Posted by: 1000fish | August 2, 2019

Mar del Plata – “La Costa Dramamina”

Dateline: March 2, 2019 – Mar del Plata, Argentina

When you fly 7000 miles to go fishing, you aren’t going to let a little wind and rain keep you off the water. Gale-force winds and torrential rain, however, are a different story. I always figure if the crew will chance it, I’ll go, but as I watched a deckhand get profoundly seasick off the Argentinean coast, I knew I was pushing my luck. My bucket list is very important to me, but I don’t want to be the one with my head in the bucket.

Well up on that bucket list is a small town on the central Argentinean coast – Mar del Plata. It’s a quick flight from Buenos Aires and is said to have outstanding saltwater fishing. Among other desirable targets, there are supposed to be a lot of wreckfish and loads of giant sand perch – think 20 pounds or more. I would sell my aunt to catch either of these, but honestly, I would trade her for a decent-sized bat ray.

These are Argentinean sandperch. They are bigger than other sandperch. Other sandperch are too small to use as bait for these.

When I was summoned to Argentina for meetings in March, I decided it was time. Through the IGFA and some local connections, I found THE boat in the area, captained by Mariano de la Rua of Aquafish.com.ar. This guy was rumored to be good, and he was.

Mariano’s business card. If you make it to Buenos Aires, it’s a nearby option.

Now all I needed was reasonable weather, which was not too tall of an order in the late austral summer. Previous March data showed reasonably calm conditions, the medium-range weather reports looked good, and I figured I would give it a four-day shot. My Spanish is as good as Mariano’s English, but the magic of Google translate got us through the logistics. (Note – don’t trust Google translate when ordering at a restaurant. You’ll end up with llama testicles in your soup.)

As we got closer to the target weekend, the weather started slipping. I learned the Spanish phrase for “Small Craft Advisory.” Then I learned the words for “Small Craft Warning.” A couple of days later, I picked up sentences like “The Navy is missing a destroyer.” It looked bad – wind creeping over 35, and the area isn’t all that deep, so the swells get impressive quickly. But I was already in Buenos Aires, enjoying all those steak dinners I missed when I had food poisoning last year.

A steak dinner with buddies in Buenos Aires. It doesn’t get much better than this.

A painting on the wall at that same restaurant. The soccer fans among you will get this immediately. The rest of you, look up “Hand of God.” Depending on who you root for, it’s either hilarious or awful.

Another painting. If this doesn’t choke you up, you’re weird.

The next morning, still digesting four pounds of dinner, I headed off to the airport and a 40-minute flight south. I caught a quick shuttle over to the Sheraton, and started setting up my gear. The Sheraton was everything I wanted, in other words, a Sheraton, and I had a bonus view of the harbor.

Mar del Plata – fishing hub and navy base.

Once I had all my rigs checked and re-checked, I wandered into the local shopping district. Mar del Plata is a lovely little seaside resort town, a popular vacation spot for Argentinians, and it had a fabulous array of restaurants. Yes, I had another steak. Note for Argentina travelers – if you are going to need a fair amount of Pesos, get them in the US, at your bank if possible. ATMs here have a ridiculously small limit, and then charge you a service fee for every transaction. So if you can only get 40 bucks at a time, and you need 400, you’ll pay $50 in service fees. Not cool.

Morning broke with scattered clouds – and whitecaps.

At least the sky wasn’t red.

Captain Mariano picked me up at the appointed hour, and through Franco, the deckhand, he communicated that going offshore wasn’t going to work. We would take their big boat to give us the smoothest ride possible, and spend the day fishing inshore for what they hoped would be a variety of species, including the possibility of some big sharks (catch and release of course.)

The Sina Puro.

I’m not going to try to put lipstick on a seasick pig. It was rough out there – a sloppy, three-dimensional ride that could summon breakfast from the most experienced sailor. Still, I knew there were new fish out there that needed catching. A few miles north, we anchored in 20 feet of water. The wind and tide were both behind us, so it was stable enough to fish. The crew put out some big shark baits, and then I went to work with smaller setups. I started by bouncing cut shrimp along the bottom, and got hit immediately. After a short battle, I boated a small sea-trout-looking thing, which turned out to be a new species – the striped weakfish.

Interestingly, it is listed in Fishbase.org as Stripped weakfish. This might be accurate – the fish was not wearing any clothes.

The next hit was much bigger – a very nice fight on my eight-pound spinning rod. It turned out to be an old favorite, the whitemouth croaker – a beast I had caught repeatedly up near Rio de Janeiro. The ones here were big – the three-pounder pictured below would have been in my top five ever in Guanabara. This was promising.

No, Charlie. That is not an Atlantic croaker.

Franco the deckhand informed me that there were some pejerrey in the area – silversides that are quite similar to the jacksmelt we catch in California. They require the same type of awkward, long float rig, but they bit quickly and I was up two species for the day.

Jacksmelt with a Spanish accent.

As the morning went on, the weakfish and whitemouth kept biting. The croakers kept getting bigger – topping out at around six pounds. Great sport on bass tackle.

Steve and Mariano with a brace of solid croakers.

One by one, a few other critters started coming over the rail. The first was an Argentina conger. This relatively small eel is common in the area, and was a nice surprise to tack a third fish onto the species list.

I don’t know why I was yelling at the photographer.

Speaking of congers, Jamie Hamamoto has set yet another record on the Hawaiian version.

Sigh.

The big croakers kept hitting, which kept my mind off the swells. By early afternoon, the already-stiff wind had grown into powerful gusts that swung us back and forth on the anchor. I could only fish one rig at a time, but the fish were there, and there were a couple more catches of note in the afternoon. The first – which might be significant to perhaps me, Martini, and a few assorted species hunters – was a small shark. Most fishermen would say “That’s a small shark alright” and toss it back. But I would say “THAT … is a narrowsnout smooth hound, (note the white spots and narrow snout,) and as such, is not only a new species but is also a world record. Yay!”

This typically evokes sad, polite glances from the crew.

I also got a couple of catfish later in the day. I presumed they had to be a new species, but they turned out to be White Sea Catfish, a species I had caught up in Brazil. The good news – at 3.25 pounds, it beat my old record on the species. That was two for the day, and 195 for my career.

Photos of vomerine patch available on request.

I was just resetting a rod when Mariano pointed south. There was a storm coming, a line of solid black aimed right at us. Time to go.

If you are on a boat and see something like this, leave. Immediately. I christened the area “La Costa Dramamina,” which is bad Spanish for “The Dramamine Coast.”

We were finished, and I was grateful to have snuck out on a plan B trip and added four species and two records. We got into the harbor before the worst of it hit, and I enjoyed a quiet evening in the Sheraton, having a steak and some Argentinean red wine and texting back and forth with Marta, who is getting serious about adopting a cat. (Have I mentioned I am allergic to cats?)

Thursday broke clear and sunny, but even from my hotel, I could see rough water outside the breakwater. It was going to be a pretty day, but the water was going to be lumpy with a very fast drift. It wasn’t ideal, but I was here and we were going to make the best of it. Captain Mariano thought we could give it a shot out in the deep water, but also mentioned the fast drift. I had unpleasant visions of trying to manage hundreds of yards of line – flashbacks from many deepwater rock cod trips here in California where even a 16-ounce jig might be in the strike zone for only a few seconds before it has to be reset. I mentally prepared myself for a lot of reeling.

We got a couple of hours offshore, and it was indeed rough. Bottom fish can be on very small, specific pieces of structure, and when you’re whipping by them, it can be hard to get bites. I baited up a double hook rig with mackerel slabs and waited for Mariano to shout “Go!” Twenty seconds later, I got a nice surprise – I hit bottom. It couldn’t have been 90 feet deep. I asked Franco when we would get to the deep water, and he told me “We ARE in the deep water.” I heaved a giant sigh of relief. It wasn’t perfect, but it was manageable.

We got hookups immediately, but not the kind we wanted. I reeled up a pair of red porgies – one of the more widespread fish on earth. I have caught these in Argentina, Brazil, the US, Spain, Portugal, Croatia, Turkey, and Morocco. Enough already – I again advocate a law that no species be allowed to inhabit more than five countries. The porgies were relentless. For three hours, they played the role of dominant pest, interrupted only by the occasional bluefish, which provided great sport on bait or jigs. But there were no big bottomfish of any kind. Mariano did not panic – he kept motoring from reef to reef and trying an assortment of baits, including porgy fillets.

Mariano bemoaned the weather – he would have preferred to fish a bit further out, but the water was just too rough. He drove us to dozens of rockpiles, each one was jammed with porgies, but he never lost his infectious optimism. It was mid-afternoon when we dropped on some structure in about 100 feet. Again, the bites were immediate, but this time, I had a lot more trouble moving the fish away from the bottom. It didn’t have the hard-swimming fight of a bluefish, so I crossed my fingers, which made it much harder to reel. Moments later, we swung an Argentine Seabass aboard – one of my big targets for the trip, and world record 196.

The Argentinean Seabass.

A larger version, caught on a jig.

Once we found them, they hit consistently – we ended up with at least ten, and it was a welcome relief to get something that wasn’t a porgy. I was ecstatic, but the crew was even happier.

Celebrating with the crew – that’s Franco on the left and Felipe in the middle. Sorry, girls – they’re both married.

We moved to another reef only a mile or so away, and dropped down more big slab baits. I had bounced the bottom once or twice, and … boom. My biggest bite of the trip – a grouper-type slam that had me struggling to keep the fish out of the rocks. I said wreckfish prayers as I fought it all the way up, and as it surfaced, I could see it was not a wreckfish.

It was two wreckfish.

They weren’t huge, but they were wreckfish, and I had finally added the species. The day had gone from lousy to epic in just under an hour, and I had Captain Mariano and crew to thank. We stayed on the spot for about an hour and got eight more. I can only imagine how hard a 200-pounder pulls.

They lose the pattern when they get to adult size.

Steve and Mariano with the beasts.

We made the sloppy ride back in worsening conditions, but I didn’t care. Two of the big targets for the trip had happened. I celebrated that night with another steak, and had a look at Weather.com. Things seemed to be getting worse for Friday and Saturday. Weather.com is not generally reliable, except when the forecast is bad.

I had a different boat set up for Friday, with guide Cris Prado. We spoke the night before, and it was going to be an iffy call – no chance of offshore, and the inshore ride was going to be nasty. When Cris got me at 5:30am, even the harbor was sloppy.

Old Polish saying – “Red sky at morn, you’re screwed.” (It rhymes in Polish.)

