Posted by: 1000fish | July 2, 2015

The Marching Band From Hell

Dateline: November 8, 2014 – Puerto Penasco, Mexico

This is a scary blog. It deals with frightening themes such as biker gangs, Mexican drug cartels, and yoga, but the most difficult part of the trip turned out to be an encounter with a high school marching band.

First, the yoga. Marta believes yoga is a good thing. I believe yoga hurts, and should only be used as an ethically iffy substitute for waterboarding. Therefore, it pains me to admit that something good came out of yoga – namely, ten new fish species.

Yes, this connection is tenuous, but it was the best I could do with a deadline looming.

To explain – Marta teaches yoga to a local couple. The wife, Jen (who wishes to remain anonymous, so we will call her Jen X,) has a brother named Dave, who lives in Mexico and fishes constantly. Dave is in Puerto Penasco (Rocky Point to us gringos,) a pleasant beach town with shopping, restaurants … and fish, which is three or so hours south of Phoenix.

Once Marta had mentioned my fishing problem, Jen was determined to introduce me to Dave. It took six months of schedule challenges, but we finally met up at their house for a marvelous dinner. While the Silicon Valley types prattled on about market caps (you apparently wear these when you sell stock,) Dave and I talked serious fishing. This guy is the real deal – he has spent years fishing the Sea of Cortez and has caught some monstrous grouper and white seabass. I was dying to catch a big white seabass, so that Jim Tolonen would stop making fun of me. (For more detail on Jim, click HERE. Look all the way at the bottom.) Dave invited me fishing in Rocky Point as soon as I could work it out.

This took over a year. I first had to overcome Marta’s fear that I would be seized by roving gangs of kidnappers. As we own a house together, she was concerned that if a Mexican drug cartel seized me, she would have to unload the dishwasher herself and that she might be out up to $12 in ransom. I did my best to convince her that northern Mexico is not Somalia, but she would not relent until I got some serious travel insurance – https://globalrescue.com/. (Global Rescue is AWESOME.) I also feel it turned things in my favor when my estate plan was shown to give everything to her in case I disappeared. (Note – Marta disputes this version.)

We then had to overcome schedule conflicts. Most of the time, I was committed somewhere else, and when I could make it, Dave wasn’t free, and when the schedules clicked, the weather went bad. (When the wind gets going down there, it gets unfishably rough in a hurry.) But finally, early November of 2014 started to look possible. We then had to figure out transportation.

This is where we introduce Jeff. Jeff, a good friend of Dave’s, lives in Phoenix and fishes Puerto Penasco constantly. There is no way I was ever going to drive myself into Mexico, even in this relatively well-traveled, “beginner” section – remember my fear of roving kidnapper gangs. But Jeff was heading down that weekend and agreed to pick me up at Phoenix airport, drive me to Rocky Point, and let me fish on his boat. It doesn’t get any better than that, and hell yes I paid for gas.

The drive has some amazing scenery, if you like that desert sort of thing, but mostly, it had great road signs.

Yoga Why

Don’t ask why.

Yoga Gringo

This is the town on the border. Really. Look it up.

We got into Rocky Point around sunset, and despite what we read about Mexico in the National Enquirer, it was a perfectly safe and uneventful journey, except when my gas station burrito had sudden consequences. Jeff eyed me suspiciously, but I blamed a nearby refinery and changed subjects.

Of course, even though we arrived in the evening, I couldn’t keep away from an hour or two in the harbor.

Yoga Port

My first view of Rocky Point harbor. Harbors have fish. Guess how I spent my next few hours.

If any of you doubt that I raced to the harbor to fish before I ate, unpacked, or even went to the bathroom, you must be new readers. Welcome! In a couple of hours, I added two new species – the smooth silverside and the Cortez grunt.

Yoga Silverside

A trophy-sized smooth silverside.

Yoga Grunt

The Cortez grunt. I am told these get larger.

Puerto Penasco looked like any other Mexico tourist destination – lots of bars and restaurants, plenty of shopping, and … thousands of bikers on Harley-Davidsons? Oh wait, that isn’t normal. Further research revealed that there was some sort of biker event, which sounds like a disaster in the making, because I wear LL Bean stuff and bikers frown on people who wear LL Bean stuff.

As it turned out, they were fine. They kept to the downtown, far away from Jeff’s condo, and the ones we ran into at Dave’s restaurant behaved like leather-clad Lutherans.

Jeff and I got back to his condo around ten and I was ready to crash. I was half asleep when a curious noise wafted into the room – it sounded like the Champs’ old song, “Tequila,” being played very, very badly by a high school marching band. I wrinkled my brow in bewilderment and wrote it off to a lack of sleep. The noise persisted. I got up and opened the window, and indeed, the local high school marching band was practicing “Tequila” over and over in a field inconveniently within earshot. They were certainly enthusiastic and persistent, and I’m sure they meant well and were trying hard, but they never did get all eight lines of the song right on the same attempt. Luckily, they stopped around 11:30.

In the morning, we connected with Dave bright and early and headed out onto the water. Even after my rather full day before, I was wide awake and rearing to go – adrenaline and Red Bull are a powerful combination.

Yoga Estuary

We head out the estuary early on day one.

Catching the bait was nearly as good as fishing with it. We threw some big sabikis around the shallows and caught all sorts of interesting things, which would then be kept in the livewell, transported some 50 miles, then put out as bait for much bigger fish. The first thing I landed was, improbably, a bonefish. Further research revealed it to be a Cortez bonefish, which my spellcheck kept trying to change to “Cortex bonefish,” which has a much larger brain. This was a new species – and a bonefish Jaime had never caught.

Yoga Bone

Hey Jaime – Nyah, nyah, nyah.

In less than half an hour, I tacked on two more species. First, I landed a Cortez pigfish.

Yoga Pigfish

The Cortez pigfish – a member of the grunt family.

I then got a truly cool surprise – a finespotted jawfish.

Yoga Jaw

These creatures build nest by moving rocks with their powerful jaws.

Yoga Jaw 2

The local nickname for these things is “big mouth b***ards,” which certain relatives also called me when I was young.

Yoga JS

Steve and Jeff, at the end of the bait session.

Somewhere in there, Jeff decided that we had enough bait. We then ran the boat for what seemed like forever. The good reefs here can be 50 miles away, but the fishing is great, so it’s just part of the deal. We talked a lot of shop on the way out, and I was excited to drop a line someplace where everything could be new.

Yoga Dave

Steve and Dave as we started catching reef fish.

We set up to fish live baits on the bottom in relatively shallow water – still around 5o feet. While I was waiting for a hit, I fished a lighter rig and got two more new species – a sargo and a gold-spotted bass. I got very busy photographing them, so much so that I didn’t pay much attention to the big rod I had down with a live bait. You know where this is going.

Yoga Sargo

The sargo. I saw one of these in Ventura, but I couldn’t afford another Buddha statue. Details HERE.)

Yoga Gold

There was no second photo of goldspotted bass, as I accidentally dropped it overboard. You’ll see why in a moment.

In the middle of me doing a fish selfie, my big rod wrenched down in the holder and started paying out line hard against the clicker. Whatever was hooked, it was darn big – lifting the rod out of the holder was a two man job. (By the way, this would disqualify an IGFA record, so remember that you need to lift the rod out yourself if you’re on the record hunt.) I would have guessed grouper, but as I slowly got the fish off the bottom, it was still making some long runs. Even on heavy standup gear, the fight went on for 15 minutes. As the fish surfaced, I was stunned. It was a positively huge white seabass – many times the size of my relatively puny personal best. (Details HERE) I contemplated how to take it on board. Net? Gaff? Harpoon? I couldn’t wait to send the photo to Jim Tolonen and stop his hurtful abuse. I finally decided to reach down and get it with a big Boga, and as I swung it across my lap for the photo you see below, my jaw hit the deck. I thought of several things to say, but all that came out was “Wrong croaker.”

Yoga Croaker

The wrong croaker.

It wasn’t a white seabass at all. It was a totoaba, the largest member of the croaker family, a rare and endangered beast that once grew over 200 pounds and had dominated the Sea of Cortez. Between commercial fishing and the diverting of water out of the Colorado River, the species was driven to the brink of extinction years ago, but with careful management, it is just coming back in the area.

Yoga Three

The group celebrates releasing the totoaba.

Jeff and Dave were positively giddy – this is a rare catch and they were thrilled that I was the one who got it. And I was thrilled that I had landed it unharmed. I quickly set it back in the water and let it fin in place for a moment to get its bearings. It swam off quietly and I had added one of the rarer species I would ever see.

I hardly noticed the run home – the adrenaline from the totoaba kept me going much of the evening. We ate at Dave’s restaurant – Capone’s. Look it up if you’re in Rocky Point – tremendous food and great service. It was truly epic meal, and Dave, Jeff, and I talked fishing well into the night.

Yoga Group

The guys at dinner. I have a feeling this place would be great even if we weren’t eating with the owner.

Yoga Bikers

Yes, there were bikers everywhere, but they behaved impeccably.

We got back to the condo around ten, and yes, the band was still rehearsing and had made scant progress. I went to bed with a new appreciation for Pee Wee Herman – I never liked him, but at least he used a recognizable version of the song.

Yoga Cat

The harbor cat greets us at the beginning of day two. He expected fish.

We began day two with more bait fishing, which, as I mentioned, was as much fun for me as the big game fishing, and did not have the drawback of a fifty mile boat ride. I tried quite a while to get a larger bonefish – a pound would be a world record. I couldn’t find one quite that big, but took solace in the fact that Jaime has never caught one of any size.

Yoga Beach

With the bikers and the marching band fast asleep, morning is a peaceful time in Puerto Penasco.

Then came the long run.

We pulled up to a deeper reef mid-morning and began soaking some big live baits. We got a nice assortment of fish, but the highlight was a huge bite and run on my heavy bottom rod. I knew this had to be a grouper – it hit hard and stuck stubbornly to the bottom, but heavy braided line and a standup rod have a way of dissuading this behavior. Slowly, I got him out of the reef. It turned out to be a leopard grouper, and a big one.

Yoga Grouper

They just dropped it on my lap and took photos while I tried to get up.

We spent the afternoon poking around rockpiles at varying depths, and we got several more nice fish, including sharks, a smaller grouper, and an orangemouth corvina, the final new species of the trip. We started the journey home, and as we got within 30 miles, I could swear I heard badly-played strains of “Tequila” floating over the water.

Yoga Corvina

The corvina get much, much bigger, but a species is a species.

Yoga Gold Big

A much more dignified goldspotted bass. These are related to the calico bass in Southern California, but tend to hand out in deeper locales.

The weather report for the next day showed the wind picking up, so we decided to call it a trip. Ten species was a great haul for two days, and Jeff offered to drive back to Phoenix that evening so we could avoid another band rehearsal. After another excellent meal at Capone’s, we headed north. I thanked Dave and Jeff profusely – even though our only connection was a yoga class, they had organized a fantastic weekend for me and some species I’ll never forget.

Jeff and I raced through the desolate Mexican desert, and my mind did wander again to roving bands of kidnappers, and how awful it would be if Marta had to empty the dishwasher herself. I can just see her on CNN saying “I have never seen that man before in my life.” But nothing happened. A few bikers passed us on the road, but they were courteous and waved as they went by. This had been a safe and easy getaway, despite my varied prejudices. Indeed, the worst thing I faced on the trip, apart from the gas station burrito, was that God awful high school band. So if you’re heading to Puerto Penasco, be prepared for them. By the time you visit, they will likely have perfected “Tequila” and moved on to “It’s a Small World After All.” (Go ahead – hum it once. I dare you.)

Steve

 

 

 

Posted by: 1000fish | June 16, 2015

The Secret Species

Dateline: October 19, 2014 – Ventura, California

Karma is very strong with Marta. While I scoff at superstition, in the heat of a deeply spiritual moment, like a Stanley Cup game or a bad day of fishing, it never hurts to have Karma on your side. I often find myself asking Marta “What would it take for you to actively root for the Red Wings?” or “Can you use your influence with the universe to get me just one new species?”

