Posted by: 1000fish | January 8, 2019

The California Moray Dude

Dateline: August 12, 2018 – Del Mar, California

The Fish Gods never owe you anything. If you have a lousy trip, returning to the same place does not mean you will do better. You might do worse. But my early July San Diego trip had been so bad, so humbling, that I was eager to get that bitter taste out of my mouth. Some people, mostly Lutherans, like the taste of humility, but to me, it tastes like syrup of ipecac, and yes, I’ve had syrup of ipecac. It was one of those college pranks that would have been much funnier if it hadn’t happened to me.

I had a very nice summer with Marta – traveling, fighting over paint colors, local hikes, and riding our bicycles, (which I am proud to report have only two wheels each.)

These are paint chips. I hate them.

But I was still losing sleep each night, reliving the early July disaster where Spellman caught a huge corbina right in front of me. In the dream, it all happened exactly like it did in real life, except that I had no pants. I seem to be missing pants in a lot of my dreams. Let us never speak of this again.

I needed to catch a corbina. I would take a week in San Diego, to remove excuses like bad tides and stray windy days. I arranged a stay at the Hampton Inn down by the harbor – Ben had become single, (to all of our great relief,) so staying at his place would be awkward, although I might meet some swimsuit models. It was a good time to take a few days by myself, as Marta was slammed with work and I needed to get out of my office in the worst way.

This was another road trip for the new Pilot, and by this time, I had my vanity license plate installed.

There’s a reason they’re called vanity plates. But I will get there.

The first two days would be devoted to fresh water fish in unlikely places. There are precious few endemic freshwater species scattered throughout Southern California, and one of these in particular, the Arroyo Chub, would require a full day detour. This is the difference between a casual species hunter and a pathological species hunter – taking a full day for a chance at a fish that might top out around four inches. It’s a mind-numbing drive down I-5 to Los Angeles, and then it’s evil traffic east to Riverside, where one creek holds these tiny beasts. (A big thanks to Ben Cantrell for the spots. Ben also warned me about the homeless encampment that stands between the parking and the creek, and that still didn’t stop me.) I planned four hours of fishing, but failed to account for a couple of work emergencies, a long lunch at the Willow Ranch BBQ, the several bathroom stops that are requisite after every lunch at the Willow Ranch BBQ, and, of course, traffic in Pasadena. I ended up parking about two hours before sunset. There were two spots to try, and the first one was a fail. With an hour left, I headed to the one with the homeless encampment, and I must have blended right in, running through there wearing a lobster-emblazoned Polo swimsuit.

A gorgeous little creek in an unlikely location.

Spot two was an emotional trial. I hooked a chub almost immediately, but it flipped free in mid-air. I thought to myself – “How hard can this be?” The Fish Gods can hear you think. I saw no other fish until it was almost dark, but then a school of them came out of nowhere and started pecking at my bait. I lost seven more of them in the air, and my curse words are likely still echoing down the canyon, but the eighth one stayed on, and I had a species.

The Arroyo Chub. I finished the drive to San Diego with great joy in my heart.

The rest of the report is going to be kind of dull, because we caught almost everything we wanted right when we wanted to. But before we get to that part, we get an eight-hour disaster. The following morning, I got up and headed out to a creek in the middle of effing nowhere east of San Diego.

It was like Egypt, without the charm.

There are supposed to be a couple of micros living there. It was 109 degrees when I arrived. I stayed for two hours and caught NOTHING. My drive back to San Diego lacked the exuberance of the one from Riverside, but that night, I would catch up with Ben and do some shore fishing for sharks and rays, so all was not lost.

It was late afternoon when I got to Harbor Island, carrying several pounds of squid and some of my rarely-used surf rod collection.

The surf rod spread with San Diego in the background.

It was great to see Ben, and I was grateful that he would take a night off of dating swimsuit models just to fish with me. Casting whole squid out into the channel, we waited and hoped for a stray banded guitarfish, horn shark, or California moray. The moray was the only one that is reasonably common, but I could hope. James keeps sending me pictures of some random 10 year-old from Indiana holding a banded guitarfish, and I’m sure Marta will tell me its’ wrong to hate a ten year-old, but I hate that kid.

My first fish was a personal best on spotted bay bass.

This isn’t big by Ben Florentino standards, but it’s a beast for me.

We both got a few small rays – a mix of butterfly and bat – and then things got interesting. I got a rattling bite and a small run and hooked up something that was definitely shaking its head. Rays do not shake their heads. Moments later, I lifted a smallish smoothhound onto the shore. This didn’t necessarily get much of a reaction from me, as I have caught squillions of brown smoothhounds (including the world record with Ben Florentino,) and I had given up on the gray smoothhound, because it is really hard to tell them apart. But Ben said “That one looks pretty gray to me.” Out of an abundance of caution, I photographed the heck out of the fish, and even weighed and measured it for a possible world record. I am sure this was crossing that fine line between optimism and stupidity, but hope springs eternal.

Later that night, I settled in at the Hampton Inn with a pint of Haagen Dazs and a Red Bull, which actually makes a nice float. I pored through Val Kells’ illustrations in the magnificent A Field Guide to Coastal Fishes From Alaska to California, squinting at the shark drawings. This is a difficult ID, but when I got through with all the fin spacing, it was clear I had a gray.

A species that had eluded me for years, and a world record to boot. I was on my way to 200, but would likely not get there before Roberta Arostegui, and this bothers me.

The next morning, I met fabled San Diego inshore Captain James Nelson bright and early. Well, I wasn’t really bright or early, but we still were on the water by sunrise.

Sunrise over San Diego bay.

We raced over the bait receiver, got a scoop of sardines, then set up in an area where he had seen corvina earlier in the week. I got hit immediately – but it was a small halibut. I put on another bait, pitched it out, and again got hit immediately. This fish was much heavier and put up a solid fight. James whispered “That might be the one” as he got ready on the net. The fish surfaced with a bright chrome flash – it was indeed a corvina. James scooped it expertly, and my yell of triumph set off car alarms throughout the downtown area.

A shortfin corvina. Oh hell yes.

We spent the rest of the day looking for oddball species. Outside the bay, we were messing around for bottom fish when I saw something flipping around the surface. Upon closer examination, we determined it was a distressed-looking midshipman. I have no shame when it comes to species, and even though it didn’t look in the mood to eat, I waved a small piece of shrimp in its face for around 10 minutes. Just as I was giving up, it inexplicably struck.

These were two difficult species, and they had been added to the list in a few short hours.

Ben was out with one or more swimsuit models that evening, so I bought myself a big steak and basked in the satisfaction of finally getting a corvina.

The next morning, Ben joined me for a day on the bay with James. I was getting fairly low on targets in San Diego, especially ones that were not rarities. The horn shark and banded guitarfish seem to only be caught by that rotten little 10 year-old, but the moray eel was beginning to mystify me. Everyone I know had caught one, generally by accident while fishing for something else, because, in general, only an idiot would tangle with a moray on purpose.

It was a fun day of fishing – we got all kinds of assorted bay critters in the morning, but nothing to write home about until one magical hour early in the afternoon. We were soaking slab baits in the middle of the bay when my favorite 8′ Loomis Pro Blue started bouncing. I picked it up to get the feel of the fish. It was an odd bite – banging on the bait but not running at all. I finally set the hook, and at first, I thought I had the bottom. I put on a bunch of pressure, and the fish finally came out and started fighting – it was heavy and pounded the rod tip hard, but it didn’t take much line. A moment later, we figured out why – it was a moray. A positively huge California moray.

Finally.

I was ecstatic, but fishermen do not often think very far ahead. A big moray is a dangerous adversary, and now we had one coming onto the deck. James netted it while Ben and I bravely cowered on the bow. Shuddering, I recalled a January 2005 day in Faro, Portugal, when a moray half this size got loose on the deck, destroyed some gear, then slithered into the unlit cabin. After a lengthy and fairly even fight, I subdued it with one of my boots. So with this bigger moray, I was expecting all hell to break loose.

Perhaps it was James’ calm demeanor, perhaps it was a blessing from the Fish Gods, or perhaps the fish was whacked out its gourd on tranquilizers, but however it happened, the eel remained perfectly calm as we took a couple of photos and then put it in the livewell. It was not only a new species – it would also be a world record, if we could somehow get it safely weighed.

Moments after we set up again, when I looked at my rod, the line had gone from behind us to in front of us. I asked James if we were drifting. He pointed out that the other lines were where they should be, and he suggested that I might check my bait. Just as I picked up the rod, it slammed down and something started taking line, so we have to give James credit for being more observant that me. It was a heavy, bouncing fight, and I was guessing a medium bat ray, because it felt too big to be a butterfly. But it was a butterfly. The biggest one I had ever seen. At 24.5 pounds, it untied me from that nice lady in Texas and set my third record of the trip.

We weighed both fish at a convenient pier, where onlookers were either fascinated (butterfly ray) or terrified (moray.) We did the ray first.

The beastly butterfly, which would be a great name for a band.

Ben and I stared balefully at the livewell, which contained a live, irritated, ten and a half-pound moray. Using diagrams written in sharpie on a doughnut bag, we roughed out a battle plan. Fundamentally, James would get the fish while Ben and I hid behind a piling.

Do not put this in your pants.

Sensing our bravery, James opened the livewell. I expected the eel to come hurtling out and go for the testicles, but surprisingly, it just worked with us. It was truly a California Moray Dude. We quickly got an official weight and let him go. He swam off, relaxed and chill, and went back to his mellow underwater world. Ben and I heaved sighs of relief that may or may not have included tears. and James learned that we had his back unless there was danger.

The California Moray Dude

We celebrate a memorable day, and an even more memorable hat. He looks like a slightly-hairier version of the Flying Nun. 

After we said goodbye to James, Ben and I headed for one of the least-glamorous parts of San Diego to hunt for California killifish. Stepping carefully to avoid stray hypodermics, we worked our way down to a tidal creek.

Gotta love that hat. I can’t even tell which way he’s facing.

After half an hour of searching, we found a big concentration of them. (Killifish, not needles.) While they were not eager biters, Ben got one fairly quickly, then I followed up with one a few minutes later.

The count for the trip was up to six.

The following morning, we headed out early to face a personal nemesis of mine – the California corbina. These shallow surf-dwellers are tricky to catch, but I had seen it done by qualified anglers and Spellman, and I figured I had to be due. We waded into the surf at Torrey Pines, and, just after Ben lost a bite and his sunglasses, it became obvious that the surf was way too choppy and full of weeds to give us any chance. I was exasperated. We headed to Del Mar, where the surf looked equally disastrous. Frustrated beyond belief, I went to the slough behind the beach, but that was also choked with weeds. I like to think I handled this calmly, but I also like to think that Detroit Lions will make the playoffs. It was Ben who suggested that we have one last look at the narrow sandbar where the slough enters the ocean. As we walked up, there were five or six guys fishing, and just as we got there, one of them caught a corbina. We were off to the races. I cast a sand crab, got hit, and missed it. I cast and missed again. And again. But somewhere in there, something stayed on. It was spirited but not huge, and a minute or two later, I landed my first corbina.

I know it isn’t as big as Spellman’s, but it’s a corbina.

Ben may have been happier than I was.

I got two more in the next hour, and the day was a memorable triumph. Aspiring species hunters – this is another lesson in never getting discouraged (getting surly is ok, though) and checking every possible spot. Something is always in the last place you look, because only an idiot would keep looking after he found something.

I can’t thank Ben enough for taking all this time with me. He’s a good guy, and remember that every minute he spent with me was a minute he couldn’t spend with a swimsuit model. That’s true friendship, or chafing.

I headed home the next day. The plan was to stop in Del Mar again and take a quick crack at a spotfin croaker – just a couple of hours in the morning, so I could avoid the LA rush hour. And I did hook a small spotfin, which came off right at the bank. This should have made me go apoplectic, but the moment I cast again, I got a nice corbina. Then another. And another. By the time it slowed down, it was hours later and I had landed 23 of them. Good fishing is good fishing, and it was a perfect end to an awesome trip. The spotfin can wait.

Steve

 

SPECIAL BONUS SECTION – THE COUNTDOWN TO 200 WORLD RECORDS

Things didn’t slow down after I got #182 in July. Apart from the three records mentioned above, I put in three others during the summer. The first was a mid-July Pacific Spiny Dogfish from Tomales Bay.

 

The photo was taken by Cole Grossen – “Selfie Kid” from last summer’s “Big Mac and Selfie Kid.”

In mid-August, I finally went salmon fishing with Chris Armstrong – the guy who introduced me to Ed Trujillo. Chris is an expert salmon fisherman, and I embarrassed to say I hadn’t been out with him for years, despite countless invitations. We finally set it up on a choppy Sunday morning – it was great to see him. He’s one of the few people I know who is as passionate about fishing as I am – and normal people can relate to him a lot more, because he catches fish people have heard of.

Chris put us on limits of king salmon.

Including this hog.

But the most memorable catch of the day, at least in my opinion, came just as we were wrapping up. I got a small tap and hooked a fish that didn’t even trigger the sinker release. I reeled it up, and to my great astonishment, I had a one-pound kingfish (white croaker.) This species is a well-known SF Bay pest, stealing countless ghost shrimp from sturgeon fishermen each winter. I had never seen one half this size, and suddenly, I had a record on it. Chris, a serious angler, would go down in history as the skipper for the kingfish record, for which I am sure he is deeply ashamed.

This is why I always, always carry a Boga Grip and measuring tape.

The final record of the summer – #188 – wasn’t even caught this summer. As I mentioned in “The Billfish That Shall Not Be Named,” I caught an unidentified dogfish in the abyssal depths off Kona this March.

This is the fish in question.

On November 21, Martini Arostegui spotted a new scientific article describing this species as Squalus hawaiiensis, the Hawaiian dogfish, and I was able to submit the world record. Interestingly, I got the email just after I had showered, so while the celebration dance wasn’t quite as awkward as that memorable night in Rio, it was close.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted by: 1000fish | December 25, 2018

Ben and Gerry

Dateline: July 24, 2018 – Charleston, Illinois

Truth be told, I don’t like Ben and Jerry’s ice cream all that much. I’m more of a Haagen Dazs guy – their flavors are named normal, non-pretentious things, like “Strawberry.” You can look at the label from eight feet away and tell what you are getting. Ben and Jerry feel the need for obscure names like “Chunky Monkey.” I have eaten monkey. I don’t like it. And I don’t like having to spend precious seconds reading the label to discover that there is no monkey in the ice cream after all – it’s mostly banana – but by the time I get through the fine print, I could have already been sitting down with a pint of Haagen Dazs. So there.

