Posted by: 1000fish | August 28, 2017

The Bitterling Truth

Dateline: July 25, 2008 – Luxembourg. Or …

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

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

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

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

This is what I thought I was looking for.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When I say micro hooks, I mean micro hooks.

 

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

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

The beast is captured.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of the hardest fighting fish in fresh water. 

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

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

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

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

No, they weren’t trolling.

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

The hotel. Worth the trip just for the scenery.

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

The pond, hidden up a narrow mountain road.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted by: 1000fish | August 20, 2017

Homonyms, Pomfrets, and the Pier Panther

Dateline: March 25, 2017 – Heeia, Hawaii

This is a cow.

She says “Moo.”

This is a Jamie.

She says “Mu.”

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

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

I see this photo in my sleep. A lot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This counts as a good start in my book.

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

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

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

Oh how I want to catch one of those groupers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally. Finally. And in an unexpected place.

They have an extraordinary set of teeth.

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

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

Largehead. And scorpionfish.

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

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

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

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

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

But would it break the record?

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

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

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

Martini thought this was very funny.

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

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

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

Species 1660.

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

I’m running out of squirrelfish.

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

Ironically, they’re interesting.

Look closely. It’s not an amberjack.

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

Martini’s was bigger.

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

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

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

Of course, now I can catch them at will.

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

The undulate – one of the grouchier morays.

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

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

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

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

Martini ate whatever that is in the bowl. Terrifying.

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

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

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

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

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

The menu.

This is the only thing I can do with chopsticks.

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

Somewhere on the leeward side of Oahu.

Jamie reels in yet another bluefin trevally.

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

I tell her not to talk with her mouth open.

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

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

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

Steve

Aloha oe.

Posted by: 1000fish | July 11, 2017

Life After the Big Green Boat

Dateline: January 27, 2017 – Port Hacking, Australia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The streaky lizardfish and a bemused crewman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The power of positive thinking.

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

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

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

My 20th moray species. 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve and Steve on the original Bullfrog, May 2000.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The snag that turned into a record.

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

 

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

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

The vicious and inedible Sergeant Baker.

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

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

Another thing not to put in your pants.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A stripey. They have hated me for years.

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

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

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

Steve

 

SPECIAL BONUS FEATURE – THE HENG CONTINUES

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

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

 

Posted by: 1000fish | June 24, 2017

The Melbourne Ultimatum

Dateline: January 25, 2017 – Hastings, Australia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The purple wrasse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The beastly bluethroat.

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

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

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

Do NOT put this in your pants.

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

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

Sunset at Rocky Point.

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

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

Shaun gets selfie-ambushed.

The Bridled Leatherjacket.

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

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

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

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

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

The Southern Hulafish.

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

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

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

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

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

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

At long last, a ray in Melbourne.

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

Steve

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

Posted by: 1000fish | June 7, 2017

Chums

Dateline: November 6, 2016 – Skykomish, Washington

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

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

Yes, it’s real.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Martini gets the first fish of the day.

 

Steve’s silver. It had started really pouring. 

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

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

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

We call this photo “Brokeback River.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A year of suffering rewarded.

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

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

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

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

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

Steve

AN UNEXPECTED POSTSCRIPT

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

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

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

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

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

I didn’t even know these were available.

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

 

AN EVEN MORE UNEXPECTED POST-POSTSCRIPT

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

My famous Christmas pants.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Posted by: 1000fish | May 30, 2017

Species Wise, Trophy Foolish

Dateline: October 11, 2016 – Male, Maldives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Say what you will, they are fun to catch. 

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

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

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

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

A species. This is a good thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By the next morning, it had gotten appreciably windier.

See – it isn’t always perfect here.

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

That’s a look of relief.

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

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

This is why I do this.

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

A snubnose grouper – species #5 of the trip.

Species number six happened moments later.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vaavu harbor – my home for around six hours.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wind or not, it was a great morning.

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

The channel into Vaavu.

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

More mystery file. I hate juvenile parrotfish.

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

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

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

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

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

Do NOT put this in your pants.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve

 

Posted by: 1000fish | May 23, 2017

Sean Stole My Red Bull

Dateline: October 2, 2016 – Singapore

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

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

That’s the culprit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Could this be the same creature I caught in Miami?

Then the hornet tilapia moved in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you Sherwin.

