Posted by: 1000fish | October 8, 2017

The Red Sea Trolls

Dateline: May 10, 2017 – Marsa Alam, Egypt

“My God, there really is a BFE.” – Marta, upon viewing the desert between Dendara and the Red Sea.

Exotic yes. But next time I’ll fly.

As much fishing as there was in the tourist part of the trip, the last three days in Egypt were dedicated solely to the great species hunt. The Red Sea is full of endemic species (which means that they are only found there, or that they feed their young with milk, I forget which.)  I had only fished here two days in my life – a glorious weekend in Aqaba, Jordan, where I ran up 26 species and a world record in 32 hours of maniacal fishing. (All Marta got to do was tour Wadi Rum in a jeep and meet a day-old baby camel.)

The mother camel was very protective.

That was just before I started this blog. If I had written an article on that trip, the title would have been “Lorance of Arabia.”

So back to Egypt. Through the wonders of the internet, I had found an excellent guide – Amin Abu Rehab. (You can view his website and details HERE.)  He is based on the Red Sea in very southern Egypt, about 120 kilometers north of the Sudanese border. According to my collection of fish ID books, I could expect some truly rare and awesome creatures here. (There were. But Marta caught them.)

But first, we needed to get from Luxor to Marsa Alam. Like any drive in Egypt, it took a lot longer than estimated. Things simply do not move quickly here, but as long as you enjoy endless, desolate, arid scenery, eight hours will pass by like 480 minutes. As it got dark, I stared at the side of the road, hoping to see a fennec fox, because fennecs are one of the coolest animals EVER. But I never did. Annoyingly, Marta saw several on her way to Abu Simbel.

This is a fennec. They are a travel-size fox that thrives in inhospitable places.

We left Luxor mid-morning, and after a tourist stop in Dendara – which features a super-creepy subterranean tomb and some of the very rare representations of Cleopatra that survived a thorough Roman effort to expunge them.

That’s Cleopatra and Marc Anthony. I never liked his music.

We arrived at the Lahami Bay Resort well after dark, stiff and hungry, and I still had to assemble my gear for an early start the next day. The resort was a mixed blessing. It was civilized, the food was steady, and there was amazing snorkeling, but there was NO FISHING. Luckily, I would be spending most of my time on the boat. Marta, who didn’t mind the fishing ban as much, would be there for two days. (She would spend the last day on the boat with me, which I should have avoided, for reasons that will become clear shortly.)

The Lahami Bay Resort. That bird is going to wait a long time.

Early that next morning, I took a van over to the harbor at Hamata. After all the hours I had spent emailing with Amin, it was great to finally meet him in person. He seemed as excited as I was to get out and get after the fish we had been writing about for months. Bannoura was a beautiful boat, large and comfortable, capable of taking several anglers on an extended safari. There was a big crew – a skipper, a cook, and two deckhands.

Most of the crew and Steve – from left to right, that’s Ahmed the cook, Amin the owner and host, Steve the obsessive fisherman, and deckhands Maghraby and Mostafa. Great guys.

For this first day, the idea was to pound the reefs for species, troll a bit, then anchor up and fish the bottom all night. I was positively wound up, and the Red Bull didn’t make me any less so.

This is when I noticed that the harbor was jammed full of fish. Out came the sabikis and small jigs, and I happily amused myself while the crew looked on in bewilderment and people on other boats also looked on in bewilderment. I am used to this. To the great amusement of Amir and the crew, I added a new species – the threeline damselfish.

There must have been 40 people staring at me when I took this photo. And I wasn’t even naked.

After I had spent at least an hour chartering a boat so I could sit in a harbor and fish small stuff, reason caught up with me and we were off into the Red Sea.

We opened up trolling, and this filled me with a great deal of hope. There are dogtooth tuna in the Red Sea, and they eat trolling plugs. I want a dogtooth more than I want a full head of hair – I have gone where they live – repeatedly – and been avoided – repeatedly. (Like in the Maldives.)  The lures hadn’t been out five minutes when we got a screaming strike, but as screaming as it was, I still knew it wasn’t fast enough to be a dogtooth. (Picture dogtooth hits as savage, drag-destroying violence that forces even high-end reels to make unnatural noises.) I happily boated a double-lined mackerel – a species I first encountered on the Great Barrier Reef in 2005.

These pull hard.

We then set up for the main event – reef fishing. This area of the Red Sea is dotted with coral outcroppings, each one a veritable aquarium of exotic fish. I knew that just one solid session could run up quite a score, and the water looked absolutely perfect.

The skipper – Hassan – looks out over a typical reef.

Moments after we anchored, I got my second species of the day, which was an emotional one for me. It was a Red Sea lagoon triggerfish, a close relative of the lagoon triggerfish that had brought me and Jamie so close (details HERE), and SHE DOESN’T HAVE ONE.

I never get over how beautiful these fish are.

The rest of the afternoon, on a combination of sabikis and small bait rigs, we checked off all kinds of things I had only ever seen in books.

The redbreasted wrasse. These never got quite big enough to be a record.

The Red Sea sailfin tang, with Amin in the background. We would find record-sized examples of this species in less than 24 hours.

The chiseltooth wrasse. They travel in pairs, and I indeed caught two at once. Both were safely released.

The Red Sea black unicornfish. Hard fighters, and a new world record, my first on the boat.

Blacktip fusilier. Plankton feeder, so difficult to catch, but they will eventually hit a sabiki after they annoy you for hours by swimming under the boat in large schools.

In between reefs, we trolled some more, and while the species were not new, the action was amazing. Whether barracuda, skipjack, or mackerel, I was fighting pelagic fish from the moment we started until we had almost anchored again. None of these fish were dogtooth tuna, which bothered me, but they were still fish, and a lot of them, which is always a good thing.

The haul after 45 minutes of trolling – cut baits for the evening.

The evening started very well. Casting lures and lightly-weighted baits, I got a couple of very nice gamefish – a one-spot snapper and a positively huge sky emperor. Both were new species and both were world records, so I was suddenly running up quite a score on both ledgers.

The one-spot. 

The sky emperor – the best fight of the day on light tackle.

Dentition reminiscent of the Mu.

Sunset over the Red Sea.

As it got fully dark, I pulled up a crescent bigeye, part of a nocturnal family found in seas worldwide. I prepared a bag of REI freeze-dried beef stew and set up two eel rods. The Red Sea is full of eels, and morays are usually an open world record, so I looked forward to a long, caffeinated evening.

The crescent bigeye.

My luck ran out a bit after the bigeye. I lost one big eel, and that was it for the evening except for dozens of squirrelfish. The score for the day was 10 species and 3 world records, so I was thrilled and even got a few hours of sleep. Amin mentioned that he had never seen anyone fish for 19 straight hours. I told him I was worn out from traveling or I’d have gone longer.

The following morning, We pounded the reefs again, and while I didn’t get anything new, the fishing was spectacular. Snappers, grouper, emperors, assorted reef fish – everything was biting nonstop. I switched off between lures and bait, and I was either fighting or unhooking fish so often that I forgot to eat until around two.

Yes, that’s a small Mu – bigeye emperor. Now that I finally got one in Hawaii, it seems I can catch them anywhere.

Sailfin Tang, this time in record size. That’s four so far.

Then came a record coral hind – a type of grouper. This was my fifth record on the boat, and my sixth in Egypt. This boded well for the IGFA competition this year.

As the sun began to go down and we headed for port, it occurred to me that I had not added a single new species for the day. Amin anchored the boat on some shallow weedbeds outside the harbor to try for small stuff, of which we caught loads. Months later, due to the patience and expertise of Dr. Jeff Johnson, I discovered that I had added one new critter – the dark damselfish.

It’s a damselfish. It’s dark.

I had been fishing for 36 straight hours, so it was good to get a break, have a meal that didn’t come out of a foil pouch, and see Marta. She had spent her time enjoying the resort and snorkelling, but she did end up with an impressive sunburn.

Marta assured me that she graciously refused some Marcello Mastroioanni look-alike’s offers to put sunblock on her back. I think she just forgot.

The next morning would be our last day in Egypt, the end of an unforgettable two weeks. Foolishly, I had invited Marta to spend the day on the boat. I say foolishly because Marta tends to repay my generosity in cases like this by catching species I don’t have. This hurts. (Examples HERE.)

We got to the harbor just at dawn, and Marta was the least surprised person in Hamata that I wanted to fish around the pilings before we headed offshore. It was a good thing we did, because I got two new species.

The Red Sea toby – a type of puffer.

Dusky damsel. I was pushing my luck on identifiable damsels.

Striped humbug – not a new species but so cool I thought I’d include it anyway.

As soon as I started catching the small fish, we heard a piercing meow. A small cat came right up to the back of the boat and gave that expectant look only a hungry cat can give.

The source of the meows. We initially christened her “Bottomless Pit Cat.”

I threw her a fish. She ran off for a moment and then reappeared, meowing again. I threw her another fish.

There is no focus like cat focus.

She took it and ran off. And again. And again. When she reached 10 fish, we realized there was no way she could have eaten them all herself. So Marta followed her, and there was quite a surprise.

 

The video isn’t that good after the first 10 seconds, but the executive summary is that she had two kittens safely stashed under the pier and was feeding them. We renamed her “Mama Cat.”

If Marta won the lottery, she would likely adopt every stray cat in Egypt.

We headed offshore, and after a bit of trolling, anchored up on a reef. I noticed some bright yellow fish below us, and tried the most minuscule of my sabiki rigs. Instead of the yellow tang I expected, I came up with another new species – the sulphur damsel.

No, they do not smell like rotten eggs. That was me.

This is when things started to go sideways. Marta was getting an interesting assortment of reef fish, but suddenly, all I could catch was an endless parade of Klunzinger’s wrasses.

They’re beautiful, but I got over 50 of them in two hours.

Marta showed me everything she landed and asked “Have you caught this one?” I would tell her I had, and she would raise her eyebrow and cast again. Now and then, she would spitefully snag up in the rocks just so I would have to take precious time away from fishing and retie her rig. Shortly after 1pm, the inevitable happened – she got something I had never even seen. You would think I reacted kindly and maturely and congratulated her on a fine catch. Well, actually, you would think that only if you’ve never met me and had never read this blog before.

The broomtail wrasse. Marta had now gotten seven species I had not.

Tell me that isn’t a look of sadistic joy.

Amin thought this was very amusing. Once this was explained to the crew, they also thought it was one of the funniest things they had ever heard. But it gets worse. Less than five minutes later, Marta reeled in a Red Sea ring wrasse.

You have to be %#$&ing kidding me. Two in five minutes? She was up to eight, and I was ready to leave Egypt.

Amin and the crew burst into laughter. I took a deep breath and kept casting, but these creatures would elude me, at least for the day. After I had a quiet hissy fit, I began throwing a minnow lure over the reef and had some fun. And while I continued to eat my REI freeze-fried camping food, Marta enjoyed the culinary expertise of the onboard chef. She still claims it was some of the best Egyptian food of the trip. In fact, she has agreed to a return trip, solely to visit Ahmed’s galley.

The goldspot goatfish – which has quite a range. I have the record on this – from Hawaii. 

A relatively small estuary cod – great sport on light spinning gear.

Marta decided she wanted to throw a lure, which I suggested would be a disaster, but she persisted, and wouldn’t you know that she somehow managed to catch a lionfish. I had gotten these before, thank goodness, but not that easily.

 

I briefly thought about telling her to hold it by the spines, but Amin probably would have said something.

Late in the day, we were fishing over a deeper reef structure, and I was just hoping to finish up without Marta getting another weird species. She was catching a variety of bottom fish, and then she hooked something that buried in the rocks for a few minutes before she ripped it out and up to the surface. I was sort of thrilled to see a big coral hind – I knew immediately it was the right size to tie the record I had set yesterday. In this case, I could live with sharing.

Marta’s third world record. I shamelessly broke her first two, but this could take a while.

In the same spot, I landed a couple of smaller coral hinds, and then brought up a fish that was the same basic colors – orange with blue spots – but I was suspicious. A quick look in the book – and I always have a book – revealed that it was a vermilion hind, a different type of small grouper. This was my 15th new Red Sea species, my 21st overall for the trip, and would would be the last new one on what had been a spectacular expedition.

The vermilion hind. This made me feel slightly better.

As the sun started to set, we headed for port.

Marta with the crew – Amin called her “The Queen.” Hassan the captain was busy driving the boat, so he did not get in the photos.

Hassan with a sailfish they got on the Bannoura. Note how close they are to the reef. Note – I have no idea what this says in Arabic, so I’m trusting Amin. It would be just like me to put something rude in the caption if the tables were turned, but he’s a much nicer person than I am.

We were greeted in port by Mama cat, and we fed her sumptuously as we put my gear away. The crew was sad to see Marta go, and I couldn’t help but think there were quite a few species left for me to get in the area. I am certain there will be a return adventure, especially because Amin also guides trips to Sudan. (Less than a hundred miles south, and yes, the fishing is supposed to be excellent.)

The following morning, we did something Moses never managed to do. We departed the Red Sea.

Steve

Random camels we saw in the desert. I smelled them before I saw them.

 

 

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Posted by: 1000fish | September 22, 2017

Tut, Line, and Sinker

Dateline: May 6, 2017 – Luxor, Egypt

This vacation began, as many do, in the nightmares of an 11 year-old. My Mother was fascinated with Egypt her entire life, and devoted years of study and several trips to this passion. She had an extensive Egyptology library, and as my sister and I got older and gained familiarity with relevant highbrow fare, such as “The Mummy,” we began poking around these books in our spare time. Late one evening, by myself in our basement, I came across a photo of King Tut’s mummified face. I did not sleep for the next three nights. Naturally, the first thing I did was show the picture to my sister. She reacted badly, and somehow I got in trouble.

I hope I look this good in 3000 years.

I always knew I would go to Egypt someday. There are countless sites from antiquity to visit, and any bucket list that doesn’t include the Pyramids pails by comparison. Marta was very enthusiastic about the trip, as she had studied quite a bit about Egypt herself, and so off we went. Of course, I negotiated a few days fishing, at Aswan and the Red Sea, so I owed her big time. She flew directly from home, but I connected in from a business trip in Germany, so by the time I arrived in Egypt, Marta had been there 36 hours. In this time, she managed to find and befriend every jeweler in Cairo, (notably Azza Fahmy jewelers,) and had planned out our main tourist stops.

The first thing I noticed that that the Cairo Marriott was right next to the Nile. Perhaps because she wanted to butter me up before we visited the jewelry stores, Marta was accepting of this, and armed with a float rod and the same Berkeley Gulp bloodworms that had caught my sterlet, (sordid details HERE) I set up to try my luck. Moments later, to the astonishment of the locals, I got a small tilapia and added Egypt to my country list – #89. Note that this was done before I had visited a single pyramid or smelled a single camel.

