Posted by: 1000fish | August 31, 2018

Church of the Almighty Takedown

Dateline: August 13, 2018 – Sacramento, California

I will miss Ed Trujillo.

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

A recent photo of Ed and his beloved Carla. 

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

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

My first steelhead. I was hooked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ed celebrates the big fish.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marta’s first steelhead, January 2005.

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

Steve and Ed from the same summer Trinity trip.

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

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

This is how Chris normally looks.

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

The fabled Mark Spellman, February 2007.

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

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

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

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

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

Ed Martini Shad

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

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

The altar at the Church of the Almighty Takedown.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve

 

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

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

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

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

The Ed smile. (From the Terwilliger collection.)

Ed could nap literally anywhere.

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

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

Awwwwww.

Sunset at Ed’s memorial service.

 

 

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Posted by: 1000fish | August 11, 2018

The Great Paul of China

Dateline: March 8, 2018 – Beijing, China

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

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

The view from the Hyatt.

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

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

The happiest cat ever.

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

Mr. Fong, the Fishing Master.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve at Tianamen Square.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The venue. And you thought species hunting was glamorous.

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

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

Success!!

The beast.

A China Rockfish. Completely unrelated to this blog.

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

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

Steve

 

Special Bonus Section – Rock Greenling

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

The rock greenling. Thank you, Elephant Rock.

 

Posted by: 1000fish | July 17, 2018

The Gorgeous Swallowtail

Dateline: January 26, 2018 – Watamu, Kenya

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ever, ever, ever, ever.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And mine was much, much bigger.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was very happy to see something new come up.

I also got a male cigar wrasse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet another nice coronation trout.

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

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

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

Steve

 

Posted by: 1000fish | June 17, 2018

Kenya? Of Course I can.

Dateline: January 24, 2018 – Watamu, Kenya

I was in East Africa, 9,840 miles from home, but it felt like Hawaii. This was both a good thing and a bad thing.

It was a good thing because the hotel in Kenya felt as nice as any resort in Kona. This was an unexpected bonus. My last trip to sub-Saharan Africa was in 2006, when I visited Gabon and Sao Tome/Principe as part of a month-long Africa jaunt that jump-started my quest for 1000 species. I experienced everything you read about – airlines with no planes, fishing lodges that didn’t have fishing or lodges, plenty of unwelcome wildlife, and irrational schedule changes that would give a German a stroke. Despite these inconveniences, and a good case of food poisoning, I got over 60 species – and memories for life. So when I decided to head to Kenya before a January business trip to Europe, I certainly expected some interesting fish, but also that I was going have logistical problems. But I didn’t. So if you’re considering an Africa trip, I would put Kenya high on the list.

It also felt like Hawaii because five of the first seven fish species I caught were things I had gotten previously – IN HAWAII. 10,800 MILES AWAY. WTF, Fish Gods? I have fished lots of places between Hawaii and Kenya and not caught most of these species. (Except for the pink Pristipomoides, which I am convinced is the most widespread life form on earth, with the possible exception of time share salesmen.) Jamie Hamamoto is somehow behind all of this.

It was 41 hours of travel from my house in Alamo to the Medina Palms resort, near Malindi on the central Kenyan Coast. 41 hours is a long time to travel, despite the incredible precision and great service from Ethiopian Air, but I got there safely, albeit way past the point where Red Bull could help.

It was eye-opening to see so many famous places on one map screen. Mount Kilimanjaro, where Marta will make me hike someday, and where I will likely barf. Tsavo, where two lions ate several dozen railway workers late in the 19th century. (Watch “The Ghost and the Darkness,” but not with a cat person.) And Mombasa, first capital of modern Kenya. I was truly a long way from home.

Before anyone gets all jealous about all the wildlife and historical stuff I saw, I didn’t. Remember, this is me, the guy who caught a fish in Paris before I saw the Mona Lisa. I spent five days in Kenya and didn’t see a single giraffe. Indeed, I saw absolutely nothing related to “The Lion King,” despite it being one of the great movies of all time. I went fishing and fishing hard, 12 hours a day.

Located on the Northwest Indian Ocean, Watamu is about 2500 miles from anywhere I had fished previously – so I had very high hopes for a big species haul. (Just as I had on my first trip to the Maldives.) We all remember how humbling the first two days of that trip were, so I tried to temper my anticipation, but it was hard to do this when the local fish book contained page after page of stuff I had never seen. On paper, things should have been epic – 25 species or more.

But we do not play the games on paper, or the Detroit Tigers would have won the 2012 World Series.

This all started with an IGFA captain – Angus Paul of Kingfisher Sportfishing. IGFA.org is a great place to start planning a trip, especially to places with limited infrastructure. The IGFA skippers are vetted, well-known, and reliable, although most of them are focused on big game. I won’t turn down a marlin, but I am of course focused on variety, and this is generally found on the bottom.

That’s Angus on the lower left. You can reach him on Kingfisherfishing@gmail.com

A lot of big game skippers will turn up their noses at species fishermen, or, even worse, take a bottom charter with no idea how to catch anything but billfish. Angus not only was up front that he was not a reef guy, but he went the extra mile and booked me with two local experts. I would spend my first two days with Captain Abudi Yusuf on on of Angus’ boats, the Snow Goose, and my final two days with Captain Calvin du Plessis, who has a reputation for deep jigging. Angus also helped me find a great hotel and transportation – now all I needed to do was get there.

I know “Ethiopian Air” sounds like the punchline to one of my tasteless travel jokes, but they really were great. After taking United to Frankfurt, I had a 10 hour layover, then caught an Ethiopian flight to Addis Ababa.

There were no fish at the airport. I looked.

Their aircraft were new and clean, the crews were organized, and things happened on time. Seven hours to Addis Ababa, three hours there in a decent lounge, then a short flight to Mombasa. (The layover, however, meant that I had added a country where I have not yet caught a fish. This will have to be corrected.) It is always a huge relief to see my luggage waiting for me at the end of a trip, and there it was. I knew I was going fishing.

The thing I look forward to seeing the most on any trip, unless I am with Marta, and then I would look forward to seeing her the most. This is not to imply that I have ever checked her as baggage, because, let’s face it, United would lose her.

There was an evil omen at the airport. One of the walls held a mural that featured not one, but two species I have never caught.

Clown triggerfish and queen angelfish, and don’t think this sort of stuff doesn’t bother me.

The hotel car was waiting for me outside of customs, and three scenic hours later, I arrived in Watamu. Mombasa was a little gross, but so is Berkeley. Outside the city limits, I may as well have been in Hawaii. We passed quite a few reserves where the driver told me there were giraffes or zebras or some other kind of lion food, but I was determined to get to the hotel, get my gear together, and catch a fish.

The Medina Palms is an extraordinary resort. Clean, secure, beautifully landscaped, and simply amazing service – delightfully first world.

Just outside of my room.

I know some people may travel hoping to have a truly local experience, but my goal is to catch local fish, have nice meals, and avoid cultural nuances, such as dysentery. On my arrival, I discovered that the bay where the resort is located is a preserve, and there was no fishing from the beach. This was heartbreaking. I actually had to pass about two hours in the afternoon near water, and not go fishing. As you all know, I am always perfectly calm in these situations and am never inconsolable, intolerable, or irrational. (Perspective from Marta – You all know better.)

If you don’t know how hard this was for me, you must be a new reader. Welcome!

I passed the time by meeting Angus to take care of logistics. As we had an afternoon beer at a pleasant beachside cafe, we agreed on a 6:15am pickup on the beach for the next morning, and spent a lot of time talking about what could be caught in the area. While he is a big game specialist, he certainly knew a lot about the local lure fishing – there are GT, amberjack, and big snappers in the area.

The next morning, when I got down there at 6:15, they were waiting. (I had a guide in Gabon in 2006 who unapologetically AVERAGED 90 minutes late. You can imagine how calmly I dealt with that.)

Sunrise at Watamu.

The wind was up, and the water was bumpy – fishable, but the kind of thing that would make Stefan Molnar throw up. A lot. But I was here, and I was going fishing. We motored about an hour south and set up over some reefs in the 200-250′ range. I started dropping a mix of bait and jigs. Action was immediate, but to my astonishment, the first three things I caught were already on the list – from Hawaii. One of them was even a bridled triggerfish, which made me wonder if these would be a scourge here as well.

My first fish of the trip. Triggerfish though it was, I had added Kenya as my 91st country.

Then I pulled up a hogfish, which looked a lot like the tarry hogfish caught in Hawaii, but I figured had to be something new because I was 11,000 miles from Hawaii. I was briefly pleased.

Oh, was I disappointed when I got into the ID book.

My very next fish was a tilefish-looking thing, which looked a lot like the stripetail blanquillo I had caught in Kona years ago, but which had to be a new species because there is no way it could be the same thing that I caught 11,000 miles away. And I was briefly pleased.

Oh, was I disappointed when I got into the ID book.

It took another hour for the first new species, but it was a good one – a rosy goatfish, which was not only new, but an open world record.

Whew.

Shortly after than, I hauled up a halfmoon grouper, which, at two pounds, was also a record. Things were looking up.

OK, now I was feeling much better.