Karmic or not, Marta is nobody’s fool, and her response is often “What’s it worth to you?” And foolishly, I often find myself bargaining to engage her influence on something that rational people realize will happen or not no matter what rituals I perform. This was bound to cause trouble, and last October, it finally did.

Autumn 2014 was a season of weddings in our circle of friends. We attended two in Southern California, necessitating two road trips. It’s always nice to get out on the road together, and it was a chance to see some parts of California we don’t get to very often, in this case Ventura and Palm Springs.

The first wedding, in Ventura, was ridiculously nice. Mike has been a dear friend of Marta’s for years – he is an awesome guy if for no other reason than he reads 1000fish religiously. His bride, Kirsten, seems equally awesome, although I am not sure if she reads the blog. They are one of those couples who are so smart, good-looking, and successful that I wouldn’t believe they were real if I hadn’t met them.

Secret Portrait

The photos of these two look like they came with the frame, and not the kind of frame you get at CVS, but the type you get in those high-end little shops in Carmel that are never there for long because their frames are too expensive.

Secret Group

The four of us together, just to prove we were there. I am undoubtedly telling a fishing story.

Secret Rocket

The wedding had rockets. All wedding should have rockets. 

Secret Sunset

They paid extra for a perfect sunset, and who could look at this without thinking that the shortfin corvina were likely biting?

The morning of the wedding, we explored Ventura, a seaside town fashionably north of Los Angeles. This meant that I explored the local pier and that Marta found some new-age, yoga-type stuff to do. She texted me several times with photos of a Buddha statue she thought would look nice in our home. I ignored those texts and hoped the topic would go away. Around lunch, she joined me on the pier and asked if I had caught anything new.

Secret Pier

Ventura pier, the scene of the controversy.

“Caught anything new?” she asked. I responded that I had not. “Perhaps,” Marta replied, “this is because you have not welcomed the Buddha statue into our home.” I pointed out that this would cost more than an average reel and leave less room in our home for IGFA trophies. But the fishing was not going well, and she pressed the issue. I finally agreed that if I caught a new species, I would buy the statue. This agreement was made on Saturday, October 11, 2014. In the opinion of myself and a friend who owns the complete set of Perry Mason DVDs, this means that the agreement was only valid on October 11, 2015 … and maybe the 12th … but that’s it. I did indeed fish at Ventura pier those days and caught nothing of note.

Fast forward a week. We attended a wedding in Palm Springs.

Secret Portrait 2

Steve and Marta in formal garb. Yes, I do own clothing that doesn’t say “Sport Fishing Magazine” or “Hi’s Tackle Box” on it. Of course, now you’re all wondering if I’m wearing Shimano underwear, but some things should be private.

I had not been to Palm Springs since I was a kid, when my grandparents lived near there so that my grandfather could complain about the heat there rather than the cold in Michigan.

Secret Tram

Looking down from Mt. Scaredofheights onto the Palm Springs Valley.

Secret Palm

Sunset on the hills. There are definitely Palms there, but I didn’t see any springs.

The next day, we agreed that we would go home through Ventura so Marta could attend some sort of exotic yoga class and I could take a second crack at the pier.

Secret Ventura

Another perfect day in Southern California.

Marta ran off to yoga and I got to fish Ventura pier on a pleasant fall day. I got some of the usual suspects, such as perch, brown sharks, and thornbacks.

Secret thornback

A small thornback – a member of the guitarfish family. I have an ugly history with this group of fish – click HERE for details.

And then I got something new – unmistakably a queenfish. Not a big one, but size pride is not part of the species hunting game. I was quite pleased with myself, and I knew Ben Florentino was breathing a huge sigh of relief because now he wouldn’t need to find me one.

Secret Queen

A Queenfish. Not to be confused with the tropical predator, these small croakers are supposed to be everywhere in Southern California, but I had never gotten one until now.

Marta got back from yoga and wandered out onto the pier. “Did you catch a new species?” Seeing where this was going, I hesitated. She continued “If so, we are getting the Buddha.” I attempted to explain that the agreement was only valid on the 11th and maybe the 12th, but she dismissed me as only a woman you have been dating for 11 years can dismiss you. I therefore changed strategies and decided to tell her … nothing. “Well? Did you?”

I acknowledged that I caught … something. I explained that scaenids are often difficult to tell apart and that I would need to consult with experts. She is clever and she asked me to send her the photo, so she could check it herself. I refused, explaining that the chain of evidence would be broken and my constitutional rights were at stake.

As you can imagine, this topic dominated the conversation for the five hour drive home. To cover her bases, she stopped and bought the Buddha, and is expecting me to pay her back if the fish was indeed new. And so, for the past few months, I have been changing the subject, which is hard to do with Marta.

Marta will get this blog along with everyone else. She insists that she reads the 1000fish blog thoroughly, so this will be something of a test of her love for me. If she reads this and raises the subject within 12 hours of publication, I will pay for the Buddha. Otherwise, no. Jaime, if you text her a warning, you can pay for the Buddha.

The clock starts … now.

Steve

 

Special Bonus Section – The Taiwanese Limo Fish

Dateline: October 7, 2014 – Taipei, Taiwan

It may amaze you – or not – that there are actually a few countries I have visited where I have not caught a fish. Six, to be exact – Russia, The Vatican, Venezuela, El Salvador, Fiji, and Taiwan.

It so happened that October found me on a business trip to Taiwan, and I was determined to right this great wrong and make Taiwan the 83rd country where I had caught a fish.

This would not be easy. I had one morning of free time, so I pestered the concierge at the Hyatt – and after a few emails, they found what looked like a dreadful pay pond on the industrial outskirts of town. (The concierge is always a great resource for this sort of thing – another example HERE.)

Transportation was my next issue. The pond was quite some distance from the hotel, and a taxi, especially for the return trip, would be challenging. But this was my chance to add the country, so I just got a hotel car for the morning, which cost about as much as a taxi and came complete with Glen, the English-speaking driver.

Secret Driver

Steve and Glen. That’s the Mercedes in the background.

The drive took about an hour, and as we got further away from downtown, the scenery became relatively green and hilly. I am told Taiwan is a beautiful island – I need to explore more of it.

Judging by the stares, the clientele at the suburban pay pond hadn’t seen too many westerners pull up in a Mercedes. Trying to be as low-key as possible, I walked in, paid my two dollars, and set up some gear. Just to cover my bases, I had bought a loaf of white bread in a 7-11 on the way in, and this turned out to be exactly the right bait. Moments later, I caught a carp and Taiwan was on the country list.

Secret Carp

The carp. A popular fish worldwide, possibly because they can live in conditions like this.

I got a nice blue tilapia later on, and the pond manager came out for the photo.

Secret Tilapia

The blue tilapia, another globally popular fish.

That was about all the time we had, so I packed up the travel rods and we started driving down the hill toward Taipei. It was then I noticed a concrete spillway with a small stream splashing over it. Although it was crowded with refuse, including a washing machine and the remains of a 1970s Chevy, I just had to look.

Secret Stream

The anonymous Taiwanese stream.

Sure enough, I could see fish in there. Some were obviously tilapia, but I couldn’t make out some of the smaller ones, so out came the rod and the white bread. It took longer to get the bread on the #24 hook than it did to catch the fish, and several weeks later, to my great delight, I discovered that I had caught a new species – the Candidus Lake dace. Glen was bewildered at my joy, but some 20 years after I had first visited Taiwan, I had managed to catch a fish there and even add a species, so it was a good day.

Secret Dace

The Candidus Lake dace. This took some of the sting out of a painful afternoon of meetings.

 

Posted by: 1000fish | June 8, 2015

The Spam

Dateline: September 13, 2014 – South Lake Tahoe, California

I rarely open my spam folder. All it ever contains is correspondence from Nigerian princes, requests for companionship by curiously airbrushed Russian women – which will only lead to divorce, trust me – and solicitations for the kind of medications that I am sure every other man over 50 needs but I of course do not.

So I can’t explain why I opened my spam on that particular Sunday. Maybe I was bored. Maybe I wanted to meet a Montenegran beauty – oh wait, I already have – or help the manager of the National Bank of Llasa Apso embezzle a few million dollars.

But what I found instead was a simple cry for help. It was from one Seth McNaught, and it was titled “Fish ID question from one of your readers.”

Spam Seth

Young Seth McNaught, the hero of this blog. Note that he was not asking for help on the ID of this particular fish, which we all know is a rainbow trout.

Now if this was a spam, it was a good one. I braced myself for a laptop-crashing virus, but instead, I got something wonderful. There was a photo enclosed, of a fish caught in the Sierras near Lake Tahoe. I like fish photos. And there was the same cry for help that I have made so many times – “What the heck is this?”

To tell the truth, I had no idea. But I knew who would  – Dr. Peter Moyle of my alma mater, UC Davis. So I wrote Dr. Moyle, and he immediately pegged the beast as a Tui chub. I was thrilled for young Seth, but I was also intrigued, because this was a species I had never gotten. Indeed, it was a fish that brought a slight bitter taste to my mouth, because I had become aware of its existence through a friend – Kevin Fried – who had caught one. Kevin is a nice guy and a tremendous financial mind, but he’s just this side of Guido on fishing skills.

SPam Kevin

Kevin Fried. (Pronounced “Freed” as in “Freed the fish before he ever saw it.”)

If he had caught one of these, surely I could? And yet, despite my dedicating a trip to this species, (details HERE,) Kevin had one and I didn’t.

I wrote back to Seth with my congratulations. I then asked him about where he caught it, and he generously filled me in on every exact detail, down to standing on the right of the big rock rather than the left. The locale was Upper Angora Lake, near Lake Tahoe. There was a new species just waiting there only four hours away, and, in the words of Seth, only a “short hike” from the parking lot. (Of course, if he was related to “Sexy Rexy” Johnson, this could be a disaster.)

I needed a co-conspirator for this adventure, and Mark Spellman has been a trusted co-conspirator for more than 20 years.

GTW Sign Spell

Mark Spellman, lifetime fishing buddy, right before our Cottonwood disaster.

The idea was to get up to the lake mid-morning, get whatever hike was needed out of the way, and stick it out as long as it would take us to catch the fish in question. Of course, the last time Mark and I planned on getting a short Sierra hike done in a morning, it turned out to be an epic disaster – The Cottonwood Death March – which ranks as the worst example of advance planning EVER. (Details HERE – warning: If a lack of common sense offends you, please do not click on this post.)

The drive to South Lake up highway 50 is a beautiful one. I’m not much of a skier, but the route still brought back memories – driving up to meet Mike Rapoport so we could fly his plane down to Mexico, and trying a number of trips, which always seemed to have bad weather, before I finally got my lake trout in Tahoe. My father owns a place up on the north shore, and we spent a lot of weekends up here in the 70s and 80s – I remember that we were there on the Bicentennial and my father botched some homemade fireworks, but his eyebrows did grow back. It was a sacred place because I could use my bb gun out in the woods, and no, I never put an eye out. Well, not mine.

We got up to South Lake around ten, ate something fried, and headed for Upper Angora, supposed to be another 20 miles or so on back roads. I remembered the name of the main turnoff, and from there, I had asked Mark to map it out. He forgot. I had given him one task and … sigh. We were out of cell range, so we were just going to have to rely on good old-fashioned map reading. A quick check of the 15 year-old road atlas that lives in my back seat along with a half-eaten bag of Fritos gave us some idea, and after a few fits and starts, during which I roundly abused Mark and finished the Fritos, we found Upper Angora Lake.

We parked in a lot lined with tall pines. As my nephew Charlie might say, the whole area smells like a candle that smells like pine trees. Then there was the indeterminate hike to Upper Angora lake. We had packed good shoes, spare socks, proper underwear, spare provisions, an EPIRB, and a coin to toss just in case we were trapped and starving and one of us had to eat the other to survive.

Like Cousin Chuck’s honeymoon, it was something of an anticlimax. The total hike was less than a mile, and had no elevation gain to speak of. We were there in 20 minutes, and there was the lake, a classic, high Sierras crater, sapphire-blue clear water, rocky shoreline.