And it was a new species – the redbelly tilapia.

We then spent a couple of days doing tourist stuff. I cannot emphasize two things enough – the pyramids are much, much bigger than you can imagine, and camels smell much, much worse than you can imagine. The pyramids were the first thing we visited. The Great Pyramid at Giza is over 4500 years old, and is the only extant wonder of the ancient world. It is visible for miles, and can be seen from almost any tall building in Cairo. It was humbling to see it, and we forgot that it was 100 degrees outside and that we were on camels that smelled so bad it could sterilize us both, and we just stared in awe. I couldn’t help but think of what FDR said when he visited here – “Man’s desire to be remembered is colossal.”

The pyramids are more than a mile behind us. As it turns out, so was the lens cap for my camera.

We had lamp Cheops for dinner.

Marta couldn’t help herself.

The Sphinx. Evidence of the first botched nose job in history.

And then there were the camels.

They smell worse than hockey gear, they burp, they spit, and they hate me.

They also make godawful noises – see video below.

 

Nikki the camel seemed to like Marta. I had no such luck with my ride.

I was also keenly aware that I was crossing historical paths with my mother, who visited the pyramids twice in her life.

From my Mother’s Egypt travel album.

We did a lot of walking in Cairo. For those of you who ask, we felt perfectly safe – there were police and soldiers on almost every corner, and the people were absolutely wonderful.

Steve hangs out with an Army Officer.

It didn’t hurt that Pope Francis visited the same week we did, but Cairo seems a lot less dangerous than Berkeley. I will say that the street vendors and tourist service hawkers can get a bit exhausting, but their business is down some 90% since the Arab Spring mess, so you kind of can’t blame them. Of course, with what I do for a living, I am comfortable saying “no” repeatedly, but Marta is a classic soft touch and ended up buying a duffel bag full of King Tut towels, small pyramids, and sphinx carvings. Stores could appear out of nowhere at a moment’s notice, so always be on your guard.

We made friends with a local guide named Yasser – let me know if you want his contact information – and he showed us quite a few insider spots in town, as well as the main attractions like the Egyptian Museum.

Yasser showing Marta a replica Rosetta Stone. The real one is somehow in London.

The figures on the right were in a tomb for 3000 years, and they were creepily realistic. Marta and Yasser thought they were being funny.

A rack of mummies.

Statue of Akhenaten – “The Heretic King.” He declared that Egypt would change from a popular polytheism to worshiping only the Sun God. Imagine if we only cheer for the Detroit Lions. There would be chaos.

After Cairo, our next stop was Aswan, the far south of the country, but “Upper Egypt” in the ancient parlance. (Because the Nile flows south to north.) This location is full of temples, statues, and contains many relics from civilizations that eventually merged with the Egyptian kingdoms, such as the Nubians. It also has possibly the best hotel in the world – the Old Cataract.

The view from our room. Marta wants to live here.

Dinner at the Old Cataract. It was worth bringing a suit.

Of course, with the Aswan High Dam nearby, I wasn’t going to miss a chance at a Nile Perch. These legendarily large barramundi cousins inhabit the Nile and many world records have come out of the Nasser reservoir above the dam. Through Tim Bailey at African Angler, I set up an overnight trip on the lake, knowing the odds were against any huge fish, but hoping that I could at least add it and perhaps a tigerfish or vundu catfish to the list.

Early the next day, the guide service picked me up and we headed off for 36 hours on the lake. Marta headed for the Abu Simbel temples, considered some of the finest in Egypt, but this isn’t the first major antiquity site I’ve missed to go fishing. (See “Venus Visits the Temple of Diana; Mars Goes Fishing.”)

They moved this entire temple, piece by piece, so it wouldn’t be underwater when they filled Nasser reservoir.

African Angler was outstanding – I had Hani as my expert guide in a fast fishing boat, and a crew followed us around in a houseboat that had a full kitchen, an air-conditioned salon, and bath facilities.

Hani, professional fisherman and all-around good guy.

The fishing boat.

The houseboat. This was a very comfortable base of operations.

The scenery was stark but amazing. I didn’t expect to see this much water in the middle of a desert.

We ran for about an hour, then set to trolling with impossibly big lures, hoping to get into one of the monster perch that still inhabit the lake. Most of the big fish are caught on longer trips that head further south, but I had to make do with what was available in my schedule. We gave it a game try all morning and into the afternoon, but the fish were not cooperative. We took a break and began casting lures for tigerfish.

These tigerfish are not the monstrous Congo species, but, like the Kardashian sisters, they are numerous and none too bright. Any shiny lure retrieved at wahoo speeds was going to get hit, and we had constant action for a couple of hours. The tigerfish hit hard, jump like tarpon, and best of all, were a new species.

My first tigerfish.

Wire leaders were a must.

We then trolled again, but to no avail. Still, just being able to use some of my Rapala 26 collection was satisfying. As the sun went down, I put out a catfish rod and also started fishing for the small stuff in the weeds. Apart from tilapia, there was one other small species in the weedbed, but I didn’t recognize it. These were much more skittish than the tilapia, and shied away from both my offerings and especially from my headlamp. I finally just left a small bait in the dark, and went about eating the very nice dinner the cook had whipped up for me. When I lifted up my light rod, I was surprised to find a small fish on it. I pulled it over the rail and into the light to have a look, and instantly, I was overcome by dual emotions of joy and shame. It was a Nile Perch, but was so small that it would be classed somewhere between “juvenile” and “fry.” I had the species, but if the trip finished with this as my only one, there was no going to be no way even I could put a dignified spin on it.

This is about as small as they get.

I actually slept fairly well that night, despite the risk of scorpions and fennecs crawling onto the boat. We had one hit from a catfish, which I missed, and then it was time for breakfast. I was facing the unfortunate fact that while I had caught a Nile Perch, I would likely go down as the only person in history who had caught a Nile Perch and a Pile Perch and had somehow managed to have the Pile Perch be the biggest of the two.

Breakfast was fit for a king, or two or three.

Like Marta’s Mother, these guys couldn’t stop feeding me. 

I began casting a squidgee swimbait off the back of the boat, working along a weedline about 100 feet behind us. I had a couple of taps I presumed were from ambitious tigerfish, then a solid hit that hooked up, held in place, and shook its head. I knew right away it wasn’t a tigerfish, so I fought it carefully. Hani came forward to help me land it, and as I got the fish to the surface, I was thrilled to see it was a bigger Nile Perch. Note I said “bigger,” not “big,” but at 5 pounds, this was at least not a microfish and was certainly larger than my pile perch, so I was ecstatic.

Some measure of dignity restored.

We trolled a couple more hours on the way back toward Aswan, with one small hit, possibly a catfish. We then spent the rest of the day casting for tigerfish, because, well, it’s a lot of action. I got at least 20 more, and a couple of ambitious tilapia in the mix.

One of my larger tigerfish. I need to go to the Congo.

Do not put this in your pants.

Speaking of tilapia, if any of you out there can reliably discern between a Nile Tilapia and a Blue Tilapia, please, please email me. If you can reliably differentiate the species AND I have both, you get a steak dinner on me.

Tim Baily had cautioned me that the odds of a big fish go up substantially on longer trips, so I was thrilled to at least get the species in a 36 hour venture. If you are going to do this yourself, I would suggest doing at least a five day trip – the big fish are there.

Marta met me back at the hotel, where we had a driver waiting to take us to Luxor, some 100 miles to the north. (I thought this meant two hours driving, but it was more like four. Traffic in Egypt, even in rural areas, is formidable.) I figured that the freshwater fishing portion of the trip was over, but when we got the Luxor Hilton, I was thrilled to see that it was right on the Nile. But we had a say of playing tourist ahead of us, so we enjoyed a marvelous meal at a local restaurant, and it was quite a relief to sleep someplace where there were no wild animals.

The following day was one of the most important of the trip – the Valley of the Kings. This desolate canyon became the royal burial place during most of the New Kingdom period. It was in use for more than 500 years, and it sprung into world headlines in 1922 with the the first-ever discovery of an undisturbed royal tomb. The tomb, that of a minor king who had taken the throne as a child and had died at age 18, gave modern society their first glance at the riches of a royal burial. This was the tomb of Tutankhamen – King Tut – and it is arguably the most famous archaeological find of all time. My Mother did not consider her life complete until she had seen this place.

We drove west across the Nile. In ancient times, the area west of the river was reserved for the dead, who were often referred to as “westerners.” The hills are dotted with tombs, temples, and historical sites.

At the temple of Hapshepsut, one of the great landmarks of ancient Egypt.

Hatshepsut, a female pharaoh, kept her stepson Thutmosis III off the throne for many years, and when he finally took over, he was mad enough to try to have her face chiseled off of all statues and monuments. Sure, I’ve taken photos of my stepmonster out of a few albums, but this pretty much sets the standard.

Succeeding pharaohs tended to make carvings very deep reliefs to prevent this sort of editing.

Of course, they got lost and did their excavating in Memphis, Tennessee, but it was a noble idea.

Then we drove in to the actual valley. It is a remote, arid place, but it has only one entrance so it was easier to guard from tomb robbers.

The Valley of The Kings.

We finally reached it, so I could deal with my childhood trauma.

Tut’s tomb was fairly plain, a relatively short shaft down into the hill, and several small chambers. In one of those chambers, he is still on display, resting there for eternity. He didn’t freak me out so badly this time, but if the lights had gone out down there, I’d have wet myself and everyone standing near me. But I had finally seen King Tut in person. I have never felt closer to my Mom, even six years after she went west.

That evening, we had a couple of hours to kill, and we were right on the Nile, so Marta gamely permitted me to cast a line while we enjoyed some cold drinks on the bank of the Nile.

The Hilton. Marta noticed the pool. I noticed the river.

Looking across the Nile at the Valley of the Kings.

A couple of local cats came out of the bushes to watch us. It’s a rough life being a cat in Egypt. In ancient times, these animals were considered sacred, and they have never gotten over the fact that this hasn’t lasted. The resident felines at the Luxor Hilton were a scrappy bunch, and as soon as they discovered I was catching small fish, they were very interested in my every move. Naturally, Marta insisted that I feed them, and we soon had a squad of furry friends. The fish were a new species – a type of barb.

My hooks were not barbless.

I believe this to be in the genus Enteromius, (thank you Dr. Carvalho) but if any of you have more specific ID information, please contact me.

One particular animal, who we christened “Scrappy Cat,” dominated the proceedings and got most of the fish, but Marta hand fed the less aggressive ones. (Which I suggested was anti-Darwin, but this fell on deaf ears.)

Scrappy Cat.

The next day, we covered the eastern bank of the Nile – the town of Luxor itself. This is home to two gigantic temple complexes that were centers of religion and culture in their prime, some 3000 years ago. Whatever else drove these people, they wanted to be remembered. Ramses III, one of the great military leaders of the time, had a 90 foot tall likeness of himself installed at the city gates. Even in ruins, it is awe-inspiring.

The statue, long since collapsed, provided Shelly the inspiration to write the poem “Ozymandias.”

Paint on a temple ceiling. 3500 years old without so much as a retouch. We’ve been in our place four years, and Marta wants me to paint the bathrooms. 

By incredible coincidence, we again had a few more hours to kill before dinner, so I set up to fish the bank by the hotel. I started catching the barbs again, but I also saw some bigger fish wandering in and out of sight. I put out a bigger bait and let it soak. Perhaps half an hour later, something crushed it and took off for the other shore. I stopped it after a couple of runs, and as I worked it back toward the bank, I was stunned to see it was a huge freshwater pufferfish. I had caught related species in Asia (as immortalized in “The French Correction,” but those fish were tennis ball size. This was gargantuan, like a tennis ball the size of a housecat, and it now occurred to me that I would need to crawl down the steep concrete bank to land it. If I slipped, there was a trip to the hospital and many antibiotics in my future, but I was going to get this fish.

I do not like swimming with microbes.

With Marta giving helpful advice like “Throw me your wallet,” I edged down, grabbed the fish by the gill, and pulled it up to the bank. It wasn’t just a puffer, it was a five and a half pound puffer – my biggest fish in Egypt so far, and a new world record. I was ecstatic.

The beast.

Yes, he was safely released.

The cats reappeared as soon as I caught small fish. Before we went to dinner, I got a catfish that was both a new species and dinner for the felines.

The golden Nile catfish. I was hoping for a Vundu, but a species is a species.

When we moved to the outdoor cafe for dinner, the cats, sensing that Marta was an easy touch, followed us. Naturally, Marta ordered an extra plate of chicken so we could feed them. If they had been selling little Sphinx statues, she would have bought all of them.

That’s Scrappy Cat at the top of the photo and his friend Orange Kitty below. They could eat a lot of chicken.

The next day, we would be heading southeast for three days fishing on the Red Sea. We spent the evening by the riverside, and I was in what passes for deep thought in my case. We had seen a week of ever more fantastic monuments – temples, statues, tombs. As we all do, these people wanted to be remembered, so badly that they spent their entire lives and fortunes in that pursuit. Here we were, 5000 years later in some cases, still remembering these people, learning about them, admiring them, trying to connect with some shred of commonality that has survived the millennia. I looked at my own life, and the obsessive quest that has filled up so much of it, and never being able to fully answer why I do it. It hit me then, that there is something deep in humans that wants to leave something behind that future generations will learn about, and that perhaps, in my own small way, the great species hunt is mine. Because it’s unlikely Marta will let me build a pyramid in the back yard, especially before the bathrooms are painted.

The sun goes west, as we all must someday.

Steve

 

 

Posted by: 1000fish | August 28, 2017

The Bitterling Truth

Dateline: July 25, 2008 – Luxembourg. Or …

Dateline: April 28, 2017 – Gersfeld, Germany (Explanation below.)

Sometimes, I just drop the ball. This will be no secret to anyone who has played baseball with me, although some of them, such as Scott Kisslinger, might gratuitously add “Anybody might drop the ball. But Steve would pick it up, rush the throw, and launch it three rows deep in the stands.”

Although I was quick from home to first, I was even quicker from home to the mound.

The dropped ball in this case involves the ID on one of the smallest European fish species, the bitterling. In retrospect, it is clear how I made the mistake. All along, I had unknowingly been looking at photos of the Japanese bitterling, Rhodeus ocellatus. This species, which is smaller and more durable than its European counterpart, is also quite attractive. So every time I fished for bitterling in Europe, I was looking for this fish:

This is what I thought I was looking for.