A few triggerfish later, I got a blackside hawkfish, another Hawaiian mainstay. I began to suspect again I had gotten on the wrong flight, and when I got a couple of pink snappers, I became certain there is some sort of fish wormhole between Kona and Watamu. My next catch, however, was a nod to universal justice. Yes, it was another bridled triggerfish, but this was a big one – 2.5#. This broke the existing record, which was mine, so this was rewarding but felt overdue, like Cousin Chuck’s high school graduation. (What a way to celebrate his 24th birthday!)

My initial record, in 2012, broke an existing record held by good friend Phil Richmond.

We moved inshore for the late afternoon, and I added two more species there – a goldstripe wrasse and a redspotted sandperch.

Wrasses are one of the most consistently beautiful fish families.

I caught a few other equally gorgeous wrasses, and even though I had gotten these species before, they are still lovely enough to include here.

The spottail coris, which I first caught in Jordan on New Year’s Day 2010. This one is a female, so it’s a coris girl.

The yellowbar wrasse, which I first caught in Mozambique in March of 2006 as part of the aforementioned Africa trip.

Sand perch IDs are not a problem, because Dr. Jeff Johnson is an expert on them, .

The redspotted sandperch.

It was well into the evening when they dropped me back at the Medina Palms beach.

Captain Abudi Yusuf, along with deckhand Arfun Photobomb.

Four species and three records was a good start. It wasn’t the huge haul I had imagined, but it was nice. And I had three more days coming up. So I settled down for an evening enjoying the resort, which had an excellent restaurant and a nice bar. A note to you prospective travelers – I did not see a single mosquito the entire time I was in Kenya. I also did not see any lions, which is just fine me.

The next day started perfectly – early and punctual. Captain Yusuf ran us out to some different reefs, further north. We first set up to try some sabikis over a shallow reef – the water was a gorgeous crystal blue. Very quickly, we added two nice species – the cigar wrasse and a red bar anthias.

The cigar wrasse. Dr’ Jeff Johnson couldn’t believe I hadn’t caught one of these before. They are apparently quite common throughout the Indo-Pacific. Of course, once I had caught one, they wouldn’t stop biting.

The anthias is worth mentioning for future reference. Note that it is small. Note that all other anthias species I have caught were small – see example in “The Winds of Nausea.” This will provide some background on a misunderstanding I would have in just less than 24 hours.

The Red Bar Anthias

We moved deep for the rest of the day. The quality of the fishing was outstanding. We started getting much bigger stuff – groupers, jacks, and a nice Indian Threadfin.

This was on a pike rod and 15# braid, and they were everywhere. Jigging specialists will love this place.

As we worked our way through some rockpiles with a metal jig, I got a solid hit and the unmistakable bottom-hugging fight of a grouper. Most grouper fights are like Cousin Chuck’s honeymoon – enthusiastic but brief, and ending badly for half of the participants. As the fish became visible under the boat, I saw it was something very orange, and when I pulled it onboard, it took a moment to figure out I had gotten a rather nice yellow lyretail, or coronation trout, as the Australians like to call them. I had admired these in books for years before I got my first (small) one in Jordan in 2009.

Not huge, but my personal best.

These are one of the most beautiful fish I have even seen.

The action was nonstop, and in the midst of all the chaos, I had two more noteworthy catches. The first was a world record on a gray seabream. I had caught close relatives of this species in the Maldives.


These are a very difficult ID. Write me if you encounter this problem – I can save you some time.

And the second was an unexpected new species, the brownspotted grouper, which I admit I didn’t figure out until I was going through the books a few weeks later.

Let this be a lesson – always photograph any of these Indo-Pacific spotted groupers. There are a lot of them.

And so, as they dropped me off on the beach to head for another fresh grouper dinner and a visit to the spa, I did the math.

Deckhand Arfun drops me off while I do the math.

I was up seven species, which was about half of what I had hoped for, but I also had four world records. The fishing was simply outstanding, and if I hadn’t been worried about getting odd species, it would have been even better. My petulant inner child started making an appearance, but I had a cold beer or two and slapped it. I had to just go with whatever happened and trust in the Fish Gods. And little did I know, that in less than 24 hours, that the Fish Gods would give me a shot at the fish of a lifetime.

Steve

 

 

 

Posted by: 1000fish | May 26, 2018

A Case of the Bens

Dateline: November 18, 2017 – Long Beach, California

Yoga is good for you? Baloney. Yoga has nearly killed me several times. Marta, as you know, is a yoga teacher in her spare time, and this means that I am often called upon as a test animal. (“Ready? Now then – nose against rectum. Namaste!”)

The cruelty is generally physical in nature, but it can also be emotional, especially for me. For example, last November, Marta was going for her Iyengar yoga teacher certification in Los Angeles. This is a big deal in the Iyengar yoga world. It takes about three years of studying, and still, some applicants don’t pass. You can imagine how much stress this was for her, but of course, it was even more stressful on me. Some of you hippy liberal types might think the main point would be Marta’s experience, but let’s stay focused here!

Marta went down to LA a couple of days before me and was in no mood to socialize before the test. Being the dutiful, kind, and loving partner that I am, I volunteered to come down and drive her home on Sunday. Sure, it was a chance to go fishing in LA for a couple of days, but I didn’t realize I would have to spend 24 hours with Marta when she would not know whether she passed her assessment. These would be rough hours, a time of intense worrying, and no matter what she will tell you, she took it out on me. It’s a long drive up I-5 when your passenger guesses that they failed their assessment every three minutes.

But before we cover my emotional torment, there is some fishing to discuss. I drove down in the afternoon, and made a quick stop in Malibu. Barbara Streisand wasn’t available and wouldn’t let me on her beach, so I took a shot at calico surfperch.

If I caught one, you would see a picture of that here instead of some general Malibu scenery.

The next day, I connected with our old friend Ben Cantrell, who has conveniently moved to San Diego. (You may remember Ben as the guy who spent over a month with a catfish spine lodged in his calf.) Our plan was to spend a day of bumming around the Los Angeles piers. Targets were many, but catches were few. Still, it was a lovely day, if you don’t consider that Ben had a nasty cold and that Marta was doing the written, demonstration, and Pranayama portions of her assessment. (I have no idea what most of that means, but she made me put it in here.) While I had wanted a spotfin croaker, no new species were to be had. I settled for an overambitious thornback and a beast of a diamond turbot. Late in the afternoon, Marta reported to me that she felt she had done reasonably well on this part of her assessment. This made me feel good.

The turbot. My first one was caught in San Diego – details HERE.

We tried several piers, finishing up at Redondo Beach.

A lovely sunset at Redondo Beach, which we got to enjoy undisturbed by fish. Then we got to eat at Taco Bell.

The next day, we added an extra Ben to the equation, because you can never have enough Bens. This time it was Ben Florentino, the legendary kelp bass guide made famous in the “Korean Superman” blog.

The fabled Captain Ben Florentino – you can reach him on https://www.fishcoastalcharters.com/.

Over the years, Captain Ben has put 12 species and quite a few world records on my list, so I wasn’t expecting a huge species haul. Still, there is always a chance at something weird in Los Angeles, like the (still) elusive zebra perch, and it’s always a lot of fun to go out in the kelp beds and toss lures.

We had a blast catching the usual reefy inshore species – and Ben C. added a couple of new ones, especially a nicely-colored sheephead.

Ben’s first sheephead.

My first “three color” sheephead.

I caught loads of fish – bass, barracuda, rockfish, and my personal best scorpionfish.

My PB scorpionfish. Do not put this in your pants.

A California barracuda. Great fun on light tackle.

It was one of my smallest fish, however, that was the most memorable. While we were casting lures in kelp lanes, Ben F. noticed some large jacksmelt. The jacksmelt is an oversized silverside that is found up and down the west coast. They are a common pier catch, are completely inedible, and never, EVER reach one pound. I tied on a small spoon and starting getting a few, and these were, AS ALWAYS, close to but not quite a pound. I have caught thousands of these and I had never seen one big enough for a record. I got four in a row that were so, SO close, but didn’t make it, and just when I was lamenting that this fish just KNOWS it weighs 15 ounces, one of them actually pulled the Boga down to that 4th black stripe. It was a pound. A world record jacksmelt, which was a great point of personal pride, even if it won’t garner any major press coverage.

My moment of triumph.

Interestingly, at least to me, is that just a few weeks earlier, Martini had set a world record on the Pacific Sand Dab. This is another generally-tiny creature that gets caught in pestilential droves, and are usually the size of my hand. This is slightly but measurably weirder than a one pound jacksmelt. There is a fine line between persistence and stubbornness for the sake of stubbornness, and we both crossed that line years ago.

Well done, Martini.

We moved back into the estuary, and Ben got a nice bat ray.

The mighty mud marlin.

Ben and Ben celebrate a great day on the water. You can book Ben on https://www.fishcoastalcharters.com/.

Just as we were wrapping things up in Long Beach, Marta called. I crossed my fingers, hoping for good news, even though the official results would not come in for 24 hours. I answered the phone, and Marta said “I blew it.” My heart sank, as this would mean a far less cheerful ride home. But when I questioned her further, details began to emerge that gave me some hope. It turns out that she felt she had not handled one student well and that she thought they would flunk her for that. When I asked her how the rest of the program went, she thought she would have passed otherwise. I know squat about yoga, but you would think that touchy-feely holistic types wouldn’t be so vindictive.