Spam Lake

The Sierras are full of lakes like this, but this one apparently held Tui chubs, which made it special.

It had actual civilization – a small cafe, canoe rentals, even a beach with chairs.

Spam Angorra

Yes, the lemonade was good. 

Following Seth’s detailed directions, we worked around to the right for about 200 yards, following a shoreline path, and came to the big boulder in the corner of the lake.

Spam Lake 2

That’s the big boulder on the right.

We set up two light rods with small hooks and bits of night crawler and began casting, pretty much how I did when I was seven. The action was instant. First I got a Lahontan redside, then Mark did. (I had caught this beast previously.)

Spam Redside

The majestic Lahontan – I had mistakenly ID’d this one as a redside shiner, thanks to sharp-eyed reader Bryan for spotting this.

My second cast produced a Tui chub, causing whooping and celebration that echoed out onto the lake and likely frightened the canoeists. Then Mark got one, and we re-whooped. We stayed at this for about an hour, catching a couple of dozen fish and whooping frequently. The day was a success.

Spam Chub

The Tui chub. For the record, Kevin’s was bigger.

And that was it. We both had the species, it was still early, and Burger King in Truckee called us. This means we got to drive all the way up highway 89, the ridiculously scenic west side of Lake Tahoe. I don’t make it up here very often, but if someone could tell me how the heck to catch a Tahoe sucker, I would come more often.

Spam Tahoe

Emerald Bay, on the west side of Lake Tahoe. There are Tahoe suckers in this water, which makes it even more beautiful.

We decided to head for Putah. All early days in Northern California seem to end up rerouted to Putah Creek in Davis, taking another shot at the Sacramento sucker record, which Martini had ingraciously snatched from me earlier in the year. (With me in attendance and cheering him on – he had worked hard to catch this species.)

Spam Sucker

Martini and the current record Sacramento sucker, which he caught in broad daylight. I never catch them in broad daylight.

Spellman and I wandered down to the appropriate pool as evening was setting in on a glorious late summer day. I went to college in this town, and I regaled Mark with tales of late-night dormitory misbehavior and fraternity softball heroism, all of which he seemed to know by heart, meaning he is either clairvoyant or has heard these stories 97 times, take your pick.

Spam Pikeminnow

There are photos of me in this same creek from 30 years ago, which I will not publish for artistic or editorial reasons, I forget which. I had a lot more hair back then, but I did not have that totally cool Akubra hat.

As is generally the case, the suckers were not cooperating, even though we saw them everywhere. We did get a couple of big Sacramento pikeminnows, so it wasn’t fruitless, and we did get to spend a late summer afternoon splashing around a creek, which is still just as much fun as it was when I was seven.

Steve

Posted by: 1000fish | May 31, 2015

A Midnight Swim in Eau Claire

Dateline: August 24, 2014 – Eau Claire, Wisconsin

It’s risky to ever think the Fish Gods owe you anything, but after the disastrous weather we faced on our May Wisconsin jaunt, it was tough not to think they might give us a break. (Prerequisite reading HERE.)

I knew Martini and I had to come back to Wisconsin. Even though it had been freezing cold and all the good spots had been under water, and I sprained my tongue trying not to say bad words in front of Mike the Pastor, we had still had a lot of fun and it was also obvious that the state had a lot of species left to offer. So when Mike offered us a weekend in August, we made the schedules work.

Travel went smoothly, and on the drive from Minneapolis to Eau Claire, Martini and I mused over how different things were three months later. It was high summer in the midwest – warm, humid, still. Water levels had receded from the biblical levels we found in May, and all the Dairy Queens were open late. Dairy Queens sell fried things and soft serve ice cream, essential foodstuffs for the unsupervised male.

We caught up with Mike early the next morning. It was great to see him – he is a true brother in the species hunting fraternity, and one of the few people who understands it is perfectly normal to drive thousands of miles to catch a Utah sucker. We drove about an hour out to some unpronounceable river and set up on a country bridge, just above a sweeping bend on a fast-running, medium-sized river.

Before my first cast, I smiled back at my inability to catch a shorthead redhorse in May. I wondered if the curse would continue. The answer came less than a minute later – I got a solid bite and a hard run in the current. As soon as the fish surfaced, I could see the red fins and the, well, short head of the shorthead. I had added a species.

Swim Shorthead

The shorthead curse is ended.

It was good. It was beyond good. It was stupid good. Every fish we didn’t get in May came back and brought its friends, and we caught dozens of redhorse, as well as the occasional catfish and walleye.

I got a silver, followed by a few more shortheads, and then a bigger fish latched on and gave an even stronger fight. I walked it down to the bank, and as it surfaced, I saw I had gotten a golden redhorse – another new critter. The weather was pleasant, the fish were biting, and I was on the water with good friends.

Swim Golden Steve

The golden.

We noticed that there were some small fish on the shoreline, so we set up micro rigs and caught what turned out to be common shiners.

Swim Common

This fish made my life difficult.

This small fish caused a disproportionate firestorm of ID controversy. I believed it to be a common shiner, which would have been a new critter for me, but at the same time as I was working through this ID, sharp-eyed 1000Fish reader Brandon Li went through “A Mourning on the Water” and pointed out that one of my fish in Michigan was actually a common shiner. But he didn’t stop there – he also noticed that I had misidentified the shiner in “My Old Kentucky Bone.” Some research showed that one NOT to be a creek chub, but rather a lined shiner – a new species almost five years after the fact. Both blogs have been updated for your reading pleasure, and a big thanks to Brandon.

We kept at it for a few hours – the fish would taper off for a bit, then we would get a run of five or six, then just enough time for a Red Bull. Martini, just because he does this sort of thing, casually caught an eight pound line class record silver.

Swim Martini record

And yes, his shirt is a sucker ID chart.

It was awesome, and then, at least for Martini, it got awesomer. He hooked a noticeably bigger fish on the left side of the bridge, and as it surfaced, he and Mike let out some primal whoops of triumph. Presuming that Martini’s pants had split, I walked over to discover that he had instead caught a Greater redhorse, a rather rare, larger species in the family. Sure I was thrilled for him, but as of that moment, a Greater redhorse became the one thing I wanted even more than I wanted to see Jaime Hamamoto break off a big bonefish.

Swim M Greater

Martini and the greater redhorse. The day was now officially epic, and we weren’t done.

Swim Lamprey

There were a few lamprey about. Do not put this in your pants.

Mike explained that the greater redhorses were were rare – he had only caught a few in his life. So I didn’t have high hopes, but it was inspirational to know they were there. We moved spots in the early afternoon, to an isolated bridge on a smaller river. Mike proved how rare the greater redhorse was by promptly catching one. Sigh.

Swim Mike Short

You have to be kidding me. I was the only guy in the car who hadn’t caught one.

It’s not like you can target these things – they all live in the same places, and they eat the same things. You put a worm on the bottom and take your chances. And about an hour later, a great day entered my small pantheon of legendary days. I got a greater.

Swim Greater

And it was bigger than theirs, not that I care about such competitive tripe, but it really was quite a bit bigger than everyone else’s. And Jaime has never caught one, and if she did, it wouldn’t be this big.

We were out of Red Bull and superlatives, which is a shame, because I could have used one of each less than five minutes later. My rod, set with a crawler in mid-river where it could have caught anything from a redhorse to a walleye to a catfish, went down hard. It was a nice fish; a very solid fight. I had gotten around 20 redhorses for the day, and this one was definitely a good one. I brought it up out of the current and toward the bank, and it surfaced.

Mike’s eyes shot out of his head, and Martini grabbed the net and leaped off the culvert and down to the water. I wondered what all the excitement was when Mike yelled “It’s a River!” It took a moment before I spit out my Pepsi. The river redhorse is rare – listed as threatened in Wisconsin. Obviously, we couldn’t target or not target a bottom species, but it was an extraordinary and beautiful fish. Martini gently scooped it up so we could remove the hook and let it be on its way.

Swim River

A river redhorse. The day was now just ridiculous.

We headed back to Eau Claire, thrilled with our success, and enjoyed a delightful meal of fried stuff and soft-serve ice cream. Five redhorse species in one day. I think I went to sleep mumbling about that. Or Kate Upton, I forget which.

The next day, we floated the Chippewa river. We had wanted to do this in May, but the water was simply too high and we would have been swept away never to be seen again. This time, the day was perfect – low water, a bit overcast, warm, and still.

Martini got a great species – the northern hogsucker – while he waited for me and Mike to shuttle the cars.

Swim Martini Hog

Sometimes, the selfie just gets awkward.

Swim Guys

The guys. Martini is smiling because he had just caught a northern hogsucker.

We drifted from spot to spot, catching some beautiful smallmouth along the way. At one of the first sand bars where we stopped, I got a mooneye, adding my 5th species of the trip.

Swim Mooneye

A mooneye. We got a bunch of these. 

Wandering down the river, we picked up more smallmouth, plenty of redhorses, and a couple of nice catfish.

Swim Martini Cat

Martini got this one some sort of trout rod.

Swim Cat 1

I was not displeased with this fish. Mike knows his stuff, and he unhesitatingly shared all of his secret spots.

With only one species for the day so far, I was still thrilled as we got off the water and ordered a pizza at the ramp so we could keep fishing.

When we finally made it back to the original put-in, Martini and I stayed to look for a northern hogsucker for me. It didn’t take long, and after a false alarm from a small catfish, I added the species.

Swim Hog

These things are just cool.

We headed back to Eau Claire, thrilled with our success, and enjoyed a delightful meal of fried stuff and soft-serve ice cream.

The next morning, we hooked up Mike’s boat and headed to the Mississippi River. On the way, we had a delightful lunch of fried stuff and soft-serve ice cream. We had one main target – the sauger – which had successfully eluded me for years. These creatures are ridiculously light biters, like all of their walleye-related ilk. (See “The Goulash Archipelago“) We arrived on one of the dozens of dams along the river and launched on a perfect summer day.

Swim Dam

There are loads of these dams. There are fish at all of them.

We had to work for the sauger, but we each got one, and I texted Bob Reine and told him he could stop giving me crap because I had caught one. He responded – “But have you caught a burbot?” Twit.

Swim Sauger

I didn’t say it was a big sauger, but I was thrilled with it.

Swim Emerald

We also added an emerald shiner in the shallows. 

The real highlight of the day was the panfish bite on a rocky shoreline. We got dozens of solid bluegill and rock bass on light tackle – this is how a lot of us start fishing as children, and it never gets any less fun.

Swim Bluegill 2

A bluegill.

Swim Bluegill

Another bluegill. Yes, Martini’s is bigger.

We fished until dusk, enjoying the river and the weather, watching the endless trains roll by. Trains will always remind me of my grandfather, who used to drive seven year-old me around Detroit looking for them.

Swim Train

We must have seen two dozen trains in a few hours. Seven year-old me was thrilled.

That evening, after a delightful meal of fried stuff and soft-serve ice cream, we decided to give the catfish a shot below the dam in town. There are some big flatheads there, and while I have gotten the species, I have never gotten a big one, and Martini has never gotten one.

I cast my setup, put it into into a rod holder, then walked 50 feet over to Martini and Mike to give them some weights.

It took me less than a minute to walk up to Martini and Mike, give them the weights, and walk back. In that time, my rod had apparently gotten snagged. The tip was down and rhythmically bobbing, so I picked it up to clear it. I reeled down, and reeled down, and after a moment, I realized that my line had drifted almost straight upstream. I quickly reviewed what I had learned in college physics, and it dawned on me that I had either hooked a fish or the Eau Claire River was running backwards. I set the hook, and felt the faint pumping of a big fish at the end of a lot of line. I was hoping for a big flathead. It would be a long time before I found out.

The fight dragged on over an hour – this was not all that heavy of a rod, and I was battling a lot of current as well as something beastly. Whatever it was came close to shore twice, pushing up big boils before heading deep again. My rig didn’t have muck lifting power, and I was getting concerned that my light leader was going to snap.

