Posted by: 1000fish | September 5, 2015

The Interior Design Crisis

Dateline: April 18, 2015 – Dania Beach, Florida

Years ago, when I had something like nine world records, I saw a Hawaiian-style shirt I liked very much. It featured images of Santiago and The Marlin from Old Man and the Sea, one my favorite books ever, and I knew I had to own it. Marta was not in favor of yet another Hawaiian shirt, as she claims my clothing storage needs eclipse hers, but I explained that this was thing I needed to wear as I accepted an IGFA Lifetime Achievement Award. She informed me that this would require 100 world records and that I had eight. “Nine.” I reminded her. “Eight and one pending.” she countered. There is nothing more frightening than the fact that Marta actually listens to most of what I say.

That shirt sat, neatly folded, on a pile of other shirts in my old home in San Ramon, then made the move to Alamo where it took up residence on the bedroom hearth. Then, in April of this year, it migrated to my carryon luggage and a United flight, which eventually arrived in Miami on a schedule not related to the published itinerary. Finally, on the afternoon of April 18, I put it on for the first time.

It itched like crazy.

But I got to wear it. You all already know I got the 100 world records – the fish was caught in June of 2014, the record was confirmed in October of that same year, but it was only in April of this year, at the World Record Achievement Awards, that I would actually get the hardware. And at this stage, a very serious discussion would need to take place between me and Marta, because this one was NOT going in the garage. This one was going on the mantle, with a spotlight on it and a button I could push to play a chorus of angels on demand.

It was clear that this was going to require substantial negotiation.

Of course, I was not going to Miami without doing some fishing with Martini, and for the third time in six weeks, we got to hit the water together. This may sound like a lot, but when we had lived only a few miles apart for four years, it had been a lot easier to get together.

The flight to Miami was a redeye, and Martini was at the airport just after dawn, ready to go. He had been telling me about this pier for a long time, and felt that we could get several new species on it.

Deco Pier 1

Martini heads out on the pier, and yes, she was totally checking him out.

We had constant action all day. I have fished in this area quite a bit, so I had already gotten most of the creatures, but they were still great fun – and some of them are beautiful animals. Martini knew there were several new species out there, so I just kept fishing and had a great time.

Deco Doctor

A doctorfish. I’ve caught them before, but they are always worth a photo.

Deco Cow

Scrawled cowfish – we caught dozens of these. It took me hours of effort to catch my first one four years ago. (Details HERE.)

To be fair, I cost myself an hour of fishing (and possibly that much time in the bathroom) by insisting that we have lunch at Skyline Chili. This Cincinnati staple has a branch in Ft. Lauderdale, and I wasn’t going to miss it. Yes, this is runny chili served over spaghetti with cheese, onion, and a huge dose of Tabasco, and I LOVE IT. Martini was not as impressed.

Deco Sceptic

That is a skeptical look if I have ever seen one. I get this same look from Marta any time I suggest displaying a fishing award upstairs.

In the afternoon, things picked up. We stumbled into some big parrotfish, which would be odd on squid baits, but I was thrilled. These things pull hard and are wildly beautiful, and yes, we released them unharmed.

Deco Rainbow

Rainbow parrotfish. Yes, they have blue lips.

Deco Stoplight

Martini and the new world record stoplight parrotfish. This large adult looks nothing like the juveniles I have caught, and I made the mistake of telling passersby that this species has three phases, when Martini knew there were two. He is a marine biologist. I am not. Oops.

Late in the day, I got my smallest parrotfish of the session – but it was a new species. (The princess parrotfish, named after Marta.) Although I would have been thrilled to spend a beautiful day on a Florida pier with a great friend, this – and the Skyline chili – really made it perfect.

Deco Princess

The princess parrotfish.

The next day was not exactly big game fishing. Martini graciously took half a day of his time, five hours he will never get back, to drive me to a God-forsaken ditch somewhere in the Everglades, where, somehow, he had figured out there was a population of marsh killifish. I got one.

Deco Marsh

Hurray!

Moments after that stupendous capture, Martini and I were investigating a culvert when I heard a WHACK that sounded like a small, highly-accelerated rock going off his forehead. I turned around to see that he had been nailed above the left eye by some sort of ill-willed Alien/Predator style insect. By evening, he looked like he had been on the wrong end of a bar brawl with three right-handed hockey players.

Deco Sting

Martini before being treated. He didn’t say a thing, but it must have hurt like crazy.

Having his face swollen half shut did not stop him from helping me fish the boathouse that night. Our target, the elusive if ironically-named hardhead silverside.

Deco Silverside

The hardhead silverside joins the species list.

Later in the week, Marta showed up, and so the activities shifted to museums and birdwatching. I say this without resentment. Really, I do.

Well, except there was that one trip to Boca Raton. Boca Raton has artsy stuff and other things which apparently should interest Marta, according to an article I once read in Cosmopolitan, or Yoga Weekly, or Sport Fishing Magazine, I forget which. And since we were up there, I reasoned that I may as well stop at a certain boat ramp Martini had recommended. While Marta was not exactly thrilled, I quickly added two species – the jenny mojarra and the sharpnose puffer.

Deco Jenny

The jenny mojarra, featured prominently in Forrest Gump.

Deco Puffer

Puffers are so cool.

On Friday, one of my great friends, Scott Perry, flew in from California just to attend the awards ceremony and throw wadded-up paper at anyone who booed me.

Saturday afternoon, we piled into the car and drove up to Dania Beach, where four of us would get our lifetime achievement awards – the 15th, 16th, 17th, and 18th individual anglers to be recognized in this fashion. (Yes, I actually was the 15th, but why are you all so competitive? Jeez.) The other three anglers were Bo Nelson, quite a regular on the award stand, Dennis Triana, a local guy who had managed this while having one major thing I do not – responsibilities – and a woman by the name of Roberta Arostegui. Yes, that Roberta Arostegui, joining Marty and Martini. The cat gets his next year.

I was actually quiet on the drive, deep in thought about everything I had done to get to this stage – the air miles, the thousand of hours on the water, the friendships I had made, but also all of the things I had passed up. I still sometimes wonder why I did this. Perhaps as a legacy, perhaps for my own ego, perhaps because I am unhealthily competitive, perhaps because I irrationally love fishing – the only person who could ever get to the bottom of this would be a world-class psychiatrist, and every time I see one of them, they give my money back and run off screaming.

Deco Team

Walking the red carpet – from west to east, that’s Roberta, Marty, cousin Angel, some tall chick, Angel’s girlfriend Marizza, and Martini.

First there was cocktail hour, which may explain the inability to ever fully organize the group photo.

Deco Group 3

If you look carefully, you can see Richard Hart, the snoring master from Karaoke Night at Srinakarin.

We then walked inside, and after a viciously competitive silent auction, we started dinner and the actual awards. Jack Vitek did an outstanding job hosting the show, except for that brief moment he looked like he was possessed by Satan.

Deco redeye

I’m not sure the camera had a flash.

Bo and Dennis both accepted their awards with modesty and presence. Bo has done some amazing stuff over the years, chasing a lot of line-class and fly records throughout the US and Mexico. And Dennis – he probably had the most amazing journey of all to 100, juggling a job and a young family and having to plan out trips around responsibilities I can’t imagine. If he writes a book on this, I’ll be the first to buy it – this was hard enough for me, and I’ve been able to fish in over 80 countries.

Then there was Roberta. Apart from the lifetime achievement, she also cleaned up the women’s awards for the 2014 season. Remember, the figures you see below are just for 2014.

Deco Roberta 1

Her speech for the Lifetime Achievement award was the best moment of the evening. She spoke of the journey to 100 records, and the countries and states it took her to – 16 of each – but also to the fact that she had been able to do all of this with her family. She pursued her passion while living her dream – and that’s what it’s all about.

Deco Roberta

We needed another car for Roberta’s trophies.

After the long and standing ovation for Roberta tapered off, I knew they were about to introduce me. I had one more moment of what passes for introspection, and realized how humbling this all was. This is something we all did together, on different paths and for different reasons, and just being there was one of the greatest honors I will ever have.

So I went up on stage and they gave me the hardware. It was heavier than I thought – I have deliberately never picked one up before, because I always wanted the first one I touched to be mine.

Deco Stage

Rob and Jack present Steve with something that is NOT going in the garage.

I don’t remember much about my speech. I tried to thank as many people as I could, and I probably mused at more length than I remember about what an amazing journey it had all been. When I was finished, I just sat there at the podium for a moment, looking around the room and taking in the moment.

Deco Podium Bad

And apparently making a face I shouldn’t have.

There were two people I looked for the moment I got off stage. The first was Marta – she has shared this entire journey and made it all possible by wanting me out of the house so much. The second was Martini – one of the few people who knows exactly what I had to go through to do this, and who encouraged me at key moments with kind words like “The next five will be even harder.”

Deco Hug

Martini has no idea I wiped my nose on his shirt.

Scott was quietly there, as he has been for 23 years.

Deco Perry

That’s Scott Perry on the right. If I ever run for office, he is the guy Fox News would want to find.

Deco Trophy

This is the one I want Marta to frame and put on her desk. Oops – Birthday present spoiler alert.

Before we left, we got the four award winners together for a photo.

Deco foursome

That’s me with Dennis, Bo, and Roberta. My congratulations to them.