Luckily, the Ben and Gerry I refer to here are different than the ice cream Ben and Jerry. This Ben and Gerry are fishermen, and they were involved in an unexpected midwest trip for me this summer. You already know Ben – the fabled Ben Cantrell  – who has put up with me on numerous trips and put me on all kinds of interesting fish. (The best of which will actually be in the blog after this one, so don’t go far from your computer.)

Marta had been planning a Chicago trip for some time. Her agendas usually involve cultural stuff and great restaurants, so naturally, I wanted to go fishing. Ben, who introduced me to Illinois species fishing in a 2016 trip, had moved to San Diego, where he has wisely become single. But he still set me up big time – he introduced me to Chicago local Gerry. There are very few people out there that take this whole species-hunting thing as seriously as I do, but Gerry is definitely one of them. We met on email, had some phone calls, and then he generously agreed to drive us around for three days of fishing through Illinois and Wisconsin. There aren’t a ton of things left for me to catch there, but some of the remaining targets would be very nice additions to my list, so I was, as usual, wound up to go.

I flew into Chicago on a Saturday night, and ended up at dinner with a buddy from high school. Steve and I were best friends in the 1980 timeframe – he was the smart, good-looking one. The last time I saw him was his stint as best man at my (ill-advised) wedding in 1994, and somehow, 24 years went by.

He has aged better than I have, but I’ve caught more fish. We’ll call it even.

Steve and Steve, summer 1979.

Gerry picked me up early on Sunday, and we headed north out of Chicago. Our first destination was a creek in southern Wisconsin that is known to have quite a few different critters, including the dreaded lake chubsucker, which is just as vile as the creek chubsucker. On the drive up, we went over sampling information and kept a wary eye on the weather forecast, which was wandering into drizzly and chilly, which would not make for ideal wet wading. My main target would be the northern sunfish, which had eluded me on previous trips, a fact which Ben liked to point out.

I got into the water, which was brisk but not unbearable, and started tossing a bobber and worm. Despite Gerry’s polite advice that the sunfish would live in cover well back from main current, I had always pictured them living in moving water, like a smaller bluegill. Naturally, I caught bluegill. Nice ones. But they weren’t Northern Sunfish. Humbled, I dropped a worm into a pile of sticks on a silty, shallow flat, and was immediately rewarded with the target species.

The beast.

Note – if you ever find yourself fishing with Gerry, listen to him. He will give advice, but it will be gentle and low-key, as opposed to my “Don’t fish there, you idiot” approach.

We waded through several hundred yards of the creek, picking up shiners, panfish, and some stray darters. (All of which were rainbows.) On further examination, one of the shiners turned out to be a new one – the spotfin.

That’s two for the day, and it wasn’t even noon.

Our next location was several hours to the south, so we got lunch at Culver’s, which is one of my favorite places in the midwest. Think of a Dairy Queen, but the chef has a conscience, and the ice cream is better. We drove a couple of hundred miles into central Illinois, and it is on road trips like this you get to know someone. Gerry is a very senior guy in a big consulting firm, and his attention to detail showed in every aspect of his fishing plans. He knew what lived where and what the water levels should be – much better than my normal plan of showing up and praying. He is also quite the mechanic – he has rebuilt several vehicles from the ground up, and whereas I might know the history on WWII fighter planes, he knows the history on their engines. It was an interesting conversation. Late in the afternoon, we started investigating a series of creeks Gerry had marked. In one of those frustrating coincidences that can haunt species fishermen, there had been some short but heavy thunderstorms earlier in the day, and almost everywhere we went was high and muddy. The one spot he was confident would be in good shape turned out to be torn up with construction. These were gorgeous locations, but we had hit them on the wrong day.

Beautiful locations, but no water clarity + no micros.

We got plenty of nice smallmouth and panfish, and I won’t ever complain about splashing around a midwestern creek in the middle of summer. Toward evening, we crossed over into Indiana and fished the Wabash for for skipjack herring, which are becoming another one of those things that Ben can catch and I can’t. We didn’t see any, but Gerry got a positively huge sauger.

This was Gerry’s sole addition to his life list for the trip, but I have to say he did it in style. This sauger could eat any sauger I have ever caught.

We spent the next day poking around more creeks, and we were still tormented by muddy water. It was early afternoon when we ventured down the (rather risky) access to the Shelbyville spillway. I was lusting for a quillback, but my attention span waned and I started microfishing, I was rewarded with a bullhead minnow, which has nothing to do with the bullhead catfishes or sculpins. It was a third species for the trip, and say what you will, I was thrilled.

The bullhead minnow. I caught several.

For the late afternoon and evening, we headed back into Indiana (my home state,) to fish a creek near a covered bridge.

The location was an absolute postcard. Even the mosquitoes were scenic. I lived in Indianapolis for a year and never went to see these places, because I was busy fighting off my old girlfriend’s vicious cat, so it was a great experience. We were hoping for a certain madtom which didn’t seem to be there, but I happily spent the rest of the day splashing from pool to pool and catching smallmouth bass and assorted micros.

Stonecats everywhere, but these were not the target madtom.

Smallmouth on light tackle. This is one of my favorite fish anywhere in the world. Indeed, if I was told I could only catch one more fish in my lifetime, it would be … who the hell am I kidding? It would be a spearfish.

We spent the evening at the campus hotel at University of Illinois, Gerry’s alma mater. Champaign is a beautiful town. Gerry was raised in a farming community nearby, and knew quite a bit about what grew where and how. I would not want to play Trivial Pursuit against this guy, especially on the science questions. And he’s got a great family that he spends a load of time with – I don’t know how he finds the time, except that he is more organized that almost everyone I have ever met.

The next day, we wandered back to some of the day one creeks in Illinois, hoping that they would have cleared. This is always a gamble, but the main place we were hoping to fish – an old river ford – had dropped nicely and was clear enough to look for darters.

Gerry looks for darters.

In between plenty of rainbow darters and assorted shiners, I saw what I thought was a juvenile log perch come up and peck at my bait. I eventually caught it, and was thrilled to figure out it was a greenside darter. This species has a terrible reputation for not biting, even when being bonked on the nose with a perfectly rigged micro-bait, so this was a perfect close to the trip.

Another species that feeds on the tears of fishermen.

They blend in very well. There are four of them in this picture. Or are there?

We pulled out around 2pm and had to run a couple of hours back to Chicago. Two hours would have seemed like an eternity to me when I was a kid, but when you’re talking species hunting with another enthusiast, it goes by far too quickly.

In a hurry to get Gerry back on the road, I was inconsiderate and left my water shoes in his car. Damp water shoes are the second worst-smelling thing in the universe*, but Gerry was kind enough to keep them, let them dry so they did not decompose, and mail them back to me. I knew I had a friend for life.

It is here that this story should end, because the successful fishing was finished. So those of you who read for the actual fish can stop. Those of you who only look at the pictures won’t notice this anyway. But part of the species-hunting religion is that, as in baseball, we fail a lot more than we succeed, but the journey and the people along it are why I actually do this. And failure stories are always fun, especially when they’re about me.

Marta had a couple of great days planned in Chicago, including a Cubs game with old buddy Steve Ramsey, going backstage at a Smithereens concert, and lots of pizza.

A fine summer day at Wrigley.

Life is better when the Cubs win.

Backstage at the Smithereens. That’s Cousin Chuck in the middle and Marshall Crenshaw on the left. This left my inner 80’s music fan in complete awe.

This left us with a couple of days to spare. Marta suggested museums. I suggested seeing if more of the creeks in central Illinois had cleared. We compromised, and by “compromised,” I mean that she did allow me to go back to central Illinois, briefly, but only after I made shopping commitments and we had made an insane, 700-mile road trip through much of the midwest, visiting West Lafayette, Indianapolis, Dayton, Cincinnati, and back to Chicago. She has the bug to see America, and we saw plenty of it.

Lunch at Skyline Chili in Indianapolis. It’s an acquired taste.

 

There is nothing more American than baseball, so we attended a Reds game, bringing along one of Marta’s best friends from college and her family. That’s Steve Ramsey again.The whole group – from right to left – Marta’s dear college friend Jeannie, whose father, ironically, was one of my history professors at UC Davis, her son Costas Marta, me, Jeannie’s daughter Vicki, Jeannie’s husband Sotiris, and, of course, Steve Ramsey.

There were fireworks, which I assume were in honor of my greenside darter.

So after all that stuff I put up with  – seeing baseball games with old friends, having great dinners, seeing the country – I finally got to go to the Illinois creek. I am just sick to report that it was still blown out, so all of that driving gained me exactly no species. Some of you may think that Marta was kind and sympathetic when she saw what had happened, but as soon as she saw that there would be no fishing, she mentioned that this would leave more time for shopping. We did get back to Chicago early enough to take in a White Sox game, so that was an unintended bonus.

I add the new Comiskey (I don’t like sponsor names) to my MLB stadiums list. Yes, I have a list of those too.

The good news here is that Marta wants to go back to some of these places, and sooner or later, that creek is going to be clear.

Steve

*Cousin Chuck

Posted by: 1000fish | December 1, 2018

That New Car Smell

Dateline: July 1, 2018 – Del Mar, California

There is no better excuse for a road trip than a new car. I loved my old X5, but BMW repair bills are unfriendly, and when the mechanic told me all the hoses would have to be replaced but that still might not fix the problem, it was time. I fully intended to get another X5, but Marta, in her own shy way, pointed out that a Honda would be a lot less expensive, and that the only reason I would want a fancy import would be to impress young women, and that there was no chance that I would impress young women even if I had the Batmobile.

With that dose of harsh reality still dripping down my face, I bought a Honda Pilot. Truthfully, I love the thing – and I no longer get to look forward to some snotty guy at the BMW dealership  saying “Yes, Mr. Wozniak, $4000 is the discounted price. But these are very nice windshield wipers.” And even though the guy is American, I always remember him saying it in a light German accent.

I miss Otto.

Once I had the new vehicle in the driveway, I felt a strong urge to do some road trips. This blog will actually cover three of them – all with old friend Mark Spellman. (Because I know you will ask, no one ended up covered with poop.)

The first round was in late May, and will introduce another member of the species hunting fraternity into the 1000fish blog. Luke Ovgard is a high school teacher who looks more like a high school senior, but remember that anyone under 40 looks like a high school senior to me. Luke is based in Klamath Falls, Oregon, and has caught almost everything you possible can catch in his area. He is the current world record holder on the Klamath largescale sucker, which is a species I have never caught, so you would think I hate him, but he’s a good guy. I also just found out he has caught a calico surfperch, so I am reconsidering whether he is a good guy.

Luke and his record sucker.

It was a short weekend – we got on the road Friday afternoon and needed to be home Sunday by lunch. We drove it in about six hours, although it felt like 14 because of the horrible bay area traffic. It’s a beautiful run up I-5, reminding me of all the steelhead trips with Ed Trujillo. We talked nonstop about those long weekends, but of course, it kept coming back to that one magical day on the Eel river  – March 31, 2007 – when we both got our personal best steelies. We had dinner at Taco Bell, so that pretty much took care of the new car smell, and we got up to Klamath Falls around 7pm. Luke met us at a lakeside park, and we headed out to cast the shoreline for the big rainbows that make the area famous. Upper Klamath Lake is an odd place – huge, very shallow (like six feet in most places,) so most of the trout are actually stacked up on the shoreline. This makes it ideal for the bank-based lure throwing types, and Luke would qualify as an expert.

Annoyingly, Spellman caught a beast immediately.

We’re talking ten pounds here.

It’s quite a scenic location.

Unlike me, Spellman is not a competitive jerk, so he didn’t rub it in too much and soon, it was dark and we could do some species hunting. We explored some shallow backwaters, and I quickly found two new additions to the list – the blue chub and the slender sculpin.

The blue chub. I hate taking fish photos at night.

Because most of them turn out like this.

The slender sculpin. This was the 14th try for this photo.

We then drove to several other spots, looking for rare sculpin species until the wee hours, but these would not cooperate. We ended up at a Denny’s well after midnight. Luke is a passionate angler and a talented outdoor writer, and we carried on a spirited conversation about both the species we had already caught and the many that we hope to get. He travels a good bit for continuing education, and he definitely has the bug to hunt down anything that swims.

And he wrote a nice article about the trip.

Inspiration to what?

Spellman was in it, but to be fair, he caught the biggest fish.

Saturday became one of those awful days that I occasionally inflict on myself. Here I was, in a gorgeous location and good conditions for huge trout. We spent part of the morning at a spring looking for more sculpins, and while we were doing that, I saw some Klamath Largescale Suckers. At least I think they were Klamath Largescale Suckers. I’ll never know for sure, because despite me spending hours casting baits right in front of their little noses, they ignored me all day. This can happen with suckers, and it is either an advantage or a curse that I firmly believe that a fish that has not eaten baits right in its face for hours is always just about to bite. (Marta theorizes that this means I am either bad at math or fish psychology.) Spellman and Luke gave up on me, went elsewhere, and caught some nice trout.

Luke catches some big trout.

Luckily, the night ended with pizza. Anything that ends with pizza can’t be all bad.

We had a long drive ahead of us on Sunday, but we decided to fish the morning. Luke’s knowledge of the lake was astonishing – I thought I could read nooks, crannies, and rocks, but he knew exactly which ones held fish. I put in a decent effort for trout, hooking (and botching) two, which left me surly, but not as surly as I would have been if there had been a new species at stake. About an hour before we had to leave, my attention span failed and I started micro-fishing. There was one micro in the lake that I needed – the fathead minnow.

And I got one!

Three species only six hours from home is a pretty good haul at this stage of my career, and a big thanks to Luke. I’m sure we’ll fish with him again.

Mark, Steve, Luke. I must be standing in a hole.