But there are several bitterling species, and although I didn’t know that at the time, the European Bitterling, Rhodeus amarus, it somewhat more homely than its cousin from the Orient. So I never caught the fish I was looking for, because I was fishing about 6000 miles too far west, or 11,000 miles too far east, depending on which airline you fly.

The actual target. I want to catch them both, so I can tell someone “This ‘aint my first Rhodeus.”

Our old friend Stefan Molnar (famed for blog appearances such as “Uncle Beef” and “A Quappe for Steve“) was amused by my plight, and in discussing the matter with some of his fishing buddies, he came upon Roland. Roland, a co-worker and passionate angler himself, was also amused by my plight, but he had a connection that could solve my problem. It turns out he was good friends with the owner of a bitterling hatchery in Northwestern Germany.

Let’s get this out of the way – if the idea that I might fish in a hatchery surprises you, you must be a first time reader. Welcome!! Yes, this is undignified, but if you are coming to this blog looking for dignity, you’ve had seven long years of disappointment, sort of like Cousin Chuck’s wife during the first six years of their marriage.

I was in Germany for a business trip in April, and so Roland volunteered to take an afternoon off and drive me up to the hatchery. It was a pleasant drive, filled with fishing conversation. Roland is quite the expert on rough fish in Germany, and has an impressive portfolio of carp and other catches.

When we showed up, everyone was polite, but it didn’t need to be said that they thought this was a bit weird. The owner in particular did not believe that there were hooks small enough to catch them, or that they would eat anything but the hatchery food. (Purina Bitterling Chow looks something like grainy dust.)

That’s the owner on the right, and he couldn’t stop giggling at me. The guy on the left was a random visitor who happened to be from California.

I was armed with micro hooks and Gulp bloodworms, and I was confident that I could get it done.

When I say micro hooks, I mean micro hooks.

 

I’ll grant you I’ve fished in more scenic locations.

To the great surprise of all present, I caught one immediately.

The beast is captured.

Roland and Steve celebrate the moment. Anyone who thinks this wasn’t worth four hours of driving is … well adjusted?

But to my astonishment, it was the not the fish I expected. It was much plainer-looking and less deep-bodied, and with the bizarre way my memory works, I instantly clicked back to a July day in 2008. I was fishing in Luxembourg with old friend Jens Koller, moments after I had landed a big barbel. I was plying the rocks with a micro hook, and I caught a plain-looking fish I assumed for years was some sort of deformed dace, because it didn’t look like the Japanese bitterling, which I thought was the European bitterling. It was part of a crazed long weekend in which we drove halfway across Europe so I could add Luxembourg and Austria to my country list, and apart from the occasional road rage incident, it was glorious. So let’s reminisce to that weekend, nine years ago, before I had started blogging, back when I had more hair and fewer world records, when my species count was at 774, when I had caught fish in exactly 50 countries. When my relationship with Marta was only four years old, so the Las Vegas odds of it going five were stacked against me.

Jens – a.k.a. “The Autobahn Werewolf” – seemed to enjoy setting up these road trips across Europe. On different occasions, we did Switzerland, France, Poland, and the Czech Republic, but this trip was about countries in two opposite directions from Germany – Luxembourg and Austria. We started with a day on the River Enz in Germany, catching some nice trout and chub. Notably, this day marked the one time (knock on wood) that I have ever put a hook through my finger.

Jens nearly fainted when I pushed it through, flattened the barb, and pulled it out. Note that I did not cut the hook – that would have wasted fishing time.

The next morning, we headed to off Luxembourg, a quick few hours from my office in Walldorf. Traffic was light, and Jens was calm.

I was so focused on fishing that I didn’t go see Patton’s grave. This probably makes me a bad American.

We got there in the afternoon, and set up for some bottom fishing. That was slow, so we moved to a smaller creek and tossed some lures. It was here I got my fish – a perch – adding Luxembourg as my 51st country.

My first fish in Luxembourg. The far side of the creek is Germany.

We fished well into the evening, and got into quite a batch of European eels.

Marta says this is my sexiest eel photo, ever. Taylor Swift says this is my sexiest eel photo ever, ever, ever, ever.

The next morning, we fished a short session on a small river just inside the border, and I hooked up on a beast of a barbel. It wasn’t quite as big as my 10 pound first barbel in 2005 with Roger Barnes, but a magnificent fish nonetheless.

One of the hardest fighting fish in fresh water. 

In the afterglow of this trophy, I did a bit of microfishing in some rocks on the bank, inspired by what I thought was a glimpse of a stone loach. I caught a few minnows, and then a silver fish I wrote off as an odd-looking dace because it didn’t look anything like what I was mistakenly picturing a bitterling. And so it was photographed and filed away.

Steve unknowingly catches a European bitterling – July 25, 2008.

We hit the road for Austria, about 7 hours back across Germany but featuring a stop at a Karlsruhe pub that put on a Friday night barbecue. There was sauerkraut. There was pork. There was more sauerkraut. It was awesome until we had been back in the car for a few hours – men never think of these things. Well, men think of these things as contests, and I would say Jens won.

The next day, we arrived at Fuschl am See. (Lake Fuschl.) I loved saying the name – Fuschl Fischl Fuschl.

No, they weren’t trolling.

It was certainly one of the most beautiful alpine locations I had ever visited, and we had the privilege of staying with one of Jen’s great friends, Robbi, who just happens to own a very nice resort on the lake – the Pension Huber.

The hotel. Worth the trip just for the scenery.

We had the full run of the place, including the delicatessen and tackle store, for 48 hours, and it was awesome. We did long stretches of fishing in their own private mountain pond – the target was tench, which I would not get for another 355 days. But we had a blast with roach and some nice carp, and the nighttimes were filled with sausage platters, good Austrian beer, and endless fishing conversation.

The pond, hidden up a narrow mountain road.

Steve and Jens. He’s about as tall as I am – I just always seem be standing uphill.

Steve and Robbi. We caught over a dozen carp like this.

It was a bit muddy. But no problem – it was Jens’ car!

Jens and I then fought through European holiday traffic to get back to Germany, where we fished one more day and I caught my first (minuscule) asp. It would be eight more years before I would catch a reasonable one, but a species is a species.

My first encounter with an asp was still better than Cleopatra’s.

Oh, how I enjoyed those maniacal runs through summertime Europe with Jens, and I smiled. Just then, a cold breeze brought me back to 2017, and like that, my flashback was over. So yes, there is a new species to report, but I’m about nine years late.

But returning to the present day, there was one more surprise in store. Bitterling were not the only creatures being raised at this place. They also had big tanks laden with exotic sturgeon – Belugas, Siberians, and a couple of others. Yes, I briefly considered getting a rod and putting a Beluga on my list – this is one of the great unicorns of the species world.

Fish, barrel, I get it. But there were three rare species of sturgeon in one pen.

But I have an obsession with catching my Beluga in the Volga River, preferably near Stalingrad, or Volgograd, or Putingrad – whatever they’re calling it this week. But then I saw some small, white shapes at the bottom of one of the pens.

There was no way I wasn’t fishing for these.

Roland explained that these were sterlet. Albino sterlet. I had spent a couple of days trying to catch a sterlet in Slovakia (As covered in “The Basilica.”) They are almost gone in the wild, and I realized this might be my one chance to even see one. So, without much of a thought to the horrified look you are giving right now, I took my original handline and Gulp bit and drifted it down into the pack. They ignored it, but I skillfully kept maneuvering the bait for a heart-stopping 20 minutes until one of them stumbled onto it. The battle was on, and I wanted to get it over with quickly because people were watching, with that same look on their face. It took a moment on one pound test, but I got him – and without a net or gaff!

A sterlet. Sure, I’ll feel better if I catch one in Slovakia, but this is a start.

I figured this was about as much as I could get away with in a day, and so Roland and I bid the hatchery farewell, and started on the two hour drive back to Walldorf. I was grateful he had taken his time and effort to help a fellow angler – these sort of things seem to transcend international boundaries – and I was even more grateful he understood my obsession well enough to volunteer the location. But I was most grateful of all that, on the entire ride home, he never once judged exactly how shameful the whole episode had been. That is the measure of a true species-hunting buddy. Vielen Dank, Roland. And Vielen Dank, Jens, even if it is nine years late.

Steve

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: 1000fish | August 20, 2017

Homonyms, Pomfrets, and the Pier Panther

Dateline: March 25, 2017 – Heeia, Hawaii

This is a cow.

She says “Moo.”

This is a Jamie.

She says “Mu.”

A “Mu,” you see, is the Hawaiian word for bigeye emperor, and the bigeye emperor is a fish that has caused me a lot of trouble.

It all started in Kona on September 2, 2008. Marta and I were fishing on our secret ledge on a soft summer night, and all was good with the universe. I had added two species that day – a brown surgeonfish and the beautiful raccoon butterflyfish. The butterfly had been a huge relief, as Marta had actually caught the species before me. We had eaten a lovely meal at Jackie Rey’s, then headed out to the rocks for what I insincerely promised would be a short trip. Shortly before 10pm, disaster struck. Marta, who had filched my custom medium spinning stick and Stella 5000, was flipping a whole shrimp around the wash. Of course, she got a massive strike and had something run hard into the rocks. She did a good job of steering it out, and moments later, a strange and wonderful fish surfaced. Marta had captured a very big Mu.

I see this photo in my sleep. A lot.

A Mu is a rare creature, and even local experts like Jamie don’t get them very often. In the nine years since this debacle, Marta has gotten untold mileage out of those photos, which she trots out at social gatherings, usually right when I’m telling a good fish story.

I have made many trips to Hawaii since 2008, and on each one, I have made a sincere effort to catch a Mu. I have scrambled over wet rocks in the middle of the night and spent hours trying to gather shore crabs for bait, but I may as well have been trolling in the Dead Sea. Marta and Jamie think this is funny. They randomly put Marta’s Mu shots on Facebook. I am too old to be on Facebook, but my friends are not, and I get dozens of derisive emails every time those photos appear.

So when Martini and I headed to Hawaii this March, this fish was definitely on my mind – but I had plenty of other humiliation to address. Although I have not caught a spearfish, Hawaii is the place where I have not caught it the most. There are also three other species there which Marta has caught and I have not – the red coronetfish, the longtail snapper, and the highfin chub. Sure, my Hawaiian glass might be full of more than 100 species, but that’s not what keeps me up at night.

This Hawaii trip, on a spring break for Martini, was set up with four days in Kona on the Sea Strike with Captain Dale Leverone and soon-to-be Captain Jack Leverone, and then three days on Oahu with Wade and Jamie. The idea was to get Martini a big batch of Hawaiian species, and at least three world records – so he could get his mind-boggling 200th. For me, I figured I could scrape together a few species, and hopefully get a record or two. Hawaii is one of those places that’s so beautiful I’m glad to fish here no matter what the species prospects.

We arrived on a Saturday, and after a Taco Bell run, we set up at the Kona pier and started fishing. This is a great location, not as private as Keauhou, but it has produced some interesting species for me over the years. (A few details HERE.)

First fish of the trip – threadfin butterflyfish. Not a new species, but I never get over how beautiful they are.

Among the dozens of assorted reef creatures we pulled up during the evening, I got a crown squirrelfish – the first new species of the trip.

This counts as a good start in my book.

The next morning, Dale and Jack were set up and ready to go at 7am. Jack is suddenly 18 years old and is close to getting his captain’s license, and will take over the Sea Strike whenever Dale goes into a well-deserved retirement. We headed out onto a bit of a bumpy morning and put in our trolling time. You all know what didn’t happen, so let’s skip right to the bottom fishing, which featured some curious role reversals. My thing is species, but I won’t turn away a record. Martini’s thing is records, but he won’t turn down a species. But right away, I started getting records – a positively huge Pfleuger’s Goatfish (the species that was also my 100th record,) followed by a nice oblique-banded snapper, which is one of the most attractive of the deepwater snappers.

Do not adjust your monitor – it really is that big. In the Goatfish world, this is Shaquille O’Neill, and it may be better at free throws.

Martini responded by catching a Hawaiian grouper, a ridiculously rare species I had never even seen. Then he caught a rusty jobfish. We would both have gladly swapped catches – but he still probably enjoyed the look on my face.

Oh how I want to catch one of those groupers.

He caught this just to annoy me. Seriously. I’ve fished here steadily for 12 years and he gets one on his first trip?

Martini then got a nice record – his 198th – on the spotted unicornfish, which was supposed to be more how things should go.

I caught my first one of these in 2006, so I was fine with this.

That evening, things got weird again. Jack took us to a back area in the harbor to fish for eels. Just as it got dark, two nice morays came out of nowhere and hit our respective baits. Mine turned out to be a record whitemouth moray, a fish I would have gladly deferred to Martini.

But that’s what he gets for catching the rusty jobfish.

Still, there was plenty to celebrate that evening, and we dined well on island cuisine and fished the pier some more. I am pretty sure we got some sleep, but I won’t swear to it.

The next morning came quickly, and before we went out to not catch a spearfish, we tried some bottom fishing. Martini, tossing a metal jig, opened up the scoring with a smalltooth jobfish that put that species into the record book.

Courtesy of Martini. My photos never turn out this well.

This was his 199th, and I sort of figured that no matter what else happened on the trip, there was a good chance I would see history made in the next day or two. I had been there when Martini got #182 to go into second place overall, and it was an amazing moment, especially when Martini got his butt soaking wet in the grass.

I just wanted species, and in between constant action on triggerfish, snappers, and big wrasses, I got a huge bite that hooked up, peeled off about 20 yards of line, and pulled off. I said some choice words, re-rigged, and dropped down two more pieces of squid.

Whatever it was must have followed us, because, almost immediately, I got crushed again. Crushed. It was a hard, head-shaking fight with plenty of runs along the bottom, and I was certain I was going to lose whatever it was in the rocks. Slowly, I got it off the bottom. and so I backed my drag off, recognizing that the rig was likely fairly beaten up. The fight still went on for a good while, and all I could guess was a big gray triggerfish. Eventually, a big, silver flank showed under the boat. I focused on fighting the fish and let Jack take care of the landing, so he got the first look at it. “It’s a #&%# Mu!” he yelled. It took everything I had not to freeze up. Everyone on the boat knew the story and what was at stake. The fish made a couple of more dives, and then Jack got it in the net. I had gotten my bigeye emperor.

Finally. Finally. And in an unexpected place.

They have an extraordinary set of teeth.

As a bonus, the fish was just big enough to qualify as a record. But, as was immediately pointed out by Jamie the moment I texted her the picture, Marta’s was still bigger.

We did the obligatory trolling, which featured the obligatory missed strike from what was likely a spearfish, and then we got back to the bottom creatures. Martini pulled in his first uku – also known as a green jobfish, and I managed to best my old record on the largehead scorpionfish.

Largehead. And scorpionfish.

