Posted by: 1000fish | July 14, 2016

Malé Bonding

Dateline: January 18, 2016 – Malé, Maldive Islands

Day three opened with a 4am crisis of confidence. Sure, it was great to have added the Maldives as my 87th country. And it was nice to have six species and a record in the bag, but I had hoped for a lot more – this is the nature of the species-hunting game. Self-doubt is magnified by the square of the distance one has traveled to go fishing, and this was about as far from home as I could get.

Male Boat 1

The Alpha Royale, ready to go at 6am.

But I also knew I was here, and that every day could be The Day. After all, I wasn’t owed anything – this is fishing and it was pretty much up to me and the luck of the draw. Perhaps, I thought, I should just be grateful to be in this beautiful place and have a shot at more fish. The Fish Gods do not like whiny ingrates, and so, I set myself to fish and fish hard all day.

It worked out.

It was a gorgeous morning, and as we headed out of the harbor, I learned that you can make REI oatmeal using Red Bull. We set up in a reefy channel, and between a few triggerfish, I got the first species of the day – the Maldivian Grubfish.

Male Grub

Captain Waheed smiles at my grubfish. He was bewildered by my fascination with small species, but if I was happy, he was happy.

After trying a few jigs on a deeper edge, I convinced the crew that I wanted to fish right on top of a reef – what they would think of as a snorkeling area. They took me on to a gorgeous blue patch between two atolls, and laid an anchor so that the boat was over shallow coral but was casting distance from much deeper water. I could fish for tropical reef critters to my heart’s content, but leave some bigger baits out that might attract something more substantial. With my underdeveloped attention span, I absolutely love this kind of fishing, although this sort of multi-rod hyperactivity makes the Zen types like John Buckingham tear their hair out. (Details HERE.)

Male Reef

The magic spot. Shallow reef on the right, deeper structure on the left.

After I dropped some slabs of cut bait in the deep water, I started in with the sabikis. My first catch was something I had admired in books for years – a rockmover wrasse.

Male Rockmover

These creatures hunt in pairs – one moves the rock and the other eats whatever comes out, sort of like cousin Chuck and his wife at a buffet. This one’s partner waited near the boat until I had safely released him.

Before I could rebait the sabiki, the big rod’s clicker started going off in short bursts. I set the hook and got a surprisingly hard run. I was able to turn the fish after it hit the reef a couple of times, and when I got it up to the side of the boat, I was absolutely stunned. It was a blue and yellow grouper, one of the most beautiful of the grouper species.

Male Yellowfin

The day was looking up.

I reset the big bait and got back to the sabikis. After a few small triggerfish, I got a zigzag wrasse – the fourth new species of the day – and it wasn’t even lunchtime yet.

Male Zigzag

The zigzag wrasse.

When I looked up, I noticed quite a few fish swimming on the surface behind the boat, apparently attracted by all the activity and bait in the water. I wasn’t sure what they were, and they wouldn’t hit a sabiki, so I rigged up a weightless hook and let it drift through them. It took a lot of casting, but after about 45 minutes, I got one to bite. I couldn’t believe what I swung into the boat – a spotted unicornfish. The trip was now officially worth it.

Male Face

These are one of the coolest fish EVER.

Male Unicorn

They have a horn.

Male Tail

Don’t grab them by the tail.

Next up was a dash-and-dot goatfish. I almost threw this one back, as it looked a lot like the doublebar goats I had been catching all morning, but the deckhand Shahadath stopped me and told me to have a closer look.

Male Goat

Adding to my goatfish collection. As I am sure you know, a goatfish was my 100th world record a few years ago. Details HERE.

As we got well into the afternoon, the reef stuff started slowing down, so we let the anchor rope out a few yards so we could fish a bit deeper water. We did get a few triggerfish and plenty of repeats of the earlier species, but after an hour or so, I pulled up a gorgeous blue-spotted orange grouper.

Male Hind

These are called coral hinds, and I was up to seven species for the day, exceeding the total of the previous two days. I was thrilled.

We weren’t done. The next grouper I brought up was a blackfin, also a new species.

Male Blackfin

I didn’t even have time to pull down my sun mask, but trust me, that’s me under there. Who else would be photographed with an eight inch grouper?

A few minutes later, I got a vicious hit that broke off my terminal tackle. This annoyed me, so I set up a heavier leader and a bigger hook, and figured I would teach whatever it was a lesson. I got broken off again. So I went to a 40 pound leader, and a few minutes later, brought up a surprisingly hard-fighting unicornfish. This species was the bignose unicorn, which I had already caught in Fiji, (ugly details HERE) but this one was big enough to be my second world record of the trip.

Male Bignose 1

These fish turn dark very quickly out of the water, which is a shame because they are beautiful creatures. So I made sure to catch another one and photograph it immediately – and do note that they were all released safely.

Male Uni 2

This is honestly the exact same species – they just darken up quickly when they are out of the water.

As it got later in the day, I realized that I had completely forgotten to eat lunch. In order to avoid awkward adventures with local cuisine, I generally pack a bunch of REI freeze-dried camping meals, which only require boiling water and a plastic spoon. Just as I sat down to some reconstituted beef stew, my light rod started going, and I jumped up to reel in yet another species – the Diana hogfish. So the beef stew ended up cold, but this didn’t bother me at all. It tasted like filet mignon. (NOT filet minion, which could be upsetting if you’ve seen “Despicable Me.”)

Male Hogfish

That’s nine for those of you counting along at home.

The sun was going down, but I had a hard time convincing the crew to head in – they wanted to stay out and try to get me one more. (God bless ’em for that.) But I actually wanted to fish the harbor. This bewildered the guys, but they pulled us up to the dock just after dark and I whipped out the sabikis. It was awesome. In 11 minutes, I pulled up three new species – the bridled monocle bream, the goldspot emperor, and the tapered-line cardinalfish. Most importantly, the monocle bream was on the “black list” – the fish Marta has caught that I have not. This was an important triumph, and for those of you who point out Marta’s was bigger, get your finger out of your nose. She was down to 10 species that I don’t have, which is 10 too many, but it is very important to note that this is not important to me merely because I am pointlessly competitive. It is important for other reasons which I can’t think of just now.

Male Marta 1

Take that, Marta!!

Male Emperor 1

The goldspot emperor.

Male Cardinal

And the tapered-line cardinalfish.

When all the damage was finally tallied, I had come up with 12 new species in a single day, which qualifies as “epic” in my book. This, in short, was why I came here. It was magnificent, plus there was one more day to go, and now 1500 was only two away. Mohamed the tour guide met me at the dock and took me to dinner – I was so wound up I could hardly eat. I must have shown him the pictures at least a dozen times, and I was finally comfortable texting some friends and telling them it was going well. Marta responded “Take an extra week!” I slept well that night, and Jaime was not in my dreams.

So how do you follow up a day like that? Hopefully with another one.

Male Tuna

Steve with the crew of a commercial tuna boat. They had no idea what to make of me fishing sabikis in the harbor. And why is is that Steve refers to himself in the third person in these captions?

We opened the final day on some sandy reef edges, the bottom clearly visible through about 60 feet of sky-blue water. I knew I needed just two more fish to get to 1500, and I was, to put it lightly, amped up. My first few hooksets were perhaps a bit too exuberant, and I had to take a breath and just get back to focused, consistent fishing, rather than hitting myself in the nose. I am one of the few people you know who could drink a Red Bull to calm down, but that’s what I did. After a few triggerfish, I pulled up a monocle bream that looked unfamiliar. Digging into the books I carry for just such an occasion, I discovered that this was a yellowstripe monocle bream – a new one.

Male Goldstripe

1499.

Now I figured I pretty much had to get to 1500, and fairly soon at that. I thought back to #1000, that coalfish in Norway, only five and a half years ago, which seems like an eternity. I remembered some of the other milestone fish – 1100 was a golden tilefish with the Arosteguis. 1200 was a flounder in Mexico. 1300 was a blackline tilefish with the Arosteguis, and 1400 was a sheepshead minnow, caught with Martini last March. And I couldn’t help but wonder what the next one would be, and how in the heck I would get it without an Arostegui nearby.

It came about 20 minutes later, and, poetically, it was a close relative to the species that got me started thinking about species hunting. It was a roving coral grouper, cousin to the coral trout that I had seen in an encyclopedia when I was about seven years old. I never forgot that fish, and I made two trips to the Barrier Reef – about 30,000 miles of flying – to catch my first one. When I finally got it, all I remember thinking was how awesome the fish was. No thoughts of jet lag, lousy airline food, flight delays, blown out fishing trips – just the triumph of getting that fish. This felt exactly the same – I was ecstatic. If anything, I was more ecstatic than I was back then, because adding new species gets quite a bit harder when you already have a decent list. Trust me on this.

Male Trout

The roving coral grouper – species 1500.

After I got done dancing around the deck, Captain Waheed told me he wanted to try some medium-deep reefs – about 80 feet. I was worried about triggers, but he explained that the area held some other strange fish he wanted me to see. Needless to say, I gladly followed advice from a guy who had guided me to 20 species in under four days. What followed was a deliciously spiteful 20 minutes. Marta, you might want to skip this part.

Keep in mind that Marta has memorized her list of fish she has caught that I have not, and she often reminds me of them for no good reason. I accept this viciousness with the dignity and grace you all expect.

We started drifting bigger baits in very heavy structure – I lost a couple of rigs right away, but then I started catching fish. The first couple were triggers, but then I saw something orange coming up. I thought it might be a bigger coral hind, but I was thrilled to see it was a white-edged lyretail grouper – another type of coronation trout that Marta had viciously caught in front of me in Fiji. Do I remember the lovely beaches, the great food, the amazing people of Fiji? No! I remember that fish. And now I had one.

Male White

If redemption was a fish, it would look like this.

Speaking of ruined vacations, I take you to Aqaba, Jordan, in 2009. Marta, in a clear act of spite, caught a six-spot grouper just as I was having a nice day of fishing.

Bday Grouper

Marta, Red Sea, December 31, 2009.

More than six long years later, the Fish Gods gave me some justice.

Male Sixbar

I helpfully texted this to her immediately. I will pepper-spray the first person who mentions that hers was bigger.

I also got some much larger coral hinds.

Male Hind 2

Orange fish are cool.

In less than 20 minutes, I had taken the “black list” down by two more, to a still-unacceptable eight. This was the high point of the trip, but we still had more fishing to do. For the late afternoon, around the time I finally remembered to eat, we moved onto some more shallow coral reef structure. We had plenty of sunshine, and looking down 15 feet or so to the bottom was like looking into an aquarium, without those pesky security cameras. Among dozens of fish – and quite a few nasty breakoffs – I got a memorable new species. This was the tripletail wrasse – I fish I thought I had caught several times, as it has some very similar-looking relatives, but this one was finally it.

Male Trip

Check out the pink spots on the head. The fish were even more beautiful than the scenery.

I was sitting on five species for the day, including a major milestone, so when I noticed that it was getting to late afternoon, it didn’t bother me too much. I ate more REI food (I recommend the chili mac) and kept fishing, and I got a couple more surprises before the day ended. The first was a banded Maori wrasse – another tropical beauty I had only seen in books.

Male Banded

I caught about a dozen of these – either a school had moved in or I had one very dumb fish. 

Then the triggers came back. But I did not curse them, because I had 24 fish on the scoreboard and I was just having fun. I got about ten of them, a mix of bluethroats and redstripes, and then I had something pull down a bit harder. When I landed it, I was surprised to see another redstripe trigger, but this one was the biggest I had ever seen, which isn’t saying much, but when I weighed it, it crossed that magic one pound mark and became the third world record of the trip. The triggerfish had paid me back for all that free tuna.

Male record Trg

The world record redstripe. If this had only been the first trigger instead of the last, I might have had a better attitude. But that’s not how the Fish Gods operate.

I let the trigger be my last fish, as I didn’t see how I was going to do any better than that. I sat back for a minute and just took in the scenery and watched the sun set. I had finally come to the Indian Ocean and would take home a big batch of new species – I couldn’t have asked for more. Well, yes I could have, but I would have sounded like a whiny ingrate, like I probably did for the first half of the trip.

Male Sunset 1

Sunset over the Maldives.

We pulled up to the same dock I had left four days before with such high hopes. I took my time cleaning up and packing my gear, and, I confess, I did put one rod down while I was putting the other ones away, because I just can’t help myself. And the Fish Gods rewarded me with more more small surprise – a tiny scorpionfish, which was both species #25 and truly my last fish of the trip.

Male Scorpion

The genus is parascorpaena, but I only see one of them.