We spent the night in Los Angeles. The mood ranged from resigned to depressed to curiously upbeat (as soon as I managed to get lightweight Marta a couple of tropical drinks.) We had a lovely Jamaican dinner, and I tried to convince her that things might turn out fine, but she wasn’t having that, so I gave lightweight Marta more tropical drinks and tried to be supportive. (At times, literally.) I maintained my hopeful attitude, even when she woke me up at 3am to announce that she must have failed and that she had likely wasted three years of her life. To get even with her for this, I made sure we had lunch the next day at the fabled Willow Ranch BBQ on I-5. Marta was so bummed by this stage she didn’t even point out that the only vegetable on the menu is deep-fried jalapenos.

Marta poses in front of the Willow Ranch BBQ. You can tell this is before the meal, because she is not doubled over with cramps. 

I tried to keep the conversation positive and focused on my world record jacksmelt as we ground out the miles north through the desolation of California’s central valley. But every few minutes, she would announce that she must have failed. She revealed that she could try the certification again in 12 months. This would mean another year of me being forced to do random and painful yoga experiments. No one ever seems to understand I am the victim here.

At exactly 5:47pm, just as we had exited the freeway and were heading to our house, which still does not have a wood floor, her phone chirped. “That’s the email from the institute. My results are in.” she said. I told her to wait so I could share the pain or joy, and wisely decided not to tell her she had ended a sentence with a preposition. She ignored me and opened the email. Her eyes went cloudy, and I thought to myself, Ohhhhh #&$%, she really did fail it and now my life is going to be miserable, because I am the real victim here.” I pulled the car to the side of the road.

She could hardly speak, and my heart dropped. Then, quietly, she said “I passed.”

I told her that I knew she would the whole time, although I secretly wet myself with relief. (And, ok, maybe a bit of pride and joy for her. And obviously, “wet myself” is just an expression. Or is it?) She thought for a moment, and said “If I start studying right now, I can go for the next assessment level in two years. But I would need to start preparing right away. Can I have you do a class tomorrow morning?”

If only she could understand how much her obsessive hobbies affect our lives …

Steve

 

Posted by: 1000fish | May 5, 2018

The Time of Nic

Dateline: October 14, 2017 – Bang Pakong, Thailand to Lake Fort Worth, Florida

Many of my blogs center on catching a fish in the nick of time, but this one is about the time of Nic.

I always seem to be far from home when bad things happen. I was in Malaysia when my Grandfather died in 1995. I was in Slovenia when my Mom passed away. So when I was in Thailand last October and my phone started lighting up with calls from co-workers at one in the morning, I had a bad feeling. I answered a call from one of my senior guys, Falko, and he was very to the point – “Nic has died.”

Nic and Falko were close.

That’s Nic and Falko at back right. No beer was safe around those two. Germany, 2014.

Nic Ware. It’s one thing when you get a call about someone much older, or someone who has been ill a long time, but this was sudden and hit close to home. Nic was just a few years older than me, and just like that, he was gone.

The first known photo of Steve and Nic, somewhere in Asia, early 2000s. We were good-looking and young, or more specifically, he was good-looking and I was young.

I had spoken to him just a few days before, partly about work topics but mostly shooting the breeze. Longtime 1000fish readers may remember Nic as “The Worst Valentine Ever,” and indeed, Nic will forever be my least attractive Valentine’s date. (We were wrongly identified as a couple in an Outback Steakhouse in Beijing on February 14, 2004.) We worked together for the better part of 20 years; I hired him three different times. We had adventures across Asia, South America, North America, and Europe. (And misadventures in many of the same places.) He kept to himself, wasn’t that open, had very few close friends. But we just clicked. The first legal advice he ever gave me (about a parking ticket) was “Deny everything. Admit nothing. Make counter-accusations.” How could I not love someone who thought like that?

I didn’t sleep much, and the alarm went off when I was staring at it. I had a day of fishing left in Thailand before I headed home. As always, Jean-Francois Helias set me up with his top guide, Kik, this time to give the Bang Pakong River a shot for a few local species I hadn’t gotten yet.

Kik and a local boatman on the Bang Pakong.

On the first day, the day before I heard about Nic, fishing was slow. Water levels had shot up from heavy rain, and the small fish were scattered in the flooded lowlands rather than at a predictable river edge. But we gave it a good shot, and I added one cool species that day – the smooth freshwater puffer.

I hadn’t even know these existed before my trip to Laos a few years ago, (Details in “The French Correction“)

You’re not the first person to notice that they look like a testicle with eyes.

We also got some nice Boesman’s croakers – a solid day.

Boesman’s croaker. They get a lot bigger.

I remembered the last time I was in Thailand with Nic, and having dinner with some of his old CIA buddies. It was like something out of a Warren Zevon song, but I didn’t see any Thompson guns.

The next day, the same day I found out Nic had died, I went out on the water but my thoughts weren’t on fishing. I kept looking at my phone. Nic had sent me texts just a few days ago. The last thing he ever sent me was, and pardon the language, but I will treasure this:

You’re an asshole    🙂

In this particular case, he was probably right. I couldn’t stop thinking about his wife, Lucy, and the pain she was going through. She was the one person he seemed to be able to talk to and who could make him deal with adult responsibilities. She was the Nic Whisperer.

I went through the motions on a very rainy Bang Pakong river.

It poured most of the day.

Kik was helpful every step of the way, but I was somewhere else.

The Hyatt labels have gotten awfully literal.

We were using tiny live prawns for bait, a lot like grass shrimp back home. Late in the morning, I reeled up an odd-looking catfish. Kik jumped out of his stool when he saw it, and for the avoidance of doubt, he was sitting on a wooden stool when he saw the photo. Don’t be gross. I had caught a Pla Kot Kan Lao – the truncated estuarine catfish, and this one is officially rare.

Francois has gotten two of these ever.

Adorable.

I thought Nic might have been looking out for me, but he was the sailor, not a fisherman. We talked about it, but we never did go fishing (or sailing) together. Just like I never saw Roger Barnes sing live. These chances go by so much faster than we think they do.

I got two other catfish that day which have thus far defied identification, so if any of you can figure them out, dinner is on me.

Guessing Ariidae. I didn’t say this was going to be easy.

Guessing in Netuma someplace, but this is a confusing genus.

Nic and I came close to fishing together once in Peru, but he decided it was more fun to sit on the pier, have a few beers, and make fun of me. Nic’s Father was a diplomat, so Nic grew up all over the world. He went to high school in Lima, and knew the place like the back of his hand. He spoke something like seven languages – three of them English.

Nic makes fun of my small fish. Note that he is reclining on solid rock – Nic could make himself comfortable anywhere, even the tiniest middle seat on the worst possible airlines.

When he went on a beer run and I asked him to bring me a Red Bull, he yelled halfway down the pier “¡Senor Wozniak, Yo he obtenido tus laxantes!” People stared, because this means “Mr. Wozniak, I have brought your laxatives!” Remember that I was the only person within earshot who did not speak Spanish.

I got off the water around five and we had surprisingly light traffic back into Bangkok.

Gas station bathroom on the way back to Bangkok. Signs like this go up for a reason, and I would love to know the reason.

I had dinner and a quiet beer at the Hyatt, at the same table where Nic and I, years ago, had giggled uncontrollably at a sales manager’s plaid suit, which looked a whole lot more like pajamas than business attire.

Steve and Nic, Bangkok. circa 2003.

The next morning, I flew through Singapore and caught a connection back to San Francisco. Once home, I got to say hello to Marta, then repack a bag for Florida. Marta loved Nic.

It was a military funeral – Nic was a US Marine. (And also a CIA officer and a lawyer. His resume made me wonder what I did with my life.)

“On behalf of a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”

Old friend Cristiano Bernarde, who has shared a few fishing adventures with me himself, was also very close to Nic. It was Cris who drove me up to the National Cemetery for the service. The whole thing was exactly 20 minutes long. It doesn’t seem fair to sum up a life in 20 hours or 20 days, let alone 20 minutes. Cris and I had lunch at, of all places, Bass Pro Shops in Dania Beach. He had to get back to work in the afternoon, and there I was, at the same Marriott I had stayed at for my very first IGFA award in 2010. It hit me that I hadn’t been fishing with Cris in years – it just always seemed like we would have to schedule it next time. I had a lot of plans with Nic for “next time.” So the next time I’m in Florida, I am making the time to get out with Cris, dammit.

But still, I was in Florida. There are fish here. Marta was locked up in some insane work project, so I decided to stick it out for a couple of days and try to catch a few species. This isn’t as glamorous as it sounds – the weather was unsettled and windy, and the hurricane that had passed through left a lot of damage. My favorite fishing pier – Anglin’s – was partially destroyed, and the coastal water was unseasonably green and cold. I had a all-star team of species experts on speed dial – Martini, Patrick Kerwin, and buddy Dom Porcelli – and everyone had some great ideas.

That first evening, I went up to Boca Raton, to a park Martini had recommended for night sergeant and possibly an eel. I opened a cold drink and set up my gear. I was late afternoon, the tide was rushing out, and I began catching all manner of small reef creatures. As it got dark, I had a crushing bite in the rocks and something broke off a 100# leader. The only thing that could have done this was an eel. (There are no gulf flounder in the area, Martini.) One of the last small fish I got was a very dark-colored damsel, which turned out to be the targeted species. I thought of Nic and smiled – there is no way he would have been out there with the mosquitoes.

