Posted by: 1000fish | May 26, 2013

Milestones on the Mexican Riviera

Dateline: May 26, 2013 – Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Kelly is not one of my typical friends. My friends can generally be divided up into hockey players, fishermen, and Spellman, and Kelly isn’t any of these.

PV Kelly

I dress this way for meetings and the occasional party. Kelly dresses this way on most days, even for trips to Wal-Mart.

Kelly wears matching socks, can’t ice skate, and wouldn’t know a Bimini twist from a colonoscopy. He has been one of Marta’s closest friends for years, and he and I have become good buddies despite the fact he went to USC, a school which never beats my beloved Michigan without some sort of chicanery, like the “phantom touchdown” in 1979 which ruined my childhood. It’s 35 years later, I’m still bitter, and Charles White still hasn’t crossed the goal line.

PV phantom 1

You might notice that Mr. White forgot something on his way to the end zone.

In this year of the 50th birthday parties – including mine coming up in July – Kelly certainly went all out for his. He rented a villa on the coast south of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and invited a group of his closest friends, which includes Marta, which means I got to go. It was quite a tradeoff – I would get to go fishing, but I would be surrounded by USC football fans for 3 days.

My first trip to Puerto Vallarta was five years ago, to film a television show, of all things. (Even fishing shows have slow news days.) I dragged up 24 new species on that one, so I figured that there wasn’t much left for me. But still, it was a chance to fish someplace exotic, and I packed gear for every eventuality, hoping I could get at least four species and get across that elusive 1200 mark.

Speaking of gratuitous Trojan jokes, it’s about 1500 miles from San Francisco to PV, but because we had USC people with us, we didn’t have to go the last three yards.

The accommodations were, to put it simply, over the top. A huge villa overlooking the Pacific, every bedroom with a phenomenal ocean view, a crew of cooks and bartenders, and best of all, a gorgeous, rocky shoreline.

PV Shore 1

Now that’s a shoreline.

The walk down was a bit risky, but I got down without breaking my neck and set to fishing. I got to meet the group by yelling back and forth up to the main balcony, and while they relaxed and had Margaritas, I started catching stuff.

PV Blueeye

The bumphead damselfish, species # 1197. Only three short of 1200, so by USC rules … oh never mind. 

The rocks were jammed with damselfish. This is usually bad, as I have a gift for catching ones that are plain brown and impossible to identify, but these had characteristics! I knocked off two new species in an hour, before Marta summoned me up to actually be sociable.

PV Cortez

The Cortez damselfish. I was pretty much beside myself with joy.

This was a fun if eclectic group, mostly USC grads, consisting of some venture capitalist types (eech,) a stage actor, an aerialist, a restaurateur, an Episcopalian priest, Conan O’Brien’s sound guy, a TV producer, and a movie producer. And I thought all that came out of USC was tainted Rose Bowls and one stunning natural history discovery. (USC’s botany department uncovered a rare shrub known as the “Reggie Bush.” It grows a Heisman trophy that wilts after seven years.)

PV Dinner

The group. Apart from the USC connection, they were a lot of fun. Marta suggested that I took the whole Michigan football thing far more seriously than they did, but that is of course ridiculous. 

The next day was the real fishing adventure. I had set up two days on Mr. Marlin charters, (info@mrmarlin.com) with guides Cesar Perez and Giovanni Padilla, for full on species-hunting on the local reefs. I rose at sunup, when most of the group was sound asleep and dreaming of ill-gotten national championships, and I headed off to the dock about 10 minutes north.

PV Sun

The sun rises on what would turn out to be an epic day of fishing. 

The town, which had been vibrant and jammed the afternoon before, was almost completely quiet – just some shopkeepers setting up for their day and a few stray dogs wandering the streets.

I met Cesar and Giovanni and we took a short run, a few miles north and maybe a mile offshore. Oh my goodness were these guys good. Total professionals, better English than your average New York cab driver, and a perfect understanding of my perverse and petulant needs. (Marta made me say petulant.)

The fishing was immediate and surprisingly good. On my first cast, trying to get live bait, I hooked a type of leatherjack which was new for me, and it just got better from there.

PV Leatherjack

The shortjaw leatherjack. Species 1199. Almost there.

PV Conehead

The world record conehead eel. It was very unhappy about being handled, but was released safely before it got really mad. 

PV Eelteeth

Do not put this in your pants.

PV Burrito

Although this burrito grunt was not a new species for me, I had never caught one heavier than four ounces before. We got at least a dozen this size. 

PV Flounder

A chocolate flounder. Yet another open world record, and finally, FINALLY, my 1200th species. This was shaping up into an epic day.

PV Soap

A twice-spotted soapfish. French people are afraid of these. 

PV Weakfish

The business end of a striped weakfish – another new one.

PV Spotted

The equatorial moray. I think a better name would be “That moray where the spots start small but get bigger toward the tail.” 

 

PV Verrugato

A Verrugato croaker. I have no idea who Verrugato was, but the important thing is that Jaime Hamamoto hasn’t caught one. She will likely fly into a competitive rage when she sees this. 

PV Ray

A final surprise on a whole squid - a diamond stingray. Even a relatively small one like this is very difficult to lift off the bottom. 

The good mojo from the New York trip had carried over. While April had been a tough month for species, and it seemed like I was never going to cross the 1200 species goal line, this day alone produced seven new critters – and two world records.

That evening featured a marvelous party back at the villa. I made a point of wearing Michigan gear, to the derision of no one much except Marta, and we all chatted, drank margaritas, and waded in the pool well into the evening.

PV Hats

It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. 

PV Pool 2

The pool as viewed from water-balloon throwing height.

I made my joke about the Reggie Bush, and it was immediately pointed out that USC had another relatively recent Heisman – Matt Leinart. Remember him? Me neither. Isn’t he backing up Tampa Bay’s practice squad guy? When was the last time the Westminster “Best in Show” poodle ended up guarding a junkyard? (And then one of them had to trot out the old classic – “Why do Michigan coaches eat their cereal on a plate? Because if it was in a bowl, they would lose it. Ha ha ha. ) I am pretty sure the banter stayed in good humor – but I guess you all can be the judge of that.

The next morning, I had some thought of taking it easy around the house, but the shoreline called.

PV Shore 2

This is the shoreline. I can still hear it calling. 

I raided the kitchen for some prawns (which may have been lunch – oops) and headed down on the rocks with surf rod in hand. After a few damselfish, I pulled in a very attractive wrasse that turned out to be a new species.

PV Wrasse

The banded wrasse. I need a new camera – this one didn’t do the colors any justice here. The bands were a bright aqua color, and Jaime must have been green with envy because she has never caught one. Oh boo hoo. 

Then I got broken off. It wasn’t a violent snatch and grab – something just pulled me into the rocks and would not leave. This means eel. I quickly tied on a heavier leader and cast to the same spot, and sure enough, something started thumping on it again. I set the hook hard, and although the fish dove back into the structure, I slowly wrestled it out. Flipping it up onto the rock, I could see it was a moray of some kind, which means a high stakes game of chicken while the angler tries to get a grip on the eel and the eel tries to get a grip on the angler.

PV Jewel Head

The jewel moray. Another world record no one cared to turn in – until now. 

Even a small moray can do considerable damage, but I finally got the upper fin on the beast and photographed it. It was a beautiful fish – the aptly-named jewel moray, and it was an open world record. The shoreline had been very kind to me, and I released the beast unharmed but deeply annoyed.

PV Jewel Full

Steve carefully handles the jewel moray. The woman in the background is an actress and professional aerialist – how cool is that?

We all went into town for the big official birthday dinner. It was held at an outstanding rooftop restaurant, and we carried on well into the evening. There were many toasts to Kelly’s next 50 years, some of them coherent, and it was marvelous to see a group of lifetime friends be able to spend time together. Several stories regarding Kelly’s college antics were shared, but my attorney has advised me to not repeat them here and, indeed, to burn my notes.

PV Group

The group stops for a photo while we were all still capable of following simple instructions.

PV Girls

Kelly enjoys dinner with two great friends, Marta and Kelly. We call her “the smart Kelly” to tell them apart. In a moment of graciousness, I told them both “I forgive you for Charles White.” They looked at each other and said “Who the hell is Charles White?”

Of course, USC football came up again. What kind of place do you need to kill two people just to tie the school record? Conversation moved to deeper topics, like the meaning of life, which was clearly an attempt to hide their shame about USC football. Marta again suggested that they might not care all that much, but this is preposterous.

PV NasalThe guy on the right is a stage actor and does an awesome one man show on Groucho Marx. The guy on the left is showing exactly how far Charles White’s knee was from the two yard line.

I had one more day booked with the boat, and foolishly, I brought Marta along. There is, of course, always the risk that she will catch something that I have not – one of her great joys in life. I was willing to take this chance just to spend the day with her, because I am kind and good-hearted.

The very first thing she caught was a gulf coney. I have never caught a gulf coney. You have to be kidding me – one drop and she gets a species I don’t have? I had a full day out here and didn’t sniff one, and she gets one on her first drop? Where’s the justice? Moments later, she got another one. The crew understood perfectly that this was very funny, and try as they might to be polite, they kept giggling.

PV Coney

Marta and her gulf coney.

I insisted on staying in the area where Marta had gotten these fish long past when anything else was biting. I stuck with it, and after an hour, I was rewarded with a somewhat unlarge gulf coney. When she was taking the photograph below, Marta kept up a spectacularly unamusing pantomime that she couldn’t see the fish through the viewfinder. Ha ha.

PV Coney 2

I am more experienced at making small fish look big, but there is no hiding that Marta’s fish was a touch larger.

PV Crew

The crew. Look these guys up if you are planning a trip to PV.

We hit a few more reefs and continued to catch a nice variety of species. I still wanted to move and fish the rocky shorelines, but I always have trouble leaving when I’m catching stuff.

PV Snapper

A spotted rose snapper – one of 4 new species on the day. Marta is holding the largest blue bobo I have ever seen in my life. 

PV Bussings

Bussing’s croaker. Another of the new species. I don’t know who Bussing was either. Ask Jaime. 

I have to confess it was Marta who actually insisted that we pull the anchor and try a different area. It shames me to confess this led to the capture of a beautiful new species – the giant hawkfish.

PV Hawk

Mind you – this one wasn’t very giant, but a lovely capture nonetheless. That was species number four for the day and number 15 for the trip. 

PV Porc

How DO these things mate?

PV Trigger

This species of triggerfish travels as much as I do. I have caught them as far afield as Panama and Hawaii. 

At Marta’s urging, I spent the last day of the trip around the villa, enjoying ceviche made from the flounder we caught and perhaps a few margaritas. The fishing gear actually got packed, and unthinkably, I was sociable for the evening. (The tide was wrong anyway.)

I still trotted out a few choice USC barbs, but by and large, I let it go that night. I had to have a moment of maturity here. I couldn’t blame them personally. After all, these people didn’t personally carry the ball across the goal line against Michigan all those years ago.

And neither did Charles White.

Steve

PV phantom

Maybe he tripped on the big white arrow and dropped the football.

Posted by: 1000fish | May 10, 2013

The New York Minute

Dateline: May 10, 2013 – New York, New York

It’s the city that never sleeps. I’m the fisherman who never sleeps. It was a perfect match, and as it turns out, it was also the perfect place to rebuild my species-hunting confidence.

NY Central

Central Park on a hot summer day. A great place, mostly because there is a pond.

NY Empire

The Empire State Building. Still one of the coolest buildings anywhere, and it seems just as tall as it did when I was seven. 

I had been on a bit of a fishing tough streak, with only eight new species in April despite travel to four exotic destinations. Even the last time I was in New York, in November of 2012, I braved rotten seas and got nothing new.

NY Rough

On my November 2012 trip to NYC, I fished in crap like this all day, with nary a new species to show for it. The deckhand barfed.