We gave it a game try, running south a few miles with the weather. Once we tried to anchor, though, it was unworkable. The boat pitched so hard it kept ripping the anchor out, and the deckhand threw up like a Polish bridesmaid. I caught one fish – a particularly large “stripped” weakfish – and when I weighed it in the harbor, it turned out to be a record. It may not have been the best charter I have even been on, but in terms of catch-to-record ratio, I’ve never had better.

Record # 197. This was getting interesting.

Cris wasn’t happy with our result, and before I could even think about going back to the Sheraton, he suggested that we go fish the shore for a few hours. He picked up his rods and some bait, and we set up in a protected spot inside the harbor. Cris has gotten some beastly flounder in this area, so a bit of my optimism had returned. I could only hope the deckhand was eating solid food again.

That’s a big flatfish.

We got instant bites from whitemouth croakers, which was more fun than doing email at the hotel. Toward the end of the session, I pulled up a smaller croaker that looked a bit different.

After a few exchanges with Dr. Alfredo Carvalho, the fish was determined to be an Argentinean Croaker – the seventh species of the day, and 1848 overall.

Just as we were high-fiving about this, my phone rang. It was Franco from the Sina Pura, and he explained that if I could get to the harbor in 30 minutes, we could give it a quick shot offshore. I left skid marks. (Just for clarity – the kind the Roadrunner leaves, not the kind identified with Cousin Chuck.) Cris raced me back over to the dock and even helped me load my gear on Mariano’s boat.

We headed out. It looked nice enough for a few miles, but we were going out 20, and it was at least at bumpy as it had been the day before. We did get in to some nice bluefish, but the bottom fish were not cooperating, and the wind, which was already brisk, began picking up.

A typical Mar del Plata bluefish.

The big croakers also made another appearance.

We moved from reef to reef, and the porgies were out in force. The wind kept getting stronger, and we could see rain moving in behind it. Just before we needed to leave, I got one solid bite and hooked up something heavier than a porgy. I said prayers for a small sand perch the whole way up, but the crew was skeptical and thought it was a big porgy. We were both wrong. It was a Brazilian codling, an oddball bottom dweller that they catch on rare occasions. It was both a new species – #1853, and a world record – #198.

I was two records away from territory uncharted by non-Arosteguis.

And then the rain hit. We were done for the day, and looking at the weather, I knew we were done for the trip. Eight species and five records was a huge haul for three days, but of course, I was thinking about the day we would miss, and especially about the sand perch, but I had gotten in some great fishing and made some lifetime friends. Mariano had a local restaurant prepare the codling for dinner, and it was outstanding.

My only non-steak dinner of the trip.

I headed back to Buenos Aires a day early, and enjoyed even more steaks and a bit of tourism. Best of all, I got to catch up with old friend Oscar Ferreira, who has helped me with so many species over the years.  We fished a couple of hours in the Rio de la Plata, and then I was off to the airport, heading for a few weeks at home, most of which would be spent planning my return trip to get that sand perch.

Steve

One of my catches with Oscar. Sharp-eyed reader Thorke Oostergaard of Norway, passionate species hunter and vowel collector, spotted that this is actually An Aramburui rutilus, so this adds one more species to the trip and adds Thorke to the free dinner list.

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Posted by: 1000fish | July 18, 2019

Pictures of Other People With Big Snook

Dateline: February 23, 2019 – Bertioga, Brazil

No matter which one of my three steady readers is looking at this, you well know that I have had some brilliant days fishing the central coast of Brazil, but that most of these happened before the 1000fish blog era. What you all remember about Brazil are some terrible fails, including an inexplicable cold front in mid-summer, and me somehow catching a world record stingray while I wasn’t wearing any clothes. Still, I couldn’t stand the idea of going there and not fishing.

I would be in Sao Paulo on business, and over a weekend, there is not much for a foreigner to do there, unless they are single and/or attractive, fill in your own punchline here. I have explored most of the freshwater options in the area, but the Atlantic is only an hour away from downtown, in perfect traffic conditions, which happened once in 1958. I called old friend Ian-Arthur Sulocki, and through his complex net of contacts, I ended up finding Thomas Schmidt, who guides snook trips in Bertioga. He has helped pioneer the use of plastic baits in the area, and his photo album speaks for itself.

The first photo I saw of Thomas. This got my attention.

I stayed up well past my bedtime going through his website – www.pescarobalo.com.br

I was hoping this was his deckhand. (Note from Marta – Go for it. I’m sure she’ll be impressed by your Honda Pilot.)

I have caught all the snook species in the area, but no trophies, and the idea of flipping swimbaits for a day in beautiful scenery was definitely appealing. Of course, my unique fishing needs took quite a bit of explaining, especially considering that I speak no Portuguese, but Ian jumped in and helped Thomas understand that there really are people who want to catch blennies. (It’s never easy to explain that size doesn’t matter.)

In the days before I would be heading out with Thomas, old friend Cris Bernarde texted me some photos from South Florida. I’ve never caught a snook close to this big. My time had to be coming.

And on a fly rod.

This is practically in his front yard.

Saturday morning broke clear and beautiful, although far too early. Math was never my strong suit, and it hadn’t occurred to me that staying up until 3am with buddies was a really bad idea when I had a 4:30am wakeup call. On the drive to the coast, I blearily enjoyed a bit of scenery, mostly involving pre-carnival walks of shame, but I pretty much slept the entire way. We got to Bertioga at 6:30, and Thomas was ready and waiting for me.

The central coast of Brazil has a unique beauty – forest right down to the water’s edge on endless rock dome islands. Every one of them looks full of fish.

I love it here.

We motored a few miles and started throwing plastics at a likely shoreline. I got a few taps, which of course exhausted my patience, so I switched over to shrimp just to see what was down there. I got the usual suspects – croakers, catfish, and blennies. I smiled as I remembered getting all of these for the first time, almost 20 years ago, just a few hours to the north. Brazil was the sixth country where I caught a fish, and even with 88 more since then, the place has never lost its wonder for me.

The blennies are remarkably savage for their size.

I went back the plastics intermittently, and we cast our way through the morning, moving from reef to reef and island to island. We had a few strikes, but nothing to write home about. Around 11, I got my first and only snook of the day – a fish about which I am justifiably modest.

This did not bode well for my trophy hunt.

I went back to live bait on the reefs and caught a dozen nice black margate on an ultralight.

These things fight hard.

Now and then, I recharged my confidence by looking at Thomas’ photos.

From the week before I was there. The fish just had to be there.

Then I would throw plastics for an hour and not get a big snook. Thomas worked hard, moving from spot to spot, but I would eventually regress into bait fishing for the small stuff that was running around in the shallows. There was plenty of action – the area is loaded with puffers and the occasional blenny.

I caught dozens of these. Note that Thomas is almost keeping a straight face.

The same porkfish we get in Florida, but they always make a beautiful picture.

I dutifully photographed everything, but as it turns out, only one of the fish – the very smallest – was a new species – the aptly-named Brazilian blenny.

Thanks to Dr. Alfredo Carvalho for the ID.

Thomas would have fished into the evening, but I needed to be back in Sao Paulo for a business dinner, so we had to wrap it up around four. With about an hour to go, he found a likely-looking reef about a mile offshore, and, optimism intact, we set to it. The snook just weren’t going to cooperate. But I had a light rod and a lot of shrimp, so I decided to enjoy myself. I got another mixed bag of margates and croakers.

Good fishing is good fishing. I’ll get the snook next time.

Thomas pulled up a beautiful Lane snapper.

Steve and Thomas. Go fishing with this guy if you’re in the area – he was great.

As if I wasn’t irritated enough by Cris’ photos, in the weeks before I published this missive, I got another reminder that other people were catching large snook. Randomly, Adrian Gray from the IGFA, who you all remember from “The Editor-in-Chief,” proudly and innocently sent me shots of what looked like an epic snook trip for him and his girlfriend, Gina.

Adrian’s unsolicited snook.

Yes, hers is bigger. And she’s a lot better-looking than Adrian.

This is the kind of thing I would have done to be mean to someone, usually Jim LaRosa, but Adrian’s intentions were pure. I too would have been proud to catch snook that big, and would have sent photos to everyone I know and shown them to strangers on airplanes. My time will come. (Note – I have been to Florida in the interim, and that trip was also not my time, so by my math, my time should be getting closer.)

So the pessimists among you will remember this post as a bunch of pictures of other people with big snook, but I will remember it as another chance I had to spend a day fishing in a beautiful location that I have loved for years. Sure, I only got one species, but if I happen to finish my career with exactly 2000, this would be a pretty important catch – just like every one of them.

Steve

 

Posted by: 1000fish | June 20, 2019

The Goodeid, The Bad, and The Arely

Dateline: February 17, 2019 – Morelia, Mexico

Every time I head south of the border, I recall, faintly but insistently, Tom Lehrer’s immortal song “In Old Mexico.” Those of you younger than 50 will have no idea what I am talking about, but the song covers a 1950s visit to Guadalajara, and one of the last lines is:

In that moment of truth, I suddenly knew … that someone had stolen my wallet.

How ironic that I too would go to Mexico and have my wallet stolen, but what I will remember most about the day is that I caught four new species and made a new friend. Losing your wallet is a bad thing, but catching four new species outweighs it.

This is another one of these trips that differentiates the casual species hunter from the pathological species hunter. I had some business meetings in Mexico City on a Monday. I couldn’t leave San Francisco until Saturday. This means that I had Sunday to go fishing, which sounds great until I explain that the fish in question are about six hours from Mexico City, which would make for a very long day. I should also mention that the largest of these fish might reach six inches. Be honest – how many of you just tuned out and said “He’s an idiot?” (Marta raises hand.)

And how was I even aware of these small endemic species, tucked into a scenic lake hundreds of miles from where Americans might normally visit? The road comes back to old friend Ben Cantrell, the San Diego-based species hunter.

Ben Cantrell. And Cora the Cat.

Ben had been down to this area a couple of years ago, and he generously shared his contacts with me. One of these is a graduate student researching a group of small fish found in this area – the Goodeids. Her name is Arely Ramirez, one day to be Dr. Arely Ramirez, and she volunteered a day of her time to help in my species quest. It’s random kindness like this that makes me forget that someone took my wallet and was trying to use my American Express at Walmart less than an hour later. I smiled at the thought of sharing an experience with Tom Lehrer, who has been a hero of mine since childhood. In that very same song, he describes the majesty of a bullfight –

For there is surely nothing more beautiful in this world, than the sight of a lone man, facing singlehandedly,

half a ton of angry pot roast.