Night sergeant. Ironically, I also met a Boca Raton police sergeant that night, because I had not realized the park closes at dusk. He let me off with a brief discussion of local fishing.

The next day was a blur of racing from spot to spot trying to pick up targets that Martini, or Dom Porcelli, or Pat Kerwin had passed along. I caught a couple of nice fish at Juno Pier, but it was mostly catfish.

An Atlantic Moonfish. Closely related to the Lookdown.

I decided to head to Boca Raton again, at a landing that had produced quite a few species for me. I had a big rod out with a bait for eel, and this did get a couple of hits – once from an ambitious nurse shark that put up a good fight for a minute or two. But I had dinner scheduled with the Arosteguis that evening, so I wanted to be more or less on time and more or less showered. I was down to using prawns on a lighter rig, and in the last five minutes I could fish, I got a solid, heavy bite. Lifting up on the 8 pound mono, I could tell immediately it was a moray, and I could also tell that the odds were heavily against me landing it. I gently worked it to the surface, and seeing that I had it hooked cleanly in the corner of the mouth, I gambled and swung it up onto the ledge. My gear held together, and I had finally gotten my Green Moray.

I thought of Vinnie Biondoletti and my eel failures with him all those years ago.

It gave me a good topic of conversation with Marty and Roberta, and I also got to visit with Rossi the cat.

Best cat EVER.

Saturday was my final day of fishing, and I spent it racing all over South Florida after some assorted micros that had frustrated me over the years. In a single morning, I was ignored by the bluefin killifsh, the sailfin molly, the least killifsh, and the brown hoplo. Both Martini and Dom had given me great spots and sage advice, and I still struck out. Bad. Like the kind of struck out where I never even saw the baseball, which used to happen a lot if someone could throw a curve over the plate.

There was one happy development to report on this day, and it was literally a Happy development. Specifically, an Eastern Happy Cichlid. This is one of those weird creatures that Patrick Kerwin somehow figured out lives in the pond at one given shopping center, and he was generous enough to tell me about it. Once I found the place, action was immediate. This was rewarding.

The Eastern Happy Cichlid. Species 1755.

There is no Western Happy Cichlid.

What was not rewarding was battling through the Everglades and watching bluefin killifish laugh at my micro rigs. Or going to some pond north of Miami that was supposed to have least killifish but that seemed to have only alligators.

WTF, Martini?

I decided to close it out at my favorite Boca Raton spot, but then I realized I was totally out of bait. If Nic had been around, he would have gladly driven me up a pound of seafood, but eaten half of it on the way. Instead, Dom Porcelli saved the day by delivering a bunch of shrimp and squid. I was back in business.

Dom Porcelli – owner of a very impressive species list himself.

I caught more than 50 assorted fish that afternoon, none new, but each one awesome. Then it was Skyline Chili for dinner, which made things just about perfect.

Nic would never have agreed to eat Skyline, but he would have come along just to talk. I’ll miss that.

If I’d had the choice, I never would have made this trip, but I will dedicate these three species to Nic. I hope he’s on a long sail with a quiet, following sea behind him.

And wherever you are, Nic – Happy Valentines Day.

Steve

 

Posted by: 1000fish | April 16, 2018

Mimi, Ajak, and Fred

Dateline: October 1, 2017 – Bandar Seri Bagawan, Brunei

I’m running out of countries to fish in Asia, but I have no idea how I missed this one for so long. Brunei is a small nation on the island of Borneo, which is otherwise shared by Malaysia and Indonesia. An oil-producing nation with a rich and varied history, Brunei is now an autonomous Sultanate, but only gained full independence from Britain in 1984, the same year I gained full independence from my parents. It is located on the South China Sea about a thousand miles east of Singapore, which is where I already was, on a business trip. The blessing of being sent to all these cool places is evened out by the curse that I am generally not on my own schedule. I can do side adventures to some really great places, but I usually have to work with a weekend or similarly short window. This means that I have to gamble on everything going right with weather and logistics, and this doesn’t always happen.

Brunei has great fishing and an IGFA Captain, Alfred Yong. (He goes by Captain Fred, and can be reached on www.captfredshop.com.) But the end of September is in their windy season, and Captain Fred warned me that the good areas are 80 miles out to open sea in an area called the Brunei Dropoff. We discussed, and he agreed to take me if the weather stayed civilized. With my schedule, we would squeeze it in to one 36 hour mad dash – get on the boat early one morning, run to the dropoff, fish overnight, then come home the next evening so I could get a flight back to Singapore and some more meetings. He thought it would be about 50/50, which is enough of a shot for me to give it a try. I figured I could always find some shore-based fishing if the weather was really bad, just to add the country. Either way, I hoped to fish the shore the afternoon I arrived – what else could I possibly find to do in an exotic tropical country? (This is a trick question. Brunei has lots of really cool stuff for normal people to do, but this is me we’re talking about.)

Booking a flight was a challenge, because I inadvertently kept pricing itineraries to Bahrain or Bhutan, which I am sure are both very nice places but are not a short flight from Singapore, and do not have IGFA skippers.

I figured the shore fishing idea had to be easier than Macau. (As you recall from “The S.A.R. Fishing Fishing Tour,” In that case, I was told, by a well-meaning but poorly-informed concierge, that all fishing in Macau was illegal. That put quite a cramp in things.)

In booking my hotel for Brunei, I used my normal criteria – the nicest-looking place I could find on the water. The Empire Resort looked beautiful, and it had a couple of miles of gorgeous, private shoreline.

The Empire Resort, Brunei.

The view from my room.

I figured I may as well ask the concierge about fishing, and perhaps any guides who could help me with the shore-based stuff. This is when they dropped the bomb – no fishing at the resort. Are you kidding me? Why else would someone even go to such a beautiful place, unless it was for fishing? (There are actually lots of other reasons to go to Brunei. For example, they have proboscis monkeys.) But what kind of sick pervert bans fishing?

This is where another concierge came into the picture. A day after this whole unfortunate exchange, I got a random email from “Mimi.” Mimi explained that she works for the hotel and had heard of my shore-fishing plight, and that her husband, Ajak, was a rather keen angler. She told me they would be glad to take me out the day I arrived, and on the other days if the boat didn’t work out. Not as a paid guide – just as a favor to another fisherman. This is from someone I had never met in my life. What wonderful people.

The flight went seamlessly – Singapore Air doesn’t mess up very often. United should send people to fly on Singapore just to see what it’s like when a plane shows up on time. The car to the hotel was waiting for me, and about 20 minutes, two Red Bulls, and a can of Pringles later, I was downstairs waiting for Ajak and Mimi to pick me up.

Mimi showed up in a car with her son and her sister. She explained that Ajak had been called in to his work on the offshore oil rigs, but that she would still take me to some of his favorite spots.

But Ajak makes the blog anyway! Here he is with a beautiful queenfish caught off one of the oil rigs.

She had brought a cooler full of shrimp, squid, and Pepsi, and I should point out they were all in separate compartments. This person had never met me before in my life, and she was about to take an afternoon of her life to help me catch a fish. As pessimistic as Marta can remind me that I am, it’s moments like this that remind me that humans are pretty good to each other. If they weren’t, I wouldn’t have caught nearly so many fish. Marta’s take on this: “Women rock, especially Mimi.” Marta then proceeded to mention that men could not have possibly done something that took this much organizing.

We fished two spots that afternoon. The first one was a rocky estuary shoreline. It didn’t take long to get a bite, and perhaps the Fish Gods sent me a slight message by giving me one of the species most difficult to tell apart from any of its close relatives – a marine catfish. But a fish is a fish, and I had added country number 90. I smiled and briefly thought back – I had only added number 50 (Switzerland, with the fabled Jens Koller) in April of 2008, nine and a half years ago. I grinned at how much fishing had happened in the interim, but then I remembered how many airline miles it had all taken.

Country number 90, with Mimi in the background.

I later discovered Mimi’s son in full photobomb mode.

I kept fishing, and got an equally unidentifiable species, the ponyfish.

I hate these things. They’re almost impossible to tell apart.

Somewhere in there, I asked Mimi why her sister had come along. Patiently, she explained that as Brunei is a Muslim country, that a woman being seen in public alone with a man who is not her husband could raise some eyebrows. Having a larger group removes the eyebrow factor. Of course, this now meant that I had taken up the afternoon of two more people. There is no way to ever repay kindness like this – all you can do it pass it to someone else. Martini, for example, wants to pass on all his kindness to Kate Upton. Whatever happens, Marta reminded me again that Mimi is a superstar and I could never have done this on my own.

Steve, Mimi, and a micro-snapper.

We finished our day at a pier along the same estuary.

The pier. There was no way I was passing this up, even after I saw a crocodile in the water by the right tower.

It was there I checked off two species – some sort of anchovy and a lovely violet demoiselle. This was a fantastic start, and I had my fingers crossed that the weather would stay nice for the boat trip.

The genus is Stolephorus. The species may never be known, but as I have caught nothing in Stolephorus, that’s a new one.

The demoiselle. I am always grateful when damselfish are not plain brown.

A beautiful sunset on the estuary.