Martini’s uku. My first one was in March of 2006 in Mozambique.

It was mathematically unlikely and morally wrong that I would have five records at the stage Martini had two, but he had the rusty jobfish and the Hawaiian grouper, both of which he had caught without spite, I think, but I still longed to switch his toothpaste with Preparation H.

Late in the day – and Dale fished some late days for us – Martini had an insane idea. He wanted to catch a pomfret. Pomfret live deep – like 1600 feet and more, which, according to Dale, is 266 fathoms at the current exchange rate. This is doable on an electric reel, but the idea of cranking one up manually sounded like a bit of a stretch. But not to Martini. And so, armed with a TLD 20 2-speed and Dale’s best guess as to where the pomfret lived, we set to it. The record on a pomfret was positively huge at 17 pounds, so I wasn’t really considering that as an option for #200. Martini had other ideas.

It takes a long, long time to drop a weight down a third of a mile, and much longer to reel it back up when there was no bite. Martini was relentless – lift up, reel down, lift up, reel down. He freshened the baits and dropped for a second time. A few minutes into the drift, the rod tip shook visibly and Martini started reeling up quickly to set the big circle hooks. The tip kept bouncing, and I guessed Martini had gotten a small pomfret. He was moving it off the bottom fairly easily, and he started coming up with the same relentless rhythm – lift up, reel down, lift up, reel down, no slack, no pauses. Even after 15 minutes of this, Martini showed no signs of wavering – if anything, he sped up. He did not ask for beverages or Advil. I did notice that the rod tip was shaking more aggressively as the fish got higher in the water column, and I was reconsidering my weight estimate. Martini stayed at it with no break, no commentary – just steady, focused, perfect reeling.

We were not surprised that a pomfret showed up at the end of the line, but we were surprised at the size. It was big – perilously close to the record – but we wouldn’t know for sure until we could weigh it on dry land as per IGFA regulations.

But would it break the record?

We headed for port immediately, but adding to the drama was the fact that I had forgotten my 30# Boga grip, so we would need to weigh it with two 15# Bogas and then DO MATH. If anyone’s smartass kid ever asks when they will use math in real life, point them to this blog. There was addition, subtraction, fractions, and even lowest common denominators, and a world record was at stake. After some tense moments of calculation, during which we both had to show our work, we arrived at the same number – 17.75 pounds. Martini had his 200th record as in individual angler. One other person has ever accomplished this – Martini’s father Marty – and he was a lot older than 25 when he did it. Oh, to be that young and that good at something.

Martini was remarkably calm about this, right until I turned around. Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, this was when the gravity of the situation sunk in on him, and he let out a guttural bellow of triumph that is still, as far as we know, echoing around Mauna Keana, and inside my skull, because it scared me out of my wits.

Still, stuff like this doesn’t happen very often, and it has been a privilege to just be there. Of course, if I wasn’t a klutz, he would have gotten his 200th on the moray, but all was forgiven once I bought the celebratory beers. It didn’t help that the bar had a mounted spearfish.

Martini thought this was very funny.

The evening saw us back at Kona town pier, where I had one of the best three minute spans of my fishing career. Sure, I’ve caught almost everything that lives near that pier, but I still keep seeing stuff I haven’t. Notable among these is the longnose butterflyfish – the lau wiliwili nukunuku oi oi –  which is Hawaiian for “We don’t have enough consonants.” I was dropping a small sabiki, catching loads of wrasses and filefish, when one of these somehow managed to get on the hook.

I was beside myself with joy, to the great bewilderment of tourists and locals alike.

Moments later, I cast the rig again, and immediately landed a spotted boxfish.

Species 1660.

This was the best three minutes anyone has had since Cousin Chuck’s honeymoon. Later in the evening, I reeled in a Hawaiian squirrelfish – the fourth new one of the day, and third from the pier.

I’m running out of squirrelfish.

The third day on the water was a very long one. We intended to do a regular day trip, take a nap, then go out all night after thresher shark and whatever else would bite. The day portion of the trip, although completely lacking in spearfish, was good fun. We focused most of our effort on deeper water – 900-1000 feet – and in between some hard-pulling almaco jacks and snappers, I caught one of the more bizarre creatures I have ever gotten – a boarfish.

Ironically, they’re interesting.

Look closely. It’s not an amberjack.

Martini did well on species, running up a few of the regular deep-water suspects like ruby snapper.

Martini’s was bigger.

The overnight portion of the trip was a gamble – we would be looking for some big game “home runs.” Just as every trip to Vegas doesn’t work out, neither did this one, but at least no one ended up arrested or pregnant. (Although Martini ate most of a live squid right in front of me.) We did a bit of reef fishing on the way home at the sun rose, and oddly, I broke my own record on Maori wrasse. This made me feel marginally better.

When this is the only (family-friendly) photo from 12 hours of fishing, you know it was challenging. Dale and Jack did their best, but the Fish Gods always have the last word.

After breakfast at Taco Bell, a much-needed nap, and then lunch at Taco Bell, we did some shoreline fishing south of Kona. While I didn’t get anything new, this is still one of the most beautiful places in the world and I always love coming here.

Of course, now I can catch them at will.

Martini ran up a few new species, including peppered and undulate morays.

The undulate – one of the grouchier morays.

This is why we do not put this in our pants.

Then it was time to face one of the unpleasant realities of visiting the Hawaiian islands – Jamie Hamamoto. We had more or less made nice last year, and at the very least, I was really looking forward to seeing Wade. Martini and I caught the short flight to Honolulu, rented a car, and headed over to Heeia pier. (A fabled location mentioned most recently in THIS BLOG.)

As we worked our way through dozens of parrotfish, wrasses, and butterflyfish, there was a noise from under the pier. It sounded an awful lot like a snarling large feline, although odds are it was just creaky piping. We looked at each other. It snarled again. We both said “Pier panther,” and immediately, another joke that will be funny to exactly no one else had entered our private if indecipherable lexicon of hilarity. And every time the noise happened, we said “Pier panther” and laughed and laughed. We were tired. Don’t judge.

Wade and Jamie showed up just in time for dinner, which was truly awful because they didn’t let me choose the restaurant, which would have been Denny’s if I had not been outvoted. Instead we went to some Godawful local dive, which was called “Zippy’s” but should have been called “Island Horrors.” I’m not sure Jamie enjoyed the food so much as the look on my face.

Martini ate whatever that is in the bowl. Terrifying.

We spent the next two days visiting some of the familiar and beloved Oahu spots we have fished over the years – Heeia, the west side, even the soul-crushing research pier. We couldn’t get to some of my favorite North Shore spots like “the aquarium” and “the reserve” because of high waves, but you won’t catch me complaining about getting to fish anywhere on Oahu.

I didn’t have much species mojo during this portion of the trip, but it was great to see the Hamamotos and it was great to see Martini check off a bunch of species – he nailed an astonishing 38 in the week.

Martini wades a suspicious-smelling creek to get jewel and convict cichlids.

That evening, he added a Hawaiian conger to his list.

What was no so great was the food. Martini is adventurous on cuisine. I am not. I would be perfectly content to eat at Pizza Bob’s the rest of my life, but Pizza Bob’s is regretfully closed and we were doomed to lunch at Iggy’s Tropical Terror Diner and some sort of Korean Barbecue that may not have even been a restaurant.

The menu.

This is the only thing I can do with chopsticks.

Our final day was a whirlwind tour of Oahu. This place is bigger than it looks on a map, and we had quite a bit of car time as we started at the west side, where we saw an amazing sunrise and Jamie caught a bunch of stuff while we sat there not catching a bunch of stuff.

Somewhere on the leeward side of Oahu.

Jamie reels in yet another bluefin trevally.

We hit a few more locations, and decided to close out the day at reliable old Heeia pier. We got quite a variety of local critters and passed a pleasant afternoon.

I tell her not to talk with her mouth open.

I had to talk Wade out of taking this home to eat. He claims he knows how to clean them, but this is the same man who has had a case of ciguatera and an oilfish overdose. (Both of which landed him in the tub for a weekend.)

Among many others, Martini got a coronetfish. Thank goodness it wasn’t red.

We fished well after dark, because I was trying to avoid dinner. The pipes started snarling again, which Martini and I thought was extremely funny. Wade gave us a quizzical glance and said “Watch out for the pier panther,” so we all laughed hysterically, except for Jamie, who suggested that we were idiots.

Steve

Aloha oe.

Posted by: 1000fish | July 11, 2017

Life After the Big Green Boat

Dateline: January 27, 2017 – Port Hacking, Australia

Seventeen years is a long time in guide years, which are much, much longer than dog years, and in general, the food’s worse. A lot can happen in that much time, especially when we’re so busy living life that we forget to stop and appreciate how much has happened.

I met Scotty Lyons seventeen years ago. This makes me feel old, so imagine how it makes him feel. I met him before I met Roger Barnes. Before I met Jean-Francois Helias. Before I met Marta. The day I met Scotty, I had caught 119 species in five countries and had exactly zero world records. In the time since, I’ve added over 1500 species, and about 100 of those are courtesy of the man with the big green boat.

Yes, it’s a horrible photo, but I swiped it from Scotty’s website, so blame him.

I arrived in Sydney on a beautiful summer Saturday. I would have normally fished with Scotty, but he was on vacation. (The nerve of him.) I had figured I could wait for a week, but when I saw how gorgeous it was, I knew I had to get on the water. (Although I felt a bit unfaithful going with another guide.) A quick web search later, I found a suitable boat – Deep Blue Charters. They normally take big groups bottom bashing off the coast for snapper, so it was a bit of an adjustment for them to host one angler who wanted to catch anything but snapper. They were good guys, although deeply bewildered at the idea of dropping #18 hooks down onto the reefs outside Sydney head.

It was a glorious day. I needed to go fishing or I would be struck by lightning.

It wasn’t all microfishing – I dropped plenty of bigger baits, and my very first fish of 2017 was a solid morwong.

Blue morwong. I got my first one on October 28, 2007 with Scotty. I remember these things.

There were also two noteworthy catches later in the afternoon. The first was a straightforward new species – the streaky lizardfish. (Identified by Dr. Jeff Johnson – which saved it from a trip to the mystery file, because this species isn’t in any of my books.)

The streaky lizardfish and a bemused crewman.

The other fish resulted in a new species, but only after significant introspection and a humiliating public confession, which you are about to read. You see, I caught a whiting that looked new.

The whiting that looked new. So far, so good.

I dug into the books, and it turned out I had caught an Eastern School Whiting. I was thrilled, albeit briefly, to get two new species in an unplanned trip. I gave it little more thought, as I then went to Melbourne for a week. (Featured in “The Melbourne Ultimatum.”) But you’ve already read about that, unless you’re my sister, who is terribly behind on the blog. Oh, the shame.

So when I proudly showed the photo to Scotty, he said something completely unexpected – “We’ve caught that one before. The day we got all the big leatherjackets.” He was talking about a day nine years ago … and he was right. I, who can remember nearly all the lines from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” by heart, I, who can remember the Detroit Tigers lineup from 1972, I, who can tell you the line score from hockey games I played in 1978, had just flat out missed one. But this blog is about two days with Scotty, not about my failing middle-aged memory, so let’s move on.

September 20, 2008. Botany Bay. Scotty took this picture and remembered the species instantly nine years later. And I’m the one who prides himself on his memory.

I was looking forward to fishing on the Big Green Boat – Scotty’s “Bullfrog II.” (I am one of the few living people who has also fished on the original “Bullfrog,” which was also an awful bright green.) For many years, I had thought I had caught everything in Botany Bay, but even on my May 2015 trip, (see “The Hook and the Cook“) we managed to squeeze out a few newbies. Either way, it was a chance to fish with a great friend, and certainly a good shot a some records, but my expectations on species were very low.

The morning of our first day didn’t do much to change this. It was overcast, a bit blustery, and a barometer settling downward. We moved around some comfortably familiar places – the floating drums, the north head, the oil pier. We got a few of the usual suspects – small banjo sharks, snappers, tarwine, breams – but nothing new. We smiled, knowing we had a very difficult task in front of us, but glad to be on the water. We stuck at it, just as we have for 17 years.

The conversation went in many directions – fishing plans for the next hour, fishing plans for tomorrow, and of course to families and life. Both of Scott’s sons are out on their own, and Trudy is still speaking to him, which is a major triumph after all these years. (In which she has seemingly never aged.) He has worked his tail off as a guide, kept up some work as a carpenter, and redone his house into something of an Architectural Digest showplace. Two years ago, his best friend Paul “cashed out” of the insane Sydney housing market and moved to Queensland, where a decent sized piece of property can actually be afforded, and where living expenses have stayed reasonable, and I got the feeling Scotty would like to do this someday as well. We were actually talking about life after the Big Green Boat. When did I get so darn old?

NOTE TO THE WORLDWIDE ANGLING COMMUNITY: SCOTTY IS NOT RETIRING ANY TIME SOON. DO NOT DESPAIR. KEEP YOUR BOOKINGS WITH HIM.

Around noon, we moved to the container wall – my favorite structure on the entire bay. I dropped a couple of slab baits to the bottom, and started casting a sabiki toward the pilings, expecting a mado or some other familiar creature. But as they have so many times in this location, the Fish Gods smiled on me. I caught a ladder-finned pomfret, a creature I had just seen in Sea Fishes of Southern Australia the night before. We celebrated like we had just won a war against France. (Since this is an international blog, I figured most cultures could relate to that.)

The power of positive thinking.

The pressure was off. We could just have fun, and Scotty now had a chance to get home before dark. We pulled anchor and moved down the wall, to a heretofore secret flat spot Scotty had hidden from me all these years. I put down a rod for a moray, just in case, and started casting small baits into the structure. Moments later, I pulled up a goatfish. Only it wasn’t the normal bright red goatfish I have gotten here. It was something new.

The blackspot goatfish. Now we had two species. That’s twice as good as one.

As we pulled the anchor, I reeled up the eel rod, and after I dragged it out of a snag, it was suspiciously heavy. I warned Scotty to have the net ready, and as my leader surfaced, I indeed – finally – had my yellow moray. I have tried for this species on almost every trip for the past 17 years, and I had been the only fisherman in the area who had never caught one. I am, however, perhaps the first person to catch one deliberately.

My 20th moray species. 

The obligatory “Put that thing down, you idiot” photo. Scotty would be drummed out of the guide community if anyone saw this.

Then things just got stupid good. We moved on to some sand flats most of the way back to the dock – a place where Scotty had once caught a “cobbler” sea catfish and therefore became a place we tried fruitlessly for this species over the years. While the catfish remained elusive, I pulled up not one, but two new species in the next 20 minutes.

A somewhat lost stout whiting. Scotty had never seen one either.