I finally said goodbye to the crew – my constant companions for four days. They had worked tirelessly to make it a great trip, and it was. I knew I would see them again – there was still plenty more to catch here, especially in the more isolated atolls to the south. The first couple of days had added a bit more drama than I had wanted – that’s fishing – but my dream of 2000 species was alive and well.

Steve

Male Full Crew

http://www.villageholidaysmaldives.com/ or email Mohamed at mohamed.latheef@gmail.com

Posted by: 1000fish | July 4, 2016

Atoll on my Mental Health

Dateline: January 16, 2016 – Malé, Maldive Islands

It was out there, 9,505 miles from home and crawling with exotic fish species. But some small part of me, perhaps the reasonable part, was hesitant to get on the plane.

The Indian Ocean is my last big, untouched piece of water, and the Maldives are a famous destination there. This is the area I need to go – a lot –  if I am going to reach 2000 species. But as long as I didn’t go there, I always had it in the back of my mind as the place I could go and that 2000 was possible. I felt like the bald guy who has a bottle of Rogaine in his medicine cabinet but hasn’t used it, knowing it could make a big difference but worried about bringing it out in case it doesn’t work, because then he would be out of options.

And no, it’s not my Rogaine, thanks for asking. If it comes to that, and it will, I just shave my head. I am am NEVER doing the combover. I remember a certain CFO I used to work with, and apart from the fact he was probably combing hair out of his armpit, the top of his head still looked, to paraphrase Dave Barry, like a spider trying to hold on to a boiled egg.

But I digress.

The plane lifted off, and I was on my way. The Maldives are an archipelago off the southwestern coast of India, comprising of some 1190 small atolls, and according to the fish books I read each night in the bathroom, these atolls are positively stuffed with fish I have never caught. I also had a major milestone in sight – 1500 species. With the three I had gotten in Singapore, I was only 19 away. This sounded very doable. The hypothesis was comforting, but now I was going to actually test it. (If high school chemistry is any indication, many of my experiments end in explosions.) But I was already in Singapore on a business trip, so the Maldives were four short hours away – I was going to do this. I don’t want to leave any “could haves” in my life.

Of course, this comes with some pressure – if this place didn’t produce big time, my dream of 2000 species would take a major blow. It’s a long haul and I would only get a few chances in my lifetime to fish halfway around the world. So I hoped for good weather and an understanding guide. Since I only had a few days, I focused the trip on reef fishing around the capital city of Male – the dogtooth tuna could wait.

I arranged the fishing and accommodation through Mohamed Latheef of Village Holidays Maldives. He runs a top-notch tour service throughout the country, and he had the perfect option for a short stay – a big, comfortable boat called the Alpha Royale for fishing, and quiet, solid hotels for the evenings. I trusted Mohammed with all of the details, but I was unclear on how I was going to get from the airport to the boat. He told me not to worry.

I flew in on Singapore Airlines – a marvelous carrier. (They are on time a lot more than United, and more importantly, when they are late, they are at least least embarrassed.) Mohamed was right there to meet me – great guy – and I finally could figure out how we would get to the Alpha Royale.

I almost tripped over it – the boat docks were all of 150 feet from luggage claim. This … is awesome.

Male Alpha (2)

The Alpha Royale, as viewed from the end of the baggage claim area. Best airport EVER.

I hopped aboard and met the crew – Captain Mohamed (different Mohamed than the tour guy) and deckhands Shahadath and Mujeeb. We barely had the boat on plane before he was slowing down to look at a reef dropoff – the atolls are that close together.

So we were at fishing spots before I could even get the rods ready. I scrambled to assemble some bottom rigs – remembering to never go so fast as to misalign a rod section or tie a bad knot. (Many years ago in Cabo, my buddy Mike Rapoport lost a dorado of at least 60 pounds because he was in such a rush to get a rig back in the water that he tied a poor knot which of course slipped out and left him with the telltale “pig-tail” forensic evidence. I am certain he does not appreciate my repeating it here, but I think of him every time I am hurrying to tie a rig.)

Guitar Rapo Heroic

Mike Rapoport, in the happy days before the bad knot. See “My Guitar Solo.”

I then baited up with cut tuna, dropped to the bottom, and held my breath. I knew that I would be working against some very high expectations. I had slowly started to believe that I was going to get something new on just about every cast, and, in hindsight, this is simply not realistic. But then, my first two drops resulted in new species – the red-tinged grouper and the forktail large-eye bream.

Male Red

The red-tinged grouper. First fish – and first new species – of the trip.

Male Bream

The forktail large-eye bream. I was two species for two drops and it doesn’t get better than that.

I barely had time to notice what a beautiful place it was. Everywhere I looked, there were always three or four atolls in sight, surrounded with coral and glowing with different shades of tropical blue and green. And this is supposed to the heavily-populated, least scenic part of the country.

Male Harbor

Your basic atoll a few miles away from Male.

With two species on two casts, my overconfidence blossomed, and this is when the Fish Gods stepped in and crushed me. They sent the triggerfish – the same species I had caught in other locales. They came in relentless swarms, without question the dominant pest of the area, and they chased us for hours, until we moved onto a shallow, sandy patch late in the day. They hit any bait, any rig, and they hit it before anything else could even think about hitting it.

Male YellowT

A triggerfish. I would really learn to hate these.

It was in that sandy area I got my third species of the trip – the oblong pursemouth (a type of mojarra) – but by then, I was deeply shaken.

Male Mojarra

At least it’s big for a mojarra. That expression I have is my “creeping self-doubt” expression. Or maybe gas, I forget which.

The sun was going down, and the crew had put in a heck of an effort, so we called it a day and I headed off to my hotel and dinner. (Both of which were quite nice – Mohammed really made this easy for me, and I’m an annoyingly picky traveler.)

Male Full Crew

The full crew. From the left – deckhand Shahadath Mia, some American dude, Captain Mohamed Waheed (he’s not seven feet tall – he’s standing on the engine housing,) and Mohamed from the tour service, and deckhand Mujeeb Rahman.

I didn’t completely panic that first night. I figured that this was sort of my introductory session, and that the crew would find plenty of spots with new stuff in the next three days. But still, all those miles and three species … I drifted off to sleep dreaming bad dreams about triggerfish, knowing that Jaime Hamamoto was somehow involved.

Morning broke clear and beautiful, and the crew was enthusiastic to get on the fish. It was hard to convince them that I wanted to catch the often minuscule reef species that form such a large part of my collection. They were very experienced in catching the bigger stuff that people usually come to the Maldives to catch – dogtooth tuna, GT, groupers – and the tactics and places that get these fish don’t usually result in the grab bag I am after. There are generally not small fish around GTs, because the GTs will kill them and eat them.

The skipper wanted to try some deeper water – he thought there should be a variety of groupers and some other fish. So we spent much of the second day on deeper reefs, dropping bait rigs and the occasional jig. I started out with some smaller hooks in about 100′ of water, and the first thing I caught was … a triggerfish. As a matter of fact, the first 26 fish I caught were triggerfish, and then the 27th was a type of small grouper I had caught before – a beautiful fish, but not a new one. Panic crept up my esophagus like an underdone Dairy Queen chicken tender.

Male Yellow

Yellowedged Lyretail Grouper – also called a Coronation Trout by the Australians, because they just have to be difficult.

Then I got 18 more triggerfish, and, as afternoon rolled around, things were looking bleak. (Or dace.) But this is when a good fisherman, or me, has to be even more focused. Instead of ranting and raving and blaming LeBron James, I took a deep breath and tried to think. Perhaps a different rig would help. I put on some much bigger hooks and very large baits, reasoning that it would at least take longer for the triggers to shred them. This paid immediate dividends – the next fish I got was a decent-sized grouper, a longspine – which was both a new species and a world record.

Male Longspine

Things were looking up.

I kept at it with the bigger stuff, and while I did get a few more triggers, about an hour later, I got another new one – a tomato grouper.

Male Tomato

Or a tomato cod, as the Australians would say. What the hell is it with Australians and fish names? They actually have something they call a “groper.” See “The Hook and the Cook”

We kept at it until almost dark, and I added one more new grouper – the fourspot. It was a heck of a day for groupers.

Male Fourspot

Cousin Chuck – it’s called that because of the four black spots. So stop texting me and saying “It has more than four spots.” We get it.

In terms of a day of fishing, it was a great deal of fun, but it again resulted in only three new species, and one world record. This is a darn good day, but I was again looking at the idea that I was in the closest thing to untouched water I had fished in years, and I had done the math. I needed to be adding a lot of species here if I expected to reach 2000 before I was in adult diapers.

Still, it was progress, albeit scant – what Marta likes to call “directionally correct” – the kind of thing she says when I leave dishes in the sink but at least rinse them.

I went to bed early that night, but I didn’t get a lot of sleep. It was time to panic. I had hoped to be sending out triumphant texts about reaching 1500 species, and that seemed a long, long way off. Tossing and turning at four in the morning, I remember looking at my watch and wondering how long it would take me to ever reach 1500 species. I had no way of knowing that it would be exactly 29 hours and 40 minutes.

Steve

 

Posted by: 1000fish | April 26, 2016

The Hengover

Dateline: January 10, 2016 – Ponggol, Singapore

Sure, Dave exhibited amazing heng on my last trip to Singapore. (Details HERE.) But was this a one-time thing, or is he truly a heng master? You’ll know in about 1500 words.

Singapore is one of my more frequent Asia business stops, so I have been fishing there steadily for the better part of two decades. This means I caught the standard species – and even most of the really weird ones – years ago. But there are still a few blank spots on the list, and one of these is stingrays. So, when I got sent to Singapore in January, this is what I asked Dave to arrange for me – a stingray trip.

He warned me this would not be easy – these species are considered edible, and hence get quite a bit of fishing pressure. Singapore is a small place, and the locals are skilled fishermen, with the exception of Alex, and his sister, although it turns out they are the same person. But we were going to give it a shot, because what else was I supposed to do on a Sunday, go to museums? (If you think this was a serious option, you must be a new reader. Welcome!)

Dave brought in some familiar help on this project – Jimmy Lim, local guide and fisherman extraordinaire. Jimmy would not only add his years of fishing knowledge to the project, he would also add an element of adult supervision, , because let’s face it, when Dave and I get together things get juvenile pretty quickly. I grant you it is a higher standard than when Alex and Jarvis are involved, (see “Angry White Man“) but not by much.

HO Jimmy

Jimmy Lim, fishing guide and adult supervision. You can reach him at  itsgreat7070@gmail.com or https://www.facebook.com/ItsGrRReat

Flights to Singapore get in around 1am, so it was a short night of sleep – more of a furtive nap – before the 6am wake-up call and a taxi out to the marina. Both guys were there, bright-eyed, and, at least in Dave’s case, bushy-tailed.

This was my first fishing trip of 2016. I know it seems unthinkable that I waited 10 whole days, but remember that Marta’s family is Serbian Orthodox, so their Christmas is January 7. While this results in more gifts and lets me leave up the Christmas lights longer, it also means that our first week of January is always hectic. I have skipped a lot of responsibilities to go fishing, but Christmas is not negotiable. This week is also an excellent time for us to catch up on the more obscure Holiday specials – for example, did you know that there is a version of “A Christmas Carol” narrated by Vincent Price?

Heng Vincent

One review – “A TV special narrated by Vincent Price with sets seemingly borrowed from a local school Christmas play and a cast that didn’t qualify for same.” I love Vincent Price but this one screams casting error.

My plan was to fish some small rigs while we waited for a stingray to bite, and on my first drop, I got quite a surprise. The very first fish I pulled up for 2016 was a new species – the aptly-named “goatee croaker.” Life looked pretty good. Dave cast a metal high-speed jig, hoping for something larger. The conversation drifted between future fishing trips, tackle ideas, and a series of jokes and anecdotes which cannot be repeated here, except that most of them concluded with Jimmy saying either:

  • “You two are idiots.” or …
  • “I had no idea Alex was so open-minded.”

HO Croaker

The goatee croaker. A bewildered Dave casts jigs in the background.

We continued drifting for rays, and while we didn’t get any bites, the small stuff kept producing. After 15 more minutes, I dragged up a masked shrimpgoby, species number two for the day. Just like last year’s adventure, we were finding new species where I hadn’t expected any. Dave cast tirelessly, and Jimmy kept moving to spots where he remembered catching something odd years before. Both of these guys seemed to know every inch of the coastal waters.

HO Goby

The masked shrimpgoby. These things share a burrow with a prawn, which is positively confusing for me.