I should have slept very well that night and dreamed, at least for an evening, some proud dreams about an accomplishment some ten years in the making. But it was a short night, and I dreamed only of what I had yet to do – there were so many more species out there, so many more countries, so many more records. I was 51 when this happened, but that’s far enough along where I knew I wouldn’t be able to get every species, or every country, or all the records.

But I knew that I wanted to try. As long as I live.

And so, at some ungodly predawn hour, I dropped Marta off at the airport and met Scott over at the pier. We had a whole day ahead, a cooler full of Red Bull and squid, and a reef underneath us that just had to hold something new.

Deco Pier 3

The pier at dawn, when all is still possible.

It was perfect, and I was looking forward to a long day of trying different spots and rigs, when Scott just had to piss me off. He caught a Caesar grunt. Just like Martini. Just like Jaime. And I knew that was the only one we would see all day. Next time, I’m not giving him any squid.

Deco Caesar

That’s Scott’s hand and Scott’s Caesar grunt. No squid for you next time, Mr. Perry.

An hour later, things went more in my favor. I pulled up a Spanish hogfish, adding to my hogfish collection.

Deco Hogfish

My fifth hogfish species.

Just before lunch, I added another species – one I had never even heard of.

Deco Razor

The green razorfish. It was turning into a good day, except for the Caesar grunt.

Scott then managed to catch one of the largest mojarras I have ever seen. On a day of sabiki-based species hunting, this is what passes for a trophy.

Deco Mojarra

This could have eaten any mojarra I’ve ever caught.

The Caesar grunt remained elusive, but I did get a juvenile beaugregory – not a new species but a beautiful photo when they’re young.

Deco Beau 3

Not exactly camo, but the reefs are full of garish color patterns.

Then it was time for lunch. You know where this is going.

Deco Skyline 3

Yes, I made Scott eat at Skyline. No matter what it did to his intestinal tract, it was scant revenge for the Caesar Grunt.

Late in the day, I added one more species – the clown wrasse. This was the creature Martini thought I would catch the most quickly out here, which goes to show that the Fish Gods don’t ever let anything go as planned.

Deco Clown

Three clowns, one wrasse.

We closed things up in the evening, a perfect day – except for, of course, the Caesar grunt. We had dinner with the Arosteguis, and in the morning, flew off in opposite directions.

The trophy arrived at our Alamo home via Fedex about a week after I got home. I put it on the mantle. Marta smiled and quietly announced her initial list of demands. I won’t bore you with them, but why would you ask if my dignity was involved? Maybe I like dusting and vacuuming without complaint forever. Maybe I like cooking dinner in a frilly apron once a week. Focus on the positive, readers!

Deco Mantle

Spotlight and chorus of angels still under negotiation, and yes, that is a flying pig on the right.

It so became that the Lifetime Achievement Award is my only fishing trophy on display in the main house. The Santiago shirt, unfortunately, has been sent to the garage.

Steve

Deco Wall

Deco wall 1

Posted by: 1000fish | August 28, 2015

Swede Home Alabama

Dateline: April 5, 2015 – Birmingham, Alabama

What kind of idiot drives eight hours to try to catch a two inch fish? If you don’t know, you’re probably a new reader. Welcome!

Micro Selfie

These are the kind of idiots who drive eight hours to catch a two-inch fish.

Martini and I were not discouraged by our March fishing trip, the semi-debacle that turned into a race to stay ahead of a cold front. Sure, we showed great determination, but there is a fine line between determined and stupid. And so it was, less than a month after Dial M for Micro, we found ourselves saddling up for a jaunt to Alabama – which apparently has more freshwater species than just about anywhere.

Martini is the one who plans these things out – his research is painstaking and exhaustive. He offered me the option to meet him in Miami and drive up, which is a long way, or to fly in to somewhere north and avoid all that endless I-75. I would like to think I chose Miami to share the road hours with Martini, and that was part of my decision, but the ugly truth is that I knew that if I drove from Miami, I would get to go through Gainesville and get another crack at the elusive variegated platyfish. As you all know, I attempted to catch one of these in March, an attempt which ended in humiliation, and eight hours in the car was a small price to pay for another shot at the beast.

Swede Yeehaw

One of the many highlights on the drive from Miami to Gainesville.

It is a long drive, but we had lots of Red Bull and a good supply of Taylor Swift CDs, which, now that I look at it, sounded a whole lot less creepy in the first draft. We made one stop on the way, hunting a brook silverside. I am as proud as you are bewildered that I caught one.

Swede Silverside

Sure it’s small, but has Jaime caught one?

Then we were off after the platyfish. We pulled into the neighborhood where I had screwed up so spectacularly only 28 days before, and set up the teensy float. I was admittedly nervous – this fish seemed to require hand steadiness found only in deceased persons, and I wondered if I could pull it off. Even the slightest finger twitch can make a bait move critical millimeters away from a hungry platyfish, and once I had started missing them in March, things quickly snowballed into an avalanche of failure and disgrace.

We pulled up at the small residential creek where Martini had made my inner child weep.

Swede Culvert

Every time you think I spend all of my time in beautiful foreign locales, look at this picture.

Swede relief

Martini awaits with the photo tank. It was early and he had a remarkably positive attitude.

Martini was silent and patient, but the pressure was enormous. I tried to go to a quiet place in my soul, but my soul has very few quiet places, and so it was that I simply went at it and tried not to think a lot. My hand was still not too steady – perhaps it’s all that Red Bull – but about ten minutes into what could have become an ordeal, an enraged bull platyfish ignored my poor presentation and somehow managed to get hooked.

Swede Platy 2

A platyfish goes on the scoreboard!

Swede Platy

A closeup of this unusual and beautiful creature. The mouth is intimidatingly small.

Martini was almost as happy as I was. We headed off to Blue Springs for a few hours, where we both got lined topminnows, although Martini could not find the russetfin I had gotten in March. Perhaps this is because he was mean to me in March. Still, we celebrated that evening with the first of several great barbecue meals on this trip.

Swede lined

The lined topminnow. I love micros when they don’t look like nondescript shiners.

We had one target in mind that next morning – the elusive grayfin redhorse. Martini had caught one previously (details HERE) but was kind enough to stop on a likely river for me to get one. He then did something even kinder – when I set up to fish a bait right under the bridge, he went walking downstream looking for fish, and moments later, that long-distance whisper came over the water – “Steve! They’re – right – here!” He had spotted a fish a short walk downstream, and waved me over so I could cast to it. This is what fishing brothers do for each other.

Only he nearly got screwed for his kindness. Minutes later, I got the bait presented to the fish correctly, and it struck. I landed it, thrilled to get my grayfin, but moments later, it hit me that this fish didn’t look gray at all. It looked spotted. It was a spotted sucker, one of the truly rare species in the life-list brotherhood, and I was holding one – a marvelous if unintended gift from Martini.

Swede Spotted

A spotted sucker – the great surprise of this trip, apart from the restaurant we would experience about seven hours after this picture was taken.

He gamely photographed it for me, and while he was plainly shared my joy, he was also pained that he had passed it up. Part of the unwritten rules are that, if he had known it was a spotted, and he spotted it, he had every right to cast to it – but he had passed it to me.

Not one to mope, Martini stalked up to the same corner, and moments later, spotted another fish. He skillfully cast to it, and in short order, he had caught the spotted sucker that he spotted, and yes, it was bigger than mine.

Swede M Spotted

And it’s a nicer photo.

Martini immediately texted Mike Channing, the species-hunting pastor from Wisconsin. The spotted sucker is a biggie in species-hunting circles, and Martini was justifiably proud. Martini told Mike the whole story, and Mike wrote back “Don’t EVER give Steve any advantages.” I buy this guy multiple meals at Dairy Queen and he treats me like this?? Oh, the pain.

Swim Shorthead

That’s Mike on the right. It’s bad enough when someone tells the world to offer you no advantages; doubly so when it’s a pastor. Even worse, he’s probably right.

That night, we pulled up at a questionable-looking motel in rural Alabama. We went inside to get the rooms, and improbably, the clerk was a Nordically-blonde woman named Clara Larsson. So I said “Swede Home Alabama,” and I’m not sure, but I think Martini threw up. (I also think she was wearing blue Swede shoes.)

Speaking of throwing up, the only food option in town was a Mexican restaurant – we had hoped to find authentic barbecue and ended up with something that was not exactly Mexican food and was confusingly served by a Chinese waiter. Happily, this would be our only night without barbecue food on the trip.

Swede chair

Martini sits quietly outside the restaurant, trying to outlast his enchilada.

Morning saw us deep in Alabama, heading to one of Martini’s most impressive research achievements. He had located a spot on the Alabama River where southeastern blue suckers apparently gather to spawn. This is a large fish with a very small mouth that favors fast, deep water. In other words, the Fish Gods have pulled a prank on us, but we were game to fish in the tailrace of a huge dam, although our equipment was a touch light for the eight plus ounces needed to occasionally touch the bottom.

We gave it a game try, but a funny thing happened on the way to catching no suckers – we noticed that there seemed to be some fish in the racing current at our feet, and in short order, a sabiki appeared and we discovered that we were on a veritable swarm of threadfin shad.

Swede threadfin

There were zillions of these right underfoot.