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

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

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

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

These things are so cool.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve forgives Sean and makes $12 the hard way.

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

Steve

Posted by: 1000fish | April 17, 2017

The Thing in Ben’s Leg

Dateline: September 19, 2016 – Poplar Bluff, Missouri

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

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

Oops. Too late.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The fantail darter. Photo by Tyler Goodale.

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

The Current River, Southern Missouri.

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

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

The Carmine shiner. Bizet’s favorite fish.

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

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

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

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

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

Oops. Too late.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of the more attractive shiners.

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

Note the white spots on the base of the tail.

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

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

The triumphant anglers.

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

Ben’s gilt darter. I forgive him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oops. Too late.

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

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

Another very lucky moment.

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

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

Steve

 

Bonus Feature –

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

The Ben Cantrell NPR Interview

For an engineer, he handles the media pretty well.

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

 

 

Posted by: 1000fish | April 2, 2017

Big Mac and Selfie Kid

Dateline: September 4, 2016 – Tomales Bay, California

This is the story of two teenagers growing up … or not, and we aren’t including me, because that’s never going to happen. This summer, I got to go fishing with the teenage sons of two great friends, here in in Northern California. One of them took a 100 pound bat ray, a 150 pound sevengill shark, and a world record rockfish. The other one took … selfies. The selfie kid reinforces my notion that the current generation leaves America little hope for the future – see “My Failed Weekend of Parenthood” – but the other kid, the one who paid attention and caught a lot of fish … he gives me some optimism. Best of all, I got to fish in Northern California – my home waters.

I don’t get to write about my home waters very often, because I caught most of the species well before I started blogging, but these are my own sacred spots.  These are the places where I really learned to fish, starting in college at UC Davis many years ago … and it is with a college connection we begin this summer’s local fishing tales.

There are precious few new species left within a day trip of home, but one that has annoyed me for years is the hardhead. This unassuming relative of the Sacramento pikeminnow is supposed to inhabit streams in our central valley, but after years of fishing these areas, I still hadn’t seen one. I went to one of the Delphic Oracles of this type of fishing – Teejay O’Rear of UC Davis, and he advised that I fish Cache Creek, in a quiet part of our coastal hills. I have been going there for years, but with the recent drought, I was often looking at dry creekbed where the fish were supposed to be.

This summer looked to have better conditions, and I had a spare Saturday with my college buddy Mike Arnstein in town. Mike, an unassuming areospace engineer (almost all of my friends are smarter than me, except for Kerr,) agreed to make a day out of trying for this beast. Our first stop was to correct a six year-old wrong. In Hawaii in 2010, I had struggled for hours to catch what I had thought was a western mosquitofish, while Jamie Hamamoto snickered at me because she caught one in 30 seconds. As it turns out, these were not mosquitofish – they were a livebearer of some sort, and I still needed a western mosquitfish, which is ridiculous, because the central valley is positively stuffed with western mosquitofish. So we made a run to Lagoon Valley Lake, near Vacaville, and made short work of getting one of these creatures officially on my list. And shame on all of you for not knowing the difference between a western mosquitofish and whatever livebearer that Honolulu fish actually is.

mac-mosquito

Yes, I caught this on purpose.

With that out of the way, we headed for Davis, reminiscing the entire way about culturally important things like how we survived dorm life and how good Sue Schroeder looked in a swimsuit. We poked around Putah Creek for an hour or so, continuing to tell college stories, most of which involve me doing something stupid and Mike shaking his head sadly. Oh, and Sue came up again. With that, we were off for Cache Creek. The central valley is a desolate place, with long, flat miles between farm buildings and the irrigation stations that make the whole thing fertile. As we headed west, the bleak scenery changed to hills and tress, and we ended up parked at a remote bridge.

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Mike at Cache Creek. I can’t explain the hat, but I want one.

I had been here before and gotten nothing but small pikeminnows and catfish, but I sensed that today would be different. Mike amused himself dropping worms into a deep hole, and I cast to the far bank and drifted some light rigs along the bottom. We caught a few pikeminnows, but these can be easily differentiated from the heardhead as they lack a premaxillary frenum. (Dr. Peter Moyle’s page-turner of a book – The Inland Fishes of California – contains this scintillating detail.)

Because I knew you would ask.