 

I would call this a mojarra. They would call it a silverbiddy. But no matter what it’s called, it was species five of the day.

I made my way back to Sydney for a night of low-key celebrating.

I personally believe five new species deserves fireworks, but it was also Australia Day. You be the judge.

Nighttime view from Circular Quay. If you look carefully, there are more fireworks.

I have been waiting years to put this photo in a blog.

The next morning, I got to feel even older, because we got to go fishing with someone I have known even longer than Scotty. Indeed, Steve Baty introduced me to Scotty. Steve and I worked together in the mid-90’s, (he was the smart one) and it was he who introduced me to Australian fishing. (Which has resulted in 208 of my 1653 species to date.) Steve is a passionate fishermen, but is rather busy running a successful company and being married and  raising what seems like a dozen children, so he doesn’t get out quite as often as I do. Still, every time we go, we pick up like we had just gone yesterday.

Steve and Steve on the original Bullfrog, May 2000.

Steve and Steve, April 2009, best hair day ever.

20 years on, we hit the water again. That’s a smallscale bullsye, my first fish of the day, and yes, it was a new species. 

Our venue was Port Hacking, one of the most beautiful locations in the Sydney area. It can be a tricky place, but on the good days, there are some amazing fish here. Moments after we stopped, I got a new species. This was a good omen.

After loading up on live squid for bait, we motored outside the bay and anchored up on one of the nearshore reefs. These areas are loaded with fish – snappers, wrasses, mackerel, and dozens of others. But I was there to settle a score with the Port Jackson shark. This member of the horn shark family is one of those scavengers that seems to get caught by everyone who doesn’t want one, and it was an open record that had avoided me for years. This had to be my day. But the first thing to eat the scad fillet wasn’t a fish at all – it was a positively huge cephalapod. (For those of you who have seen “Arrival,” no, this is something different.)

The biggest cuttlefish I have ever seen. This was strangely pleasing, and yes, it was safely released.

I put another big bait on the bottom and waited. While I did that, I passed some time dropping some smaller hooks and catching an assortment of reef creatures. It was great fun until I got snagged up. So I broke off and re-rigged. Then I got snagged again. I tried all the tricks to get it loose, but finally resorted to yanking up on the rod a few times. Scotty looked at my quizzically. “Mate, I think that’s a fish.” he said. “Bull@#&%” I replied. Steve weighed in – “Yeah, we’ve drifted about 30 feet and it’s still straight under us. “Bull@#&%” I replied. I was just about ready to break the line when the fish took off, peeling out 10-pound braid powerfully but slowly. I was pretty sure I had my Port Jackson shark. But I didn’t – about 15 minutes later, Scotty reached down and netted a big Fiddler Ray – at 16.5 pounds, it would break the existing world record of 14.75. I was stunned, and lucky that all my mishandling hadn’t pulled the hook out.

The snag that turned into a record.

I want to take a moment and pay tribute to the man whose record I broke. Marcel Vandergoot set this record in South Australia 27 years ago – and he did it on FOUR POUND TEST. (He also probably knew he had a fish on the whole time.

 

Marcel Vandergoot and his record fiddler ray. Our collective hats are off to you, Marcel.

So we kept at it, with both Steve and I catching dozens of assorted reef creatures. A while later, the slab rod started bouncing. I picked it up and set into something that wasn’t quite as big as the Port Jackson shark I wanted. When Scotty netted it, though, he was again stunned. It was a beastly Sergeant Baker – a type of lizardfish that locals regard as something of a pest. At three and a half pounds, it handily beat my previous record. This was becoming quite a day.

The vicious and inedible Sergeant Baker.

Still, I wanted that Port Jackson shark badly, which is not a sentence you often hear in Australian fishing circles. Noon passed, and while we couldn’t have asked for a more pleasant (or productive) day, I couldn’t believe that my main target wouldn’t cooperate. Scotty finally made his own custom slab rig on one of his kingfish rods, as he has always been suspicious of my hand-tied California bat ray leaders. Needless to say, we got a bite immediately. I set into the fish. It was big, which encouraged me, and somewhat more sluggish than the average tuna, which also encouraged me. I held my breath when Scotty picked up the net, but a moment later, a big Port Jackson finally hit the deck. I had my third record of the day.

Steve and Steve with the beast. It came in at 17.5 pounds.

Another thing not to put in your pants.

With this triumph, we headed back into the bay, to weight the fish on dry land and get a well-deserved beer. I looked around at the scenery – it was a perfect, sunny afternoon, just like it had been on my first day there years and years ago when business travel was still fun and no one was talking about retirement.

Port Hacking. Every one of those dark, weedy patches holds flathead.

Fishing for those flathead, circa 2001. This is the first known photo of me taken with a digital camera. I didn’t think digital cameras would catch on.

Moments before that photo above was taken, I had nearly stepped on a small stingray, and that species would become our final target for the day. We anchored up on a mud flat in the back of the bay and fanned out some big cut baits – Steve Baty provided us with more mackerel than we could use in a week. It was glorious out there – perfect weather, a bit of tide going past us to keep the fish biting, and two great mates giving me a hard time because I was so excited over local bycatch.

Before I could even start in with the Arostegui “ugly fish” defense, my Pfalzer jigging rod doubled over and the Calcutta 400 started paying line out fast. I had a ray – but could I keep it on? The battle went for some 10 minutes, in and out of the anchor rope, but we got it. An estuary stingray, it was not only a new species, but a world record at 13 pounds. This was a day for the ages.

I love how the green on the boat matches with … nothing.

That was a fitting end to what had become one of my best days ever on Port Hacking, But we weren’t quite done. Scotty had a wan smile on his face as we tied up the dock. “Aren’t you going to try for a stripey?” He asked. I sighed. The stripey, you see, is a creature that is often the first fish caught by young Sydney anglers. It lives in large groups under any dock as long as I am not there, and I expected to see none of them here, even though the local kids reported catching them earlier in the day. This has been a running joke with us for many years, and don’t think it didn’t bug the heck out of me.

A stripey. They have hated me for years.

I donned sunglasses and peered into the water. There were hundreds of stripeys just sitting there under the dock, mocking me. I tossed in a few bait scraps – not sure what they were, as they weren’t mine, but the fish reacted to them. So I grabbed my sabiki rod and dropped it down, expecting whatever bream or tailor was going to jump in and ruin my stripey fantasy. But they didn’t, and the stripeys went into a feeding frenzy, which was more savage than it probably sounds. I caught at least 10 while Scotty was hosing down the boat, improbably running the trip species total to eight.

The stripey finally joins the list. Next up, the old wife. Yes, there really is a fish called that, and Scotty is likely already asking around for hot spots.

This was a fitting end to one of my best fishing trips ever. I knew to be humble when the Fish Gods take the day off, and it was enough for me to have fished with two great friends I don’t see all that much, but the eight species and four records were a definite plus. I’m sure it will be a few months at least until I come back, so take heart, Scotty – you have a bit of time to find that old wife, or a teraglin, or a cobbler, or a John Dory, or a green razorfish, or a pink basslet … they’re out there someplace.

Steve

 

SPECIAL BONUS FEATURE – THE HENG CONTINUES

We have now scientifically confirmed that Jimmy, rather than Dave, is the source of the Singapore species Heng. Nonetheless, Dave has tremendous trophy Heng. On my brief trip through the country in February, I only had one day to fish, and Jimmy was not available. But Dave kindly still arranged for he and I to go out on a different charter boat and try some of the Southern Islands. (An area immortalized in such blog posts as “Angry White Man.”) While there were not any new species to report – unsurprising considering I have been fishing this area solidly for almost 20 years – we still managed one rather noteworthy catch – a fingermark snapper right at 10 pounds, which is about nine pounds bigger than my previous best. So Dave definitely has the trophy Heng. And Alex has good Heng finding dresses on sale.

Remember the rule “big bait, big fish.” Dave is holding what’s left of the live trevally we used.

 

Posted by: 1000fish | June 24, 2017

The Melbourne Ultimatum

Dateline: January 25, 2017 – Hastings, Australia

On my last trip to Hastings, I didn’t do as badly as King Harold, but it was close.

King Harold gets the point. Look it up – it turns out the English are more French than they would like.

You might point out that this is a different Hastings, but I am pretty sure it was named after the town in England that became famous in 1066. (1066, as you know, is significant because the English won the World Cup exactly 900 years later, which would have been a more appropriate ending for the Bayeux Tapestry*.) In any case, that trip to Hastings, Australia in May of 2015 (“I’m Here For the Gummy“) sounds nice until we consider two factors –

  • It was winter in Australia.
  • The weather in Melbourne is always bad.

I could tell that the area had loads of opportunities, but despite the efforts of top-notch guide Shaun Furtiere, the wind was miserable and we didn’t get a lot of what would normally be there. It was heartbreaking, because we knew if we could only have gotten to certain spots, we would have scored a lot more species and possibly records, but this is one of the risks of fishing. (Perspective from Marta – Steve wasn’t nearly this philosophical at the time. As a matter of fact, he is NEVER philsophical.)

The vagaries of business travel being what they are, I found myself back in Australia in January of this year. I would need to consider two factors –

  • It was summer in Australia.
  • The weather in Melbourne is always bad.

Still, this was my chance. This is a very long way from home, so I told myself I needed to get a lot of of the missing species or I couldn’t come back – the Melbourne Ultimatum. (To Marta’s disappointment, Matt Damon was not involved.) This time around, Shaun kindly picked me up and drove me down the peninsula. It was clear and breezy, but he was confident that at least the next couple of days would have good water conditions. He dropped me off at the Harborview Inn on the edge of town, and I took some time to set up all my gear. Shaun had volunteered to take me out eel fishing that night, so I passed the afternoon back at Hastings pier, the spot that had produced the amazing ornate cowfish for me the year before. It produced more cowfish, which were just as ornate the second time out, and close to 50 puffers, which was not so astonishing. The smooth puffer had been the dominant pest on my last visit, and it looked like they were out for blood again.

The ornate cowfish. I will not show a picture of the puffers – this would only encourage them.

But since you asked, here’s a picture of Shaun with a puffer.

The eel adventure was unsuccessful, but how many guides would spend an evening doing this? Australians are wonderful people, with the exception of one guy in my office, but this was really above the call of duty.

The first morning, we were joined by Shaun’s friend Warren. Warren is a local tournament fisherman, and although he will poo-pooh me on this, he is something of a local legend. Having him along was like having a second guide. Shaun is quite the expert on the game species in the area – snapper, whiting, and gummy shark – and Warren added some great knowledge on some of the lesser-known critters I would be after.

On our way to the harbor, we had an amazing wildlife encounter. We saw something waddling across the road, and a closer look revealed it was an echidna – sort of an Australian porcupine. I walked up to it, and it made no effort to run away. It simply dug into the ground and raised its spines – an intimidating sight. At my request, Warren dug it out, which was quite a chore, and I actually got to see one more up close and personally than it probably liked. (This creature is somewhat sacred in our household – Marta has a stuffed echidna named Spike, and Spike hates me.) So first, the video of the echidna we saw, and then a photo of Spike.

 

This is Spike. He takes Marta’s side in everything.

We launched on a sunny and windless morning, which is what I felt the Fish Gods owed me after the debacle 19 months ago. We were able to get outside of the coastal islands and head for the open water, and a gorgeous ride later, we were fishing.

Oh, what I would have given for weather like this in May of 2015.

Warren immediately showed that local experience was important. He caught a couple of King George whiting immediately – and we were fishing the same rig in the same place. But after a respectful wait, I had a hard strike and a battle all the way up, and I landed my whiting.

This is the largest of the whiting species, reportedly attaining some eight pounds.

We pounded the reefs the rest of the afternoon, and this is when the Fish Gods reminded me that they owe me nothing. I was here, it was summer, and there was decent weather. But all those species I had seen in the books, like Elephantfish, were not jumping on the hook. We got dozens of fish – blue throated wrasses, senator wrasses, and the occasional snapper, but nothing new for a couple of hours. Then I got a very dark wrasse, which turned out to be a purple wrasse, so we had two in the books. It was then followed by a brownspotted wrasse, so I was up to three.

The purple wrasse.

The Brownspotted. Dr. Jeff Johnson figured this one out, or it would still be in the mystery file. There are 27 fish on this unfortunate list, most destined to stay there forever.

Toward evening, we got a blue-throated wrasse that easily beat my existing record, so there was one on that scoreboard as well.

The first world record of the year. Marta loved my hat with the point and the seagull.

And on our last stop, a shallow bank near the harbor, I landed one of the species that I had admired in books for years – the blue weed whiting.

It actually isn’t a whiting, it wasn’t in the weeds, and it’s not even blue.  Australians do some bizarre things with common names. For example, they call threadfin “salmon” and groupers “cod” and beer “a food group.”

That evening, Warren took me out for a pizza in Hastings. It was awesome.

The next day was similar to the first – perfect weather. We headed out into the open ocean and down the coast. Anchoring up on some shallow reefs, we got steady action on wrasses and leatherjackets. Among perhaps three dozen fish, I got two new ones – the Sea Sweep and horseshoe leatherjacket.

The sea sweep. Closely related to the silver sweep I have caught so often in Sydney.

Note the horseshoe pattern on the fish. That’s Warren on the right.

I also managed to break two of my own records – the bluethroated wrasse and sixspine leatherjacket. At two and a half pounds, the bluethroat was a beast. Speaking of beasts, I had the educational pleasure of watching Warren fight a 10 pound-ish yellowtail to boatside on six pound line.

The beastly bluethroat.

This is why they are called bluethroats. Cousin Chuck, call me. I’ll explain.

My first record on a six spine was with Scotty Lyons in 2009.

As the day went on, we moved back into the bay to do some ray fishing – I had lost a huge Melbourne skate here last May and I intended to make up for it. We didn’t get a ray bite, although we got a few sharks, my biggest pink snapper ever, and a surprise new species. When I went to swing the fish over the rail, Shaun and Warren both dove for cover. It was a common gurnard perch, and it’s all kinds of venomous. I of course knew this and was able to handle it without harming anyone, but they didn’t know that at the time.

Do NOT put this in your pants.

My personal best pink snapper. Yes, I know this isn’t one of Shaun’s bump-headed monstrosities, but it’s going in the right direction.

We closed up for the day ahead seven total species and three records for the trip.

Sunset at Rocky Point.

The next morning, Shaun had planned a new location – north of the peninsula and onto the main bay, where we could look for some odd species and also take a shot at some big snapper. It was glorious when we launched, but Shaun warned me that some nasty weather was brewing up for later. I put that out of mind and just fished, and we ended up with three great new species –

Little Weed Whiting – it is indeed little, but still not a whiting.