Swim Idiots

Martini and Steve battle the mystery beast, moments before Martini did something that both inspired and terrified me.

When the fish got close for the third time, Martini did something that I admire to this day, as much as it made me question his judgement. He jumped into the water. If you even wonder if someone is more of a brother than a fishing buddy, see if they will dive into an unfamiliar, fast river – at night – to land a fish of indeterminate size and disposition. There is a fine line between brave and clinically insane, and Martini had leaped across it.

There was a lot of thrashing and water thrown in the air – like a dog fighting a fire hose – and for a moment, we weren’t sure who was winning. Somewhere in there, my line broke, so I had even more incentive to hope it was Martini. At one stage, we could see the fish, Martini’s head, and Martini’s sneakers all at the same time. With an armload of thrashing animal, Martini regained his footing and presented my catch. When I saw it, I completely forgot that Mike was a pastor and said the things we usually say when we see an unexpectedly big fish. (Interestingly, when he broke off a big flathead later in the evening, Mike also may have briefly forgotten he was a pastor.)

Swim Wrestling

In a narrow decision, Martini defeats the sturgeon.

I had gotten a big lake sturgeon, on a ten-pound class steelhead rod. The fish was out of season so we released it quickly, but at least I had finally caught a dignified example of the species.

Swim Sturgeon

At last, a decent laker. As you recall, my May sturgeon was all of 14 inches.

It had been a fantastic fish to close out my day. I sat by the riverbank, enjoying the summer evening and sipping a Pepsi. It brought back memories of so many nights by the Scioto River when I lived in Columbus, except that I actually caught something this time and no one threw up in my car.

There was a heat lightning show that went on most of the evening – constant flashes long and bright enough to read by. These summer displays can go on for hours without rain, and I had presumed we were safe. But as we looked to pack up and be on our way for more fried food and soft-serve ice cream, the clouds absolutely broke. We sprinted a few steps, but realized it was pointless and we were going to get drenched, so we just laughed through it and got soaked to the skivvies. It had been a great evening; a great trip – but at this last hour, the Fish Gods reminded us that they were still in charge.

Steve

 

 

 

Posted by: 1000fish | May 24, 2015

Last of the Thames Rivermenv

Dateline: August 12, 2014 – Twyford, England

Roger was gone, and we came from all over to honor him.

Roger tench 2009

Roger Barnes with one of his most demanding clients.

I had said my goodbyes in May when Roger was alive, but when I mentioned to Marta that I was thinking about going to the funeral, I hadn’t finished my sentence when she told me “Go.” United Airlines, normally a difficult and snide group, were actually remarkably flexible and found me a ticket for the days I needed. I let John Buckingham know I was coming.

On email, I asked John if it would be OK to slip in a few hours of fishing. He responded “It would be inappropriate not to.” So when I flew in on the 10th, I got to the hotel, unpacked my gear, and met John at a small pond out in the countryside near Marlow. Roger never liked these stocked venues, calling them “ditches,” but this ditch had a population of crucian carp, and I was determined to catch one – the only reasonably common English freshwater species Roger and I hadn’t gotten together. Roger’s funeral was in two days, and I was determined to have that fish on my list before the final goodbye – a tribute to him.

Thames Finch

The ditch in question. Reasonably near Maidenhead and Windsor, it’s a nice way to spend an afternoon.

Thames Finch Pond

The front side of Finch Farm. Most of our angling was done in the back, to the left.

This sort of delicate float fishing is one of John’s specialties – he has spent a lifetime doing it, and he is extraordinarily skilled. He did his best to assist me, bringing all the right baits, gear, and rigging, but I still did not seem to have the gene to set the hook at the right time.

Thames John Finch

John in his element. Float fishing, I mean – not the stock pond. And the double rainbow wouldn’t be the last one I would see that week. 

We went all afternoon, catching beautiful common carp, roach, and giebels, but I could not get the crucian. John got several, and was increasingly distressed each time he landed one. We traded some of our favorite stories about Roger, and each one brought a smile.

Thames John Crucian

John with one of his crucians. There is pain in that smile – he desperately wanted me to get one. He is pretty much the opposite of Jaime.

It was fair that I suffered to catch this fish. They are extraordinarily delicate biters – their strike makes the float look as if a fly has landed on it – and I have the attention span of a caffeinated ferret. I didn’t really understand until late in the evening, when John, with uncharacteristic directness, asked me to please, please put away the multiple rods and focus on one float, intently and without blinking.

It was getting dark, we were both late for dinners, and we stuck it out as long as we could, but it was not to be. John couldn’t come the next day, but he left me with enough knowledge and strategy to give me a shot in the morning.

The next day, I got a car back out to the pond and set up around 9:30am.

I hadn’t been there long – maybe half an hour, just enough time to get a good trail of bread in the water. I had caught two small gibel carp, and was watching my float intently, as John had instructed me. The float dipped a fraction of an inch, and with reflexes tuned from years of dodging line drives off my inadvisable curveball, I set the hook. The fish was the right size, and it fought somehow differently than a gibel or roach. When it floated to the top, I saw the golden color and red fins, and got the net under it. I had my crucian.

Thames S Crucian

Finally, a Crucian carp.

I set the rod down, and I shed a tear. This was a moment I would have given anything to have shared with Roger. I could swear I heard him say “Well done, old boy,” or singing “Crucian … on a sunny afternoon …” Roger loved musical puns.

Thames Crucian

Roger always said they looked like a new penny.

I stayed for a while and caught a few more nice fish – carp, tench, roach, and gibels. Jumping into a cab, I ran over to Twyford and managed to sneak in a couple of hours of perch fishing with Steve Collier, proprietor of the Land’s End pub.

Thames Collier

Steve Collier – a fine man except when he tries to feed me mushy peas.

That evening, I had dinner in Marlow with Katy and Sam. She was remarkably composed for having gone through the year she just had, and Sam was flat-out a great guy. Roger, ever protective of his only child, always spoke glowingly of Sam, and it was plain to see why. The first thing they asked was whether I had caught the crucian. I told her “We caught the crucian.”

The next morning was the day of Roger’s funeral. I was up early, and I was determined to catch one more pike from the Marlow weir in back of the hotel.

One of my most beloved fishing spots anywhere is the back lawn of the Compleat Angler hotel, throwing lures for pike. Roger and I did so much fishing together, but this was always the place I valued the most, the place that was the most sacred. The place that left me slack-jawed with wonder on my first trip here in September 2003, and a place that still comes into so many fishing dreams.

Thames Angler

A view of the Compleat Angler from the churchyard across the Thames.

This was the fish that all those lures in my father’s old Plano tackle box were meant to catch; this was the fish my father and I never caught together. I wanted to get one more before we all headed to the small church in Twyford.

It was an unsettled morning; some clouds and wind, the threat of rain but breaks of sunshine. August is not prime pike time, but I walked down to the retaining wall and pulled out a favorite spoon. Beginning my ritual, I started casting from the bottom of the walkway and worked my way toward the weir.

After perhaps half an hour, I got a sharp strike. No hookup, but a strike. I might normally swear at this, but I smiled. This was Roger’s message to me, and fish or no fish, I just closed my eyes and treasured the place and the moment.

I moved up toward the weir, just outside the hotel restaurant. I was throwing a a big rubbertail spinner – a “flying condom” in the local parlance. The wind was right, and my casts were sailing well across the first weir and into the gates. I let the lure sink deep and swing across a lot of very good water. Just as I let one cast finish sinking and started to reel, I got crushed – a no-doubt-about-it, violent strike from a pike that seemed equal parts hungry and hateful.

With 60 yards of line out already and the fish running hard with the heavy current, my Stella 3000 was getting dangerously low even early in the fight. I ran down to the end of the wall to gain a few precious yards back, and then, as the fish reluctantly turned and began making a looping swing in toward the shore, I had to run back to keep a reasonable angle on the fish. When I got back up to the weir, a lovely older couple had come out on the lawn. “Are you playing a fish?” the husband asked politely. “Yes, sir.” I responded.

Moments later, several more people had come out from the hotel to watch the contest. They were as quiet and respectful as a golf crowd, and one mother even shushed a child who asked what I was doing. The fight went on close to 40 minutes, and this is the real reason I didn’t shave all that well before the funeral. The crowd got larger and larger as people streamed in from the restaurant to see what was now regarded as something rather entertaining. I prayed that the fish was hooked well and that my knots were all good.

Finally, she got in the back eddy just by the weir; I knew she would hold here until she came to the top. After a few minutes of coaxing, she surfaced, just by the wall where only I could see her. It was a private moment, her finning in the current, as clear a message from Roger as I could have ever gotten.

I reached down and landed her, and the crowd oohed and aahed and broke into light applause. She was 18 pounds – one of my largest pike ever. We took a few photos, then I released her to fight another day.

Thames Pike

A lovely Marlow Weir pike. 

It was then I looked up. I am not an intensely spiritual man, but for today, I had to be. The sky was filled with not one, but two rainbows.

Thames Rainbow

I told you we would have another double rainbow.

I had to race to get ready in time, although I remember thinking that if I was late to Roger’s funeral, this would have been a very good reason. I went up to my room, and as tempting as it was to wear waders, I put on a suit.

I met the group at Roger’s house. Katy and Sam, John, and Dee were there. The front room was a jumble of Roger’s fishing equipment, as they began the long job of sorting out a lifetime of odds and ends. I found myself staring into the pile, recognizing so many things – a single action reel, a float, a box of hooks. We fishermen will never use all these things, but we are compelled to buy them.

Thames Floor

The centerpin reel in the middle of the photo gave me hours of enjoyment. I am the only American I know who owns one. Roger once caught a 20 pound pike on it.

We made the short walk over to the church. It was a marvelous turnout. Well over a hundred people were there, fishing friends, music friends, art friends, family – a wonderful group there for a sad occasion.

I met dozens of people I had never seen before, and quite a few people recognized me. “You’re the American species hunter.” People I had never met asked me if I had caught the crucian. An entire town, it seemed, had been pulling for me to catch this fish.

It was a lovely and fitting service, featuring some heartfelt speakers and music from his band. They carried him out to the churchyard to the strains of “Morning has Broken” by Cat Stevens. I will never be able to hear that song with a dry eye again.

I said goodbye there at the graveside, and if there was any chance I might stay composed in public, that went to pieces – along with me –  when I saw a thin, orange object on the casket. Someone had tossed a float into the grave, to be with Roger for eternity.

We then headed over to Steve Collier’s Land’s End pub. He had volunteered it for the evening, so the group could eat and chat and remember Roger. More people came up to me and said “You’re the American species hunter.” As we got a few more drinks into the evening, it sometimes came out in a most un-British fashion – “You’re the species freak.” Roger had told all these people about our adventures. I had no idea. Many were of course passionate fishermen – it was like being at a British expert anglers convention (minus one of the best.) As you will see in future posts, several of these new friends become involved in the great species hunt.

Many of Roger’s musician friends, from local bar band guys to some big names, had come for the service. After we had eaten, had a few drinks, and looked at the photo board that showed so many facets of Roger, they set up a stage in the corner of the dining room. They played the blues and rock and roll and everything in between far into the night. I had never seen Roger play – it was always something I would do the next time. This was a regret I would never be able to fix.

Thames Lot

Sunset at the Land’s End Pub, as I walked out and headed for home. It had been a long and sad day.

I flew home the next morning. There wasn’t time for an early fishing session in the weir, but I walked down to where the boat had been moored all those years, then up to where it had been dragged under the trees. It stood there like a kind ghost, full of memories. I knew that the pre-war Volvo station wagon would not pull up at 8:15, and that Roger would not be unloading gear and setting up until 9, when we would have started out for the willow on the far side, or the middle weirpool, or the old millrace. Roger Wyndham Barnes, last of the Thames Rivermen, was gone.

Steve

RogerSteve

Posted by: 1000fish | May 17, 2015

Yo! Adriatic!

Dateline: July 20, 2014 – Dubrovnik, Croatia

When will I get the hint?