About 30 minutes in, I got a fish that looked different. I held my breath and looked closely, and there was the frenum I had been looking for all these years. Mike gave me a bewildered high-five, and we were off to dinner and an even more detailed discussion of Sue.

mac-hardhead

At last, the hardhead. I drove home singing the Alan Parsons Project song “Frenum.” And George Michael’s “Frenum 90.”

Then it was time to take some teenagers fishing. The first one was Mackie, who is the son of some of Marta’s dearest friends, Hugh and Lisa. (They host the single best Christmas party in the western hemisphere.) About four years ago, Hugh and Marta were chatting, and Hugh suddenly blurted out “I am a bad father.” This caught Marta by surprise, as Hugh and Lisa are model parents. Marta responded “What in the hell are you talking about?” Hugh responded “Mackie, my younger son, loves to fish. I know nothing about fishing. I am a bad parent.”

Marta smiled and said “I know someone who can help you.”

We got Mackie out on a couple of local trips, and he did well. (Aggravatingly well in one case, as he caught a rubberlip perch on his very first trip. It took me 30 years.) If he had been Cole Grossen, or Garreth Bowman, or even my nephew, I would have smacked him, but he is so unbelievably polite and respectful, so completely not like Jamie Hamamoto, that I just couldn’t bring myself to be that upset.

He is not smiling out of spite, like Jamie would have. He just had no idea how hard these things were to catch.

Fast forward a few years. Mackie was now Mac, and he was around for the summer and wanted to go fishing. What better excuse to visit my local haunts? We had a good tide for Tomales Bay, an estuary north of San Francisco that has been one of my favorite shark spots for over 25 years. Tomales is a long, narrow inlet, typically shrouded in fog and blasted by wind, set into the farmland of Marin county. I treasure everything about going there, from packing the rods the night before, to the predawn drive through the back country roads, to the horrible food we end up eating because there is no adult supervision, to the stop at the Petaluma bait store that always seems to have something I need.

mac-dock

Dawn at Lawson’s Landing, Tomales Bay. Of course, it pretty much always looks like this.

There is no better way to relive your youth than through the eyes of a youngster, and judging from the 9000 questions he texted me the night before, Mac was wound up to get onto the water. He had seen my Tomales pictures, and I always try to warn people that the fishing is probably not going to be as good as it was in the photos, because, of course, I will generally show pictures of the really good days. (Scott Perry seems immune to this rule; he always seems to get a good day.)

There was additional motivation on this trip – a doable, even likely, shot at a world record. Our spiny dogfish, which for years had been lumped under Squalus acanthias, had been reclassified as Squalus suckleyi and was hence wide open. (If you aren’t yelling “Fish nerd” by now, chances are you are Martini. Or Ben.) This seemed like a slam dunk to me, but seemingly common fish can disappear once you actually start trying to catch them. (See “Trout Blasphemy.”)

This was one of those days where the plan worked. With a bit of outbound tide left, I anchored us in 20 feet in the north part of the bay and hoped to get a big ray for Mac. (As opposed to a Big Mac for Ray.)  It didn’t take five minutes for a screaming strike, and from the length of the first run, I knew Mac would be on a long time.

mac-fight

I took this about 30 minutes in, and the fish had just started running again.

I knew the fish was nearly as big as him, but he played it patiently for close to an hour. That’s the other good thing about bringing a kid bat ray fishing with you – they can fight all the bat rays. It made me remember, not too terribly long ago, when I first discovered the wonder of this place, and the humble majesty of the bat ray – the “mud marlin.”

mac-bat

That’s a whole lot of bat ray, and they fight like an enraged car hood. Remember that the tide is going by at six miles an hour.

As the tide changed over, we moved down the bay to some deeper water. Just as the water started moving in, taking the boat in line so we faced Inverness, Mac’s rod jerked down again. He leaned back on it, and I could tell from the strong, head-shaking fight that he had a leopard shark – and a nice one.

mac-leopard-1

These fight hard.

mac-l-teeth

Yes, they can bite.

mac-s-leopard

And I got one too.

We got a few more, then things went a little quiet. When things go quiet at Tomales, one of two things is happening – either the fish have just stopped biting, OR, the fish have stopped biting because a big sevengill shark has moved into the area. Fishermen convince themselves of the most amazing things to keep their spirits up.