Shaun gets selfie-ambushed.

The Bridled Leatherjacket.

Southern Garfish – this brought Shaun back to his childhood. He spent an appreciable amount of his younger years fishing for these on a float rig.

We fished on the wreck of the HMS Chunder, a 19th century relic.

We cut it off mid-afternoon, and after some sort of fast-food adventure, we launched again out of Rocky Point for an evening of ray fishing. Toward dark, one of the rods had a screaming run, reminiscent of our Tomales Bay bat rays. I set the hook and began a battle with what was unmistakably a Myliobatis species – long, powerful runs, then circling the boat, then running some more. About 15 minutes into the fight, just as I was getting the fish toward the boat, the hook pulled. This NEVER happens on rays. But it did. I said bad words.

I couldn’t be too upset – I figured we had plenty of time ahead of us, and I was sure that if one ray would bite, we would have several more chances. We had plenty of baits out, a large bag of gas-station snacks, and the tide looked perfect. It was at this exact moment the wind came up. This was not a subtle process – it went from almost perfectly still to 30+ instantly. Shaun saw it first, bearing down on us, and said “Ahhhh #%$&.” We were done for the evening. And while this gave me a chance to have yet another delicious pizza, I was beginning to wonder if I was ever going to catch an eagle ray. I was still up to ten species for the trip, exceeding last years total with two days still to fish, but guess what was on my mind all night?

I passed a fitful evening, as it was obvious that the wind wasn’t laying down – it sounded like the roof was going to come off. Shaun had planned for this as well, and he came up with a shore-based option. We headed over to Mornington harbor, which involved quite a scenic drive through the local wine country.  The harbor was perfect – one side of it was completely protected from the wind. I broke out the sabikis and set to seeing what was there. In between dozens of leatherjackets and wrasses, and fishing next to a bunch of kids with equally short attention spans, I managed three new species. Two of them were run-of-the-mill harbor micros – the southern hulafish and the yelloweye mullet.

The Southern Hulafish.

The Yelloweye Mullet. I had my doubts, but Shaun called this one right.

But the final one was a surprise that made the whole day worth it. A caught a zebrafish, which is a strikingly-colored relative of the opaleye. Shaun was amused at my excitement, and to be fair, my dance of joy across the wharf may have been a bit overboard. Australians aren’t used to seeing people act that oddly before happy hour.

They’re supposed to be vegetarian, but nobody told this one.

We gave the eels another try that night, and struck out again. How is it that we can catch as many eels as we want to if we are trying for something else, but as soon as we target them, they are as rare as objective journalism?

That left us one more day to get a ray. I had pretty much accepted that we weren’t got to get all of the available species on this trip, but I wanted at least one ray – there are several really amazing species down here. We got a bright and early start out of Rocky Point, and anchored up in one of the channels. After a couple of less-definitive bites, one of the rods went off with the screaming run I was hoping for. I picked it up, reeled into the circle hook, and started a lengthy battle that was made more dramatic by the self-doubt created by the hook that pulled out two days before. The fight went on for perhaps 30 minutes, and the most self-doubt happened when the leader appeared. Shaun was calm the entire time, and he netted the fish on the first opportunity. I had my eagle ray, the 14th and final species of an excellent trip.

They look like a bat ray with a better paint job.

At long last, a ray in Melbourne.

Shaun was kind enough to drive me back up to Melbourne airport. I had gotten many of the creatures left on the table from the previous trip, but there were quite a few still out there. This is the nature of the species hunting game, and another trip here didn’t sound like such a bad idea – especially for an Elephantfish. In the meantime, I had a plane to catch and some rigging to do. I would be spending the next 48 hours fishing down memory lane, with two old friends in Sydney.

Steve

* I have always wanted to open a Spanish appetizer restaurant in Normandy. I would call it “The Bayeux Tapas.” The Norman conquest has always held a special fascination for me, as some of our common linguistic expressions trace back to this event. For example, King Harold was the first person to say “Fire at Will!” We also got the first definitive example of what happens to deposed English monarchs – they get throne away.

Posted by: 1000fish | June 7, 2017

Chums

Dateline: November 6, 2016 – Skykomish, Washington

I’ve never been much of a salmon fisherman. Salmon fishing out here generally involves piling on to a crowded party boat, maybe catching two fish, and barfing, whereas a rock cod charter involves piling on to a crowded party boat, catching dozens of fish, and barfing. I get talked into a salmon trip with friends every seven years or so, and while I love to take pictures of the rail bunnies, I never seem to catch much. I have stumbled into quite a few king salmon while steelhead fishing in the Trinity River – these can certainly add an element of excitement to early-season backtrolling, when the weather is perfect but the steelhead are rare. I’d been up to Alaska and gotten the standard kings and squillions of pink salmon, and I got a sockeye in the Sierras about fifteen years ago on a particularly frigid morning with Spellman. My Atlantic salmon is the stuff of sad legend, as it took me about a dozen pricey trips over two years in Scotland, only to get one in Ireland. This left me two salmon species short of an IGFA Royal Slam – the silver and the chum.

Both of these species are fairly common up in the Seattle area late in the year, but this is of course subject to the vagaries of Seattle weather, which vagaries about as much as anything can vagary. Still, Martini and I decided that we should give this a shot before the holidays kicked in and I would be unable to leave the house for fear of missing a rebroadcast of “A Christmas Story” or other festive fare like “Arlo the Burping Pig.”

Yes, it’s real.

Martini and I got talking about a trip, and as always with the Arosteguis, plans got made quickly. November 5 and 6 were chosen, and we signed up with highly recommended guide John Thomas.

Highly recommended guide John Thomas on a sunny day. Sunny days happen every four years in Seattle.

United got me to Seattle on time, which surprised me. Martini was out with some supermodel, so I found a quiet German restaurant near campus and loaded up on sauerkraut, which is always a good idea before you are going to wear waders for two days.

In the morning, we got up to the river quickly – the same waterways that make traffic impossible also guarantee that there are plenty of fish within an hour of downtown. On the drive, Martini broke it to me that the chum fishery was closed – Washington continues to have the most pointlessly complex regulations in the United States. This did not mean we would not hook one by accident, as the two species inhabit pretty much the same water and will strike pretty much the same lures, but this now meant that we would not be allowed to remove a chum from the water, which could make for complicated photos.

We met our guide at the boat launch. I initially thought John was a big, friendly guy, but as soon as he started giving me a hard time about my never having caught a largescale sucker, I decided he was just big.

This is John and his contact information. Spoiler alert – he turned out to be a really good guide, except for largescale suckers.

We set up to backtroll. It was a dark, cloudy, and cold – typical summer weather in Seattle. The silvers and the rain came quickly – Martini got a nice one right away, and I was next up with a solid fish. I was one species away from another royal slam.

Martini gets the first fish of the day.

 

Steve’s silver. It had started really pouring. 

(I also have the trout slam, with Spellman in 2010, and the bass slam, with Martini on a memorable day in 2012.) John helpfully reminded me that I hadn’t caught a largescale sucker. I reminded him that there isn’t a sucker slam, but if there was, I would have it.

Later in the morning, I had a big strike and a spirited run. John expertly maneuvered the boat to let me fight the fish, all the while suggesting it was probably not a largescale sucker. A few minutes later, a chum salmon surfaced. We anchored near shore, but somewhere in the ritual of getting out of the boat and trying to photograph the creature in the water, I dropped the chalupa. Martini and John were kind and sympathetic, as soon as they stopped laughing.

The Fish Gods smiled on me moments later, and while the catch was unintentional, it counted and I had my third royal slam, as well as one of the more awkward fish photos I have ever seen. Still, I was pleased, and I could relax and focus on species fishing and trying not to die of hypothermia.

We call this photo “Brokeback River.”

You see, the weather was standard Seattle stuff – clouds and rain. But this did not concern me because I had brought my LL Bean wading jacket. It’s green, and it’s from LL Bean, so it is obviously waterproof. Only it isn’t. It’s “water resistant,” which means that it leaks, and by noon, I was soaked through. This is not an ideal situation, and there was no way I was going to say anything in front of these two, as I would be roundly mocked. It was, after all, my own stupid decision to leave a Gore-Tex jacket sitting in the closet at home.

To mix things up a bit, we tried ledgering some worms in slower, shallow water. Very quickly, we began catching what I believe are peamouth, a local cyprinid which had completely avoided me on the July 2016 trip.

Martini caught a bunch of them also. It was a good day, if you had a functioning raincoat.

We were fairly exhausted by the time we got back to Seattle, and Martini and I decided to eat some sort of legendary campus burger which turned out to be just this side of Sonic burger bad. Nursing unstable stomachs. we got me back to the hotel, where I laid out my sweater, which would dry sometime next spring.

The second day featured much nicer weather – we even saw a bit of elusive sun. But the water had clouded up, and fishing was tougher. We still got a few silvers to the boat, which made for great fun, but mid-day, because I have no attention span, I started playing around with micro-rigs under the boat. This resulted in a few more peamouth, and a bigger hookup and breakoff we suspect was a largescale sucker. John was ruthless about this, and began showing me pictures of the many largescale suckers he has caught.

The guys before John started really razzing me. You can tell because I look so cheerful. That IS my cheerful look.

Late in the day, I had a small hit and lifted a curious minnow-looking creature into the boat. We put it in the photo tank, and Martini started thumbing through the Peterson Guide to Freshwater Fishes, as he tends to frequently. Wonderfully, and pointing toward universal justice, the beast turned out to be a longnose dace, a species that Martini had caught in morally difficult circumstances.

A year of suffering rewarded.

To close out the day, Martini and I took turns irritating each other. While I was innocently trying to catch a sucker, I accidentally caught a whitefish. Martini has not caught one of these, but hey, it’s not like I did it on purpose.

Martini gives that exact look when he realizes that Dairy Queen is the only restaurant open.

Moments later, on purpose, Martini caught a coastrange sculpin, which I have not caught.

The beast in question. As if it wasn’t bad enough that he caught it, he also corrected my draft when I called it a “coast range” (two words), when it’s actually “coastrange” (one word.) Talk about adding grammar to injury.

John thought this was pretty darn funny, which I thought was unnecessary and mean-spirited, mostly because I didn’t think of something clever to say. I was ahead a few of species and a Royal Slam, but it had taken an emotional beating to get there. I thought this would be pretty much the end of my fishing year, and with 1630 species on the list, it had been a good one. Little did I know that the holiday season would hold several surprises, and I’m not just talking about my famous Christmas pants. See postscripts for details.

Steve

AN UNEXPECTED POSTSCRIPT

Speaking of barfing, I had the good luck to be invited on an NOAA/UC Santa Cruz deepwater rockfish research trip in November. Captain Tom Mattusch of Huli Cat Charters runs these from time to time, and I got invited partly because I have a bunch of deep drop equipment and partly because I begged. The purpose of these trips is to gather information on deep water species which are normally out of bounds, to determine how California’s Byzantine deep-water closures are helping rockfish stocks rebound from devastating commercial overfishing. I knew I had a chance at some interesting species along the way.

The downside to all this is that we went in November. The San Mateo coast is known for sloppy water, and we were going 30+ miles offshore in between storms. The seas were a steady 10+ feet, and that was enough to make a couple of the graduate assistants go rail bunny for the entire 10 hours.

Steve and some of the research crew. My hat is off to the grad students – while some of them were desperately seasick, there was not a single word of complaint.

While conditions didn’t allow us to fish super deep, we did get to ply some medium depths up to 500′, and I ended up with two new rockfish species – the chilipepper and the greenstriped.

I am the only person my age who grew up in this area who had not caught a chilipepper. 

I didn’t even know these were available.

A big thanks to Tom and the group for inviting me out – they’re a great operation and I look forward to fishing with them again, hopefully in calmer seas.

 

AN EVEN MORE UNEXPECTED POST-POSTSCRIPT

The perch fishing in San Francisco Bay typically starts heating up in December, but as we are usually busy watching “The Muppet Christmas Carol” and similar highbrow fare, there is not much fishing, especially because I am usually wearing my famous Christmas pants, and I don’t want to get slime on these.

My famous Christmas pants.

However, the day after Christmas – “Boxing Day” to the British and all fans of Muhammad Ali – I was able to slip out for a few hours to Tiburon. I got some of the usual suspects, but late in the day, I had a huge hit on a a pileworm bait and managed to land a positively monstrous Pile Perch. At two and a half pounds, this fish would reclaim that record for me.

I’m sure there’s an even bigger one out there.

And I wasn’t done. On New Year’s Eve, Marta kicked me out of the house for the afternoon so she could visit with some of her clever, artistic friends without me embarrassing her. I headed right back over to Elephant Rock. It was a blustery day, and while I certainly had great fun catching 10 or so assorted perch, there was nothing large or beastly to report. Late in the day, I switched over to a sabiki to see if anything unusual was patrolling the base of the pier. I pulled up an assortment of local kelpfish, small rockfish, and dwarf perch – and then a stunning surprise. I knew the moment I saw it that I had gotten a rockpool goby – a common fish in Southern California that isn’t supposed to get this far north.

A very lost Blenny. Perhaps he was looking for the Jets.

It was species 1633, and was the perfect ending to a huge year. I smiled the whole way home, and met Marta for the wild things that old people do for New Year’s Eve – maniacal party activities like ordering a pizza and building a puzzle and going to bed shortly after midnight.

 

Posted by: 1000fish | May 30, 2017

Species Wise, Trophy Foolish

Dateline: October 11, 2016 – Male, Maldives

Some species just hate me. The dogtooth tuna is apparently one of those species. It seems to hate me more than spearfish do, and spearfish hate me a lot.

Figuring this out has been a painful and not inexpensive process. This creature, a savage denizen of tropical reef passes, combines the worst characteristics of a yellowfin and a GT – fast, strong, durable, and a dirty fighter. They also live in places that take lots of flying to reach. My first encounter with a dogtooth was off the Great Barrier Reef in 2002, when one unceremoniously tore the hooks off of my Marauder and swam off laughing. The most recent had been on my January 2016 Maldives trip, when they laughed at me some more.

As a species hunter, I advise other anglers to avoid getting focused (= obsessed) on one particular trophy species. If you have to ask if I follow my own advice, you must be a new reader. Welcome! Because as soon as I took another business trip to Singapore and had another chance to go to the Maldives, I took it. I knew there were still a lot of species there, but I confess my heart was not pure. I was mostly thinking about a dogtooth. We’ll blame Phil Richmond – he has caught quite a few doggies while high-speed jigging, and he had talked me through the process and even picked me out some jigs at his favorite Tokyo tackle store. I felt prepared for the dogtooth. No one is EVER really prepared for a dogtooth.