NY Skate

I did catch a nice clearnose skate, which might have been a record, except idiot me forgot my certified scale.

Still, New York is a favorite destination of mine. The museums, the restaurants, and especially the theater. Yes, I, Steve Wozniak, the hockey player and apprehender of large sharks, enjoy Broadway. As a matter of fact, I have even appeared on a Broadway stage – picked out of the crowd during a Spamalot performance in 2006. I was up there for an entire song, and I got to take a bow, to a smattering of applause and rolled eyes from Marta. As I am a huge Monty Python fan, this remains one of the great moments of my life.

NY Spam

Taking a bow on a Broadway stage – there’s a bucket list item for you. No, your eyesight isn’t going – this is a scan of a Polaroid. 

NY Spam 2

And to think Marta nearly took that seat and would have been the one to go on stage. I’m not sure I could have lived with that.

Marta and I also enjoy the food, although she tends to pick different (i.e. nicer) restaurants than I might.

NY Lupa

Marta in front of her very favorite NY restaurant. Highly recommended. The restaurant I mean. The menu features endless gourmet choices.

NY Poland

This is my favorite restaurant in NYC; some of the best Polish soul food anywhere. You have two choices – boiled or fried.

This time, I was in New York on business – a rather nasty meeting with a customer who won’t be sending me a Christmas card. We finished up (or were tossed out, depending on how you look at it) around noon. My team went to one of Manhattan’s best delis for reubens that must have weighed two pounds, and then I was on my own until an early flight home. If you don’t know how I spent the next few hours, you must be a new reader. Welcome!

Manhattan has a lot of shoreline, but I wasn’t sure where fishing was legal (a concern) or where it would be good (a major concern.) This is where the kindness of strangers comes in to play. Manhattan has one bait and tackle store of note – Capitol Fishing Tackle – http://www.capitolfishing.com/ or call 212-929-6132. These guys are AWESOME. Once I had explained my bizarre needs to them, they huddled up and decided that the 72nd Street pier, on the upper west side, would be the best spot. They weren’t sure what I would catch. They were taken aback that I didn’t want striped bass, but they were sure I would get something small and weird.

So I stopped in to Capitol after lunch, got a tub of clams, and set out for the pier. It’s a short cab ride away from Times Square, and then a short walk through a park down to the water. It was a warm early summer day, and a lot of the locals were out in the sunshine. The pier has a restaurant and bar right at the base – Red Bull and a bathroom close by! (It’s advisable that you never have one without the other.)

NY Pier

The 72nd street pier. Highly recommended, wonderful views of the west side and New Jersey.

I set up about halfway down the pier, casting with the fairly strong current. Before I even got bait in the water, I was fascinated by the items that came floating by – cans, bottles, diapers (no baby attached,) a bunch of bananas, and proof that all that advertising about safe sex is working. I understand that the Hudson is a lot less polluted than it used to be, but it still has room for improvement.

Getting clams onto a hook is a nasty process, and there is no hope to keep yourself from smelling like an old bait cooler, even with a towel from the Marriott and a pint of hand sanitizer. But I embraced this. I had been accosted by some vile-smelling panhandlers in New York throughout the years, and this would be an excellent defense. People might even give me money.

I set up a rig with a hook right on the bottom and one a few feet up, and it didn’t take long for me to get a few hesitant taps. Moments later, I hooked and landed some small white perch, a creature I had captured previously but still great fun.

I then had a hard hit followed by the sickening feeling of a breakoff. I knew it had to be an eel, which pleased me, because I had never caught an American eel. I tied up a much heavier leader and prepared to put a hurting on whatever had just humiliated me. To misquote Bill Murray – “Let’s show this prehistoric fish how we do things downtown.” (It’s from Ghostbusters. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OhmJmuxKLIA at :28)

Then came the magic minute. As soon as I dropped the new rig into the water, I got a small hit and a hookup immediately – I swung what I thought was another white perch onto the pier, and was thrilled to see it was something I didn’t recognize. A new species!! I quickly took photos and returned it to the water.

NY Hake

The spotted hake, species #1195.

I then cast again, a touch father, and in seconds, got a much bigger strike. I took me a moment to fight this one to the top, but when I saw it, I whooped for joy. It was an American eel. I swung it up over the rail, and in less than 60 seconds, I had added two new species to my list, for the cost of a cab ride and a tub of clams.

NY Eel

An American eel. I have tried to catch one of these for years.

I was back. Species could be added without spending the equivalent of Canada’s GDP! 2000 seemed possible again.

I gloated briefly, but then set back to fishing in case a third species was willing to visit. It was a pleasant afternoon in a city where I have had nothing but good memories, except for when the Stage Deli ran out of the good hot mustard and I had to put that plain yellow stuff on my reuben.

Despite what you see on television about New York, tourists are NOT routinely killed and eaten in broad daylight. As a matter of fact, the people walking on the pier were friendly and many stopped to chat, especially when I started catching fish. While there were no more new species, I spent the rest of the afternoon catching perch, small striped bass, and more eels, and discussing the early baseball season. Most folks I spoke to still had hope for the Yankees – I of course believe the Tigers will win the World Series each year.

NY Yankees

The hallowed ground of Yankee Stadium. I am a rabid Tigers fan, but I still have to respect the Yankees. Except for Alex Rodriguez.

In order to make my theater time, I packed up around 5:30. Walking back to Times Square, I experienced New York on a pleasant day – a myriad of different cultures and something memorable seemingly on every corner. The clam smell may have made people think I was homeless, or, if I had a home, that the shower was broken, but the three dollars I collected could almost pay for a soda. I was back in the game.

Steve

PS – I’m throwing in this New York picture just because I can.

NY Cowboy

Marta acts shamefully, Times Square, September 2005. And no, that’s not me – I can’t play guitar. For those of you who don’t know about the “Naked Cowboy,” Google it.

Posted by: 1000fish | April 26, 2013

The Dominican Marlin Crisis

Dateline: April 26, 2013 – Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

At 1pm on April 24, 2013, I came to the conclusion that I have lost my mind. I recognize that I am significantly behind most of you in this discovery, but on that spring day, I did something so profoundly disturbed that even I could no longer deny that I deserve permanent residence at St. Arostegui’s Home for the Obsessive/Compulsive.

What did I do? Well, apart from ordering Chinese food at a Caribbean resort, I also, of my own free will, directed a boat crew to leave a wide-open marlin bite. The kind of bite that only happens in fishing ads and Spellman’s demented fantasies. I know it sounds irrational – because it was – but if you suffer through the next 2000 words or so, you’ll at least understand what I was thinking.

In a career based on small, anonymous fish, there are still times when the micros must be put aside and, either for personal pride or to stop Scott Kisslinger’s snide remarks, I must chase a big game trophy. Big game trophies take work, but if I ever want to have that elusive IGFA Royal Slam on billfish, I am going to need to put an Atlantic blue marlin and a spearfish in the boat. Apparently, THE place for an Atlantic Blue is the Dominican Republic. But THE month is apparently not April.

Still, I knew I was going to be in Miami for the IGFA awards, (click here for details) and Miami is much closer to the Dominican Republic than places which are further away. A few weeks before the Miami trip, Marty Arostegui let me know he was heading to the DR in late April to try for some marlin on the fly. (As if it isn’t hard enough on conventional gear.)

Marty is not to blame for this debacle. They warned me that there were more white marlin than blues this time of year – I had already caught a white marlin. (Click here for the Outer Banks escapade.) But there are some blues year-round, and I talked myself into going pretty quickly. I signed up for three days of marlin fishing right after Marty was done, with a day of overlap so I could hang out with him in Punta Cana, if he had forgiven me for losing his tailer.

I hadn’t done much fishing in the Caribbean, so I was looking very forward to racking up a decent species total and finally getting to the elusive 1200 mark, as well as getting the blue. As it turns out, I did none of the above.

Punta Cana is a short two hour flight from Miami, giving me just enough time to reread Old Man and the Sea a couple of times. I felt emotionally prepared to do battle with a monster billfish and gain the respect of my village.

I set up all my accommodations through Anna Lisa Brache, who runs Servicios Multiples VIP - serviciosmultiples_sa@hotmail.com or (809) 222 -5075. The drivers were on time, the condo was gorgeous and huge, and the refrigerator was loaded with the essentials – Red Bull and frozen shrimp. I was immediately struck by how beautiful the place was. White sand beaches. Palm trees. Ridiculously blue ocean.

Dom Beach

The view from my room. You may be looking at the pool or the beach,  but I only had eyes for those rock jetties.

As you can imagine, it didn’t take me long to get out onto the water. I poked around the harbor with my standard sabiki rigs, and the Fish Gods mocked me by providing nothing but small grunts. I worked my way out onto one of the rock jetties, and the grunts followed me and swarmed every bait I put down. I only caught one other fish, which seemed even more annoying at the time – a plain brown damsel. I hate plain brown damsels. No one can ever identify them.

Dom Damsel

Little did I know this would turn out to be a new species – the dusky damsel. Thank you Val Kells.

I didn’t sleep well, with visions of gigantic billfish dancing in my head. Our first day of trolling, with skipper Tim Richardson, started eventfully. After the lengthy ritual of getting out dredges, teasers, and four trolling rods, we ran less than a minute when one of the outrigger lines snapped out of the clip. “It can’t be this easy.” I thought, as I grabbed the setup and started the fight. The marlin hurtled downrange, peeling out line so fast that spray covered my glasses. It wasn’t a big fish – I had been warned most blues here ranged 100-150 pounds, but a marlin is a marlin and I was ecstatic to be hooked up so quickly. I leaned hard on the 30# setup, and after about 15 minutes, I started making progress. Would I be done with my marlin quest a few minutes into the trip and be able to focus on hunting other species? This isn’t inexpensive fishing, so that would be really cool.

It was then the crew saw it was a white marlin, which is the predominant species this time of year. It was still fun, but not the right color. So we landed it  – nice fish, but not a new species.

Dom marlin

Sure, it’s a nice fish. But I’ve caught one before. (Wow, doesn’t that made me sound petulant, and the Fish Gods don’t like petulance.)

I caught my breath and we set up to troll again. We got another white right away. And then another. Marlin were everywhere, but none of them were blues. To a normal, psychologically-stable person, this would still be awesome. But this was me, and I wanted a blue. I asked the crew to troll only one rod so we could pull the bait away if another white came up. They had never seen this before. Sure enough, shortly thereafter, a white came up after the lure and I quickly ripped it away before the fish could get hooked. The crew was at a loss for words. The deckhand stood there, his mouth agape, pointing behind the boat and saying “Marlin.” I pulled the bait away from another one that came in hot and angry, and I waited patiently while he went away. The deckhand shook his head.

This was the moment I realized I had officially gone insane. My species hunting obsession had actually caused me to avoid fishing in an epic bite of billfish. We raised something like 18 fish, but never did see a blue. If you want to put a marlin on your scoreboard, this is the closest thing to a guarantee you’ll ever get. The skipper reluctantly moved a couple of times, but it was all whites.

To take my mind off the situation, we tried some deep bottom fishing late in the afternoon.  It was emotionally difficult to pull up the trolling rod. I knew a blue marlin isn’t an everyday thing, but still I had hoped to beat the odds and put it on the scoresheet. I was a bit out of focus, but when we pulled up over a thousand foot deep rockpile, I reflexively went into action.

It’s a long way down, and on the first two spots, nothing bit, so it was also a long way up. On the third rockpile, I put 330 yards of braid down, and I felt bites.  I waited to make sure I had a couple of fish on the circle hooks, then started the long haul up. After about seven minutes of reeling with a decent load on the line, I was made suddenly and unpleasantly aware that I was not the only one interested in my fish. A shark took everything and I had to rig over again. Two drops later, more hits, and again, I got solid hookups. I held my breath as I reeled through the midwater, but this time I made it. I landed two beautiful queen snappers, a new species for me.