We had come here before and had weather that was TOO good. (Details HERE) We had come here before and had weather that was positively vile. (and HERE.) Could the Fish Gods finally allow me one decent weekend of big game fishing in the Adriatic? Would Stefan Molnar stop having horrible luck every time he accompanies me south on a European adventure? In less than 2000 words, we’ll know. (Obviously, I already know, but I still read through for the pictures.)

After Marc, Stefan, and I got back from Montenegro, we fished for a few hours in Dubrovnik harbor. Dubrovnik is a gorgeous place, a river valley with steep sides jammed with quaint old buildings and traditional liquor stores.

Adriatic Harbor

The estuary on a summer afternoon. At least half of the buildings are liquor stores.

Because these stores were so convenient, there may have been a few beers before dinner. And during dinner. The highlight, from what I can remember, was my capture of the savage rock goby, a new species.

Adriatic Goby 1

The rock goby. Savage, by goby standards.

I also got some nice gilthead bream, but none on the right line class stuff, so no more records were set.

Adriatic Gilthead

Sure, it’s a nice fish, but these things get over 15 pounds.

The guys spent their time casting lures for seabass – they both caught fish and we all had far too good of a time well into the night.

Adriatic Bass 2

A proud Stefan’s first seabass.

Adriatic Bass

A proud Marc’s umpteenth seabass. This guy can fish.

The next morning featured a very early wakeup call. As slow as we were moving, we were all very wound up to finally be getting out onto the Adriatic in conditions that gave us some chance to catch a really big fish.

Adriatic Bridge

Heading out of Dubrovnik to the open water.

We left Dubrovnik with high hopes. The weather looked great, although Marc warned us there was a storm to the south. With any luck, it would stay south and we could get a monster tuna and a spearfish. We got miles out onto the open water, and it was flat calm and beautiful. We set up a chumline and began chunking for tuna. Molnar didn’t barf, so you know it was dead calm. (Click HERE for what happens to Stefan when it isn’t dead calm.)

Adriatic Chumline

Marc works the chumline. The smell comes out of your hands after two weeks or 350 washings, whichever comes last.

While we waited for a big fish, I dropped a rig to the bottom and tried my luck. Quickly, I got my second new species of the trip – a Mediterranean hake.

Adriatic Hake

The Mediterranean hake. Not exactly a tuna, but then again, I’ve caught bluefin before. Such is the perverted psychology of the species hunter.

Adriatic Weever

I also got a beastly weever. The spines are poisonous, so if you catch one, let Marc handle it.

The tuna weren’t cooperating on the drift, so we set up to troll. I knew this could result in a spearfish, and I quietly rehearsed the strike in my head, especially the part where I wrench the rod away from Stefan. Trolling was quiet but I find the entire process maddeningly suspenseful, like going for a long bike ride right after eating a seafood burrito.

Somewhere late in that afternoon, as we stopped trolling and set up for another chunking drift, I noticed a gentle zephyr play across the water. Then there was a gust. And another. We watched the wind go from zero to 30 in about an hour, and when Marc looked at the weather report, he said bad words in four different languages.

Adriatic Sunset

Trolling off of one of the islands, just before the weather hit.

The storm had shifted north. Marc told us we needed to find shelter quickly or we were going to have a very bad time of it. We set course for Lastovo, one of the outermost Croatian islands, and by the time we got there, it had clouded up and was blowing close to 50mph.

Adriatic Seas 1

This is how I remember things as we got to Lastovo.

We slipped inside the port – as scenic a location as one could hope for – and looked back. One glance outside the breakwater made it very clear that staying outside would be suicidal – waves were breaking over a 15-foot barrier.

This would be our home for most of the next two days. We were trapped, and the main part of the trip was basically screwed. The weather wasn’t supposed to last more than a day or so, but while the wind was blowing, we couldn’t go anywhere. We found accommodations, and after a beautiful seafood dinner, we headed to our rooms and slept.

Morning broke clear but still very windy. We had an excellent view from our hotel, and I surveyed the square mile or two that would be my home for the next day and a half. Molnar seemed to take it pretty well – for an occasionally tense German guy, he seemed strangely serene. I cannot say the same for myself.

Adriatic Socks

The harbor at Lastovo. The are plenty of reasons to visit here, but none of them apply to me.

Taking a deep breath, I figured that there had to be at least one new species in that harbor. So I scoped out all the spots where I could access reasonably deep water – pretty much the end of the dock – and set to it. I remained there for most of the next 30 hours, with minimum breaks for the bathroom and occasional food, plus a modicum of sleep. I must have caught 200 striped combers.

Adriatic Comber

A striped comber. This particular one was the 1000th fish (not species, just fish) I caught in 2014.

We met people from all over Europe who were in the same predicament, even if they weren’t on a schedule as tight as ours. Indeed, many of these people thought that staying here was a perfectly nice vacation and didn’t view the situation as a predicament. Shocking. They just sat around on nice boats, enjoying the sunshine, grilling lovely meals, chatting, and taking in the scenery. WHAT WERE THEY THINKING??

Meanwhile, I parked at the end of that dock and fished hard. There wasn’t much variety. I got comber after comber, a few mullet, a scorpionfish, and some bream, but nothing new. Ironically, there was a new species in there, but #&%*!%# Molnar caught it. A sharpnose seabream. I have always wanted to catch one. Oh, I was sullen.

Adriatic Bream

You have to be kidding me. This is Jaime-level behavior.

Adriatic Molnar Scorpion

He also got a scorpionfish. It took me years to catch one of these. He got one in five minutes.

 

Adriatic Octopus

Molnar even caught an octopus. The child in his armpit is Phillip. Phillip never slept, followed us everywhere, and asked, by my count, 3,267 questions. This is exactly what I needed while I was desperate to catch Molnar’s bream.

Finally, we took a break for dinner. Even I have to admit that the dinners were special. The island had excellent seafood, and with nothing but time, we made a huge production out of the evening meal. Both nights featured huge plates of shellfish, mixed grills of local fish, and plenty to drink. There are plenty of people who would consider this to be a very nice vacation – boating to a beautiful location with good friends, having great food and a good bar, but let’s face it, if you think I was happy with this, you must be a new reader. Welcome!

Adriatic Dinner

Yes, I did take some of the shrimp before they cooked it and used it for bait. It didn’t help. 

Adriatic Dessert

I’m not sure what’s in the shot glasses, but Marc poured the leftovers into the gas tank.

We talked fishing with Marc until the early hours. He was so passionate about this area and the beastly fish it had produced for him, and he was in pain that we couldn’t get the right days. He wanted us to get the fish more than we wanted to get the fish, and that’s a lot.

Adriatic Tuna 2

This photo haunts my dreams. If you’re planning a trip to Croatia, contact Marc at marc@maguro-fishing.com.

On the 22nd, it was still brutally windy. I was beginning to wonder whether we were going to miss our flight out of Split on the 23rd. I dutifully went down to the pier and caught more combers. Marc kept an eye on the weather reports, and he thought we had a good chance to get out in the afternoon. It looked like it would stay sloppy for a week, but Marc told me that once the wind stopped, it would be fishable almost immediately. Right after lunch, just like that, it laid down. The wind dropped from 40 to a gentle whisper in less than an hour. Marc smiled quietly, and we were ready to depart in record time. Heading outside after 42 hours of confinement, I expected the sea to still be rough, but it had smoothed out to just a light chop.

Adriatic Lighthouse

We finally leave Lastovo behind.

We ran to an island a few miles north, and began fishing the bottom. Molnar caught a beastly scorpionfish, and I kept catching the striped combers, which apparently had followed me out of the harbor and would catch the plane back to Frankfurt and sit in my seat if they got the chance.

Adriatic Scorpion

Molnar’s pig of a scorpionfish.

20 minutes later, I finally got a non-comber bite, and hoped as I always do to see something weird come up. I was not disappointed. Peering into the clear water, I saw a flash of bright yellow, then I said something I rarely do when I got it on the deck – “What the heck is that?”

IMG_3082

Species #3 for the trip.

It was a cuckoo wrasse – a big one. And not only was it a cool-looking new species, it was also a world record. The day was looking up. I couldn’t help myself – I had been badly beaten up by the conditions, but had still pulled out some sort of victory. I yelled “Yo! Adriatic!” across the water to the bewildered glances of my boatmates, who had apparently never seen “Rocky.” We fished the bottom for another hour or so, then started trolling our way north toward the island harbor of Milna.

Adriatic Sunset 2

Sure it’s beautiful, but nothing is more beautiful than a spearfish.

We got to Milna just as the sun was going down.

Adriatic Harbor 4

Inside the Milna harbor. All of these places are worth visiting, especially if you’re not a fisherman.

Milna was charming, and featured a water’s-edge promenade loaded with good restaurants. The architecture was wonderfully quaint, although the 18th-century church needed some repairs. (They do say “If it ‘aint baroque, don’t fix it.”) Dinner was steak and seafood, looking over the harbor on a pleasant summer evening. Of course, I wolfed down my food so I could get back to the water.

Adriatic Cat

We were joined for dinner by a three-legged cat. I got him his own salmon carpaccio.

The next morning, we got in a few hours of tuna fishing. We saw three fish on the depth finder – good news – but we had no strikes. Molnar handled it much, much better than I would have. While we were waiting on a bluefin, I fished smaller rigs on the bottom and picked up a lovely striped picarel – a final species with just a few moments to go in the trip.

Adriatic Picarel

This is what passes for excitement in my world.

We cleaned and packed our gear, had a nice seaside lunch in Split, and took a taxi to the airport.

Adriatic Split

Split, Croatia. Highest divorce rate in the Balkans.

I was inconsolable. Marc had done his best, but the Fish Gods had spoken. I had thought the spearfish was finally going to happen, and one twist in the weather had brought it all crashing down. But the bitterest experience in the whole four days was likely the sharpnose seabream, which may be why Stefan was not quite as foul as I was. Indeed, I could swear he had a slight smile on the whole flight to Frankfurt. I could also swear he got a congratulatory text from Jaime.

Steve

 

SPECIAL BONUS UPDATE – GERMAN PERCH FISHING

The week before the Adriatic mess, while I was still at my office in Germany, I got an unexpected fishing invitation. One of my co-workers, definitely not a fisherman, had arranged for me and Stefan Molnar to go out with one of his friends in a small local lake, about 10 miles from the office. There wasn’t much of a chance at a new species, but an afternoon of fishing is always a good thing.

Adriatic Falko

Falko, who set the whole thing up. Not a fisherman, but a superstar at work and somehow popular with the ladies. Must be the hair.

Of course, I always keep an eye out for records as well as species, and I was thrilled to see that a bunch of line-class records were open on European perch. This lake was supposed to have big perch. How hard could it be?

Falko’s friend was named Karl-Heinz – a great guy. (And a pro-level fisherman.) He knew the lake down to the last rockpile, but we actually ran into another one of those situations where the weather was TOO good. Hot, bright, sunny, and still may make for a nice day to sit by the shore, but the gamefish tend to go deep and off the bite in these conditions. Still, we got out there and enjoyed ourselves.

But the fishing was difficult. And no matter how nice the day is, tough fishing makes me forget things like sunshine and nice scenery. But we were nothing if not persistent, and by the end of a pleasant evening, we had both caught a solid European perch – mine big enough to set the 12 pound line-class record.

Adriatic Perch

A summer afternoon well-spent. That’s Karl-Heinz on the right.

So a big thanks to Karl-Heinz and to Falko for putting together a great afternoon on the water, and to Stefan Molnar for not catching any more rare fish right in front of me.

Posted by: 1000fish | May 10, 2015

Grahovo

Dateline: July 19, 2014 – Grahovo, Montenegro

I couldn’t believe I was actually standing in Grahovo – Anka’s village. I had heard stories for years, and now, via an unlikely path, I was standing there.

Grahovo Sign

On the outskirts of Grahovo, Montenegro.

Anka was born between the wars, in a small village in what was then Yugoslavia. A pretty girl with dark hair and big, hazel eyes, she worked on her family’s farm from a very young age. She loved animals, and could talk to them much better than Dr. Doolittle, because Dr. Doolittle didn’t speak Serbian.