We also got silver chub in the shallows, so even though the blue sucker remained elusive, I was up two more species.

Swede silver

The silver chub. Martini caught them also and figured out the ID.

In the morning, we drove north into yet another watershed rumored to be full of exotic species. To be fair, the place definitely has a lot of fish, but we also seemed to have arrived at a time with colder-than-normal conditions, so while we did get some species, we had to work for them. Some of the places we visited, such as Hurricane Creek in Tuscaloosa, were absolutely beautiful, and it was great fun hopping from spot to spot, knowing each one could hold something new and interesting, at least to us and a few ichthyologists.

Swede Hurricane

Martini explores Hurricane Creek.

But despite our best efforts and the capture of loads of bass, catfish, and sunfish, nothing new appeared that day. Undaunted, we dined that evening in an authentic Alabama barbecue joint, meaning that we saw as many firearms as we did rib slabs. I will say that everyone was very polite.

Not to be deterred, we spent the early morning back on Hurricane creek, casting for bass and searching for new and exciting micros. Our persistence was rewarded when I got an Alabama shiner – I only got one all morning among a swarm of blacktail shiners, which I had already gotten on the Great Road Trip of 2014. (Details HERE.)

Swede Alabama shiner

The Alabama shiner, an official Alabama souvenir!

An hour or so north, after winding through some country roads that had a church at least every half a mile, we came to a creek that had low, clear water. Martini spotted some type of bass – at least two pairs. These could be Alabama bass, which would be a new species for both of us, so he set to casting. And they ignored him. He is incredibly persistent, but they just ignored him. He finally moved down the creek, and I decided to take a crack at the bass, even though they were both likely phenomenally annoyed and wouldn’t eat again until August.

Naturally, my first cast, with a bargain-basement jighead and grub, got smashed, and the fish bent the hook and escaped. I was disgusted with myself, because I knew I would not get another chance. (Kids, always tie on the good lure FIRST.) So, I tied on a high-quality plastic, and naturally, my second cast also got hit, likely by the same fish, and improbably, I had added the species.

Swede Bass

The Alabama bass. Or so I’m told by scientists.

I flew out of Birmingham early the next day, leaving Martini to do two more days of fishing and then head back to Florida on his own. It had been another good road trip, and I knew that we would be hitting the water together again in only eight days.

I also knew that, in only 11 days, Marta and I were going to face a major home decorating decision.

Steve

Posted by: 1000fish | August 21, 2015

Dial M for Micro

Dateline: March 7, 2015 – A ditch somewhere in Southern Florida

Plan A was a good plan. Plan B was good. But by the time we got down to M, it was pure desperation.

This was supposed to be a great trip. Martini, with his genius for research and planning, had identified a four-day bonanza of southeastern species that was to begin in North Carolina and end up back at his home in Coral Gables. But as Von Klausewitz sagely observed, no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, and the enemy, in this case, was the weather. It was cold, and not just a”pack a fleece” kind of chilly, but an unseasonable arctic cold that could freeze both small streams and underpants.

I flew in late one evening, believing that an unexpected warm front would move in and make everything OK. I also believe in the Easter Bunny. It actually got colder, and by the time we got up at 6am, the temperature was into single digits, and indeed, I felt like showing a single digit to the Fish Gods, but no good could come of that. The bass and redhorses we wanted were simply not going to bite, so we went to “Plan B” and headed southeast toward the coast. There, we optimistically reasoned, we might get a couple of marsh species. This also turned out to be hopeless.

We needed to head south to get ahead of the weather, although it had been cold as far south as Venezuela, so this was going to be a challenge. Martini made some calls and set us up to pursue monster catfish on Santee-Cooper reservoir in South Carolina the next day. While I had caught both the flathead and the blue catfish, (details HERE,) I didn’t have a particularly large example of either, so this sounded like fun. The weather was actually decent for our outing, but it was almost immediately clear that the cold fronts had put fish off the bite. We got a few small cats and white perch, and we were left scrambling to find options further south.

Micro Bluegill

I did catch a big bluegill at the dock, but when your biggest fish of the day is a bluegill, that’s an issue.

It was during the day on Santee-Cooper that Martini made a rather memorable personal hygiene error. In dealing with a call from nature, Martini noted that the guide had a convenient container of what looked like baby wipes within arm’s length. Only they weren’t baby wipes. They were heavy-duty kitchen wipes, meant for scrubbing crusted chicken fat off of stoves. Bleach and some parts of the human body were never meant to meet.

Micro Wipes

Oops.

As we drove to Florida, it was obvious that the cold front was moving right along with us. We got far enough ahead of it on the third day to actually make some progress. We stopped at Blue Springs, one of Florida’s beautiful freshwater springs, in which the water happens to look blue, and species were awaiting. In a few hours, I managed to get both a russetfin topminnow and the rather rare Suwanee bass.

Micro Russetfin

The russetfin topminnow. 

Micro Suwannee

My Suwannee bass. We had tried for these on the road trip last June.

I was back on the board, and suddenly feeling very good about making the trip. As a bonus, Martini had not caught the russetfin topminnow, which we would not know for some weeks, but the Fish Gods would punish me anyway in just a few hours.

Leaving Blue Springs behind, we needed to head through Gainseville, and it was here that Martini’s penchant for deep research led to both opportunity and heartbreak. Martini somehow figured out that a small creek running through a residential neighborhood in Gainesville contained something called a variegated platyfish.

I like platypi. One of my few friends is a stuffed platypus named Robert, so I thought it would be cool to catch a platyfish.

IGFA weird place

That’s Robert the Platypus peering over my right shoulder.

Despite the need for ridiculously tiny hooks and sight-fishing that needed a dead-still presentation, Martini made it look easy and got one right away.

Micro Platyfish

The amazing variegated platyfish. 

But just as Jaime Hamamoto had embarrassed me on the mosquitofish all those years ago, (See “The Worst Little Girl in the World,”) Martini caught the only platyfish that day. I just couldn’t keep the bait from twitching a millimeter or two away from the beasts. Martini was very patient with me. We were already running very late for a dinner with his cousin, but he kept trying to help. “There’s one! Don’t move the bait. Oh damn. Wait, there’s one! Don’t move the bait. Oh, damn.” And just as I had one take a savage run at my fleck of night crawler, I set the hook perhaps a bit too enthusiastically and launched the entire rig into a hopeless Bimini around the rod tip. Martini sighed and said something helpful like “Smooth move, genius.” And I was hurt. Butt-hurt.

I thought I would give Martini a hard time by playing up the emotionally damage. I pouted and said something like “You didn’t need to be so mean.” Without missing a beat, he responded “Well, you didn’t need to be so stupid.” Touche. We glared at each other for a moment, then burst out laughing.

We spent the evening having dinner with Martini’s cousin Angel, and in the morning, we headed for Tampa Bay. Martini had several species scoped out, and then had located a pier where we could spend the afternoon. Our first stop was something of a backwater by a bridge, and Martini stalked the shoreline until he improbably spotted a two-inch long killifish out in the murky tidal flat. In 30 quick minutes, I put two killifish – the gulf and the goldspotted – on my species list.

Micro Gulf Killi

The gulf killifish. One of the more savage of the killifish, but not the most savage. Keep reading.

Micro Goldspotted

The goldspotted killifish. My killifish collection was making major progress.

Things were looking very up. We then headed over to a huge fishing pier in Tampa Bay itself. I love pier fishing. It’s usually comfortable, and it facilitates my great love of putting out multiple rods with multiple rigs and baits, allowing me to miss bites on each while I am messing with the others. (Three dozen guides and John Buckingham are reading this right now and shaking their heads sadly.)

I knew we might get the elusive gulf flounder or some other oddity, and the constant action was great fun, even if most of the creatures were pinfish of some sort. But as we happily pitched shrimp at the hard bottom below us, the sky darkened ominously and the breeze picked up into a cold and gusty wind. The weather had caught up to us, even this far south. We stuck it out until evening, and despite the increasingly brisk conditions, I got the largest fish of the trip – a mangrove snapper of some three pounds.

Micro snapper

Why couldn’t it have been a gulf flounder?

We crashed out that night at the iffiest hotel of the trip, a true mildew factory with a carpet that seemed to writhe underfoot every time I stepped on it.

We awoke early to explore some state parks in the area which were supposed to be positively crammed with oddball species. Halfway to the car, we started shivering. It was 41 degrees. IN TAMPA. What had I done to the Fish Gods? The cold front was following me like a crazed stalker, only no restraining order could fix things. We drove through some wonderful locations, with beautiful-looking backwaters and streams, but everything had completely shut down.

Martini realized that drastic action would be necessary if we were to catch anything, and so we bailed out on everything on that side of the state and headed for his home turf, the general Miami area.

The good news is that I got six new species in the next 12 hours. That bad news is that all six, if placed together on a scale, would not have outweighed the rod I used to catch them. And so we are off on a whirlwind of micro fishing – Plan M.

Our first stop was somewhere in the northern Everglades, where I got a Seminole Killifish. There’s a Jameis Winston joke in there someplace.

Micro Seminole

The best bait for them is shoplifted crab.

Driving the Ford Escape through the spectacularly unscenic, ruler-straight state roads of central Florida, we reached the Fort Lauderdale area in early afternoon. There, Martini took us first to a small pond in a local park, where we captured a sheepshead minnow – which turned out to be my 1400th species.