He later continues with –

I haven’t had so much fun since the day that my brother’s dog Rover got run over …

Rover was killed by a Pontiac. And it was done with such grace and artistry, that the witnesses awarded the driver both ears and the tail.

But I digress.

I landed in Mexico City at 7:30pm. I figured an hour with customs and bags, then an hour to the hotel, leaving me plenty of time to eat and put gear together. This was an underestimation of epic proportions. Customs took over three hours. They had the same number of staff working the desks regardless of how many flights showed up, but God forbid I enter the country illegally – there are consequences for that here. But there was entertainment – I ran into a former co-worker from my Macromedia days. Cory Lovell was one of our top sales guys back then, a classic dot-com boom youngster with amazing hair and incredible product knowledge. We should have been happy he was selling software for us, but we did pick on him occasionally, like when we moved his Vespa into his office, then disabled the elevator.

He still has fantastic hair.

So it was after midnight when I finished dinner and was ready for bed. That 4am wakeup call was going to come awfully fast.

My driver was Guillermo, and as I dragged my sorry tail down to the lobby, it was scant consolation that he also had to be up in the middle of the night. Of course, he would be the one driving for the next 16 hours, so I could only hope he had a good night’s sleep. 16 hours is a long day, but he was Guillermo, and where there’s a Will, there’s a way.

Guillermo the driver.

It was five-plus hours out to Morelia, where we had set a meeting with Arely at the local Wal-Mart. Guillermo was great – fast but responsible. I passed the time catching up on email and watching the sun rise over the hilly, desert terrain.

Sunrise.

We got to Morelia, and I was looking forward to stretching my legs and buying more Red Bull. I met Arely there in the parking lot – I recognized her from pictures and it is hard to miss her irrepressible enthusiasm. I still can’t get over that she took a day off to help a stranger find the same fish she must look at almost every day.

Unfortunately, somewhere between the parking lot and the bathroom, my wallet was lifted. I reacted with more disgust than panic, but it was going to be a huge inconvenience. We got Guillermo heading for the lake, and then I got on the phone with a parade of credit card companies, cancelling accounts and setting up replacements. This is when an American Express Gold really pays for itself – they organized all the hotels and transportation for the rest of my South America trip, and a replacement card that would catch up with me in Buenos Aires. I am sure this was not the conversation Arely was looking forward to, but by the time we got close to La Luz, I had things as squared away as I was going to.

So, we could finally talk fishing. Arely is doing a doctorate in biological sciences, focused on conservation of the native Goodeids in Zacapu Lake.

Arely on TV, discussing conservation topics. Shes on the far right. Of the studio.

There are over 40 of these fish, and I hadn’t caught any of them. She had mostly done netting for research, but she was confident that I could get a few on hook and line. The spot she had recommended was La Luz, a lovely spring-fed lake that features quite a few endemic species. It is also a very popular destination for local folks to come swimming and making loud noises that scare fish. But I still figured we could find a quiet corner and track down some species.

La Luz.

Looking in the water, I could see dozens of small fish swimming around, which is a pleasing sight after seven hours of driving. I set up a micro-hook with a fleck of Gulp worm, and set to it. The first fish was a Barred Splitfin. (Chapalichthys encaustus, for those of you who care about such things, as I’m sure most of you do because the common names in this fish family can be confusing.)

The barred splitfin. This is Arely’s picture. Hers were better than mine.

My picture. See what I mean?

The first species of the day.

My largest barred splitfin, 14 ounces shy of a world record.

Moments later, I stumbled into another micro – Zoogoneticus purhepechus, which I am calling the “La Luz Goodeid,” because it didn’t have a common name listed on Fishbase.org.

Thank goodness for the spots, because this would look like another mosquitofish to me otherwise.

There was clearly at least one more species down there, a rounder, slower-swimming creature that seemed more reluctant to bite. The Barred Splitfins seemed to be the most aggressive, so I got quite a few more of those, and I started driving myself crazy by locating one of the rounder fish, putting a bait on its nose, and then having a Barred Splitfin charge in and steal it. This is where Arely again saved the day. Weeks before, I had told her that it would be ideal to have some worms along on the trip, but I was also aware that there aren’t a lot of places that you can just walk in and buy worms in central Mexico. I brought the topic up, and she smiled and produced a styrofoam cup full of red worms. Bingo.

I put a fleck of worm on the tenago hook, and that sorted out the mystery fish in a heartbeat.

These were Spotted Skiffia, Skiffia multipunctata. My photo.

Arely’s photo. Same critter.

We celebrate the skiffia. 

With three quick species, I was ecstatic, but I knew there were at least two more in the lake – the Bulldog Goodeid and the Mexican Redhorse. We began walking the shoreline, which was jammed with kids playing and splashing and doing whatever it is when you turn kids loose near water. I had been warned the place would be loud, and it was. But after half an hour of searching, we spotted a small school of the bulldogs. They were much larger than the other fish, approaching decent bluegill size, but they were surprisingly cautious. I had to set up a light float and a bigger bait to get their attention, but they were fun to catch once they got going.

Aloophorus robustus, the Bulldog Goodeid.

She may be the only person more enthusiastic about this than me. What a smile.

We spent another hour hunting for the redhorse. I am especially fascinated with sucker species, as it was once said, although not by a particularly wise man, that “You’re not s### until you’ve caught a sucker.” (In the mistaken belief I had not caught one. I currently had 28 different sucker species, but who’s counting?) It would not become 29 on this day. We saw a couple of redhorse on the very edge of visibility in the clear water, but these are notoriously skittish and they were not going to bite. I gave it a game try, but Arely had a few more spots in mind, and I was still facing seven more hours of driving back to Mexico City. We found Guillermo in the parking lot and headed for another lake about an hour to the east.

The countryside was dry but lovely, and time passed quickly.

Scenery on the way from La Luz to Zacapu.

There are more than 40 species of Goodeid in the general area, and Arely knows where every one of them lives. Her enthusiasm was absolutely infectious – I was ready to spend a week there. If we had a few more days, I’m sure she could have found me dozens of species – I’m looking forward to coming back, especially to chase that redhorse. (And in case that particularly demented commentator happens to be reading this and deciding that I’m not s### in Mexico because I haven’t caught a sucker there, I point out that oh yes I have.)

We stopped at another gorgeous lake, just past a charming country town.

A charming country town.

We tried two spots without success – these were again popular family destinations and I think the fish were holed up until things got quieter. I was still ahead four species.

But it was lovely.

We headed for Morelia to drop off Arely. It would have been great to give her way too much money for all the worms and such, but I had no wallet, so it was she who ended up buying all the Red Bull for my trip home. What a kind person. (And I did pay her back via PayPal, because I know at least one of you was going to ask.)

It was dark by the time we left Morelia. Guillermo was alert and settled in, I had a few emails and a few more wallet details to take care of, and the time passed quickly. I was close to 11 when we pulled up at the hotel, where a concierge was waiting with a temporary credit card, some cash for me to carry, and a delightful room service dinner. I had two more major fishing destinations ahead of me in the next ten days, and everything was still on track, so a big thanks to the Marriott Santa Fe, a bigger thanks to American Express, but the biggest thanks of all to Arely, who made the whole day possible.

Steve

 

Posted by: 1000fish | May 29, 2019

Out of Africa

Dateline: February 1, 2019 – Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

I knew that February first would be my last day fishing in Tanzania. (For now. Marta wants to hike Kilamanjaro, so I’ll be back.) But what to do for a closing act? The Africa trip had been great fun – three new countries, ten species and counting, and five completely unexpected world records. I had given plenty of thought to my world record totals – I was now at 194, and 200 is a milestone reached by two anglers ever – Marty and Martini. (With Roberta on their heels.) But after three days of fishing, I have to admit I was growing tired of pulling tiny pieces of wood out of my rump. The walk out to the boat was also becoming a bit of a trial, although I did get to feed Bahati the kitten again. She looked less wretched.

The walk out to the boat. High heels not recommended.

The Oyster Bay fleet at dawn.

Just as we were ready to launch, one of the other boats got stuck. My guys stopped everything and went over to help – Hamissi told me later they didn’t even know the other fishermen, but that everyone in the bay helps everyone else. I think of our American harbors, where boaters lay on the horn for someone who is at the launch a moment too long, and I think we could learn a thing or two. (Unless I am delayed while trying to launch a boat, of course, in which case the horn is mandatory.)

In addition to the butt splinters, I had also developed heat rash. This was my first ever experience with prickly heat, and it is something you should avoid. I have spent years fishing in hot climates without developing a case, so I’m struggling to come up with a reason why it decided to happen now. Marta suggests it is a sign of aging. Dr. Marty Arostegui suggests that I should have showered more often. With soap.

A closeup of the bench. It looks smooth because all the rough edges were stuck in the back of my legs. There will be no heat rash photos. It wasn’t pretty.

In talking to Mohammed, it would seem our best shot at new species would be close inshore. We had pounded the deeper reefs earlier in the trip, but he thought we might find something new much shallower. I brought two pillows from the hotel, one for each butt cheek, and I hoped this would finally stop the splinters, because any more wood in my butt and I would need to wipe with Varathane.

We spent most of the morning catching endless small emperors and monocle breams. Great sport, but not the variety I was looking for. Mohammed and the crew kept hauling up the anchor and trying new places, many of them in just a few feet of water over lovely coral reef. The wrasses were relentless, but alas, nothing new.

But they are beautiful.

I had my hopes raised by a strange-looking baitfish, but it turned out to be a striped mackerel, a species I had caught in Malaysia.

Fish should only be allowed to live in a maximum of five countries.

I had put down a bigger set of hooks with squid on them, and when I reeled them up, I was surprised to find a very small moray attached. It was just as vicious as its larger cousins, but as I outweighed it by 222.75 pounds and am at least twice as smart as it, I managed to avoid serious injury. Weeks later, Dr. Jeff Johnson identified the beast as the rather unusual lipspot moray, my 11th species of the trip.

For scale, that’s a washcloth.

As it got late, Mohammed moved us to one last spot on a deeper reef edge. I dropped down a few light bait rigs, and got two nice fish right away. The first one was a small but spirited sky emperor – a species I had caught in Egypt.

They pull hard.

The next cast got me another enthusiastic hit, and this was a new one – the honeycomb filefish. This would be the 12th and final new species I got based in Dar es Salaam.

Another one I had admired in books for years.