Toward sundown, they dropped me off back at the Empire, and I headed for dinner. The Italian food at the hotel was outstanding. Fred called that evening and confirmed that the weather looked great. We were going, and I was thrilled. I managed to get a few hours of sleep before a very early wakeup call.

Fred picked me up before dawn, and we drove to a port in the very northeast of Brunei – about 25 minutes.

The Apollo is not the fastest boat in the world, but it was darn comfortable, and the crew was great. I could spread my gear out wherever I wanted to, and there were cold beverages at hand. I spent the first hour or so setting up my gear – putting rods together, tying and retying leaders, and assembling terminal rigs.

Captain Fred on the left. The guy is awesome.

On our way out, I asked to make a quick stop on some shallow reefs, and Captain Fred found a couple of nice spots. I dropped some medium and small hook rigs, and while everything got attacked immediately, it was clear, as Fred had warned me, that these were generally small fish. I started bringing up an assortment of reef critters, and while I caught at least 50 fish, nothing was new. So I settled in for about eight hours of cruising to the dropoff. This gave me plenty of time to eat lunch, take a solid nap, set up my heavy gear, eat dinner, drink lots of Pepsi, and otherwise become heavily caffeinated before the main event.

We passed occasional oil rigs on the way out.

Fred and I got to talk a lot of fishing. We would be heading to the Brunei Dropoff, about 80 miles out. The Spratly Islands, full of dogtooth tuna and Chinese Navy, were another 200 miles out. I need to get there sooner or later. It was just after dark when we pulled up to the first spot, where we would anchor over a patch of rough bottom in about 450 feet of water. After waiting 8 hours, I was beside myself to get going, and the anchoring process seemed to take forever. I first dropped a jig, because I was determined to test out my new Stella 20000 and Galahad jigging rod. This had been what I was dreaming of for the entire trip – some kind of huge predator, hopefully a dogtooth tuna, crushing a high-speed jig and ripping line off of a wrenched-down Stella drag.

I gave it a game try, for at least eight minutes, but the big predators did not seem to be active, and I have the patience of an impatient seven year-old. Emotionally, I needed to get some bait on the bottom. The rigs hadn’t been down five seconds when the bites started. The first fish I brought up was a yellowfin seabream – related to the Australian pink snapper.

An exotic sea bream – the first newbie of the boat trip.

On the very next drop, I pulled up a pair of bight alfonsino, part of a deepwater family that I always love to catch. We hadn’t been at it ten minutes and I had added two species.

Some fish come from a rough neighborhood. These come from a roughy neighborhood.

I then got into a school of lavender snapper – a strangely ubiquitous creature that I have caught anywhere from Hawaii to the Indian Ocean.

These things live EVERYWHERE.

Once the snapper had calmed down, I got a deepwater soldierfish, which turned out to be a Japanese Soldierfish. Then came a Rosy Dwarf Monocle bream, and it was a pound, so I had no problem turning it in for a record, even if it did have “dwarf” in the name. I added another soldierfish, and this one was big enough for a record, so that was two for the IGFA, and I am certain Marta texted me to not even think about another trophy this year. (It happened anyway.)

The rosy dwarf monocle bream. It weighed a pound, so there. Jamie hasn’t caught one.

Now THAT’S a soldierfish. A Japanese soldierfish, to be exact.

Somewhere in there, before the lavebder snappers found me again, I got some sort of odd shark, which turned out to be yet another addition to my Squalus collection – the western longnose spurdog.

Many thanks to Clinton Duffy, a New Zealand-based shark expert, for identifying this one.

Captain Fred was fishing on the other side of the boat, and the dude is a machine. He was pounding the bottom fish, and was getting consistently better specimens than I was without doing anything visibly different. He got a couple of groupers I had never seen in my life – one with thin lines along the flank, the other with a beautiful oblique pattern. I stayed patient, and about half an hour later, I got one of the lined groupers.

This put me up to six species for the deepwater part of the trip, eight overall.

Then the lavender snappers took over again.

It got very late, and I knew I wanted to get a bit of sleep before giving it a try in the dawn hours. Just before then, things got weird. I kept trying to jig intermittently, because I had my new Stella 20000 and Galahad jigging rod, but it just wasn’t happening. I finally did something that Dave at Lure Haven is going to be very upset about. I used the jigging rod as a bait stick and dropped a big slab of mackerel to the bottom. I’m sorry, Davy. And you just know what happened. I got a pounding bite. Reeling up and setting the hook, I got stuck in the rocks, but I could tell there was something on the hook. This is a strong rod and 65# braid – I took my chances and just wrenched on it, and moments later, the fish pulled free. I was guessing eel the whole way up, and sure enough, it was a good-sized conger. It turned out be a Philippine conger – a new species and my third record of the session.

There is a special place in hell for people who use specialized jigging setups to bait fish for eels. I have previous infractions along these lines.

After that, I caught no more than two hours of sleep, then got back up at dawn to jig some more.

Sunrise on the Brunei Dropoff.

With only 36 hours available, and a lot of that spent in transit, I had to take advantage of every moment. Nothing hit on the jigs, so I went back to bait. My first fish of the morning was a ruby snapper – I had gotten small ones in Hawaii before, but at least it was a break from the lavebder pests.

This is my largest ruby ever. Four months later, I would get a much bigger one, but that is a tale for another blog.

Moments later, I got a strong bite and reeled in an excellent surprise – an oblique-banded grouper.

This would be my 10th Brunei species and fourth record, which made it an excellent morning.

We fished until about noon, and while the action was constant, there were no other new creatures to report. The crew started pulling the anchor, and I settled into my routine of cleaning and packing gear.

Just as we started under way, a pair of egrets glided into view and made a clumsy landings on the back of the boat.
The egrets. Still, I have no egrets about this trip.
It didn’t strike me as strange for a moment, but then it occurred to me that this is a land bird and was very, very lost. Fred explained that they occasionally get swept out to sea by the wind, where they usually die a miserable death unless they can hitch a ride on a shore-bound vessel. This was life and death for these little feathered souls, and they were not budging. We left them some bait to eat and went about our business. They were terrified by us, but I think they were more terrified by the open water. We soon made peace with each other, and after a while, they moved up to the side rail.
Their position for most of the trip. They seemed to understand we weren’t going to hurt them.
They would let us walk by them without flying off, and this uneasy peace lasted eight hours until we reached land. When they flew away, it felt wonderful. Don’t ask me to describe this and do it justice. I am a fisherman, not a poet, but it felt like the universe had done the right thing.
I thought a lot about those birds, fortunate passengers on a journey every bit as unlikely and every bit as random as mine. Fred, Mimi, and Ajak had all done a wonderful part in helping me along – I had reached 1750 species, and I still had a couple of days in Thailand coming up. Hopefully, I would keep landing on vessels with the right people headed the right way.
Steve
Posted by: 1000fish | February 27, 2018

The Best Disaster Ever

DATELINE: SEPTEMBER 24, 2017 – SINGAPORE

There are days you just shouldn’t go fishing. Your wife’s birthday comes to mind, baptisms of children if any, and significant holidays in whatever religion you may follow. Trust me – I speak from experience. Nearly as important as these considerations are those occasions when the elements conspire against you, making conditions either unsafe (think storms or tropical disease) or just undesirable for fishing (think red tide or armed insurrection.) This post will cover one such day, but I went fishing anyway and was improbably rewarded for a bad decision. The victims here were my buddies, who had to suffer through an awful day – not only were the fish small and far between, but the guys also had to be on a small boat with me for 10 hours.

The place was Singapore, the guide was the ever-reliable Jimmy Lim, the friends were Dave and Jarrod, and the problems were tides and rain.

You can contact Jimmy on itsgreat7070@gmail.com or https://www.facebook.com/ItsGrRReat. As good as he is, he can’t stop the rain.

Singapore is tropical, so a day of unseasonably cold rain will cloud up the water and put the fish off. There had been three days of unseasonably cold rain. On top of that, the tides, much like Cousin Chuck, were notably slow, meaning limited action even if the water had been warm and clear. But I went anyway, because I was here and I only had one free day – the rest of the week would be (gasp) work. The innocent victims in all this – Dave and Jarrod, buddies who just wanted a nice day of fishing. Jimmy had warned me, I had warned myself, but somehow, I was convinced deep in my hubris-laden soul that I could pull off a decent day.

I haven’t been this wrong since I proposed to my ex-wife.

I started things out on a low note by bringing the wrong rod tube to the harbor. This caused a 45 minute delay, which could have been much longer except for the heroic actions of Filzah, the concierge at the Hyatt, who managed to race up to my room, avoid my dirty socks and find the correct Loomis, then get it delivered to me with great efficiency. Concierges have featured in a number of my adventures, such as “Gobies in the Afternoon,” and Filzah takes an honored place in this group.

Filzah, the heroic concierge at the Singapore Hyatt.

Realistically, waiting for the hotel car was the most excitement we had all day. The fishing was awful, as Jimmy repeatedly warned us it would be. Dave and Jerrod got a couple of small snappers each, and I got roughly the same. The guys were beerfully stoic, even when I pointed out “At least we have each other.” They tried, and failed, to keep a straight face when I caught a teeny ponyfish on purpose.