Micro Sheepshead

Another milestone with the Arosteguis! (Click HERE for species 1100.)

We then headed to a nearby backwater off the intercoastal waterway, where Martini had somehow figured out that there was a population of mangrove gambusias, which are like mosquitofish, but smaller.

Micro Gambusia

This is small even by our standards.

We were just getting started. Against Martini’s better judgement, we drove right past Coral Cables and toward the Keys. We wound our way through a set of back roads and, as the area got increasingly swampy, we finally parked at what looked like a roadside ditch that was filled, in equal proportions, with water and garbage. I almost asked Martini if he was kidding, but Martini never, ever kids about these things. He was dead tired, but he was as determined as I was to get me these species.

We put some micro float rigs into the water, and six minutes later, I had captured a black acara, an African jewel cichlid, and a pike killifish. Miniscule or not, this was three species about as quickly as I could unhook and photograph them.

Micro Acara

The black acara. This brought to a conclusion a hunt for a species that had been a mysterious ghost for years – supposed to be everywhere, but always confused with some tilapia.

Micro Jewel 2

The African jewel cichlid. Martini’s pictures are always much better than mine. Perhaps I should clean the chicken fat off my iPhone lens. Anybody have a Clorox kitchen wipe?

But the coolest of the small beast bonanza was clearly the pike killifish. A vicious predator in scale, these creatures attacked everything we threw at them and would have put up a determined fight if they had been larger than my index finger.

Micro Pike 1

Pike killifish. The ditch and a very focused Martini are in the background.

Micro Pike face 2

The dental hardware. How does Martini get these photos?

This had been the most productive six minutes since Cousin Chuck’s honeymoon. A trip that had started in frozen disaster had resulted in ten total species, including six in less than six hours. Sometimes, when life gives you lemons, you throw them out, buy a Red Bull, and fish for whatever is biting. On to 1500!

Steve

SPECIAL BONUS SECTION – PROOF OF JUSTICE IN THE UNIVERSE

As you all know, my teenage arch-nemesis, Jaime Hamamoto, tries to spell her name “Jamie” just to be difficult. Well, my teenage arch-nemesis just got her driver’s license (I know, Wade – we’re OLD) and the State of Hawaii seems to agree with me on the spelling thing. I can’t tell you how much this pleases me.

Micro Jaime

I look at this at least once a day and giggle.

Posted by: 1000fish | August 12, 2015

A Quappe For Steve

Dateline: February 1, 2015 – Schluchsee, Germany

On February 1 of this year, Stefan Molnar and I left Walldorf, Germany and headed for a lake in the southwest of that country. The trip would be perhaps a hundred miles – two hours in winter conditions. As we pulled out onto the Autobahn, I knew faintly that if we went the same distance to the northeast, we would reach a tiny village, Georgenthal. My mind wandered to a spring day in that village, 70 years ago, and to a young man named Steve.

Steve was 26 – old for a US Army private in World War II. He had volunteered, leaving behind a wife and two young sons, but he was from a large Polish family in Detroit, and there was an intense desire to “hit back” for the old country. On April 9, 1945, he was leading a patrol outside Georgenthal when they were attacked. In a brief firefight, Steve was killed, and the German unit was wiped out. Only 29 days later, the war would end.

Steve was my grandfather.

Steve S Wozniak

PFC Steve S. Wozniak – July 20, 1918 – April 9, 1945.

I think of him often, but especially so when I am in Germany, sometimes just a few miles from Georgenthal. 70 years later, the war is a distant, but for many, a still-painful memory, but time has moved on slowly and old enemies have long since become comrades. Here I am, 70 years later, working for a German company. (And liking it, although the travel policies can be a bit draconian.) And there I was, 70 years later, about to go fishing with one of my best friends, a German. I have even had to explain Hogan’s Heroes to Stefan, because we have a co-worker who bears a striking resemblance to Sergeant Schultz.

What is it that attracts Stefan Molnar to frozen wastelands? And why does my boss make me come to Germany every January? The weather is usually rotten and the fishing less than optimal. I spent years being angry at this, but then I figured out that my boss was actually brilliantly strategic, by having our group meetings early in the year before the Operations people overspend their own budget and try to steal ours. I don’t think fishing figures into his thinking, which is regrettable but probably for the best, but the real villains here are the Operations people, who likely don’t even fish.

This time of the year in Germany, there are two fishing options – fly somewhere sort of nearby, like Dubai (Details HERE) or to tough it out and go after some sort of fish that doesn’t mind snow. (Put on a scarf and click HERE.)

There are very few fish that don’t mind frozen, awful weather, and fewer still who actually thrive in it. The burbot – known as Die Quappe in German – is one such fish. (I thought about making the title of this blog “Die Quappe,” but this would sound a little too violent until you realized it was in German.) A freshwater member of the cod family, burbot tend to live at great depths and are most catchable when they spawn in the dead of winter. I had wanted to catch one for years, and had been regularly tormented by my buddy Bob Reine because he had caught one.

Burbot doormat

I hate to point this out in public, but Bob’s doormat has a punctuation error, unless he’s trying to make it really, really clear that he owns the doormat, in which case, excuse me.

As always, this was a complex effort that involved a lot of people. Stefan Molnar has been a consistent fishing buddy and sees nothing wrong with going out in below zero temperatures. But we still needed to find Die Quappe. This is where Wolfgang Berse came into the picture. Wolfgang (who was himself introduced to me by the fabled Autobahn Werewolf, Jens Koller,) owns a great tackle store in Pforzheim.

Burbot Wolfgang

Steve and Wolfgang, about to celebrate a rod purchase with an inadvisable pre-dinner shot of schlivovitz. (You might note that Wolfgang is wearing a “Hi’s Tackle Box” hat.) For Wolfgang’s shop details, click HERE. (Photo taken by Guido, who you just know was wearing sandals and dark socks.)

When we presented Wolfgang with the problem of catching the quappe, he introduced us to Patrick Strass, a friend of his near Freiburg who specializes in such things.

We arranged to make a Saturday drive down the Schluchsee, in the Black Forest, to meet Patrick, who would provide bait, rigging, and ideas on the right spots. We left Walldorf early in the morning, turning south toward Karlsruhe, and away from Georgenthal.

I mused that 70 years ago, we might have been trying to kill each other, but a lifetime later, we were going fishing and talking about home improvement assignments, which never seem to end in the US or Germany. Stefan’s wife also sends most of his things to the garage. I wondered what my grandfather would have thought of this.

The scenery on the drive was stunning. As soon as we turned into the Black Forest, we were treated to wonderful, snow-covered, hilly scenery of the type featured in every Alpine travel guide I have ever seen. There were charming mountainside homes tucked away in the forest, where I imagined charming old couples working on cuckoo clocks and plotting against France.

Burbot chalet

Charming alpine houses. The area was beautiful until I stepped outside and realized it was 22 degrees.

Burbot Snow

A snow-covered Black Forest meadow. Again, lovely from the car as long as the heater was going full bore.

We got to the area – the lake was also stunning, but the experience was somewhat tempered by my knowledge that I was going to be outdoors for the rest of the day.

Burbot Lake

The lake as viewed from our hotel.

Burbot church

An old church nearby. I thought about stopping in and lighting a candle for a quappe, but the Fish Gods frown on such frivolity.

We dropped our bags at a charming inn and headed over to the dam. There was Patrick, bundled up like an arctic explorer.

Burbot group

Patrick, a friend, and Steve. They had gotten a zander earlier in the day, filling me with hope.

I reconsidered the wisdom of the whole thing when I saw that the side of the lake was covered in three feet of snow, and that any trip down to the water’s edge would risk a broken ankle and an unplanned swim.

Burbot shore

The shoreline. There was something about the idea of hiking down the steep, snow-covered bank that made me think Molnar should go first.

Luckily, there was an alternative. The plan was simple – get out onto the dam where we could access deeper water – well over 100 feet.

Burbot camp

The dam wall that would be our home for about six hours.

We would then cast night crawler baits on on sliding sinker rigs and wait. This was interesting for about five minutes, until the adrenaline wore off and I realized how darn cold it was. The brief show of sunshine had disappeared, and the bitter wind was driving down a moderate snowstorm.

Burbot idiots

What kind of idiots go out in this weather? See above.

About two hours into this adventure, just as the last of the feeling left my toes, my fishing rod gave a slight but definite twitch. Then, just as I reached for it, nothing happened. I reeled the rig back up, and the worm had clearly been chewed. There was hope. I rebaited and recast, and then set to pacing up and down the dam in a vain effort to stay warm. The temperature had dropped below 20, and I recognized that another hour outside and I could be sterile.

The snow cleared up a bit before dark, and if I had been in the car, I would have noticed how beautiful the trees were.

Burbot trees

It must be expensive to flock this many trees.

Burbot lake 2

The lake during a brief break in the snow. Just above the lake on the left you can see a red train going along the shoreline – this is a well-known service that brings in tourists year-round.

I kept trying different tactics, even drifting a micro-rig on the dam face. This got me a very small perch, which I took as a good sign – there were fish here.

Burbot Perch

Not my largest perch.