The journey from Singapore to Male is a quick four hours, and my old friend Mohamed Latheef (DETAILS HERE) had organized everything perfectly. The boat was waiting for me a hundred feet from baggage claim, and in just enough cruising time to let me rig some rods, we were anchored.

That first evening, we worked over a couple of reefs and got many of the expected creatures. I am certainly willing to wade through dozens of fish to get something new, because, well, I get to catch dozens of fish. We caught hard-fighting emperors, triggerfish, monocle breams, and others, but nothing new showed up for hours. I got close with a scorpionsfish, but these are disappointingly difficult to identify, and we’re going to leave this one in the “mystery” file.

These things are brutal to ID. Of course, they’re even more brutal to sit on.

It was still great fishing. The highlight, as ungamefishy as this is, was a whitetip reef shark on an eight pound class spinning setup.

Say what you will, they are fun to catch. 

As the sun began to go down, I got a nice consolation prize – a large red-striped triggerfish that would become a world record.

This broke my old record, also set in the Maldives. There is nothing wrong with doing this, as long as you’re ok with the mental confusion of competing with yourself.

I had learned from my last visit here not to panic. We were heading south this time, so I would be getting plenty of new water, and we had four full days. Something good was bound to happen.

We opened the next morning – a perfect, glorious, tropical morning –  by dropping some cut baits into depths ranging from 100 to 500 feet. This is always a crapshoot, as the guides mostly do jigging or popping, but as we headed over some steep dropoffs, I started getting fish. The first one renewed my faith in the Maldives. An odd fish that looked like a supercharged tilapia, it turned out to be a Mozambique Large-Eye Bream.

A species. This is a good thing.

Sometimes, you can just tell something will be a record. I texted a photo of the fish to Martini, and he responded “That HAS to be a world record.” It was. I also caught around 20 goldflag jobfish – they were small, but another new species.

Every one of these I got was between 14 and 15 ounces. I was happy to get a news species, but missing a record that many times was a bit irksome.

I even got an odd scorpionfish, but as I have discussed, these are nearly impossible to identify.

Mystery file again. These things are as hard as plain brown damselfish to ID.

Later in the morning, I knew it was time to get after my dogtooth. This means jigging. Out came the big spinning reel and cue stick rod, out came the eight ounce metal slab that Phil Richmond had so carefully selected for me, on went the 100 pound mono leader. Jigging is exhausting work. It involves dropping the lure to the bottom, then ripping it up as fast as possible while trying to impart some action to it. It seems like a good idea for a few drops, then it gets old, especially because my left shoulder could be used to teach medical school classes on what happens when old people play hockey.

We began in about 200 feet of water, and worked our way deeper. Drop, wait, rip, rip, rip, rip, drop, wait, rip, rip, rip, drink Red Bull. This went on for a couple of hours, as I am nothing if not stubborn. This area looked like it should hold a dogtooth, and I stayed with the jig despite warnings from my shoulder, elbow, wrist, and toes. We could see things on the sounder. One of them just had to bite. I ignored the fact that I could have been doing more species fishing and stuck to it.

The strike was not what I expected. Because the jig is coming up so quickly, the fish generally chase it from below, and often, this means the initial hit is more of a quick slackening of the line. In this case, it was very quick – a split-second of “what the heck?” which was then followed by another split second of loading dead weight, followed by 30 minutes of violence. Finally, I assumed, I had hooked my dogtooth. The fish was heavy, the runs were hard – it tried to stay deep initially, but then powered out ahead of the boat almost to the surface, then ran back 50 yards toward the reef. Remember that this was all done against a Stella 8000 loaded with 65 pound braid, and a Fox travel rod suited to lifting cinder blocks. The fish circled closer and closer, and the captain and crew got ready with gaffs and tail ropes. I focused on keeping good technique and just prayed all the knots held. The leader finally came into view, and well under the boat, there was some sort of large fish just coming into view through the crystal blue water. It was the right shape, and the right size, and with two or three more pumps, we saw it.

It was a shark. My heart sank into my colon. The deckhands fled to the other side of the boat, leaving me and the captain the undesirable job of reclaiming the jig. Although it wasn’t a dogtooth, the shark had been a worthy adversary, and I wasn’t going to kill it by leaving a jig in its lip. And so, after a bit of trial and error that was quite a trial and included a lot of error, we tail-roped the beast onto the deck. We then conducted the “MMD” – “Mixed Martial Dentistry” – wherein I hold an angry 100#+ shark down on the deck while the captain removes the jig with pliers and shoves it overboard before it kills us both.

A fine catch, but it wasn’t what I expected. And yes, it clearly attacked the jig – Mohamed tells me this other clients have suffered similar mixups. Safely released.

After all that excitement, I was ready to do some bottom fishing, and I tried not to think of all the bottom fishing I could have done if I wasn’t jigging. I also noticed that the wind was coming up. This is not always a crisis in the Maldives, as there is usually an island to hide behind, but the runs between atolls got pretty darn bumpy. We anchored up on a small reef near the island where I would stay for the night, and I started pitching my beloved sabikis. Moments later, I got a very awesome surprise that reminded me of how special a place this was.

The sixbar wrasse. I had seen these in books for years.

Moments later, I got an unexpected reminder of Jamie Hamamoto.

Yes, that’s a lagoon triggerfish. Where were these last January? That is our Captain, Abdul Bari, in the background.

I finished the day with what passes for a good light-tackle battle in my world. While trying to catch wrasses on a small sabiki (roughly #18 hooks) I hooked something I didn’t see for over an hour. It turned out to be a yellowmargin triggerfish of some seven pounds. A note to species hunters – I was using P-Line sabikis, which use much heavier leaders than Hayabusas. I love the Hayabusas for small reef fish, but if I had hooked this fish on three pound leader, there would be no picture below.

The world record is almost twice as big as this one. Wow.

By the next morning, it had gotten appreciably windier.

See – it isn’t always perfect here.

We couldn’t jig immediately, which I pretended bothered me, so we did some bottom fishing. My first fish of the day addressed a problem from yesterday. I finally got a 17 ounce goldflag jobfish, my third record of the trip.

That’s a look of relief.

We also got on some shallow reefs, and the Fish Gods smiled broadly upon me. A new species is a good thing. A beautiful tropical species is an even better thing. And a new, beautiful, tropical species that Marta had caught and I hadn’t was perfectly sublime.

A checkerboard wrasse. Marta had caught one in Fiji (DETAILS HERE) and I had lost sleep over this for 22 months.

This is why I do this.

I also got a grouper that looked just different enough to photograph. Another note to budding species hunters – there are DOZENS of groupers that look like this in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Either get a couple of Dr. Jack Randall’s books and learn the differences, or photograph all of them.

A snubnose grouper – species #5 of the trip.

Species number six happened moments later.

A black-spotted sand perch. I am fortunate to have Dr. Jeff Johnson of the Queensland Museum on speed-dial – this family is one of his specialties, and he sent me an ID before I had downloaded the photos.

The next fish wasn’t a new species, but it was beautiful enough to include here.

This is actually a goldspot goatfish – but it’s a rare all-yellow color morph. Or it has liver problems. That’s Captain Adbul again – he was always quietly in the background, making stuff happen.

We finished up the bottom fishing around noon, and the fact we would spend the afternoon jigging filled me with dread. But before this could happen, my light spinning rod got a crushing hit. The bait hadn’t even reached the bottom, so I was unprepared and lucky to hang on the the setup – if I had lost another Loomis, I might have done something drastic, like not told you. It was a long, tough fight, and when I finally got the fish to the side of the boat, I was thrilled. It was a positively huge bignose unicornfish, and I had set my fourth record of the trip.

I’m learning to photograph these quickly – they lose their color faster than mahi-mahi.

Then we spent hours and hours jigging and catching nothing. You heard me. Let’s move on.

The wind woke me up a few times during the night, and when I got up in the morning, the seas were a mess. For the time being, I was stuck in the harbor.

Vaavu harbor – my home for around six hours.

This is typically not a bad thing, as harbors are usually loaded with interesting smaller fish, but these fish didn’t want to bite.

A specialized Japanese rig saved my bacon. Months before, during the “Land of the Rising Species Total” episode, I had purchased a bunch of Japanese bitterling rigs – ridiculously tiny hooks in a sabiki arrangement. I had figured that, at some stage, I would need something like this. And here I was. There were definitely some odd species in the coral around the edge of the harbor, but they wouldn’t touch my regular sabikis or my standard micro-rigs. Out came these teensy hooks, carefully baited with teensy bits of Gulp, and over the next couple of hours, I had added four new species. I grant you none of them were spectacular fights, but they certainly photographed well.

Yellowbelly damselfish. Be prepared – the fish aren’t going to get any bigger in this series.

Sapphire damselfish. If you look closely, it’s small.

Maldives cardinalfish. It’s there. Take your time. This one ended up in the mystery file, but when it is finally differentiated as a new species, I’ll be waiting.

Then I actually caught a fish I thought was impossible – the striped humbug. These are what had caused me to get out the really small hooks in the first place, and they had been ignoring me the whole time.

Wind or not, it was a great morning.

The scenery was amazing – the small spot outside the harbor where it was calm enough to fish was a stunning range of blues and greens.

The channel into Vaavu.

Oh, and I caught another checkerboard wrasse, which I may have mentioned Marta caught before me.

More mystery file. I hate juvenile parrotfish.

Things calmed down after lunch, so, unfortunately, we got to spend hours and hours jigging and catching nothing. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I get it.

We did get a nice coronation trout right before dark, but it was not on a jig and it was not a dogtooth tuna. Stop already.

We opened our last day on a shallow reef, casting cut baits back against the structure. I got dozens of emperors and snappers, and at least ten spotted unicornfish. I had struggled to get one of these in January, and now they were everywhere.

Spotted unicornfish. These also seemed to all be 13-15 ounces.

I did get one new and very difficult-to-handle species – the highly-venomous streamlined rabbitfish.

Do NOT put this in your pants.

Then we spent hours and hours jigging and catching nothing. I am past this already. Really. Or not.

As the day went on, the wind got bad enough where we had to hide in the lee of an island. The fishing had gone pretty much dry, but I stubbornly kept bashing the bottom with cut baits. Just then, I noticed the big boxes of lures I always pack and generally forget to use. I figured I may as well try a few of them – nothing else was working. My first cast resulted in a huge strike that broke me off clean. I tied on a heavier leader and got back at it, and spent the rest of the afternoon catching a nice assortment of groupers, snappers, and emperors. The very first fish I landed was a new species – the whiteline grouper.

While the trip hadn’t produced as many species as the January adventure, 12 was nothing to sneeze at – and I felt strangely vindicated by the success on artificials.

Dual hookup on the same plug. I had done this once before in my life.

We pulled anchor near sunset and set off through the chop to drop me off at my hotel. Just because, I put out an X-Rap and trolled most of the way to Male. We hadn’t gotten anything on the troll thus far, but a few miles from home, my rig pounded down hard. I hooked into something that was quite fast, but I stopped it after just a minute or two, so I knew it likely wasn’t a dogtooth. I quietly hoped until we saw silver flashes under the boat, but the fish turned out to be a black skipjack – still a fitting last fish of the trip.

The deckhands – Imran Hassan and Ali Mia, pose with Steve and the black skipjack.

That evening, the wind got up over 40 – even landing the boat at the hotel was an adventure. Even though my shoulder felt like it was going to fall off, I knew we were fortunate. If this weather had come up earlier, we might have missed quite a few species. Of course, we might have also missed roughly 18 hours of jigging, but we’re not discussing that.

Steve

 

Posted by: 1000fish | May 23, 2017

Sean Stole My Red Bull

Dateline: October 2, 2016 – Singapore

This will be a short and spiteful blog. Sure, there are several new species to report, but the main takeaway is that I had looked forward to a Red Bull all afternoon on a hot day in Singapore, only to discover that Sean drank it. He claims this was an accident, but I – DON’T – THINK – SO. He shall be immortalized in 1000fish as a bad person, not as bad as Jamie perhaps, but pretty bad.

You may recall Sean from “The Hengray,” and I too was blindsided that this fresh-faced kid could do something so vicious.

That’s the culprit.

This all started with the Hengmasters – Dave and Jimmy – and yes, they came through again. We’ll get to that in a moment, but first I have to again remind you that Sean left me with only a stale Diet Pepsi. You would think Jimmy would be more careful about who he lets on the boat, so I also blame him, and Dave. And Jamie.

But the first day of heng didn’t even involve them. Dave was working, and I wanted to go fishing, so he introduced me to Sherwin. Sherwin, as OCD as the rest of us, specializes in chasing the assorted cichlids found throughout the fresh water in Singapore. These range from small chromides, to large tilapia, to some positively humongous peacock bass. He loves casting lures, and we met up one afternoon at an undisclosed location which I will not disclose.

We started tossing some hard baits, and small peacocks showed up in force. The guy knows his stuff. We got seven or eight quickly, and one of them looked unfamiliar enough to photograph. More on that later.

Steve, Sherwin, and the peacock bass that sparked a lengthy scientific discussion.

Singapore is a lot easier to get to than the Amazon River.

We walked up and down the bank, and kept running into small schools of bass. Most fish were 1-2 pounds, but we saw a few bigger ones, and let’s face it, it’s always fun to be tossing an expensive lure that had been sitting on a shelf for five years. (Sure, they make nice artwork, but Marta won’t let them out of the garage.) We passed about two hours this way, but eventually, my deep-rooted inner desire to see what other species were there took over. I pulled out the bag of white bread I carry for such occasions and set up a float rod. Over the years, I have gotten all kinds of weird fish doing this at various locations in Singapore – a few examples from prior trips below.

One of the odd central American chromides that has escaped aquariums and happily gone wild in Singapore.

Midas cichlid. The place is loaded with ’em, and they are easy to sight fish.

And if you know where to look, there are some darn big tilapia. Note – fishing in urban areas can be regulated, so check before you start fishing. They cane people here. (Amusing when applied to rich American teenagers – no “affluenza” here.)

So I had high hopes for our new spot, undisclosed though it was, and the Fish Gods let me do well. I started out by catching a few solid cichlids, which I suspect were melanuras, but if any ichthyologists are reading, I would welcome their opinions. If I could prove this is NOT a melanura, I caught one big enough for a record. If it is a melanura, Marty Arostegui has caught about three dozen bigger ones.

Could this be the same creature I caught in Miami?

Then the hornet tilapia moved in.

Local girls jump into a fish photo. My guess is that they are 1000fish readers, or they thought I was Brad Pitt. Hurtfully, Marta suggested that neither option is likely.

The hornets all very solid – but nowhere close to the beast I got in Miami a few years ago.

Miami – April 23, 2013. Current record on the hornet tilapia, caught with white bread from the Hilton breakfast buffet.