The good-looking guys are Jerrod at center and David on the right. You have met David’s son in blog episode “I’m Here for the Gummy.” The little guy has captured a species I have not, and don’t think this doesn’t bother me.

But even on the grimmest of angling days, the metaphorical tides can change in an instant. Because the predatory fish were absolutely not interested in eating, the small, strange fish that normally spend their days hiding in terror all seemed to come out and play. As the afternoon went on, my sabiki produced four – FOUR – new species. I would like to note that Dr. Jeff Johnson of the Queensland Museum spent untold time identifying all of these – he must have identified a hundred species for me over the years, and he is remarkable not only for his knowledge, but also for his amazing patience when I am hoping that a fish is something new and it isn’t but I keep asking just in case.

Dr. Jeff Johnson. I have never seen a Malabar Blood Snapper half this size.

The first two were Sardinella species – these are commonly called “herring” or “sardine” depending on location, but the only other ones I’ve caught (in Sao Tome, Belize, and Qatar) are not found here. So these go into the list as a “genus only” ID, but new species.

Sardinella spp. 1

Sardinella spp. 2 – note again the look of complete awe on David’s face.

I then added an anchovy to the list. Yes, an anchovy, albeit a weird one from a weird genus – Thryssa. We’ll never know which specific Thryssa is was, as I didn’t take an MRI of the fish, but I have no other Thryssa in my collection and it was turning into a great day than only I and I alone could appreciate. Luckily, the guys had brought beer.

I am proud of this.

My final addition for the day was an especially thrilling one. (To me, and perhaps Martini.) I somehow dragged up a Reticulate Toadfish, a close relative of the three-spined toadfish that I captured in Cairns in 2003.

There’s something about that complex anterior eye cirrus that makes me so happy.

All of these were caught in places I had fished numerous times previously. The only variable was the rotten water situation – so I had ended up inadvertently making the best of a bad situation. The guys, true Australians, handled it in stride and verbally abused me all day. The abuse and anecdotes thrown my way were uninterrupted and high-quality. Unfortunately, even five months later, I still can’t think of a single thing they said that I can repeat here without making my blog the target of some sort of activist group. (Apart from the usual fish-hugger types, who never understand that hugging fish doesn’t impress the fish and leaves you both with awkward smells.) About all I am allowed to say is that there was a story I’ll call “Wrong Turn on Guai Lo Street” that was partly educational, partly hysterical, but mostly disturbing. Think “The Crying Game” meets “Finding Nemo.”

The guys are smiling because we were done.

I thought about offering to pay for a night out for them, but a bar tab for Australians can be a financially crippling obligation. I did end up having dinner and drinks with David later in the week, so he got at least partially even with me.

Dis Elephant

This is a real Thai restaurant in Singapore. It has an elephant butt for a logo. 

He has also discovered some rather exquisite underground bars, which feature exquisite underground drinks and exquisite underground bar tabs.

Yes, that’s a three-story high liquor cabinet. The stuff on the top shelves gets a bit pricey – note that there are no stairs. They send a waitress, complete with wings, up on a wire harness.

But the Singapore fishing wasn’t quite over. Many of you newer readers are familiar with the whole Singapore gang – Jimmy, Dave, Sherwin, and the assorted peanut gallery from Lure Haven. But only those who have been around since the beginning of 1000fish – and before – will remember the founder of all my Singapore adventures – Jarvis Wei Lee. Jarvis guided me to my very first fish in Singapore – a barramundi and a mangrove jack – back on July 4, 1999.

Steve and Jarvis, a long time ago. He never seems to age.

We’re still in touch – he often makes dark comments on my blog – but it had been quite a few years since we were able to put our schedules together. Purely by chance, a few weeks before this trip, he emailed me a note mentioning that he had figured out a couple of Singapore species that I could add whenever I visited. So we set up a late afternoon to run around some of Singapore’s lesser-known backwaters and hunt a few truly exotic species, at least one of which was not in a hatchery environment.

Our first target took us deep into the jungle.

There were monkeys. Unlike Gibraltar, they kept their distance. (See “Rock Fishing” for details.)

There is a surprising amount of jungle in Singapore, and no one will convince me that every jungle does not have at least one cobra. My strategy was to let Jarvis go first, so that I could run for help while he held off the snake.

Prime cobra country.

See – he never ages.

Our fishing target was a rare snakehead species, and we eventually found and fished some very small pools in a stream that meandered through the foliage. The water level wasn’t quite right, but while we did not get the snakehead, we did score some Penang Bettas, which were there in droves.

The Penang Betta. A savage new species.

The trophy shot.

Later in the afternoon, we drove to about as isolated a spot as one can find in Singapore. Remember, the island is only 31 miles wide, so it would seem difficult to find someplace that no one could hear me scream, yet here we were. The target was a jewel perch – don’t worry, I hadn’t heard of them either. They are apparently really good to eat, which in turn means that they are grown in ponds for the markets, which in turn means that Jarvis knew which pond. We spent about 45 minutes messing around a complex of ponds and small backwaters, and we had a blast hooking up (and releasing) the hard-fighting perch.

Species 1736 if you’re keeping score at home. Dr. Johnson informs me that it is actually a Barcoo Grunter, an Australian species. Jewel perch and Jade perch are marketing names meant to make them sound more edible, sort of like “Rocky Mountain Oysters.” The scientific name for the species is Scortum barcoo, which I only mention because “Scortum” kept spell-correcting to “Scrotum.”

While we were catching perch, we noticed a larger, black fish that kept popping up and eating bread off the surface. After we saw it a few times, we both figured out it was a sharkminnow, a fairly rare cyprinid that shows up in this part of world now and then. I had caught one in Thailand – made famous in “The Carp and I”  – and was frothing at the nostrils to get another. We must have spent half an hour casting to it, and either having perch eat the bread or having the sharkminnow come up, sniff at it, and wander away. It was getting dark. We both had stuff to do. But we couldn’t leave that fish, and after about another hour, I got lucky. Meaning I caught the fish – get your mind out of the gutter.

With that catch, we were on our way to respective business dinners downtown. It had been great to see Jarvis – we’ve been doing this for almost 18 years – but then I had to face a few days in the office. (I am even less popular in this office than I am in most of the others globally.) But all that was fine, because once the week was over, I would be heading for an adventure in the last Asian country I am likely to ever add to my list. No, it’s not North Korea. Dennis Rodman won’t call me back.

Steve

 

 

 

Posted by: 1000fish | February 11, 2018

Par for the Corso

Dateline: September 3, 2017 – Columbus, Ohio

I’ll be the first to admit my blog doesn’t always stay on topic. I may, occasionally, wander into non-fishing directions because I, and generally I alone, find them interesting. This is about to happen again. Indeed, most of this post is going to be about old friends in the Midwest and an afternoon improbably spent with a college football legend. The main drama regarding this entire post was finding SOMETHING fishing related – a new species or a record – so that I could write the blog in the first place.

From time to time, with Marta’s curiously enthusiastic encouragement, I head back to the midwest for nutritionally irresponsible weekends with buddies in Ohio and Indiana. One of my best Hoosier friends, Steve Ramsey, may look like an accountant but spent years destroying me at tennis. Every autumn or two, we plan a weekend around some IU, Colts, and Pacers games, and then try to eat as much Skyline Chili as a human can tolerate. (And this limit has been exceeded more than once.) Steve was a football student manager for the Indiana University Hoosiers in the 1970s, so as a sports alum, he gets invited to some fairly cool stuff. I have spent years embarrassing him by attending IU/Michigan games in full Wolverine regalia.

Best of all, Indiana NEVER wins. They have made it uncomfortably interesting – double OT in 2015 and OT in 2017 – but they NEVER win.

Mr. Ramsey in his college yearbook.

This year, we decided to root together against a program everyone can hate – Ohio State. (A college team that could beat the Cleveland Browns – who hasn’t – but bear in mind the Buckeyes’ payroll and arrest record exceeds that of eight NFL teams.)

The OSU game would be nationally televised, and the “College Gameday” host would be, as always, Lee Corso. With the exception of the late and awesome Keith Jackson, Lee Corso is my absolute favorite football announcer. Here is one of his most candid moments: (Warning: may contain language that most kids have already heard at school)

Lee Corso was also the football coach at IU when Steve was a student there. It had been many years since Coach Corso had been to IU, but when College Gameday set up to broadcast this game, the IU football alum association set up an event to honor him. This consisted of a lunch and private reception for the alums and the Coach, and then an on-field award presentation that would be on national television. As an alum, Steve Ramsey was invited to this, and I couldn’t have been more excited for him. We would need to go down to Bloomington a couple of hours early, and then I would need to find something to do while Steve attended all the stuff. I was looking forward to seeing his photos and seeing a great game. I had no intention of crashing either event.

But before I could write about any of this, I would need to catch some sort of new species. I’ve done plenty of fishing in Indianapolis, (see “My Old Kentucky Bone.”) Still, I figured that if I brought out the micro-gear, that I would have a pretty good chance of getting something new. The area near Steve’s house has a number of creeks, and all it would take is one oddball shiner, minnow, or sculpin. The day after the game, I ventured out, micro-gear in hand. (Don’t worry, we’ll get back to the game later.) The weather was unseasonably cool and windy, from the remnants of Hurricane Harvey. I explored three creeks, and while I did catch some of the requisite chubs and a positively massive bluntnose minnow, there was nothing new to report.