The day settled into fairly steady action on small groupers and sweetlips, stuff I had gotten before, but it’s still (marginally) more fun to catch something that to sit there and stare at Dave while he cast and cast and cast that metal jig. In the early afternoon, I pulled up a small grouper that looked different than all the other small groupers, so I took a photo of it. Less than 24 hours later, Dr. Jeff Johnson of the Queensland Museum let me know it was a sixbar grouper, and I had tacked on my third new species of the day. Dave patiently cast without complaint.

HO Six

The sixbar grouper. Cousin Chuck – can you guess why it’s called that? No, it didn’t go to six bars last night.

As we moved from spot to spot, Dave continued tossing the jig – this is hard work, as the local species only respond to a high speed presentation. But nothing would bite for him. In the meantime, one of my live prawns got nailed by a sicklefish – an oddly-shaped creature found in estuaries throughout the region.

HO Sickle

Not big enough the beat the record, but a lovely fish nonetheless.

It was at this stage of the afternoon that Dave’s amazing persistence was finally rewarded, and no, this does not mean that girl from Crazy Horse finally called him back. This means he finally got flat-out crushed on his jig, and he had something meaningful and angry hooked up and swimming the other way at great speed. He calmly and expertly played the fish, and in a few minutes, he had landed a giant trevally. I grant you, it wasn’t a big one, but remember, he was fishing with 10 pound braid and a glorified trout rod. Moments later, I got a GT on a live shrimp, and we got to take the highly sought-after “doubles” photo – two GTs at the same time. I thought to myself that the day couldn’t get any better.

HO GTs

Doubles on GTs. These are one of the best fish ever.

But the day could get better – the next prawn I sent over the side got smashed, and I was into the first of two golden trevally I would land in the next 30 minutes. This species it actually much more beautiful the smaller it gets, and while this striped one was nice-looking, they are bright yellow when they are about half this size. Adults are just a plain gray, but at any size, they pull hard. Dave also stuck one of these on a jig, and with all the action late in the day, he may have been more thrilled than I was. Jimmy was quietly satisfied in the background – it had been another stellar day, even if he had learned some disturbing things about Alex.

HO Golden

One of the goldens. Perversely, I wanted a smaller one.

We got off the water relatively early – this was after all a business trip, and that evening was full of suits, plates of suspicious appetizers, and discussions about things mostly nowhere near as important as a goatee croaker. But no matter how difficult the crab puffs would be in the morning, nothing could bother me – I already had three species in the bag for 2016 – and the possible trip of a lifetime coming up in just five days.

Steve

Posted by: 1000fish | April 3, 2016

Even Fisherman Get the Blues (Except Me)

Dateline: October 11, 2015 – San Diego, California

Generally, people don’t want the blues. But I want a blue shark. Badly. Yes, I know you’ve caught one and I haven’t – but do you really want to get into that contest with me? Don’t make me remind you that I’ve caught a spotted wobbegong. On purpose.

My San Diego trip in June failed to net me a blue – I got some nice other fish and a few world records, but the blue sharks disappeared like Marta’s sense of shame when she sneaks my Lifetime Achievement Award into the garage. And I had to spend 20 hours in the car with Spellman, which is like spending 20 hours in the car with Guido, except Guido’s English is marginally better. (Details on Guido HERE.)

Of course, I dismissed the notion that the water temperature was simply too warm and blamed everything on Spellman. This meant that I needed to try with a different road partner, and there are few road partners better than Scott Perry. (Prerequisite reading HERE.) Scott and I have been doing road trips together since we were young and thin, and it was great to get a weekend away. And so, doing my best Dick Cheney impression, I ignored clear data that the water temperatures in San Diego were still too warm, and I booked a few October days with ace guide James Nelson.

Did I mention it’s a long drive to San Diego?

We didn’t eat at Dairy Queen on the way down, because we had an option that may be (gasp) even better – the Willow Ranch restaurant. This meal stop, on an isolated stretch of I-5 just far enough from Bakersfield to avoid the smell, makes darn good everything, but they specialize in barbecue, a genre which Scott and I both favor.

Blue Restaurant

A referral to this place is one of the few things of value ever given to me by a particularly troubled relative.

This time, they had a new sandwich, and it was AWESOME. (Even if I am still digesting it.)

Blue Sandwich

Who thinks of these things? Genius.

We finally got to San Diego, checked into a comfortable condo on the south end of the bay, and set up gear for the big days to come.

Blue Pier

Sunset at Imperial Beach. Of course I fished the pier, to no avail.

Morning came early, as it always does. It was great to see Captain James. He was cautiously optimistic to get offshore with us, but he did warn that the water temperatures were still showing somewhere between tropical and bathtub. People were catching wahoo on day trips out of San Diego, and this did not bode well. But stubbornly, I forged ahead, ignoring both science and common sense. Unfortunately, science and common sense did not ignore me.

There were plenty of fish out there, but none of them were blue sharks. We saw all kinds of tropical critters, including an impressive hammerhead shark of some 12 feet. But the blues were not there, and I was predictably grouchy, blaming the usual suspects – LeBron James, Dodger fans, and bird flu. In hindsight, I recognize this was irrational – it was actually all Guido’s fault.

Blue Whale

Fine, we saw a whale. But it wasn’t a blue shark, which would have been much more majestic and beautiful as far as I’m concerned.

As we worked through different locations, we eventually got into water shallow enough where I could fish the bottom. We picked up a variety of rockfish – which meant that we had dinner, because Scott can take fish and turn it into meals. But this is not the important thing. The important thing was that one of the rockfish looked strange, and when I dug into Val Kells’ new book, the creature turned out to be a speckled rockfish, which is a new species for me.

Blue Speckled

The speckled rockfish.

Blue Speck

Scott’s may look bigger, but that’s just an optical illusion created by the fact that it was longer and heavier than mine.

I also got my personal best sheephead – it was just getting to the beautiful tricolor pattern that marks the adult males.

Blue Sheep

These things are all born as females but then eventually become males. Marta, ever the sexist, theorized that they lose 50 IQ points when they do this.

So the day was a triumph after all … sort of … but I was still traumatized about the blue shark. They’re supposed to be easy to catch, but they just weren’t there. It’s not like going back to San Diego is all than undesirable, but I really would like to catch one of these things before I get too old to use a 50# class setup.

There was no ugly fast food dinner in store for the evening. Scott can cook, and he whipped the rockfish up into some sort of restaurant-worthy stir fry. (To be fair, Martini can cook at a professional level as well, but none of the places we stayed in September had cooking facilities or, in many cases, running water.) We then spent the rest of the evening watching baseball, and I realized how long it had been since I just sat down and watched a whole baseball game. This was especially fulfilling, because the Dodgers lost. This would have pleased my grandfather, who never liked the National League. (He reserved a special dislike for the Cubs, who defeated his beloved Tigers two World Series in a row – 1907 and 1908 – thereby ruining his childhood. Whereas we may think of the Cubs as America’s loveable hard-luck team, they were quite the juggernaut while Archduke Ferdinand was still alive.)

We spent the next two days plying San Diego Bay. There are several things in here I had not gotten – corvina, corbina, striped guitarfish, midshipman – but the one that annoyed me most was perhaps the smallest – the diamond turbot. This modest flatfish is supposed to be all over the bay, but I had yet to see one in several days of fishing. With this challenge in mind, we set out to fish one of the most pleasant locations I have ever visited.

Scott and I both caught all kinds of stuff using mackerel slabs on the bottom – small sharks, guitarfish, bat rays, and butterfly rays. Round stingrays and bay bass pounced on the smaller baits – in terms of action, this is about the best place a 220 pound eight year-old like me can go. Something is always biting.

Blue Butter Scott

Scott’s first butterfly ray.

But a diamond turbot was not among these things that were biting. I had to make do with a big butterfly ray that smashed my record from June, but if Marta gets the idea I am going for another IGFA Men’s Saltwater trophy, I am going to get put in the garage. But it was a heck of a fish.

Blue Butterfly

16 pounds of steaming Butterfly Ray.

Blue Butterfly 2

James and his sixth world record as a guide.

That evening, we dined in again – shockingly, two healthy meals in a row. After the Cubs beat the Cardinals, which would have displeased my grandfather, we actually got to watch one of those movies from my young adulthood that I had never actually seen – “Valley Girl.” The music, the clothes, everything was so frighteningly familiar and yet so old. Say what you will about Nicolas Cage, but Deborah Foreman should have gotten an Oscar. Doubly so for her memorable performance in “Real Genius.” If you don’t know what I’m talking about, look up the scene where she meets Val Kilmer.

Blue Deb

One of the most important moments in modern American cinema.

And then it was dawn. We hit the bay again, on a pleasant, clear morning, without a care in the world unless you count the dread of a 10 hour drive coming up later in the day. We scored loads of the usual suspects, but could not seem to get anything strange in the boat, except of course for me.

Blue Dawn

Morning in San Diego Bay.

We drifted small baits for a couple of hours, but the only surprise was how athletic a round stingray could be chasing a piece of shrimp. I was well past caring when I got a strike and hooked up either a very small stingray or a moderate piece of kelp – imagine my surprise when it turned out to be a turbot.

Blue Turbot

And there was great rejoicing.

We spent the rest of the day chasing assorted bay creatures, and Scott had the fight of the day with a bat ray on a rig meant for spotted bay bass.

Blue Bat

These things pull very hard for their size, and they have been given the evolutionary advantage of being completely inedible. I don’t know why Scott squats like this for fish photos – maybe he had cramps.

Blue Group

The group as we headed in to port. We had a long drive ahead, but Willow Ranch awaited us.

And so, that wrapped up the 2015 fishing for me. The species count had crept up to 1478, countries to 86, and states to 48. I was getting close to some major goals, which realistically means that I would just set more goals. After a what turned out to be a festive if eventful holiday season, I knew there would be a 2016 full of new countries, new species, new friends all over the globe – and new things for Marta to put in the garage.

Steve

Blue Logo

Look this guy up if you’re near San Diego.

 

 

Posted by: 1000fish | March 19, 2016

Road Trip II – The Longest Day

Dateline: September 13, 2015 – Seattle, Washington

Sometimes, there just isn’t enough Red Bull.

Martini and I finished September 9 at a Motel Fungus somewhere in southeastern South Dakota, and, if we were to keep on schedule, the next day would be a logistical monster. It actually involved very little fishing, because we had over 600 miles of driving to do, which in and of itself is doable (example HERE,) except that we had two major tourist stops and a state to add to the fishing list. Who knew that South Dakota had things other than the Chamberlain Dairy Queen – like the Badlands National Park and Mount Rushmore? And who knew that Wyoming – one of the remaining states where I had not captured some sort of fish – was just to the left of South Dakota? So all we needed to do in one day was drive across South Dakota, hit two big bucket list items, get to Wyoming in daylight so we could catch a fish there, oh, and then drive a few more hours to end up in North Dakota so we could fish there in the morning.

Long Map

It looked so easy on the map.

The Badlands came first. This desolate, jagged outcrop pops out of the northern plains and is the closest thing to another planet I have seen, outside of Cleveland.

Long Bad 1

Martini searches for the Badlands.

Long Bad2

We find them. They’re behind us.

Long Bad

This sort of stuff went on for miles.

We wandered and hiked a bit, and we both took a lot of photos, although Martini’s camera is a whole lot better than my iPhone. I have included some of his better shots here – he’s a talented photographer, even if he hasn’t caught a gizzard shad.

Long Sheep

It took Martini half an hour to get into position for this shot.

On the way out of the Badlands, there are approximately 750 signs for a store called “Wall Drug.” Don’t.

Long Wall

Really. Don’t.

We then had another long stretch of road to get to Mount Rushmore. I was already running the calculations for how much Wyoming fishing time we would have based on spending six minutes at Rushmore, and it was going to be tight. Martini made things even tighter because he insisted on doing clever cultural things like hunting for agates and visiting a rock store along our way – he has always been interested in geology and … rockology … even though these things will not help him catch more fish.

Though we were driving hundreds of miles at a stretch, time passed quickly, because we have an endless supply of fishing topics to discuss – species, records, countries, states, and Kate Upton. We also had 11 Taylor Swift songs on my iPod for when things got really slow, although we got so familiar with these that we began taking cultural liberties with them. “Shake it Off” sung in a Russian accent works remarkably well.

Do not judge us – these were long drives. It made sense at the time.

I had expected Mount Rushmore to be big, but it was bigger than I could have imagined. And I can imagine a lot.

Long Rush 1

Walking up to the viewing area.

