that only United Airlines can approach with consistency. Martini wanted to catch a golden trout. Fair enough, I figured. We could re-enact the Cottonwood Death March – (sordid details HERE) – but bring adequate shoes and provisions. So we made the seven-hour drive to Lone Pine, and then the hour-long, terrifying cliff drive to the hiking area.

Redtail Eastern

The beauty of the Eastern Sierra, which we got to appreciate almost undisturbed by fish.

And then, for reasons I will never fully understand, I missed a detail and screwed up on an epic scale. Not realizing there are two trails with “Cottonwood” in the name, I took us up the wrong one, so we went up 5 miles and 2500 feet to Chicken Springs Lake – which contains no trout. That’s a ten mile round trip.

Redtail Chicken

Chicken Springs Lake. Ironically, it has neither springs nor chickens. And definitely no trout.

Luckily, there was a small creek on the trail that held smaller goldens, and it was here Martini added the species and I avoided permanent idiot status.

Redtail Golden SM

The fish that saved my bacon.

The Fish Gods paid me back big time – I had gotten a root canal done a few days before this hike, and one of my sinuses got infected. This is a bad thing to discover at altitude. Trust me.

Humbled, I took in the scenery on the seven hour trip home, swearing off golden trout for life. Martini was more than gracious and never mentioned the screwup, but it’s only fair to report it, because I surely would have said something if he took us up the wrong trail. Besides, in less than a month, I would be fishing with him again – 3000 miles to the southeast. And I was praying he would read the map correctly, because if he messed up like I did, we could end up in Haiti.

Steve

 

 

Posted by: 1000fish | July 10, 2013

A Semi-Frozen Midlife Crisis

Dateline: July 10, 2013 – Keflavik, Iceland

I had been putting this day off for 50 years, but as Dr. Seuss said “It came. It came just the same.” For this day – Wednesday, July 10, 2013 – was my 50th birthday. Age 50. Middle age. When the doctor starts paying a lot of attention to tests, and the tests get more and more awkward. (You’ll understand when you have your first colonoscopy; my only advice is to stay very close to the bathroom once you drink that gallon of prep solution.) This is when hemorrhoids aren’t something that happens to other people. When men stop getting phone numbers and start getting restraining orders. When AARP mailers start showing up. When those gag gifts like adult diapers stop getting responses like “Very funny, you idiot” and start getting responses like “Wrong size. Is the receipt in the box?”

bday depends

If only they came in bikini briefs. 

For the more philosophical among us, this might be a day of reflection and remembrance, but hey, it’s me. I’m not all that philosophical, and I’m only spiritual when the Red Wings are deep in the playoffs. But still, there is something gigantic about turning 50 … something that makes you question if something is going to suddenly change. Things that are OK when you are 40 might suddenly turn not OK when you are 50, and I was determined that this wouldn’t happen to me.

So I lay awake that night, looking out into the 3am twilight that is summer in Iceland, and I talked to Marta. Eventually, she woke up. The very first thing she said, after the obligatory “It’s 3am, you idiot,” was “Fine – what are the six most important things in your life? Write them down quietly and we can discuss it in the morning.” I blabbered on, outlining a mid-life crisis right there in the middle of the night. Finally, she got up, and with semi-convincing compassion, said “You’re a little old for this.” Ouch. We started the list. To save an awkward moment, she correctly placed herself first. “I’m putting up with this, so you can put me down as committed.” So that’s one down. The other five things we came up with, in no particular order – fish species, my family, my friends, world records, and ice hockey. Would these all be the same? Could I still do the same stuff? Would I still wear the same underwear?

Bday Dep

Whoever thought of this ad should be fired. How about “Guard your khakis?”

In what seemed like three hours but was really 180 minutes, morning came and I was off to Keflavik for one more go at the open Atlantic. I was hopeful that this last day would be nicer and I would finally get my shot at the barn door halibut – or a plaice, because as weird as this is, I would rather catch a plaice than a halibut just so Marta could stop giving me a hard time because she has already caught one. (Read that sad tale HERE.)

The July weather remained uncooperative. The Fish Gods don’t care if it’s your birthday. Not even if it’s a major birthday, like your 50th. The breeze had slacked off to a mere 20 knots, but the seas were tremendous from a week of heavy wind. It was a quiet effort, just me and the guide, not much talking, which is unusual for me, but a lot of holding on and nausea, which is normal for Iceland. We tried every reachable spot a halibut might haunt, and while there were none to be found, I did keep catching some tremendous cod, including my biggest ever.

Bday Cod 2

Hallmark doesn’t have a birthday cod like this. A birthday COD! I crack myself up.

Despite the lack of species, it was still great fun, even if I had to concentrate very hard to retain my breakfast. Speaking of breakfast, Toggi brought me a cake. A real, homemade Icelandic cake, which was sort of like a cheesecake and had fresh blueberries all over it and I ate the whole thing in five minutes. What a nice people – I was reminded of another touching birthday gift in Germany four years ago. (Details HERE.)

Late in the day, the Fish Gods gave a faint nod to my big day. By this stage of the trip, I had caught at least 100 Atlantic dabs, but I still checked every flatfish carefully, hoping not to see the telltale curved lateral line and rough upper surface. Each new fish might, just might, be a juvenile halibut. And late in the afternoon, well after we should have been back at the dock, I pulled up one that looked different. I looked closer – it had a straight lateral line. It had to be something new, and it was. In a cruel irony, it was an American plaice – a type of plaice, but not the one Marta got in Norway. I had gotten my first species as a 50 year-old –  about 13 hours into the day. The second pillar was there.