Dom queens

The queen snapper – another new species. Things were looking up.

Dom Tim

That’s Captain Tim Richardson on the right and the traumatized deckhand on the left. 

Day two was with skipper Corey Hexter, the same guy Marty had fished with a few days before. I begged him to go south, as the areas to the north seemed to be lousy with white marlin.

Dom punta cana

Heading south toward Punta Cana. 

I was avoiding marlin. How sick is that? But we made the long run and set up to troll. Five times the ourrigger cracked like a rifle, and five times it was a dorado. (Known as mahi-mahi in Hawaii and dolphinfish to people who don’t remember Flipper.)

Dom mahi

Again, this should make a normal person happy. If I hadn’t insisted on trolling big blue marlin lures, we could have caught dozens of these. 

These were beautiful fish, but they were not blue marlin, and all the while we were searching, the wind was picking up and shifting to the north. By the time Corey turned us toward home, we were pounding into big seas head-on, a type of ride they call “Victory at Sea.” I just wrapped a pillow around my head and tried to avoid brain damage. Corey and crew gutted it out without a word of complaint, but it was rough enough to dislodge minor organs.

Once we docked, I kissed the dry land and headed back out to the rock jetties.

Dom sunset

The rocky shoreline at sunset. These structures were full of surprises. 

I set up a medium popping rod and started casting a jig, and I immediately got crushed. Something peeled my 15 pound braid out 25 yards in a hurry, then fought hard all the way back to the rocks. When I finally got it to shore, I was pleased to see a four pound mutton snapper. Sure, I had caught them before, but it was an outstanding fight on light tackle. I cast until dark with leadhead jigs – I got several more snappers, and an astonishing surprise.

My history with bluestriped grunts is not a proud one. These pint-sized pests have entertained Florida children for years, and while they aren’t at the level of pinfish, they’re close. Clouds of them get on the reefs, and they can easily eat a whole shrimp meant for a snapper or grouper. And I had never seen one bigger than about six ounces – until now. I thought I had hooked a decent snapper, not quite as much weight as the others, but when I swung the fish up to be unhooked, I nearly spit out my dental implants. It was a bluestriped grunt over a pound – a positive monster. The bluestriped grunt that ate New York, and this, I knew, was an open world record. Things were looking up.

Dom grunt

The bluestriped grunt that could eat any other bluestriped grunt I had ever caught.

The positive attitude from the grunt – and a pizza – sustained me through the evening, and I slept well.  The morning trolling session stomped all over my optimism, and by noon, the outcome was pretty well evident. We headed to areas where there were fewer white marlin, but this did not mean there were more blues. We trolled and we trolled and we trolled, but apart from two more heart-stopping dorados, we came up blank. Corey suggested we do a bit of bottom fishing. When he stopped on some 200-250 foot reefs, I figured there was no way there was anything new for me to catch, but I wanted to feel a couple of bites, so I set up a cut bait rig.

Dom wrasse

Tropical reefs have some amazingly colorful stuff – this is a greenhead wrasse.

After I got a few small critters, Corey insisted that I cast a big bucktail jig. This seemed like a purist thing, but I tend to listen to the guide on most things that don’t involve nudity. (See http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2010/05/03/the-countdown-to-1000-the-naked-truth-of-day-three/)

I’m glad I did. I few bumps on the bottom later, I got a vicious strike and hooked into something that fought like a cinder block falling off a tall building. Ten minutes later, I landed a positively monstrous dog snapper - around 10 pounds.

Dom dog

No, it’s not a blue marlin, but it pulled pretty darn hard.

After a heartbreaking fight with a yellowfin grouper that escaped right at the surface, I got another big strike and spent 25 minutes battling the biggest dog snapper I have ever seen, on the order of 18 pounds – not nearly a record but about 17 and a half pounds bigger than the ones I had caught on earlier trips.

Dom big dog

This fish was so big that I briefly – BRIEFLY – forgot I hadn’t caught a blue marlin … yet.

As the day drew to a close, Corey took us through the trolling ritual one more time, and we covered the ground back to the harbor hoping for that one lucky break. It didn’t happen, and that’s part of the game.

I think Corey was more bummed out than I was, if that’s possible, but this is part of fishing. We had a couple of beers before I headed back to my condo to pack. I was already planning a return trip in September, when the blues are apparently here in force. I was not going to let this creature defeat me.

Dom tzzer

Corey Hexter and crew. Corey is a top-notch skipper – if you are looking to fish in the DR, look him up at captcoreyfish@comcast.net.

It had been a shot – a pricey shot – but it had not worked out. The trip ended with just two species, the snapper and the damsel.

This certainly caused a moment of soul-searching. I had fished in six countries in one month, flown 19,000 miles, and all it netted me was eight species – two in Gibraltar, four in Italy, two in the DR. And I was all bummed out for a while – I had expected a bunch more. This is what we in the business call a “low point” - the first time I felt that 2000 was going to be impossible. Then I looked back at all the fun I had had in April. The new friends I made, the old friends I got to spent time with, and all the amazing fish I got to catch. Species-challenged though some of the trips were, these were beautiful places and I got to catch extraordinary fish. I remembered the words of an old baseball coach. (Marta said “You mean the one who said ‘You suck, give me the baseball?’”) No, not that coach. It was another coach, and this one said “Keep swinging at good pitches and the hits will come.” With trips to Mexico and Hawaii coming up, I knew I would see a lot more pitches, and even if I missed most of them, as I am wont to do, I knew I was going to have a lot of fun – and that’s what this is all about.

Steve

Posted by: 1000fish | April 20, 2013

A League of Their Own

Dateline: April 20, 2013 – Dania Beach, Florida

I’m not as evolved as I think I am, and I don’t think I’m all that evolved. (Marta gives that a big “amen.”) But I always thought I was forward-thinking by believing that men’s and women’s fishing records should not be separate. I figured that fishing was pretty much an equal contest, because while men might be stronger, women are smarter, and if I had to choose, I’d go for the brains. Brute strength is overrated in fishing - the guy with the most world records weighs 135 pounds and thinks he needs to trim down.

I was fine with holding this rather evolved position until April 20th of this year, when I discovered that if we combined the men’s and women’s IGFA awards, I would have been somewhere back in the honorable mentions. Now I am fully in favor of the different categories, for reasons I will explain as soon as I think of them.

L Screen

The big show. See http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2011/03/26/a-tale-of-two-trophies/ for the story on how this all began for me.

Yes, I managed to win the IGFA Men’s Saltwater title again this year. I did so by turning in 29 world records in the 2012 season, mostly for stuff only me and the scientist who named it care about. But if you took the total records I submitted in winning this award three times in a row – 56 – it wouldn’t even be close to the 2012 score for this year’s women’s saltwater winner, Sue Tindale - an astonishing 71. That’s pushing a lifetime achievement award in one year. 71 to 29. Now I know how the Lions feel every Sunday.

I don’t think winning something has ever been such a humbling experience.

Marta kindly accompanied me again this year. Attending fishing award shows is probably not her ideal way of spending precious vacation days, but she loves the Arosteguis and she loves Cuban food, so that made it OK. I also love this woman so much that I went to the Everglades – WITHOUT A FISHING ROD.

L Vultures

There’s a sign you don’t see every day.

The day before the awards ceremony, while United was still trying to find our luggage, Marta and I headed out the Tamiami Trail and experienced the wildlife. On the same road where I had fished with Marty Arostegui for the first time, (see http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2011/03/27/cavorting-with-exotic-swamp-creatures/) we drove past all the good fishing spots (gasp) and actually went and looked at (gasp) scenery and (gasp gasp) wildlife above the water.

L Glades

The everglades early in the morning. A beautiful place, but it would be even more beautiful if I was allowed to bring just one fishing rod.

L Cormorant 1

Marta cautiously reaches out to a cormorant.

L Cormorant 2

They quickly became friends. I am not sure who is imitating who here.

L Gators

The place was stuffed with wildlife, much of which can defend itself. As Marty is quick to point out, alligators scare the bejeesus out of me. 

L Gator

I think that spot on the back of my pants is bejeesus.

L Lizard

I wish I could make a display like this during mating season.

Marta was determined to experience a good Cuban meal on this trip, so Marty and Roberta took us into one of their secret haunts in little Havana. Marta loves trying different foods, and although I am accused of being a culinary coward, I do point out that I have eaten at Burger King in something like 63 countries. Marta tried everything, including some unidentifiable fried thingies that may have been alligator, and she thoroughly enjoyed herself. I courageously tried the chicken, and … the chicken. We chatted well into the evening, and Marty and Marta seemed to think it was funny to tease me about my alligator phobia. There is nothing weird about checking under the bed for them, and no therapist in the land can convince me otherwise.

The next day, we all headed over to the IGFA headquarters for the awards event, which was fantastic as always. Great food, great decor, and a chance to rub elbows with some of the top names in the fishing world. The cocktail hour fishing stories made me feel like a 10 year-old baseball fan in a world series locker room.

L Apte

With Stu Apte, fly fishing legend, fishing hall of famer, and Korean war fighter pilot. I’m not sure it gets any cooler than that.

The Arosteguis hosted a table, and despite my vile Hawaiian shirt, they invited us to sit with them. As the awards started being handed out, the Arosteguis accepted another batch of plaques to add to their rather impressive collection – one more year like this and they’ll have to build an addition to store them. This always reminds me of my first year at the IGFA awards, only two years ago, where I had known no one and felt as lost as a bag on United – and now I feel part of a family. The Arosteguis have made us feel welcome, even though I drink all their Diet Cokes and never leave enough ice cream for the others.

L Group

Our hosts – Marty and Roberta Arostegui.

Later in the evening came that moment that makes everyone wish they had made other plans – I got the microphone. Although this was a three-peat and I’m not exactly shy in front of a crowd, I still got butterflies.

L Spear

Steve accepts the Men’s Saltwater trophy. This one goes right above the fireplace in the front room. The good-looking guys are Jack Vitek, IGFA records guru, and Rob Kramer, president of the IGFA.

For any award of this nature, there are a lot of thanks to give – the guides, the friends, the fish, and my ever-tolerant girlfriend. Graciously, I congratulated Marta on her first two world records, (see http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2012/07/15/the-thirty-second-record-and-other-hawaiian-tales/) but equally graciously pointed out that I had broken both of them, one in 72 hours, one in 30 seconds. Since we were staying with the Arosteguis, it would be difficult for her to sentence me to the couch, because the cat already has that staked out.

Speaking of the cat, he ignores me for years but the minute Marta shows up he wants love. What’s up with that?

L Rossi

Rossi sells out for Marta.

I was certainly proud, and I was certainly surprised, but most of all, I was humbled to be in the company of so many amazing anglers. Sue Tindale was very understated when she accepted her award – with a very heartfelt thanks to her husband, Scott, who guides her on most of these trips. What an awesome team. Sure, Marta likes to fish with me now and then, but she’s a big Jaime Hamamoto fan. Grumble.

L Tindale

Sue accepts her award from Jack and Rob.

I did have one huge surprise waiting for me in the banquet room, and I’m not referring to the tub of cheescake topping I found. (And pretty much ate on my own.) I was still distracted over the men’s saltwater trophy and figuring out exactly which one of Marta’s paintings it would replace, and I hardly noticed that my name had gone back up on the screen. Something big was happening, and no one had warned me.

I had won the men’s overall – the big kahuna of fishing awards. 29 records had been enough to slip by the totals of all the freshwater and fly experts, and I had a second plaque, leaving nowhere for Marta to sleep. I am rarely caught by surprise and even more rarely at a loss for words, but this was a rare moment. I remembered to thank everyone I could think of, and it was at that moment I noticed that the two plaques I had were a spearfish and (an Atlantic) blue marlin – two species I have not caught. So even in a moment of triumph, there was a reminder of how much I haven’t done.