A few weeks later, Spellman and I took a random shot at one of the very few species close to my house that I have yet to catch – the Tahoe sucker. This is a fool’s errand 11 months of the year, as these fish are randomly distributed in deep mountain lakes, but in late spring, they move up creeks to spawn and can allegedly be reliably located. It’s a beautiful drive up I-80 into the mountains, with memories from childhood and college scattered throughout. I attended UC Davis, and anyone who has had the misfortune to drive through that area with me knows they will be subjected to those stories, most of which involve me accidentally hitting a baseball or someone throwing up. As we get into the mountains, I always recall childhood car trips to Tahoe with my father and stepmonster, most of which involved my sister throwing up.

Our actual destination was a few miles short of Tahoe – a place called Donner Lake. Interestingly, this scenic venue was the site of the worst dinner party in recorded history – the Donner party. (You can look it up, but a brief and vaguely accurate summary is that a the settlers in a 19th century wagon train didn’t check Weather.com, got stuck in the snow, and ended up eating each other. I have been to some terrible parties, but cannibalism crosses a line.)

We caught a couple of nice trout in a small spillway, then waded our way half a mile up a creek.

I love wet wading.

We spotted squillions of redsides, but it was only on our return walk that Spellman’s sharp eyes picked out a fish that wasn’t a redside or a small trout. He pointed and made the universal hand sign for “Tahoe sucker by the log” and I was on it. I started casting a micro-rig, and in between dozens of redside, I saw a couple of small suckers come up and peck at it. I knew it was just a matter of time, but I also knew it could be a lot of time. Luckily, about 30 minutes later, I got one. We were ecstatic – this fish has been on my “back of the burner” list for years.

The beast.

We celebrate the beast.

A special shout out to Martini, who provided key information and spots for this fish.

We had the whole rest of the day to run around the central valley. As we needed to head back through Sacramento, we decided to visit Ed Trujillo. Ed wasn’t doing well – indeed, this was the last time I saw him before he died in August. He was still delighted to see us, and we went on with old stories and photos for a couple of hours. Spellman and I headed out in the late afternoon, and make a quick swing by Putah Creek, one of my old college stomping grounds, where I went fishing when I was putting off homework, which was most of the time. We caught a couple of nice Sacramento Pikeminnows, then hit the road, found some burgers, and headed home to our real lives. We’ve been doing this together for 26 years.

Spellman and a Putah Creek pikeminnow. I caught my first one in 1982 in Paradise, California, and I can’t tell you how sad it makes me that the whole town – a lovely little mountain community – was obliterated in the recent Camp Fire. There are a lot of people in need right now, especially as the holidays are here. You can help by donating to the Red Cross here

The next weekend, Spellman and I both got “hall passes” from home, likely because Marta and Heather were out doing something erudite or expensive that they never told us about. Mark and I decided to make the run to San Diego. It’s a long way, but I had some very important species in mind, like corbina and corvina, and I also knew I was one record away from changing the IGFA standings. San Diego (and Captain James Nelson) has been very good to me on world records, and even though I didn’t have anything specific in mind, I knew there was always a chance.

We got there late in the evening, and caught up with old friend Ben Cantrell, the Illinois native who had moved to San Diego and is rampaging his way through the local species and swimsuit models. He generously allowed us to stay with him, which he probably regretted as soon as we had Mexican for dinner.

The next two days did not go well for me. They went well for everyone else, even Spellman, so fishing must have been wide open, but apparently, I had done something to displease the Fish Gods. We went out Saturday morning to hit Del Mar, making a quick stop in the estuary where we found some bay blennies. I added what would turn out to be my only species of the trip.

Blennies are cool.

Filled with optimism, we headed to the beach where we would search for corbina and spotfin croaker, two surf residents I have been longing to catch for many years. These are difficult species – fishing the shallow wash with very light tackle – but I felt good about my chances. Ben had gotten both in the last few weeks. We dug up a batch of sand crabs for bait, then waded out into the breakers, taking care to shuffle our feet lest we step on a stingray.

Beautiful Del Mar. That’s me in the surf, in case you thought it was Brad Pitt.

There is no way to put this that won’t give me PTSD. Ben caught a big corbina. Spellman caught a big corbina. I caught NOTHING. I am supposed to be a decent fisherman, or at least that’s what the marketing people tell me. Ben is pretty good, so I could live with that, but Spellman? Seriously? We have an arrangement – I never beat him at tennis, and he never kicks my ass on the water. I was beside myself. I could see the things swimming in eight inches of water between me and the beach, but I could not hook up if my life depended on it. Now I know what Jim LaRosa feels like in a singles bar.

Spellman’s corbina.

That’s Ben under the mask.

We left around noon, the guys giving each other high-fives while I shook my head in disbelief. Even Taco Bell didn’t help. We made the short trip down to San Diego Bay, where 1000fish favorite Captain James Nelson had agreed, against his better judgement, to take us out for an afternoon trip. It was windy, which is why he generally doesn’t do this sort of thing, but it was still nice to be on the water. We ventured outside, into some moderate chop, and drifted some live baits. Ben got a solid takedown out in the middle of nowhere, and I watched the fight with great curiosity and minor envy. A few minutes later, he landed his first white seabass – an amazing and elusive species that is a big moment in the life of anyone who gets even a small one.

I’ve only ever caught two. They weren’t much bigger than this one, but the point is that they were bigger.

To keep me from puking, we headed back inside the bay, and gave it a shot for another elusive species – shortfin corvina. It eluded me again, but at least Spellman didn’t get one. As it got toward evening, we set up some bottom baits to see what was biting. I had some odd species in mind, like a horn shark or banded guitarfish, but a world record, ANY kind of world record, was also front and center. One more would put me in 4th place by myself, and this is a big deal to at least half the people who live in my house. The guys got a couple of small bat rays, and then, finally, my rod got bumped. It didn’t feel very big, but it started to run a bit, and I set the hook hard. Whatever it was took off just as hard, and the fight was on. It wasn’t fast enough to be a bat ray, and I started thinking that if it was a butterfly ray, it was going to be a big one. I knew I needed to tie 21.5 pounds, the current record held by an attractive lady from Texas, who I am sure is a nice person but was standing between me and a little piece of angling posterity.

The fish surfaced about 10 minutes later, and it was a butterfly. A big one. I knew it was going to be close, but 21.5 is a big mark to beat. James landed it, and I took a preliminary weight. It was close, but records need to be weighed on dry land. We slipped it into the livewell and raced for a pier. I weighed it, and weighed it, and weighed it. Then I had the guys look at it over and over. Twenty one and a half pounds. I had done it.

The beast. Butterfly rays have been very kind to me in the record department.

Briefly, I forgot all about the morning’s events and the choppy water and the lack of species. I had accomplished something I had wanted to for a long time, and I got to celebrate it there with some of my best friends in one of the most beautiful places on earth. I couldn’t help but think of one of Marta’s favorite quotes – “Behind every successful man … is a surprised woman.”

The group celebrates. Ben has perfect teeth. That happens when you don’t play hockey.

The morning was another dose of humility. We went back to the surf, but it had gotten just a touch higher, and the corbina were not to be found. Ben had hopes of a shortfin corvina in the surf, for which I mocked him, and you all know how this is going to turn out.

Ben and his caught-in-the-surf-on-a-lure shortfin corvina.

He got three of them. Standing right next to me. Sometimes, you have to tip your hat to someone, and then, when no one is looking, quietly plot revenge. Sure, I could print an inexplicable photo of Ben when he was staying at our house, but I wouldn’t do something mean like that.

Or would I?

But more importantly, I needed to plot how the heck I was going to catch the corbina and the corvina – two very different fish despite being one letter apart. I knew if I kept making the trip, I would get them sooner or later. Spellman was upbeat the whole way home, reminding me that many people have caught a corbina, which didn’t sound helpful at the time, but he also pointed out that only three people had more world records than me, which was something of a consolation. This is part of being pointlessly, relentlessly competitive, which helps in this game but doesn’t always make me the best company. Still, Mark, as a true and loyal friend, did convince me I would eventually catch both species. I had no idea that I would be getting another chance in less than six weeks.

Steve

 

 

Posted by: 1000fish | November 20, 2018

The Appalachian Barbecue Tour

Dateline: June 14, 2018 – Eno, North Carolina

On my desk, just to left of a photo of my grandfather, I keep a handwritten list of fishing trips I want to take. As you can imagine, it’s a long list, but North Carolina freshwater was up toward the top. The place is full of unusual species, and my email is full of reports from people who have caught them. Of course, the collision of expectation and reality can be a problem – it’s a bad idea to base your hopes on everyone else’s best day. Still, when the stars aligned to take a trip to NC – and to do it with both Martini Arostegui and Patrick Kerwin – I figured it would be a slam dunk for dozens of new species. We all know what the Fish Gods do with this kind of hubris.

This would be a major effort – six days of road trip starting and finishing near Washington, DC. Sleep would be limited and food choices would be poor, but I couldn’t have asked for two better companions. Pat is well known to 1000fish readers as “Conan the Librarian,” and Martini needs no introduction. Between these two, the advance planning was simply extraordinary. They located treasure troves of species that might take others years to find. They claim to read sampling reports and other scientific data, but I believe there are dark rituals involved.

My sister’s birthday is June 9, so naturally, I celebrated by sleeping at her house the night of the 8th, then taking off early on the 9th to go fishing. She did get a nice Italian meal out me on the 8th, so don’t get all bent out of shape.

Day 1: Saturday, June 9 (Happy birthday, Laura.)

Just past dawn, I picked up Pat in Alexandria, and then we got Martini, who was staying in DC, likely with Kate Upton. The weather was clear, but there had been a major storm the previous week, so the first few places we checked were blown out. Crap. This was my first indication things wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought.

Well into the afternoon and well into Southern Virginia, we pulled up to Preedy Creek. We suspected it too would be high and muddy, but it was worth a look. I figured I would check out the lay of the land, then go get my water shoes if needed. It ended up being a mile down to the water, so when we got there and saw it was running clear and beautiful, I wanted to fish NOW.

Pat walks up the creek. He brought his water shoes.

Naturally, I just waded in my brand new Goretex low hikers. They smelled like cat food the rest of the trip, and even on the flight home, the poor woman who sat next to me kept checking under the seat for dead animals.

Finally, we could start fishing. Less than five minutes later, all that driving became an afterthought – I got a bluehead chub. A big, male bluehead chub, in full spawning colors.

It was vaguely uncomfortable to handle.

I was thrilled, and couldn’t have cared less that this was the only species I had caught so far. I was on the board, and with one of the weirder-looking things you’ll ever see outside of Cousin Chuck’s nightstand.

I don’t know how that one got by the editor.

Later in the afternoon, we pulled up at a gorgeous spillway in Salem, Virginia. I raced ahead of the guys and got a new species – the white shiner – and things looked promising for redhorse.

The white shiner.

Note to prospective Virginia anglers – many waters in the state require a trout license. Never mind that trout aren’t native here, and that they eat many of the cool things we want to catch.

Well into the evening, we found one more river. It was lovely – clear and full of structure. Martini and Pat headed upstream to fish a deeper pool; I poked around for micros.

I got one new one – the rosefin shiner.

Just as I photographed my fish, I heard a booming curse word word echo down the river. I turns out that Martini had landed what would have been a world record redhorse, only to have it flop out of his hand at the bank. As he often tells me, we can’t all be champions. Speaking of world records, I needed one more to tie Herb Ratner for 4th overall. In an amazing run that spanned from 1982 to 2005, Herb set 181 and paved the way for everyone who has tried to set numbers of records since, inspiring thousands of anglers, including yours truly. There weren’t a lot of record opportunities in this area, but it occurred to me how nice it would be to do it with Martini present.

It was that evening that Pat introduced us to Zaxby’s – a fast food chain that features chicken wings. It was awesome, and Martini didn’t hate it as much as Dairy Queen.

Day 2 – Sunday, June 10 (Happy birthday, Kate Upton. Martini told me this.)

Still heading south, we reached North Carolina, where I had high hopes for a Roanoke hogsucker. We fished hard, moving spot to spot, catching plenty of smallmouth bass and sunfish, but new species were not to be found. We did find a local barbecue spot – “Ace BBQ.” Lunch was very good, but the place was as literal of a “hole in the wall” as it could be and still remain standing.

Hours: “11am until we sell out.”

After eating, we kept moving to different creeks, but about half of them were too high to fish. It wasn’t until late in the day we found a perfect spillway on the PeeDee River. It was classic micro territory – long riffles, small pools, all easily wadable.

Pat, on the left, assumes the classic darter pose.

Martini gets a crushing strike from a chub.

The boys pose nicely. I had to give them cookies to sit still.

Among dozens of fish, I got two catches of note – the redlip shiner and the Carolina fantail darter. The species count for the trip had reached six; they weren’t as easy as I had hoped, but they were good species, and I was learning a lot from hanging with two experts.

The redlip shiner.

The Carolina Fantail Darter. Not a common species.

And another nice bluehead chub.

We celebrated with surprisingly good Mexican food.

Day 3 – Monday, June 11 (Happy birthday, Jacques Cousteau.)

We spent the morning driving from promising spot to promising spot, only to find each one muddy and high. It’s a big state, and it takes a while to get around, so we didn’t do any actual fishing until the afternoon. Martini did add some excitement to the proceedings – I thought I was being funny by driving away when he was out of the car scouting, but he leaped on the roof and managed to “hood surf” until we were laughing too hard to drive. Kids, don’t try this at home.

 

On the way to check another small stream, I happened to notice a sign marked “116th Infantry Regiment Memorial Highway.”

This is near Bedford, Virginia, home of the National D-Day Museum, and even though I am quite the WWII history buff, it hadn’t occurred to me we would be in this area. I had a quiet moment for these brave men – “The Bedford Boys.”

The 116th regiment of the US 29th Infantry division led the assault on the western portion of Omaha Beach – the landing depicted in “Saving Private Ryan.” US casualties were unimaginable. Because this was a Guard unit, most of the troops had grown up together in the same small area, and when the next-of-kin telegrams started coming in, one Western Union operator – Elizabeth Teass – took all of them.

19 men from Bedford had been killed, and she knew every single one of them.

Omaha Beach was also where my Uncle Ted, now 94 years old, began his war. We are glad to have him around, still sharp as a tack, but despite a glass case full of medals in a quiet corner of his house, he will tell you that the real heroes never made it off the beach. We owe a lot to this generation.