Grahovo was a desperately poor place, but it was quiet and out of the way, and the family made do through the depression. Anything extra went to poorer villages nearby.

In April of 1941, the Germans came. There was heavy fighting on the approaches to the village, but the Wermacht pushed their way through the town and began four years of occupation. The unexpectedly hard fight in Yugoslavia delayed the German invasion of Russia by five critical weeks. A campaign that might have captured Moscow in the fall of 1941 teetered into a snowy stalemate, and then into a relentless, red tide westward, paid for with millions of Russian lives, that would end in the ruins of Berlin on May 8, 1945.

That same year, the communists took over, and the purges that followed dwarfed the barbarism of the Nazis. Tito’s men murdered a number of Anka’s relatives – her father, her uncle, her cousins. Anka spent her early adult years in various compulsory state jobs – working on railroad and highway crews, then in a factory, and finally in a state sawmill. She worked long hours quietly, too proud to complain. In 1958, she married and uprooted to California, where Anka had five children. The youngest of these children, an adorable but mischievous sandy blond girl, was born in 1965. Thirty-nine years later, through a complex series of coincidences, I met that mischievous little girl.

The little girl’s name is Marta. Anka from Grahovo is her Mother, and so has been my de-facto Mother-in-Law for something like 10 years. And I found myself standing in the village were it all started.

Of course, this somehow involves fishing. It was high summer and I had a business trip to Europe, so I called Marc Inoue, the fabled tuna guide based out of Slovenia who has led me to a number of countries and species, despite horrible luck with the weather. (See “The Minefield.”) Marc has also given 1000fish one of our most treasured photos – the one of him struggling out of bed at 4am after a particularly exuberant night in Serbia.

Serbia Vegetable

The photo is almost as good as the one of my brother-in-law being seasick.

Marc had suggested that we go troll for big bluefin tuna in central Croatia. Ever on the lookout for adding countries and species, I noted that Montenegro was quite close to our starting port of Dubrovnik, and we added one day on the itinerary for me to make the short drive and catch a fish just across the border. I asked Marc if he could get directions to Grahovo – he said he would figure it out. This guy goes way above the call of duty as a fishing guide, and has become quite a buddy.

Stefan Molnar, German fishing buddy and inventor of the fabled “Five Gram Rule,” joined me for the expedition. Hopefully he would finally have that epic trip I have been promising for years. We flew to Dubrovnik on a Friday night, and it was great to catch up with Marc. I confess that that we made something of a late night of it.

We struggled out of bed the next morning at the crack of noon, and assembled some Red Bull and cheese from a local shop. (Important safety tip –  this is a guaranteed recipe for constipation.) We then drove to Montenegro. It’s a quick hop, driving along the coast on a clear, beautiful summer day.

Grahovo Coast

The Croatian Coast south of Dubrovnik.

Grahovo Welcome

We enter Montenegro.

The first town across the border is a good-sized port, Herceg Novi, and Marc figured it was here I could scrape up some sort of small fish and add Montenegro to the country list.

Grahovo Harbor

Looking up the mountain from Herceg Novi.

Marc wrangled a parking spot – no mean feat this time of year in a seaside town – and we all raced down to the breakwater.

Grahovo Harbor 3

Steve investigates the harbor.

It was one of the rare times that the Fish Gods smiled on me. I had planned to use two rods – one with a larger bait on the off chance that something reasonable would bite, and one with sabikis to make sure I caught something. I cast the larger rig and set it up in the rocks. Just as I turned around to get the sabiki rod, the clicker on the big rod sounded with a short, sharp run. Amazed, I grabbed the rod, reeled out the slack, and went through that nervous moment where we figure out if the fish is still there. For a breathless second, I waited, then the fish took off and I reflexively set the hook. It was a solid fight, and it took me a minute or two to get it close. It was a gilthead bream, relatively small, but as I swung it up onto the rocks, I recognized that it was over a pound, and so, on the 12 pound line I was using, it was actually a world record.

Grahovo Bream

The only world record set in Montenegro to date.

I got a few other small fish, but basically, my work there was done.

Grahovo Molnar

Molnar tries his luck on the breakwall.

It was a lot earlier than I thought it would be, and I had sort of been thinking all night about making a quick side trip to Grahovo. I broached the idea over lunch in the harbor; Stefan and Marc both seemed up for it, and we headed off to cover what looked like only 25 miles on the map.

I’m not sure we went any faster than the Germans did in 1941, and no one was shooting at us. It was a beautiful drive, a sublime drive, full of mountains and ocean and rural scenery, but it was not a fast drive. The roads are winding and full of Russian tourists who apparently just had a bottle of vodka for lunch.

Grahovo Bay

We had scenery like this pretty much the whole drive.

Marc was sure he knew where he was going, but the signage was less than optimal. The more lost we seemed, the more determined I was to see the place where Anka was born. The guys never wavered, and about two hours later, we finally saw a sign for Grahovo. It was later in the afternoon, maybe three, which meant it was early in California, but I texted a few pictures. Marta is not prone to text abbreviations, but I think OMFG about covered it.

The village cannot be 200 yards long and comprise of more than a few hundred souls. We drove the length of the main street, turned around, and parked. I got out, not knowing what to expect.

Grahovo Main

Main street, Grahovo.

Grahovo Truck

One of the houses in town.

I certainly wasn’t going to announce who my girlfriend was, because the hospitality here would dictate that we stay for days. So I just wandered and took in the village. Much of it was in ruins – maybe a third of the homes were abandoned.

Grahovo House 1

This was once the house of a leading citizen.

Grahovo Ruins

Another ruin, interspersed among people going about their daily lives.

The cars were old – and mostly Yugos. Here and there, someone would wave a hello. These were Marta’s people, and undoubtedly, many of them were relatives.

Grahovo Street

A sign for a general store, closed years ago.

I didn’t need to look far to find some evidence of Marta’s family, even after all this time.

Grahovo Statue

A statue honoring Marta’s great uncle, who was killed in the closing days of the war.

Improbably, there was a small cafe – really, just a few chairs outside of a porch – at the end of town. We sat down and ordered a beer.

Grahovo Bar

The group has a beer in Montenegro.

Texts started coming in from Marta – “We have spent HOURS at that cafe. Looks like the same chairs as 1983. The waitress is a cousin.” There were a few guys at the other table. They raised their glasses; we raised ours.

Grahovo Bar 2

Marc and Steve in Grahovo’s hotspot.

Marta texted me “Buy them a round.” So we did. But then they bought us a round, and whatever they were drinking would scare a Hungarian. (Details HERE. It’s ugly.)

Grahovo Bar 3

The local boys pass a Saturday afternoon.

We passed a couple of hours this way. It seemed a bit of a shame not to announce myself, but Marc had the same thing to say. “If these people think you’re even a distant in-law, you’ll be here three days.” It was such a small place, quiet, proud, poor – but these were Marta’s people. We finished a final round – which was quietly a Coke for Marc as he was driving – and we took a final look around. The check was a total written on a napkin – perhaps eight Euros for the whole afternoon. I tipped her another 20, and gave her 10 more to keep the guys at the other table in turpentine for the rest of the night. I said “A gift from Anka in California,” but of course, the waitress didn’t speak English.

The drive back to Dubrovnik went quickly; we discussed the giant tuna we were going to catch the rest of the week.

Grahovo Goodbye

Heading back to Dubrovnik.

A few days after I came back from Europe, Marta and I went to see Anka and show her the pictures. Anka is 83 now. She has slowed down a bit, but still manages the household with cheerful ruthlessness. She is too old to make a visit back to the “old country,” as she calls it, but I felt a bit like I had done it for her. Of course, she would not  look at anything until we had been fed within an inch of our lives, because this is how guests are treated in the old country.

We looked at the photos on my laptop – a 21st century device to show photos of a 19th century village. Marta had been there in the 1980s, and they both recognized much of the landscape. They spoke for a good while in Serbian. Anka was fascinated but sad, her mind and memory still sharp, but the place itself had faded so very much.

Anka went through the photos again, slowly. She identified old houses, once occupied by neighbors, friends and relatives long since dead. She recognized farms and roads, and even the face of the cafe waitress. On one particular photo, a long, concrete building with a collapsed roof, she paused a long time.

Grahovo Sawmill

“That was the sawmill.” she said. “I worked hard there.” Her eyes were very far away. It had been over 60 years since she had worked there, time well-passed raising five children and living a new life in the US, but to see the place still brought her a terrible sadness.

Steve

 

Posted by: 1000fish | April 27, 2015

The Road Trip – “Band of Brothers”

Dateline: July 2, 2014 – Tampa, Florida

Shakespeare can make almost anything sound classy, but we’ll let you be the judge of that.

There was still plenty of fishing to do – and plenty of driving. Florida is a big state, and I had completely misjudged how wide it is east to west. This gave me plenty of time in the back seat of the Ford Escape to contemplate life and what I had learned from this road trip. When I got bored with thinking, I could always put ice down Martini’s back. That never got old.

Band Hats

We bought Martini a new hat. I am sure he treasures it.

Martini had a lot planned for Florida. In the panhandle, he had scoped out several creeks that held both micros and an interesting assortment of larger creatures – exotic bass and redhorse species. On June 30, after a hearty Taco Bell breakfast, we opened up at a small river, miles from any civilization. (How DOES he find these places?) By 9am, it was still and hot, reminding me of humid summer days at Lake Huron with my family back in the 1970s.

Band River

Typical river scenery in north Florida. Bring the bug repellent. And remember to start spraying it on OUTSIDE the car. Sorry about that, guys.

We cast around some fallen trees, and after a false start from a channel catfish, I got a hard bite and a solid new species – the blacktail redhorse. Martini also found some blackspotted topminnows, which I eventually caught, putting a second species on the board. After an hour or so, we headed for the car.

Band Blacktail

The blacktail redhorse. Even Kyle didn’t get one.

Band Topminnow

The savage blackspotted topminnow.

It was a couple of hours to the next spot, and I contemplated Martini and Kyle – the generation that would be running America sooner or later. Every generation likes to believe it is the last good generation, and that all subsequent generations are doomed to failure. I am guilty of this. (In my defense, read the 1000fish episode HERE.) But for a lot of the trip, unusually for me, I did a lot of listening. Here were two 21 year-olds, smart guys, from good families, either just graduated from or finishing good colleges.

I hearkened back to what I was worried about when I was 21, and I found that the basics were pretty much the same. The same no idea what’s really next in life, the same dynamics with friends, grad school, girls, either sorting out a relationship or trying to get into one.

The smart phone has changed things quite a bit. When I was in college, as long as we could take the camera and destroy the film, most of our bad decisions were lost in the hazes of time. Today, acts of stupidity are viral on the internet before the goat regains consciousness. It’s scary.

So this generation isn’t doomed, it just has a different set of rules than mine did – no better, no worse, same problems, maybe even more uncertainty. Just as what seems like ordinary technology to them sometimes seems space age to me, what seems ordinary for them will seem old-fashioned to their children. About the only things that have stayed the same are baseball and fishing, and that’s good enough for me.

We moved to a boat launch on another river, where Martini bagged a rarity – the grayfin redhorse. This species has yet to be formally described by scientists, but appears to be a unique redhorse that occupies a number of rivers in northern Florida.

Band Grayfin

Martini and his grayfin. I didn’t catch one, but neither did Kyle or Jaime.

Just as Martini was photographing this creature, Kyle somehow caught a nice bowfin. Ironic that the least experienced among us would catch the largest fish of the day.

Band Bowfin

We get it, Kyle. Enough already. I guess that week at the “Jaime Hamamoto Academy of Fishing to Irritate Steve” really paid off.

We closed the day out fishing from a campground on some unpronounceable river. Fishing here was not spectacular, except when Kyle got a nice catfish.

Band Catfish

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

I got mostly micro-stuff in the river margins, but I have learned through bitter experience to photograph EVERYTHING that looks even a bit like a new species, and weeks later, I discovered that I had gotten both a weed shiner and a dollar sunfish – two ounces of pure joy.