L Marlin

Rob was saying something like “Where did you get that awful belt?” I happen to love that belt. Marta has tried to throw it away, which just makes me love it more.

So I had my moments, moments I will treasure forever – but then the women took back over. Heather Harkavy, the teenage record machine who we had watched grow from a youngster into a young woman, got her lifetime achievement award – a hundred records. Wow. This was ladies night, and it was enough for me to sit back and watch. It was a great evening for all of us, and most importantly, a great night for the sport that was here long before us and will hopefully be here long after.

L Heather

Heather Harkavy and her lifetime achievement award. That’s her proud dad in the background.

Of course, I had to do some fishing. We’ll divide this into two categories – stupid stunts in front of Marty, and unexpected world records.

Marty was kind enough to take me out for a day of shark fishing, targeting the elusive finetooth shark. The Arostegui curse (see http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2012/08/17/hex-of-the-arosteguis/) was in fine form, as we managed to avoid our targeted small fish and instead hook a bunch of large lemon sharks.

One of the fish was hooked awkwardly, so we had to remove the hardware by hand – releasing these fish unharmed is very important to both of us. Dehooking an uncooperative 100 pound shark is a complex process, not exactly safe unless handled by an expert, like, say, Marty. I suggested that I could do this one on my own, and while Marty agreed, he did look at me like I was deranged. A broken rod, a lost tailer, and a badly scraped knee later, I had proven him right. Maybe I’ll get the finetooth next spring, and maybe I’ll wear a suit of armor while I do it. Or I’ll just let Marty take the hook out.

L Lemon

Just because I was on top didn’t mean I was winning.

L Cooler

The big loser was the cooler. The fish was safely released and continues to patrol the waters off the Everglades.

L Marty

Marty gives that patient look he gives when I do something really, really dumb.

On the way out of town, I spent a night at one of my favorite hotels anywhere - the Hilton Blue Lagoon by the airport. This hotel has half a mile of magnificent shoreline along a lagoon, and a breakfast buffet that offers numerous bait options. Over the years, I have gotten everything from tiny exotics to tarpon here, mostly from my favorite spot behind the pool, a small opening in the trees where the exotics seem to congregate. Every chance I have, I get out there with a few slices of bread and a light float rod. On this particular trip, an evening jaunt, I caught Mayan cichlids, bluegill, and some nice hornet tilapia. (Sure, this sounds nice, but all I could think about was the two pound plus hornet that I broke off right at the bank.)

The world record on hornet tilapia was a pound and three quarters, and it was caught in this very same body of water by … you guessed it … Dr. Martin Arostegui. On a fly. (So even if I broke it, well, who am I kidding. I’m not all that concerned with artistry.)

As the sun started to set, the fish started getting bigger. I caught two hornets that were painfully close to the record, and I knew the big one I lost had to be out there someplace, nursing a sore lip. I thought to myself … “Sue Tindale wouldn’t have screwed this up.” As I mused on this truism, my float disappeared. I leaned up on my light rod and something big pulled back. I spent the next few minutes extricating whatever it was from the bushes, and as it finally tired and came to the surface, I saw it was an impossibly big, beastly hornet tilapia. I didn’t dare pull it up by the line, so I carefully clambered down the stone wall that borders the water and boga-gripped the fish.  It was three pounds, shattering the existing record by a pound and a quarter, so big that I could emotionally deal with the fact I didn’t catch it on a fly*. I had added a rare freshwater record to my 2013 total.

L Tilapia

The Tilapia. Like the shark, he was safely released, albeit with a bit less excitement.

I was thrilled with the record – I’ve made something of a career out of pursuing batches of exotic fish. But for the next three days, the micro-fish hunt would be going on hold. Uncharacteristically, I would be going trophy hunting, a process which would test my faith, patience, sanity, and checking account.

Steve

* A few days later, I got yet another reason to admire Marty. Without telling him I had broken his record, I just showed him the same photo you see above. Whereas I might have pouted or thrown pasta at someone retiring one of my records, Marty just burst into a thrilled smile and congratulated me. “What a monster!” He cares a lot more about the sport and the success of others than about his own accomplishments, and that, more than any other quality, is what makes him so remarkable.

Posted by: 1000fish | April 15, 2013

Lisa’s Microbes

Dateline: April 15, 2013 – Republic of San Marino

Microbes. Never liked ‘em. And while Lisa Molnar and I might disagree about art, I think we can agree that stomach flu is bad.

As you know from the previous post, Stefan, Enrico, and I were fishing in Lodi, Italy. By late morning on Sunday, we had caught pretty much everything we wanted to, so we decided to  begin a bizarre errand I had requested from Enrico. We jumped into the cars, and at a fast but sub-Guido speed, headed south toward the seaside resort of Riccione. The scenery was a lovely mix of mountain and seaside landscapes. I said to Stefan “If your daughter drew this, it would look like Cleveland.” He replied “No it wouldn’t.”

Beef SM Hills

Typical countryside on our way from Lodi to Riccione. There’s a reason people visit Italy so much, and shockingly, it’s not always for the fishing.

Beef Landscape

A Lisa Molnar landscape she presented to me. See, it does look like Cleveland.

Those of you familiar with geography may have wondered why we drove three hours south when would have to head north again the next day. But again, those of you familiar with obscure geography will also know that Riccione is quite close to the Republic of  San Marino, and that San Marino is, in fact, a tiny little sovereign country (24 square miles) in the middle of Italy. With the kind efforts and research of Enrico, it had been discovered that San Marino did in fact have a small lake, and that this small lake indeed held fish. As my need to add species and countries knows few bounds and no shame, I figured that since we were more or less in the area, we would have to stop by. This was easier said than done, but Enrico had managed to contact the San Marino fishing association and arrange for me to visit their club lake. Our plan was to spend a pleasant day in this hilly principality as a guest of their fishing club – get a few fish, each lunch with them, and play tourist in the castles that dot the hillsides.

On the drive down, Stefan checked in with his wife Susi. She mentioned that both kids were a bit out of sorts and had upset stomachs. Nothing to panic about – yet. Little did we know that ill-willed microbes were well on their way to giving the Molnar’s mop quite a workout.

Beef Molnars

That’s Susi Molnar on the right. I would use this photo for a Christmas card, except that this isn’t my wife or kids. Heck, except for me, it looks like one of those photos that comes with the frame.

Beef Rodent

The smallest of the Molnars, Jule, has taken over one of his tackle bags.

We pulled in to Riccione in the late afternoon. A beautiful seaside resort town, in just a month or two it would be crawling with vacationers, but for now, we had it pretty much to ourselves. It felt odd to be there with it so empty, like being on the beach boardwalk on a school day. Needless to say, we headed for the water as soon as we dropped off our luggage. Enrico took us to a beautiful breakwater, and we cast small jigs on a clear, brisk spring afternoon.

Beef Jetty

Looking south from Riccione, toward Punta Whateva.

I immediately caught the largest black goby I have ever seen. (I’ve gotten smaller ones in Spain, Turkey, and Morocco.) This event is of no particular importance to anyone except me and a few scientists.

Beef Goby

The megabeast of black gobies. Other black gobies fear this particular one.

I also caught a new species, but not without some drama. The beast in question was a lesser weever, one of the nasty-poisonous weever family common in the Mediterranean. (See http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2012/12/23/piscatorial-potluck/) Because I read fish books in the bathroom, I realized that this was a weever and handled it with a towel. At the same time, Stefan also caught one. Stefan does not read fish books in the bathroom and was handling the beast quite carelessly, pretty much daring it to sting him, which would probably damage his art critic skills even further. Luckily, we were able to calmly advise him of the danger before anything went horribly wrong. (This consisted of me and Enrico both yelling “Drop the fish! DROP THE FISH!!” DROP THE FIIIIIISH!!! in a very calm way.)

Beef Weever

Steve and Stefan with a lesser weever. The black spines on the top side pack a powerful sting, a fact Stefan nearly found out the hard way.

Stefan checked in with Susi again. The kids had both gone into full-on, evacuate-the-digestive-system mode. Even worse, Susi was not feeling well. They have one bathroom downstairs and one upstairs – do the math. Stefan began to look worried.

We enjoyed a Mediterranean sunset and then dutifully trudged into one of the local seafood places for what would not be a quick meal. Our host, Enrico, was fantastic – we had the best food, great views, and great fishing. We of course stuffed ourselves on numerous fish and pasta courses, while Stefan kept checking in on Susi. By about 11:00, it became clear that everyone back home wasn’t retaining food. Stefan considered driving through the night to go home, but on no rest, this was not particularly safe. I felt bad for Stefan but worse for Susi. Stomach flu. It’s a bummer, especially when you are the mother of two young children who have gone completely Linda Blair, and your husband is 600 miles away.

Stefan decided to stick out the evening, but he wanted to leave first thing so that he too could enjoy the stomach bug. We decided that the San Marino project was likely not going to work, but Enrico suggested that we could do an abbreviated visit if we got up very early - just catch a fish and hit the road. Stefan agreed, with a miraculous faith that for once, something could be done quickly in Italy.

We all slept a lot better than the Molnar girls that evening. Dawn came quickly, and we were in the cars and heading for the border bright and early. The scenery was lovely.

Beef Cerasolo

One of the small towns we passed through. If if a town has only one building here, it will be a church, as opposed to Ireland, where it will be a pub.

We came over a ridgeline and got our first view of San Marino itself. I had been here one other time, on a 2002 business trip, but for reasons related to schedule and an especially difficult employee, I didn’t have time to go fishing.

Beef SM Castles

A view of San Marino. If you look carefully, there are three castles on the ridgeline.

Enrico knew the area well, so we navigated the unmarked country roads with ease, and we soon saw signs for San Marino. Just a few feet over the border, there was the clubhouse.

Beef SM Sign

We arrive at the Italy/San Marino border. The clubhouse and lake are behind the cars.

Beef SM Lake

We set up to fish the San Marino fishing club lake. Lovely scenery, and your basic stocked carp pond. I couldn’t have asked for more.

We didn’t stay long, but Stefan and I both managed to catch a couple of the resident carp, and thus, through the kindness of Enrico and the local fishing club, San Marino became the 78th country where I have caught a fish. Stefan suggested that we have Lisa do a commemorative painting.

Beef SM Carp

The San Marino fish – a rather well-worn carp.

Beef SM Stefan

Stefan’s carp. Another one with a bit of mileage.

Beef SM Prez

Steve poses with Graziano Muraccini, the president of the San Marino fishing club. Serious as he may look, Graziano was a warm and generous guy who took a morning off to help me add a country to my list.

Beef Grappa

Enrico and I toast the San Marino fish with the traditional shot of Grappa, an Italian aperitif which is also handy for removing stains. From concrete.

As promised, we jumped right into the car and hit the road for Germany. Stefan had lost probably an hour of drive time, and he was clearly concerned for his family. Let’s just say we got home more quickly than we got down to Italy.

Even if we had decided to skip San Marino, his priorities were in the right place, and even I wouldn’t have been put out. Some things – very few, but some – are even more important than fishing, and a little girl having her Dad there, so she can barf on him, is one of these things. But the true hero of this post is Susi, Stefan’s lovely and patient wife, who was ill and home alone with two sick kids until Monday afternoon. For this alone, Marta has promised to take her out for a spa day in San Francisco when she visits here.

Steve

PS – They are all fine now, of course, but Stefan did get the same bug and barfed even more than he did rock cod fishing. (See http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2011/09/21/my-guitar-solo/) Oh, and to honor Lisa for her painting of me, I submit the piece below, which I feels captures the je ne sais quoi of our little artist. Hopefully, she will be inspired by this and will make my ears less pointy next time.

Beef Fine Art

“Still Life With Stomach Flu” Steve Wozniak 2013

Posted by: 1000fish | April 14, 2013

Uncle Beef

Dateline: April 14, 2013 – Lodi, Italy

Uncle Beef? What kind of a kid calls me “Uncle Beef?” If this had happened in the USA, I might have been strangely pleased, but because it happened in Germany, I could only write the whole thing off to difficulty in pronouncing the foreign word “Steve.” But still, Uncle Beef?