Later in the morning, we waded up a small tributary stream and found warpaint shiners.

It is always wonderful to find a shiner that can be identified easily.

As we drove through the countryside in search of the next creek, we became hungry. This meant that I began searching for a Dairy Queen, and the guys began searching for anything that wasn’t a Dairy Queen, including road kill. We reached a compromise – The Pedalin’ Pig BBQ.

An average BBQ, according to my expert companions. 

The name was a bit of a mystery, because if pigs really could ride bicycles, they would be a lot harder to catch.

I appreciated their equal-opportunity approach to the gluten crisis.

After lunch, driving through some gorgeous countryside (and the place is loaded with gorgeous countryside,) we spotted an interesting river and decided to stop. This was one of the few totally random spots we hit, and it paid us back with a bonus new species, the mirror shiner.

The Linville River, North Carolina. We did not see Major Burns. (Obscure MASH reference.)

The mirror shiner.

Our next stop was a country park, that had a stream that was positively stuffed with greenhead shiners, so the count crept up again.

They’re called greenhead shiners because whitefin was already taken.

We finished the day at a mosquito-infested boat ramp on the Catawba River. We caught a whole bunch of shiners that looked like they had to be something new – I was guessing as many as half a dozen. But as we dug through Petersen’s guide that night, it became clear that this was not the case. The only new one was a greenfin shiner.

This pleased me, but realistically, most of the shiners we caught fit ALMOST EVERY DESCRIPTION IN THE DAMN BOOK.

This is when I finally lost my patience with the current state of shiner identifications, and I am proposing, for the sake of my sanity, that we combine them all in a single species – the “Nondescript Shiner “Notropis nondescriptus.” It will be as follows –

“Silver or some other color. May be darker on the top, unless it isn’t. Has scales, which can be counted as a whole or fractional number. Generally has a tail and some combination of fins. Two eyes, usually on head, and a mouth, typically found near the nostrils, unless there are no nostrils. Upper labial surface in close proximity to lower labial surface. In most cases, found under water, preferring aquatic conditions that are shallow, or deep, and either still or running at some speed.”

Day 4 – Tuesday, June 12 (Happy birthday, Jim Nabors.)

I had been making a pain of myself for three days, constantly asking Pat “Are there redhorses here?” He would smile patiently and say “I have no idea, but we hit the good redhorse spot on Tuesday.” Well, it was Tuesday.

In the morning, on the way to our main spot, we stopped at a few rivers. Pat and I both got nice golden redhorses, but we were looking for exotic stuff.

It was nice to get some decent-sized fish.

It was mid-afternoon when we finally pulled up at the Green River, and I was beside myself. We knew there were brassy jumprock, v-lip redhorse, and notchlip redhorse right in front of us. Truth be told, I would have been ecstatic with any of the three. I was grumpy as we set up, as the morning had not been spectacular, and I made things worse on myself by choosing a swim in much faster water than where Pat and Martini were fishing. (I always picture these fish as faster water critters.) I got a smallmouth bass or two in the next hour, but then Martini and Pat landed a couple of larger fish and (reluctantly?) waved me over.

I started up by the bridge, but the guys let me in on their fish.

We spread out on an outside bend where we could cast into the main current or go shorter into stiller pools. Moments later, I started getting classic redhorse bites – pump, pump, pump – and I was in to a decent fish. This would be my Brassy Jumprock, a fish that is acknowledged to be a discrete species but has not been formally ID’d, so I count it on the list (#1796) but it wouldn’t be eligible for a world record as yet.

Pat’s Brassy Jumprock

Martini’s brassy.

My brassy. Pat gently mentioned that there were indeed redhorse in this spot.

I saw the guys catch the other two target species, so I was fairly wound up – and two Red Bulls didn’t help. After what seemed like hours but was actually more like 8 minutes, I landed a notchlip redhorse, a rather rare member of the family.

The notchlip. Martini’s was bigger, and this bothers me.

As a matter of fact, Martini’s was a world record. He reminded me that we can’t all be champions.

About 45 minutes later, I got a large v-lip redhorse, which was not only a new species, but was also a most unexpected world record – #181. Just like that, I was tied for fourth overall. It had been a very long journey that kept seeming impossible, but Martini had been a constant source of refreshed motivation, and on a muddy riverbank in North Carolina, we had done it. I was there when Martini passed the same milestone in Wisconsin a few years ago.

World record #181.

It looks bigger in this photo, but I have a dumber look on my face.

We spent the rest of the day just fishing. We caught at least a dozen more redhorse, and the occasional softshell turtle, which are faster than you think. It was that perfect afternoon where everything came together, and just one of these makes any trip worthwhile.

I can’t explain this photo. Martini may just be kissing the ground because he got out of the car safely. My driving was a bit off most of the week.

We rewarded ourselves that night with the best meal of the trip – Mo’s BBQ, in Forest City NC – I highly recommend it. More importantly, Martini and Pat recommend it, and they are quite expert  on these matters. We drove well into the evening, and it is at these times that the dynamics of three different personalities who have been in close proximity for five days can go horribly wrong. But they didn’t. Martini’s constant witticisms, often at my expense, matched perfectly to Pat’s humor, which was like Cousin Chuck’s honeymoon – unexpected, dark, and hysterical. We laughed until the early hours.

Day 5 – Wednesday, June 13 (Happy birthday, Olson twins. I always liked Mary Kate better.)

Things began well. We started in a small city park where Pat suspected a few species were available. My very first catch was a new one – the whitefin shiner.

#1799 on my lifetime list!

Pat and Martini got some kind of killifish that eluded me, but I forgave them, because while they were doing that, I poked a bait around some downed trees and stumbled into a flat bullhead. That new species leaves me with only one more bullhead (the spotted) to complete my collection. More importantly, this was my 1800th fish species – another milestone with Martini, and as you recall, #1700 was caught last year with Pat. These guys are good luck.

The flat bullhead. On to 1900!

Every road trip has some kind of encounter with a bewildered local, and this would be no exception. A gentleman from a nearby house walked up and asked “What are you guys doing?” I told him we were fishing, although he may have eventually figured that out himself from the rods and reels. He looked disturbed, thought for a moment, and said “I hate to tell you this, but I’ve lived here for 30 years and there are no fish in this creek. So what are you doing?” I again explained that we were fishing, looking for the smaller species that live in the area. I offered to show him pictures of the fish. He was not impressed, and responded “As I said, I’ve lived here 30 years and there are no fish in this creek, so it would be a picture of nothing. So what are you doing?” By this stage, both Martini and Pat had caught small fish and shown them to the guy, but he wandered away unconvinced. He likely believes, to this day, that we were terrorists or drug dealers and he had scared us off. Yay for him!

Our next move went badly. We went a couple hours out of the way to some lake, which was supposed to contain some sort of rare micro. It never appeared, but the more it didn’t appear, the more I believed it would shortly. We were there for hours, mostly because I wouldn’t leave. It was awful.

Once Pat and Martini finally dragged me away, we made a lengthy run to Durham and finished the day in the Eno River. It was a gorgeous place, and looked to be brimming with all sorts of interesting stuff. The wading shoes came out, and each of us headed to a different part of the river to explore. I caught dozens of fish, including chub after chub that I thought had to be bull chubs, but it is so difficult to tell these from blueheads (unless they are spawning males) that I just gave up and enjoyed the water. I got smallmouth, channel catfish, bullheads, and a bunch of micros – one of which turned out to be a spottail shiner, my 16th species of the trip.

It’s got a spot on its tail.

We dropped Martini at the airport that night, and early the next day, he would be on his way back home. Pat and I would stick it out for one more morning, then drive back to DC

Day 6 – June 14 (Happy birthday Donald Trump and Boy George. Don’t make me choose.)

Pat and I had a long drive back to DC in front of us, so we only fished a couple of hours in the morning. We focused on a couple of smaller creeks as we worked our way north, and in between loads of beautiful panfish, I accidentally scraped up one final, unexpected species – the Roanoke Bass.

This was my 17th species of a fantastic trip, and also completed my collection of the Ambloplites genus – Rock, Shadow, Ozark, and Roanoke Bass. On to Tetrapturus!!

We made good time up to DC. In most cases, it would have been four hours of counting down the miles, but with Pat in the car, it was too short of a time to plan the next four or five road trips. Pat must know at least a hundred more species to catch in the general region, and the only regret I had as I dropped him off is that we’ll never get every single one of them. But we’re going to start with the tangerine darter next spring, and go from there.

Steve

 

 

 

 

Posted by: 1000fish | November 3, 2018

Saved by Nikolaj

Dateline: May 9, 2018 – Vrsar, Croatia

I came on this trip with a goal of catching five new species. I got five. But they were not the five I had hoped for. Indeed, four of them came from the harbor, while I was waiting for the boat. This is one of the risks of species hunting, and after all, I was the one who chose to make a return trip to Croatia – a place that has been particularly unkind to me over the years.

Despite my disasters in the region, I have a very good friend there. Part of why we go fishing is to spend time with friends. Sometimes, a great day with buddies can make you forget you didn’t catch anything. I grant you, this doesn’t sound much like me, but it has been a few years since I had fished with Marc Inoue, and I was dying to give the Adriatic another shot. Ah, Marc Inoue – the man who has singlehandedly introduced me to everything that can go wrong in the Balkans.

This is Marc with a TYPICAL tuna.

He is a great fisherman – as evidenced by his amazing Adriatic tuna photos – but the combination of me and him in the same country seems to make things go terribly wrong on a lot of levels. We’ve faced bad weather, family tragedies, bad weather, fungus, archaic regulations, land mines, bad weather, missing vowels, jail for Guido, and, of course, bad weather. But like field goal kickers and Cousin Chuck’s wife, a species hunter needs to forget unpleasant experiences quickly. (Interestingly, all three pastimes occasionally require a helmet.)

I knew I would be in Europe on business in early May, so Marc and I got talking. He would be fishing big bluefin on the surface that time of year, but he also felt fairly good about thresher sharks, pelagic rays, silver dentex, and sharpnose seabream, and there was always a shot at a few other assorted bottom-dwellers that have always fascinated me, like John Dory. I figured there were five species in there for me, and that would be enough to give it a shot.

Marc has moved his operation to Vrsar, in Northern Croatia. This avoids the long drives from Slovenia, and the location is both beautiful and convenient. I flew into nearby Pula airport on a Saturday evening, a quick hop on Lufthansa. (Interestingly, “Lufthansa,” literally translated from the German, means “We Hate You.”)

It looks like they’re speaking Welsh. In Russian.

We flew right in over Vrsar, where I would spend the next four days.

We got me settled into a beautiful hotel near the harbor, and then out for one of what would be several outstanding local meals. (Marc always, ALWAYS finds great food.) I got to meet his fiancee, Maja, and her son, Nikolaj, who turns out to be quite the passionate fisherman himself. More on that in a minute, but suffice to say that Nikolaj, all of six years old, saved the trip for me. (It’s pronounced “Nikolai” – remember that Croatians avoid vowels whenever possible.)

Speaking of offspring, Marc and Maja are expecting. This is awesome, and it proves that it’s never too late for adult responsibilities, except for me.

The happy couple. I want to see Marc give that same thumbs up when he’s changing a diaper at 2am. And while you muse about what a good-looking couple they are, just remember he is my age. I can’t figure it out.

The first day began brilliantly. While Marc was loading the boat, Nik brought his rod down and started fishing the rocks. I had been thinking more about big species, but the little guy inspired me. Moments later, I caught a tompot blenny.

The shortest fishing guide ever.

Blennies are so cool.

Ironically, species 1776 was not anything American-themed. (For those of you who were not paying attention in history class, or who are not American, or who are not American AND didn’t pay attention in history class, 1776 was the first year Abraham Lincoln won the NBA championship.)

Unfortunately for the species count and my stomach, we left the harbor. This marked the first of four days that Marc worked his tail off to catch a bluefin or thresher that just didn’t want to bite. He chummed hundreds of pounds of frozen sardines, rigged dozens of lines in every possible configuration, and tried spots close to shore and almost to Italy. We saw several tuna on the sounder, and Marc got even more worked up than I did every time this happened. He has the resume, but sometimes, the fish just won’t bite. Let’s not blame Marc. Let’s blame Croatia in general.

While we drifted tuna baits, I spent plenty of time putting smaller offerings on the bottom. I caught some interesting stuff, including a catshark I thought just HAD to be a new species. The scientists say it’s the same fish I caught in Wales in 2005, but you be the judge.

This is the fish I caught in the Adriatic.

And this is the one I caught in Wales. I am told these are both the same species, the smallspotted lesser catshark, or, for Martini, Scyliorhinus canicula.

In the meantime, the wind came up and the water got nasty, snotty rough. I wasn’t in danger of puking, except for when the bluefin went right under the boat without biting.

Little Nik was right at the slip when we got back, and I discovered he had fished the harbor all day, waiting for me to return. Maja is an awesome and patient Mom.

The harbor in the evening.

Nik walked me around his favorite spots, and we caught loads of small seabreams and blennies. The highlight of this session was a giant goby – another new species. The kid is good luck. It was difficult for Maja to get him to stop fishing and go to dinner, but not nearly as difficult as it was to get me to stop fishing and go to dinner. (I told her it would get easier with him when he reaches my level of maturity, which Marta guesses will be around age 11.)

Ironically, my first giant goby was a juvenile.

We had another fantastic dinner, this time at a steak place, and the food was so good I nearly forgot about the lack of big fish. Nearly. There were three days left, and my hopes remained high, because when it comes to fishing, I am the ultimate optimist, or, as others would call it, stupid.

We started very early on day two, but not early enough to beat Nikolaj to the water. He was waiting for me, and although he does not speak a word of English (besides “fish”) he excitedly pointed out a small goby. A moment later, I caught it, and after an email consultation with Dr. Alfredo Carvalho, it turned out to be a new species – Bucchich’s goby.

I was beginning to see why people have children.

Marc and I then went out onto the Adriatic and chummed and drifted and drifted and chummed. In the middle of the day, one of the rods went down, but not hard enough to be a tuna. I lifted up with great hopes for a thresher or a pelagic ray, but alas, it was a blue shark.