Imagine something really, really big, then imagine something even bigger, and then give up, because it’s still bigger than that. We were positively drooling with patriotism. Even though our current presidential election has devolved into something of a reality show, any American who could look at Mount Rushmore and not feel proud is a communist and should be deported to Berkeley. (And forced to read Karl Marx’s Manifesto. Karl was truly the least amusing of the Marx brothers.)

Long Rush 2

Selfie with the four presidents – Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Millard Fillmore.

Long Rush

Did I mention it was huge?

Once we got on the road again, I finally had a chance to get amped up about fishing. It was getting late in the afternoon, and I knew we would have a fairly short window to add Wyoming to my list. We got to our target water with about 45 minutes of daylight remaining, and I did not want to blow my chance. This was pressure.

I saw the creek – a small, gin-clear trout stream, and improbably, I thought of my father. I remember him on a similar creek in my childhood, saying “If you can see them, they can see you.” I have no idea where that came from – whereas Martini might be trading fishing notes with Marty every week, my father and I aren’t close. But I still remember some of that stuff from childhood like it was 45 years ago. I was going to have to revert to ultra-light lure angling, pretty much the first fishing I ever did.

Long WY Creek

The creek where I would add Wyoming – or not.

My dad and I didn’t fish together much, but I lived for those mornings. And just as I will occasionally remember something from college, like the meaning of “zero allomorph,” those trout trips on the Truckee River in northern California always stuck with me. Small lures with a single, barbless hook, cast upstream and drift it down under control but naturally. It was so simple, and yet so complicated, like hitting a baseball, which I was never much good at either, unless I knew a fastball was coming. My Dad caught most of the fish, and it dawned on me that there was some real skill involved in the whole business. I remembered that ritual of casting upstream and letting a lure drift down with the current, reeling just quickly enough to keep up with it but make it look natural, waiting for the hesitation or jump in the line that meant a bite. It’s a skill I have worked on my whole life, and I think of those days in the early 1970s every time I do it.

On my second cast, the lure landed in a pocket upstream and was gently wobbling in the current when I got the electric tug of a trout strike. I lifted up, not too hard, not too soft, and a fish was on. I could see it was a small brown at the head of the pool, and I played it gently onto the bank. I had added Wyoming as my 47th state, with almost no time to spare.

Long S Brown

The Wyoming Fish.

For good measure, I got a bigger trout moments later, but then the sun started disappearing and we were done. Bowman, North Dakota was still a long way off.

Long Brown 2

The bigger Wyoming fish.

Long Cow

A Wyoming cow at sunset. It was in a good moo.

We got in the car and headed north. If we had it to over again, we would have found an extra day. There just isn’t enough Red Bull for some things. But we got there, although it was a close run thing and no, the underwear was not reusable.

Somewhere in that very long last 100 miles, caffeine stopped having effect and we were forced to take desperate measures to stay awake – rolling down the windows, shouting songs, competitive flatulence. Things that are not normally amusing became hilarious. Things that might be faintly amusing (to an emotionally-stunted eight year-old) became pants-wettingly funny. We almost wrecked the car laughing at something about an angel shark attacking the windshield, and to this day, I can’t explain why it was funny.

The morning came far too early, but we had another daunting task – catch a fish in North Dakota and get the heck on the road, because we needed to be a long way west before the end of the day. Fishing spots were getting farther and farther apart, but there was a lot to see, mostly corn.

Martini had somehow located an isolated North Dakota pond that was supposed to have solid fishing. We got out and walked around it, hunting for panfish in the shallows. The place looked sterile, and I was a little worried.

Long Pond

The Little Pond on the Prairie

While Martini checked out the boat launch, I wandered down the shoreline, examining the weedbeds for a lonely sunfish, a small pike … anything. I had gone a few hundred yards and was beginning to worry, when I saw a small, dark shape about 15 feet offshore.

It had to be a yellow perch – something I had forgotten would even be there. Tying on a trusted small crankbait, I cast, and I was immediately rewarded with a spirited strike. Seconds later, I landed the fish and had added my 48th state.

Long Perch

The 48th state. Up to 1958, the US only had 48 states, but in 1959, we added Alaska and Canada.

I yelled for Martini to come up and try his luck, and then I cast again. The perch were ravenous and of reasonable size, so we stayed and fished for about 45 minutes, catching at least 30 between us.

Long Double

Some of the morning bounty. I only wish we had time for a fish fry.

It reminded me of my first yellow perch ever, summer 1977 in Port Sanilac harbor on Lake Huron, with my Uncle Jim patiently supervising.

Quickly, we saddled up and hit the road again, heading west through the vast, open plains of North Dakota.

Long Prong

Martini managed to photograph a pronghorn.

We entered Montana late in the morning, and we would be in Montana for a long time, because Montana is 9000 miles wide.

Long MT

“Welcome to Montana – Widest State in the Union.”

We had one very important tourist stop to make – a place I like to think of as “America’s Monument to Bad Planning.” Whereas most countries commemorate their military triumphs, in this case, we have chosen to memorialize a complete disaster. For it was on this isolated hillside above the Little Bighorn River, 139 years ago, that Colonel George Armstrong Custer and 209 men under his command attacked the enemy without properly researching how many of them were there. It didn’t go well.

Long Hill 2

Looking up “Last Stand Hill.” The place was haunting. If you close your eyes and listen carefully, you can still hear Custer whispering “Oh, shit.”

Long Marker

The monument at the top of the hill. Most of the enlisted men are buried here.

Long Hill

Looking down the hill back toward the river. These stones mark where the men fell, but are not the actual graves. The one in the center with the black plaque is Custer’s.

Speaking of not doing well, this stretch of the trip was a culinary low point for Martini. I am, shall we say, a bit less picky about food than Martini. There may only be three Dairy Queens in Montana, but they are spaced in such a way that we ended up eating three consecutive meals there. I believe that this is nearly ideal, but Martini would have given my right arm for a salad.

In the morning, we had to plan out two stops which Martini had found. These were some distance apart, because, as we have discussed, Montana is 9000 miles wide.

In the first portion of this 9000 miles, we stopped at an absolutely gorgeous small river – crystal clear, deepening into some Alpine-blue cuts and holes, and obviously full of trout. But we didn’t want trout. We wanted longnose suckers. Yes, we know this is weird.

For the first hour or so, I kept catching beautiful trout, which is nice, but they kept me from the suckers, which were stacked up in a school right by a bridge piling. I soaked worms for about an hour with no success.

Long Bridge

Martini prepares to fish. About an hour after this photos was taken, he did something terrible to me.

Martini stepped in and caught a sucker fairly quickly, because he was clever and used nymphs for bait. In the interim, we both got rocky mountain sculpins, a surprise addition to our respective species lists.

Long Sculpin

“Rocky Mountain Sculpin” – one of John Denver’s most beautiful songs.

Then I was back to the suckers, this time using the nymphs as well. Bait, cast, strike, miss, repeat. This went on for a while – actually, well past when Martini had mentioned we would need to get on the road.

Considering that I had forced him to eat at Dairy Queen repeatedly, Martini was remarkably kind. He knew I would be insufferable if I got that close to a new species and failed, and he patiently helped me by foraging for nymphs under rocks and helping wrestle them onto hooks – they are not cooperative. When I finally hooked a sucker, he was right there to land it, and we raced to the vehicle and hit the road. And he never gave me a word of trouble about it.

Long Longnose

The longnose. And the longnose sucker.

But there was a terrible secret behind Martini’s kindness. Months later, I found out he had caught another new species, the longnose dace, while he was waiting for me to get the sucker. He chose not to mention this to me because he reasoned, with undeniable accuracy, that if I had known this fish was there I wouldn’t have left for two more hours.

Long Dace

The longnose dace. Martini has one and I don’t. Bad Martini.

We then drove more of the 9000 miles required to get across Montana. I believe to this day that if you dig a hole from eastern Montana straight down through the center of the earth, you will come out in central Montana.

On long drives like this, you get a lot of time to talk. It was a different road trip than 2014, still boisterous but perhaps a bit more serious. Last year, we were celebrating the great triumph of Martini graduating Stanford and heading home for some well-deserved time off. This time, we were heading away from his home and family, to his new challenge of grad school. New professors, new classmates, new supermodels – I knew he would be unbelievably successful like he always is, but there was a lot of work ahead of him, and it was clearly on his mind. But he has a large brain, which is only 44% dedicated to study and 38% dedicated to Kate Upton, so there is plenty of room left for fishing topics.

Toward the end of the day, we pulled up at a gorgeous mountain river – a bit bigger than the earlier stop, but a classic western trout water. Except that we were hunting for northern pikeminnow. Yes, you heard me. And again, I had to fight my way through some amazing trout before I could get the target species on the hook, but I managed to get a few, as did Martini.

Long PikeM

The pikeminnows (there are four species) can actually get quite large – see “My Failed Weekend of Parenthood

Long M Pike

Martini working on his northern pikeminnow.

We spent the evening in the relative civilization of Bozeman, and actually got to eat somewhere that had vegetables on the menu. My intestinal tract was deeply confused by this change of pace. The next day, we finally got out of Montana.

Long Leaving

I was so happy to see this sign. Montana was beautiful, but nothing stays beautiful for 9000 miles. Except Marta.

That was pretty much it for the fishing. We had a couple of shots at some line-class and fly records across the miles, but not much happened. The highlight of this segment of this trip was undoubtedly finding a Couer d’Alene Taco Bell that served their inimitable breakfast – we had been looking for this since Illinois. The Crunchy Chicken Gasarito is my personal favorite, and this kept us inspired as we entered the moonscape of western Washington.

School was weighing heavily on Martini’s mind, and we spoke about his upcoming work. A lot of it would involve how trout species evolve into different types in given environments, and I was hopeful he would describe a new species of trout – Onchorhyncus uptonii – so I could be the first person to put in a record for it while he was still busy in the lab.

Long Gorge

The Columbia gorge. It’s big.

We got to Seattle on a rainy Sunday morning, moved him into his dorm, ate lunch, and pleasingly watched the Seahawks lose.

Long Seattle

The nicest day I have ever seen in Seattle.

I was then off for the airport, and a few hours later, I was back home, with Marta looking forward to my next adventure. I had added 19 species, and at 1476, I was getting tantalizingly close to 1500. I had gotten another chance to be on the road with a great friend, like it was college again except with better fishing gear. Martini was already figuring out where we could catch Washington trophies like largescale sucker and peamouth, and I knew that whenever I saw him again, that he would not have eaten at Dairy Queen in the interim.

Steve

 

Posted by: 1000fish | March 9, 2016

Road Trip II – A Thousand Miles of Corn

Dateline: September 8, 2015 – Chamberlain, South Dakota

I awoke to itching. Severe itching. The kind of itching that makes people buy wire brushes and do inadvisable things. My mosquito bites had ripened into robust welts that would haunt me the rest of the trip. But even then, in the depths of discomfort, pink and crusty with calamine, I was thrilled with the previous two days fishing. It was going to be tough to keep producing numbers like we had on September 4 and 5, and in fact, Martini had warned me that species hunting on this trip was fairly front-loaded. Still, there was plenty to do as we worked our way across the country, and in 24 hours, we would be trying for the species that sparked my imagination more than any other on the agenda.

We had been driving north for the first couple of days, and we now began a broad left turn west. When we came over any slight rise, we could see for miles to the horizon, and it was one big cornfield. I have never seen so much corn in my life, and it would stay this way continuously for several days.

Ben Corn

This was the view for a long time.

The view made me realize exactly how darn big the country is – and how much corn we grow. I like corn, but we never stopped seeing it. I saw it in my sleep, working itself into that dream I have every night where Jaime Hamamoto catches the lagoon triggerfish. This time, she caught it using corn. I shot awake in a cold sweat.

The target species were farther between, but a day fishing is a day fishing. On September 6th, we hopscotched from spillway to spillway, looking for whatever would bite. Martini was focused on some line class records for gar, so I explored the backwaters while he did his thing. I caught the first of what would be several large carp, which is great fun on light tackle.

Corn Carp 1

Carp: terribly underrated by US anglers; terribly overrated by French chefs.

I thought back to Ben and the kindness he had shown in sharing his secret creek in Illinois. By this stage, 24 hours later, I learned that he had never caught a gizzard shad and was going to give me a hard time because I had. He was certainly a good sport, which I probably wasn’t. (Sending him a gizzard shad photo every day for a week was kind of tasteless, but hey, he made me eat at Sonic.)