Bday Plaice

The American plaice. Not the European plaice, which is far more sophisticated but can’t win a war without help.

As I got back to the house, my sister, my Uncle Ted, and the Arosteguis called and wished me a happy birthday. They are pretty much my family, at least until Laura’s kids are old enough to buy me a decent birthday present. But I also thought about all the family that wasn’t there any more. My Mom, who would have been leading the charge to give me a hard time about being 50, had been gone for two years. I miss her.

Marta and I had a lovely dinner in Reykjavik. We found ourselves reflecting, but we also found ourselves planning what we were going to do for the next 50 years. I have so much I haven’t accomplished yet – 2000 species, 100 world records, 100 countries, 50 states, and most of the royal slams. Of course, Marta and I also have a bucket list of trips that aren’t quite as fishing-oriented. (Her destinations always seem to involve climbing up hills.) So if she puts up with all this AND paid for dinner, that’s pretty good. She’s a keeper, as they say, and also as they say, I have outkicked my coverage.

Three travel-filled days later found us back in San Francisco, where Marta had arranged what I thought would be a quiet dinner with a few friends to mark the occasion. She sold me out. What happened was a celebrity roast, with a few dozen friends, in the best tradition of Dean Martin. With an open bar and encouragement to abuse me, this was a recipe for disaster. The presentations ranged in hilarity (Thor Grossen,) good taste (Kelly Porter,) and coherence (Spellman.) Everything that came up, including Kerr’s lunch, was truly from the heart or somewhere nearby. I am blessed with a tremendous group of friends, and a girlfriend, lovely and intelligent, patient and forgiving … who stuck me with the check. So the friends were there, and they will likely be there for life, or I will release the rest of the photographs from the party. Jeff, you know the one I’m talking about.

Bday Hat

Kelly Porter, who designed and produced my birthday helmet. For the record, I did not have a head injury during the party, so it must have worked.

Bday Kerr

On the left is Chris, quite a fisherman in his own right, Jeff Kerr, (the second best center on my hockey team,) Jeff’s Wife Sharon (details HERE,) and Sandra. Sandra has evil powers.

Bday Lee

Lee Sullivan, fellow war history buff, tries to think of something nice to say. 

Bday Martini

Martini tries to think of something nice to say.

Bday Spellman

Lee tries to keep Heather awake during Spellman’s speech. No one was sure what he was getting at, but we love him just the same. 

Bday Perry Vernon

Two very old friends from my days at Macromedia. On the left, Scott Perry, occasional fishing buddy and all-around good guy. On the right, Len Vernon, great friend and my boss at Macromedia. He used to say “Wozniak is a hell of a creative writer. Did you see his expense reports?”

Bday Joy

Joy, one of our dearest friends, who keeps asking us to take her fishing.

Bday Group

The group. Marta, at far left, is smiling fiendishly because she just handed the waiter MY American Express card.

So I had a species, some friends, a family, and a partner after turning 50. What about world records? And what about ice hockey?

Oddly enough, there is a possible world record about an hour from my house. In my old college stomping grounds near UC Davis, Putah Creek has Sacramento suckers, and this is another underrepresented species that no one had turned in to the IGFA. The problem – catching them. When I was in college, they were easy. Put a worm on the bottom. Wait briefly. But now, 30 years later, they have turned into some kind of super-spooky ghost that make permit look positively reckless. I had been going up there at least twice a week all summer, and had yet to get one over that magic one pound mark. But I could see them there, every damn time, and I just knew I could get one.

I decided to give it a try on Tuesday the 16th. Since they only seem to bite in the 38 seconds before dark, this was something I could do after work. Grab a quick dinner, then wait out the rush hour traffic on the way up to Davis and a favorite spot I have been fishing since 1984. I parked where I have parked for 30 years, walked the same half mile along the creek, and set up to wait for sunset. For it is only at sunset that the suckers, for about five minutes, materialize out of nowhere and begin running up a shallow riffle, leaving an unmistakable v-shaped wake as they ignore every possible bait and go someplace else that I can never find.

Bday Sucker

Finally. There may be one born every minute, but there is one caught every 10 years. 

Bday Teejay

None of this would have been possible without the assistance of Teejay O’Rear, Lab Manager at UC Davis, who gave us incredibly detailed advice on where to catch the suckers. 

A quick review at home revealed that this would be my 85th world record. 100 gets you a lifetime achievement award – a little piece of immortality in the IGFA books. It hit me that records were getting awfully hard to come by. Awfully hard. But this was something I have been determined to do since my first record in 2006. I decided then and there I needed to finish out the 100 within a year. I had no idea how I was going to do this, but I wanted that trophy in the worst way.

All that remained was to get on the ice and score a goal. Eight days after my birthday, I laced up the skates for my first hockey game as a 50 year-old.  I had been on the old side of my team for years, and while 40 seemed like a difficult thing, suiting up as a 50 year-old was a little intimidating. Was this finally going to be the year to hang it up? Could I still score despite my advanced age? (Not a word from you, Marta.)