By bluntnose minnow standards, this is a beast.

I could spend days walking creeks like this.

A random northern hogsucker. I first got this species in Wisconsin.

How hard could this be? I needed to get just one lousy new fish to tell the story of the game on that fateful Thursday, and it was turning out to be harder than I’d hoped.

Ah, that fateful Thursday. Steve and I breakfasted at Skyline, then headed south on Highway 37 in the late morning.

Skyline for breakfast. It is just like Skyline for lunch, except maybe a bit less tabasco.

It was a glorious early fall day as we headed through the rolling hills and enjoyed the autumn scenery. We were early enough to secure prime parking, and then we took our time walking over to the alumni center where the event would be held. I figured I would leave Steve there and then wander the campus for a couple of hours. When we got to the registration desk, they recognized Steve and gave him his nametag. Then, something unexpected happened –  they asked me my name, wrote me out a nametag, and sent us in to the event.

To be fair, I was with a well-known alum, and I was wearing an IU football t-shirt and hat, and I suppose I look like a middle-aged former defensive back. But they waved me right in, and there was Coach Corso right in front of me. We were early, so there weren’t many people there yet, and I am certainly not all that shy, so I just walked up and introduced myself. Just like that, I was shaking hands with a thoroughly confused Lee Corso. I explained I was a guest and brought Steve up. We snapped a quick picture together before I left them to talk about the old days.

I will treasure this photo.

Coach spent quite a bit of time with Steve, and clearly remembered him, what he studied, and what he had planned to do after college – amazing for someone he worked with 40+ years ago. The guy was sharp and amazingly engaging.

After he had spent some personal time with everyone in attendance, Coach Corso gave a short talk to the group. It has been years since he coached, and I obviously didn’t play for IU, but I would still follow this man through a wall – he was that charismatic. I couldn’t believe I was lucky enough to meet him.

Steve signs a team ball for Coach Corso.

No, I didn’t. But if I had, I would have written “Go Blue.”

This was all great, but there was still that fish to catch. Two days after the game, I headed to Ohio to meet some very dear old friends for dinner. On the way in to town, I had arranged a fishing stop at Little Darby Creek, just west of Columbus.

This was a place I had heard of constantly while I lived in Columbus – from 1985 to 1989 – but I never did make it out there to fish. In that somewhat wild and single period of my life, which Marta calls “The Dark Ages When Literacy Was Almost Lost,” I had somewhere around 20 species on my list, and had caught fish in perhaps three states. Back then, I somehow wore size 32 pants and had a lot more hair, but fortune favors the bald.

Speaking of fortune, I had the good luck to be able to arrange a meeting with a fellow species hunter on that trip. Josh Leisen is one of the midwestern guys who always seems to be catching something I’ve never heard of. He happened to be heading through Ohio on the same day as me, and he generously scoped out a couple of fishing spots. Josh knows Martini and Ben, who both speak highly of him. Josh was present when Ben dropped the catfish on his calf – see “The Thing in Ben’s Leg” for all the gruesome details.”

It was a chilly, drizzly day in central Ohio, again courtesy of Hurricane Harvey. Wet wading was a bit more bracing than I had hoped. Josh had planned ahead and brought waders. The creek was beautiful, and positively stuffed with interesting small fish. I caught bluegill, bass, shiners, darters, and minnows, but nothing new. Josh added a couple of lifers – the scarlet and rosyface shiners. He is a very solid, patient fisherman, and is running up quite a life list. (Check out his blog HERE.)

I really should have brought waders.

A closer photo of Josh, from the South America trip. There are no redtail catfish in Little Darby. In case you wondered, the missing fin parts are the work of piranhas.

I only had so much time, because I needed to be in Columbus for dinner and would need to shower and get the worm slime out from under my fingernails. We figured my best shot was at a smallmouth redhorse, which should be present in slightly deeper runs and seams. So I tried this for about a shivering hour, and I did get a golden redhorse, but alas, not the smallmouth.

The golden. In hindsight, that hat might not have been all that stealthy.

I headed in through Columbus, passing exits which carried a rush of memories – had it really been almost 30 years since I lived there? I reached my hotel and got ready to see some guys that I hadn’t seen as a group in 20 years. Looking back on it, we didn’t have all that much in common – except baseball. We all love the game, and back in 1989 we could make any excuse to get a bucket of balls, go to a high school field, and play for hours and hours in those humid midwestern summers. We could road trip to Pittsburgh or Cincinnati at the drop of a hat to watch a game, except for Scott, who always needed more advance planning. We once stuck out an 18-inning Pirates victory together. We only knew each other in Columbus for a couple of years, but have kept in touch for all the decades since. This was the first full gathering in Columbus since the nineties, when Michigan was still routinely beating OSU.

Speaking of the Buckeyes and the game, they didn’t look too good against the Hoosiers for the first half. Indiana took several leads against the highly-favored Ohioans, and in the middle of this, they summoned the IU football alums to the field to present an award to coach Corso. This is where things got even more interesting. Steve would have to walk down a lot of stairs to to get the the end zone access, but he was a bit banged up from an accident a few days ago. (Not his fault, but he had some impressive five-color elbow and leg bruises.) He did not relish doing this through the crowd, and was considering skipping the event. I didn’t want this to happen, so I went and explained the situation to the head of security at the press box, and he kindly gave us access to the elevator to field level. (And all the nachos we could eat.)

When we got down to field level, I walked up to security with Steve. The Alum head, seeing that I had helped Steve get over there, smiled and waved me through to the field. We got to watch about a quarter of the game, including an IU touchdown, from the end zone.

The best seats in the house.

When they gave the award to Coach Corso, we were right in the middle of it and even helped carry him off on the group’s shoulders. It was an extraordinary experience, and hopefully, I didn’t embarrass Steve too much by inadvertently crashing it. At least I was wearing IU gear.

Coach Corso is lifted up. We did not drop him, so we aren’t that old.

Oh, and we were also on national television a bunch of times, but that wouldn’t matter unless I could catch a new species in Ohio.

Yes, we really are there, standing under those arrows.

Think red hat for me, white hat for him. 

Back to the dinner in Columbus – it was  amazing and long overdue. I have now known these guys for more than half my life.

2017: Clockwise from top left – Dave, Scott, John, and you-know-who.

1990: This was not Halloween. And who wears shorts with a baseball jersey?

There was Dave Hogan, he of the amazing fastball and godawful swing. His daughter, who was born right around when I left Columbus, is a full-fledged adult with a college degree and a job and everything.

There was Scott Kisslinger, who threw hard but was known to hit a batter or two, even if they were in the on deck circle. Scott used to live in the apartment across the hall from mine, and caused more than one awkward moment by calling all of my girlfriends “Jennifer.” (He was right twice.) Scott loves to do some fishing himself, and interestingly, caught one of the largest bluegill I have ever seen. (Although we were fishing for bass.)

And finally, John Yohman, owner of the most beautiful swing I have ever seen put on a weak fastball. He was there with his wife, Jackie, who has somehow not aged a bit in 28 years. How could have time passed that quickly? (And how is it that I never learned to hit a curveball?)

We watched old videos of us playing semi-competent pickup baseball well into the night, but it was finally time to get some sleep and figure out how in the world I was going to get a new species, or none of this would ever come to light.

I had time to make one fishing stop the next day on the way back to Indianapolis, and I decided to bet it all on Little Darby and the smallmouth redhorse. The weather had improved wonderfully, and by 9am, it was sunny and warm. Wet wading sounded a lot less hypothermic than it had yesterday.

Little Darby.

I walked the stream for about a mile, looking for deeper seams where redhorse might reside. All the while, I was catching assorted micros, plus plenty of sunfish and the occasional bass. I finally set up above a small hole with a big fallen tree across the top of it. I got more rock bass, then a couple of golden redhorses, which stopped my heart because they pull hard and look like every other redhorse until they’re out of the water.

Great on light tackle.

The action slowed, and with about an hour left, I decided to leave one rod soaking for redhorse and then go upstream and try to get an interesting micro.

A fantail darter – interesting, but alas, not new. 

As it got toward time to leave, I came back to the rod I had wedged in the tree. I immediately spotted that a bunch of line had been pulled off the (loosely set) spool. Something was happening. I tightened the drag, reeled down slowly, and a moment later, there was weight. I gently reeled into the circle hook and the fish started fighting. Decent size, clearly not a bluegill, and as it got close, I saw it was the right shape. But I needed to get it on to the bank to examine it. Would Lee Corso, if he was announcing Species Fishday, put on the Golden Redhorse helmet or the Smallmouth Redhorse Helmet? I looked closely – red dorsal and tail, short head – Lee Corso would put on the Smallmouth helmet. I had done it, and just in the nick of time. And to think – if that hook had slipped, you wouldn’t have had to read any of this, but it didn’t, and you did.

The beast. Species #1732.

It must have been the lucky hat and shirt the guys gave me.

Certainly, this was a very high text-to-species ratio, but the things I will remember most about this trip – and about so many of my trips – are the friends, old and new. Links to a past that I can still touch, a common experience that we can look back and say “We were here.” There are private jokes that are still funny 28 years later, new friends that I will undoubtedly fish with again, and yes, I got to shake hands with Lee Corso.