Moments later, Mac’s rig started the hard bounces that usually indicate a sevengill bite. He set the hook hard, and I knew right away he had one – not a monster, but a sevengill. He landed it efficiently, and he now had one of the more difficult to catch Tomales species on his list.

mac-seven-1

Mac and his first sevengill. I tried for a year before I got my first one.

mac-teeth-1

Once in a while, someone writes in and says something like “Don’ t be dramatic! A small shark like that can’t hurt anyone!” These people are idiots.

Then I got one about the same size. This was shaping up into a really good day. We had just gotten settled back down from photographing the sharks when Mac’s line started clicking out in short bursts. He picked up the rod, fed the fish some line, let it pull tight, and set. Whatever was on the other end was not pleased, and took off down the bay, slowly but powerfully.

I knew it had to be a big sevengill. Mac did a good job with it, staying patient and letting the drag do the work, and about 45 minutes later, it surfaced right beside the boat. I had guessed it at a hundred pounds, but it was a lot bigger than that. I didn’t want to kill it, so I was left with the unfortunate option of lifting the thing into the boat by hand. (Phil Richmond, of course, would have tried to net it.) In a scene reminiscent of Cousin Chuck’s wife carrying him across the threshold, I managed to drag the struggling beast onboard for a few pictures. Unusually for a teenager, Mac has a sense of self-preservation, and he was not comfortable having this put in his lap, but make no mistake about it, it was his fish. Mac had joined the club.

mac-big-seven

Mac’s fish.

We had a couple of hours left to try to get a spiny dogfish – I was rather surprised we hadn’t seen one yet. We split up two rods each, used medium-sized baits, and watched the tips intently, but this creature, which usually makes a pest of itself, had become inexplicably scarce. Perhaps half an hour before we needed to head in, my light setup had a bite, and I reeled up what I thought would be a small leopard. Of course, it was the one and only dogfish we would get that day. So I got my record, but I would have much preferred that Mac got one too.

mac-spiny

Don’t ask that awkward question about whether I would have preferred he had gotten it instead of me, because I know the right answer but I also like to tell the truth.

On the way home, it hit me that I had not seen Mac look at his cell phone even once while we were on the water. This gave me hope for America’s future.

The following weekend, I was looking forward to getting out on a Half Moon Bay rock cod charter. These coastal boats take anywhere from 10 to 30 anglers out to the reefs along the San Mateo coast, and while it’s a different group every time, you tend to have the same core of stock characters. These trips are an important part of summer for me.

Just when all seemed good, I got a call from Cole, the teenage son of a hockey teammate. “Uncle Woz! We gotta go fishing!!” You have all met Cole, in the heartwarming “Blue Suede Sturgeon” episode. He’s a good kid, or so his mother tells me, and I truly enjoy taking him fishing, but Cole, like many teenagers, has not yet figured out that life isn’t all about him. (It’s actually all about ME.) Since it was only Tuesday, I knew there would be a bit of drama. Cole is known for stunts like calling on a Tuesday and saying he is free to go fishing Saturday and then calling Wednesday and asking if a friend can go and calling Thursday and saying the friend can’t make it and then calling Friday and saying it turns out he has a ballet lesson on Saturday and wants to go fishing on Sunday. I, of course, was completely reliable as a teenager. (I am hoping that most people who are old enough to contradict this don’t use the internet.)

Somehow, we got the trip worked out, but I knew in my heart I would be yelling “Put the phone down!” all day. This generation has no hope if they can’t devote more than 30 uninterrupted seconds to a problem, and that seems to be about as long as they can go without checking Instagram.

So it was than on a day that the rock cod fishing was ridiculously, stupidly epic – I don’t ever recall getting that many quality fish on light tackle – Cole only managed to stumble his way through to a limit of small school fish. But he did get some really nice selfies.

mac-cole-s2

That’s a nice photo, but if you’re doing this, you’re not fishing …

mac-ling-1

Meanwhile, the fish were biting.

And he posted them on Facebook. (While I was catching nice vermilion cod.)  And people “liked” them – even though the only think I liked all day was the fishing. If these kids end up in charge, we are doomed.

He got this look from “Zoolander.” The other guy is a deckhand, who offers expert de-hooking and photobomb services.

mac-reds

Meanwhile, I was catching these.

mac-seasick

Even when he got seasick, he never let go of the phone.

mac-cs

I generously allowed him to be photographed with fish at the end of the day.