The answer came on my second shift of the evening, courtesy of a talented teammate named Conan Fong. I was parked in the low slot, like I have been since I was a Squirt playing for Barnard Electric in Royal Oak, Michigan. It’s one of my few remaining skills – it’s difficult to move me. (Note from Marta – It’s true. Just try to get him off the couch.) Conan made a nice play to keep the puck in the zone, skated down the right side of the ice and cut toward the net. The defenseman covering me inexplicably fell down, perhaps because I cross-checked him in the kidneys, and Conan slid a crossing pass to me. This is the play we practice from the time we learn to skate. It was a carbon copy of the first goal I ever scored, and thankfully, I didn’t miss.

Bday Conan

Conan the defenseman. No relation to Conan the Barbarian. Or Conan the Librarian, who worked at my junior high school.

I had a goal as a 50 year-old, so I was good for another decade. Everything was in order, and I could stop waking Marta up at 3am.

In bed that night – I never sleep that well on hockey nights – I played it over and over in my head. As satisfied as I was with the game, I also knew I wouldn’t be playing when I reach 60. This was something I had always thought I would do forever, and now it had a time limit. Everything does – you learn that around the time you turn 50. But whenever that last game would be, it wasn’t tonight, and that was all that mattered.

To quote the philosopher Toby Keith – “I’m not as good as I once was, but I’m as good once as I ever was.”

Steve

Posted by: 1000fish | July 8, 2013

A Proper Char

Dateline: July 8, 2013 – Selfoss, Iceland

Fine. Marta’s fish was bigger. Are you satisfied now?

After two days of being pounded on the merciless, gray North Atlantic, I wasn’t ready to stop fishing, but I was certainly ready to stop getting the crap beaten out of me. Little did I know that would merely be trading the physical abuse for mental torment, and that it would be coming from none other than Marta, who would have invited Jaime Hamamoto along if it hadn’t been a school day.

With a couple of days respite from the open water, we got to focus on playing tourist and exploring the rich and ancient culture on the island. An anthropologist would need go no further than a doorway to prove that these people are descended from Scandanavians, because most interior entryways feature the diabolical tripping device. (Details here)

Ice slipping

The diabolical tripping device. The traditional Icelandic greeting upon entering a room is “Oh #$&%!! My toe!!”

But this is not all that demonstrates their common heritage – Icelandic is also replete with comically complex words, the pronunciation of which rarely bears any relation to the written form.

Ice Sign

Pronounced “Cleveland.”

Foolishly, I tried to fake my way through a few words, which resulted in us going to the wrong town and in a tragic misorder at a restaurant. This can be serious business – these people think putrefied shark is a delicacy. Other words are just impossible. For example, the name of the volcano that trashed air travel in Europe for the summer of 2010: Eyjafjallajokull. Sure, it looks easy, but see below:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSo_ND41-6g

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9jq-sMZtSww

Char Eyawhatever

Eyjafjallajokull. This picture is on the dart board of every airline in Europe.

We saw all kinds of wonderful things, the two most interesting of which were thermal steam vents and puffins. Steam vents are an amazing thing. They pop up in all sorts of random places, like people’s back yards, and along with the occasional geysers found throughout the country, they made the place seem strangely alive. It is completely primeval, like New Jersey but colder.

Char Vents 2

Steam rises from random spots on a hillside. I was constantly on the lookout for lava, even in the living room, but we didn’t see any.

Char Vent

Vents can hiss out fumes like this …

Ice Gloop

Or they can gurgle like my aunt’s intestine. And these things are EVERYWHERE. For video, see http://youtu.be/yIPx3U5nLCc

We were also determined to see a puffin. These curious, orange-beaked sea birds nest by the millions on certain islands, and we would be unsatisfied unless we visited them. Following the advice of Marta’s guidebook, we drove to a small port in southern Iceland and took a ferry to Heimaey island. And we did see a cute animal almost immediately.

Char critter

Random child on the ferry ride over to Heimaey.

As we sailed into the harbor, the cliffs on either side of us, carved out from countless years of savage weather, were jammed with nesting seabirds. But no one had mentioned that they nested rather high up the cliffs and were not exactly easy to spot.

Char Island

The cliffs of Heimaey. There were thousands and thousands of puffins there, not that we got even remotely close to them. 

Char rookery

Some of those white specks are puffins.

Char Puffin 1

I did not take this picture. These are puffins. They are adorable. But no one ever sees them very close up because they live in cliffs, and sane people do not climb up cliffs just to see a bird.

Char Puffin 3

They always look worried. I didn’t take this picture either, but whoever did had no fear of heights.

Char Town

The harbor at Heimaey.

We wandered the town for an hour or so, then found a local restaurant and sat down for lunch. Marta was just commenting how beautiful the birds were when we noticed they had puffin on the menu. And whale. Of course, I’m sure that many cultures would find our diet disturbing, as I would if I ever actually researched what’s in a Cheese Whopper.

It was also in this town that Marta found her Icelandic sweater, which she insists is more attractive than mine. That’s the sweater just below – we’ll let you be the judge.

Char Sweater

Many of the women looked like this, which shows us that the Vikings were no fools when it came to who they carried off from Ireland.