Moving to another tailrace, Martini cast for Asian carp while I fished for whatever was there. The yellow bass were pounding my crankbait, but then I had the misfortune, or not, of foul-hooking a large bighead. Refusing to lose my lucky orange Wiggle Wart, I stuck it out for 45 minutes and landed the beast. No, I don’t put this at the same level of dignity as catching one on a jig, but it was a heck of a fight.

Corn Silver

I am one of the few people you know who has caught one of these in Asia on bait.

That night, we crossed in to Missouri. Because we had decided that eating too much Dairy Queen would kill us, we looked for healthier options. We quickly abandoned that idea when I discovered that Martini had never eaten at White Castle, which is just wrong. He had a personal goal of finishing ten of these tasty if small hamburgers in one sitting, and he handily exceeded this.

Interestingly, this is the first time I had ever eaten at White Castle before 1am.

Corn White Castle

Martini, the White Castle devastation, and Penguito, the official mascot of the road trip. Yes, he (Martini, not Penguito) ate all those hamburgers, and yes, there would be consequences.

The next day, September 7, we continued through the corn, covering the rest of Missouri and most of Iowa.

Corn Corn 2

It felt like it was closing in on us. We didn’t want to drive through it, because then we would be cereal killers.

It’s flat there. It’s still pretty country, a lot like the farmland in Michigan where my Mom’s side of the family comes from – open and filled with corn. The people are good-natured and not always in a hurry, and we actually saw teenagers who weren’t glued to an iPhone.

We tried a few more Missouri creeks early in the day, and among at least a squillion tiny sunfish, we got bigeye shiners and bleeding shiners, both of which were new species.

Ben Bigeye

Pride? What pride?

Ben Bleeding

A bleeding shiner, identified by Ben Cantrell.

We fished the rest of the afternoon at a dam in Iowa. Martini spent hours jigging for walleye and white crappie, two species he needs for his list, but unfortunately, the place was so loaded with silver carp he kept hooking them instead. He wanted me to note that he inadvertently snagged them, but I firmly believe they attack jigs with their pectoral fins. I amused myself by catching some nice common carp.

Corn M Silver

Martini and the dreaded silver carp.

Corn Carp 2

My British friends sent me congratulations. My French friends sent me recipes.

We went to sleep that evening knowing we had an early morning date with a dinosaur, and before you start getting visions of country bars and poor decisions, I’m talking about a sturgeon. Get your mind out of the gutter, people.

It was pouring when we got up, but this was the only rain we saw on the trip. (Until we reached Seattle of course.) About an hour later, we crossed the border into Nebraska.

Corn NE

That’s who we have to thank for Arbor day!

We pulled up at the sturgeon spot Martini had researched, discovering that Lewis and Clark had also stayed there.

Corn LC

They should have stayed at La Quinta. (Interestingly, “La Quinta” is Spanish for “Next to Denny’s.”)

We got down to the water and immediately recognized a problem. Martini had brought us exactly where others had caught these fish, but the current conditions looked unworkable – the water was whizzing by fast enough to push a four ounce sinker right back onto the bank. We gave it a game try for about an hour, but nothing happened. Bearing in mind we didn’t have very long scheduled in any given spot, we both went into problem-solving mode. I wanted this species badly.

I knew we needed a slower flow that still offered some range of depth – I imagined these beasts would be prowling just out of the main current. Looking well upstream, there appeared to be a bar where a tributary came in, and I suggested that we head that direction. The sky was clearing and it had warmed up, but my idea didn’t look as attractive when we realized that what looked like a light wade was actually a trudge through deep mud – the kind that pulls off shoes. And toenails. But we made it, set up, and cast some baits out that actually stayed in the water.

About 30 minutes later, my heavy salmon rod rattled a couple of times. I feared that small catfish had found us, but I picked up the rod, and instead of the pestilential tapping typical of siluriformes, there was a gentle pumping and creeping away sort of thing. (Sound familiar, Cousin Chuck?) I set the hook, and whatever it was, it wasn’t a tiny catfish. I reeled silently and thought sturgeon thoughts, and when that impossibly thin tail whipped out of the water, I swung the whole rig up on the bank and yelled in triumph. I spun around to yell for Martini but he was already there with the net – he’s just that good of a teammate.

Corn S Stur

I am sure Martini was glad this fish was easier to land than the last sturgeon we got together – see “A Midnight Swim in Eau Claire.”

Now our goal was to get Martini the species, so I sat back to assist, as he would for me. The same rod went off again, and Martini, who almost never misses, didn’t miss. So we both had the shovelnose, which meant that we needed to be off for other places.

Corn M Stur

This was an amazing fish. Sturgeon are a true prehistoric holdover that fascinate me in any size, and I still recall this as the best moment in a string of good ones.

Corn Shovel

Hence the name.

We hit the road, heading northwest into South Dakota. SD was one of the five states remaining where I had not caught a fish, so I was antsy for the entire drive to our first stop, a small river near Sioux Falls. We didn’t have a lot of time allotted there, but I was fairly confident I would get something in the state, because I knew we would be in South Dakota for a very long time, as it is approximately 6000 miles wide.

Noted micro-fisherman and species hunter Levi Cain had pointed us to a riverside park with a convenient bridge, and it was there we set up. Moments later, Martini landed a nice shorthead redhorse, and I followed that up with a channel catfish. We were on the board in South Dakota – my 46th state.

Corn Red M

Yes, his was bigger.

Corn Cat

We would have caught more fish if I had Rushmore.

We made a final stop for the day in a small creek a few miles outside of town. It was loaded with micros, and we managed to get sand shiners, which fight well for a shiner, onto the list.

Corn Sand

The sand shiner. Yes, we have photos of the unique scale pattern on the dorsal surface, because I know you were going to ask that.

Painfully aware that the next day would be the longest one of the trip, one in which we were unlikely to discover any new species, but quite likely to discover that our logistical planning was overly ambitious, we drifted off to sleep, dreams of new fish and states interrupted only by the aforementioned consequences of a dozen White Castle hamburgers.

Steve

Corn Corn 1

Amaizing.

Posted by: 1000fish | February 25, 2016

Road Trip II – Ben’s Creek

Dateline: September 5, 2015 – Central Illinois

If there is one thing more ill-advised than driving across the country with a couple of barely-hygienic millenials, it’s driving back across the country with one of them in half the time with even more ambitious fishing goals. Yes, I know you are all painfully familiar with The Great Road Trip of 2014, when I spent three weeks in the back seat of a Ford Escape dealing with endless juvenile humor (mostly from me,) gas issues (mostly from Kyle,) and of course Kyle, who kept catching all the best fish. It was a golden three weeks, when our only problem seemed to be figuring out where we could find the next Dairy Queen.

Flu Redfish

That’s Kyle, close friend of Jaime Hamamoto. I’m still annoyed that he caught this fish.

It had been five months since Martini and I had been on the road (see “Swede Home Alabama“) and we were due. Martini needed to get from Miami to Seattle, because he was starting grad school or joining a grunge band, I forget which, but either way, he needed company for 3500 miles of driving and this meant plenty of fishing – and possibly four of the six states where I had never caught something. It was not a hard decision, especially with Marta saying “Take an extra week. Call if you get a chance. Bye now!”

To save me a day of driving, Martini met me in Atlanta. United Airlines did their usual, inexplicable best to make me late, and by the time I saw that familiar Ford Escape, we just had time to shovel down $12 worth of Cracker Barrel meatloaf and get some sleep. There was an itinerary to follow, and every spot Martini had scoped out was loaded with new things to catch. He is truly the ultimate fishing researcher and planner.

That first morning was one of the most magical of the trip. The location was beautiful – a small river winding through hilly farmland in a quiet corner of Northwest Georgia, given to Martini by microfishing expert Levi Cain. We set up some light and micro rods, donned our water shoes, and set to it. It was summer and I was on the road with a great friend – nay, a brother – and in pursuit of new species.

Ben GA Creek

Our first spot – part of the Conasauga River system.

I warn you all, especially the less-experienced readers, that there are not a lot of large fish in this article. Well, there really aren’t any. But a new species is a new species and this sort of stuff really gets us species hunters worked up, so please bear with me.

The first catch was a Coosa shiner, which looks like most other shiners.

Ben Coosa

This didn’t take long.

We then moved on to the Southern Studfish, which I have always wanted to catch just because it has such a cool name.

Ben Stud

I have no idea why they’re called this.

We also added a tricolor shiner, and finally, I got the beast of the morning, a largescale stoneroller. Martini did not catch one of these. I reminded him of this often.

Ben tricolor

The tricolor shiner. Unlike most shiners, it is at least readily identifiable.

Ben Stoneroller

This is what passed for big that day.

In our defense, we did catch a bunch of nice sunfish and bass, but these were not the targets. Martini then got a hogsucker, which I didn’t, and he was much more gracious than I was about the largescale stoneroller. (Although we’re still not sure if it’s a new species or not.)

Ben Hogsucker

Martini has some kind of fancy underwater camera. iPhones are not waterproof, as I would find out the hard way in about two hours.

Ben M Creek

Martini hunts the next species.

As we got into the afternoon, Martini reminded me that we needed to be on our way, and hopefully put Tennessee on my state list. Of course, I was convinced that I could squeeze just one more species out of the creek and was reluctant to leave. This was the first of many times on the trip that my primal urge to stay at one place for hours and hours would run up against Martini’s carefully crafted schedule. Let’s be clear here – if Martini hadn’t plotted this thing out in the detail he had, I’d still be sitting in Georgia. So if, in the next few episodes, it ever sounds like he was anal about the schedule, remember that he was managing a tight timetable and an attention span-challenged fishing partner.

We pulled up at another gorgeous country creek, just a few minutes across the Georgia/Tennessee border. We each caught a bunch of small bass, making Tennessee the 45th state where I had caught a fish.

Ben TN Bass

Steve adds TN as his 45th state.

Then I dumped my iPhone in the creek.

Wet iPhones do not behave well, and this was my only link to an office that expected me to keep an eye on email and phone calls during this trip. It would work for a few minutes, and then start calling random numbers out of my contacts. It would let me type most of an email, and then autocorrect everything into faintly obscene gobbledygook. It was a challenge I didn’t need, but it certainly made things exciting for the next week.

Ben Church

There were a lot of churches in Tennessee.

It was getting late in the afternoon, and the schedule called for us to spend the night well to the north in Kentucky. (I had fished KY previously, resulting in one of the lowest fish to text ratios of any blog ever – My Old Kentucky Bone.) We did manage one more species before we hit the road- the flame chub. This modest creature was camped out under a culvert near a store where we had stopped to load up on unhealthy food to get us through the long, dark drive.

Ben Flame

The flame chub has its moment in the media. I probably should have washed my hands before I ate the Cheetos.

During that drive, I learned something culturally disturbing about Martini. Our iPods have very little overlap, except for Taylor Swift, so we were trading off songs in a sort of intergenerational cultural exchange. While I believe that my classic Clash tunes have it all over the K-Pop he sometimes drags out, when he produced – and performed – the following entry, he clearly won the evening.

MARTINI GOES MARIACHI

We crashed for a few fitful hours, then hit the road early, as the schedule called for us to end up in central Illinois.

Ben Plate

There’s a license plate combination I never expected to see.

We drove back roads up through the rest of Kentucky – beautiful country – and one of our several culvert stops netted me a central stoneroller, which was a new species.

Ben Central

And there was great rejoicing.

It was in this same spot that Martini got even with me for the largescale stoneroller. He caught a lake chubsucker, which I did not. He was more gracious than I would have been.

Ben Chubsucker

How do they get these names? I’ve never seen one in a lake or doing anything untoward with a chub.

We worked our way north, crossing into Illinois at Cairo, which had once been a booming river town but has since fallen on hard times. These were long stretches of road, but between the scenery and the planning of our next moves, time went quickly.

Our first couple of stops were at, well, swamps. Southern Illinois has a lot of swamp, some of which is still in my shoes.

Ben Swamp 1

Nice but unexpected scenery. There were snakes everywhere. I don’t like snakes, but they’re better than alligators.

The schedule for the day hopscotched us across southern Illinois until late afternoon. We would then spend the rest of the day at a secret creek that had been shared with us by local species hunter Ben Cantrell. In the meantime, our first stop produced orangespotted sunfish for both of us.

Ben Orange

The orangespotted sunfish joins the list.

Ben OS

See? They do have orange spots.

We moved spots frequently – pretty much a hit and run approach. One of the marks, another swampy area, gave up a blackstripe topminnow. These micros are always interesting to catch, because they are right on the surface, as their name would imply, and they will chase small baits skimmed across the top for some distance. It’s the same idea as trolling for marlin, except smaller and less dignified.