It had passed 5pm and the already thin light was draining from the sky. I stared at my rod tip, trying to will the fish to bite, but it just sat there, gathering ice. Thirty minutes later, I turned to drink a Red Bull that had turned into sort of a caffeine slurpee, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw the rod snap down about four inches. I dropped the drink and picked up the rod. For a long moment, nothing, but then … another thump. And another. Breathlessly, I reeled the slack out of the line and set the hook hard. I felt weight on the end of the line, then a few lethargic tugs – a sure sign of a burbot. Before Molnar could even consider going down to the water’s edge, I reeled the fish up the dam face and onto the snow. I had added a species.

Burbot burbot

The beast. Take that, Bob Reine!

Burbot burbot 2

A closeup of the beast. Take that also, Bob Reine!

Burbot triumph

Molnar and Wozniak celebrate the beast. As it turns out, they have teeth. I only found this out after the feeling returned to my fingers. And where the heck did Molnar get that hat? Seriously. it looks like a plant holder.

We whooped and yelled our triumph, which echoed across the lake and disappeared into the increasing snowfall. I was happy with the species, to be sure, but almost equally happy with the idea that I would not have to repeat this particular trip.

After the fish was safely released, we set up again, hoping to get a Quappe for Stefan. The increasing cold and wind quickly dampened our enthusiasm. It was now fully dark, and as much as I wanted to see Molnar catch something, he was not as obsessed with the burbot as I was and he fully supported the idea of going someplace indoors with food and drink. We called it a day and returned to the Hotel Schiff.

Burbot Hotel

The Hotel Schiff – great restaurant and good central heating.

We celebrated into the evening with assorted fried German foods and assorted German beers, and recalled how both this and the Huchen has been very close calls. Another snowy miracle? Perhaps, but the fish was on the books, all of my fingers and most of my toes had thawed, and life was good.

On the drive back to Walldorf the next day, I thought of my grandfather, and pondered what he would think of all this. For many years, there was a collective generational grudge – I know my grandmother was none too fond of Germany – but this has faded as the generation who fought pass into history and leave us only their stories. I also know that the man who killed my grandfather outlived him by less than a minute, and it is likely he too had a family who still feels a loss. At some stage, Stefan and I going fishing together stopped being ironic and started being just how things should be, and I have to think that is what my grandfather hoped would happen in the world.

Steve

Posted by: 1000fish | July 31, 2015

The Myanmar Shoe Debacle

Dateline: January 18, 2015 – Salween River, Myanmar

“Damn it!” I yelled out into the Burmese morning. “Who the hell peed in my shoes?”

The answer would surprise me.

How was it that I ended up in Eastern Myanmar (or is it Burma?) with a pair of horribly violated low hikers? I suppose it is politically correct of me to call it Myanmar, but “Myanmar Shave” just doesn’t have the right ring to it.

It started, as it often does, with a business trip. I needed to be in Singapore and then Thailand for a few days in January, so naturally, I started hunting for some fishing options. Anything in this area is going to involve a call to Jean-Francois Helias, regional fishing genius and possessor of the most fearsome eyebrows in the business. (Details HERE.)

Vang Francois Red

Jean Francois Helias, fishing master and sartorial daredevil. You can reach him at fishasia@ksc.th.com.

Francois immediately suggested Burma. I counter-suggested that this would require a complex visa and had the risk of being carried off by local thugs, but Francois assured me that he knew an unrestricted border crossing where we could get me into the country. He did not mention getting me out, which worried me, but he also proved he had taken a number of clients there without mishap, as long as hangovers don’t count as a mishap.

Francois explained that this was not going to be the ideal time of year – the water would be relatively cool and fish would be harder to come by. Still, I was in the area, and there are only so many chances to add a new country for me – with 83 on the list, options where Americans are allowed to travel start to thin out. And I am NOT going to Iraq. I heard a rumor that there were fish of mass destruction there, but this turned out to be completely untrue.

We set the details. I would fly from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, where Francois’ top guide, Kik, would pick me up and drive me the rest of the way, estimated at four hours. (Francois would not be able to attend this particular adventure, as his eyebrows were committed elsewhere, but Kik is a super guide.) I arrived on the appointed morning, and Kik and a buddy were there to get me. We piled into a pickup truck full of camping gear – did I mention we would be camping? – and headed for the border. The drive turned out to be a bit more than four hours, but not Sexy Rexian more. (Explanation HERE)

The scenery was sublime, as it always seems to be in Thailand.

Myanmar Farm

Passing through farmland as we head for the mountains in western Thailand.

We wound our way through miles of farmland, then more miles of foothills, then onto a narrow mountain road for perhaps the last hour.

Myanmar Steep

We drive along a small tributary of the Salween.

I was very rather eager to get fishing by the time we stopped in a small village on banks of the Salween. I realized that the mountains across the river were Myanmar.

Myanmar River 3

The wooded hills on the upper right are Myanmar.

Four locals came out to greet us – our boat crew. They were a friendly bunch, and loaded everything into a long, covered boat typical of the region. I was ready to fish and figured I had about two hours before sunset. This is when I found out that we needed to drive the boat two more hours up the river to our first spot. I am perhaps not the most patient human ever, and this did not sit well.

Myanmar Boat 1

The boat. We had seven guys and fours days of supplies on this.

The ride was, I admit, beautiful – this is truly wild country. The Myanmar side of the river is not controlled because there are no roads from here to the rest of Burma and it is a semi-autonomous Karen tribal region. Steep, forested mountains come up from both sides, and here and there, tiny villages are cut into the top of the riverbank.

Myanmar River 2

We had a bit of sunshine as we headed out.

Myanmar Village

One of the villages. The people were very friendly.

It was just getting dark when we pulled up on a sandbar and set up camp. The crew found a muddy bank and dug up worms – our main bait for the trip.

Myanmar dig

The bait gathering operation.

I set up two rods and began fishing, and fairly quickly, I figured out that things were not wide open. Even in this cool time of year, the temperatures only dip into the 50s at night. This might seem temperate, but for fish used to 80 degree evenings in the summer, it had shut things down. I did see some small fish in the shallows, and I was determined to get them. After a few hours of presenting micro-rigs on the shoreline, I had gotten two new species – small to be sure, but new.

Myanmar cat 1

The blackfin sisorid catfish.

Myanmar Cat 3

In a 24 font, the name would be longer than the fish.

Myanmar Trout

The Salween Baril. The ID on this one took three scientists and some drinking.

Mind you, these were caught from Thai soil. We would venture to Myanmar tomorrow.

Then it was time to get some sleep. This would involve camping. I hate camping. Call me soft, call me what you will, but there is something about sleeping outside with savage wild animals that insults our forefathers, who fought for our right to sleep at the Hyatt. I don’t sleep well when I know there is hostile wildlife out there, and all I have between me and serious issues is a thin layer of nylon. (Which also sounds like college.) The insects were especially horrible – there were big sand spiders the size of a 50 cent piece came out at night specifically to frighten me. And there was something walking around in the bushes that made a lot of noise and was therefore clearly out for human blood.

Figuring I would be safe in the tent, I set out to not leave until morning. So I stocked it with a full bottle of water, an empty gatorade bottle for calls from nature, and enough benadryl to knock out an elephant. I took my shoes off and left them by the entrance of the tent. Zipping up the door, I tried to make myself comfortable in the surprising chill, and drifted off to sleep despite the whoops of the boat crew, who had broken out a couple of bottles of questionable “Happy Animal Brand” whiskey and were having the time of their lives. (The only reason I didn’t freeze is that I had a sweatshirt with me that Marta had insisted I take.)

Somewhere in the predawn hours, I was awakened by nature’s call, and I cleverly used the Gatorade bottle. Thinking it would be bad to leave it in the tent, I unzipped the flap just a touch, reached the bottle outside, and poured it out. I slept intermittently while the boat crew carried on well into the night.

When I got up around 6:45, I moved to the doorway, unzipped the flap, and stretched my legs outside. I shook my left shoe to check for spiders. It was safe. I picked up my right shoe, and … oh heck. It was full of water. But how had it rained without me hearing it, and only in my right shoe? Then the smell hit me. It wasn’t water. Some idiot had peed in my shoe.

I was already yelling at no one in particular when it hit me – I was the idiot. My late-night bathroom improvisation had ended in disaster, and I wore my Tevas for the next two days while the shoes dried out. 1000fish readers! Learn from my bitter experience – never pour pee in your own shoes.

Our first task that smelly dawn was to officially catch a fish in Burma. This meant getting in the boat, going to the other side of the river, getting out of the boat so I was standing in Myanmar, and then catching something.

Myanmar Bank

Standing in Myanmar. If I had done this in 1988, I would have been standing in Burma.

This sounded relatively uncomplicated, even with the difficult water conditions, and it turned out fine. In the course of an hour, I pulled up several small fish, including two new species – a loach and a catfish. That’s country #84 if you’re playing along at home.

Myanmar Loach 2

The striped loach meets the approval of the team.

Myanmar Loach

A moment in the media limelight for a stunningly obscure species.

Myanmar Silver

I called this one the Burma Catfish, because I can’t pronounce Eutropiichthys burmannicus.

That afternoon, we parked the boat on a muddy bank and hiked up a mountain stream.

Myanmar Confluence

The stream where it meets the Salween. We hiked back about two miles, and per usual, I had a surprise encounter with wildlife.