Nowhere in Iceland is it more evident that the volcanic activity is a part of daily life. The entire port here was nearly wiped out in 1973 when local volcano Eldfell (pronounced “Cleveland”) erupted. The port was saved by pumping millions of gallons of seawater onto the oncoming lava wall, but dozens of homes were destroyed. Walking on the hill above the current port, Marta found what she thought was an old cemetery, but the markers turned out to be for the houses that were destroyed – a graveyard of homes.

Char House

This was someone’s home.

Char flowers

This flower grows surprisingly well out of the lava. 

Char newly

Only a few hundred feet above the town, the landscape makes Iwo Jima look lush.

Of course, there had to be some fishing. Icelandic freshwater has limited species, but they do have Arctic Char, a trout cousin that I had never caught. We found a guide based in southern Iceland, about 90 minutes from Reykjavik. We made the drive early in the morning, passing through patches of dense fog, then areas of bright sunshine where we could see anything from mountains to green valleys to steaming moonscapes.

Our guide was Arni Skulasen, an impossibly-tall 17 year-old who had grown up fishing char, trout, and salmon on the rivers in southern Iceland. We had some trouble finding the village of Selfoss, as it turns out that Selfoss is not a village, it’s a farm.

Char farm 3

A farm quite similar to Arni’s home, taken in a rare moment of sunshine. I got photos of the Selfoss farm, but it was raining then, and I liked this photo a lot better.

Arni suggested that we first try the river right in front of his home, which has a population of both char and salmon.

Char River

How’s that for a front yard?

As you know, Marta lives to catch species that I have not. She takes great pride in this, and has trashed several vacations with this thoughtless behavior. Jordan, where she caught a six-spot grouper on purpose and I did not, was especially painful.

Bday Grouper

The only six-spot grouper ever shown in an article about Iceland.

So it is completely understandable that I forgot to invite her for the morning fishing session. She went hiking while Arni and I cast the river. The location looked like it was out of a travel brochure, but alas, no char were biting. I had one hit from a salmon, but as we have covered, Atlantic salmon and I do not mix well. (Click HERE for the sordid details.)

 

Char River 1

Fishing the falls about a mile from Arni’s house. What a great place to grow up. 

When the morning session didn’t result in a char, Arni was perplexed. “I am perplexed.” he said. “They are not biting. I don’t know where to take you now, unless you want to catch a really small one.” Needless to say, I jumped all over that. A species is a species. His idea was Lake Pingevillir, which apparently is full of smallish char, but as we covered, I have fished in hatcheries when circumstances dictated.

We got into the car for the drive over to the lake. We passed scenic vistas and bewildering road signs.

Char Bjork

The top word means “Men’s Restroom.” The bottom word means “bad music.”

Char Church

I thought about going in here and praying for an Atlantic halibut. 

It was on this journey that Marta and I gained a closer understanding about the close but awkward relationship that the Icelanders have with Denmark. As is often the case where a remote colony has separated from the motherland, there is a bit of friendly abuse thrown back and forth. Arni explained to us that Icelanders can understand Danish, but that the Danes have a strong and comical accent, which sounds like, and I quote, that “They are speaking with a hot potato stuck in their throat.” There are also Danish jokes, just as there are Polish jokes, like “How many Danes does it take to bake a potato?” (Two – one to bake it and one to put it in the back of their throat. I didn’t get it either.)

Char Peng

Lake Pingevillir

The lake was gorgeous, and it managed to not rain for a couple of hours. The rocky beach we walked to was comfortable and shielded from the wind, and I was soon set up and casting. It didn’t take long to hook up – on perhaps my third cast, I connected with a char, and tacked another species onto the list. It certainly wasn’t a huge char, but I was very pleased. I kept casting and got several more.

Char char

Granted, not a beastly char, but a new species nonetheless.

Char Lake

Arni wades out into the lake.

Then Marta just had to say those two awful words – “My turn.” Things had been ideal until then, but if Marta started fishing, there was the possibility she would catch something rare and wonderful. Arni offered to teach her to fly fish, which would make it worse if she actually caught something. (No one likes a smartass, Arni.) So I gave Marta a fishing rod and a spoon. Predictably, on her first cast, she hooked into something. It was immediately obvious that it was larger than the fish I had been catching, and after a minute or two, she landed a char that was roughly twice the size of any char I had gotten.

Char Marta

Marta shows off her char. Well la-dee-da. It’s still a small one, even if it was slightly larger than mine.

Arni couldn’t help himself. “Now that’s a proper char.” he announced. I reminded him again that no one likes a smartass. Marta got in on the act. “Do the juveniles count the same as adult fish?” Ha ha ha. They continued this juvenile abuse all the way back to the farm at Selfoss, but I maturely ignored them, partly because my fish was indeed smaller and I had run out of comebacks, but mostly because I was deep in what passes for thought in my case. In just 24 hours, I would be 50 years old. Would I celebrate with a halibut, or would it be the worst birthday ever?

Steve

 

 

Posted by: 1000fish | July 7, 2013

Battle of the Atlantic

Dateline: July 7, 2013 – Keflavik, Iceland

“Steve, it’s called Iceland. Do you see any hints it might get cold there?” Marta can be so mean-spirited.