Just as I finished photographing the filefish, my other rod, set with a bait on the bottom, started bouncing. I carefully reeled into it, and felt the characteristic heavy head shakes of a moray. I swung it onto the deck, and was absolutely thrilled. It was a greyface moray – also known as a geometric moray – and while I had caught one before (in Jordan,) this example would be big enough for a world record.

I was done for the day – a great way to close things out.

The eel gets to enjoy the bench. He was safely released, by the way.

It was a perfect last catch for a great day. We headed in, on flat water, enjoying the views of Oyster Bay.

That’s the Doubletree. A nice hotel in an upscale part of town – I felt perfectly safe walking around the neighborhood. For those of you who do things other than fish, there were quite a few food and shopping options.

The team. I was going to call them “Team Tanzania,” but they would prefer to be known as “Team Zanzibar.”

I said my goodbyes to the guys, and left them with some equipment, hats, tips, and eternal gratitude. This was beyond just working hard – they had gone well beyond anything I could have reasonably expected. All three of them clearly got my passion for catching whatever was down there, and despite the language barrier, and the sun, and the waves, they had all become more fishing buddies than guides. It was sundown when I got back to the hotel and ate a curiously good chicken quesadilla.

Sunset on Oyster Bay.

It had been an extraordinary week and a half. Thirteen more species, taking me to 1840 lifetime. Three new countries, to put me at 94. Six records, to put me in shouting distance of 200. New friends. New splinters. On the flight out that night, I was completely exhausted and wanted to sleep, but the woman next to me had a toddler with an attitude. When the little guy finally fell asleep, exhausted from snarling, his Mom crashed on my shoulder. I didn’t have the heart to wake her.

She slept like this for around two hours, and I didn’t move, as a tribute to Moms everywhere.

I thought of my own Mom, who would have wondered why in the world I was fishing all the way in east Africa, but most of all, I thought of the Mother cat, who came back for Bahati the kitten.

Steve

 

Posted by: 1000fish | May 18, 2019

Farrokh Bulsara

DATELINE: January 31, 2019 – Kazimkari, Zanzibar

Our second morning, we decided to make the 35 mile run to Zanzibar, so I could add one more country to my list. (It’s semi-autonomous, and I go by the Century Club listing, so, for example, Wales and Gibraltar would count as countries, Cleveland might, but Berkeley doesn’t no matter how much they complain.) Mohammed is from Zanzibar, so he knew the coastal waters very well, and he was certain that the fishing there would be better than what we had found in Tanzania. As it turns out, they thought that pretty much everything in Zanzibar was better – there is a definite rivalry between the two. Hamissi was quite proud of his Zanzibar soccer jersey – I never did find one to take home.

It was a bumpy run all the way over, two hours of my tender buttocks banging on a sliver-laden wooden plank. You have no idea how hard it is to dig slivers out of your ass using a pair of tweezers, laying across the bathroom counter to use the mirror, and I pray you never find out. (Unless you work for Lufthansa customer service, in which case, may a forest of dry oak fragments violate your hamstrings. I tried to change one of my flights down here by one day, to a nearly empty airplane, and you would think I asked them to sacrifice their children.)

In the swells, I was mostly concerned with keeping breakfast down, but now and then, I would look over my shoulder and see if land had come into view. Finally, there it was – the coastline of Zanzibar. I’m not sure what associations Zanzibar may have for you, but for me, there is only one – it is the birthplace of Farrokh Bulsara. I can hear you asking – “Who, or what, is Farrokh Bulsara? And why, Steve, are you going on another one of your tangents?” Because Farrokh changed my life. He was a singer, and it was his soaring voice that provided the soundtrack for my high school years. He was born in Zanzibar, and years later, after his family had emigrated to England, he fronted a band. He changed his name to Freddie Mercury, and as you know from here, the band was Queen.

“A Night at the Opera” was the first album I ever bought with my own money.

“We are the Champions” is what Sean Biggs and I belted out at the top of our lungs when we finally won the BHA Bantam hockey title in 1978, but for some reason, another song came to mind when I saw Zanzibar.

I want it all, I want it all, I want it all

and I want it now

I had my Seaside Rendezvous in Zanzibar. Now all I had to do was catch a fish, and I would be at 94 countries. We dropped anchor on the edge of a big reef and started dropping baits. After a few tentative nibbles, something went full-bore after my squid strip and started peeling line. It was an emperor, and a decent one – bigger than anything I had gotten on day one. This family of fish is found through the Indo-Pacific, and they pull hard. It was a great start.

Kids, don’t try to ID these yourself. They can change colors and patterns pretty much randomly.

We went through a few decent fish – all larger than our catches yesterday. Groupers, jacks, rabbitfish – all good fights, but nothing new. (Not that I really worried about it at the time – good fishing is good fishing.) Mohammed and team kept changing spots, which doesn’t seem like much until I explain that they had to manually pull a heavy anchor out of the reef every time we wanted to reset. A normal fishing guide doesn’t usually work this hard – these guys really wanted to see me catch every possible fish.

A white-edged lyretail grouper. Marta caught this species several years before I finally did.

Spotted rabbitfish. These are very, very venomous – do NOT put this in your pants.

I was not going to bring four pounds of jigs all the way from the USA and not use at least one – that’s not how we Play the Game. I started tossing a one ounce metal lure over the reef. I had several hits before something stayed hooked – it unceremoniously ripped out 200 yards of line and broke me off on the reef. I was disgusted, but The Show Must Go On, and even though I was Under Pressure, I raced Headlong into casting another rig as soon as I could tie it. I thought “Don’t Stop Me Now,” and I hooked up again almost instantly. It was another fast, line-peeling fish, and after about 15 minutes, I landed a nice orange-spotted trevally.

I’d caught them before, but they’re A Kind of Magic fish.

Later in the morning, I cast some sabikis to check on the small fish. I got some of the usual goatfish and monocle breams, but then I hit a sandperch that looked like it could be new. Courtesy of Dr. Jeff Johnson of the Queensland Museum, it was identified as a spotted sandperch.

I love these things.

The next new species threw me off a bit on the ID. I’m sure you would look at that long tail and think it was some kind of anthias. Me too. But it wasn’t. If you look closely, especially at the face, you can tell it’s a really frilly version of a hawkfish.

My second species of the day and 1835 overall. This is the general size of anthias species, which is what threw me off so badly in Kenya last year.

On my next sabiki drop, I had a few taps and then a solid thump. When I set the hook, the rod stopped dead, and then the fish took off for Diego Garcia. Big fish sometime eat sabikis, and this is usually a time of quick and painful reflection, in the instant before the line breaks. But I was using P-Line sabikis (which use a heavier leader than Hayabusas) so I had a chance. I backed off on the drag and chased the fish around the rail for half an hour. I slowly started making progress, and after a 38 minute fight, we landed a green jobfish.

Jamie Hamamoto would call this an “uku.”

It’s always hard to get me away from bait, but late in the afternoon, I saw some fish splashing around the edge of the reef and started tossing a “Mad Hungarian” swimbait. A few casts later, I got smashed – whatever it was peeled line off so fast I thought about pulling anchor. But there is always a lot more braid on a spinning reel than you think there is, and I managed to turn the fish before I got spooled. It was a splashy, aerial fight, and as it got closer, I could see it was a needlefish. But which needlefish? If it was a regular Agujon, it would be a nice catch, but if it was a keel-jawed needlefish, it would be a world record.

I believe it is a keeljaw, and as of press time, the record application is pending at the IGFA. My first keeljaw was with Jamie in June of 2016.

I went back to the small baits on the reef and got another group of emperors and goatfish, followed by a big hit and a screaming run on my lightest spinning rod. I ended up landing a larger version of our old friend – the red-toothed triggerfish.

At a pound and a quarter, it would be world record #192. I was breaking a record set in Oman in 2011. Another One Bites the Dust.

It was getting late in the afternoon, and we had a two hour ride home ahead of us, so I had Mohammed start us on our way. I got the feeling he would have stayed out past dark if I asked – the whole crew really seemed to want me to catch as much as I possibly could. About halfway home, we spotted birds diving, and as we got closer, we could also see tuna boiling everywhere. Mohammed skillfully positioned us upwind and we drifted into the feeding frenzy, close enough for me to fire a metal jig into the fracas. I hooked up immediately. It was a hard, vibrating fight, clearly some kind of tuna. It turned out to be bullet tuna, about three pounds, and as I landed it, we were still in the center of the action.

A bullet tuna. I’m not sure if that blood is from the fish or my leg.

I got another, and another, as quickly as I could clear the jig and cast again. Then, just like that, the birds moved off and the school disappeared. You might say things took a tern for the worse.

We ran to Zanzibar again the next day, over a much smoother sea. The ride passed quickly, as I had learned to take a hotel bath towel to belatedly pad my poor, splinter-afflicted buttocks. This was about as sore as my rear end has ever been, and my rear end has been pretty sore a few times, but this felt like Death on Two Legs.

We anchored up a bit further north than we had yesterday, and I immediately caught a hogfish, the same species I had whined about already catching in Hawaii when I got it in Kenya last year.  But, just like Cousin Chuck’s honeymoon, things got confusing quickly. It turns out that the hogfish in Hawaii, Bodianus albotaeniatus, is endemic to Hawaii. And that means that this hogfish is indeed something else – B. bilunulatus – the tarry hogfish, which is what I thought I had been catching all along. Species hunting is an endless process of learning – no ID is ever fully safe.

A new species! Hurray! The Kenya blog has been updated. I This would count as species 1836. 1836 is the year Davy Crockett died at the Alamo. Although the Fess Parker version is my favorite, Billy Bob Thornton gets big points for his line “So you’re Santa Ana. I thought you’d be taller.”

I went about my morning, unaware that these life-changing developments awaited me once I got back online. We got a few more red-toothed triggerfish, and one of them was a beast – a pound and a half. This broke my record from yesterday and would qualify as record #193.

That’s a big red-toothed triggerfish.

This is why they are called red-toothed triggerfish.

The morning passed pleasantly. We had relatively flat water, Good Company, the fish were biting, and every bite was a chance of something new and unusual. I started pulling up pennant coralfish – a species I had gotten before in Thailand, but always a thrill to see.

Nemo fans – this is NOT a Moorish Idol.