It was amazing to me how quickly we went from a muddy, broad river to a crystal-clear creek that looked every bit the trout stream except for the stray elephant that scared the bejeezus out of me.

Myanmar Stream

The stream was gorgeous. I hadn’t expected to be sight-fishing small water like this, but after some re-rigging to a light jig, I passed a pleasant afternoon scouting out small pools and casting behind boulders and logs. I got a bunch of wild Thai and Strachey’s mahseer – fantastic fighters on light tackle – and a few cyprinids that looked suspiciously like rainbow trout but were not.

Myanmar Mahseer

A small Strachey’s mahseer. I have gotten these up to six pounds in Laos.

Myanmar Trout 2

The faux trout. I never did figure out what this species is.

Myanmar Eel

I even got a spiny eel – these are listed as one species across the region, but are likely actually several different ones. It would take a lot of work for an ichthyologist to sort them out, but I think there is a Nobel prize just waiting for someone. Dr. Carvalho? Martini? Anyone? 

As we got into mid-afternoon, we hiked back, got into the boat, and fished the Myanmar side of the main river for a couple of hours.  My big catch for that stop was a pig catfish – a close relative of a catfish I had gotten in Laos (details HERE) and oddly, the largest fish of the trip.

Myanmar Pig Cat

The Hemibagrus genus has been kind to me.

We closed the day fishing the bank near our campsite. I got a couple more pig catfish – great fun on very light tackle – and a barb that was a new species if not spectacularly large.

Myanmar Barb

Doesn’t everyone travel halfway around the world to catch fish this size?

The scenery was wild and unspoiled, and it was easy to see why people want to come here, even if they (gasp) aren’t fishing.

Myanmar Camp 1

Looking back at camp. I dreaded sunset because it would mean I needed to sleep in a tent.

Myanmar Scenery

Looking up the river, Thailand on right, Myanmar on the left.

I had dinner with the group as the sun set. I’m not sure what it is they had boiled up over the fire, but it was not pleasing to the western nose. I happily consumed another REI freeze-dried macaroni and cheese and called it a night.

 

Myanmar Camp

Camp.

Myanmar Pigs

Some wild pigs on the bank. These would figure prominently in an event later that evening.

I slept marginally better that second night, until 3:06am, when I was startled awake by snuffling noises and a nudge to my head. I reflexively threw a punch through the tent, figuring that the boat crew had downed an extra bottle of Old Overcoat whiskey. Instead of Thai swears, I heard an alarmed squeal and the sound of an upset wild pig racing off into the forest. What in the hell was I doing someplace where wild pigs would try to enter my tent? But I remembered that worse things with worse animals had happened in college, and drifted back to sleep, smiling at the memory of my old roommate Frank Lopez’s disastrous evening in September of 1982. I haven’t talked to Frank in years, but I’m still not comfortable giving all the details of that one.

In the morning, I was up very early and walked up the river, appreciating the scenery.

Myanmar Salween

The Salween at dawn, day three. The great outdoors was getting a bit old by this stage.

For most of the morning, we hiked another creek – even smaller than the first, but absolutely stuffed with small mahseer and an exotic cyprinid named “danios.”

Myanmar Danio

Brown’s Danio. Not the strongest fighter, but a new species nonetheless.

On the way up and down the creek, which was mercifully elephant-free, I caught dozens of fish and encountered birds I would never see anywhere else. Marta is much more of a birdwatcher than I am, and I couldn’t help but think of how much she would enjoy this place, minus the long trip and the camping and pigs and the spiders.

Myanmar Trickle

Even water this small was stuffed with fish.

While we were walking along the creek, I had a pig flashback and decided that I was not dealing with another night in the wilderness. Kik explained that as long as we got on the road around 5pm, that we could get to Chiang Mai and I could stay in a hotel there and catch my flight the next day for Bangkok. I had added Burma and seven species, so we decided to head out.

Emerging from the jungle, I saw one last spot to try – a small junction where the creek spilled into the main river. I was only half paying attention and casting a very light rig when the float disappeared and I was unceremoniously broken off. That got my attention, and I immediately tied up a heavier rig and began flipping a worm around to see if I could catch the culprit. Moments later, I got a beautiful little catfish – a new species but clearly not what had broken me off.

Myanmar Leather 1

Fishbase.org doesn’t list a common name for this, so I’ll call it a Salween catfish. I figure that’s catchier than Glyptothorax dorsalis.

Myanmar Leather 2

The guys understood and supported my bizarre fishing needs.

I kept casting even though the guys were getting ready to leave, and I got one more strike. It was a relatively larger fish, still not all that big, but a stunning new species.

Myanmar Goonch 2

Any guesses?

Myanmar Goonch 1

Hint – they fish for them in northern India.

I had caught a goonch. Perhaps the smallest goonch in the history of goonches, but a goonch nonetheless – a catfish species that grows to massive sizes in the north of India and was and is the target of adventure-seeking British gentleman anglers, like well-known writer Keith Elliott, who likely can’t believe I even published my picture.

Myanmar Keith

Keith Elliott with a proper goonch. He’s the good-looking one directly behind the dorsal fin.

We landed and said goodbye to the crew. They had been a good bunch, even if they never fully understood why I got worked up over some very tiny fish.

Myanmar Team

The group before we left the Salween. Kik is on my right.

The drive back to Chiang Mai seemed to go a bit faster than the drive out – at least I knew where we were going. It was a surreal feeling to walk into the lobby of the Shangri-La, perhaps the finest hotel in northern Thailand, wearing fishing garb, having not washed for three days, and carrying in my bag a pair of low hikers that held a terrible secret. There were clean sheets, room service food, and hot showers – about as far from a tent as one can get. There were no spiders or wild pigs, and no one poured pee in my shoes. It was paradise.

I also knew that there were two or three more spots like this in Thailand, and that, camping and spiders or not, I would be back. I drifted off to sleep, content with a new country and nine species, but faintly wondering if I should just throw out the shoes.

Steve

Posted by: 1000fish | July 24, 2015

68 Very Bad Minutes

Dateline: January 5, 2015 – Pacific Harbour, Fiji

How could I catch 29 new species and still come away with the bitter taste of defeat in my mouth? One word – Marta. Now, I admit that living with me is a difficult proposition, doubly so during the NHL playoffs, but this otherwise wonderful woman takes sadistic delight at catching species that I have not, and she just had to pick our Fiji vacation to go completely Jaime Hamamoto on me.

Eels Red Coronet

Perhaps the low point of our relationship – July 3, 2006 – Marta catches a red coronetfish in Hawaii. This is the only red coronetfish I will likely ever see.

We had been in Fiji for four days, and while I had gotten 16 new species, there had been two close calls where Marta had caught a species hours before I managed to. This sort of stuff makes me nervous. She has seven species I do not, listed in black at the bottom of my species spreadsheet, and, late at night, I agonize over these seven lines.

On January 2, I was scheduled to fish with Sam again. The morning broke clear and sunny, which is not normally an omen for disaster, but on this day, it was, because the weather was nice so Marta decided to come along. It always worries me to have her fish in a new spot. She communes with the Fish Gods, and with Jaime, who is evil, and I knew she would bring all her ill will to bear for the hours we were on the water.

The morning passed uneventfully. I got a couple of new species, which was a nice beginning to the day.

Fiji Spotred Grouper

The dwarf spotted grouper. This is a huge one.

Fiji Unicorn

Bignose unicornfish – they grow a horn later in life. I was thrilled with this – briefly.

Just after lunch, things started to go terribly wrong. Marta pulled up some sort of reef fish, and said “This one is pretty.” I didn’t want to look. But I did, and sure enough, she had a bridled monocle bream, which I had only seen in books. Not to worry, I thought to myself – we had plenty of time, and I was certain I would catch one quickly.

Fiji Marta Monocle 2

Marta could use some work on her fish selfies.

I didn’t catch one quickly. I didn’t catch one at all. Then it got worse. Marta pulled up a green moon wrasse, a wretchedly rare and lovely reef species.

Fiji Marta Wrasse

Sam is just catching on that the day is becoming awkward.

Fiji Marta Wrasse 2

I must admit it was a beautiful fish.

Oh wait, it gets even worse. About 30 minutes later, while I was still trying to catch the monocle bream, Marta pulled up a checkerboard wrasse. I may have acted faintly displeased. (Perspective from Marta – Steve had a total meltdown.)

Fiji Marta Choris 2

Sam is having no part of this.

Fiji Marta Choris

Again, a lovely creature, but what would have been so wrong with me catching one?

Marta had gotten three species I had not in exactly 68 minutes. Are you #$%&#% kidding me? I knew she was triumphantly texting Jaime. I had managed to catch two new species for the day, but Marta had even gotten more new species than I did in a day – for the first time ever. I was in a very dark place emotionally, comparable to when the NHL cheated the Red Wings out of a title in 2009 or when the Tigers lost that squeaker of a World Series in 2012. And don’t even get me started on Charles White and USC and the touchdown that never happened, because you know if a USC running back got a fish within three yards of the boat they would have counted it.

Sam stayed out as late as he could and was very gentle when he told me we had to leave. At the dock, he quietly mentioned that if I wanted to go out tomorrow, he would be glad to take me. I nodded my agreement, but no words would come out.