I was discouraged all week. I could not imagine a world in which photographing ourselves doing something had become more important than actually doing that thing. My friends might actually read this blog, but I can’t imagine that they want to know what I am catching at the moment I am catching it, let alone what I am eating for breakfast. (Sample Tweet from Cole – “Donuts for breakfast. Yum!” And someone actually “liked” this, which tells us that both people do not have enough homework.) Still, he’s a good kid and I’ll take him out any time, but sooner or later, I plan to accidentally drop his phone in the Pacific.

Just a day later, the universe gave me a positive sign. Mac texted that he wanted to go cod fishing that next weekend, and I knew he wouldn’t do this without checking his schedule first. There would be no last-minute discovery of a crochet class, and I knew he would pay attention the whole day and likely do well. Again, we had 9000 questions texted the night before, and I answered every single one of them because someone did the same for me when I was his age, and I started feeling better again. We made that long, early-morning run to the Pescadero reefs, watching the rocky coastline appear and drift back into the fog. When we got there, the fishing was steady. My jigs and swimbaits were getting some solid fish, lings among them, and Mac was listening and watching and catching some nice fish of his own.

Mac’s first ling of the day.

My fifth ling of the day. It was good out there.

The water was calm enough, the fish were biting, and talk turned to one of Mac’s favorite subjects – world records. We discussed, for the umpteenth time, the possible records we might get on this trip. There were certainly a few open rock cod species, but these were unlikely to appear where we were fishing. I was just emphasizing this point when I reeled up a black and yellow rockfish. (It is actually called a “black and yellow rockfish,” because, well, that’s what it is.) It was clearly over a pound, and somehow, I had nailed a rather unlikely world record. Mac was a good sport, but I could tell he was dying to get one. He knew they were down there.

Yes, that’s a world record, and yes, many of you have caught a bigger one. Submit them!

I was giving him a high five when his rod got a bite, and Mac reeled up the same species, so, thank goodness, he had his world record. (For posterity, Mac’s was bigger at 1.25 pounds so his goes in the book as the current record. Don’t think this didn’t bother me.)

He does get Spellman face when he poses for record photos.

The triumphant anglers and a friend.

And we managed to do all of this without checking our phones or posting any photos. Interestingly, we did eat donuts, no one was told about this until just now. Yum!

Even with this unexpected world record, I wanted to give Mac one more shot at the dogfish, so we did another run to Tomales on the following weekend. We didn’t get the target fish, but the kid did get into another batch of bat rays, and there is something about watching a teenager catch a quarter-ton of hard-fighting fish in an afternoon that just makes me happy. We met his parents for dinner that night, and made sure our address was correct for the Christmas party invitations. Quietly, I began to worry abut how I was going to keep Marta from having more than one cup of egg nog, because she is a complete lightweight – but no matter what happens, at least she won’t put it on Twitter.

Steve

Posted by: 1000fish | March 9, 2017

Sweet Sixteen Hundred

Dateline: August 3, 2016 – Tokyo Bay, Japan

We set out hoping each day on the water will be a great one, and once in a while, it happens. And out of those great days, a very few go beyond anything we could ever hope for. That’s a high bar – as fishermen, much of what sustains us is hope … hope, and the photos from those precious days where everything went right. You’ll find them below.

After our freshwater adventures, Phil and I were ready to get back on the boat. The boat has rod holders and adult supervision, so I was less likely to have any more gear disasters.

On our second-to-last day, we set out to pick up some species we had missed inside Tokyo Bay. This would be a whole day of “grab bag” fishing – putting baits down and seeing what would bite, and I can’t tell you how much I love doing this in a place where I haven’t caught most of the fish. Of course, we were also armed with an array of the Japanese specific species rigs – I leave nothing to chance. Neither does Phil – during the early morning bait store run, he bought a dozen live gobies, saying that there was a specific fish we might try for in the afternoon. I trusted him, but I secretly wondered if he was going to eat them himself.

We fished around some banks and dropoffs, looking for a croaker and a few other odds and ends. While we waited for bites, Aki noticed some small baitfish near the boat, and I jigged up what turned out to be a Japanese anchovy.

tokyo-chovy

Mock if you must, but it’s a species.