We closed up shop toward dark, and after I went back to the Hyatt, I started researching the peacock. After numerous consultations with Martini Arostegui and Dr. Alfredo Carvalho, the fish was identified as Cichla ocellaris, a peacock not on my list. Only it SHOULD have been, because as it turns out, I caught it with the Arosteguis five years ago. Yes, I know I’ve had a couple of these screwups, but Martini owed me this one after he took away my grass porgy.

Steve with the same species, courtesy of Dr. Marty Arostegui, July 30, 2011.

So Sherwin more or less got me a species, and more importantly, he didn’t drink my Red Bull.

Just to show you what a star Sherwin is, he invited me out for a short trip a few nights later, just to cast for the bigger peacocks. I can now tell you that they are there from personal experience – all it takes is a Pointer minnow and a medium spinning setup, and sooner or later, you’ll get one like this.

Thank you Sherwin.

Later in the week, it was time to head out with Dave and Jimmy.

Dave with a narrowbarred Spanish mackerel. Yes, he used that rod and reel.

We let Sean come along because I thought he was a nice kid, and because he promised to stay in the front of the boat and not bother us. It started out as such a nice day, and I brought along my requisite 7-11 food, including an extra Red Bull which I was counting on to pep me up in the late afternoon hours. Jimmy is a superstar guide – you can contact him at itsgreat7070@gmail.com or https://www.facebook.com/ItsGrRReat.

We started out with me pitching live shrimp, and Dave throwing jigs. As the air warmed up, fish started hitting, and I got a nice Indian Pompano.

These things are so cool.

Dave got an assortment of stuff on the metal, and for the rest of the morning and early afternoon, I fished sabikis and caught two species, less than glamorous perhaps, but they’re on the scoreboard. The first was the blackspot sardine.

It’s a sardine. It’s got black spots. Not much to tell here.

The next one was a bit more interesting – the sulphur goatfish.

These colorful little fish are found throughout the Indo-Pacific.

We fished into late afternoon, and I was wiped out. But I had that Red Bull on ice, and the mere thought of it had kept me going. Finally, about 4pm, I opened the cooler. There was no Red Bull. I diplomatically inquired “Who the **** took my Red Bull?!” Sean looked up, with those innocent eyes of his, and said “That was yours?”

In Singapore, it is considered rude to kill someone over soft drinks, so I had to accept what had happened in a mature and forgiving fashion, which is hard because I am neither. (Hurtfully, Marta suggested that this is correct.) I loudly made it known that Sean was a bad person and that my afternoon was ruined.

We pulled up to the dock just past six, and Sean, recognizing that my mood had dipped dangerously, sprinted off the boat. He’s fast, and I figured I had made my point. But a few minutes later, he reappeared, carrying four cold Red Bulls and a look of contrition.

Steve forgives Sean and makes $12 the hard way.

And yes, Sean is still welcome on the boat. But I’m putting a padlock on the cooler.

Steve

Posted by: 1000fish | April 17, 2017

The Thing in Ben’s Leg

Dateline: September 19, 2016 – Poplar Bluff, Missouri

The Thing in Ben’s leg was there, quietly waiting to reappear. It had been there for 41 days, giving Ben a few hints to its presence and slowly working toward an unsettling outcome. The rest of us had no idea that The Thing was even there. We just wanted to go fishing.

The destination was the Ozarks – the same location as our now-legendary Memorial Day trip. (As immortalized in “The Old Swimming Hole.”) That adventure had rewarded us with a bunch of micro species – something of a miracle considering that all the main waterways were flooded after unseasonable storms. This time, we were hoping for less rain so we could get after some of the major species on my list, like the black buffalo, the blue sucker, the black redhorse, and the ever-elusive paddlefish. Ben had signed up to go with us, even though he was limping a bit. It seems that on an August trip to Peru, Ben dropped a catfish on his calf and spined himself rather impressively. The lodge owner did the right thing by pouring hot water on the wound – hot water “cooks” the protein in the poison. Unfortunately, the water was a bit too hot, so Ben ended up punctured and scalded in one golden evening. Photo below, but if you’re squeamish, you might want to skip to the next paragraph.

Oops. Too late.

In the month since, it hadn’t quite healed right. The doctors put Ben was on antibiotics a few times, so it sounded like he was on the mend. But he wasn’t, because Ben had brought an unintentional souvenir back from Peru, and we’re not talking about the obvious – he has a steady girlfriend. Get your mind out of the gutter.

This time, I drove myself from St. Louis to Poplar Bluff. It’s a few hours, but I had an iPod full of hits from the 80s and a nice dinner at Cracker Barrel – who could ask for more? I would meet Tyler in the morning, and Ben would join us on Saturday. The Weather.com forecast wasn’t perfect, but it didn’t look disastrous, so I was thrilled. Weather.com is a free site, and around 10pm, it proved again that you get what you pay for. Without warning, the skies opened up into an old-fashioned, all-night deluge. I settled in to the Holiday Inn, got on the internet, and watched the water levels rise at almost every place I had wanted to fish. The Fish Gods were making it known that they were in charge.

Still, I was here and I was going to find something to catch.

Tyler and I met early the next day at Taco Bell, for a marvelous breakfast and a strategy session.

Taco Bell breakfast is awesome. Nutrition? Digestibility? This is a fishing trip, people!

Of course, the unexpected rain had messed up the main rivers we wanted to fish, so we were going to have to scramble for smaller, clearer waterways. We headed about an hour away to the Current River watershed, and started working through some of the Tyler’s spots – this is a large inventory, as he has apparently fished in just about every body of water in the state at just about every water level and just about every season. He brought his girlfriend along, and she had the best line of the trip early on that first morning. When I opened my breakfast Red Bull, she turned around and said “That stuff smells like the breath of someone in a diabetic coma.” Wow. This needs to be their next marketing slogan.

Things started quietly in a small creek – narrow enough to jump across. In just a few minutes, we micro-fished up both a redbelly dace and a fantail darter.

The Redbelly dace. This passes for exciting in my world.

The fantail darter. Photo by Tyler Goodale.

We moved around the Current River area quite a bit. It hadn’t clouded up too badly, but the water was higher than Tyler wanted it, and he kept us going spot to spot looking for the fish he knew were there.

The Current River, Southern Missouri.

One by one, we started picking up small species. They all count the same on the scoreboard, and with high water, I was happy to be getting a few new ones.

The bigeye chub. But even with that big eye, it didn’t see me coming.

The Carmine shiner. Bizet’s favorite fish.

The telescope shiner. Yet I saw it with the naked eye.

Improbably, I had tacked on five species, and the total weight of all five wouldn’t tip the scales on a medium Red Bull. We headed for a bridge where Tyler had seen shadow bass and some assorted redhorses, and we finished the day there.

The shadow bass was quick. Now all I need is a Roanoke Bass to complete the Ambloplites genus.

I also caught one of those huge striped shiners. Yes, that’s a shiner, not a tuna.

I was up to six species – a good day by any measure. Tyler added a lot of interesting asides about the local fauna – his ability to name birds by their call still astonishes me. I am also unsurprised to report that Tyler’s luck with snakes finally ran out during the summer, and he got nailed by a cottonmouth. The good news is that it eventually healed, but if you are squeamish, you might want to skip the next photo.

Oops. Too late.

The next day, we connected with Ben bright and early and started heading off to a few of the locations they had scoped out. Ben was limping a bit – his leg was still sore from the Peru debacle – but we didn’t think much more of it. There was fishing to do. Or at least there would have been fishing to do if the water wasn’t high and muddy. We drove for hours and tried some classic spots, but the water was just blown out. As my old steelhead guide Ed Trujillo used to say “Too thick to drink, too thin to plough.” This put me in a foul mood.

Tyler tries to find worms or bury his head in the sand, I forget which. Note the water conditions behind him.

We finished the evening back at Wappapello dam, one of Tyler’s home locations.

Wappapello. A beautiful place, but the water needed to be five feet lower.

We got a few of the local critters, including a nice longnose gar, but none of the rare stuff wanted to bite.

Someday, I am going to get a paddlefish. Someday.

Ben’s limp had gotten worse, although he never said a thing. But that spine was in there, its barbed edges working its way through his calf. Still, he kept it to himself – an example of the “Don’t Ask / Cantrell” policy.

On the Sunday, our first task was a fool’s errand – pursue the creek chubsuckers in Poplar Bluff. Better known as creek chub****ers, these vile little fish flit about in plain view but refuse to bite. As long as you are stealthy, they will wander around a shallow pool right in front of you, nibbling toward your micro-bait, then spooking for no reason, then coming millimeters from your bait and needlessly changing directions. These fish are God’s punishment on microfishermen, and I am convinced the creeks in hell are full of them.

Ben and I both found small schools of them and set to it. This involves creeping up to the stream, then fishing from a prone position for a long time. Remember that this is in a public park, and people will point and stare and make unkind comments.

Steve and Ben pursue the creek chub****ers.

We put in a solid couple of hours on this with no success, and I discovered that the grass where I had bedded down hosted some sort of biting insect. Now and then I would hear Ben whisper an expletive as a fish came close to his bait. But then, around 10, I heard Ben in his outdoor voice – “I got one! I GOT ONE!!” I jumped up, and Ben indeed had gotten a creek chub****er. I picked his brain for what he had been doing, which depressingly turned out to be pretty much what I had been doing all along. I returned to my spot, and the guys knew I might be there all day. I became one with the chub****ers, as they grazed around the hole like a herd of playful but sadistic sheep. My entire world became four by six feet and 18 inches deep, and biting insects be damned, I just kept easing that teensy hook as close as possible to the nose of the hungriest-looking fish I could see.

90 minutes later, just as the cramps got really bad, one of the chub****ers drifted right up to my bait, examined it, backed up, eased forward, and ever-so-gently slurped it up. My reactions, honed by several hours of itchy frustration, were jungle-cat quick, and I snatched the poor thing out of the water, over my head, and onto the bank five feet behind me. I tried to stand in primal triumph, but my buttocks and both feet were asleep, so I staggered around a moment before taking the requisite selfies.

This fish is one of THE microfishing trophies, and I can see why.

The best thing about catching one is never having to face fishing for them again.

Ben and Tyler were both pleased, and we could finally head over to Big Creek at Sam A. Baker State Park, which apparently was loaded with much more cooperative species. Ben had talked about this place quite a bit, and was looking very forward to giving it a try. This is a spot I will remember forever – it seemed like every few yards held a different structure and a different set of species. We set up our gear and waded wet on a beautiful late summer day.

The steelcolor shiner was the first new one – this fish stayed in the faster-moving areas, so it was tough to present a small bait.

One of the more attractive shiners.

Moving upstream, Tyler spotted some whitetail shiners. This species tends to dart in to feed for a moment and then disappear. Tyler did a skillful job of stirring up sediment to keep them interested, and then, after fending off a few sunfish, I got one. After the chub****er, it all seemed like a bonus.

Note the white spots on the base of the tail.

While we were getting the whitetails, I noticed some relatively larger fish had come into view. In a moment when the surface got perfectly still, they came into focus. They were Logperch – the largest of the darter species, and one of the most beautiful. Most midwestern fishermen have gotten one, and this was my big chance. They spooked. Tyler told me to sit still, and magically, they came back. We had gone through a few cycles of this when I hooked my first one, and my day seemed complete.

I had seen these for years. It was great to finally catch one.

The triumphant anglers.

Ben was having a good day as well – he had added a gilt darter, which meant that I spent the next couple of hours trying to catch one. Unsuccessfully.

Ben’s gilt darter. I forgive him.

It was getting late in the day when Tyler pointed out another fish ahead of us in the shallows. “Ozark chubs.” he said. The fish were four inches long and 15 feet away. How does he do that? But a few casts later, I had my fifth and final species of the day.

Species #11 for the trip. Ben also got one.

I tried for redhorse as it got late, and while I got a beautiful northern hogsucker, that was it for the afternoon.

Northern hogsuckers are cool. The Hoover company should pay royalties to this fish.

It had been an unexpectedly great day. We said our goodbyes in the parking lot; Ben and The Thing in his leg headed north for home, Tyler and I went back to Poplar Bluff, and then Tyler headed out after dinner at Dairy Queen.

A few hours later, The Thing in Ben’s leg finally made its move. He was on the long drive home, still very sore, when he reached down to feel his calf. In what was certainly a horrifying moment, he could feel a sharp point under his skin – on the opposite side of his leg. The Peruvian catfish spine had broken off and had been there for 41 days. He went in for surgery the next morning and had it removed, and he’s been doing fine ever since. And yes, I am about to show you a picture of it. If you’re easily nauseated, you might want to skip to the next paragraph.

Oops. Too late.

On the Monday, I had a few hours to kill before I needed to get back to St. Louis for my flight. I considered a few options, but I knew that Wappapello was the closest and had the best shot at one of the bigger critters I had missed so far. After a hearty breakfast at Taco Bell, I got two dozen night crawlers and headed off to the spillway. I was the only person there when I arrived, and armed with knowledge from Tyler, I set to fishing for a few hours.

Action was quick. Just a few minutes in, I got a good run and hooked up, but it was a drum. Then the bluegill started. And the bluegill continued. But at least I wasn’t snagging up every time like I had in May, and I never complain about catching stuff. I went through most of the morning, and while I hadn’t gotten anything new, I was having a lot of fun. I caught a few more bigger drum – two and three pounds – which stopped my heart because I knew they weren’t bluegill and they could have been a sucker or buffalo. Just as I released one of the sheephead, my baitrunner drag went off and I hooked into what I thought was another drum. As I got the fish to shore, though, I saw it was a buffalo – presumably a smallmouth. I took a couple of pictures just to be sure, and texted them to Ben, Tyler, and Martini. I continued fishing – I only had a few minutes left. Before I could even rebait, my phone started chiming. I kept baiting and cast out, but the phone alerts kept coming. I finally checked it. All three of them were responding with something along the lines of “Holy ****, dude! That’s a black buffalo!!” By the time I packed up, Ben had checked it with a biologist – I had indeed gotten the elusive black buffalo.

Another very lucky moment.

I knew better than to keep fishing – this was a sign that I should call it a day. The drive back to St. Louis passed quickly – the countryside is beautiful, and I had 12 more species to think about.

As of press time, Ben’s leg has fully healed, and the lodge in Peru will not allow anyone to pick up their own catfish.

Steve

 

Bonus Feature –

NPR did a news story on microfishing, and our very own Ben Cantrell was the special guest star –

The Ben Cantrell NPR Interview

For an engineer, he handles the media pretty well.

I have been looking for an excuse to put this picture in my blog. Not sure what happened here, but it doesn’t look like Cora the cat is very happy.

 

 

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