The black section on my spreadsheet had grown by 43% in just over an hour. This was a very, very bad day, and Marta was just as helpful and constructive as she had been when she caught the plaice in Norway five years ago. (Details HERE.) She brought my Fiji fish book to dinner and read me the entries on her new species.

I didn’t sleep well, and was up a couple of hours before Sam came to the dock, casting poppers in the rain and hoping the Fish Gods would take mercy on me. Marta was fine with staying at the Pearl spa, and she also went back into Suva to do more cultural things, which was fine with me because it kept her away from the water.

Fiji M

Speaking of cultural, Marta met and hung out with Bernadette Rounds Ganilau, a well-known philanthropist, human rights activist, and former government minister. She’s darn tall.

The weather on the 3rd was vile from start to finish, but there was a steady trickle of interesting new species. Sam had sensed my pain from the day before and brought me a special surprise – a big bag of fresh shrimp, sure to attract reef species much better than the squid we had used before. The first fish of the day was by far the best – a slingjaw wrasse.

Fiji Sling

This is a slingjaw wrasse. Looks like a normal wrasse, you say? See below.

Fiji Sling Extended

Hence the name. Is that cool or what?

The rest of the catches were on the tropical micro side, but they were beautiful and they were new, so I had started rebuilding my confidence from the previous day’s disaster.

Fiji Sam Rain

Sam gamely trolls through rotten weather. Trips were booked through Callan at Xstreem Fishing – +679-363-2188 or email at info@xstreemfishing.com

Fiji Green

With the miserable sea conditions, you can imagine how difficult it was to land this blue-green damsel.

Fiji Jewel

And this jewel chromis. They are among the most savage fighters in the damselfish family.

Fiji Snooty a

A snooty wrasse. No idea how that name happened.

Fiji Fusilier

The yellowstriped threadfin bream.

Fiji Yellowfin swrasse

I briefly thought this one was a green moon wrasse, but it turned out to be the closely-related bluntheaded wrasse. A new species yes, but not the one Marta had gotten.

Fiji Sam Steve

Sam and Steve – of course the sun came out as soon as we landed. The count had gone up to 24, but none of Marta’s catches had shown themselves. This cast a pall over an otherwise solid day.

Our last full day, the fourth, marked the first time the weather broke enough to get out to the main reef. I was positively giddy with excitement, as I figured this offered a good shot at some big fish, new species, and possible world records. The main fish I desired on this jaunt was a dogtooth tuna, a vicious resident of deep dropoffs that can destroy even the stoutest tackle. I hooked one on the Great Barrier Reef in 2003 – it tore the hooks off the plug and disappeared.

For this adventure, I would be fishing with Mark, nephew of Callan at Xstreem fishing, who had plenty of experience jigging the offshore reefs for big game fish. The ride out was a bit lumpy to be sure, but once we got there, we were protected from the waves by the main reef, and we could set to fishing.

Initially, we waded through loads of lyretail grouper – not a new species but an excellent table fish.

Fiji Lyretail

I had caught these before in Jordan.

I got a few other things I had caught before, but they were still beautiful enough to share here.

Fiji Rainbow

An especially colorful cheeklined wrasse.

Fiji Red Trigger

A redstripe triggerfish. I have caught these in eight countries, but I never get sick of looking at them. 

After a while, I started to dredge up a few new ones. The first was a pastel ring wrasse.

Fiji Ringwrasse

The pastel ring wrasse – it missed being a record by less than an ounce.

I got three other new species – that’s four for the day (and 28 for the trip) if you’re counting along at home. We jigged our arms off but the dogtooth would not cooperate.

Fiji snapper 3

The whitespot snapper.

Fiji Barcheek

The barcheek trevally.

Fiji Wirenetting

The netfin grouper. Something tried to eat it on the way up.

The Fish Gods may have ignored our ride out to the reef, but they were paying attention when we started for home. The wind, which was already a concern, picked up quite a bit, and the waves got big – six to eight feet, right on our nose. A ride that normally takes 45 minutes took three drenched hours, and while I was never all that worried about our safety, I was quite concerned about keeping my lunch down.

Fiji Reef Team

The offshore team trying to dry out at the dock. That’s Mark on the left.

Fiji Dinner

Lyretail grouper for two.

On the 5th, we had half a day at the resort before our flight. We spent some time in the spa, had a great lunch, and wandered the grounds, with me discussing the pain she had caused on the 2nd, and her just smiling. Of course, I did spend a few more hours getting rained on, hoping to scrape up just one more new critter before we had to head to the airport.

Fiji Rain

Enjoying the Fiji weather.

I had ignored the mullet all week, thinking they were the same striped mullet I had seen everywhere else on the planet. But I brought out a loaf of bread just to make sure, and as it turns out, they were a new species – the hornlip. And Marta didn’t catch one, so the trip closed on a small note of triumph.

Fiji Mullet

Species 29.

Normal people would look at the trip as a smashing success – 29 new species is one of the best weeks I have ever had, rivaling epic journeys like Weipa in 2009 (42 species) and Koh Kut in 2006 (41 species.) And I would fondly remember each of these 29 fish, but as I flew home, the three fish I could not get out of my head were obvious – the bridled monocle bream, the green moon wrasse, and the checkerboard wrasse. My relationship with Marta would survive those 68 very bad minutes, because I am kind and forgiving, but I was already planning a trip back to Fiji.

Steve

Posted by: 1000fish | July 16, 2015

Bula Fiji

Dateline: January 1, 2015 – Pacific Harbour, Fiji

“Bula” can mean many things in Fijian. It can mean “Hello,” “Welcome,” “Good afternoon,” and apparently “Please don’t cook my shrimp.” It is a friendly word in a friendly country, and I don’t think I ever got it wrong, unlike my linguistic disaster in Morocco (Details HERE.)

This vacation was planned in the waning seconds of the last possible minute. We had been toying with the idea of just staying home in our new house for the week after Christmas like normal people. But one quiet evening, after watching “Scrooge” for the fourth time, we got talking. We got looking online. And the next thing we knew, we had booked a week in Fiji.

It seemed like a great idea – Fiji is one of the five countries I had visited without fishing, on a 68 minute layover en route from Honolulu to Auckland back in 1998. I had just enough time to buy a “Fiji” t-shirt, which I looked at wistfully for years, wondering when I would return and go fishing. Ironically, that exact same period – 68 minutes – would have unfortunate consequences for me later in this trip, but you’ll have to wait for Part II for that.

It’s a long way to Fiji, but of course I am never difficult to deal with when I am hungry and sleep-deprived. We did finally get there, and as I remember it, I was the picture of easygoing cheerfulness. (Perspective from Marta: Oh no he wasn’t. He wanted to fish in the airport fountain, and when he found out that the resort was two hours away, his head nearly exploded.)

I missed one minor planning detail – we had arrived in the rainy season. (As it turned out, we did have some sunny days, but I was happy I brought the Gore-tex.) The Pearl Resort was gorgeous, and the staff greeted us with a hearty “Bula!”, but by the time we got unpacked, it was raining at a Biblical level. Marta encouraged me to enjoy the spa and wait until the weather broke, but I was inconsolable. (Perspective from Marta – this is a self-serving understatement. He was ready to LEAVE.) We went for what I hoped would be a quick lunch at the hotel cafe, a lovely place overlooking manicured grounds and the beach.

The rain let up – sort of – after lunch. I talked the waitress into selling me the shrimp appetizer uncooked – the first of dozens of times I would get my bait in a pricey if convenient way. We headed over to the rock jetty on the edge of the hotel grounds. Part of it was shielded from the wind and rain by the restaurant and I could therefore fish in relative comfort, not that this matters to me.

Fiji Jetty

The jetty where I would spend much of the next week. Although it was windy and rained a good bit, the weather was pleasantly warm the entire trip. 

Moments later, I got a small snapper, and Fiji became the 83rd country where I had caught a fish.

Fiji Blacktail

The blacktail snapper. Ironically, Jaime Hamamoto holds the world record for this species.

Now there was work to do. Getting to 2000 species might be impossible, but of course they (well, mostly my family) said the same thing about 1000. If it was going to happen, I knew that this region – the western Pacific – was going to have to produce a bunch of fish for me. I had a week in a new spot, fishing possibilities every day, and an inexhaustible if expensive supply of shrimp. Although I didn’t say it out loud for fear of the Fish Gods, I was hoping to get at least 20 new species. Ambitious? Yes – but doable.

Moments later, the difficulty started. I made the mistake of putting bait on Marta’s hook, and she got the first new species of the trip – a reef-flat cardinalfish. I had never caught one, and I don’t like playing catchup, not that I am competitive. The rain started coming down harder, and Marta, feeling her work there was done, went to the spa and worked out. I stayed out in the deluge and luckily caught the same cardinalfish about two hours later. I had dodged a big bullet – if she had started the trip with something I couldn’t catch, it would have been a disaster.

Fiji Cardinal

The cardinalfish that started a difficult week. Because Marta deliberately caught it first, I was cheated out of the triumphant rush of new species joy – all I got was a nauseated “Oh thank goodness” wave of relief.

I got one more new critter – a striped ponyfish, which put me at two for the trip. I had three days of charter boats ahead of me, so things looked pretty good.

Fiji Ponyfish

The striped ponyfish. I only saw one all week, and luckily, Marta didn’t catch it.