Moments later, the custom rig paid off and I reeled in a silver croaker.

tokyo-croaker

A Japanese silver croaker. Their main diet is Japanese croaker rigs.

Then we were off further down the bay to hunt the banded houndshark – a medium-sized, hard fighting critter that is closely related to the leopard shark found in my California home waters. Phil and Aki had been quite confident we would get one a few days before, and both wondered aloud what was slowing down the bite. We put in our time, and while we were waiting, I stumbled on to a convict grouper – a beautiful bonus species.

tokyo-convict

Aki is pleased about the convict grouper.

But the houndsharks would not bite. Aki started talking about moving, so just then, Phil’s rod, a comically light setup better matched to smallmouth bass than sharks, exploded. Phil put his hands up like a defensive back denying a pass interference call, and said “It’s all yours.” Here I’ve been abusing Phil, especially about Betsy the cat, and he goes and does something nice like this. I didn’t need to be told twice.

I grabbed the rig and hung on while the shark stripped light braid off the reel. There wasn’t much lifting power to work with, but it was a great battle.

tokyo-battle

The battle rages.

The process took about ten minutes, and as the fish started coming up, I moved to the bow so I could drop it down to Aki and the net. Moments later, we boated the fish. I had my fourth species of the day and had completed the vaunted “Triakis trifecta.”

tokyo-hound

Triakis scyllium – The banded houndshark, Tokyo Bay,

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Triakis megalopterus – Spotted Gully Shark, Swakopmund, Namibia.

Triakis semifasciata – Leopard Shark, Tomales Bay, California.

I started to eat my lunch, and this must have made Phil think of the gobies. “The gobies!” he said. Aki immediately responded “Olive flounder. Flathead. There’s a good spot just a few miles away.” We raced off to a sand flat, maybe 20 feet deep, and set up some live bait drift rigs. Midway through the first drift, Phil’s rod sagged down, then mine. We both reeled in an olive flounder – a halibut-like flatfish that is revered among fishermen here.

tokyo-olive

Awkward moment with flounder.

We did a few more drifts, and on the third, my rig got nailed again. This time, I reeled up something completely different – a flathead. I have always had a soft spot for these hard-biting, bizarre creatures of the flats, ever since Scotty Lyons introduced me to them in Botany Bay a long, long time ago.

I have no idea what Phil was listening for back there.

We fished some deeper water to close out the day, and I got one more species – the Ryuguhaze Goby.

tokyo-goby

This put me at 1587 species lifetime.

That evening, over surprisingly good pizza, I took some time to count the results of the trip thus far. Part of my “hobby” (although Marta calls it a “condition”) is keeping various lists. The main one, of course, is my lifetime species total. I was 13 species away from 1600, but I do not recall ever getting 13 species in a single day. Another list I keep is the number of total fish I catch each calendar year. I generally try for at least 1000, and I noted that I was at 948. This seemed doable. I was also hoping to get at least one world record so I could add Japan to that list, which stood at 22. I went to sleep dreaming good fish dreams.

That last day didn’t start well. Betsy had rejected her outfit and sat perturbed on the couch.

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A perturbed Betsy. She really doesn’t like pleats.

Phil and I got to the boat a bit early, and it was pouring rain. This would not dampen my enthusiasm, because I knew there were still lots of species for to get, and we would be going back to the deep water where some truly awesome creatures could be found. One of the photos that had inspired this entire journey was one of Phil’s deepwater frog shark. and I knew we had a reasonable chance of getting one.

Yes, he caught that from a kayak.

We made a long run to the mouth of the bay, and started off with some drops over 1000′, just to get our arms warmed up. I felt some faint taps once the rig hit bottom. and as I started reeling up, there was clearly more weight than what I had sent down. It takes about seven minutes to bring up that much line, and I was frantic with anticipation the entire time. “What do you think it is?” I asked Phil. “A fish.” he responded helpfully. “Or a rock.” I reeled and reeled, and when I finally saw color in the water, I was thrilled. I had gotten a deepwater eel – perhaps not a glamorous creature, but certainly one I wasn’t going catch elsewhere.

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I could eel the love.