Band DOllar

The dollar sunfish. I think it cost me more than that.

Band Shiner

The weed shiner. If you were expecting any shame about this, you must be a new reader. Welcome!

There was barbecue for dinner that night. Martini is a connoisseur of barbecue, and apparently, the more sketchy the place looks, the better the food is. That certainly held true in this case, as I was convinced that we were going into a condemned building used only for freelance pharmaceutical deals, but the food turned out to be fantastic. Although we each ordered different combos, we all got beans, apparently for self-defense.

In the morning, we hit the road for Manatee Springs. I like Manatees. (More details HERE.) It hit me that in three weeks of driving, we had never once turned on the radio. We had put on specific songs from iPods, found a bunch of comedy that kept us going in dull moments, but mostly, we had just talked.

Just as “Playboys of the Southwestern World” opens with “This is a song about best friends,” Kyle and Martini are best friends. These two know each other as well as you can, and the stories they had together, from high school and after, kept me laughing almost every night of the trip. (Don’t worry, I won’t rat you out for destroying the machine shop door with the air cannon. Of course, the one about the white swimsuit is coming out at your wedding, Kyle – if anyone is silly enough to give me the microphone.)

I got the sense that they knew these stories were important even now – these are the sorts of things we men write on our cave walls. But I also wondered if they knew how much more important these stories would become later in life, as a link to what most of us remember as the most carefree years of our lives. I thought about the links I have to my past, some firm, some tenuous, and how much they all mean.

Manatee Springs is one of those horrible places that is so beautiful that it distracts from the important stuff, like fishing. Additionally, the water was crystal clear, which meant that we could see the fish, but which also meant that the fish could see us. So even though the place was stuffed with spotted suckers, we could not get them to bite.

Band Springs

Manatee Springs. It’s clear.

I would have stuck this out indefinitely, because I am pointlessly stubborn, and Martini and Kyle pretty much had to drag me out. My only consolation prize – a coastal shiner, small, but a new species.

Band Manatee Shiner

The coastal shiner. At least more attractive than the weed shiner, possibly because Martini took the photo.

Martini began feeling a bit off, and by evening, it was clear he had some sort of actual flu, a legitimate, non-self-inflicted illness, not to imply that the morning after New Orleans was anything but Bird Flu of course.

We hit the road again, found some sort of less-than-memorable hotel, struggled through another batch of pulled pork, and went to sleep.

June 2, the last day of the trip, broke sunny and breezy. We had one major target – the spottail pinfish, a resident of the Tampa area. We also took a shot at some exotics on the way in, in locations as diverse as drainage ditches and apartment decorative ponds, but nothing showed. Martini’s flu had blossomed into something miserable. He toughed it out as he always does, but it was also clear that he felt awful. He rested in the shade while Kyle and I fished off an embankment. After an assortment of wrasses, I finally got my pinfish.

Band Spottail

The spottail pinfish – my 22nd and final species of the trip.

Kyle then got a nice gag grouper. Ironic that the least experienced of us would catch the only gamefish of the day.

Band Grouper

Enough already. Seriously.

Band Shark

My final fish of the trip – an Atlantic sharpnose shark that will be positively monstrous when it gets bigger.

We then headed for Tampa airport, where I would stay overnight and catch an early flight home. I would be back in California in time for July 4th festivities. Marta showed me how much she missed me by sending sly, romantic texts like “Feel free to stay another week.”

It was a short but quiet run over the airport. I thought back to my college road trips, with Gurns, and Tim the goalie, and Mike, and Dane, and Cary Mock, who once got me up at 2am to go to Camp Far West in the hope of catching a large smallmouth. Instead, we got exactly one small largemouth.

Band Cary

That’s me and Cary, 1985 or so, trying to recover from the drive. Damn we were good-looking. 

There were the insane weekend runs to San Francisco with Frank Lopez, returning just in time to attend class on Monday – with more than one term paper written on a manual typewriter in the passenger seat of his Datsun 210. I still know some of those guys, some have drifted into the pre-internet oblivion, but I remember them all.

Band Frank

That’s me and Frank, circa 1982, and I still think I look cool in that hat. The horrible thing is that this photo was NOT taken on a moving day – our room just looked like that.

I thought of how long ago that all was, and how lucky I was to get a chance to just be on the open road again with great friends, and accepted not as the old guy but just as another one of the guys. It’s what we live for, and I was grateful to have the chance one more time.

I got my gear out at the Marriott, the guys headed off for Miami, and like that, the great road trip of 2014 had come to a conclusion. It had been two weeks that went by like two days; 4400 miles of driving, ten states, four world records, silliness, seriousness, stupidity, and I had added 22 species. Some I had wanted for a long time, some I had never heard of, but mostly, I was happy to just be along for the ride.

Sitting upstairs in the hotel, I took some of the notes that ended up as the six episodes you have just suffered through, and even then, I knew I needed to close with some poetry that summed up the experience. Obviously, I wouldn’t write it myself, because I am a disastrous poet, but I thought of the many artists whose poetry had taken some part in our 14 days of adventure. Several came to mind but weren’t quite right – Simon and Garfunkel, Blake Shelton, even Taylor Swift … so we will give this one to Shakespeare.

From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered –
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers

Steve

Posted by: 1000fish | April 20, 2015

The Road Trip – “Bird Flu”

Dateline: June 29, 2014 – Ocean Springs, Mississippi

We were exactly one armadillo shy of an epic day. (Long-winded explanation HERE) We covered four states, fishing in two, added two new states for my fishing list, taking me to 44, caught two new species, and witnessed Martini do a convincing if historically inaccurate impression of Colonel Sanders.

We came into Louisiana exhausted, and barely made it to a Cajun seafood restaurant and motel in Baton Rouge. Martini had scheduled the 28th as a day off, so we could rest and refresh before hitting the Gulf Coast. Texas had lived up to every possible expectation, but we needed to sleep more than three hours a night. However, our night of quiet reflection happened to fall in a location perhaps not ideally suited to quiet reflection. We were headed to New Orleans.

Flu Cart

Two idiots we saw playing on a luggage cart in the parking lot.

We slept in that morning, despite Kyle’s persistent snoring, and we hit the road right before lunch. Driving into New Orleans brought back a lot of memories for me. The last trip I had taken here was with my Mother, the year before she passed away, and, despite the obvious risks of bringing one’s Mother to New Orleans, we had a fantastic time. (And I caught a batch of new species – see “Hoodoos, Bayous, and Beignets“)

We pulled into the French quarter around noon, and found an excellent Cajun lunch, which in my case was equal parts gumbo and Tabasco sauce. This sort of diet has consequences, but I was not to be dissuaded.

Flu Mothers

Best diner in N.O., hands down.

Flu Tabasco

Yes, I bought it. Tabasco goes well on everything from chicken to breakfast cereal.

We played tourist for an afternoon, seeing the sights of New Orleans – Jackson Square, the riverboats, the proud old houses, and the stumbling drunk tourists. But looming over the day was the fact that we needed to be up at 4:45 the next morning to drive to Mississippi and go fishing.

Flu Cafe

The group at Cafe du Monde.

Flu Beignet

This is a beignet. Fundamentally fried dough with powdered sugar, it may be the perfect food. 

At some stage of the evening, around 10, because I am old and boring, I went off to bed. At that very same hour, the guys, because they are young and unable to calculate the amount of hours until 4:45 AM, went off to the French Quarter.

Flu Bourbon

The heart of the French Quarter.

To be clear, I have no personal knowledge of what happened to them after 10 and before 4:45. There were no known photos, no stories were shared, and there was nothing in the newspaper.

Therefore, I can only presume that they both caught bird flu overnight, because when 4:45 AM rolled around, they were both disasters – wretched, pathetic, bleary-eyed, looking ready to throw up. They flinched at loud noises, like when I blinked. I’m sure something was going around, because some locals sleeping in the gutter looked to have the same condition.

Flu Sunrise

The sun rises as we head to Mississippi. Kyle moaned “Turn it off. It hurts my head.”

For the first time on the entire road trip, I was called upon to drive. It was nice in the front seat. I felt important. It was very, very quiet in the car, with just the occasional gurgle or bleat from Martini. Kyle’s bird flu seemed a bit less severe than Martini’s, but he was still awfully quiet, and he smelled like a bus, which I am told is a symptom of bird flu. We stopped at a 7-11, and the boys wanted small bottles of water and some white bread.

Flu Martini Flu

The ravages of bird flu. Martini insisted that he wanted to eat white bread, but most of it ended up in his hair.

We would be fishing that day in Mississippi, in a small Gulf Coast port called Ocean Springs. The guide would be one Captain John Swartz of Shallow Draft Charters. (Shallowdraft@cableone.net) John would be assisted by his grandson Jordan, who was visiting from Texas. It was a gorgeous morning as we motored out into the coastal waters.

Flu Bayou

Cruising through the bayou on a beautiful morning. The motor was a bit loud for the boys – Kyle quietly begged me to kill him. 

We anchored up on a shell bed, and it didn’t take long for me to add a species – the sand seatrout. (Related to the spotted seatrout and the weakfish.) This would also mean that Mississippi was the 43rd state where I had caught a fish.

Flu trout

The sand seatrout. This pleased me.

Kyle was half-heartedly casting a leadhead jig when he got a savage wakeup call – a big redfish slammed him and took off for Mobile. Considering his case of bird flu, he did a nice job during the long fight, and we finally netted a beast of a redfish for him.

Flu Redfish

Kyle steps up and goes Jaime Hamamoto on me. Even though the fish was only on board briefly, it complained about the smell. 

I had been musing for two weeks about how the least experienced of us caught the first fish, the biggest fish, the most records, bla bla bla. And I thought I had been relatively gracious about this, but something about this redfish just set me off. Really, Kyle? Really? Are you going to leave anything for the rest of us? Aren’t you too busy talking to Jaime to catch more fish?

As the day wore on, the flu symptoms seemed to ease up – you see what happens when young men eat a healthy diet and take such good care of themselves. Soon, Martini was eating solid food and speaking in complete sentences.

We fished hard the rest of the day and caught loads of stuff – drum, trout, sheepshead, sharks, rays, kingfish – and I got one other new species, the underappreciated striped burrfish.

Flu Burrfish (2)

The striped burrfish – a puffer relative. And Kyle just had to be unfriendly.

Toward the end of the day, we moved inshore to try for some gulf flounder. The boys had recovered well – a monument to their moral fiber – but the gulf flounder was nowhere to be found. The gulf flounder is starting to make me mad. But we did catch some very nice sheepshead and redfish.

Flu Sheephead

Steve and John with a nice sheepshead. You can find John on Shallowdraft@cableone.net or 228-234-2401. Great guy – I highly recommend fishing with him if you’re in the area.

Flu Martini Red

Martini and a nice red. His recovery was nothing short of remarkable.

Late in the afternoon, we docked, packed up, and hit the road – we had two more states to visit before we would rest.

It was on the way out of Ocean Springs that Martini made his one mistake with the beans. The can was sitting there on his seat as it had every day for two weeks, but perhaps because he hadn’t driven earlier, or perhaps due to the lingering effects of the bird flu, he didn’t look before he sat down. “#&%# %*&%!$%!!” he yelled as he sprang up and likely banged his head on the roof. “What kind of IDIOT would do that?” Sheepishly, Kyle and I both raised our hands. We giggled most of the way to Mobile. I can’t necessarily explain it now without sounding mean-spirited, but at the time, this was one of the single funniest things I had ever seen.

Flu Beans

The only known photo of the beans.

An hour or so later, we crossed into Alabama. We had no formal stop planned there, but I had never caught a fish in Alabama and was determined to do so. Driving around Mobile bay, we found some likely-looking spots near the USS Alabama museum. As a big-time war history buff, I have to say it was amazing to see this proud WWII veteran – she was at most of the main engagements in the Pacific, from shelling Tarawa to landing some of the first occupation troops in Japan.

Kirk Bama Closeup

The USS Alabama.