Throughout the three days of the trip so far, I had always set one medium rod out on the bottom with a big lump of squid, hoping to attract a moray. I knew there were some interesting eel species in the area, both for my lifetime total and for world records. We’d had a couple of decent bites thus far, but no hookups. I was staring expectantly at the rod tip, because I do that sort of thing, and it finally did what I wanted it do. It pulled down hard, about six inches, then pounded a few times and went down another six inches. Then it slowly sank until the rod tip was nearly in the water. I pulled the rod out of the holder and gently reeled into what turned out to be a short but violent fight, and when the fish surfaced, I was thrilled. It was a laced moray, a new species and world record #194.

I may be the only person who likes to catch these on purpose, but I was ecstatic with record #194.

Once of the more attractive morays I have ever gotten, and it didn’t bite off any fingers, so that’s a plus. I released it in the harbor after we weighed it later, and the crew was not pleased to have it swimming around in ankle-deep water.

I couldn’t help pulling out the small, metal lures late in the day. I got a few familiar jacks, but I also landed one that I didn’t think I had seen previously.

This is a coastal jack – a new species and #1837 if you’re playing along at home.

It was late when we finally set a course for Dar es Salaam, but I could tell Mohammed was reluctant to interrupt a great day of fishing.

Mohammed and the crew. They worked their tails off to make it a great trip.

Pulling in to Oyster Bay. I fed Bahati the kitten again when we landed.

We didn’t see any tuna on the way home, which was fine, and as we eased into Oyster Bay, I knew I had a surprisingly good chicken quesadilla ahead of me – and one more day of fishing.

Steve

PS – See how many Queen song titles you can find in the text. The bidding starts at 10.

 

Posted by: 1000fish | May 4, 2019

The Wretched Kitten

Dateline: January 29, 2019 – Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

This was not the introduction I wanted to Tanzania. We had just stepped on to a beach crowded with wooden fishing skiffs, but the first thing I saw was the most wretched, miserable kitten I have ever seen. She was barely old enough to open her eyes, emaciated, soaking wet, lost, and mewing piteously for a mother who had likely abandoned her.

Her fur was matted down, she was tangled in a patch of seaweed, and her legs trembled so badly that each uncertain step seemed to go nowhere. And no one was doing anything. We sometimes forget that the real world isn’t Disney, and in this third world country, people had enough trouble feeding themselves, let alone a stray animal. Marta would have simply adopted it right then and there, but my companions were in a hurry, and I felt like a monster for walking away. (Note that Marta would have adopted it despite the fact I am allergic to cats. Every time I point this out, she calls me a wuss.)

And what had brought me half a world away, to Oyster Bay, Tanzania? A Boeing 737 MAX, ironically, but the real reason was, as always, fishing. Surely you knew that, unless you found this blog looking for Apple computer. I’m not that guy. I’ve caught more fish than he has. I’m probably a marginally better dancer, but he has a full head of hair and quite a bit of money, so we’ll call it even.

Yes, I’ve met him.

Africa fishing is never easy to set up, but finding a boat in Tanzania was especially challenging. Sure, I travel a lot for business, and while this gives me opportunities to go fishing in cool places, I can’t always choose the timing. Since I was already in Europe for meetings, I had decided to make a swing through Africa. Ethiopia had been a success, by the modest fishing standards one would expect of Ethiopia, but Tanzania has some big-time opportunities, like dogtooth tuna. But, alas, January is not the season. I figured there still had to be something to catch, but that’s where the trail went cold.

I finally found a serious professional guide. Jason Alexiou is based in Tanzania and has a website full of dogtooth pictures. I often look at dogtooth pictures late at night when Marta is snoring. (I have excellent video of her snoring, but the editor won’t let me publish it.)

Jason with a line class record dogtooth. You can reach him on fishing_tz@yahoo.com. Note: this will be the biggest fish in this blog. If you’re looking for big fish pictures, skip this and go to Jason’s website.

Another beast from Tanzania. I have to get one of these someday. Right after my spearfish.

Jason warned me that this was the wrong time of year, and that he was fully booked in late January. Normally, the conversation would stop there. But he still wanted to help with my quest, and after a spirited email exchange, he had arranged a winning option. He knew a local commercial guy, Mohammed, who fished the reefs around Dar es Salaam and, even more interestingly, around southern Zanzibar. (A chance to add another country!) Jason warned me it was a basic boat, and that the guide did not speak any English, but I knew if I could just get on the water we could figure it out.

Well beyond the call of duty, Jason arranged logistics down to the minute. (No mean feat anywhere in Africa.) As I landed at Dar es Salaam, I got a text telling me that Mohammed and a “translator” would meet me at 3pm at the hotel, and so I waited in the lobby at 3pm.

The Doubletree Oyster Bay.

And there they were. Mohammed was a friendly guy with a ready smile, and Hamissi, who looked to be a teenager, would act as translator. Translating for me is a rotten job. I talk quickly, I rarely pause, and I ask loads of questions in the same sentence. As Hamissi worked through my dozens of requests, it became clear that Mohammed knew what he was doing. Hamissi’s English was much, much better than my Swahili, and the fish photos on our respective iPhones did the rest. After a Coke in the lobby, we decided to go take a look at the boat where we would spend the next four days.

From left to right – Steve, Hamissi, Mohammed. This photo was taken moments after I saw the wretched kitten.

We looked at the boat – “Mwangamizi Wa Mwili.” It was indeed basic, and launching would involve a trudge through the mud.

Remember, we would be going on the open ocean.

But it floated, and I knew there had to be plenty of strange fish out on the reefs. I looked for the kitten on the way out, but she was gone. I went back to the Doubletree, had an improbably good chicken quesadilla for dinner, and got some rest. Morning came quickly.

Sunrise over Oyster Bay.

I looked for the kitten on my way to the boat in the morning, but she was gone. Of course, I hadn’t dared to tell Marta about it, because she would call me a monster and make me go adopt it. The weather was warm enough, but very breezy. I knew this would mean bumpy water, but I was here and I was going to fish. We were joined by a third crewman, Haijulikani. The four of us dragged the boat through about 100 yards of mud and launched from there.

I settled into the front bench of the boat. (Some of my co-workers pointed out that my athletic career should have prepared me for sitting on a bench for long stretches. Ha ha.) The bench must have been designed by Germans, with an eye toward extracting information from political enemies. It was an old, splintery plank, set just far enough off the deck where my feet didn’t reach, so all of my 223 pounds was resting on the backs of my thighs right on that infernal board. Every bounce drove splinters into my legs.

We ran about an hour to the south, and set up on some medium-deep reefs – about 125 feet. For the time being, I forgot about the box of toothpicks under my skin and got fishing. Action was quick. I pulled up a few puffers – Suez puffers, a species I had caught in Israel 10 years ago, but it was a fish, and I was in Tanzania.

That made 93 countries on my list.

I was thrilled to add a country – this gets harder and harder to do, and I have no idea what the next one will be. But the next fish was a new species – a slender threadfin bream.

My first new species in Tanzania.

This family is found throughout the Indo-Pacific – I’ve caught them as far afield as Thailand and Japan, but there helpfully seems to be a different type in each location. (Goatfish should take a hint from this.) I then got an assortment of small emperors before I found another new fish – the harlequin sand perch.

Thanks to Dr. Jeff Johnson of the Queensland Museum for another ID.

We tried a few different spots, which meant the whole crew had to hand-heave the anchor back up. Action remained constant, albeit with relatively small fish, which is a reporting of fact rather than a complaint, because if you think I have any pride associated with fish size, you must be a new reader. Welcome! As we started the afternoon, one of my light rigs got hit hard, and I was into a respectable fight. After several minutes of uncertainty, I landed a starry triggerfish – a new species. I had admired these in fish books for years. Through Hamissi, Mohammed let me know that they didn’t see this species very often.

The starry triggerfish.

They look like this right out of the water.

Best of all, it weighed a pound, and it would qualify as my 190th IGFA world record. This also led to some reflection – by my math, this put me 10 records away from 200. I wonder if that would qualify me for a second lifetime achievement award, but then quickly realized that Marta would put it in the garage, especially after she found out about the kitten.

Late in the day, I stumbled into two more new ones. The first was another threadfin bream – the Delagoa.

This would be my sixth species in Nemipterus. Jamie Hamamoto has zero.

I also added another puffer – the “Half-smooth golden puffer.” There’s a smooth puffer. There’s a golden puffer. And there is apparently a half-smooth golden puffer.

Half of it is smooth.

Haijulikani and Mohammed on the way home.

So the first day had been a rousing success – five new species, taking me to 1833, and a record. As we headed in, I thought about the kitten again. Overwhelmed by guilt, and faintly fearful of Marta, I walked back to the beach with a handful of fish scraps, determined to feed every stray I could find. But I only ended up feeding two. Somehow, improbably, the wretched kitten was there, and she had found her Mother.

I fed them until they wandered away, completely full. Even if they were destined for a much rougher life than the average American housecat, at least this afternoon, they would be well-fed. I named the kitten Bahati, which means “lucky” in Swahili, because their word for “wretched” is “Tabuu,” and that would be a weird name for a cat.

Steve

Posted by: 1000fish | April 19, 2019

Land of Origins

Dateline: January 26, 2019 – Lake Zway, Ethiopia

You would think Ethiopia would be an unlikely place for me to visit a relative, but we could actually all visit a cousin there. Her name is Lucy. At 3.2 million years old, at the time she was discovered, she was the oldest known human ancestor, just edging out Joan Collins. Lucy’s skeleton was found in 1974 in Eastern Ethiopia, and in the ensuing 45 years, she has been studied more than any other 12 year-old on the planet. And somewhere in the complex pea soup of human origins, she is all of our cousin. I am sure this is going to get some hostile comments, likely from the same people who went nuts when I hinted that Custer wasn’t exactly an American hero, but deal with it.

She has had an enormous influence on science, even without her own Instagram and YouTube channels.

And what, you are already asking, does this have to do with fishing? Because, you are thinking, even Steve is not dedicated enough to make a trip to Ethiopia just to go fishing, because, you imagine (correctly) that there is not a lot of fishing there. But this is what separates the casual from the pathological species hunter – the willingness to go to increasingly esoteric places in the hopes of adding just one or two more fish to “the list.” Plus, it was on the way to other destinations in East Africa, but that is a tale for the next blog.

When I was figuring out my first trip of 2019, sometime last winter, Ethiopia kept popping up. I had flown through there on my way to Kenya in 2018, and it always bothers me when I visit a country and don’t go fishing there. I actually keep a small kit of handlines in my carry-on, just in case an airport has something swimming around a decorative fountain. But Addis Ababa lacks such a feature, which bothered me. So, on my way back into Africa, I decided to make a brief stopover in “the land of origins” and somehow find a way to catch a fish there.