Iceland seemed like a great idea when we were planning an adventure for my 50th birthday. It’s exotic, loaded with fish, and has enough culture to keep Marta believing it wasn’t solely a fishing trip. The Atlantic halibut has thus far avoided me, and they are present in Iceland. All I needed was a day of good weather, and I figured that this was JULY, so we had to have decent weather. Right? Right??

Since it was JULY, I had packed for a somewhat moderate climate – no sweaters or industrial underwear. A few days before we left, Marta checked some newfangled, high-tech thing called “Weather.com.”  Turns out the high temperature predicted during our entire trip was a crisp 54 degrees, and several of the days featured freezing rain, if not snow. My packing strategy changed substantially. But Marta didn’t need to be so snotty about it.

Getting there was more difficult than it needed to be. United Airlines, always at the forefront of new and exciting customer service screwups, outdid themselves. We had bought United tickets to JFK to connect with a Delta flight to Iceland. We left ourselves a generous eight hour layover. Yet they botched it. Twice we boarded. Twice we unboarded. We finally did take off, but about 30 minutes into the flight, the crew figured out that the howling noise that sounded like a loose door was in fact a loose door, and we returned to San Francisco for a good old-fashioned emergency landing. So we found ourselves still in San Francisco, dealing with a UAL representative who couldn’t have been less interested if we were selling Amway. When it gets this bad, most airlines will just throw in the towel and arrange for a different connection. But United, with all the compassion and flexibility of the 12th-century papacy, seemed to feel that they could not have made a mistake.

The bad news – Delta had no seats for three days, so we bit the bullet and paid an ungodly amount for tickets on Icelandair’s next flight. (Icelandair is AWESOME, by the way – the even make sure the doors are shut before they take off.) The good news – we got to Reykjavik a mere 12 hours later than the original itinerary, albeit sans baggage. (The better news – after months of me pressing my case, United finally made mostly good, despite the best efforts of customer relations clerk James Sugimaya, who exhibited that rare blend of rudeness and indifference normally seen only in Parisian waiters.)

We arrived late at night and headed over to the charming house we had rented. It was there we caught up with Marta’s friend Laine, who was joining us for part of the trip. A well-known media consultant, Laine is a great deal of fun and always brings out the very worst behavior in Marta.

Ice ML

Troublemakers. And yes, they picked on me.

The next morning, Marta and Laine were somewhat subdued – which may or may not have been related to the quart of Limoncello that went missing the previous evening. (Frankly, Marta had just spent 48 hours listening to me negotiate with (“yell at”) airline people. She deserved a drink.) Slowly and quietly, we poked around Reykjavik. Our house was just up the hill from downtown, and because it was light almost 24 hours a day, we got to play tourist well into the evening. The first thing I bought was a sweater, because, even though it was July, it was cold and windy.

Ice Statue

We examine a statue. Note my really cool Icelandic sweater.

Ice Church

The cathedral up the street. This was the only time we saw it in sunshine, and this was 11pm.

Ice Shadows

Our shadows up the same street. 

Despite United Airlines deliberate attempts to route my baggage to Bulgaria, my gear did show up, likely because the Icelandair people actually cared. I was ready to hit the water.

Ice Tags

So how many tags does it take to get a bag to Reykjavik?

On the morning of the 6th, I started two straight days fishing on the Atlantic. (I would also do a third day on the 10th.) My guide was Toggi Gudmundsson, a local commercial fisherman who had plied these waters since he was a teenager, so he either doesn’t get seasick or he’s really, really stoic.

Ice Toggi

My guide for the week. Look him up if you are ever in Iceland – +354 893-0007. You can also contact Jon Sigurdsson on email – Jon@FishIceland.com, to book fishing anywhere in Iceland. 

Toggi picked me up early in the morning, and we headed back toward Keflavik and out to one of the small harbors that dot the coast. On the drive over, I was struck by how desolate, yet how beautiful the landscape was.

Ice Moon

This part of Iceland looks like Iwo Jima, but with snow. This was the last sunshine I would see for quite some time.

Ice Boat

Toggi’s boat. It has plenty of places to hold onto for dear life, which is important. 

It was a solid, comfortable boat, and we headed out into the morning full of hope. Our first stop was a protected patch just outside the harbor where Toggi thought I might get a plaice, one of the more emotionally charged species for me. (See A Plaice in the Sun for details.)

There were no plaice in this place, but I got several dabs and added Iceland as country # 79 on my list. From time to time, I would lapse into a smiling reverie, imagining the look on Marta’s face if I ever caught a plaice, but the cold would snap me out of it.

Ice Dab2

My first fish in Iceland. Note my July garb.

We moved out to some rocky reefs a bit more offshore. The wind had picked up to a bracing 30 knots, and the seas weren’t what an expert would call “nice.” So we did a bit of fishing and a lot of hanging on, and while I some nice cod and dabs, I was looking for a halibut, which are typically out in deeper water. We gave it an ill-advised try to go out into the open Atlantic. I had thought it was nasty where we had been fishing, but the water outside the Keflavik peninsula was positively foul. See video below.

We ran back into the iffy protection of the peninsula, where it was bumpy but at least fishable, and we continued the species hunt. Toggi was an expert. He knew the water inside and out – every rock, every sandy patch, every place that could hold a fish. He understood my unusual needs, and we had quickly sorted out which fish I needed to catch. It was still windy and in the low 40s, but this was a marvelous improvement over the morning.