In the shadow of this monstrous old battleship – now retired for almost 70 years – I set up with a light rod and fished a sandbank until I caught an Atlantic croaker. This made Alabama the 44th state where I had caught a fish, and as fun as it was to add two states in one day, there was actually a day in 2009 when I added three states within six hours. (Details HERE.) I acknowledge that this is not normal behavior.

Flu Croaker

The Alabama croaker. I was very pleased by this.

I got back in the car, thrilled at the catch. I suggested that we get a beer at dinner to celebrate. Oddly, at the mere mention of beer, both Kyle and Martini broke into a sweat and said nothing.

Later in the evening, we crossed the border into Florida – the tenth and final state of the trip. There was still much to be done, and we drove off in search of lodging, with Blake Shelton blaring on the stereo, and the three of us singing along at the top of our lungs, each in our own key.

Heyyyyyyy Romeo, let’s go down to Mexico …

Utter poetry.

Steve

 

Dateline: June 27, 2014 – Lake Livingston, Texas

There is something intimidating about driving into Texas and seeing the sign that tells you exactly how long you will be in Texas. It was the crack of dawn when we departed Silver City to begin the longest single drive of the trip – 590 miles, which Rex had estimated as “just a few miles.”

Kirk TX sign

We all fell silent at the sight of this sign. That’s a long time to be in one state. 

Kirk Map

The plan for the day. I didn’t say it was a good plan.

There is something about 12 hours in a car that defines relationships. You really learn what’s inside someone, doubly so after a huge Mexican lunch in El Paso. Note to self – when driving 600 miles, save the Mexican food for dinner.

Kirk Road 1

It became apparent that the scenery wasn’t going to vary. Editorial by Kyle.

Somewhere on this endless rerun of bland highway, the guys introduced me to something called “internet content.” Mind you, I’m not completely lost on the cultural possibilities of the internet – I even found some old Carol Burnett skits on Youtube – but the depth of knowledge these two had was astonishing. There is some hysterical stuff out there – e.g. CollegeHumor.com’s Batman series – and people from my generation just don’t appreciate the breadth of this resource. I was alternately amused, astonished, and horrified – in an order which might surprise you. We’re not talking about anything (too) gross here – get your minds out of the gutter – but when we weren’t talking about the next fishing trip, we were laughing our heads off. Who knew Natalie Portman could rap?

Kirk Road

This photo was taken hours later.

Conversation ranged far and wide. Kyle is a senior at Central Florida and an officer in a fraternity. Martini is applying to grad schools in marine biology. (I am hopeful he will get a PhD in marine psychology, so he can tell me how fish think.) We talked about families, girlfriends past, present, and future, jobs, sports, and, or course, Kate Upton.

Kirk Nap

That’s Penguito, official mascot of the 2014 Road Trip.

When things got dull, we put ice down Martini’s back. And of course, if anyone got a phone call, especially something that required any level of conversation, the rest of us would make animal noises in the background.

It was late at night when we arrived in Junction, Texas. It had everything we needed – a Dairy Queen and some sort of motel which felt like it was not quite completely converted from a 19th century state prison.

After waking up on the 26th and discovering that Taco Bell does indeed have an excellent breakfast offering, we fished the Llano river at a culvert in Junction. Two species came quickly – the Rio Grande Cichlid and the longear sunfish.

Kirk 1 Cichlid

The Rio Grande cichlid. It’s cool.

Kirk Longear

The longear sunfish. Finally. I thought I had caught these a bunch of times but they always turned out to be some other sunfish.

We then moved over to a spillway west of town. Our main target was a local largemouth derivative known as a Guadalupe bass. We caught some nice bass, which I, in my infinite wisdom, judged to be spotted bass and threw back without photos. Martini caught some even nicer ones, making me flash back to his spotted bass on the Cosumnes. (As featured in “A Bridge Too Near.”)

Martini Beastalupe

Martini and his beastly Guadalupe bass.

In the meantime, I added two shiner species to the list – the Texas and the blacktail. Four species and counting – already a great day.

Kirk Texas

Texas shiner. Not much can dignify this photo, so just move on the the next one.

Kirk Blacktail 2

Blacktail shiner. A monster by comparison.

In the early afternoon, we packed it up and drove to Llano, Texas, to fish below a dam on the Llano river.

Kirk Llano

The dam in question. Another gorgeous location courtesy of Martini’s incredibly thorough research.

Fishing was reasonable – a lot of small bass, but, in my infinite wisdom, they all looked like spotted bass to me. Kyle told me to take a photo of one of them – I declined, but then he snapped the picture below.

Kirk Guadalupe

You know where this is going.

A few days later, an email came back from Dr. Timothy Bonner of Texas State University confirming that this was in fact a Guadalupe bass – they all were. It hurts to admit it, but I owe this species entirely to Kyle – ironic that the least experienced among us would have the foresight to think of taking the photo. He is forgiven for the Utah sucker … but not for what happened in Mississippi a few days later.

That evening featured the one home-cooked meal we ate on the entire trip. Kyle’s grandparents live in Waco, Texas, and they graciously invited us for dinner. These were good people – salt-of-the-earth Americans – and a large and loving family who were thrilled to see Kyle and welcomed me and Martini as family.

Kirk Family

Kyle’s grandparents and other assorted relatives.

We had a big day ahead of us – alligator gar fishing in the Trinity River – but we still stayed around late for extra helpings of pot roast, and for multiple desserts. It was well after midnight when we got to sleep in some iffy motel. (The grandparents would have gladly put us up, but we needed to be close to the water for an early start.)

Well before dawn, we struggled from bed and headed for the Trinity River below Lake Livingston, where we would be spending the day with one of Martini’s all-time favorite guides, Kirk Kirkland. Kirk is an alligator gar specialist who has guided the Arosteguis to dozens and dozens of world records. Look him up at http://www.texasfishingguides.org/kirkland/.

We started up toward the dam, casting small lures for white bass, which were everywhere.

Kirk White Bass

Kyle and some nice white bass. The place was full of them.

When we had gotten our fill of this, we moved just downriver and set up to bait fish for buffalo. Kyle caught one first – ironic that the least experienced among us would get the first one – but then he also got the second.

Kirk K Buffalo

Kyle and a smallmouth buffalo. (Foreground.)

Then Martini got one. Kirk caught on to this, and instead of being kind and helpful as I have every right to expect, he mock-whispered to Martini “I thought you said this guy knew what he was doing!”

Kirk M Buffalo

Martini gets a buffalo.

Eventually, Kirk perched behind my right ear and yelled “MISSED ‘EM! WHOOO!!” every time I had a bite. I did not find this constructive. In my own defense, I did eventually catch one half an hour later.

Kirk S Buffalo

Finally, a smallmouth buffalo.

If you are whatsoever sensitive, liberal, or really anything to the left of Benito Mussolini, Kirk’s conversation isn’t going to be to your liking. That being said, the guy is hilarious and completely merciless, and every attempt I made to give him a hard time was met with a torrent of howlingly funny abuse. But even months later, I can’t think of many examples suitable for a G-rated blog, so I’ll leave it to your fertile little imaginations. His “Welcome to a Texas Prison” monologue alone was worth the price of admission.

Kirk Kirk M

That’s Captain Kirk at the helm of the Garship Enterprise.

We moved from the main river to a back bay and set out baits for spotted gar, another species I hadn’t caught. Again, Kyle got one first. Ironic that the least experienced among us would get the first one, and again, I couldn’t seem to get bites.

Kirk K Gar

Here we go again.

Was this to be another spearfish? Of course, I blamed Kirk, and of course, in good humor, Kirk blamed me. We’ll call it a draw, but we eventually had to leave and go look for alligator gar. My one consolation is that I got a red shiner, a small if new species.

Kirk R Shiner

Red shiner. It’s in my hand. Look closely.

We then set up to take a shot at alligator gar. These prehistoric leviathans grow to the size of defensemen and have a lot more teeth, so fishing for them is a complex business. We put out four rods with huge baits, each about 100 yards apart. Kirk set these with European-style strike alarms tied to a remote beeper, and we sat back to wait. We had agreed up front that Kyle would take the first fish – both Martini and I had caught them previously. This might have been instinctive to Martini, but I felt awfully darn generous.

Kirk Kyle

Kyle and Kirk wait for an alligator gar bite. They’re probably smiling because they said something mean about me.

We relaxed on a hot, pleasant Texas afternoon, and Kirk led a less-than-helpful discussion on his theories why I hadn’t caught a spotted gar. Most of these had to do with the influences of living in California, and none of them can be published here. Of course, Martini and Kyle sold me out and sided with Kirk, and after an hour of this unfair and likely Jaime-influenced abuse, we were mercifully interrupted by a bite.

Hooking an alligator gar is a complex business. We chased the float downstream about a quarter mile, waiting for the fish to eat the bait. When the fish finally came to a stop, Kirk told Kyle to set the hook, and the gar took off downstream like an annoyed submarine. From the fight, it was obvious that we had hooked something very, very big. Kyle is a very large and very strong person – think lineman – and he was pulling very hard, but the fish was pulling back harder. This went on for about half an hour, with Kyle slowly gaining, until the beast finally surfaced. Even though we all expected something big, we still all released involuntary bad words at the size of the thing. “Gee whiz!” I recall myself saying.

We then needed to invite the fish on board for photos. Even with an expert like Kirk in one corner, a wrestling match with a large alligator gar is an uncomfortably even proposition. He adroitly snared it, and lifted it in one impressive motion over the gunwale. The gar fully intended to kill him, but Kirk had it by the back of the head and didn’t let go. I have to imagine that the scene on Cousin Chuck’s wedding night was not dissimilar.

Kirk Gar Dance

Kirk does the gar dance. He’s amazingly agile, and because of this, he hasn’t lost any important limbs over the years.

The fish was well over a hundred pounds – much larger, indeed, than any alligator gar I have caught. Ironic that the least experienced one of us would get the biggest fish of the trip.

Kirk Kyle Gator

Clearly, Kyle can lift heavy things.

Kirk MK Gar

Don’t they understand that there are alligator gar in the water?

Still, this was a big moment for the whole team – we had gotten a truly memorable beast, so there would be at least one photo in the whole trip where people wouldn’t have to squint to see the fish. Kyle had done us all proud, and had landed the fish of a lifetime.

Kirk Big Gar

The fish was safely released moments later.

Kirk Gator 2

That’s Penguito, official mascot of the 2014 Road Trip.

Perhaps because he had felt sorry for me, Kirk took one more shot at the spotted gar. I put out every possible rod, and managed to tangle several of them. (Conventional wisdom says fish one rod and concentrate on it, and there’s a reason that it’s called conventional wisdom. I ignore this frequently and it drives guides crazy.) It was getting late – if the client had been anyone but Martini, Kirk would have been back at the dock, but he stuck it out, and just a few minutes before our third revised stop time, I got a bite. Kirk helpfully yelled “Don’t screw this one up, boy! I’ve gotta go home! Whooo!!” Mercifully, the fish stayed on the hook. Martini, normally world-class with the net, added a bit of drama when he forgot to slack the mesh before he lifted the fish, volleying the gar into the boat and just missing Kirk’s face. (Kirk blamed me.)  It was in fact a spotted gar – my third species of the day and my 8th in Texas. It was a gigantic relief.

Kirk Spotted

Kyle seems to thing my gar was smaller than his. 

Reluctantly, I had to thank Kirk. He smiled. He was a simply tremendous guide, and more than a match for any of us. It had been a load of fun.

Kirk Kirk 2

Steve and Kirk. Do not adjust your screens – he really is that tall.

We got back to the dock late in the afternoon, said our goodbyes with Kirk, and cleaned up and stored our gear. We boarded the Escape and headed east, finally exiting Texas early in the evening. We had driven over a thousand miles since entering the state just three days before, and we were exhausted. Our first task in Louisiana was to find a decent shrimp “po boy” sandwich, accomplished outside Baton Rouge, and then to get to get some sleep.

Our next day would be easy – The Big Easy – and while the day would be wonderful, the evening would turn out to be a minor catastrophe … for two of the three of us.

Steve

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