A few drops later, I got a more definite strike, and started cranking up. Aki said “Japanese bonefish.” Naturally, I thought he was full of racoon-dog crap, because I was fishing in 1000 feet. But he wasn’t. When we netted the fish, it was indeed a long, silvery creature with a big eye – a “gissu” – and this “gissu” turns out to be a deepwater cousin of my beloved Albula species.

Jamie has never caught one.

A bit later, we motored in to shallower water – 200-300 feet – and started to fish with krill baits. I didn’t like the rig – it was a sort of hybrid spreader/paternoster with thin mono-snelled hooks. and mashing the pasty krill on them seemed less than reliable. But I had learned to stop questioning Phil and Aki on rigging early in the trip, and the setup got sent deep. Suddenly, here were all that little “whatsits” that Phil told me frequented the area. The first one was a Japanese sailfin.

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This looks like a gurnard and a sergeant baker had an unfortunate night together.

A few minutes later, I got a serranid. It wasn’t big, but was new.

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Kellogg’s perchlet. Good for breakfast.

We moved out a bit deeper, perhaps 600 feet, which seemed oddly shallow after all the deep drop stuff. We explored a sandy bottom, looking specifically for a type of tilefish, but we got that and a couple of other surprises.

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The Horsehead Tilefish

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Goldbridled Sand Perch

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The Abyssal Gurnard. Gotta love that name.

It was just after 11am and I had seven new species. Yes, I realized the next milestone was six away, but I had already been very fortunate. Wishing for six more would likely upset the Fish Gods, and I had no interest in doing that.

We continued exploring. Our next spot was shallower, around 200 feet, and within 20 minutes, I had pulled up two more – the rather unusual groppo and a Seibold’s wrasse.

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A Groppo. I had never even heard of these, and I read fish books the way Phil reads cat fashion magazines.

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The wrasse. Yes, I knew this was nine for the day. I tried to put it out of my head.

Around 1:30, I caught my 52nd fish of the day – another sailfin – meaning I had gotten 1000 total fish (of any type) in 2016. And no, this is nowhere near the earliest in a year I had crossed the 1000 mark. (That would be April of 2006.)

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That’s 1 for 1000, because I can’t make three zeros with my fingers and still hold a fish.

We drifted out on to some deeper rocks, and within 20 minutes, I got two new scorpionfish. Do not put these in your pants.

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The Izukasago Scorpionfish – 10 for the day.

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The Western Scorpionfish – 11 for the day.

On the very next drop, I got a beautiful spiny something, and a quick check of the book told me I had gotten a yellowbarred red rockfish – #1599.

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OK, now 1600 was crossing my mind. A lot.

I didn’t want to be greedy. The day was already stupidly epic – I had reached the 1000 fish caught milestone for 2016, and gotten a huge haul of species. Could I actually be that close? With an appreciable portion of the day still to go? Any time something seems like it should be easy, that usually means that something is going to go wrong. I just kept fishing with the paternoster, hoped for something weird, and looked out for asteroids.

We stayed in the medium depths for a while, and when we slipped over a reef in around 300′, I had a solid take on my scorpionfish rig. Whatever it was pumped hard a couple of times, then lost its temper and snapped me off. Phil saw this, smiled, and said “Dogfish. This won’t take long.” He put down a bigger rig with a heavier leader, and almost immediately, he was in to a nice fish. When he got it up to the surface, it was indeed a dogfish, similar to the ones we get in San Francisco, but with a huge eye. I dropped a similar setup, and as soon as I hit the bottom, a fish took off with the bait and the fight was on. It was a good-sized animal, pushing 20 pounds, so it took a while, but when we finally netted it, it was the same large-eyed dogfish. I knew it was a new species, and that meant, unthinkably, I had hit 1600, just like that. 1500 had come only six and a half months ago, and I felt like that was a serious struggle – now here I was at the next milestone.

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Phil and Steve with their shortspine spurdogs.

And it gets better. Looking at the Squalus species on the IGFA app, it was fairly clear that this fish wasn’t listed. My 1600th species would turn out to be my 133rd world record, and Japan would be the 23rd country where I had gotten a record. Phil’s fish, heavier than mine, would also be a record. (All fish that set or break a record in the same day count.) I had expected a good result in Japan, but this was beyond my wildest expectations. I had gotten 50 species in six days, and we still had an evening in front of us. No matter how Phil dresses his cat, he had put me on one of the single greatest weeks of fishing I have ever done.