Early the next day, I boarded a small skiff with a local guide named Sam, who greeted me with a friendly “Bula!” A retired gardener with a ready smile, Sam had fished the area his entire life. Once he figured out – and could get over – the idea that I wanted to catch all the small, strange stuff, he stopped worrying about going for gamefish and set to catching me all kinds of stuff.

Fiji Sam Troll

Sam the guide. Unflappable, cheerful, kind, great local knowledge. We would become fast friends over the next week, and he shared my pain when Marta caught species I had not. Sam and the other charters were set up through Callan at Xstreem Fishing – +679-363-2188 or email at info@xstreemfishing.com

The wind was blowing hard, but inside the reef, the sea conditions allowed me to retain breakfast. One by one, I started getting new creatures.

Fiji Latticed

The latticed sand perch, diminutive but savage.

Fiji Sandperch Yellowlined

The yellowlined sand perch, a close relative.

Fiji Variegated Emp

The variegated emperor. The place was thick with emperors – many thanks to Dr. Jeff Johnson and Dr. Alfredo Carvalho for sorting out the IDs on these.

Fiji Emp Blackspot

The blackblotch emperor. Possibly my largest fish of the day. And no, my head is not misshapen.

Fiji Leopard Hind

Leopard Hind – a type of especially small grouper.

Fiji Orangestripe

Back to the emperors – an orangestripe in this case. And that’s the sun hood caught up in my hat. My head is perfectly normal. Really.

Fiji Emp Orangefin

The last of my four new emperors of the day – the orangefin.

Fiji Wolf

The wolf cardinalfish – the bully of the cardinalfish family.

Fiji Rubber Snapper

The speckled snapper – a thrilling close to the day. Mind you, my standard of “thrilling” might be different than yours.

I raced back to the room to find a note from Marta – “In Spa.” She walked in just as I finished with the ID book – I had gotten nine new species in a single day, bringing me to 11 for the trip.

Stunningly, we did not go fishing (much) on the 31st. We spent our time touring the island, visiting Fiji’s capital, Suva, and several museums and points of interest nearby.

Fiji Coconut

Breakfast on the way out. Marta makes friends quickly.

Fiji Palace

The presidential palace. Marta got the guard to smile.

Fiji House

A typical house in the inland hills. This is not a wealthy country, but the people are amazingly friendly and warm. Almost everyone we met invited us into their home for a meal.

Fiji Crab

A land crab Marta photographed. She kept me from snatching it for bait.

Fiji Tongues

These statues look like Jaime Hamamoto after she catches a lagoon triggerfish.

Fiji Pearl

The Pearl Resort in sunshine. Great place.

Fiji Yoga

Marta has a Zen moment.

That evening, we celebrated our 11th New Year’s Eve together.

Fiji Sunset

Sunset on New Year’s Eve as we head to dinner by the water. There were jacks splashing around in the estuary, just crying out for a popper, but Marta heartlessly insisted that we keep our dinner reservation.

Some of our New Year’s Eves have been quiet – like staying at home or sleeping through fireworks in Panama – but some of them have been a bit wilder than we had hoped. (We recommend against spending NYE in Amsterdam, for example, especially if you have an early flight on the first. The locals save up all year to buy industrial-grade fireworks, some of which could bring down a B-52, and then set them all off in a drunken, unregulated street fracas. The Dutch are somehow OK with this, but the French wouldn’t be. Every time there are that many explosions in Paris, they surrender.)

This particular night fell on the quiet side, which was fine with us.

We slept in on New Year’s day, but after a brunch that closed with my by-now requisite uncooked shrimp appetizer, we headed to the jetty. The clouds had broken up, and we had a beautiful day to start 2015.

Fiji Jetty 2

We finally learned that there were islands offshore.

We headed to the very end of the rocks – the only day on our trip when it was fishable, and Marta promptly did something rotten. She caught a Pacific dart – an inshore pompano relative that I had never even seen in person. She smiled.

Fiji Marta Dart

She’s like Jaime but taller.

Then, just for fun, Marta caught a blackspot emperor much bigger than mine.

Fiji Marta Emperor

We gave it to a couple of local guys who had it for lunch.

It was early in the day, and I figured if the darts were here, I should get one. I cast and cast, and one by one, I added a few other species, but not the dart. I got a seven-bar sergeant, then one of my best fish of the trip, a yellowmargin triggerfish. But no darts.

Fiji Sergeant

The seven-bar sergeant. The first bar is on the forehead if you’re counting along at home.

Fiji Trigger 3

The yellowmargin triggerfish – the largest thing I caught all week.

Later in the afternoon, as the tide came up, I got a gorgeous vagabond butterflyfish – the 5th member of this tropical family I have put on my species list. But it wasn’t a dart. I needed a dart.

Fiji Butterfly 1

Marta selfishly pursues new species and leave me to take selfies with the butterflyfish.

Fiji Butterfly 2

The vagabond butterflyfish.

An hour later, I was casting a jig from the windy side of the jetty and got smashed. (To be clear, the jig got smashed, not me. It was early in the day and this is not Hungary.) After a 15-minute fight, I landed a brassy trevally – another new species, but not a dart.

Fiji Trevally 2

These things pull hard.

Marta went back to the spa, but I stayed out several more hours, hoping against hope that I would get a dart. I did not want to spend an evening with this as our main topic of conversation. But it was getting late, I was out of Red Bull and potato chips, and I finally gave up.

On the long walk back, I saw some baitfish in the shallows and cast a sabiki to them. Predictably, something surprisingly big hammered the teensy hook. I babied it for about 10 minutes, expecting a breakoff at any moment, but as I finally landed the fish, I saw, to my great delight, it was a dart. (My 16th species of the trip.)

Breathing a huge sigh of relief, I could finally acknowledge it had been a great opening to the new year. But this was not the triumph I would expect from a new species – it was the adrenaline-filled, sweaty moment you get when you look the wrong way, step into the street, and a bus just misses you.

Fiji Steve Dart

Justice. Of course, Marta saw the photo and said “How do we know that’s you?”

I called Marta with this joyous news, and she responded with something snide like “Oh, I’ve already caught one of those. I’ve been getting a massage for two hours.”

Fiji Marta Spa

Marta, a.k.a. Miss Snotty Pants, awaits me at the spa.

Snotty though this may have been, she was right – I had dodged two bullets, and I quietly wondered how long I could keep this up. In less than 18 hours, my luck would run out.

Steve

 

Posted by: 1000fish | July 2, 2015

The Marching Band From Hell

Dateline: November 8, 2014 – Puerto Penasco, Mexico

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yoga Why

Don’t ask why.

Yoga Gringo

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

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

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

Yoga Port

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

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

Yoga Silverside

A trophy-sized smooth silverside.

Yoga Grunt

The Cortez grunt. I am told these get larger.

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

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

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

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

Yoga Estuary

We head out the estuary early on day one.

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

Yoga Bone

Hey Jaime – Nyah, nyah, nyah.

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

Yoga Pigfish

The Cortez pigfish – a member of the grunt family.

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

Yoga Jaw

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

Yoga Jaw 2

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

Yoga JS

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

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

Yoga Dave

Steve and Dave as we started catching reef fish.

We set up to fish live baits on the bottom in relatively shallow water – still around 50 feet. While I was waiting for a hit, I fished a lighter rig and got two more new species – a sargo and a gold-spotted bass. I got very busy photographing them, so much so that I didn’t pay much attention to the big rod I had down with a live bait. You know where this is going.

Yoga Sargo

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

Yoga Gold

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

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

Yoga Croaker

The wrong croaker.

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

Yoga Three

The group celebrates releasing the totoaba.

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

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

Yoga Group

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

Yoga Bikers

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

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

Yoga Cat

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

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

Yoga Beach

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

Then came the long run.

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

Yoga Grouper

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

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

Yoga Corvina

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

Yoga Gold Big

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

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

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

Steve

Posted by: 1000fish | June 16, 2015

The Secret Species

Dateline: October 19, 2014 – Ventura, California

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

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

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

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

Secret Portrait

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

Secret Group

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

Secret Rocket

The wedding had rockets. All wedding should have rockets. 

Secret Sunset

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

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

Secret Pier

Ventura pier, the scene of the controversy.

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

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

Secret Portrait 2

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

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

Secret Tram

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

Secret Palm

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

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

Secret Ventura

Another perfect day in Southern California.

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

Secret thornback

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

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

Secret Queen

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

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

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

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

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

The clock starts … now.

Steve

 

Special Bonus Section – The Taiwanese Limo Fish

Dateline: October 7, 2014 – Taipei, Taiwan

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

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

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

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

Secret Driver

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

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

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

Secret Carp

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

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

Secret Tilapia

The blue tilapia, another globally popular fish.

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

Secret Stream

The anonymous Taiwanese stream.

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

Secret Dace

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

 

Posted by: 1000fish | June 8, 2015

The Spam

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

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

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

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

Spam Seth

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

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

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

SPam Kevin

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

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

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

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

GTW Sign Spell

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spam Lake

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

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

Spam Angorra

Yes, the lemonade was good. 

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

Spam Lake 2

That’s the big boulder on the right.

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

Spam Redside

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

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

Spam Chub

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

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

Spam Tahoe

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

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

Spam Sucker

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

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

Spam Pikeminnow

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

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

Steve

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