The offending toddler is actually known to the 1000fish readership, as she is none other than Lisa Molnar, the adorable if artistically underwhelming eldest daughter of 1000fish regular Stefan Molnar.

Beef Lisa

Lisa Molnar. Beautiful child, mediocre artist. See below.              

Stefan, you may recall, is the inventor of the “Five gram rule.” See http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2012/05/06/the-five-gram-rule/. I got to spend an evening with Stefan’s family on an April business trip to Germany – the food is always spectacular – and it was during this dinner that young Lisa presented her artistic impression of me.

Beef Art

I don’t have pointy ears. And I don’t have dark hair. This looks like Spock’s ne’er-do-well younger brother, but try explaining that to a 4 year-old.

Still, I had to at least act grateful, even if I don’t think she captured my true essence in her art, because I was borrowing her father for three days to go fishing in Italy. The target was another inadvisably rare salmonid – the marble trout. Our host would be an old friend – Enrico Ghedini, the Italian sportswriter and all-around good guy who I met in Slovenia two years ago. (See http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2011/07/09/guidos-fungus/)

People wiser than me always talk about life as a journey rather than a destination. I have no idea what this means, but the journey from Germany to Italy, which took us straight south through Switzerland, was gorgeous. During the week I was locked up in the office, something wonderful had happened – spring. The rotten weather was gone. Things were sprouting, and my nose was running constantly. I like to call this “the Sudafed season.” As we passed through the Alps, I even faintly recognized a few spots – my father lived in Milan in the 1970s and we vacationed up in Switzerland. These trips were the first time I had ever been out of the country, and they started a passion for travel that has seen me darken the doors of over 80 countries.

Beef Como 3

Some lake in the Alps.

Beef Como

Some Alps and a lake.

Beef Chalet

My alpine dream house. If you look closely, you can see a little girl in pigtails interrupting a football broadcast.

Stefan and I left Walldorf around 10:30 in the morning, and while we did not drive at Guidoesque speeds, we avoided major traffic and were past Milan around 6. Most of our conversation consisted of me saying “Your daughter is a bad artist.” and Stefan responding “No she isn’t.” We got off the main road and started the always-indefinite process of navigating through the Italian countryside, where much of the signage is still awaiting repairs from Vandalism. I capitalized that on purpose – many of their signs were stolen by the original Vandals and haven’t been repaired since, resulting in 1500 years of lost tourists.

Electronics were no help on the back roads – there is something difficult about trying to get an American GPS that has been programmed in German to read names in Italian. Fortune would have it that one of these country lanes had a small canal running along it. So there we were, near our destination, with an hour or so to kill, and there was water nearby. Needless to say, we were late for dinner.

Beef Bleek

And it was actually a new species! The Italian bleak – like an English bleak, but it takes dives in soccer.

Beef Ruins

The area was dotted with various ruins. In the background, the tall smokestack was our navigational guide the entire weekend.

Enrico wasn’t too upset at us for being late. When he called us, he said “You’re fishing in the canal, aren’t you!” It was marvelous to see an old friend. A well-known Italian outdoor writer, he had invited me to fish in Italy repeatedly, and we never seemed to hit the right season. Well, this was the right season, and Enrico had arranged two days of access to a fish and game reserve, in Lodi just south of Milan. My father used to take country drives in this area, invariably resulting in speeding tickets and my sister getting loudly carsick.

Enrico hosted us for dinner and we talked fishing nonstop. And oh, what a dinner, in a tiny restaurant tucked away in a farmhouse, not even marked on the outside, where we were treated like family and drank chianti and grappa until the late hours.

Morning came more quickly than we planned, and we headed over to the reserve. It was the kind of place I have steamy late-night dreams about. A large working farm that hosts bird hunting, it is also criss-crossed with canals that are positively jammed with fish.

On our first stop, I could see the trout as we pulled up. I raced out before the car came to a full stop, began casting, and immediately hooked up. It was a solid rainbow, around four pounds.

Beef Swirl

The rainbows were spectacular, but I was focused on a marmorets – the marble trout.

Beef Canal

Stefan and Enrico ply one of the creeks.

Stefan got a beautiful rainbow, then another. He was absolutely thrilled with the fishing – he loves throwing lures and there were big, hungry fish everywhere. We saw a few marble trout, but these were more wary and did not bite.

After an hour, we moved to a canal that held only marmorets. They were everywhere. They would even half-heartedly follow a lure now and then. But they weren’t biting. Enrico had warned me that marble trout were skittish, but would I need to rely on another huchen-type miracle to catch a fish? I kept at it and had one decent strike, but as the sun got higher in the sky, I realized I might have to wait until evening. Stefan and Enrico went to another canal to try for some other species, and left me and an Italian guide, Carlo, to fendi for ourselves.

Moments later, I saw an impossibly large shadow in the water on the far bank, a shadow roughly the size and shape of Michael Phelps. I only saw it for a few seconds before it eased back into the milky water. Turning to the guide, I frantically pointed and gestured to show a big fish. “Carpa.” he said. This was no carp. I was at a loss for a response, because I do not know the Italian words for shark or submarine. Heck, I don’t know the Italian word for ravioli. So I had to wait until we found Enrico.

Enrico and Stefan showed back up about an hour later. Stefan had caught an American bass, something he had failed to do in America. I told him “If your daughter drew a picture of that fish, it would look like E.T.” He replied “No it wouldn’t.”

Beef Bass

Stefan failed to catch a bass in some of the best water we have in California, and then he catches one in Italy. Oddly enough, they are not native in either place.

I couldn’t wait to talk to Enrico. “There are submarine-sized animals prowling this canal.” I told him. He smiled. “Ahhhhh, the sturgeon.” he said. “Sturgeon, you say?” I responded as I whipped together the heaviest leader and largest hook I could find. The guide had some paste bait, and I quickly rolled up a grape-sized ball onto the hook and cast.

Moments later, the rod tip twitched. I fed the fish some line, then set the hook as it came tight. It was a solid fish, but not the monster I expected. As it came into view, everything became clear. It was a marble trout – which somehow had decided to eat the bait rather than the beautiful lures I had been throwing all morning. So I had my marble – a beautiful fish and one of the more exotic trout – and even if it was on homemade power bait, I was pleased.

Beef Marble

I should have brought it home. Marta always wanted Italian marble in the kitchen.

We then took what I thought would be a brief break for lunch. I only made this mistake the first day. The Italians know how to cook, they just don’t know when to stop serving food. I was still digesting the feast from the previous evening, and what I thought would be a simple meal turned out to be multi-course ritual that took some three hours, and while this was not exactly prime fishing time, it was still fishing time. “Oh, wait, now they bring the pasta, oh, wait, now they bring the pheasant, and the wild boar, and more pasta, and the pre-dessert, the main dessert, another pheasant we found hiding in the sideboard, and the fruit.” The food was wonderful, but as much as I love to eat, I have gone on Power Bars and Red Bull for days on end when the fishing is hot. Sure, you may think it’s sacrilege to visit Italy without experiencing the cuisine, but I must point out that I knew Paris had Wels catfish before I knew it had an art museum.

I had been aching to get back to the sturgeon, and as soon as we were excused, I raced, or waddled, back to “submarine creek.”

Beef Creek 2

There were big animals in this tiny creek. Big animals.

The bait was down no longer than 15 seconds when my line shot off to the left. I let the fish go for a moment and then set the hook – the result was complete chaos, like a malfunction on the Disney log ride. The sturgeon jumped clean out of the water, drenching us, and took off at high speed down the canal with me in hot pursuit. After about 15 high-spirited minutes, the beast came to the net and I had landed an unexpected trophy.

Beef Sturgeon 1

Sure, it’s 6000 miles from its native range, but so was I.

I then walked over to a side stream for one of my favorite activities – light-tackle micro-fish hunting. Armed with a tub of maggots and some pre-snelled #28 hooks, I began prowling the edges of a stream confluence, and soon I had a regular little school at my feet eating the baits. In under two hours, I caught north of a hundred fish and added a new species.

Beef Creek

The microfish spot.

Beef Roach

The Italian Roach. New species. Counts the same as a marlin in my book, and costs a lot less to catch.

For the late afternoon, I was back on the marble trout and sturgeon. There are both white and Adriatic sturgeon in the creeks, so I was hoping for an Adriatic to add to the species count. But even though I got four more sturgeon, they were all the white variety that we have back in California. Still, getting a bunch of 60 pound fish in a stream on pike tackle is nothing to complain about.

Beef Trees

I had forgotten how beautiful Italy is in the spring, and indeed I forgot again by the time the next photo was taken.

Beef Sturgeon 2

Yes, I caught five sturgeon in a day. I am unlikely to repeat this – ever. Even my best day, in combination with Spellman, was three – which means I caught three.

Just as the sun set, we had another session on big rainbows – Stefan landed one over 7 pounds.

Beef Trout

Damn these guys are tall.

Beef Field

Sunset over the fields. It was a lovely evening, made even more lovely by the fact I had added three species in 24 hours.

Ignoring our already-full stomachs, we headed out to eat. Dinner was predictably impressive - I think I gained 12 pounds, and I slept with satisfied dreams of finally getting the elusive marble trout.

We rose early on the second day, then slept in a bit and rose at less early time. Heading over to the reserve, we fished for a couple of hours. The highlight of the morning was Stefan landing his first sturgeon, and he too got a marble trout.

Beef Stefan Sturgeon

Stefan’s first sturgeon. Another fish that lives in California that he didn’t catch there.

Beef Stefan Marble

Stefan adds a marble trout to his list. And he got his on a lure rather than some sort of undignified paste.

As noon approached, we realized that we had caught pretty much everything we were going to at the preserve. It was time for a change of scenery, and for us to complete a secret mission that would take us six hours out of the way. But at this very moment, about 600 miles to the north, some ill-willed microbes were hatching a secret mission of their own that would potentially derail our entire plan.

Steve

Posted by: 1000fish | April 5, 2013

Rock Fishing

Dateline: April 5, 2013 – Gibraltar

Seems it never rains in Southern California, so by the laws of nature, it therefore has to rain somewhere else. That somewhere else is apparently … Gibraltar. Who knew these two issues were oddly connected? Free lunch at Taco Bell for the first person to email me with the answer.

(Pause to submit responses.)

As you undoubtedly knew, the guy who wrote that song, Albert Hammond, is Gibraltrian – one of the several amazing facts I learned during the three days in early April I went fishing there. And yes, the flight to Europe was on a 747, albeit eastbound. If you are too young to remember this song, please see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XqMEEvmfyQU to be unbewildered.

We should probably get the “is Gibraltar a country” argument out of the way. I’m going to count it. I generally go by the Traveler’s Century Club list, http://travelerscenturyclub.org/countries-and-territories/alphabetical-list, and besides, the place prints its own money and has its own passports. Sure, the British will say it’s British, the Spanish will say it’s Spanish, the Gibraltrians will say it’s Gibraltrian, and the Germans will say it’s inconvenient.

(The Royal Navy held Gibraltar and controlled the entrance to the Mediterranean for the duration of WWII. This was despite constant attacks by the Germans, less frequent raids by the Italians, and yes, you can look this up – a single incursion by the French.)

This trip was born out of bad weather, and it still suffered because of it. My original intention had been to visit Marc Inoue and go fish in Montenegro, but there was something about three feet of snow that made him rethink the whole idea.

Rock Marc

Mark rethinks the whole idea. See http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2012/05/20/serbing-our-time/.