We began drifting big clam baits over a rocky bottom in about 100 feet of water. It took more than a pound of weight to hold the bottom – the wind was pushing us fast enough to troll for wahoo. I had a few hits, likely not wahoo, and then the rod lurched down hard and I found myself trying to wrestle something off the bottom. It took a few minutes, but I made progress. Toggi waited on the rail with a gaff, and with perfect timing, he reached down and swung something big and gray onto the boat. I whooped loudly enough to be heard over the wind, because writhing and gnashing and chasing me halfway across the deck was an Atlantic wolffish, and my day was a success.

Ice Wolf

An Atlantic Wolffish, species 1224. 

Ice Mouth

Adorable.

The new species door had been opened, and I hoped to stride right through it. If we could just get a day of decent weather, I knew that the halibut would follow. I went home filled with optimism. After all, this wasn’t January. It was a month that is historically nicer than January. It was July.

For once, my day did not begin and end on the water – there was tourism to do. Toggi dropped me off back in Reykjavik, and Marta and Laine were ready to go. We raced off to a place called “The Blue Lagoon,” which I surely thought must have been creative marketing, like when United calls themselves “The Friendly Skies.”

Ice BL

Brooke Shields was nowhere to be seen.

But it wasn’t marketing. It turns out that the place is a thermal spring, with crab-boil hot water so rich in minerals that it is an opaque, sky blue. We swam and lounged in the baths, had a drink, and drove back to Reykjavik for a late seafood dinner.

Ice Blue

The water in this photo is only a couple of feet deep. It really was this blue. Maybe even bluer. 

In the morning, I awoke with great optimism that this would be my day, but the hail beating against the bathroom window told me that the Fish Gods had other plans. The wind had stiffened and was augmented by freezing rain and, yes, snow flurries. Just to be stubborn, we headed out a few miles, and it was ugly. The open water was not going to an option, so we kept working spots near the coast. I didn’t catch anything new, but the cod were biting like crazy and I didn’t barf, so we’ll call it a moral victory.

Ice Cod

There were solid cod like this on almost every drop. But no halibut. 

Ice Cod 2

That’s me under all that Gore-tex. In July. 

Don’t they know it’s JULY? I would have one more day, so I remained hopeful. And let’s face it, it was fun to catch a bunch of nice cod. But it would be more fun to catch a halibut.

That evening, Laine had arranged for us to take a helicopter tour of the area. In light of the weather, I was uncomfortable going up in anything smaller than a 747, but we got a small time slot where takeoff was considered less risky that it would be if it was more dangerous, and off we went. It was breathtaking.

Ice Chopper 1

With the girls before takeoff. Is that a cool sweater or what?

Ice Aerial

This could just as easily be the moon. Or Iwo Jima. 

Ice Waterfall

Did I mention that the scenery was incredible?

Ice Chopper 2

The girls and our impossibly good-looking pilot. (According to them.) He took off and landed on time, which means he will never work for United.

Still, this was little consolation for no halibut, but I had one more day on the water – July 10 – which would be my 50th birthday. Surely the weather would improve, because, say it with me, it was July. Would the Fish Gods mock me three days in a row? Would they ruin my birthday? Naaaaaaah. Couldn’t be.

Steve

Posted by: 1000fish | June 27, 2013

Boned

Dateline: June 27, 2013 – Kona, Hawaii

By the time this gets posted, ten months will have passed since that bitter day, and yet the memory still burns like a mixup between Preparation H and Tiger Balm. Sometimes I realize I must be too naive and kind, and despite years of vile antics from Jaime Hamamoto, this was a new low. Oh, the pain of giving and giving only to be completely betrayed.

Kona has always been a wonderful stop for me. There is a seemingly inexhaustible supply of new species, there are loads of open records, and the food is great.

Boned SPam

Hawaii has spam-flavored EVERYTHING.

Kona has all the joys of Hawaii, but Jaime Hamamoto is still an hour away and isn’t likely to show up unannounced. If any of you are unfamiliar with my teenage arch-nemesis, check http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2012/11/13/getting-my-goat/ for some history or just look up “mean spirited” in the dictionary.

This year, I decided to risk a trip to Kona with my sister’s family. (See “I Have No Nephew” for details.) We haven’t done too much travel together, because I am a dream travel companion and my sister is difficult, but the kids had always been wound up about the idea of going to Hawaii, and as we have covered, I am giving and kind person who will put up with them even thought they might not want to fish 18 hours a day. Kona is well-known for calm sea conditions, so I was hopeful that my sister would relent and allow my niece and nephew to brave the danger of going on a big game fishing boat, a terrible gamble that few have survived.

Boned Germains

My sister and her family. No, Charlie does not have a condition – he just seems to squint for photos. This is the only photograph of Dan in this whole post, as he took most of the pictures. 

I arrived a day and a half before they did, and I started catching fish immediately. I had a hint that the trip was going to be epic when, on my very first cast –  my very first cast – I got a ten pound bluefin trevally.

Boned Blue

Ten pounds is when the Hawaiians stop calling them papio and start calling them ulua. This pleases me.

I also got a record on the viper moray.

Boned Viper

This is why we do not touch moray eels without adult supervision. And even with adult supervision, disasters happen. Read on.