Alas.

Two years ago, I would have given Spellman’s eye teeth for a shot at a blue shark. But ever since that fateful night in Tokyo where I got one, I have wanted to avoid them, but of course that means that they have taken a special liking to me. We got nine on the trip, not counting breakoffs. We did not see a single thresher shark, or a married one, and the pelagic rays were more pelagic than we hoped.

I was shamelessly looking forward to another session in the rocks with Nik, and he didn’t disappoint. Just as the sun went down, I caught a beautiful ocellated wrasse – the only wrasse from this group that is readily identifiable.

Nik was now my new best friend.

I’ve seen these in books for years.

The little guy was so proud he had helped me catch fish, and I couldn’t help but wistfully muse that if I had a son his age, he would probably be in jail.

Dinner was again marvelous – Italian food overlooking the harbor, and we still had half the fishing in front of us, so optimism remained.

On day three, we mixed things up a bit. We changed boats to the “Bora Bora,” captained by Marc’s friend Milorad. “Mile” is an inshore specialist, so this would be our best shot at a sharpnose seabream, the species that Stefan Molnar shamelessly caught right under my nose on my last trip to the area. We left so early that even Nikolaj was not up, and we spent the first part of the day looking for tuna. While we again saw a few on the sounder, they again did not bite. I must emphasize again that Marc did everything he possibly could have – the fish just weren’t going to cooperate. Luckily, I’ve caught bluefin before, but they were relatively small, and yes, I want a photo with a 500 pounder.

Like this one.

Toward evening, we cruised inshore and set up for bream. The action was immediate and outstanding – we got solid fish on almost every cast for about 90 minutes.

Mediterranean seabream are one of my favorite fish – they fight hard and are great to eat.

For almost anyone else in the universe, this would have been completely epic, but for me, there were no sharpnose seabream.

That’s Marc’s friend Ivan. who joined us as well.

They were everywhere. But they were the wrong species.

Don’t get me wrong – I love to fish, and catching nice specimens like these was a blast – but there was no sharpnose, and so I was lightly disappointed. This is why guides hate me.

“The Bream Team” – Ivan, Milorad, Steve, Marc, and Nikolaj, who came onboard to inspect our catch.

We got in well after dark, so Nik, waiting mournfully by the dock, had no chance to conjure up a species. We had to go straight to dinner before the restaurant closed.

Nik finally sacks out. Until this moment, I wasn’t sure he ever slept.

Dinner was great again, but suddenly, we had one day left, and only one more shot at all these fish I hadn’t caught. Desperation set in, and I lay awake wondering what I had been thinking. When will I get the hint about me and Croatia? But then I also thought about the beautiful location, the great friends, and the amazing food. It would have been an outstanding vacation by almost standard, except for mine, which relate solely to fish species.

Nik and I had some time to fish while Marc loaded the boat, and while we didn’t get any new species, we caught my personal best salema – upgrading my photo album substantially from the micro-sized example I had caught a few years ago.

A normal-sized salema, Monaco, November 2009.

The beastly salema. I have no idea what is sticking out of it, but it went back inside and the fish swam away with no problem.

It was a beautiful morning, flat calm, and we motored out almost to Italian waters. In a wild coincidence, I recognized some oil rigs where I had gone fishing on September 19, 2003 – three days after the very first time I fished with Roger Barnes. It was my first fishing trip in Italy, arranged by a magnificent concierge in Bologna. I had the choice of either touring Venice or getting up at 3am, driving 3 hours to a port called Jesolo, and fishing all day. That’s an obvious decision in my book, but my Mother was bewildered by this for the rest of her life. (I caught two new species that day – Atlantic Bonito, which were awesome, and Brown Comber, which Marc calls “the Adriatic Brown $#!&”, which I have caught at least 9000 times since.)

My 2003 Atlantic Bonito – and I still haven’t been to Venice.

Back in the present day, fishing was tough. We saw some tuna on the graph, but they blew by us never to be seen again. We lost a couple of blue sharks at the boat, which didn’t bother me, but the other pelagics were not to be found. We got to mid-afternoon and the sardines ran low, and I began to accept that we weren’t going to get any of the big targets. In many of my blogs, this is when my patience would be rewarded with a miraculous gift from the Fish Gods. Indeed, one of the rods started pumping and sagging down – very likely a ray bite. I waited, waited, waited, then reeled into the circle hook. I felt weight for a moment, and then that sickening slack as the hook pulled out. I reeled in quickly, hoping to at least see a cleanly bitten bait, but the sardine was mashed. I had missed a pelagic ray, and my last minute Fish God miracle was more of a last minute Fish God kick in the nuts. Unhelpfully, Marc said “If Nikolaj was here, you would have caught it.”

But we’re still friends.

We ran inshore, and toward sunset, we saw a big school of fish breaking on the surface. We rigged Rapalas for trolling and tried our luck. I guessed the fish were horse mackerel or small bonito, but we got no bites in two passes. (Both of these species will generally hit anything in front of them.) We pondered the situation, and were about to write it off to horrible luck when one of the rods went down. This was not a dramatic bite. It didn’t take any line, even though we were going four knots, so whatever it was, it was having a bad day. I reeled in, expecting a small horse mackerel, but it was some sort of bream I had never seen before. I swung it onboard, and we had my fifth and final species of the trip – the saddled seabream. The book says it’s a plankton feeder, so I’m not sure how this happened. Marc had never seen one caught on rod and reel.

It was the only new species of the trip caught without Nikolaj present.

We decided to call it a day on that high note, and so the thresher would have to wait.

Vrsar in the afternoon. The whole country is just as scenic.

Nik was there at the mooring, and proudly showed us a bucket full of blennies. We released these when he wasn’t looking, or he would have insisted on cleaning and eating them. We fished another hour together, and my three-foot guide came through one last time. I caught a beautifully-marked peacock wrasse. It wasn’t a new species per se, as it turns out I had gotten one in 2011 in Slovenia, but that fish was a very plain example and hence hard to discern from the more common Doderleini’s wrasse. This one clinched the ID and let me add a species, so we’ll call the final score Nikolaj 4.5, Marc 1.5.

See “The Slovenian Coffee Trap” for details.

The saddled seabream inadvertently caused an awkward cultural moment. That evening, Marc, Maja, and her parents hosted a cookout for me, featuring grilled fresh seabream.

This was the best meal of the trip.

Maja’s father asked me what I caught. The local name of the saddled seabream is Usata, but, Freud firmly in cheek, I called it an Ustacha. An Ustacha is not a fish. Rather, it is a right-wing Croatian militant group that was awkwardly pro-German in the early 1940s and still does unfriendly things at soccer games. The room fell silent for a moment, but Marc gently explained my faux-pas to relieved giggling.

Oops.

And so the Balkans had given me another reminder that nothing in fishing in guaranteed … except that I will keep going back to the Adriatic until I get a few of those larger species, and failing that, at least to spend a few more days fishing the harbor with my new best friend.

Steve

 

 

Posted by: 1000fish | October 16, 2018

Pati Training

Dateline: April 19, 2018 – San Fernando, Argentina

I never did figure out what I ate wrong that night in Sao Paulo, but something definitely didn’t agree with me. I felt off the next morning, and by the time I got to the airport to catch a flight to Buenos Aires, I was sweaty and light-headed. I didn’t know it yet, but thousands of ill-willed microbes were doing the macarena through my intestinal tract, and major symptoms were not far off. It would turn out to be an especially stubborn case of whatever it was, but for the moment, there was just anxiety, and the hope that it would either react to a dose of loperamide or at least spare me until I was on the ground.

Luckily, I had done my Brazil fishing before I ate the bad thing. I’ve fished the heck out of freshwater in the Sao Paulo area, so while I could find some nice angling opportunities, new species were a difficult proposition. I checked with my go-to guy in the area (and almost any area) – Dr. Alfredo Carvalho of the University of Sao Paulo. He came up with one great idea – a banded astyanax – which, as we all know, is a small characin that lives in small creeks and ponds in the area. I had to dig deep into my connections to find a spot. Whether we want to look at it as going back 19 years or 1700 species, it has been a long time since I was hitting Sepitiba Bay with Ian-Arthur Sulocki (the Brazilian John Travolta.)

Ian at center and Steve at right, Altamira, Brazil, 2001. I got food poisoning on this trip too.

We have kept in touch – and he has kept his hair – all these years. He instantly had a contact for me – Mauricio Mihara, who owns a pond northeast of town. With the tireless efforts of Fabio, the driver from the Hyatt, we found the place despite the often epic Sao Paulo traffic. With Mauricio personally guiding me into a tiny creek behind his property, I caught the aforementioned banded astyanax. This qualifies as a huge success in my species hunting world.

Steve, Mauricio, and Fabio with the beast.

The Banded Astyanax gets its media closeup.

I spent the next few hours catching big tilapia.

Mauricio and Steve in the clubhouse.

Another connection – our old friend Cristiano Bernarde – also had a lead for me. He has a friend who owns a farm in the rural area past the airport, and he garnered me an invite to fish there. The owner’s adult son, Rocco, is the guy who actually took a day out of his life, picked me up in Sao Paulo, and took me fishing for the afternoon. For this, he has my eternal gratitude. Because it was a Saturday, the traffic wasn’t as horrible as I expected, and we soon reached some beautiful countryside. The farm had been in the family for many years, and was their getaway for vacations and holidays – Rocco had been coming here since he was a child. The place itself was at the end of a long dirt road, which contained one of the more random businesses I have ever seen – a bar, in the middle of nowhere, called “The Bar at the End of the World.”

Of course, we had a beer.

The farm had access to both a pond and a river, but the river access was overgrown and was likely full of spiders and cobras*, so I stuck with the pond. I expected to try for some more micros, but I had forgotten that big fish sometimes take very small baits.

Rocco and the family dogs. Since I was using sausage for bait, they were very interested in me. The boxer wouldn’t leave, so Rocco carried him away, but when this happened, the German shepherds, who still believe they are eight pound puppies, also wanted to be picked up.

I put a fleck of hot dog on a #16 hook and floated it around the margins, looking for a tilapia or characin of some kind. Instead of the tiny nibbles I expected, the float just disappeared, and line started peeling off my Stradic 1000. Whatever it was only had about 200 feet of pond to work with, and as long as I could avoid the aeration pump, I knew I could land the creature. This battle of the wills went on for more than an hour, but the fish finally got tired and surfaced. It was a tiger surubi, and a big one. I had caught a smaller example in the Amazon in 2001, but this was a beast. I finally got it on the Boga after an 83 minute fight. (Cousin Chuck – They use the metric system in Brazil, so that’s more than an hour.) It weighed out at 19 pounds.

Great fun on four pound test.

Then it was back to that fateful dinner at the Hyatt, which normally has great food but had a fail this go-round. It was an otherwise great night, catching up with two dear old friends from my Macromedia days – Eduardo and Beto. These were my travel buddies from the late 90’s – the guys who showed me the inner workings of Rio and Sao Paulo, which, for a recently-divorced American, was better than Disneyland. We had some caipirinhas, told some old stories, and went our ways late that night.

They get better-looking every year.

So we are caught up to the morning when I started feeling icky. I survived the flight without making any messes, but by the time I got into Buenos Aires, my intestinal tract had gone into full rebellion. There were 14 hours of what I like to call “the baseball game” – where I played the slow runner, the bathroom was first base, and my colon was a left-hander with a really good pickoff move. I travel with a pharmacy full of remedies for this sort of thing, but nothing seemed to take. After a sleepless night, we formed an uneasy truce – as long as I didn’t eat, things settled down. I let this go a full 24 hours, figuring that whatever it was had run its course, but it hadn’t. The minute I ate something, the whole horrible process started again. And I got to do this working around a set of unfriendly business meetings, where it is important that you look like you’re paying attention and not about to crap yourself. I would like to thank my co-workers Chris and Kellen for being understanding and finding me lots of Red Bull and high-grade toilet tissue.

This went on for two days, and while I survived the meetings, it can’t be good not to eat for that long, especially because I felt hungry and food looked good, but I knew what would happen. And I was actually running out of Immodium. It’s almost impossible to run out of Immodium, because one or two of them can clog an industrial dishwasher. This can’t be good for you, but on some occasions, it’s the only choice.

Still, food poisoning wasn’t going to keep me off the water, as long as we remained in that uneasy stalemate, where I promised not to eat and my stomach promised not to turn itself inside out in my pants. The only thing that would stay down is Red Bull, and that again can’t be healthy.

I had taken a little time off after my business trip to meet up with another old friend – Oscar Ferreira. Oscar had gotten out of the guide business in the last couple of years, but he was oddly glad to hear from me and quickly organized a couple of days of fishing. Buenos Aires is another place I have fished a lot, but there were a couple of targets left on the list, especially freshwater stingrays. I don’t get here all that often, and playing hurt is part of this game.

We went out with guide Mauricio Onate, who was definitely the real deal. We were targeting stingrays, but Mauricio and Oscar were also fairly sure we could get some large catfish, especially the Pati, which I thought was interesting considering how much time I was spending on the potty. (They are homonyms, which is legal in most states.) It was a beautiful day on the Parana delta, and we cruised through a bunch of small towns and backwaters before he found a big, open, deep stretch of river. Here, we rigged up live eels and drifted with them – the same way we caught Pati in 2014. The first few bites were smaller fish.

A small pati. Adorable.

About an hour later, I got the run I wanted. Pati can top 20 pounds, and while I quickly figured out this wasn’t quite that big, I was happy to be fighting something reasonable. When we got it into the boat, it weighed out at four and a half pounds, which was what I needed to break the current world record. This was unexpected – but it was record 179.

I caught my first Pati in 2000.

Steve and Mauricio celebrate my first Argentina world record. (The fish from 2014 were in Uruguay.)

We spent the rest of the day chasing rays in quiet back channels,

A typical back channel – I love exploring these places.

While we did get a few piranhas and bogas, the rays remained elusive.

A typical “palometa” piranha – common throughout Argentina.

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

A boga – one of my favorite freshwater light-tackle gamefish.

I’m always glad to visit Argentina, but catching a ray gives me an added motivation to return. We made a quick stop before port, at a location where Mauricio often puts out traps for the eels we use for bait. I put down a couple of small rigs, but didn’t notice any bites. As I brought the rods in to go home, I noticed that an eel had quietly snuck on to one of them – not exactly an epic fight, but my second species of the trip.