So there I was, with three days to fish in Europe, and the weather was not cooperating. I realized I had to look south for relatively decent conditions. Perhaps Spain again? Portugal? Or … Gibraltar! Once I looked into this tiny peninsula at the mouth of the Mediterranean, the IGFA scored for me. There is an IGFA fishing club in Gibraltar. I emailed Michael Hernandez, the club contact. He responded right away and connected me with Lee Torres, who specializes in big tuna but knows the bottom fishing very well – and like that, I was set for a few days of fishing. The forecast did not look too inviting, but at least there wasn’t snow, and I knew the area had to have loads of interesting species.

I flew through snowy Frankfurt, on to Malaga, Spain, where it actually looked nice. Lee picked me up at the airport. When I first met him, I thought he must have been the guide’s son. Maybe it’s just me getting older, but he looked about 17, and I was stunned to find out he is a 32 year-old father of two. (Should we call  him “Kid Rock?”) Lee is passionate about three things – his family, fishing, and music, and the next few days were spent in constant discussion about fishing everywhere he could think of, all to a Coldplay soundtrack.

The drive from Malaga to Gibraltar takes about an hour, and the scenery is lovely Spanish coastline the whole way. The Rock comes into dramatic view coming around a corner – one of these places I recognized from TV and books immediately and thought “Wow. I’m here. And I have a strange urge to buy insurance.”

Rock Rock

The Rock, from near the Spanish border. This would be the last time I would see the sun for three days.

I checked into the Hotel Caleta.  The room was comfortable, there was a nice restaurant, and most importantly, I was directly above the water, albeit five stories up. If any of you wonder if I fished off the balcony, you must be new readers – welcome!

Rock Balcony

I could drop a line straight off my balcony into the water.

This is not the first time I fished out of a window – see http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2011/03/25/fishburger-in-paradise/. I reeled up several besugos, once to the bewildered giggles of the guests a few floors below me. I thus added Gibraltar to the list – country 76 – without leaving my room.

Rock Besugo

The room-service sand bream.

I have met a lot of guides who worked hard for a living, and Lee is right up there at the top. The prime method of catching big fish in Gibraltar is live squid, and getting live squid means middle of the night ventures in the harbor. Unknown to me, Lee was up at three in the morning jigging up a few precious cephalopods, then meeting me at 6:30 to spend a full day on the water.

Because Gibraltar has 28,000 inhabitants but only 14 legal parking places, none of which are near the marina, Lee picked me up on a scooter. I was not prepared for this, as I am a large person and was carrying gear. Lee sorted it all out and we made the very quick ride over to the harbor. Once we launched, the water was positively nasty until we got to the east side of the rock, which was protected from the wind and relatively calm.

Rock Lighthouse

Coming around the south point of the peninsula into the calm water.

Rock East

Looking north as we come around to the east side of Gibraltar. “The Rock” is the second pinnacle, in the distance, and the white building lower right is my hotel. Every time I look at this photo, I wonder if I have enough coverage for my home and car.

Rock Lee

Lee at the helm. Reach him at leetorresgib@gmail.com if you are in the area.

We dropped down a couple of large baits, and while we were waiting for action on these, I fished some smaller rigs and caught the first of what would end up over 100 fish before dark. While it poured most of the day, Lee’s stereo is waterproof and we had great music the whole time.

Rock Anthias

The Mediterranean fairy basslet, my first catch of the day and a new species.

The first fish was a winner – new species. The next 99 were not new species, but let’s face it, it’s still fun to catch a bunch of fish. Because I am species-obsessed, we spent most of the afternoon chasing micro-critters in the harbor. I was initially thrilled, as I thought the blennies I pulled up had to be new, but Dr. Carvalho broke it to me, as gently as he could, that these were the same species of blenny I had caught on the “Rio de Disastro” trip. (See http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2012/01/23/rio-de-disastro/.) Still, I was thrilled with the new country and one new addition to the list, and I had two more days to rack up a big score. We had dinner at Burger King – a treat in any country – and I went back to catching besugos from my balcony.

The next day dawned so gray it wasn’t clear it had dawned at all. Oh, it was vile out there, but we were still able to plough through to our protected spot. My first cast produced another new species, although I didn’t know it at the time. I caught what I was certain was a cusk - a bottomfish common on both sides of the North Atlantic. Indeed, I almost didn’t photograph it, but I thought it was strange enough to catch one so far south that I took one shot. Good thing I did, as this creature turned out to be a greater forkbeard.

Rock Forkbeard

The greater forkbeard, which looks a whole lot like a cusk to my untrained eye.

Rock Cusk

This is a cusk. See if you can spot the differences more quickly than I did!

The rest of day two was filled with solid fish - Gibraltar indeed has some great inshore possibilities. The highlight was a solid pink dentex, the same species I passed up seeing a wonder of the ancient world to catch. (See http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2011/01/01/venus-visits-the-temple-of-diana-mars-goes-fishing/, and yes, Marta is still annoyed at me.)

Rock Dentex

A pink dentex – if I had known I would catch this here, I wouldn’t have skipped Ephesus.

I also got another forkbeard, and the seabreams, all in nice sizes up to 2 pounds, were excellent sport on light tackle. Lee worked his tail off, moving spots constantly and fishing from dawn until dusk.

Rock Seabreams

Assorted seabreams. Great fun to catch, and they get a lot bigger than this. Jaime Hamamoto has never caught one, and this pleases me.

Rock Horse

A bonus monster horse mackerel.

Rock Lee 2

We had one brief break in the rain, but my hair was ruined by then, so I refused to pose for this photo.

On the scooter ride back to my hotel, as I shamelessly clung to Lee for dear life, I was stunned to see a troupe of monkeys by the side of the road. Then I remembered, faintly but insistently, that I had read about there being a population of monkeys on Gibraltar. I was quietly pleased I had retained something from elementary school, apart from the fact that elephantiasis can affect testicles. (Without question, the most popular library book in my elementary school was a text on tropical diseases.)

We stopped to look at the monkeys, and I took some photos. Lee warned me not to leave anything laying around, as the little beasts are quite clever and would likely borrow it and sell it on eBay.

Rock Monkeys

Hint – I’m the one in the red hat.

Rock Ape

Being a small monkey is a good life.

Rock Ape Groom

My Mom never picked fleas off of me. Maybe that’s why I have issues.

Day three was more solid bottom fishing. The weather was still not nice, but it had gotten a touch less foul. We had constant action – seabreams, serranos, besugos, wrasses, and also a variety of eels. Eels are cool.

Rock Conger

This is a conger eel. Marta has caught a much larger one than I have. She made me include this tidbit or it was the couch for me. Is that extortion?

Rock Muraena

A Mediterranean moray. One of these once caused a boot print on my forehead. Long story. (Aren’t they all?)

Lee and I celebrated the trip with dinner at a local seafood place – the forkbeard was excellent – and we both finally got a full night of sleep, me less so because I cast from my balcony again until well past midnight, trying to scrape up at least one more species. Alas, it was not to be.

The next morning, Lee was kind enough to give me a lift back to Malaga so I could catch my flight. Of course, the minute I put the fishing rods away, the weather turned beautiful. (So if it stopped raining in Gibraltar, does that mean it started raining in Southern California? Naaaah. Couldn’t be.)

Rock view

Of course it would look like this the minute I put the rods away.

Lee got me early, in a car this time. He was kind enough to give me an insider’s tour of the area – all the way to the top of the rock, where I was accosted by monkeys but also had a crystal-clear view of three countries.

Rock Lee Monkey

Lee feeds my breakfast to the monkeys.

Rock Ape Portrait

The same monkey stares me down. He had just used me as a springboard to jump from a van onto our car, which scared the heck out of me but amused the other tourists.

Rock Summit

Bottom left – Gibraltar. Upper left – Morocco. Upper right – Spain. Center – guy who should have untucked his shirt.

Rock Runway

Gibraltar is so small that the main road crosses the airport’s only runway. When planes land, they have to close the road.

We both smiled at the ironic change in weather, and the drive to Malaga was one long postcard. Sure, it was a long way to go for two species, but I had gotten to see a famous and beautiful place, made a new friend, and been jumped on by a monkey. Besides, I had most of April ahead of me, and with trips planned to Italy, Miami, and the Dominican Republic, surely there would be dozens of new species in store. Surely.

Steve

Posted by: 1000fish | March 31, 2013

Hedge Witch’s American Cousin

Dateline: March 31, 2013 – Monterey, California

Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but I think insults should be delivered right in public. (Cousin Chuck – nice hair. When did Supercuts get a drive-through?)

Hedge Chuck

Yes, I really do have a cousin Chuck. He’s more normal than I let on, but not by a wide margin.

There is a certain accountability that goes with this sort of thing, as before you fire off that clever retort, you need to consider whether your intended target is larger than you, or unstable, or your boss – or, in my employees’ case, all three. The internet takes all the fun out of this. People say the strangest things when they think they’re anonymous, but oddly enough, a snotty comment on my blog actually led to the capture of a new species. So although I didn’t much appreciate my fishing ability and manhood being assailed, the inadvertent fishing tip was great. (Besides, if I want my fishing ability assailed, I can just go to Martini … or Marta.)

I get it that not everyone likes fishing, or my blog, or my haircut. These people – and there may be billions of them - exercise their right to not like these things by NOT READING MY BLOG. But once in a while, someone just has to weigh in with something ad hominem. Heck – I once did a whole article on the insults I got from British newspaper readers who had never even met me – see http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2010/08/06/the-yogurt-knitters-strike-back-daily-mail-uk-article-sparks-furor/. A woman named “Eileen,” who I am sure is off stalking Justin Bieber now, burned a lot of calories saying bad things about me. For example -

What an idiot and he is proud . what goes around comes around maybe a big big fish will get you one day you sad man. - eileen

OK, she made some lucky guesses. (And interestingly, a fish did just give me stitches, but I survived.) But my most dedicated detractor was someone, possibly a relative, using the screen name “Hedge Witch.”

I actually feel sick with anger reading this! what sort of achievement is that? How many fish has he killed? did any get put back alive? It just makes me so mad! How can anyone be proud of this? it is totally beyond me. He should be had up for cruelty. Those fish were not put on this planet so that idiots like him can catch them purely for sport.   - Hedge Witch, Brizzle Uk, 2/9/2010
 
I invited her to dinner and haven’t heard back yet. Fast forward a couple of years, and I can’t say I was all that surprised when I woke up one day last fall to see this gem awaiting my approval in my blog’s inbox -

“How does it feel knowing that there are larger fishing then the world record ones you caught on the California state record list. Your world record black perch of 1lb 4oz is literally HALF the size of the CA state record of2lb 9oz. How can you do that? What kind of fishermen are you? Your buddy Martini Arostegui’s striped perch (1lb 8oz) is a whole pound less then the state record. That’s a bunch of BS. Where is your list of world record fish? I’d love to see how many others are not legitimate world records? Are any of you records over ten pounds? Looking forward to breaking your records”

Sure, I could take some cheap shots at the grammar and spelling, but the part that REALLY hurt was when he called Martini my “buddy.” The guy who broke my striped perch record, a “buddy?” I have hiked six miles with this man while he wore an Elvis costume. He’s not just a buddy, he is family, and when you insult my family … well, you probably have a point. I figured the commenter had to be related to Hedge Witch, but at least she didn’t think she was the arbiter of “legitimate” world records.

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but just to make sure we’re all on the same page - IGFA records are not always the biggest example of a fish ever caught. They are the biggest example that someone has bothered to catch under IGFA rules, record under IGFA rules, and turn in to the IGFA. This might be self-evident for some of the glamor species, but as I believe I have repeatedly covered, I am not a glamor species guy. Most of my records are for oddball creatures that don’t elicit a lot of angling press, like whitefin sharksuckers and conehead eels. I have fished in hotel fountains and shopping malls. If you want a really good fisherman, look up “Arostegui.” I’m not all that skilled of an angler compared to pros like that – I’m just persistent and well-travelled, and for God’s sake, if you’d ever seen me in my Superman underwear, you wouldn’t take me that seriously either. Would Ernest Hemingway ever admit to catching a world record while naked? (See http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2010/05/03/the-countdown-to-1000-the-naked-truth-of-day-three/)

My critic, however, was not to be dissuaded, and despite my deafening silence, he wrote back the next day.