The next morning, I hit the Keauhou rocks, and the species started to come. The first one was a stunning surprise, as flatfish do not generally inhabit rocky reefs, but I followed that with a couple of nice records and new critters.

Boned Flounder

Flowery flounder. I have wanted one of these since 2006, when everyone on the boat in Thailand caught one of these EXCEPT ME.

Boned Squirrel

World record on the Tahitian squirrelfish. Oddly enough, there are more Tahitian squirrelfish in Hawaii than Tahiti. 

Boned Whitemouth

The whitemouth moray. It’s called that because it has spots, or at least that’s what my cousin Chuck now believes. New species and world record.

I had a few hours the next morning before I had to interrupt fishing and go do family stuff which did not involve fishing, but I took advantage of the time with one more species and another record.

Boned Doublebar

The doublebar goatfish – species #1219.

Boned Yellowmargin

A positively beastly yellowmargin moray. Did I mention that these things bite?

As soon as my sister’s family got to the hotel, I raced the kids down to the rocks to do some fishing. We asked for a couple of hours. My sister, who has a severe case of DGI (doesn’t get it) syndrome, offered a more conservative 10 minutes. Who goes fishing for ten minutes?

Boned Hawk

The kids, about an hour later, with a stocky hawkfish. 

At dinner, I raised the topic of bringing the kids on the boat. My sister worried that Charlie might barf. I have tried to explain to my sister that this is a sign of moral weakness, and that vomiting is a small price to pay for the chance to catch a big game trophy, but she would have none of this.

Boned Group

We are smiling because we hadn’t discussed fishing on the boat yet.

I know you 1000fish readers had put some pressure on her a couple of years ago to let the kids go out on a real fishing trip, and it may be time to do this again. My sister feels that charter boat accidents are the leading cause of disfigurement for children ages 12-14, just behind some rare disease carried in new t-shirts that haven’t been washed, and there is no convincing her otherwise. This would make it very difficult for me to have that magical “Uncle moment” when Charlie catches his first big game fish.

Ruefully, I went out on my first trip with Dale and Jack solo, but the fishing was great fun.

Boned Crew1

Dale and Jack Leverone, the captain and crew of the Sea Strike. If you get to Kona, get on the water with these guys – dale@konadeepsea.com or 1-800-264-4595.

I got an enormous sabre squirrelfish on the offshore reefs, a record on a pinktail trigger, and a surprise scorpionfish species back in the harbor. I have not included the pinktail photo because you all must be sick of looking at them.

Boned Saber

Sabre squirrelfish. The largest of the squirrelfish species, these get to over six pounds.

Boned Scorpion

The spotfin scorpionfish. Very poisonous. If you see one, don’t touch it or hold it in front of your face.

The next day was a family adventure, and we roamed the island, snorkeling here and there and enjoying the sights. Just to cover the bases, there was an appropriate amount of sibling bonding and family togetherness, yada yada yada. But to stay focused, we stopped at a couple of my favorite shore-fishing spots, and Elizabeth made a couple of surprising catches.

Boned Humu

Elizabeth with her humahumanukanukaapua’a. It took me years to catch one. 

Boned E Pink

Elizabeth continues her triggerfish rampage, this time with something that matched her outfit.

Boned Yellow M

Charlie got in to the act later in the afternoon. This is a big yellowmargin moray. They bite. I would confirm this about six hours after this photo was taken.

Boned Kon Tiki

Is that Thor Heyerdahl on the left?

Later that evening, my luck with eels ran out. I have been very fortunate over the years to have not lost a finger, nose, or spleen to the many morays I have handled. Sure, there is a lot of experience involved in this, but it just takes one mistake to test how good your health insurance really is. Mercifully, my mistake involved a smaller fish – about 20 inches – but in a split second I was not paying attention, he reached around and sent me to the emergency room.

Boned Wound

Before the ER folks sewed me up. I’ve had better nights, especially after the Xylocaine wore off. 

Boned culprit

The culprit. For the record, I released him in good health – he earned it. 

For those of you who think a bit of eel-driven needlepoint on my hand was going to keep me from fishing the next day, you are obviously new readers. Welcome! My sister still would not permit the children to go on the boat, and I began to worry that the “Uncle moment” was not going to happen. I still headed out with Dale as planned, and am I ever glad I did. In bumpy conditions, we headed south to try the 100-fathom reefs off Keauhou. As with any place I have fished a good deal, most catches were repeat species – snappers and triggerfish.

I had just switched up rigs to some smaller hooks. Dropping all the way to a sandy bottom, I soon felt the familiar tips and taps, and as I waited for that right moment to set the hook, a fish made the decision for me. My rod surged down and the fish sprinted line off the drag. These were not large hooks, but I knew I was in sand, so I backed off the drag and worked the fish delicately. About 15 minutes later, we could see big silver flashes under the boat – I still had no idea what it was. It was not until we netted it that I recognized I had a bonefish. A big bonefish, and whatever of the two Hawaiian species it was, it was going to be new for me. And a record. What stitches?

Boned sharp Jack

The sharpjaw bonefish, a new and exotic species AND a world record. Best day ever. 

I immediately texted Wade. He came back with “Oh, man. Jaime has caught bigger ones than that.” I responded “Well, she hasn’t turned them in.” This was a mistake, not just because I ended a sentence with a preposition, but because this would certainly provoke Jaime, who would pretend to congratulate me but would actually seethe with competitive rage. She may have fooled all of you into thinking she is a helpful and kind person, but I know better.