The creature.

Sunset on the Parana.

Oscar in a pensive moment.

That night, I did something stupid. My stomach had settled somewhat, and I knew a delightful restaurant a few doors from my hotel – a steakhouse where I had once shared a late evening meal with our old friend Nic Ware. I gave it a shot – the small center-cut filet, the potatoes, even a mixed drink.

The man who served me the steak – yet another Mauricio.

It all tasted so good, and I felt like I had scratched off a necessary bucket list item for any trip to BA, but I would quickly need the bucket more than the list. Luckily, I was back at my hotel before things went wrong. The cramps came on like a visit from Cousin Chuck, only shorter, and I was up half the night. But there was fishing to be done the next day, and I wasn’t going to miss that.

On that second day, I ventured some dry crackers for breakfast and still needed to stop at a gas station before we even made port.

This was in the gas station bathroom. I was not emotionally ready for this at 6am.

I could handle water, a little Gatorade, and some Red Bull, but nothing solid. So whether it was from the illness, or from poor nutrition, I felt woozy and awful, and I was facing 18 hours of flying starting later that night. But there was fishing to be done.

We started for the Pati early, and after a few smaller fish, I got into a nice one that peeled off at least 50 yards of line. As I slowly eased it back toward the boat, Oscar slipped a net under a positively huge muncholo blanco – white catfish. It was the biggest one of these I had ever seen, and I was quite confident it would be a record, It was over six pounds, but when I got the IGFA App working, I was stunned to see a much larger entry for the species – by one Roberta Arostegui.

Drat. Those people are everywhere.

So I kept fishing, and about an hour later, I got another fast run on an eel. I set the hook, and this again was a big catfish. I battled it for about 15 minutes, and as it got boatside, it was clear I had gotten a big Pati. We netted it and ran over to the nearest island to get a legal weight. Five even – another record. Number 180. My next world record would put me into a tie for fourth place overall.

I started to smile at how close I was getting, when the last wave of the crackers hit me and I had to excuse myself to the bushes, which were filled with mosquitoes, by the way.

The five pound Pati. I am emotionally ready for a 20 pounder.

We spent the afternoon trying for rays, which did not cooperate, and casting for trihera, a.k.a. wolffish, which did. Mauricio got the nicest one, pictured below.

These things are savage predators that seem to harbor bad feelings toward surface lures.

Do NOT put this in your pants.

The Arostegui family has quite a few world records on these fish, which get positively huge.

Martini and 28 pounds of steaming trihera on 16 pound test. Terrifying.

As we got into late afternoon, I knew it was time to take my last loperamide and head for the airport.

The anglers celebrate a good day.

It had been a lovely two days, except of course for the dizziness and cramps, but I couldn’t complain about a species and two records. I got on a United Airlines 767 that night, and after refusing some very nice-looking food options, made it home the next day with no further issues. Whatever I had finally cleared up about a 14 hours later, because I daringly ate Skyline Chili for breakfast and that seems to have overpowered the microbes. Note to readers – this stunt was attempted using a professional stomach. Do not try this at home.

Steve

*Marta wants me to mention that there are no known cobras in Brazil. But I still maintain they could be there.

Posted by: 1000fish | October 7, 2018

The Billfish That Shall Not Be Named

Dateline: March 25, 2018 – Kona, Hawaii

I knew my hockey career would end someday – I’m 54 years old, and let’s face it, I was never NHL material. Still, hockey is a game I love, a chance to be a gladiator every week and then shake hands with the guy I just tried to kill. I always thought it would end in some sort of tearful retirement speech in a championship locker room full of young players, who had all learned some life lesson from me, like the fact that referees just love it when you call them a myopic #$%@. I never pictured that it would end on a wet driveway in Walnut Creek, but that is exactly where idiot me was riding my bike on a rainy March day when I hit an edge and fell flat on my knee, face, and shoulder.

This is why smart people do not ride bikes in the rain.

The knee and face are not so necessary, but I knew my right shoulder – the one I punch with – was separated. As I peeled myself off the pavement, the first thing I thought was “Oh, $#!%. I’m going to Kona next week and I won’t be able to reel in a spearfish.” Ten years ago, the first thing I would have thought was “Oh $#!%, I have a game tomorrow.” That’s when I knew I needed to hang up the skates. It kills me to write it even months later, because the mere fact that I had played the game so long – generally without a face mask – had often defined me since elementary school.

A week of Advil and high hopes later, I was in Kona. The shoulder was sore, no question, but I believed I could tough it out. Speaking of pain, let’s get the spearfish thing over with. I didn’t catch one. For the few months preceding this trip, I refused to say its name, just referring to it as “the billfish that shall not be named.” It was not fooled by this cleverness. So no update on the IGFA Royal Slam – I remain a standup triple shy of the cycle.

Still, I got to go fishing in Kona for a few days, and that is always a good thing. The idea was a quick getaway with Marta, to let me get on the water and let her hike Mauna Kea, and for us to share the stray romantic dinner. (Hopefully with each other.) Yes, Marta goes to Hawaii, where the resort has a perfectly good beach, and then deliberately does a 16 mile hike IN THE SNOW. I can’t explain it.

I have caught loads of species in Hawaii – 136 at last count – and I certainly can’t count on getting a big haul every time I go. But it is such a beautiful location, and there is always a shot at something weird, and someday, I will get that damn spearfish.

The sun rises over Mauna Kea.

Speaking of obsessive/compulsive lists, my world record count had crept up on a milestone. I had sort of lost exact count after 100, because once that Lifetime Achievement Trophy was superglued to the mantel, (sorry Marta) I breathed the largest sigh of relief of my life and got back to species hunting. Still, a fact of species hunting is that some number of the weird fish I catch are going to be over a pound, and this means more world records. So I counted, and as I left on the trip, I found that I had 172 on the books. This is good enough for fifth place overall. Not that I concern myself with such things, but 10 more records and I would pass Herb Ratner Jr., the current 4th place holder, and pull into 4th by myself, right behind three of the most amazing anglers I have ever met. (Hint: They all have the same last name, and it rhymes with “Arostegui.”) I knew this would take a while, but it would be in the back of my head until I had it done. (Perspectives from Marta – This means he would think of nothing else but this, day and night, until he had passed this Herb guy.)

Of course, I would be fishing with old friends Dale and Jack Leverone.

I really need to get a more up to date picture of them. Jack has grown a foot since this was taken.

Jack wires a black marlin in Australia. He’s going to be a fine captain.

Contact information above – these guys can catch anything that swims around Kona.

When I was packing for this trip, I couldn’t help but notice that I had a whole bunch of highly specialized rods that didn’t see much use. Two that stood out were light high-speed jigging rods – the type we used for trevally in Singapore. (See “Angry White Man”) Even though there was not a lot new to catch this way in Hawaii, it’s still fun, so I packed them both. On day one, we started with these rigs, tossing light metal jigs in 100 or so feet of water and seeing what would bite. It was a blast – nothing new, but all kinds of stuff that pulls hard – including two goldsaddle goatfish that couldn’t agree who would go first.

Two goatfish on the same jig.

Trevally of any type pull hard.

Even squirrelfish got in on the action.

We then trolled, although it felt more like the spearfish were trolling me. At least I got a nice wahoo.

A nice wahoo. Important safety tip – they bite.

The highlight of the trolling was actually a milk crate. From time to time, we will see some floating object while we are offshore. I always like to go look at the floating objects, because there are often interesting fish living on them. This floating object was an upside down milk crate. As we approached it, a few filefish fled the scene, but when the deckhand turned it over, I was stunned to see two frogfish sitting there, placidly staring at me. It was a bit bumpy out there, but I had no shame in asking the deckhand to hold the crate while I grabbed a light rod, armed it with a tiny jighead and a piece of squid, and bumped the largest frogfish in the nose until he bit. I had my best fish of the trip, albeit under undignified circumstances. I also caught the other one moments later. We held onto them and released them near the harbor, where they could find more familiar reef territory and carry on with their little frogfish lives.

Eye and mouth on the left.

They actually walk around on their pectoral fins.

Adorable.

Once we gave up on trolling for the day, we did some medium drops – 500-800′ – to test out the sore shoulder. It ached to be sure, but I could get the rig up and down without crying. We got one fish of note, which you very careful blog readers know was hinted at in the “Gorgeous Swallowtail” episode. It felt like a small amberjack – hard fight and some reasonable runs – so I was quite surprised to see it was a huge spotted unicornfish. At seven and a half, it beat Martini’s 2017 fish by three pounds. That would be number 173. Nine to go.

At least it stayed in the family.

Important safety tip – don’t grab these by the tail.

Because it is almost impossible to get me to stop fishing, Dale kindly made one last stop right at the harbor entrance. Among a couple dozen saddle wrasses and other typical critters, I got a razorfish that looked different. It turned out to be a Baldwin’s razorfish, which would be species 1772.

The fish seemed to have very limited acting ability, so the name is not a surprise.

The next day, Marta joined me. Naturally, the fishing dropped off, but at least she did not catch any species I had not. We had steady action on small amberjack, and the highlight of my day was tying Martini’s 2017 world record on the smalltooth jobfish.

Gotta love the light jigging rods. World record 174. Eight to go.

My final day on the boat was devoted to deep, deep dropping – around 1500 feet. That’s a lot of reeling, and while I was looking forward to seeing what bizarre fish would live at those depths, I knew all that reeling was going to hurt. The shallower stuff had left me feeling like I had been hit by a train directly on the right shoulder, so this was going to be a bummer. Marta, ever the voice of reason, suggested that I give it a miss, which made me even more determined to stick it out. Common sense and fishing have no place in the same boat.

It takes about 8 minutes to drop a rig to the bottom in 1500 feet, and this spare time gives me a chance to think about how long it’s going to take to reel it up. Interestingly, even though it takes much longer to bring up fish than empty hooks, it doesn’t seem that way, because there is a fish waiting there, unless a shark eats it, which happens more than I would like and leads to swearing. There were two catches of note from the abyss – a beardfish and a shark.

A Pacific beardfish – I had caught this species previously, but this one was good big enough to be an unexpected world record. That’s 175 if you’re playing along at home.

The second catch was one of those things that made me happy, but also demonstrated one of the great injustices in the fishing world – the lack of complete identifications in the Squalus genus. Years ago, there were just a few species identified, but as time and science have progressed, dozens have emerged, mostly from deep water. (Such as the Western Longnose Spurdog from Brunei.) So, when I reeled up a small shark with brilliant green eyes, I was filled with hope for a new species and a record.

Squalus spp.

Jack and Dale call these “green-eyed monsters.”

After weeks of research by New Zealand-based shark expert Clinton Duffy, the fish turned out to be a new, but not formally identified, species. This means I would count it as number 1773, because it was a species and was definitely not something I had caught before. But it would not qualify for a record, because the IGFA asks that submissions be on recognized species, which is fair if you think about it.

NOTE FROM DECEMBER 2018 – The species has been identified, as Squalus hawaiiensis, the Hawaiian dogfish! A hige thanks to Martini, who found the publication moments after it hit the academic press.

On the obligatory late afternoon reef stop , I lucked into a big ringtail Maori wrasse, which would be my fourth record of the trip – # 176.

This species has been very good to me.

The big one was still six away, and I had no idea where those six were coming from. The four on this Hawaii trip had been sort of random, so the milestone still seemed a very long way off.

Speaking of random, I now seem to be able to catch Mu – large eye emperor – at will.

With just three new fish, this trip had been a bit of a slow one for the species count. And it lacked the getaway joy of our normal Hawaii vacations – both of our jobs had emergencies, interrupting two of our four evenings, and one can’t help but think that I would have caught something cool one of those nights. We still attempted a romantic dinner at Jackie Ray’s, which went as wrong as a romantic dinner possibly could. On the way over, we found out that Mark Hahn, the husband of one of Marta’s most treasured friends, Lori, had passed away. (A moment of silence for a passionate angler and overall great guy.) Then, just as we ordered appetizers, one of my best friends, Mike Arnstein, called and told me he had been diagnosed with cancer. It was a quiet meal, and any consideration of species, or records, or work emergencies, seemed insignificant.

Mike’s the good-looking one.

One of the advantages of waiting so long to publish is that we already know Mike, after a tenacious six month fight, is OK, and his hair will grow back. I’ve known Mike for 36 years, and it looks like we’ll have him around for quite a few more.

We flew home late the next afternoon. That left us the morning for a quiet walk on the beach, so naturally, I got up and went fishing instead. The Kona Town pier always seems to have something interesting to catch, and things went unexpectedly well for me.

Scrawled filefish, while not a new species for me, are always a difficult catch.

While I cast small jigs for reef fish, I set out a big rod in hopes of getting something beastly. The rod in this case was a special one – a Galahad jigging stick, which is a specialized and brutally expensive piece of equipment meant for defeating dogtooth tuna and similar beasts. It was paired with a Shimano Stella 20000, which can pull trucks out of mud. Davy Ong, the Singapore legend who sold me the rod, was disgusted with me that I had used it to bottom fish for eels in Brunei, and here I was again, putting down this high end rig at the base of the pier loaded with a big slab of mackerel.

Those of you familiar with universal justice know what happened next. The summary: the shortest fight in the history of world records, roughly three seconds, as a big whitemouth moray ate the bait and was unceremoniously hauled out of the water and deposited on the pier, to the astonishment of the other fishermen, nearby tourists, and especially the eel. Of course, the fish was more surprised than worn out, so I was happy to have all 10 fingers when the photos were done.

 

Sorry, Dave. I promise the next fish will be on a jig.

As the morning wore on, fishing got better and better. No new species, but constant action on good-sized quarry – jacks, triggerfish, wrasses, and assorted reef fish. It was getting close to leaving time, but I couldn’t drag myself away, and I knew Marta would not be pleased that I hadn’t answered any of her calls or texts or emails. Finally, as I saw her walking down the pier, I packed up and claimed battery failure, which she did not buy for a minute. But just as I reeled in my last rig, I had a solid strike and a nice, active fight – I figured it was a small trevally. What I pulled up, to my astonishment and Marta’s impatience, was a positively huge barred filefish. Well over a pound, it would qualify as a world record – number 178. Somehow, the first five on the trip hadn’t felt like progress, but this one did, and even though Marta was NOT happy with the fact I had cut our flight uncomfortably close, I walked away from the pier with a smile that wouldn’t go away.