We hit a few more reefs, and I scrounged up another species – the hoshi perchlet. I had started on the road to 1700, and everything seemed possible.

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1601

As the sun started to go down, we moved back out to super-deep water. We set up our first drift – I was using a heavy paternoster, but Phil was all-in with a big jig dressed up with fresh mackerel. Phil was in the water first, probably because I was still admiring the dogfish photos or getting a Red Bull or wondering how the heck I had caught 1600 fish species. All of this snapped out of my head when Phil announced “Fish on. Big one.” His jig rod was doubled over and the reel was peeling braid. Phil got a quizzical look on his face for a moment, then looked at me and said “You want him? Big fish.” This is the kind of thing I might – MIGHT – do for a close friend, or Spellman, but here was Phil, after only a week on the water together, handing off a potential monster. I took the rod. Phil mentioned the strike came when he was down 1350 feet.

To address the legalisms here, I would not count this fish as a species, as I didn’t hook it, and it also would not count as an IGFA world record, as again, Phil hooked it. But it did look like it was going to be a fun fight, and who was I to say no?

About 45 minutes later, with the fish still down at least 500 feet, it dawned on me that Phil might have actually put one over on me. I was on the fish for over an hour – the tackle was relatively light, so moving it was painfully slow, and just when I got up a few feet, it would run back a few more. A quarter mile of line is a whole lot when something on the other end doesn’t want to see you. My back started to cramp, my toes started to cramp, but I wasn’t going to give in and neither was it, and of course Phil was very sensitive and helpful as he stood behind me and sensitively yelled “Get that thing out of the water! We have fishing to do! It’s kicking your ass!!”

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And it was.

This delightful encouragement continued as I got the fish coming up to around 200 feet, and just as I thought he was giving up, he turned around and ran about 50 yards deeper. We presumed it was an oilfish, and it couldn’t have hurt me worse if I had eaten four pounds of it. (Look it up. It’s horrible.)

About 15 minutes later, the fish appeared under the boat. It was bigger than I thought it would be, and this time, it wasn’t a blue shark. (After all, EVERYONE has caught a blue shark.) It was a great big oilfish, and when Phil and Aki netted it, I yelled in primal triumph, or because my back gave out.

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Steve, Aki, oilfish.

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Phil, Steve, oilfish. I’ll never wash that shirt again.

We jigged well past dark. We had a few bites here and there, but nothing hooked up for several hours, and I hate to admit this, but it really didn’t bother me. It had been a day for the ages, and anything else would be a bonus. I drank a Red Bull and looked at the lights of Tokyo in the distance.

The bonus happened shortly after 9pm. I had a jig/bait combo down about 600 feet, and I got bumped. The fish came back twice, and I ended up hooking it. It was a reasonable size, but I was predicting nothing after the blue shark debacle. The fish finally got into the lights – it looked to be some kind of dogfish, but I didn’t figure it out until it actually hit the deck and flopped out of the net. It was a sharpnose sevengill shark, one of the most unusual fish I have ever caught. Yes, I recognized it immediately, because this fish is always on the same page as the regular sevengill, and I had looked longingly at it for years, realizing that the “deep midwater” habitat and the “poorly known” notation meant that I would likely never see one. And here I had one in my lap.

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Species 15 for the day, 1602 overall.

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I’m not sure if the eye or the teeth are cooler.

Phil hooked a fish just after I did, and he reeled up the same species, just a half a pound smaller. The species was an open world record, and we had the perfect finish to a perfect day. Of course, no fishing trip with Phil would be complete with a trip to the ramen place, and so, somewhere in the early hours, we had our last ramen meal of the week.

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Japanese ramen. It does not come in a plastic for for fifteen cents. It’s actually pretty good, although I am still unclear on the ingredients.

The next day, I had to actually clean under my fingernails and get back to work. Phil generously drove me in to downtown Tokyo, where we visited several tackle stores and I loaded up on even more specific Japanese rigs. These would prove to be very handy in the coming months. He dropped me off at the Marriott late in the afternoon, and I could not find words to thank him enough. Fifty two species, two records, and a major milestone, all in a place where I could have done nothing without Phil’s local knowledge, connections, and generosity. There are very few people who care about this sort of fishing in the way I do, and I had met another one of the brotherhood, God help him.

Steve

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Betsey waves bye bye.

 

 

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