A geography refresher on where we find Addis Ababa.

This is where the internet can be such a wonderful thing. After 20 minutes of online searching, I found Biniam Taye.

The first photo I found of Biniam. There is water in the background. Bingo!

Biniam runs a tour company in Ethiopia, where there are actually loads of things to see – ancient monasteries, archaeological sites as old as time, rugged scenery, and wonderful, warm people. As you all know, I didn’t see any of these things. Instead, I took a perfectly good tour guide out of his comfort zone and asked him to find me some endemic Ethiopian fish. (Because some genius has also put rainbow trout here.) In an email stream that never seemed to lose enthusiasm, Biniam designed a two-day adventure in and out of Addis Ababa that would give me a shot at getting some kind of fish and at least putting Ethiopia on my country list. But first, I had to get there.

I had to be in Europe for business, so I was already more than halfway to Africa. After a thrilling week of company “kickoff meetings,” where hopelessly out-of-touch “leadership” explains increasingly confusing “plans” to consistently fewer “employees,” I was winging my way south. It’s about eight hours to Addis Ababa from Frankfurt, and Ethiopian Air, despite the recent tragedy, has always been nothing but on time and reliable for me. (And I’ll bet you a steak dinner that the Addis Ababa crash turns out to be Boeing’s fault.)

I arrive in Addis Ababa.

Biniam, a slight man with an irrepressible smile, met me after baggage claim and whisked me off to the Hilton downtown. Nobody said I was roughing it, although the pancakes at the buffet were a bit lukewarm.

And I know at least a few of my more hipster friends looked at the dateline and said “Oh, yay! Ethiopian food!” No, no. no. It’s like you haven’t paid attention for nine years. I am not culinarily adventurous, and this didn’t suddenly change. I subsisted the entire time on REI freeze-dried camping food and the aforementioned Hilton buffet, much to Biniam’s quiet disappointment. I am sure many of you would love the local cuisine, and I certainly encourage you to visit, but if Marta tries to drag me to one more “fun” restaurant that doesn’t serve things I recognize, I will eat Burger King for a week just to protest.

The next morning, Biniam and Alemayehu the driver picked me up early and we headed south. Addis Ababa is a giant city, and we worked our way through traffic for close to an hour, but when we got out of the urban sprawl, we were suddenly in wide-open high desert. Less than an hour later, we pulled over at our first fishing stop – the Awash River.

My first look at the Awash.

Traffic jam on the bridge.

I got out and looked at the conditions – shallow, cloudy river, bridge pilings, plenty of vegetation – and I was fairly confident I could catch something. Lucy had lived in the Awash River Valley, a few hundred miles upstream.

The locals here don’t see a lot of tourists, and they certainly don’t see a lot of tourist fishermen, so I attracted quite a crowd. They were very polite, even the kids – they just wanted to see what I was doing.

I didn’t put on much of a show. I ran a float and bait in all the likely shallow structures and got nothing. Biniam then told me he had rented a boat for us – one of the local wooden skiffs. I boarded carefully, although the things are much sturdier than they look. The boatman rowed us out to some current breaks a half mile downriver.

Biniam enjoys the boat ride.

I watched some other fishermen pulling up some of the thousands of nets that line the river, and all of them were full of sharptooth catfish. This made me feel better, but after an hour out there, it was clear the things weren’t going to hit any of the baits I had. We still had an afternoon of lake fishing ahead of us, so I did not lose heart, but it was clear that this was not going to be easy. My inner pessimist started saying things like “You’re fishing in ETHIOPIA. What did you think was going to happen?”

Once we got back to shore, I couldn’t help but run my float and micro-rig back though some anchored boats and pilings. About 10 minutes later, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the float dip under the water. I set and missed, but as Martini can tell you, once I see a bite, it is difficult to get me to leave. I stuck it out without repeating the bite for at least an hour, but just as my resolve was waning, the float dipped again. Despite the fact that my inner child was screaming “OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGOD,” I managed to remain outwardly calm and let it swim for a moment. I then gently set and had a fish on. It pulled reasonably hard, and with a delicate tanago hook on, I had to be careful. A long minute later, I landed a small sharptooth catfish and added Ethiopia as the 92nd country where I had caught a fish.

Biniam may have been more thrilled than I was.

It was also nice to catch an African sharptooth catfish in Africa. My only other one was a random catch in a pond in Thailand with our old friend Jean-Francois.

We headed for the lake a while later. We went through a few small towns, but the scenery was mostly open scrub.

And the occasional marabou stork blocking our way. These birds are four feet tall and fearless.

We arrived at Batu Town mid-afternoon, and after a quick check-in at the hotel Bethlehem and a bag of REI beef stew, I was ready to hunt the lake for species. We met a local boatman and his son at the launch, and I couldn’t help but marvel at what a big place lake Zway was.

The son was an incredibly serious kid. 

I could see a few islands and some hills in the distance, but I couldn’t make out the other shore. We motored out onto the lake – it was shallow, but it looked like it had enough structure to hold a good population of fish.

Lake Zway.

In researching the topic, I had discovered that there were seven species of fish living here, and I hadn’t caught five of them. So I had high hopes. But I always have high hopes, whether reasonable or not.

We pulled up on a scenic island about five miles out. Biniam pointed out the ruins of an ancient monastery, where it is alleged the Ark of the Covenant once was kept, although I could see no signs of Indiana Jones. He even asked if I wanted to go look at it, which means he doesn’t know me all that well – of course, I was going to fish. I set up a couple of rods with decent-sized baits in hopes of catching one of the endemic cyprinids, and then got my micro-rig out. The group marveled at the tininess of my hook. Now I know how Jim Larosa feels.

The shoreline we fished.

The big rods were suspiciously quiet, but I kept busy working the shoreline rocks. After about an hour, I had no hits, but stuck stubbornly at it, because I didn’t have any better ideas. Somewhere in hour two, I worked my way to some rocks under an overhanging tree, and my teensy float finally dipped. I missed it completely. I cast again. After a few tries, I got hit again, and hooked up some sort of micro. In my excitement, I set the hook a bit too hard and fired the thing 10 feet up onto the bank, but after a brief chase, I cornered it and took photos.

I had captured a Garra – which is sort of an African stoneroller.

And with that, I exploded with joy, to the great astonishment and barely-concealed amusement of my companions. But there is no room for shame in the species-hunting world. I had gotten my first species of 2019, and I had done it very far from home.

A closeup of the beast.

The big rods stayed quiet. Late in the day, we moved to another spot on the island and gave the bigger fish another try.

The back side of the island was mostly cliffs.

The group – me, the boatman, the serious child, and Biniam.

The fish didn’t cooperate, as often happens in places where there is tremendous fishing pressure and nets everywhere, but this is not a sport fishery – this is what the people eat. Ethiopia is a poor country, and I was glad to have gotten what I did. We motored home into a beautiful sunset.

Heading home.

It was a quiet evening. After a bag of REI chili, I did a few emails, downloaded my photos, and took a short walk before I went to sleep. The fields behind the hotel opened onto miles of empty space and empty sky, not much changed since Lucy was looking up at it a few million years ago. I wonder what she would think of us now.

The same view in the daytime. In hindsight, I should have been worried about scorpions.

Random donkeys nuzzling by the water.

We gave it another shot in the morning, moving to a spot on the far north of the lake. For someone who has never fished, Biniam did a great job of maximizing our opportunities. If your travel plans include Ethiopia, you can find him at www.addistour.com. or reach him directly on info@addistour.com.

Heading out on day two.

Another marabou stork. These birds are awesome.

We got an assorted tilapia here and there, but nothing new to report. (I am done trying to tell the difference between a blue tilapia and a Nile tilapia. Any ideas out there?)

Again, the local kids were very interested in what I was doing. That’s Biniam and Alemayehu the driver (holding my rods) in the background as well.

We finished up back at the Awash River spot, where I got a few more small sharptooth. It had been a good trip – a country and a species, and there are supposed to be even more endemics in Northern Ethiopia, so you never know when I might return. Just as we started back on the main freeway, we were interrupted by a camel caravan.

They are really cool, even if they smell worse than my socks.

Looking toward the mountains.

I had also planned to pay Lucy a brief visit, figuring she was going to be at the National Museum of History in Addis Ababa. I had a few free hours the next morning before I would fly to Tanzania, and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the time. The night before this was supposed to happen, however, I made a shocking discovery. Lucy’s actual remains are displayed in Cleveland, where the scientist who discovered her was based. I was saddened to think I would never meet her, as there are some places even I will not travel.

Steve

 

Posted by: 1000fish | April 7, 2019

The Hall

Dateline: September 15, 2018 – Springfield, Missouri

It’s a rare occasion that leaves me speechless with awe, but we’re going add one here in the next thousand words … or so. This post originally wasn’t going to feature any fish, but I couldn’t help myself, so there will be a few. But mostly, I’ll be writing about one of the more amazing people I have ever had the privilege to know – Dr. Marty Arostegui – and his induction into the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame.

One of the very first 1000fish blog posts, in the dim historical mists of 2011, introduced you all to Marty, his amazing fishing exploits, his family, and the inspiration he would give me in my own adventures. I met Marty on a Saturday at an IGFA event; he and Roberta helped me feel at home in a room full of fishing celebrities. Our first fishing trip together was the next day. In the years since, I have been fortunate enough to share hundreds of hours on the water with the family, especially Martini, and indeed, most of the 1000fish blog posts that are actually entertaining have to do with them.

March 26, 2011.

March 27, 2011. My first bowfin. I added five species that morning.

I was at 1046 species the day we met, and in the years since, the Arosteguis have put me on 114 more. I was at 1827 as of this blog. That’s 15% of my catches in the time we’ve known each other.

But Marty always thinks it’s funny to make me deal with alligators. I fear alligators.

Marty was told he had been elected to this honor earlier in 2018, and the family invited some guests who had been key to Marty’s success – legendary guides like Alan Zaremba and Captain Bouncer Smith. Somewhere in there, I also got invited, possibly because they were concerned there might be leftovers at the buffet. I wouldn’t be more honored if they asked me to give away Kate Upton at Martini’s wedding. This is a man who has put 440 records on the books himself, and guided God knows how many more. More importantly, he has been a consistent and powerful voice for conservation.