Boned Blueline

Oh, and I finally caught one of these pesky snappers over a pound and could put it in for a world record.

Jack was so pumped up about the bonefish that he wanted to try for another one in the harbor after we landed. It didn’t take much to talk me in to this. This isn’t delicate, light-tackle flats fishing that you see in magazines. This is bait fishing with a 30 pound class conventional reel and a big lump of squid – no stealth involved. I had my doubts, but this kid knows what he is doing, and it didn’t take long to get a hit. Whatever it was broke me off on the rough bottom. We set up again. I got hit again, and instead of fighting it like a bonefish, I fought it like a grouper – no line given. I thought the rod was going to break, but the fish turned and I got it onto the dock after a few minutes. Yes, it was a roundjaw, and more than big enough for the record.

Boned roundjaw

Two bonefish species and records in one day. Best day ever. 

I was simply on top of the world. Two new species of bonefish in the same day, two world records – world records on real gamefish. These were fish people had actually heard about, not that I would ever bring such a thing up in conversation. (Note from Marta – on a slow day, Steve will approach homeless people to discuss his world records. Often, they will give him money to stop.)

We spent the next day celebrating Charlie’s 14th birthday, and I’m pretty sure we did more bonding and emerged with an even closer relationship. We had a lovely dinner at Roy’s Waikaloa, and some lessons on taking photographs with your brother.

Boned Sis

This is the photo my sister wanted to have.

Boned Sis 2

But this is the one she got.

The trip had one more marvelous day ahead. I gave it one more try to get Charlie and Elizabeth out with Dale, but my sister pointed out that someone in Molvania stubbed their toe on a charter boat in 1952. Charlie, who was by this time convinced that seasickness could be fatal, was not coming. My “Uncle moment” had disappeared.

Boned Bored 2

Charlie got seasick watching the fountain in the lobby.

But Elizabeth was relentless, and well into the evening, something happened, likely extortion of some sort. I was informed that Elizabeth would be allowed to go out for half a day.

In the morning, I think I was was more excited than Elizabeth, even though her Mother gave me roughly nine pages of instructions, along the lines of “Feed often with healthy, high-fiber snacks. Hydrate every 11 minutes. Fully immerse in barrel of sunblock twice an hour. Suggest family-oriented reading. Avoid meteors.” I guess I would be a bad parent, because I pretty much gave Elizabeth a power bar and a tube of chapstick. In my defense, she survived.

On the way out to the reefs in front of Kona Town, Dale put a couple of trolling skirts in the water. As the Fish Gods would have it, the port outrigger snapped off maybe a mile out of the harbor, not 200 yards from the shore. As soon as I was absolutely sure it wasn’t a spearfish, we put Elizabeth on the reel.

Boned Reel

Elizabeth works the Tiagra 80.

It was hard work for her cranking the handle of the coffee-can sized Tiagra 80, but she handled it on her own and dragged the fish to boatside in about ten hard minutes. Jack, just to be a jerk, yelled “Oh my God it’s a spearfish.” I knew better in my heart and my brain, but not in my underwear. Dale reached down with a gaff, and a moment later, 40 pounds of angry wahoo hit the deck.

Boned Wahoo

Now that’s a fish. The Hawaiians call it “Ono,” as in “Ono, another fish Jaime hasn’t caught.”

For whatever reason, likely exposure to my behaviorally-challenged cousins when they were toddlers, I never did have children. But I always knew I would miss big moments like this – that first big fish. This is why it was so cool of my sister to provide me with a niece and a nephew. To be honest, and probably sexist, I always pictured this moment with Charlie, but this was just as cool, and no one barfed. (Barf is another reason I never had kids.)

We celebrated with a fresh-caught fish dinner that evening, and I added another record late that night down on the rocks.

Boned Big Blue

A perfect ending to a perfect day – a bigger snapper – one last record for the trip. 

The final score for the trip was seven new species and ten records. Species were up to 1223, but more interesting to me is that the record count went up to 84. Oh, and there was that family bonding thing and all that. But mostly, there was that big wahoo on the deck and the look of pure awe on Elizabeth’s face.

Steve

 

POSTSCRIPT – You knew this was coming

I have a vivid imagination – like anyone who stays faithful to the Detroit Lions – but even I could not make up the tragic events of the nine days that followed my Hawaii trip. I was still unpacking, late one evening, and I got a text from Wade. It simply said “Sit down.”

Then he texted me photos of the roundjaw bonefish Jaime had caught to break my record. By about five pounds.

Boned Glossodonta

Dear God, I thought – is nothing sacred? Just like that, I had gone from a world record holder on a celebrated gamefish to a former world record holder. My self-esteem plummeted like Miley Cyrus’ would if she was objective. At least I still had the sharpjaw.

Another text arrived. “Still sitting?”

Boned Vergata

She had broken the sharpjaw record as well. As all my friends will vouch if paid well, I am a kind and forgiving person. But I have my limits. Sure, Jaime would tell you she waited to set the records until I had set them first, but that would be kind and gracious, like me, not vicious and competitive, like her. So don’t believe it.

With God and Robert the Platypus as my witnesses, I will reclaim those records. As soon as I finish crying in my pillow.

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