The beastly filefish,

So I would need four more records to take my place at the family table. In the back of my mind, I knew I could do it, but what I didn’t know is that it would have to involve three countries, two US states, 22,000 miles of flying, and an especially vicious case of food poisoning. And my shoulder is feeling much better. I wonder what Marta would think if I skated just a game or two .., you know, just for exercise.

Steve

 

 

Posted by: 1000fish | August 31, 2018

Church of the Almighty Takedown

Dateline: August 13, 2018 – Sacramento, California

I will miss Ed Trujillo.

When you were steelhead fishing with Ed, every strike, whether it just rattled the rod or slammed the tip into the water, was an “MTD” – massive takedown – and every one was just as exciting as the last. A day with fish was a great day, but even a day without fish was still a day on the river, and that is what Ed treasured more than anything, except, perhaps, his wife Carla.

A recent photo of Ed and his beloved Carla. 

A not so recent photo. How in the world did he marry someone that good-looking?

Ed died today. He was 68 years old. When I got the text from Carla, the first that came to mind was Ed talking to me while I fought my very first steelhead. It was January 19, 2002, and he was saying “What a massive takedown! Keep your tip up, I’ll row into shore.” It was a Trinity River beauty, about five pounds, and I will never forget it as long as I live – a big, wild fish smashing a plug in a perfect mountain river.

My first steelhead. I was hooked.

In the 11 years after that, I fished constantly with Ed – some shad and smallmouth in other rivers, but mostly steelhead in the Trinity. As his health declined over the past six years and he couldn’t go to the rivers any more, we kept in touch, but of course, it was never the same. When it got to the stage where he couldn’t row his driftboat, he was heartbroken. As stubborn as an especially stubborn mule, Ed hung in there and got some quiet, good years with his wife and family. But he never got on the river again. I mourned for him then, and I mourn for him now. He was a gifted fisherman and the truest of friends.

I met Ed through a couple of buddies, Chris and Rich.

Chris Armstrong and Rich Terwilliger, from the distant past. (From the Terwilliger collection.)

That first trip in 2002 was a classic steelhead weekend – a race to escape Bay Area Friday afternoon traffic, then the loooooooong run up Highway 5 to Redding, and then left on HIghway 299 and an hour through the mountains into Weaverville. Up way too late having a few beers, up before dawn to have inadvisable breakfast foods, and then on to the river, launching driftboats from impossibly small, secret breaks in the brush. I got my first steelie that day, and perhaps overcelebrated that night with a prime rib dinner that wasn’t all that prime. Indeed, it rebelled at around 2am, and poor Chris had to live through the whole paint-peeling experience.

That next day, after the immodium had taken effect and I dared put on waders, is what cemented the friendship. At the Del Loma put-in (and I’m just using our names for these things – I have no idea what they’re actually called,) Ed rowed against heavy current to get above the launch, well beyond the call of duty, but he insisted there was a nice seam there and we could be in a for an “MTD.” Perhaps three minutes after we set the plugs out, it happened, and it was truly massive – tip all the way to the water before I could pull the rod out of the holder. The fight went on for more than half an hour – the fish stayed in the fast part of the river and hung there in a stalemate that seemed to go on forever. When I finally saw how big it was, I thought it had to be a salmon – but it was a rainbow. A ten pound rainbow, my biggest steelhead for many years, and still one of my “go-to” fish pictures.

I have friends who have fished a lifetime and not gotten a 10 pounder. With Ed, I had to wait 15 minutes into my second day.

Ed celebrates the big fish.

Another photo of the beast. I forgot all about the stomach problems … until I took off my waders.

During the rest of the 2000s, Ed and I got on the river every chance we could get. Thursday was always “fail safe” night, when we would figure out as much as we could about the weather, river conditions, and fish cooperation, and decide “go” or “no go.” We still got it wrong a lot – unexpected rain could show up, the river could go cold, the fish could move up or down. But on the weekends we got it right, it could be spectacular. Before I get into our best day ever, here are some of the fish that made the honor roll –

March 2004, Chetco River. This was my first fish in Oregon.

January 2005 – surprise king salmon on 6# line in the Sacramento.

January 2005, Trinity River – my first ten pound fish “out of the boat” – walking the shoreline where Ed told me to and casting what Ed told me to.

A limit of steelhead caught from shore, Trinity River, October 2006.

We had plenty of two-fish limits, but our personal best day together was March 31, 2007, an Eel River trip joined by Spellman. We caught 11 adult fish, four of which were over ten pounds, and one of which was my personal best – 16 pounds. Spellman got his 11 pound fish of a lifetime on the first drift. It was the steelhead day we all dream of, and to be honest, the conditions weren’t even that good – Ed just knew every seam and fold in the river and exactly where the fish would be holding. I got six of my fish on one Yo-Zuri spoon, and I immediately retired it – it hangs in my garage to this very day.

The beast of beasts. My “go-to” trout picture for all occasions.

Spellman’s 11 pound hog, caught first thing in the morning.

Ed rowing the Eel. We had just released Spellman’s fish. He didn’t stop smiling until the following Wednesday, and even then it was only briefly.

Over the years, Ed and I fished together 95 days, 69 of which were devoted to steelhead. Marta even got in on the action, but even though she loved Ed, she did not like sitting in an open boat in the mountains in the middle of winter. She also had no sense of how hard steelhead fishing really was, because she caught an eight pounder on her first trip and a ten pounder on her third.

Marta’s first steelhead, January 2005.

Marta’s second (and last) steelhead, July 2005. She was smart enough to quit at the top of her game.

Steve and Ed from the same summer Trinity trip.

I managed to get a bunch of my friends out steelhead fishing with Ed. Going through the pictures for this article, it hit me that Ed was the center of so many great weekends with friends, some still regular fishing buddies, some who I need to give a call. A partial list –

Chris Armstrong, who also introduced me to Jarvis in Singapore.

This is how Chris normally looks.

Richie Terwilliger, Sacramento River, January 2005. He handles a driftboat as well as anyone I have ever seen.

The fabled Mark Spellman, February 2007.

Scott Perry, February 2007. I can’t explain this picture.

Garreth “Eminem” Bowman, March 2007. I wonder whatever happened to him.

Jim Tolonen, January 2010. A top-notch angler, Jim is an expert fly-fisherman and also holds the world record on the sand sole.

Dave York, great friend of Marta’s, March 2009. He’s a USC grad, so I brought him a Michigan sweatshirt to wear.

Matt Schaeffer and his son with Ed, May 2009. Matt is one of the better hockey players I have ever skated with.

Ed Martini Shad

Martini Arostegui with a line-class record shad in the American with Ed, May 29, 2011.

You can’t spend 95 days fishing with someone without getting to know them fairly well. Ed came from a Mormon family, but he seemed to spend most Sundays on the river instead of church. I gave him a hard time one Sunday morning – asking him if they would miss him at the prayer service. He looked at me in all seriousness, looked around at the river and the pines and the two big fish hanging on the side of the boat, and said “This is my church.”

The altar at the Church of the Almighty Takedown.

I learned a lot from Ed, not only about how sacred these rivers and fish are, but also from his limitless decency. I am not a patient or forgiving person, (ask Marta) and in my pursuit of a species or a record, I can be downright overfocused and ruthless and forget that we’re just here to have fun. In his own gentle way, Ed always reminded me that even a bad day on the river was still a pretty darn good day. I never apologized to him enough for being the most difficult client ever.

Ed in action on the Eel. He was the guy you wanted on the net with a big fish on the line.

A few years after we started fishing together, Ed began having more and more health problems. He would miss a season here and there with diabetes complications, but he always seemed to bounce back, and there was never anyone happier than him just to be back on the water. As we got into 2010, he was noticeably slowing down, and our outings became less and less frequent. Our last steelhead trip together was in January of 2011, and the last steelhead I got with him was a beautiful red buck that smashed a Little Cleo spoon that Ed had specially selected for me. From there on in, we stayed closer to home in the American River, where he could do shorter day trips.

If I had known this would be our last steelhead together, I would have worn a better sweater.

By my records, I caught 62 adult steelhead in my career with Ed, and 8 of those were over ten pounds. (According to Ed’s fishing reports, we caught just over 9000 fish. You be the judge.) Again by my records, Ed also guided me to 540 fish of all types, including six new species and a world record. (Plus Martini’s record shad.) There were not a lot of species chances on a steelhead river, but in our adventures, I managed to get:

The American Shad on May 12, 2002. They were wide open. Even Spellman caught one.

The Klamath Smallscale Sucker on September 2, 2006. This fish is the world record we caught on January 29, 2011.

The Sacramento Sucker on June 24, 2007. That’s “Eminem” Bowman in the background. Eminem – If you’re out there, drop me a line.

The Redside Shiner on July 21, 2007, on one of our Umpqua trips. These were awesome, dawn-to-dusk smallmouth marathons.

The Redeye Bass on September 10, 2011. There is no parking on this river, so Ed drove me and waited.

Our final species together – the savage prickly sculpin, November 5, 2012. That was the only thing we caught, but look at him smile.

That trip in November 2012 was one of our last times on the water together – he was already having serious mobility problems. Our final day out was on June 8, 2013, a shad trip where there were no shad, but he just couldn’t stop smiling because he was out on the river.

I went up to Weaverville once or twice after Ed stopped fishing, but without Ed, it had lost its magic. It wasn’t about the river or even the fish – it was about fishing there with Ed. We might not have always caught fish, but it always felt like we were just about to.

We still talked on the phone quite a bit – he always wanted to know where I had been and what I was catching. And he always seemed to know how the Trinity was doing, where the fish were, when the rain was coming. He wanted to be back there so badly, and even surrounded by a large and loving family, that big piece of him was always missing the last few years of his life, until he finally was ready to let go, early in the morning on Monday, August 13. When I got the news, I pulled out this picture – my favorite of Ed – with a big steelhead he caught on the Eel.

January 2004. The custom rod was a gift from a friend, and this was his first fish on it. He tried to hand it off to me and I wouldn’t let him – it was great to see him catch one now and then.

The text from Carla was very simple – “Edward, the love of my life, is finally free from pain.” The last time I saw Ed was about six weeks ago, and to be honest, he was miserable. No one should have to go suffer like that, but he bore it gracefully and cheerfully, just like he handled everything. But there is no way I want to remember him like that. I think of him walking on two healthy legs along the Trinity, casting his favorite Krocodile spoon – which I never saw him get a hit on – waiting to row to the next hole and the next massive takedown, hopefully with a quick window of cell service so he could check in with Carla. That is how I want to remember Ed, and I hope that is what he doing right now, because the river misses him.

Steve

 

Ed at the Umpqua “ski jump” launch ramp, April 2006. He convinced me that we had to get into the boat and ride it out like Splash Mountain. I was in the bow bracing myself when he let me know he was joking.

The Pigeon Point fire, September 2006. We got caught on the wrong side of this, so instead of driving 45 minutes back to Weaverville, we had to drive two hours west to the coast, an hour south to Fortuna, then three and a half more hours east back across the mountains on Highway 36 into Weaverville. Ed still insisted on fishing the next day.

Ed on the Trinity. I never could figure out those left-handed baitcasters. (Photo from Terwilliger collection.)

Ed being Ed, January 2010. I had just lost a big fish, but he was so happy to even see the “MTD” he couldn’t stop smiling.

The Ed smile. (From the Terwilliger collection.)

Ed could nap literally anywhere.

Rich with a nice fish on the Trinity. He is standing in almost exactly the same spot where Ed is napping in the photo above. (From the Terwilliger collection.)

Trinity River, January 24, 2004. He kept telling me to cast to a particular seam, which I gave up on, so he cast and immediately got a fish.

Awwwwww.

Sunset at Ed’s memorial service.

 

 

Posted by: 1000fish | August 11, 2018

The Great Paul of China

Dateline: March 8, 2018 – Beijing, China

The history of China is long, proud, and fascinating. My fishing history in China is generally not – so if you read beyond this, don’t expect proud or fascinating, although long is a distinct possibility.

My first fishing trip in China was back in 2004. As usual, I was traveling for business, this time to Shanghai. Shanghai is a marvelously cosmopolitan city on the banks of the Yangtze River, perhaps the most European-feeling city in all of Asia. I had a day free before I flew home, so naturally, I did cultural stuff like visiting museums, walking around the markets, and appreciating the view from the 87th floor lounge in the Hyatt.

The view from the Hyatt.

I did all that for about 90 minutes, but I was surprised I lasted that long, because I was just dying to go fishing. As I don’t speak a word of Chinese, I did what I always do – went to the concierge. Normally, these folks can help with almost anything, including complex medical and legal questions (a story for another time,) but this particular guy was totally stumped. He tried to duck the issue, but luckily, I am over my shyness problem and persisted until they found something. A couple of hours later, I was downstairs meeting my driver and a translator, and they whisked me a out into the countryside to meet, and I quote, “Mr. Fong, the fishing master.” I was intrigued.

It gets rural very quickly outside the Shanghai city limits. The drive was mostly through rice fields, with the occasional small town mixed in. We arrived at a nondescript farm and pulled up near two large ponds, just as the owner came out and greeted me with a big smile. He had a small white cat that followed him everywhere.

The happiest cat ever.

The owner in turn introduced me to Mr. Fong, the “Fishing Master.” The translator explained that Mr. Fong was a champion in many local fishing contests, and they were hoping he could help me catch something. To my great surprise, Mr. Fong was wearing a black business suit. I am fairly sure this was the only time he had ever been called on to guide a foreigner, and he wanted to make sure he was appropriately attired. This took me aback – after fishing with people like Alex and Jarvis, I’m just happy if the guide is wearing underwear.

Mr. Fong, the Fishing Master.

We did our formal introductions, and then the translator took me through the fine points. As one would expect, it was pretty much bread on a float. Half an hour later, I caught some sort of cyprinid, the exact ID of which eludes me to this very day, but I had caught a fish in China.

If any of you know what the hell this is, email me.