So Martini and I had been wandering the Ozarks, eating irresponsibly and catching a species here and there. I had mentioned that our final destination would be Springfield, but I had neglected to mention the purpose of said destination. Springfield is known for many fine attractions – Dickerson Park Zoo comes to mind – but the unquestioned big show in town is the Wonders of Wildlife Aquarium and Museum, which was set up by Bass Pro Shops’ founder Johnny Morris and is where the Hall of Fame induction would take place. Imagine an awesome aquarium, a fishing museum, a wildlife museum, a Bass Pro Shop, the IGFA Hall of Fame, and soft serve ice cream all under one roof. I can only hope heaven is like this.

Oh this place is awesome.

Martini and I pulled into town on Friday night, just in time to take a decent shower and head out to dinner with the whole clan. I was secretly relieved to be eating real food, and less secretly relieved not to be looking at any more #&%$ black redhorse.

It was humbling to be at a dinner with three people who have more world records than I do. And with at least five people who know a whole lot more about catching fish that I do, six if you include the waitress. I was reminded of the first time I sat at a dinner table with this group, in early 2012. Shockingly, I didn’t do very much talking.

You might not recognize me with my mouth closed.

Marty was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1946. His childhood was relatively comfortable, and even as a youngster, he was always on the water, fishing or spearing. But the family suffered in the communist revolution and the repression that came with it. In November 1960, they emigrated to the USA. The grandson of a well-known doctor, Marty attended medical school at Miami, and went on to be a successful MD and an even more successful hospital administrator. He married, had a family, and somewhere in there, he did what smart, hard-working people often do – very well for himself. This gave him the freedom to fish when and where he wanted, and I have never seen someone embrace an opportunity as completely as he has.

Marty was very active in the Miami fishing club scene beginning in the 1970s, and his accomplishments there started to build what would become the ultimate fishing resume. Joining the Miami Rod and Reel Club, Marty attained Gold Rod Master Angler status, a feat accomplished by only five other individuals in the club’s history. He also was a frequent competitor in the Metropolitan South Florida Fishing Tournament (MET) and is one of only three people to qualify for the MET Hall of Fame.

Somewhere in there, he decided to put an IGFA record on his resume. His first record was a big tripletail on June 20, 1994.

I believe this is the fish. This took some digging.

An expert fly angler, he pursued fly and conventional records with equal skill. The numbers started piling up, and in May of 2007, Marty went into uncharted territory by setting his 200th record. It’s tough to beat these details out of Marty – he’d rather talk about conservation than his own exploits.

But his exploits are pretty darn amazing. Yes, that’s an arapaima. Yes, that’s a fly rod.

On the day of the event, I figured I would let the family hang without me for a few hours. But what do to in central Missouri on a beautiful fall Saturday? If you don’t know the answer, you must be a new reader. Welcome! Ben Cantrell was also a hero in this blog, suggesting a few nearby spots for me to try. I would have just enough time to take a shot at repairing my fishing dignity, grabbing lunch at Wendy’s, and getting back to Springfield in time to see the museum and attend the event.

Kora the cat belongs to Ben’s sister-in-law. She is basically a nice cat, but Ben’s brother found it amusing to drop her on Ben’s abdomen while Ben was trying to nap. The photo was snapped while they were both figuring out how to be elsewhere. Kora enjoys chasing string and nibbling on people’s hair.

On the drive out to Ben’s first spot, I passed signs for the Laura Ingalls Wilder home in Mansfield, Missouri. This brought back terrible childhood memories of dinner conversations hijacked by my sister, mother, and grandmother, who had all read the books repeatedly, and who had not read The Lord of the Rings, so we had nothing to talk about. (Sauron could have sorted out Nellie Oleson in a heartbeat.)

Nellie Oleson.

The smart money is on Sauron.

It also brought back even worse memories of missing Hockey Night in Canada because they would all insist on watching “Little House on the Prairie,” which was always on during hockey games.

Admittedly, many of us had a crush on Melissa Sue Anderson. who played the blind sister.

Ben’s main spot was a small pond and a nearby creek. These were both well outside of cell service, and when I couldn’t find the pond, I thought I was screwed. Luckily, a couple of local guys, Lyle and Gordon, kindly pointed me the right way.

Another day saved by kind strangers.

They were completely bewildered as to why I would fish in the pond, which was a something of a stagnant backwater that had nothing living in it, EXCEPT for a large population of plains topminnows. I figured the surest way to break my slump was to fish someplace solely inhabited by things I hadn’t caught, and although the slog through the bushes left me with poison ivy on my ankles, at least I finally, FINALLY got a new species. It had been a very long four days.

I may have wept with relief.

The creek was an afterthought, but as I waded through the shallows, I could see it was jammed with micros. I hunted down a few darters, which turned out to be the common orangethroats and therefore a new one.

I love darters.

I also noticed a few sculpins poking their heads out from under the spillway edge. They took some coaxing, but eventually, one came out and attacked. It took several weeks of research (a big thanks to Tyler Goodale for checking his resources) but the creature turned out to be a mottled sculpin, another new one, and with three in an hour, I could show my face again.

Don’t panic – there is more excitement in this blog than three ounces of steaming midwestern micros.

On the drive back, I had some time to think about what Marty Arostegui has meant to me, and more broadly, to the general fishing world. For me, I’ve had the privilege of fishing with an expert. His gentle but direct feedback has helped me become a better, more responsible angler. (Perspectives from Marta – “Marty didn’t just make you a better angler, he made you a better, more responsible human. And better dressed.)

Golden tilefish, my 1100th species, August 4, 2011. I wouldn’t have caught it if Marty hadn’t completely changed my rig.

He never messed around – when I missed a cast after a jaguar gaupote, tangled a bush, and splashed the whole mess into the water onto the spot, he simply said “I think you spooked him.” Marty also changed how I think about terminal tackle – for example, I drastically scaled down my swivels and snaps after he mentioned that my swivels were way, way too big. It isn’t a coincidence that I started catching big surfperch in San Francisco Bay once I figured out how to make ultralight bait rigs.

Watching Marty prepare for a trip is a clinic. I would say he works harder the night before a trip than on the actual fishing, but he has everything, and I mean everything, ready, laid out, and at arm’s length. It is this type of attention to detail that has helped him accomplish some things that would seem impossible to normal people, like a 385 pound Lemon Shark. On fly. On a 16 pound tippet.

Think about that. 24:1. And the fish was safely released.

But in terms of Marty’s accomplishments, I would have to say the most insane is catching the Royal slam on billfish. On fly.

A spearfish on fly. We are not worthy. We are not worthy.

How does he do that?

A swordfish on fly earlier in his career. So he has done this more than once.

But with everything Marty has going for him, he is still more about others than himself. A lot of his time is spent on conservation – he has written hundreds of articles in both English and Spanish, and he is a popular speaker on conservation and fishing topics. I personally moved a lot of my fishing to circle hooks when he showed me that they actually work. Imagine how many more records he would have if he wasn’t busy helping the future of the sport.

Which brings us back to the event. I walked over to the museum early, mostly to experience the aquarium. It was just awesome – filled with things I hope to catch someday. But what was my mean-spirited takeaway? I found a mistake on one of their displays.

We all know “Salmo trutta” is a striped bass.

The event itself was magnificent. The backdrop was a massive saltwater aquarium, and just off to the left of it, the IGFA Hall of Fame.

The venue.

The five inductees.

I wandered around back there and looked at the amazing stories that had earned a spot on the wall. The first-ever inductee, for those of you who think fishing is male-dominated, was a woman, and she remains the only nun in the hall – so far. Look it up – Dame Juliana Berners.

Ok, she is a bit intimidating.

And then there is Hemingway, who has been a hero of mine for ages.

I believe every book he has ever written ends with “And then he died, alone, in the dirt.”

Marty made the evening about friends and especially his family. You know most of them, although oldest sister Ali was stuck at her home in North Carolina by a hurricane and couldn’t make it.

That’s Danielle, Roberta, Martini, and Marty. Danielle has 17 world records. Ali has two.

Danielle and Steve at the rum waterfall. Yes, there was a rum waterfall.

And I had to throw this photo in. From left to right, that is #4, #3, #2, and #1 in world records. I show this photo to strangers.

At the time it was taken, there were 1024 world records represented in this group.

The evening rolled around to Marty’s induction. He went up there to say a few words, and the applause didn’t die down for quite a while.

Marty addresses the group.

He seemed proud, but a little embarrassed by the whole thing. He gave a very nice acceptance speech, stressing that the real stars of the evening were the fish – every fish – not just the marlin and tuna that few people can afford to pursue, but all of them, especially the “ugly fish.” (They’re all beautiful.) As someone who has dedicated their life to catching every fish, large and small, glamorous or not, this resonates in my very soul. And this message resonates in most of the fishing world – it recognizes the reality of the world we have created and the imperative that we must make changes to preserve even what we have left. I felt a lot of things as I walked home – proud to have Marty and his family as friends, humbled by his dedication to the sport – but most of all, I was inspired, and it is Marty’s ability to inspire us that put him in the Hall of Fame.

Steve

 

 

Posted by: 1000fish | March 28, 2019

The OK Chorale

Dateline: September 11, 2018 – Watts, Oklahoma

This blog is about two magnificent days of fishing with Martini. Unfortunately, the trip was five days long. But let’s not get distracted with math – there is fishing to discuss.

Martini and I both have packed schedules, so it’s rare that we can find a week and get someplace where we both want to fish. This September worked out perfectly – he needed to be at an event in Springfield, Missouri on September 15 – more on that later – and he was free the week before. He would be in Dallas, Texas at a bachelor party until the night of the 9th, but we could then connect and head through the Ozarks, which is positively loaded with oddball micros and some other amazing fish. I was very familiar with the Missouri portion of the trip, having fished there twice before, but the Oklahoma and Arkansas segments were wide open mysteries. This is where we must give a huge 1000fish thank you to Ben Cantrell, who saved our planning bacon for this portion of the trip when Martini and I both thought the other one was plotting out spots. Ben is the real hero of this blog.

Ben Cantrell.

A road trip of this length presents certain logistical difficulties, and one of the main ones is the age-old problem that bait and drinks cannot share the same cooler without certain risks. Building on years of experience and a college degree, I bought two small coolers and a Sharpie.

Night crawlers and Pepsi should never mix.

Someone should have thought of this years ago.

There was also a milestone to consider. If I could manage to catch a fish in Oklahoma, that would be my 50th state. This is a big deal in the obsessive list-making world. I had never even been to Oklahoma, so I had researched loads of fun facts about the state, but as it turns out, there is only one that you need to know – CHUCK NORRIS WAS BORN THERE.