“Didn’t think you would have posted my previous message on your site but I thought you would have stood up for yourself and responded to my query. What kind of man are you? Thought so…”

Ironically, the captain of my hockey team wishes I wouldn’t stand up for myself quite so often. I just love it when someone declares themself the winner of their own argument. Marta had a good giggle, and said “My goodness, someone with more free time than you! Impossible!”

Somewhere in here, I decided it was best to figure out exactly who this person was and make sure he didn’t have firearms, history with Justin Bieber, or connections to the IRS. My web-savvy friends did all the heavy lifting and figured out that we were dealing with an apparently harmless area resident. But I found an item that was far more useful. Some visitor from Fresno had met this guy on a fishing pier in Monterey, and they caught a painted greenling. I had never caught this species. Bingo. A fishing tip.

This worked out nicely because Martini was doing a semester down at the Hopkins Lab in Monterey and had figured out a lot of the fishing in the area. Even after living nearby for 23 years, I had never really thought of Monterey as a fishing destination – it’s a great place to visit, a summer and Christmas tradition for me and Marta, but I hadn’t really fished there much, which … may … explain why Marta likes it so much. Oops. We will certainly keep our romantic weekends there, but I might suggest that she tries to avoid afternoon high tides.

Hedge Cannery

Cannery Row, Monterey. Steinbeck wouldn’t recognize it.

I took three trips to Monterey in the last half of March, and I went on each one expecting to catch a record perch. But life doesn’t always turn out how you want it to – just ask the Maginot Line garrison. The first time down, Martini and I went to a rocky shoreline in Lover’s Point – fill in your own punchline there – and got some solid perch. Solid, but not record. (Note – we did NOT fish in the marine reserve.) Martini has snorkeled the area thoroughly and knew every rockpile and hole, but the big fish didn’t bite. I then followed in the footsteps of the comment crank and went out to Monterey harbor. This is a wonderful place to visit – a chance to see, experience, and smell the local wildlife.

Hedge Otter

Awwwwwww.

Hedge Furbag

Tourists love them, salmon fishermen hate them, and they smell like hockey equipment.

After catching a good – but not record – striped perch, I set up some smaller gear and started casting bits of shrimp into the kelp forest. Among dozens of rockfish and small perch, I got six, count ‘em, six painted greenlings. A new species only 90 minutes from home!

Hedge Painted

Thank you, Mr. Grouchy Blog Reader. And I hope you’re feeling better. I certainly am.

Martini and I then caught up twice over the last weekend of March. The first go-round, which also involved Spellman (see http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2010/09/25/the-cottonwood-death-march/) was a rocky shoreline trip which featured creatures great and small. I got a beastly opaleye – quite a surprise to get this vegetarian on a piece of shrimp.

Hedge Opaleye (2)

(Normal bait – frozen peas. No kidding.)

In a bored moment, I tried to get one of the small fish darting around the rocks – which I assumed were shiner surfperch - and was thrilled to discover they were reef surfperch, also a new species for me.

Hedge Reef (2)

Yes, I got this worked up over a four-inch fish. Spellman caught some larger perch, but these were not new species and hence will not detract from the reef surperch’s moment of glory.

Hedge Senorita (2)

Martini racked up a few new species as well, including this senorita. Hmmmm. Martini gets a senorita for the first time. There’s a joke in there someplace.

Hedge Kelp (2)

A beastly crevice kelpfish. (See http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2010/06/27/countdown-to-1000-miracle-at-aquatic-park/.)

The next day, I gave the surfperch a shot off the harbor wall. I hadn’t caught much and was getting ready to head home when I had a light bite. I landed what I initially thought was a monkeyface prickleback, but after days of conferring with some very generous PhDs, including Dr. Milton Love and Dr. Robert N. Lea, both legends on west coast species, it was determined that I had caught the rather unusual ribbon prickleback.

Hedge Prickleback (2)

Yes, I do get excited about catching stuff like this.

Hedge Prickle (2)

The ribbon prickleback gets its moment of glory in the fishing press.

Three days, three species, and I got to hang out with Martini and Spellman. Not bad. Of course, now I have to try to convince Marta that I will not spoil getaways to Monterey with fishing trips. But what could be more romantic than a record surfperch?

Postscript – despite the promise contained in his first comment, our anonymous commenter has yet to break any of my or Martini’s IGFA perch records, lame though they may be. So, and I mean this with great maturity – nyah nyah nyah.

Steve

1000Fish Reader update -

We are proud to announce that Mackie Rienhoff, a faithful 1000fish reader, caught his first rubberlip surfperch on an outing with me and his father on May 3. He was 11 years old at the time. I was 46 when I caught my first one; I’m not sure if this makes Mackie a snot or not. Mackie’s Dad, one of Marta’s favorite people, throws the best Christmas party in the Bay Area, and we’re hoping this will lock in our invite for a few more years, even though Marta can’t control herself with the homemade egg nog.

Hedge Mackie

It isn’t supposed to be this easy.

Posted by: 1000fish | February 2, 2013

The S.A.R. Fishing Tour

Dateline: February 2, 2013 – Macau Special Administrative Region, China

It was bitterly cold in Beijing, and I had forgotten my hat. There I was, trying to do a walking tour of Tiananmen Square with a co-worker named Tony, and my ears were about to freeze and fall off. I wondered the same thing anyone would – “How did I end up here, and should I steal Tony’s pants to use as a scarf?” My mind wandered to warmer places - only 36 hours before, I had been basking in 85 degrees and sunshine in Macau, just a few hours flight south.

SAR Beijing

Being photographed with an American is apparently still a big deal. That, or they mistook me for Brad Pitt. Upon reading that, Marta rolled her eyes and said “They don’t look blind.”

Macau, you ask? (Go ahead, play along.) It’s a Special Administrative Region (S.A.R.) of China, a former Portuguese colony about 30 miles west of Kowloon by ferry. Whereas Hong Kong has always been a business center, Macau is much more of an entertainment destination, and in this part of the world, that means casinos. It’s like Las Vegas without all the yelling and naked guys. For purposes of this blog, unfortunately, what happened in Macau will not stay in Macau.

Like many of these trips, it started with business travel, this time to Hong Kong. While I have caught fish in HK, and while I had actually visited Macau, I had never gotten a fish in Macau. Like most of Guido’s casual outfits, this was a terrible wrong that needed to be righted.

I began hunting for Macau fishing contacts online, but everything I found was in Chinese. (I don’t read a word of Chinese, and this made things go horribly wrong in a restaurant once.) I tried my standard backup plan – a hotel concierge. The guy at the Macau Hyatt was great. He quickly let me know that there were no charter boats, but there were several places where shore fishing was possible. He even sent me maps and pictures.

There was one small problem. Buried in his email was a troublesome line – “Please note that all fishing activity in Macau is illegal.” Hoping this was a translation issue, I tried to clarify several times – unsuccessfully. Why would they give me fishing information if it was illegal to fish in the country? I had been to Macau before, and I can assure you almost nothing else is illegal. There had to be someplace I could hide and scratch out a quick goby – there just had to be.

SAR Sign

Sign in Macau. Apparently, smoking was legal in no smoking areas until January 13.

But just to make sure, I decided I had best go in stealth mode. I needed to find a place where I had a shot at a fish, but was reasonably secluded. This would help me avoid a dank cell with some sinister police sergeant screaming at me in Chinese while the State Department called Marta, who would say “Steve who?”

Despite the legality warning, the concierge gave me two fishing spots in Macau. One was a small village well out of the central area, attractive because of its relative isolation, and the other was the shoreline at the Wynn hotel, attractive because there are good restaurants nearby.

SAR Wynn

My Wynn hotel reconnaissance map, courtesy of the Hyatt concierge. I certainly was prepared, but of course, I ate all of the evidence.

The big morning came, and I headed out of my hotel with a backpack full of fishing gear and a $3 seafood assortment from a local shop to use as bait. Logistics went very well. I caught an early ferry, and the hour-long ride was smooth. (My first trip to Macau featured a nasty storm and a high percentage of rail bunnies. A kid next to me barfed in his mom’s purse - major style points.)

I spent the ride studying my options, and even as we docked, I still wasn’t sure which area I would try. Strolling into the Macau terminal, I immediately saw a booth for the Wynn, and I discovered that they had a free shuttle leaving every 10 minutes. So that settled that.

SAR Lisboa

The view from the front of the Wynn – the famous old Hotel Lisboa, where many visitors have discovered that expensive casinos are not built by paying money to gamblers.

I walked past the Wynn and the well-dressed guests who were wandering in and out of the casino even at eight in the morning. It’s a huge building, and I admired the Macau casino skyline as I walked around to the water. As shown in my recon materials, there was a row of tall bushes between the walkway and the water right by the corner of the building. This was about as good as I was going to do.

SAR Church

Some church. This was about as close as I got to something cultural.

I slipped through the shrubbery, sat on a low retaining wall, and began setting up a rod. Examining the water, I could see dimples and small boils. There were fish here. I started throwing bits of bread and pieces from the $3 seafood assortment, and soon there was a regular little feeding frenzy. I got my Blackberry ready to take and send a photo of any fish I got, so that if I was captured, the free world would still have my pictures. 

I cast from my hidden position and waited for a bite. The minutes dragged by, and no Macau creatures pestered my clam, or whatever that orange thing was from the seafood assortment. Keeping an eye out for officials, I changed baits to a different color piece of animal matter. Still nothing. Throwing caution to the wind, I walked right down to the edge, took off the float, and began fishing right on the bottom.

A moment later, I got a bite, lifted up, and landed a rather surprised tilapia. I had added my 75th country, albeit with a fish that is almost impossible to identify down to a specific species. While I was photographing this beast, a few locals saw me and wandered down. I prepared to flee, but they were just curious onlookers. The uniformed thugs were nowhere to be seen.

SAR Tilapia

The tilapia that put Macau on the scoreboard.

I slowly stopped worrying about being spotted, and worked my way toward a concrete pier right out in the open. Moments later, a man in a uniform somehow managed to materialize right next to me. “This is it.” I thought, and I wondered how far I would get if I just ran. He looked at me, quite seriously, and said “Catching anything?” I heaved a sigh of relief, and we discussed fishing for quite a while as I landed other small, interesting bottom creatures – a ponyfish, more tilapia, and what I thought was a new goby.

SAR Pony

The goldstriped ponyfish. These creatures are notorious bait stealers, but this one didn’t count on me using #18 hooks. So there.

SAR Goby

The goby. Months later, through the determined efforts of Dr. Jeff Johnson, it was discovered that I had already caught this species. Drat. (See http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2012/12/23/piscatorial-potluck/)

After the guard left, I boldly walked right out on to the concrete ramp and began fishing the edges. I caught more tilapia and ponyfish, then a trumpeter – a nice-looking little fish that actually has vicious spines. Larger specimens of this species can easily cause stitches.

SAR Trumpeter

The trumpeter. Note the cheek spines. I think Jaime Hamamoto has cheek spines.

I worked a small bait along the edge of the ramp, and just as the clam/squid/whatever drifted out of sight, there was a big boil of water and my light line snapped. Hmmmm. This was interesting. I re-rigged with a manlier hook and a heavier leader and went back to the same spot. Moments later, I had another big strike, and I hooked something that actually pulled hard. I wrestled it away from the concrete structure but it stayed deep, and after about 20 seconds  I saw, to my great surprise, that I had a Northern snakehead. I gently landed it, and this comparatively large creature drew quite a crowd – what an unexpected thrill to get a new snakehead in such an odd location.