Steve

Posted by: 1000fish | January 28, 2018

The Wakkanai Road Trip Chronicles – Part Two

DATELINE: JULY 22, 2017 – WAKKANAI, JAPAN

What kind of idiots drive 17 hours to catch a small dolly varden trout?

That would be us. And no, that isn’t the trout. The trout wasn’t that big.

To pick up our cliffhanger, Phil’s plan was elegant in its simplicity, yet diabolical in its execution. He asked me if I needed a Dolly Varden trout. I told him I did. He continued “Well, they aren’t big, but I know a place where we can catch one for sure.” I was waiting for the bad news, and there was bad news. The fish were on the opposite side of Hokkaido – some eight and a half hours driving. Each way. But we had our plan.

I didn’t say it was a good plan.

I had no idea Hokkaido was this wide, but a quick check on Wikipedia revealed that Hokkaido is roughly the size of Ireland. Japan overall is a lot bigger than I thought – about 1800 miles from NE to SW.

You really get to know someone when you drive 17 hours with them in one day, and the only radio stations are Japanese agricultural news. Phil and I explored the full depth of our relationships, emotional needs, and views on the major questions of life. That left us 16 hours and 55 minutes, and all I can say is thank God for the internet. (Which had also played a big part in the Great Road Trip of 2014.) Phil and I are almost a generation apart in age, but he still appreciates the finer things in life, like Eddie Murphy’s “Delirious.” (Which is a bit more politically incorrect than I remember, but the first time I saw it was on a rented Betamax player.) I will never look at Mr. T the same way ever again.

I pity the fool.

About halfway along the northern edge of Hokkaido, we passed a tackle store. More to stretch our legs than to look for gear, we stopped. The proprietor, who looked to be a solid 98 years old, spoke slowly but very, very loudly, and although the conversation took forever, Phil was very interested in something. During a lull in the discussion, he looked my way and whispered “Charter boat. Better weather.” It turns out that a local charter boat did its bookings through this tackle store, and that the weather tomorrow would be decent enough to go. By the time we were done, we had agreed to show up at 6am the next day to do some deep jigging. We would get a shot at our bottom fish. I was thrilled, until I did the math.

It was currently 11am. With good traffic, we would reach the trout stream in another four hours – 3pm. If we spent 30 minutes there, and then eight and a half hours to get home, that would put us in Wakkanai at midnight. We had to be back at the charter boat at 6am, which would require a four and a half hour drive. This meant a whopping 90 minutes of sleep, if we ignored food and hygiene, but the idea of getting out into the deeper water had us both positively giddy. The four hours flew by like 240 minutes.

It was a small stream, exactly what Phil had described. Just as he promised, we both got Dolly Vardens immediately. We fished for exactly 14 minutes, then it was back into the car, much like the fabled Cottonwood Death March,  but with fewer blisters.

It’s a Dolly Varden. Jaime Hamamoto hasn’t caught one. Works for me.

Phil works the creek. No idea how that jacket didn’t spook the fish.

Phil’s beastly Dolly. (Which would be a GREAT name for a band.)

On the way home, I explored every possible cantaloupe ice cream permutation – cups, cones, soft serve. It never got old.

Heavenly.

We found even more inappropriate, juvenile comedy on my phone. I could just hear Marta saying “You two are clearly related, and you are both idiots.” But Andrew Dice Clay is darn funny, especially when you’ve had no sleep. The sun came out, and we did pass some lovely scenery.

The Hokkaido coastline, looking toward Russia.

Some waterfall.

We also passed another bathroom with deeply confusing signs and devices.

I don’t know what this means, but it scares me.

This is for storing your baby while you use the toilet, which also terrifies me.

We got back to Wakkanai shortly before midnight. Dinner, and some basic personal hygiene, was accomplished at McDonald’s, and then it was nap time. I was just getting into a dream about dogtooth tuna when the alarm went off.

Four hours later, we arrived at a big, yellow charterboat.

Our home for the next eight hours.

The water was bumpy, to put it lightly, but after three cancelled trips, it looked pretty good. We motored out half an hour, and I dropped a two-hook rig to the bottom. I had a light bite, set the hook, and my line broke. I re-rigged and re-dropped. My line broke again. Phil finally discovered that one of my guides had cracked and was fraying the line. We cut the guide off and kept fishing. I am sure I was the picture of patience during this entire process.

My first two fish up looked like Atka Mackerel – a species I had lusted after in many a sweaty late-night fish book session. But these didn’t look quite right, and as soon as I could research it, I discovered that these were Okhotsk Atka Mackerel – a different and even cooler species.

The Okhotsk atka mackerel. I am told the regular ones are also here.

I followed this up with a Shimasoi Rockfish.

Another Sebastes for my collection!

As we drifted off the hard reef, we started catching loads of Pacific Cod. (I had gotten these previously, but they are fun to catch and excellent to eat.) Besides, we were finally using the heavier rods and catching dignified bottom fish.

Phil with a typical cod.

They were everywhere. Spellman could have caught one. Maybe even Guido.

The skipper took us to quite a few spots. We fished mostly in the 200 foot range – the deeper water, further offshore, was simply too rough. But we were on a boat and catching stuff, and although it was not the calmest day I’ve fished, we were here. My next species was large sculpin, which is part of a group that are called “Irish Lords” for some unknown reason. This one is a Gilbert’s Irish Lord.

Gilbert, ironically, was not Irish. And no, there is not a Sullivan’s Irish Lord, because I know you were going to ask.

In between a bunch more cod, I got a gray rockfish.

Another Sebastes. As fast as I can catch these, some scientist seems to add more species.

Just before we needed to head back to port, I got my biggest bite of the trip. I had trouble getting the fish off the bottom, and it fought hard well up into the water column. I guessed shark; Phil guessed greenling. I explained to Phil that greenling don’t get that big. Phil smiled and helped me land the biggest greenling I have ever seen, pushing six pounds.

So Phil was right.

The so-called Fat Greenling actually gets larger than that, and I was appropriately humbled. It was my fifth species of the day, and as much as I wanted to launch my breakfast all over the deck, I was thrilled with the excursion. The five new ones – all presentably large fish –  brought me up to 28 species for the trip.

It was four hours back to Wakkanai, but we had some actual fish to talk about. We were already planning a return trip next year. There are wolf fish and a whole new batch of other species to get, and I had forgotten completely about the lousy water conditions. On the way home, we stopped at a Wal-Mart-looking place and bought a coffin-sized cooler, which we then used to store all the fish, along with six bags of ice. It weighed over a hundred pounds, and I had no idea that Phil believed he was going to check it as luggage the next day.

The floor of the car had become a ghastly forensic record of my diet for the past 24 hours, and while I was not proud, I was certainly constipated.

Yes, I ate all that.

Normal people would have slept in the next morning – we had certainly paid our dues. But Phil wanted another Taimen, and I wanted to see what small creatures were living in the rivers. We were on the road early, fortified by Red Bull and cantaloupe ice cream. Now that I think about it, cantaloupe ice cream and Red Bull would make an excellent milkshake, and I am going to act on this impulse as soon as practical. Phil found a perfect-looking river, and he wasted little time in hooking a magnificent fish.

I wish I had video of the high-risk gymnastics Phil did to get across the concrete structures and land the fish.

It was a fitting exclamation point on a trip that had become more than memorable – the boat trip had given us the solid bottom fishing we had been craving. What bad weather? What junk food diet? What lack of sleep? We had done it, and now it was time for the airport.

Our next challenge was to somehow get a 100 pound cooler on to the flight home. ANA is a very rule-driven airline, almost Germanically so, and they had simply never considered that a cooler this large could exist. Their price list ended somewhere around 80 pounds, so it took some convincing to allow us to check this beast. Phil must be very charming in Japanese.

When we finally got to his house, it felt like we had been gone a month. Hitomi, a certified sushi chef, set to preparing a feast out of our catch, and we had a marvelous meal to celebrate our triumphs.

Betsey was a bit surprised to see me.

My flight home was late the next afternoon, so Phil and I gave it one more quick shot in Tokyo Bay, close to the base where his boat is moored. It was still a bit bumpy out, so there was no shot at deeper water, but we managed to scrape up two new species – a sabihaze goby and a pearl-spot chromis.

The sabihaze goby. They’re stronger than they look.

The chromis. Basically a damselfish.

I also caught a positively beastly Japanese whiting – not new, but a personal best, which pleased me. (See “Land of the Rising Species Total” for earlier Japanese whitings.)

The godzilla of whitings.

This took the count for the trip to an even 30 –  we had gotten 82 together in less than a year. (My lifetime count had climbed to 1734 – a good jump on 1800.) The less-than-perfect conditions are part of the game, and I can’t thank Phil enough for finding the spots and sticking it out with me, especially on the Dolly Varden adventure that led to all the bottom fish. Still, it only took a few moments in my Japanese fish guide to remind me that there were countless species left for me to catch in the Land of the Rising Sun. I knew I would be back, and that Betsey would be waiting.

Steve

 

SPECIAL BONUS SECTION

Speaking of Phil and marlin, just about a month after I left, he actually got a blue from his boat. It’s great to see him catch a lifetime dream like this – perhaps the Fish Gods are rewarding him for all the time he has spent chasing obscure species with me.

He had been after one of these for years.

Anything taller than Phil is TALL.

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