Ben Topminnow

There’s a fish in my left hand. Look closely.

As we worked our way north, through a beautiful, humid summer afternoon, we stopped at an isolated spillway where Martini thought he might get a gar record or two.

Ben Gar

Although Martini got no records this particular day, he got plenty of nice fish.

While he cast baits at cruising fish, I spent my time throwing sabikis at a school of baitfish right under the wash. I thought about walking on to the rocks to get a better angle, but after I saw three large copperheads, I changed my mind. In the meantime, I caught one fish, a gizzard shad.

Ben Shad

I only learned later that this was a rather improbable hookup.

We then headed north for Ben’s creek. Martini warned me that it wouldn’t look like much, but Ben had told him there were at least a dozen species in there that we hadn’t caught. When we pulled up to the bridge, which was in the exact middle of nowhere, there was a truck parked above it. I thought to myself – damn, another fisherman daring to be in our spot. But Martini leaned out the window and yelled, in some sort of disturbing accent, “Ohhhhhhhh Bennnnnnnyyyyyy!!!” It was Ben down on the water. By pure coincidence, as the location had been given months before, we were fishing the creek the same day as Ben and I would get to meet him in person. He has fished with Martini several times, and whatever the private joke was with the “Ohhhhhhh Bennnnnyyyy,” I don’t want to know.

Ben works for a heavy equipment company in Illinois, and he has a bad case of the species hunting bug. He has a list in the mid-300s, and this is especially impressive considering it has all been done in the US. His blog is good reading – http://bencantrellfish.blogspot.com/.

Ben Ben

Steve and Ben just before the festivities started. Ben was joined by his buddy Garren, another species hunter, who is examining the piling in the background.

We waved at him from the bridge and hoped he could show us how the heck to get down to the water – the banks were steep and overgrown. It turns out that there was no easy way. We crashed through poison-ivy laden underbrush and down precipitous rocks, but then we were there – in a short stretch of shallow pools and riffles that would turn out to be great fun. While I rigged up my micro rod, Ben and Martini started catching all kinds of stuff I had never seen. It was late afternoon, we had perhaps two hours of light left, and I wanted to take advantage of every moment of it. I didn’t even notice the first few mosquitoes.

The first few catches were striped shiners, but then I got a new critter – the bluntnose minnow.

Ben Bluntnose

Yes, I am actually reporting catching a minnow.

I then went after the harder stuff – madtoms and darters. The mosquitoes were getting annoying.

Madtoms are a small, catfishy-looking thing that hides under rocks. They are caught by those patient (or deranged) enough to poke small baits into likely-looking crevices until a madtom pops out and attacks. As the day grew crepuscular, I missed several bites because I was busy swatting mosquitoes off my neck. Ben pretty much stopped fishing and guided me – he showed me likely hiding spots for the madtoms, then coached me on presentation until I caught one.

Ben Madtom

The slender madtom.

We then had the rainbow darter to tackle before it got completely dark, and before the mosquitoes – which had grown larger, more numerous, and more organized – took over completely. Tragically, there was a bottle of military-grade repellent in the car, but I was not leaving this stream, not even for five minutes. Ben patiently showed me how to spot these skittish but beautiful fish – they generally spook, then settle down a few feet away. The idea is then to drop a tiny bait in front of their new hiding spot. They won’t come out very far to eat, but after half a dozen false starts, I finally got one – my sixth species of the day and the best-looking by far. It was almost completely dark, and my neck and arms were riddled with welts. But as they say, all’s welt that ends welt.

Ben Darter

A rainbow darter in the holding tank. Who knew tupperware had so many uses?

Ben Darter 2

Steve, Darter, Martini, and Garren.

I hardly noticed the itching as we crashed back up the hill and got to the cars. My can of DEET was sitting on the seat, mocking me, as I noticed that the back of my legs looked like an allergy test gone horribly wrong.

We took Garren and Ben out to dinner to thank them – I wanted to go all out and hit Dairy Queen, but the guys seemed set on Sonic, even though there was a Dairy Queen nearby. I mean, Dairy Queen was RIGHT THERE, but they were all about Sonic. Sonic makes A&W taste like Chez Panisse.

Late that evening, in some sort of Motel Fungus, we looked at how far we had come – about a third of the way. We recognized the sobering fact that while we had caught a butt-load of species, that the diversity of desirable creatures would be dropping off quite a bit as we headed west. Still, 12 species had already made the trip worth it, and we had a couple of thousand miles in front of us where anything could happen.

Steve

Posted by: 1000fish | February 10, 2016

The Basilica

Dateline: August 2, 2015 – Sturovo, Slovakia

The foundations of the Basilica are more than a thousand years old, and it might be another thousand before I learn to pronounce its name. They could have called it something simple, like “The Sturovo Basilica.” But they didn’t go for simple. They decided to call it (deep breath) The Primatial Basilica of the Blessed Virgin Mary Assumed Into Heaven and St. Adalbert (or in the Hungarian: Nagyboldogasszony és Szent Adalbert prímási főszékesegyház.) To keep this blog under 3000 words, we’ll just call it The Basilica. Whatever they call it, I fished in its shadow for two days this past summer, and while I’m not all that religious, I’m pretty sure St. Adalbert was looking out for me.

Slovakia Basil Day

The Basilica, which is actually in Hungary, viewed from the Slovakian side of the Danube. I have always wanted to open a pub there and call it “The Brew Danube.”

Slovakia Adalbert

St. Adalbert of Prague (956-997.) Not to be confused with St. Adalbert of Egmond, St. Adalbert of Magdeburg, or St. Adalbert’s of Philadelphia, he is now a patron saint of Poland, Hungary, and Prussia, which would seem like a conflict of interest.

If you don’t know why I was in Slovakia, you must be a new reader – welcome! For the rest of you, I was in Germany on a business trip and Slovakia is about the last place in the continent I hadn’t been fishing, so I decided it was time to add it to the list. (Or, in the case of Hungary, add it to the Liszt.)

I had heard Slovakia is a gorgeous place, but it’s difficult to access, and it doesn’t have the same sportfishing infrastructure as many more well-known destinations. This is where Lubos came into the picture. Lubos Chren is a tour operator for Slovakia and the surrounding areas, and his site is one of the better things I have ever found on a late-night internet search.

You can reach him at lubos.chren@amazing-slovakia.com or on www.amazing-slovakia.com. He covers this particular trip HERE, and if you’re planning on being in this area, you need to call this guy.

Lubos is not a fisherman, but he is amazingly well-connected and found what he promised was a top-notch guide on the Danube. This area is actually quite exciting to us species-hunting types, as the further east one gets, the more exotic the species get. (They also seem to get farther down the alphabet – some of the typical critters are named things like zahrte, zope, and zingel.) I flew from Frankfurt into Vienna, where Lubos picked me up and we headed for Sturovo, the Slovakian village where I would be fishing. The drive – about three scenic hours – went quickly.

Slovakia Sign

We enter Slovakia near Bratislava. This would hopefully be the 86th country where I had caught a fish.

Slovakia Bar

As always, some of the  place names are unintentionally funny. Of course, the joke would be on me if this was a real bar.

You learn plenty about someone on a drive – Lubos has been all over the world, including a long stint in Australia – but always knew he would come back to his home country. He’s very proud of Slovakia, and it was easy to see why – it is a beautiful place. We got to Sturovo in the early afternoon, on a hot, clear summer day. The first thing I saw was the Basilica, an architectural wonder I hadn’t expected in the Slovakian countryside.

Slovakia Basil Self

Selfie with Basilica.

Lubos got me into my hotel, a very comfortable guesthouse right on the river, and then he introduced me to Zoltan the guide. Zoltan was a young guy – of course, that’s how I describe pretty much everyone now – and positively bursting with enthusiasm at the chance to take a foreigner fishing.

Slovakia Guide

Zoltan Zimka. No, he is not an alcoholic – he was just offering me the traditional Schlivovitz toast to appease the Fish Gods. (As opposed to the traditional Schlivovitz breakfast I got in Hungary. Click “The Goulash Archipelago” for details.

Zoltan was initially bewildered by me. He is clearly an expert on the local gamefish – zander and wels – especially on crankbaits. He showed up ready to cast and troll, but of course, I wanted to set up float and bottom gear and go after the odd stuff. To be fair, he did bring almost every possible bait, including some horrible potato bug-looking things that he swore would catch barbel.

Slovakia Bug

Do not put this in your pants.

Before we even boarded the boat, I float fished the anchorage and caught a few bleak. While I may never know if these are a different species than the standard bleak found elsewhere in Europe, I had chalked Slovakia up as country number 86, with the Basilica in the background.

Slovakia Bleak

Things weren’t looking so bleak.

We then set out to cast for zander. Zoltan knew the water encyclopedically, pointing out each hole and ledge, but to be fair to him, it was the middle of a hot summer, and the lure fishing was off. Judging by his impressive photo collection and the toothmarks on his crankbaits, Zoltan gets more than his share of fish. But as we got later in the day, my always-questionable patience was wearing thin and I was simply antsy to get some bait in the water.  We anchored up over a hole and I began dropping worms down. In a matter of moments, I reeled up a small fish that looked like a perch, but a closer examination had me jumping up in excitement – no mean feat in a small boat. The fish was a striped ruffe, and this was a new species.

Slovakia Ruffe

Closely related to a species I struggled to catch for years – click HERE for details.

As we headed into a pleasant summer evening, I began catching loads of decent white bream, all around half a pound. I got a few more ruffe in the mix, along with the pestilential round gobies (history HERE,) and even a few small nase. He chatted with other fishermen who drifted by in both Slovakian and Hungarian – because this is a border area, both languages are spoken with equal frequency.

It got fully dark around 10:30, and just as the moon came out, I got an almost undetectable bite and a fight to match. I swung a small fish aboard, and as I got my headlamp on it, I whooped in joy. I had caught a Streber, which sounds like a rank in the German army or some sort of lard-heavy pastry, but is actually a small fish that looks like a miniature sturgeon but isn’t.

Slovakia Strebel

The Streber.

Slovakia D Strebel

Zingel streber for my fellow fish geeks.

I was starting to really like the place. Of course, I might have felt differently had I known that Slovakia was the only country beside Germany and Russia to invade Poland in the opening days of World War II. Clearly, Poland was doing just fine with the massed armies of other two, but Slovakia’s brigade and a half must have tipped the balance against the star-crossed land of my ancestry.

We fished well past midnight, watching the moon rise over the Basilica. St. Adalbert had looked out for me. I finally got a few hours of sleep in the guesthouse, dreams filled with more species, and perhaps hoping for a larger fish or two. I would get more than I expected in the morning.

Slovakia B Night

The Basilica at night. Interestingly, St. Adalbert wrote the oldest known Polish hymn. It’s still in the top 40 in Warsaw.

Dawn broke beautifully, with a bright red sky. As I walked down to the landing, I remembered that this was supposed to be a bad omen.

Slovakia B Dawn

Red sky at morn, sailors bring out the Gore-Tex. Or something like that. 

It didn’t stay beautiful for long. A front had moved in overnight, and we had a wet, breezy morning on our hands. Only yesterday, I had been sweating in 90 degree heat. What is this, England? The Fish Gods and Mother Nature ignored my complaints, and we hit the water. The Basilica emerged through the morning drizzle, and fish slowly began to bite. As dawn made things a brighter shade of gray, we started getting bream. The very first one looked a bit unusual, so I dug around in the book I carry for just such an occasion, and St. Adalbert be praised, it was my third species of the trip, the aptly-named Danube bream. What rain?

Slovakia Danube B

The Danube bream. Caught in the Danube, as it should be.

I then had a run of much bigger bream – a pound and more – and one of them tipped the scales at nearly two. I checked the IGFA app on my iPhone – yes, it’s gotten that easy – and saw that the record was a pound and ten ounces. Technically, my 1/12 fish would be a tie, but I was thrilled. A tip of the hat to Jan Bredo Nerdrum, the Norwegian gentleman with whom I now share the record.

Slovakia Record Bream

I know you English types are going to tell me this isn’t a big bream, but remember it’s not the same one you get in England so there.

Slovakia Jan

Jan and his fish – Norway, 2004.

I didn’t know it yet, but the Danube bream was my final new species for the Slovakia trip – St. Adalbert had other plans for me. Zoltan had told me there were larger fish in the river, and he was about to be proven right. Repeatedly. About an hour after the bream, my light rod got smashed and I reeled in a nice Orfe.