Our first day presented difficult choices. The Oklahoma fish I had always kept in the back of my mind was a Red River pupfish, because pupfish are cool, and Red River pupfish don’t come with the inconveniences of other pupfish, like Federally Endangered status. I figured we had to get the pupfish first, then get after the nice variety of fish that live in the northeastern part of the state. Martini threw a glass of geographical cold water on my plan, pointing out that the pupfish spot was three hours west of Dallas, and that the other spots would then be five hours back to the east. Damn him and his fancy Google maps. In the end, we just decided to get up really early and commit to a lot of driving.

Texas is flat. You would think I learned this on The Great Road Trip of 2014, but it has gotten flatter. Ask Kyrie Irving. We entered Oklahoma mid-morning.

We enter Oklahoma, with a quiet nod of awe to Chuck Norris. (Faster than a speeding bullet … More powerful than a locomotive … Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound … and these are just his warm-up exercises.)

When we reached the Red River, there was a moment of consternation. The water was red, and I mean red. While it wasn’t all that high, it was as muddy as it could be without condensing into a solid.

Hence the name.

But we were here, and we were going to go check it out – I’ve caught fish in worse conditions. The drama didn’t last long – there were a series of “tidepools” – mega-puddles that had been left over by higher water, and these were positively stuffed with pupfish.

Martini caught one immediately, which filled me with hope. I did not catch one immediately, which filled me with petulance. But a few minutes later, one of the tiny beasts hit my micro-offering. I had caught my Oklahoma fish. I could swear I heard angels singing in the distance – a sort of OK chorale.

Triumph.

And they’re adorable.

A journey that began with my father at a lake resort in Maine 50 years ago concluded with one of my best friends on a muddy riverbank in Oklahoma. In between these two events, there had been 50 years of fishing, over 1800 species, a few world records, countless new friends, a few more world records, and thousands upon thousands of road miles. If nothing else, fishing has let me see America, and while we have our warts, it is a great country. Much better than France. If nothing else, we have Chuck Norris, and let’s not forget that we’ve never been successfully invaded, let alone in six weeks.

We added a bonus species in the same spot – the Red River shiner – and then we were off on a very long drive.

The Red River shiner. Laugh if you must, but Jamie Hamamoto has never caught one.

Oklahoma is not as wide as Montana – nothing is – but it was close. Five hours, four Red Bulls and $28 of Chick-Fil-A later, we were standing by the side of a beautiful creek in Eastern Oklahoma. (A spot provided by Ben, who is the real hero of this blog.)

Bless you, Ben.

By the time we finally got to the creek, it was late in the afternoon – we would only be able to hit one spot, but the light was perfect and the place looked amazing. It had long riffles, inviting pools, sexy back channels, a spillway, and plenty of boulders.

This picture still makes me drool.

We began fishing the open areas, and in between lots of panfish, we both got nice redspot chubs.

Note the red spot.

We also knocked off a variety of minnows, including cardinal shiners (which were new.)

The rest all ended up falling into the “nondescript shiner” category.

We noticed some larger fish in the pools, and as soon as I guessed (incorrectly) that they might be black redhorse, that’s how I spent most of my time. (This will become a theme in this episode.) I did not catch a black redhorse, which will also become a theme in this episode, but I got some beautiful smallmouth, and it’s always great to catch smallmouth bass.

As it got dark, the redhorse were still avoiding me. Martini encouraged me to try for some of the micros that he had spotted, such as the Banded Sculpin and Plateau Darter. As he always does, he even pointed a few out to me, all of which I promptly missed. It was a pleasant evening, and there was no particular urgency – with our headlamps on, I knew we would get the fish sooner or later, and then find a Taco Bell.

Then the gnats came. Like satanists, they came in a giant black mass, and while they do not bite, they are attracted to light, and our headlamps were the only light source for miles. Suddenly, there was incredible urgency. We would move spots, then try to find and target a fish as long as we could stand the bugs trying to fly into every possible orifice. It would take about 20 seconds to where we were blinded, coughing, and producing pints of snot. We would turn the lights out, catch our breath, and try again. The swarm would find us, resulting in more coughing and more snot, and after a few rounds of this, our sleeves were too slimy to provide an effective wiping surface. We persisted, all the while sneezing, choking, and gagging – I hacked up little black specks the whole night. Somewhere in all this fun, we both managed two new species – the banded sculpin and the plateau darter.

The sculpin. Note the gnat. I randomly sneezed these up for about a week.

The miracle of Photoshop helps envision how I remember the evening. The snot on my hand is not Photoshopped.

The Plateau darter. Yes, it was worth it, but only barely.

Important 1000fish safety tip – don’t eat “Flaming Hot” Cheetos. They are covered in cayenne pepper, and the orange-fingered Cheeto dust takes on serious consequences, especially if you intend to pick your nose. And while we’re at it, I should point out that the containers for cortisone (which soothes bug bites and the sorts of body irritation that old people get) and Sting-eze (which makes bug bites stop itching because it is pure ammonia) look awfully similar. Putting cortisone on a bug bite is fine, but putting ammonia on a hemorrhoid is NOT. I had thought about calling this blog “50 shades of fishing,” but looking at the above, “50 shades of stupid” might be more appropriate.

The next day broke clear and warm. We hit a series of creeks in western Arkansas, and one by one, the species added up. First came the highland stoneroller and the orangebelly darter.

A highland stoneroller. This whole family is notoriously fickle – ask Martini about the largescale stoneroller sometime.

The darter was a notable example of Martini’s spotless teamwork. I had been presenting bait to the fish for about 45 minutes, and it had only made a couple of desultory swipes at the hook. Then, without warning, it jumped on it. I set the hook and flipped the fish up out of the water, but mid-flight, it came off. Martini appeared out of nowhere and caught the beast midair with a photo tank.

It wasn’t as dangerous as his midnight swim with a lake sturgeon, but it saved me a species.

Caddo Creek. I could walk around places like this for days. And I have.

In the same spot, Martini somehow wrangled up a pirate perch – one of those extraordinary rarities that pops up randomly in places for people who are not me, like Ben, Mike Channing, and now Martini.

Yes, I was a bit put out. But not nearly as much as I would be two days later.

We moved through a few more creeks, gradually working eastward, except when we forgot that you can’t reprogram a GPS destination if you have no cell signal. The most notable catch of the mid-afternoon was Martini pulling up a gorgeous river redhorse on ultralight tackle after it had refused to bite for me.

Martini’s River Redhorse. I must have cast to the thing 50 times.

Later in the afternoon, we pulled up on another one of Ben’s darter spots. It was a beautiful, clear creek, although the first rock I turned over revealed a rather irritated water moccasin. This reminded me that there are some smarter tools than my hand to use for this purpose, like a stick, or someone else’s hand. After an hour or so of poking around, I tracked down a Plains darter, which is part of the Orangethroat complex, for those of you who care about such things.

They are gorgeous, but my pictures still aren’t as good as Tyler’s.

Martini hunts the shallows.

Moments later, I stumbled into a redspot darter, a bit more of a rarity.

A plastic fish tank and an Olympus waterproof camera make a big difference.

I went to sleep that night feeling pretty darn content. We had been at it two days and I had collected 10 nice species, and some of the best locations were yet to come. The weather report looked good, and we had dozens of great spots scoped out from Ben, who is the real hero of this blog.

There has to be a story behind this photo.

Needless to say, the Fish Gods punish overconfidence. We awoke to driving, unpredicted rain, which washed out most of the prime spots Ben had given us. Well into the morning, we arrived at a gorgeous spring creek that was clear enough to fish, and after 20 minutes of futility, it struck me that I might be on a cold streak. Martini was still getting a new fish now and then, but I was not. This continued through the day, as we fished our way north. We visited some positively beautiful places, but new species remained elusive.

Natural beauty, yes. New species, no.

For dinner, we somehow managed to find the BBQ equivalent of Sonic. Martini, something of a barbecue connoisseur but ever the diplomat, described the cuisine as “confusing.”

Their dessert options weren’t any better.

Unsatisfied and grouchy, we made the long run to Poplar Bluff. We made one stop to look for current darters, but the small creek Ben had recommended was dry. He is still the true hero of this blog.

Mostly, we want to know what’s going on with the cat. It clearly doesn’t want to be there.

Our first stop of the morning was McLane Park, where Ben and I had caught our creek chubsuckers. It was blown out, which was a shame, because it would have been interesting to watch Martini’s irresistible force of angling skill run up against the immovable object of that vile little fish.

We then headed up to Sam Baker State Park – another beautiful location. I had fished there with Ben and Tyler a few years ago, and the place is absolutely loaded with black redhorse.

Martini stalks the redhorse, with slightly more success than I had.

Of course, I forgot all other species and spent hours trying to get a black, and, say it with me, I failed. And failed. And failed. I never took statistics in college, and therefore I do not understand that not catching something for a long time doesn’t mean I am getting more likely to catch it. Martini added insult to indignity by getting two of them right in front of me, so I can’t claim that it was bad luck. The black redhorse takes incredible casting, line control, hand/eye coordination, and moral turpitude, and this just doesn’t seem to be my decade.

Martini got two, so we averaged one each. The ID between a golden and a black is close – you can tell it’s a black if I didn’t catch it.

Martini comforted me with kind words, like “We can’t all be champions, Steve.”

We caught up with old 1000fish friend Tyler Goodale in Poplar Bluff, and spent an evening hunting blue suckers and redhorse with him.

Tyler Goodale with a pealip redhorse, another species I would trade my sister for. Of course, there are days I would trade my sister for a Sonic cheeseburger, so let’s not sell the pealip short.

Alas, there had been unexpected rain and the rivers were completely blown out. This did not stop Martini from catching a beautiful catfish, which faintly annoyed me.

How does he do that?

The next morning, we drove west toward Springfield, making several fishing stops along the Current River. Martini got his shadow bass quickly, and then I settled in to another disastrous pas-de-deux with the black redhorse. This was my third straight day without a new species, and this was eating a hole in my stomach, like I had swallowed Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, or Drano, which are chemically identical. Somewhere in there, I caught my 1000th fish of 2018, a largemouth.

There were at least 30 black redhorse in the pool behind me.

I hated not catching new stuff, but in hindsight, it was still great to be out there – we’re all only going to get so many days road-tripping with great friends over a lifetime. I was still ahead 10 more species on the quest for 2000, and the next 24 hours, which had no actual fishing planned, would be devoted to something far more important than my species count.

Steve

 

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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