SAR Snakehead

The northern snakehead and two well-dressed bystanders. I think my sister and I had similar matching sweaters when we were kids. I burned mine.

I fished for about an hour after that, enjoying the hot weather and catching a few more ponyfish. I packed up, and wandered into the Wynn to clean up and get an overpriced but very nice meal. I then gambled away exactly one dollar in the slots and headed home. Even considering the $30 Caesar salad, these were still three of the least-expensive species I had ever caught, and I celebrated that night with a steak in Hong Kong.

SAR Hills

The hills of China north of Hong Kong, viewed on my triumphant return ride.

The next day, I had a few hours to kill before I boarded a flight to chilly Beijing, so I did what any species-obsessed fisherman would have done – bought a bag of bread, another $3 seafood assortment, and headed to the closest harbor. Walking along the Hong Kong waterfront in the Causeway Bay area, I found a spot where I could cast to some pilings. 

SAR HK

Causeway Bay. Moments after I took this photo, clouds moved in.

I started throwing bread into the water, and predictably, mullet showed up. Mullet hate me. I have spent hours and hours trying to catch them at the Arostegui home, and they just laugh at me. (The mullet, not the Arosteguis. Well, OK, the Arosteguis too.)

I kept throwing bread in the water and soon, a regular swarm of mullet were cruising around laughing at me. So I went back to a float. Predictably, they laughed some more. In desperation, and despite the fact it was windy, I took the float and the weight off and tried a very small hook and a two pound leader. It got blown out of the water up onto the sidewalk, where there were no fish.

During a lull in the wind, I got the bread bit into the mullet swarm, and waited there for failure. Stunningly, three of them went after it, and I missed them all. I rebaited, waited for another break in the wind, and flipped the bread back out. Quick strike, quick set, and I had a fish on. They are surprisingly strong for their size, and I held my breath as I brought it to the top and swung it up over the rail. I had caught a mullet, and not just any mullet, but good old Mugil cephalus, the same one that occupies the canal behind the Arosteguis. Now I’ll have more time to play with the cat, or, God forbid, actually be sociable. I took photos of the mullet, all the time saying clever things like “What’s so funny now, you algae-eating smartass!”

SAR Mullet

I had now caught new species in both of China’s SARs – Special Administrative Regions – in less than 24 hours.

As I was having this clever conversation, a gentleman walked up, clearly interested in the fish. He asked what I had caught, and then asked if he could photograph it. His name was Simon, and he pulled out one of the most impressive digital cameras I have ever seen and snapped away. We chatted for quite some time as I switched over to a bottom rig and began catching more ponyfish and trumpeters – the same species as Macau, but good fun.

SAR Pony 2

Still life with Steve and Ponyfish.

Simon snapped a bunch of photos, some of which you see here – you can tell because they are the good ones.

SAR HK Harbor

Simon’s photo of what passes for Steve having a pensive moment.

Simon is a technology executive and has a growing family. In his spare time, his hobby is photographing daily life in Hong Kong, and he had never seen someone fishing in this location before. We talked about the fishing here and in Macau, and he looked at all my photos. To find anyone interested in this stuff is a rare treat for me, as even Marta will feign food poisoning when it comes to fish photos. We traded emails, and I promised to send him this post when it was finished. After a couple of hours, I packed up my equipment and headed back to my hotel and the airport for more business in Beijing, which is where this whole blog started.

SAR Steve Simon

Simon and Steve on the streets of Hong Kong. You will note that I am continuing to fish.

And so, as the bitter cold gnawed at my pancreas and reminded me that my heavy jacket wasn’t so heavy, I at least took comfort that in the last few days I had added four species, a new country, and a new friend. Tony and I were searching for a rare cab to take us back to warmth when I noticed the frozen moat around the Forbidden City. I wondered aloud “Who would notice if I tried to ice fish here?” Tony looked at me incredulously, but he knows me well enough to believe I may have been serious. Luckily, a cab came by at that very moment and ended the discussion, and no, I didn’t take his pants.

Steve

Posted by: 1000fish | January 24, 2013

Gobies in the Afternoon

Dateline: January 24, 2013 – Barcelona, Spain

He was a sailor. I am a fisherman. But we made it work, even though the best fishing of the day happened well after we returned to the dock.         

After the trip to Slovenia - the one that came eight minutes from disaster - I returned to Germany for a few days in the office. After that, I flew to Barcelona for three more days of meetings. Of course, I always try to fish everywhere I go, but I found special motivation while checking a photo album before I left home.  

I had gone back and looked for photos from my last trip to Spain - a rather debauched Macromedia distributor conference in June of 1999. I made a terrible discovery, and I don’t mean the picture of our finance guy being sick on his loafers. Although I went fishing in ’99, and although I definitely did catch a fish and add Spain to the list, a photo of this beast was nowhere to be found. This was back in my film camera days, and despite hours of poring over negatives, I couldn’t find photographic proof that I had angled in the land of tapas and Julio Iglecias. This was a wrong that needed to be righted.

Spain Cathedral

Sunset over the Barcelona skyline. According to a local source, the church on the left is not a church at all, but rather, is the Montjuic Exhibition Center. No wonder they looked at me funny when I lit candles in the lobby.

Normally, Barcelona has mild weather, even in January, but Europe was in the grip of a nasty cold spell and even Spain was downright chilly. Not Slovenia-type frigid, thank goodness, but colder than it should have been. Further north, places like Paris and Frankfurt were snowed in, and many of my co-workers never made it to Barcelona.

Spain Beach

The view from my hotel room, and yes, I immediately went out and fished the two piers on the left.

It was a beautiful town, even if I had to wear a sweater and jacket to walk around at night.

Spain Column

Some monument which is a tribute to someone who did something at some stage in the past.

(It’s actually a monument to Christopher Columbus, who may have “discovered” the Americas. Of course, the idea that someone “discovered” the place must have come as news to the people who already lived here, but regardless, Columbus had a much better marketing effort than the Norwegians. This discussion led to hilarity when a very tired Marta briefly mixed up Leif Ericson with Leif Garrett. She claims this was an attempt at humor – we’ll let you decide.)

In each place I visit, I hope to have some sort of unique cultural experience. Being a Hemingway fan, I had wanted to see a bullfight in Barcelona. This was not out of any primordial blood lust, but merely in the hope that the bull would win. Guys in tights and red capes make me mad too. (No, not you, Martini. See http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2012/10/27/elvis-has-left-the-river/ for an explanation.)

Unfortunately for my itinerary, this ancient tradition was eliminated a couple of years ago after a lengthy campaign led by animal rights activists and the bulls. (Of course, the bulls could have just refused to play – it worked for Derek Rose.) And so, instead of death in the afternoon, I was left with fishing in the afternoon, the most exciting part of which, as it turns out, involved … gobies.

Setting up the trip was harder than I thought it would be. All the normal sources – IGFA, Marc Inoue, standing naked near the harbormaster’s office - had not panned out. There were certainly charter boats in the area, but these guys all seemed to operate under the idea that I only wanted to troll for big game that isn’t there in January and that I am filthy rich and would not worry about paying 2000 Euros to go fishing for something that isn’t there in January. I went to my last – but often best – resource for emergency fishing charters: the hotel concierge.

When properly motivated, hotel concierges can find almost anything, and Paulo at the Hotel Arts was magnificent. Quickly grasping my bizarre requirements, he searched frantically for a boat that could just go out and ply the local rock piles for whatever might be biting. The next day, he waved me over to the concierge desk in the lobby. He told me “I think I have found you a boat. But I need your honest opinion – this guy is an excellent sailor, but not a fisherman. Do you know enough about fishing where you can tell him where to go and what to do? He is a very nice guy and would love to help you.”

I said “You had me at ‘boat.’”

So he put us in touch. The skipper’s name was Francesc Gutierrez, and he responded to my email immediately. I could tell even online that he was very friendly and interested in going out with a fisherman – and he was also very honest that this was not his normal assignment. We organized for him to bring some bait, and I told him I would do the rest. While my co-workers were out on the town that night, I was holed up in my room peering at Google Earth for likely spots off of Barcelona.

Morning came, and the weather, while cold, was clear and crisp. We putted out into the chilly dawn, perhaps the third time in my life I had been on a sailboat. It was breezy, but the mountains protected us from the worst of it and the conditions were fishable all day – a fast drift, but doable.

Spain Dawn

The breakwater at dawn.

We motored about 5 miles to the east and I set up. I asked him for the bait, and shame on me for not being specific. He brought – one squid. I realized I would have to make it count, so I cut fairly small strips and hoped I would catch something I could use for more bait.

Spain Profile

Francesc navigates us out into the Mediterranean.

It didn’t take long to correct the great Spanish fish photo issue. As we drifted some sand/rock patches in about 100 feet of water, I started getting bites and soon caught an axillary bream, known locally as a “besugo,” and a red porgy.

Spain Pargo

A red porgy, or “pargo” in local parlance. These are found on both sides of the Atlantic, which annoys me, because I would prefer that there were different species to catch. Francesc took this particular one to his mother for her dinner – pargo is apparently one of her favorite meals.

I had to keep resetting my line with the fast drift, but I still was able to pull up a nice variety of Mediterranean species – nothing new, but it was great to be on the water. Francesc gave it a very full day for me – he just seemed to love being out there, and he seemed astonished that there were fish to catch in places he had sailed over so many times.

Spain Horse

A horse mackerel – another ubiquitous critter which makes excellent cut bait. This species once saved a trip for me in Istanbul – see http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2010/12/29/istavrit-not-constantinople-a-k-a-the-trojan-horse-mackerel/

Spain Pout

A “pout” or “bib.” I seem to catch exactly one of these in every European country where I fish.

SpanishFlag

The Spanish flag snapper. (It doesn’t live here, but I thought I’d throw it in to see if you’re paying attention. See http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2010/04/21/the-countdown-to-1000-slinging-fish-in-singapore/)

Francesc spoke great English, and we carried on a pleasant conversation the entire day. His main business is running sailing excursions, especially in the warmer weather, where he takes small groups out for sightseeing and lunches in some of the charming smaller towns outside of Barcelona.

Late in the afternoon, we motored back toward the harbor, getting a lovely view of sunny – if chilly – Barcelona.

Spain Helm

Francesc at the helm, all smiles all day, and very happy to play fishing guide for a few hours. If you’re in Barcelona, you have to look this guy up – info@vell-mari.com – or +34 620 911 426.

Spain Waterfront

Returning to Olympic Harbor.

I was faintly bothered that I had not gotten a new species, but I still had one idea left to try. The moment we docked, I grabbed my trusty #3 sabikis and some leftover squid, and began hunting the pilings. Although I had no red cape handy, I knew that the success of my trip depended on facing down one of the most savage of harbor creatures – the goby.

This part of the world has quite a few goby species that haunt protected areas. I had caught several of them, but several more awaited me. I went to that special, focused place in my head, and went mano-a-finno with the pier creatures. The first few I got were red-lipped gobies, a species I had caught in Monaco, but the fourth catch was a winner – the slender goby, new species # 1180.

Spain Slender

A slender goby. Fifteen more ounces and it would have been a world record.

The drama was not finished. After going through a few black gobies and another redlip, I caught the creature below. It turned out to be a yellowhead goby, species #1181, and I can’t consider the day anything but a huge success. Ole!

Spain Yellow

The yellowhead goby.  Thanks to Dr. Alfredo Carvalho for quick identifications!

After about an hour of goby hunting, I packed up and said my goodbyes with Francesc. He was no more a fisherman than I am a sailor, but as a team, we created a memorable afternoon. Marta is eager to visit Barcelona, so a return trip is likely, and I am certain we will go out for a tour with Francesc. (But only if I can troll. And I can only hope she doesn’t mix up General Franco with the DeFranco Family.)

No bulls were harmed in the making of this blog.

Steve

Spain SF

Steve and Francesc, as Steve heads for the hotel and a huge plate of paella.

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