Slovakia Orfe

A beautiful Orfe. These fish are also called Ides, and I regret that I didn’t catch my first one in spring, so I could write a blog called “The Ides of March.” Or if I caught a lot of them, I could call it “The March of Ides.”

I set up some larger baits, but because I have the attention span of a caffeinated ferret, I also just had to put down a four pound rig suitable for gobies and small bream. You all see where this is going, but I didn’t. The ten pound wels catfish ignored the larger offerings and came right after the ultralight, which was almost launched out of the boat. I caught it just as it went over the rail and began a lengthy fight. At the time, of course, I had no idea what it could be, and just held on for dear life. Zoltan skillfully pulled the anchor and chased the fish, and I leaned on the rod as hard as I dared. This went on for close to an hour, and finally, as we drifted into shallower water, Zoltan was able to net the beast.

Slovakia Cat 2

Ten pounds of steaming wels. While this is a very small one, it was a world record on four pound line. Who knew?

We weren’t done. The weather slowly cleared, and about 30 minutes later, I hooked what I thought was another round goby. I was reeling it in quickly, but halfway to the boat, near the surface, my line stopped dead. I was perplexed for a split second, thinking I must have somehow snagged something, but then my line took off in the opposite direction. After a spirited fight, a large asp surfaced next to the boat. These predatory cyprinids are a sought-after species, especially on lures, but the biggest one I had caught previously was the size of a Rapala. I was pleased to finally have a presentable one.

Slovakia Asp

I wonder why Cleopatra had such trouble …

By this time, I was a very big St. Adalbert fan. Just for fun, I put down one of the potato bug baits, and a few minutes later, I was rewarded with my third-ever barbel. Zoltan had been right, but I still made him bait the hook. I don’t like baits that can defend themselves.

Slovakia Barbel

A barbel – yes, it’s a small one. Hopefully, the barbel experts like Steve Collier won’t abuse me too badly.

We spent the remainder of the day working from hole to hole, always in the shadow of the Basilica, catching a few dozen more bream and an assortment of other Danube creatures. In the late afternoon, Zoltan insisted we pull out the crankbaits again. We cast for about an hour, and I was just getting attention-span challenged when I got a hard smack on a deep-diver and hooked up with something big. Mercifully, my casting rod was a heavier setup than my bait rigs, and in about five minutes, I brought a wels to boatside. Zoltan was thrilled, but not more than I was.

Slovakia Wels

Braided line and a decent pike rod made this one a lot less dramatic.

I couldn’t have asked for a better way to close out the day. We fished perhaps another hour or two, catching an assortment of the usual suspects and watching the cruise ships and barges head up and down the river. As the sun started sinking, we pulled the boat up on the bank and went for pizza – the first meal I had eaten on dry land in 36 hours.

Slovakia Dusk

Sunset over the Basilica.

With three species and two very unexpected records in the bag, the drive back to Vienna the next morning was a pleasant one. It had been a short trip – just two days – but Slovakia was a marvelous experience – great fishing, great new friends, beautiful scenery, and excellent hagiography. I hoped that St. Adalbert would look out for me on my next road trip, an adventure which would have a familiar cast, but was still 31 days and 8000 miles away.

Steve

 

 

 

Posted by: 1000fish | January 14, 2016

The Honeymoon Suite

Dateline: July 26, 2015 – Pangbourne, England

Stefan Molnar and I are close friends, but there are limits to exactly how close, and these limits became abundantly clear on a chilly evening last summer.

Since my April trip to England (Details HERE) had not gotten me the two species of ray I wanted, I had naturally been fretting and plotting and losing a lot of sleep. I pride myself on being more stubborn than the fish – much more stubborn, and at least marginally smarter. So I knew I needed to plan a rematch. To give myself some slight chance of getting decent conditions, I settled on late July, where the rain and wind might give it a miss for a few hours. After all, we are talking about England here, a place no one moves for the weather.

Stefan had a few days off and wasn’t busy arranging art lessons for his daughter (explanation HERE,) so he decided to come over to the UK and join me for the saltwater redux and a couple of days of pike fishing. Stefan, as you veteran 1000fish readers will know, is a German co-worker and fishing buddy, who is quite a skilled angler but will go down in history of inventor of the fabled “Five Gram Rule.” (Search it on my blog. It explains a lot about Germany.)

Surprisingly, the weather was beautiful on my first morning in England. I solemnly acknowledged the long odds of there being two such days in a given British month, and set out to enjoy some traditional British float fishing with John Buckingham. This zen-like process, so ill-suited for my abilities, gets me out onto some beautiful streams in the English countryside, and it was great to catch up with an old friend.

Honey Loddon

The Loddon on a perfect summer day. Roger Barnes guided me here dozens of times – it was the site of my first barbel back in 2005.

The Loddon didn’t produce anything massive this time, but we still got loads of bleak and dace, and the stray roach. One of the bleak was my 1000th fish caught for 2015, a milestone important to me, and, well, me.

Honey Bleak

Fish (not species) #1000 of 2015. The good-looking guy is John Buckingham, float fisherman extraordinaire.

That afternoon, Stefan flew in from Germany and met me over at the Compleat Angler Hotel. This is one of my favorite hotels anywhere, because the back lawn features ridiculously good pike fishing.

Honey Bridge

Looking upriver from the front door of the hotel. That’s the only suspension bridge on the non-tidal Thames. (Local fun fact courtesy of Roger Barnes.)

Before we headed south, Stefan and I fished a few hours in Marlow weir. It was a beautiful day, and we managed to get a few fish. This place will always have great memories of Roger, and I couldn’t help but feel he was watching over us, especially when we caught stuff.

Honey M Pike

Molnar and a nice pike.

Honey Idiots

Molnar goes Zoolander while I try to take a serious fish picture.

Honey SW Pike

Another northern from the weir. It’s the same fish in Molnar’s photo above – I caught it a few minutes after he released it.

Toward evening, we headed south to the coast and Langstone Harbour, where we would be based for two days of sea fishing with skipper Glen Cairns on the Valkyrie. We dined in our hotel, which featured traditional British fare made by a traditional British prison chef. Nursing troubled stomachs, we turned in early, anticipating a morning that would likely feature some sort of ugly weather.

Dawn broke clear, sunny, and almost windless. (If you don’t count Stefan.) I couldn’t believe it. A relatively nice day in British waters – surely a sign of climate change, or the Fish Gods taking a day off – but I wasn’t going to argue. We were joined by good friend Nigel, who had set up the whole trip, and his buddy Ray. We motored out about 15 miles and anchored up where Glen had wanted to go in April. I expected immediate rewards.

Honey Langstone

Steaming out of Langstone on a perfect summer day.

Unfortunately, things looked a lot like the April trip for a while. Nigel caught a blonde ray. Molnar caught a blonde ray. Then Molnar dared to catch an undulate ray, for God’s sake. Everyone seemed to be catching rare and wonderful species except for me, which must be what hell is like, except that Miley Cyrus would be singing in the background if this was really hell.

Honey Mol Blonde

I managed to fake a smile for Molnar’s blonde.

Honey Unulate M

But an undulate? This is Jaime Hamamoto-type behavior.

Honey Crab

Molnar even caught crabs.

Of course, because I am in no way competitive, I retained a cheerful and positive attitude, except when I petulantly refused to photograph Molnar’s fish and threw food at anyone who spoke to me. But then, about an hour in to the program, my Shimano spinning rod went down. It was a heavy fish, straight pull with no head shaking, so I guessed ray – but which one? When Nigel finally reached down with the net, I was thrilled to see a blonde ray on my hook.

Honey SW Blonde

A blonde for a blonde. Oh, for those of who who have never seen a picture of me without a hat, or a picture of my back, I have blonde hair.

Glen kept us moving around and trying different bottom types and depths. We got plenty of action – more blonde rays, dogfish, and smoothounds. Nigel, as always, put on quite a show and caught more fish than any two of us – the guy is a machine.

Honey Nigel

Nigel at work. Again.

The day closed out with only the one new species for me, but it was the species that had avoided me in April. And we still had a full day in front of us.

That evening, Molnar and I wasted a couple of hours trying to get a flounder in the harbor. As hunger set in, we decided that the hotel restaurant had been so very memorable that we ate at Burger King. The wind was picking up ominously.

By morning, the weather had returned to standard British summer – cold and wet. It wasn’t awful enough to cancel, but it was going to be as bumpy as the April trip – still, I was grateful that we were going, and there was the added bonus that Molnar would probably puke. We were joined by John Cheyne, an old fishing buddy who works for the Angling Trust and has been very generous with his time, setting up several freshwater trips for me over the years.

We covered quite a few spots that day, searching desperately for my undulate ray, but they didn’t seem to be on the bite. Late in the morning, however, I did jig up a new species – the sand lance.

Honey Lance

Something else I had missed in April, and yes, I was thrilled to catch it.

Action was still steady, even if the footing wasn’t. We got loads of small sharks, including the starry below.

Honey Glen D

My personal best starry smoothhound, just before it started really raining.

RAF Valkyrie

Look up Glen if you’re in the London area. The guy does an excellent job.

As we poked around structure closer to shore, I began fishing a smaller rod with a worm bait, and stumbled into a couple of interesting fish, including a new species – the turbot.

Honey Turbot

It’s not a plaice (Marta just loves THIS STORY) but it’s a neat new fish.

We also got a batch of very nice seabream, which kept me distracted while I hoped one of the big baits would get an undulate ray. Two new species on the day was nothing to sneeze at, but I couldn’t help staring balefully at those rod tips. It got later in the day, not that we could tell from the sun, because the sun was gone and would likely not reappear here until next spring, and only briefly then.

Honey Bream

A black seabream. They tell me they get much bigger than this.

Glen pulled us up on to one final reef. He let us know that we would be able to fish about 30 more minutes, but that he had caught undulates here previously. I remained optimistic. We put down a mix of mackerel and squid baits and got out of the rain, peering at the rigs from inside the cabin. I hadn’t sat down yet when Glen’s rod started pumping. He told me “Go take it. Looks like the right one.” I didn’t argue with him.

I fought the ray for about 10 minutes, and as it surfaced, my other bottom rig started peeling off line. Glen lunged into the water with net to get my fish – an undulate! – and I was already on to the other rig. About five minutes later, Glen netted me another undulate – we had found them. I sat on the deck and just admired the rays – rich shades of brown broken up with dark, wandering lines.

Honey Undulate

My pair of undulate rays.

Stefan and John also hooked up, and the deck was complete mayhem for about 30 minutes. What bad weather?

Honey Hookups

The boys battle their own rays.

Everybody got one. The mission had been accomplished.

Honey Rays

Steve, Stefan, John, and some nice undulates.

While Glen was cleaning up, I snuck down another slab bait and was rewarded with my personal best conger eel. Months later, this species would be at the root of an unintentional but sobering dose of perspective for me.

Honey Conger

A decent conger eel.

Just before this blog was published, Nigel, by coincidence, and with no malice in his heart, sent me a photo of HIS personal best conger.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

95 pounds of perspective. I wouldn’t have stayed on the boat with that thing.

To close out the weekend, Stefan and I had set two days of pike fishing in the River Thames with Steve Roberts, the tweed-clad guide from Pangbourne also known as “The hardest working man in row business.”

There was one rather awkward moment to start the weekend. The Compleat Angler, a magnificent hotel by any standard, made a minor mistake on my booking. I had asked for a room with two beds, as Molnar and I are good friends but let’s get real.

The “Honeymoon Suite” sign on the door was an especially bad portent. As you can imagine, we entered the room to see what WAS technically two beds, but which were bolted together, shared a single bedspread, and were indistinguishable from a regular king. There was a single red rose on the bedspread. While this brings a faint smile to my face now, at the moment, we were both aghast. (How about those Bears?)

The Compleat Angler staff is amazingly efficient, and they managed to unromanticize the room in less than 10 minutes. But I was still bothered by this all weekend, and I would guess Molnar was as well, but of course we didn’t discuss it because we are men and we do not share our feelings, unless they involve large fish or Kate Upton.

The next morning, we drove up to Pangbourne. To my great relief, we were not trying to squeeze into the tiny pram Steve and I used in April, as three large adults in that floating hot tub could only end in tragedy. Steve had actually purchased Roger’s old boat, and it would have a new life just a few miles up the river. It felt comfortable to step in the “Compleat Angler” again; so full of memories, and deserving of a second career on the water it knew so well.

Honey Roberts

Stefan and Steve in my favorite old Thames wooden boat.  You can find Steve on www.facebook.com/riverdaysuk  or http://www.riverdays.co.uk/, and he has my highest recommendation. Except for flounder.