We drove back to Shanghai in the evening, and I basked in a sense of accomplishment. I celebrated with a fine meal at Outback Steakhouse. (You heard me. I’m not exactly a culinary daredevil.)

This is why I am not a culinary daredevil. Shingled hedgehog is apparently an acquired taste. 

China was the 26th country where I had caught a fish, and I was thrilled with myself. To put that in perspective, I hit 50 countries four years later, and I am currently at 91.  And the day of that trip – April 28, 2004 – was two months and 15 days before my first date with Marta. Time flies.

For example, if we let time fly to March of 2018, I would find myself in China yet again, this time in Beijing. I have a gift for going to Beijing when it is really cold – my last five trips have been in January, February, or March – and this means things are usually iced over. (Example HERE.)

Steve at Tianamen Square.

I have been to the Great Wall twice, and it was below zero both times, so it was more like the Great Ski Jump of China.

First trip to the Great Wall. Note the frozen river behind me. Note that I still had hair.

Second trip to the Great Wall. Note the frozen tourists behind me.

As with most trips, I was determined to do a little fishing. This is where Paul came into the picture. Paul is the concierge at the Park Hyatt in Beijing, and he took my fishing request as a singular challenge. Awkwardly, he pointed out that any natural location would be frozen over – night time temperatures were in single digits. My heart sank. But Paul was nonplussed – he explained that there were indoor venues for fishing. He apologized that these were not especially serious gamefishing opportunities, and I smiled at the idea of anyone being concerned about my fishing dignity, which I left by the side of a hotel fountain about 30 years ago.

Paul the concierge – “The Great Paul of China.”

Paul and I met a few times to review plans. The venue he found for me looked great on paper – it featured a number of species not yet on my list, notably the black carp and something they called a “topmouth culter.” It looked cool on Fishbase, and I was keen to give it a try.

After a strangely successful business trip, I got up early on my last day in Beijing and set out on an ambitious itinerary.

You can tell a meeting is successful if your employees look worried and confused.

The idea was to head from the Hyatt out to an indoor fishing pond two hours out of town, stay there for a species or two, then get over to the airport and head home so that Marta could show me more paint swatches. The venue itself was remarkably unspectacular – a 50’s era industrial building at the back of a 50’s era industrial park. We walked in out of the bitter cold, and I was struck by exactly how nice an indoor pool smells, because it has chlorine. This was did not have chlorine, because I don’t think the fish would appreciate it, and it smelled exactly like you would expect it to. Think chicken coop, but fishier. There were about 15 local guys fishing in there, and they stared at me to the point where I looked down to make sure I was wearing clothes.

The venue. And you thought species hunting was glamorous.

There were four ponds inside the venue – one with carp, one with tilapia, one with the assorted odds and ends I wanted to catch, and the “forbidden pond,” which I thought would also make a good blog title. I paid for a couple of hours of fishing, set up some float rigs – which are pretty much universal – and got to it. Nothing happened. Then, after half an hour, nothing happened. One of the local guys caught a black carp, which filled me with hope. I went over to examine his catch, and he kindly set me up with some of his special pellet baits. Fishermen tend to help each other out, language barrier or not.

With perhaps half an hour left before I had to head to the airport, I got the tiniest rattle on my shallow float rig. Looking down, I saw silvery flashes under the surface. It wouldn’t fully take the bread, so, in desperation, I took out a small, white jig and flipped it out past the fish. Ripping it just under the surface seemed to trigger the predatory instinct in my opponent, and I got a solid strike. I saw a good-sized silver fish under the surface, and after a brief fight, slipped a net under it.

Success!!

The beast.

A China Rockfish. Completely unrelated to this blog.

I texted friends that I had landed a topmouth culter, but some subsequent investigation, supervised by Martini, revealed that it was actually a related fished called a “humpback.” This was the first definitely new species I could claim from China, and I was thrilled.

On my first trip to China, I was sitting at 342 species. The humpback was number 1770. A lot had happened in 14 years, and I’m hoping in 14 more, I’m reporting something even stranger from China, like the topmout culter, which I am now obsessed with catching. Many thanks to everyone who helped on this trip, but especially to the concierge – “The Great Paul of China” – who went well above the call of duty and made a species happen.

Steve

 

Special Bonus Section – Rock Greenling

The rock greenling is supposed to be relatively common off the coast of central California. Although the kelp greenling is certainly more common, almost everyone I know has also caught a rock greenling, even though I have not. In 2013, Martini caught one right in front of me. (Details HERE.) This hadn’t reached lagoon triggerfish levels of annoyance, but it was close. So I am pleased to report that, on a random trip to my very favorite Elephant Rock Pier, I got one. And let us never speak of this again.

The rock greenling. Thank you, Elephant Rock.

 

Posted by: 1000fish | July 17, 2018

The Gorgeous Swallowtail

Dateline: January 26, 2018 – Watamu, Kenya

Can a single fish justify 19,000 miles of flying? In my case, probably. But it would need to be a really, really weird fish. And any of you who have met me know that my standards for weird are extremely high. Just look at Cousin Chuck.

Thursday brought a change of boats and guide. Kenya had given me seven new species and four records so far, and while this was certainly solid, I knew there were a lot more fish out there. Every great trip needs a “signature fish,” and this hadn’t happened yet. Still, I slept well Wednesday night. Maybe it was the confidence of knowing I was heading out with a bottom fishing specialist, or maybe it was the Scotch and Ambien. Either way, Captain Calvin du Plessis believed we could find some weird stuff on the deep reefs, and it seemed like he enjoyed the challenge. We had traded numerous texts and calls, and I didn’t even need a Red Bull to get wound up in the morning, although I drank a couple just to make sure.

You can reach Captain Calvin at http://www.biggamefishingkenya.com/kenya.html or SoolymanKenya@Gmail.com

The Medina Palms at daybreak. There were no fish in the pool. I looked.

The wind had finally laid down, so the morning was still and beautiful. (But my brother-in-law Dan would still barf.) Calvin had some deeper reefs in mind, about 90 minutes out of port, so I settled into a deck chair and watched the coastline grow dim in the distance. I was hopeful that my Stella 20000 would finally get a challenge, although there are no dogtooth in this immediate area. When we pulled to a stop, I dropped a jig, got a jarring strike, and managed to reel up another personal best coronation trout. Calvin was thrilled for me.

I never, ever get over how beautiful these things are.

Ever, ever, ever, ever.

With my rather limited attention span, when the jig didn’t get hit on a couple of casts, I started dropping bait. Quickly, I made like Cousin Chuck in a singles bar, and hooked up with something big that had no interest in meeting me. When it surfaced, I was thrilled but bewildered. It appeared to be a positively huge spotted unicornfish – clearly a world record – but I had caught spotted unicornfish in Hawaii. I sighed, but there was a surprise coming in a few hours.

As far as I knew, it was Martini’s record I would be breaking, so at least it would stay in the family. (Details in “Homonyms, Pomfrets, and the Pier Panther.”)

Late that evening, when I was online back at the resort, I discovered that this was actually a reticulate unicornfish. So it would a new species and a record, and I would leave Martini’s spotted unicorn intact. (For exactly one month and 26 days.)

The pink Pristipomoides scourge took over, so I went back to the jigs and promptly got my personal best ruby snapper. The sheer size of this fish took some of the sting away from the fact that this was yet another species I have caught in Hawaii. (And Brunei.) Still, I couldn’t argue with the quality of the fishing. Calvin was thrilled for me, and there were high-fives all around.

These were big fish, and everything in this family pulls hard.

I took a moment and looked around. The weather had turned nice, and I was in a beautiful location halfway across the globe, and these are both good things. But in the back of my mind, I kept thinking that the trip still wasn’t as exotic as I thought it would be. I am not a fan of “exotic” in terms of dysentery, poisonous animals, or insurgents, but I had pictured Kenya as less comfortable but loaded with weird fish that would never dream of showing up in Kona. I petulantly mused that I would trade my air-conditioned suite for an air-conditioned queen room in exchange for a few more species, but even I realized that the Fish Gods do not make bargains like this. I needed to focus on fishing hard and hoping that luck would go my way.

Calvin mentioned that we could catch some deepwater anthias nearby, and I was definitely game to add one of these small serranids to my list. We motored into about 550 feet of water, and I started changing my rigs over to some smaller hooks in the #4 range. Calvin stopped me and told me to leave on the 5/0 setup on my rod. This bewildered me, but he lives here and I don’t, so I just took his word for it. I presumed there was a misunderstanding and we were going for something big. I remember chuckling to myself and mumbling “That must be a darn big anthias. Ha ha.”

I freespooled my bait to the bottom, and a few seconds later, I got hit hard. As soon as I lifted into it, I knew that I had hooked the biggest fish of the trip. Now it was up to me not to screw it up. The fish battled most of the way up, with hard, head-shaking runs, and on several occasions, it stopped me dead on 40 pound gear and tried to head back to the bottom. In the last hundred feet or so, the pressure change caught up to it and the fight was a bit less exuberant, but still heavy. I predicted a 20 pound grouper. Calvin predicted anthias, which I thought was an attempt at humor. I mumbled “That must be a darn big anthias. Ha ha.”

A moment later, I saw a flash of bright orange color deep under the boat. Then I saw yellow, and whatever the fish was, it was definitely large. As it slowly came out of the depths I couldn’t quite make it out, and I just kept reeling as we drifted along. Finally, the fish surfaced in a brilliant explosion of orange, pink, and yellow. My brain attempted to process what I was seeing, and the best I could come up with was a big lyretail. “It’s a big lyretail!” I exclaimed. “No,” responded Calvin. “It’s a darn big anthias.” My brain still tried to work through what looked a lot like a very lost eight pound decorative goldfish.

It hadn’t occurred to me that an anthias could be this big.

That’s when it hit me. It was an anthias. A huge, fluorescent, magnificent, impossibly beautiful anthias. I had failed to consider that the anthias on this deep reef are mega anthias – their genus is actually “Meganthias.” (And their common name is “Gorgeous Swallowtail.” Look it up.) It would clearly be a world record, but much more importantly, it was perhaps the most beautiful, improbable thing I have ever caught. And for close to five minutes, I was actually silent. (Which was the true miracle of the entire trip.) Exotic had happened.

I must have texted this photo out 500 times when I got back to port. It has its own Facebook account. I show it to strangers on airplanes.

We stayed in the same area and managed to catch a couple of smaller swallowtails.

Even five months later, I can’t believe I caught this.

The small ones were extraordinary as well – not as stunning as the first one, but a stark reminder that I was indeed 10,000 miles from home. I had done what I came here to do. Everything else would be a bonus. That one fish alone, that one moment when I saw what it was, made the entire trip worth it.

Gratuitous Swallowtail photo. These are apparently exceptional eating, so each of the crew got to feed their extended families for a couple of days.

And there were some bonuses. A few miles away, in deeper water, I got a nice hit on a jig. I was hoping it was going to be a rusty jobfish, a species Martini had caught right under my nose in Hawaii last year. But it turned out to be something so much more satisfying, because instead of irritating Martini, I got to annoy Marta. The fish was a longtail red snapper, yet another Hawaii fish, which Marta had caught and I had not.

And mine was much, much bigger.

Marta and her longtail, August 29, 2008. That is a very young Jack Leverone in the background – he has since grown into the hat.

Late in the day, we made some drops in very deep water – over 900 feet. Along with some of the inevitable pink snappers, I got a pair of seabream-looking things that turned out to be blueskin seabream – my 11th species of the trip. It was an excellent finish to what had been an epic day.

The blueskin seabream – a big thanks to Dr. Jeff Johnson of the Queensland Museum for this and so many more IDs.

I celebrated at the resort with a fresh grouper dinner and some indefinite number of beers.

My final day in Kenya was a Friday, and after a day like Thursday, I wasn’t worried about getting much. I had gotten a bizarre impossibility, and I was as close to content as I ever get.

The sun comes up over Turtle Bay. I took a walk along the beach before we headed out, and saw at least four species I hadn’t caught.

Still, we had one more day on the water. We started in the shallow reefs, and I knocked off two new species quickly. The first was a monocle bream. I keep thinking I’ve caught all of these, and then a new one will turn up.

1000fish welcomes the Thumbprint Monocle Bream to the species list.

The second new species, which came a few casts later, was a nod to universal justice. On this trip, I had caught – repeatedly – two species of hawkfish that I had also caught repeatedly in Hawaii. This fish was a hawkfish, but finally, a different one – the speckled hawkfish. It would be my 13th and final species of the trip – taking me to 1768 lifetime – but the day was young.

I was very happy to see something new come up.

I also got a male cigar wrasse.

The males are much more ornate than the females – it’s sort of like New Jersey.

We spent the rest of the day drifting through a series of reefs and dropoffs. I dropped bait and jigs, and in between about 50 solid grouper and snapper, I got two more records. The first was another rosy goatfish – half a pound bigger than my goat on day one.

I like goatfish. Oddly, I do not like goats. Marta would like a pet goat, which I think would be a bad idea.

I also got a two pound coral hind – my eighth record of the trip. These records not only put me into competition for the 2018 IGFA all-tackle record award, but this particular one also broke Marta’s last remaining world record. (Set in May 2017 in Egypt.) It took me eight months to break this one, which is long by our standards.  (I broke her first world record in two days, and I broke her second in roughly 30 seconds.) Perhaps some of you are just now figuring out just how unhealthily competitive I am. A world record is certainly worth sleeping on the couch for a few nights, especially in the summer, because the air conditioning in our bedroom has failed.

Truthfully, she doesn’t care that much, as long as I don’t put any more fishing awards in the house.

We could have moved out to some deeper water late in the afternoon, but I have to admit that the action was so good where we were that I never considered it. Great fishing is great fishing, and Calvin had guided another amazing day.

Yet another nice coronation trout.

A big tomato cod. I caught at least 20 this size, most on the bass rod behind me.

Calvin’s crew – fantastic guys who thought of everything I needed before I even knew I needed it.

The sun had started going down, and I knew it was time to head back to port. The score for the trip would end up 13 species, eight records, and one guarantee that I would return, likely with Marta, to look at some of the wildlife and clear out a few more species. I hated to start taking the gear apart and cleaning it, but it was time. It all went so fast, and still, except for when we landed that one fish, I never really felt like I had gone that far from home.

Steve

 

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