We had decent weather on Saturday – breezy and chilly but at least dry – so we made the run up the river to Goring Weir.

Honey Thames

Heading up the Thames. The rail bridge has been there since the 19th century.

The pike fishing was magical as always. I pathologically buy pike lures everywhere I travel, and it is deeply if neurotically rewarding to finally be able to use them. We did well – 10 fish or so – and yes, I did get the majority of the fish because I had the awesome British flag hat.

Honey P Pike

My best pike of the day with my worst hat ever. And how do I make that face?

Honey Action

Another fish on – photo courtesy of Steve Roberts.

Honey M Pikelet

Molnar with his first pike of the day. Note the windbreakers were coming on and off – and this was JULY.

On our way home, Steve mentioned that we would pass quite a historical boat. He took us by a gorgeous old cabin cruiser, and nothing seemed noteworthy until I saw the name – “MB 278.” That designation was for motorboats that tended Royal Navy warships, and as we drifted past, I noticed a small plaque on the wheelhouse – “Dunkirk 1940.” This had been one of the thousands of “small boats” that made the perilous trip across the channel to effect the improbable rescue of 300,000 British army troops trapped in that French port as the Germans conquered France. I was in awe.

Honey Dunkirk

MB 278. The civilian owner had to repair bullet holes across the bow.

The next morning featured more typical July weather, which might mean anything from rain to mist to drizzle. But it’s July, you say. But it’s England, I say. But whatever you say, Molnar had forgotten his rain pants and was in for a crummy morning. I recall a trout trip in 1998 when Spellman forgot his rain gear and toughed it out (to a limit of massive rainbows.) Stefan showed similar mettle, and perhaps even made a bit of fashion history.

Honey Buttocks

Molnar’s outfit – sartorial disaster or fashion-forward? Only time will tell.

Still, we had a solid day, and Stefan did especially well throwing drop-shot rigs. He got several perch that would have been line-class records on lighter gear, but of course, he did this while wearing a hefty bag altered into an impromptu skirt.

Honey Perch

Stefan, a big perch, and the hefty-bag skirt.

Honey Pike Rain

Stefan, a nice pike, and Steve Roberts.

Honey Willow

Bigger pike at top, hefty bag skirt at bottom.

I will confess that Stefan had a marginally better day than I did, but at least I remembered my rain pants. Of course, if he ends up setting the next big fashion trend in Germany, won’t I feel silly.

Steve

 

A Postcript from Roger Barnes – I miss him a great deal, but this had to bring a smile to my face. Katy, Roger’s daughter, found the item below in a notebook of his. “Rarest fish and most isolated in the world – The golden catfish. Only found in one underground lake beneath the Kalahari desert in Africa. The fish is blind and the only food available is debris that falls onto the surface before sinking. Here’s a challenge for Steve Wozniak!”

RAF Note book

Challenge accepted.

 

Posted by: 1000fish | December 26, 2015

Bones and Butterflies

Dateline: June 21, 2015 – San Diego, California

Some people get butterflies in their stomach. But I had them in my brain. This will make sense in about 15 minutes, longer if you read at Cousin Chuck’s level.

First off, let’s get this over with. I do not have a blue shark on my list. I know, I know – you do, and most everyone you know does. But how many of you have a Luther’s Shrimpgoby? I’m glad we had this talk.

In order to address this terrible wrong, I knew I needed to get to Southern California. San Diego has a very well-known shark fishery, and it’s on the ragged edge of a reasonable weekend road trip. (Eight hours when I was in college. Traffic has gotten worse since then, especially once the piston engine became popular.)

Butter Skyline

The crystal blue waters of San Diego, which are even crystal blue in the harbor.

First off, we needed to find a guide. As it turns out, that was easy. Old 1000fish friend Ben Florentino (See Korean Superman) had recommended a Captain James Nelson for San Diego, and James turned out to be the right guy. As soon as we got on the phone, he was talking about zebra perch and diamond turbot and all the other glamorous species that bring anglers to the area from all over the world. We set up three days in June, one to chase sharks offshore and two inshore to see what we could find in San Diego bay.

Lengthy road trips require a partner, and the partner for this one is a tried and true veteran of 25 years of such silliness – Mark Spellman. (See “A Glass of Milk“) The drive down was actually not too bad – until we got about 70 miles north of San Diego. There, it seemed, everyone had decided they were going the same place we were, and we were stuck in traffic for hours. I get grouchy in traffic.

Butter Traffic

It looked like this from Orange County to the border.

Day one began with the highest of hopes – I felt confident that I would finally put that pesky blue on my list. We met James in a foggy harbor at some ungodly hour, and we motored about an hour offshore.

Butter Woody

James, Spellman, and “Woody’s Last Ride.”

Interestingly, or not, I have actually caught a blue, in San Diego in 1991, but I didn’t photograph the darn thing because I was too busy photographing the nice mako I caught that night, and the dude who got spectacularly sick on the bow.

Butter 91

Steve, circa 1991, with the biggest fish I had ever caught at the time. Note the dude barfing on the upper left.

This trip was with college buddy Ira Opatowsky, the Doogie Howser of our class who got into college at something like 16, graduated early, and then got through medical school in a similarly short time.

Butter Ira

Steve and Ira, Circa 1989. Someone should tell Ira that Dr. Huxtable wants his sweater back.

Ira, although giving the appearance of an unassuming and studious sort, had a gift for adventure. Many of the stories are not past the statute of limitations, but one that comes to mind is when he and I, innocently trying to go to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a tour, took a wrong turn and ended up doing a lap around the track in my Ford EXP.

Butter IMS

I could have gotten in a lot of trouble for this.

It has been years since I have seen Ira. We need to catch up.

In any case, we got out to the shark zone and put out some chum. A small blue appeared quickly, and I thought this was going to be the day I wanted. But then things got quiet. Horribly quiet. Quiet like Spellman’s kid after you ask “Who broke the 18th century Ming vase?” We chummed and chummed, and scanned the horizon for fins, but nothing happened. This went on for hours.

I was just getting ready to put squid in Spellman’s hair when I spotted movement out of the corner of my eye. I looked down into the clear water, and staring back up at me was a decent-sized mako shark. I didn’t have time to argue the fact that we were supposed to see dozens of blues before a mako would show up, so I just pinned up a bait and cast, and the shark nailed it immediately.

Butter Mako 3

Fish on. Wrong fish on, but fish on nonetheless.

What followed was the standard mako fight – long runs, some spectacular jumps, and unpredictable dives under the boat. I always get the feeling they are trying to out-think me. But with some great boat maneuvering by James, we got the fish up to the stern, where he was safely released.

Butter Mako 2

The mako at boatside.

By all rights, I should have been thrilled. But this is the perversity of species hunting – I went out after something considered common, indeed, almost a pest, and couldn’t find one. Instead, I got something rare and highly sought-after, but I had already caught the rare thing before and got left high and dry by the supposedly common critter. We never did get a blue shark. James worked his tail off and tried everything he possibly could, but they just weren’t there.

The next two days were spent in San Diego Bay, and this was a very good thing. I knew there were several species awaiting me, but without question the coolest of these was the California butterfly ray. This bizarrely-shaped cousin of the bat ray is supposed to be common in the very southern part of the state, but I had only ever seen one – at the entrance to Newport harbor on a cold morning with Ben Florentino. I had been dying to catch one, doubly so because it is an open IGFA record. I had 15 records in the books for the 2015 season, and I knew a couple more would likely lock up the Men’s Saltwater trophy and give Marta decorating worries.

On that second morning, we motored out into the central part of San Diego bay and put down some slabs of mackerel. Spellman’s rig went off first – a screaming run against the clicker. It could have been a bat ray, or a leopard shark, but after a few minutes on the line, it was clearly something different, with a bobbing, diving fight. Mark wrestled it up, and James netted a butterfly ray – the first I had seen up close.

Butter Spellman Ray

Of course, this meant that he got the species and world record before me, and yes, this upset my stomach. I wonder if he practices that look on his face.

But my upset stomach and I kept fishing, and after a couple of false alarms from leopard sharks, I got a decent ray on the line. They are strong fighters, and it took about 10 minutes to get him to the net, but I had finally gotten my California butterfly ray – a species and a record all in one, and yes, it was bigger than Spellman’s not this sort of thing matters to me. But it was a lot bigger.

Butter First

It’s like Spellman and I have a contest to see who can have the dumbest look on their face.

Butter Ray Solo

These things are just so darn cool. 

There was one other target we wanted to look at for the afternoon – bonefish. “Bonefish?” I hear you ask with incredulity. “In San Diego Bay?” Yes indeed – silvery, swimming evidence of climate change. These are Cortez bonefish – the same species that I caught in Puerto Penasco last year (details HERE,) and they just weren’t here 25 years ago.

James had told us the back bay was positively stuffed with bones, and when Spellman caught one on his first few casts, I was filled with optimism. Mark’s fish was just over a pound, and that meant he had added his fourth career world record. I was thrilled for him, although I would have been a lot more thrilled if I had also caught one, because he now had a second world record for the day. But despite hours of casting and about two dozen round stingrays, which are a pain for James to get off the hook, there were no bonefish for me.

Butter Spell Bone

Spellman’s fourth overall record. Of course, that look on my face is pure joy for him. I love being outfished.

Butter James

Steve and Captain James Nelson. This guy is the real deal – contact him HERE if you’re in the area and want to catch stuff.

That evening, we had a dinner steeped in coincidence. One of Mark and my great friends, Lee, happened to be in San Diego with his family at the same time Mark and I were down there. Lee is a war history buff as much as I am, and we discovered that he was in San Diego when Lee started texting me photos from the USS Midway – while I was fishing about a mile away.

Butter Lee

Lee is like a better-looking older brother to me.

Butter Jen

Lee’s wife, Jennifer, gives the “Mom face” to son Drew, who had just said something he shouldn’t have. I’m not going to repeat it here, but it was darn funny.

I opened day three singularly determined to get that darn bonefish. Mark, James, and I were joined by an old buddy of mine, Mike Arnstein, a savage opposite-field hitter in his college days and the author of one of the greatest, if most unrepeatable, pitching mound pep-talks ever given.

We started the morning on the flats, and Mike stuck an impressive guitarfish.

Butter Guitar

Mike’s guitarfish. It was about five pounds shy of a world record.

I began tossing familiar bonefish baits – jigs and small pieces of shrimp. It isn’t sight-fishing like in Florida or Belize, but I figured they should eat the same stuff. James kept advising me to use bigger hunks of bait – “They aren’t shy.” But I stuck to it because I fear change, and I finally did get a decent bonefish – just enough to tie Spellman’s record. It was a record, and this was a good thing, but I hate ties. Especially paisley.

Butter Bone 1

Ok, that’s more like it.

We then spent the rest of the day in deeper water, looking for assorted sharks and rays. The guys caught loads of spotted bay bass, and around lunch, I got into a bigger butterfly ray, breaking my record from the day before.

Butter Ray 2

The bigger butterfly, but I still have that dumb look on my face. I can’t duplicate it without being in a fish photo. Or a wedding photo.

A moment later, I spotted a slight tap on my big bottom rod. I figured it had to be a small shark, and I waited for it to somehow get through enough of the whole squid to possibly get hooked. But I was surprised by a quick little run, and I reflexively set the hook. The fish was spirited to be sure, but on 50 pound braid and a two-speed Accurate reel, this was a mismatch.

Butter Bone S

A very ambitious bonefish.

It was a bonefish, and it had somehow eaten a whole squid on an 80# leader, proving James 100% right that they were not exactly picky. Yes, the fish was bigger than Mark’s so I turned that one in of course, but I must publicly shame myself for not only ignoring the guide but also for landing a bonefish record on tackle more suited to bluefin tuna. Either way, I was ecstatic – I had all but clinched my fifth IGFA Men’s Saltwater title. The ride home – some 10 hours in assorted traffic – was filled with discussion on how I was going to win over Marta and put this trophy on the living room wall. But as we pulled back in to Alamo at 1:30am, Spellman looked over at me and said “I’ve got nothing. You’re on your own, man.”

Steve

 

SPECIAL IGFA UPDATE

Congratulations to species hunter and 1000fish reader Daniel Gross on his very first world record. A student at CSU Monterey Bay, Daniel stuck a 6.5# thornback ray in Morro Bay, California to fill an open record. I can vouch for this one personally – I was there, and if you think it still somehow upsets me that I didn’t catch it, you’re probably right.

Butter Gross

Yes, he does look like Justin Bieber.

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