Posted by: 1000fish | May 24, 2015

Last of the Thames Rivermen

Dateline: August 12, 2014 – Twyford, England

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

Roger tench 2009

Roger Barnes with one of his most demanding clients.

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

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

Thames Finch

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

Thames Finch Pond

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

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

Thames John Finch

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

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

Thames John Crucian

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

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

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

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

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

Thames S Crucian

Finally, a Crucian carp.

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

Thames Crucian

Roger always said they looked like a new penny.

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

Thames Collier

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

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

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

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

Thames Angler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thames Pike

A lovely Marlow Weir pike. 

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

Thames Rainbow

I told you we would have another double rainbow.

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

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

Thames Floor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thames Lot

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

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

Steve

RogerSteve

Posted by: 1000fish | May 17, 2015

Yo! Adriatic!

Dateline: July 20, 2014 – Dubrovnik, Croatia

When will I get the hint?

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

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

Adriatic Harbor

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

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

Adriatic Goby 1

The rock goby. Savage, by goby standards.

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

Adriatic Gilthead

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

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

Adriatic Bass 2

A proud Stefan’s first seabass.

Adriatic Bass

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

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

Adriatic Bridge

Heading out of Dubrovnik to the open water.

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

Adriatic Chumline

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

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

Adriatic Hake

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

Adriatic Weever

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

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

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

Adriatic Sunset

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

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

Adriatic Seas 1

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

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

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

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

Adriatic Socks

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

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

Adriatic Comber

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

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

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

Adriatic Bream

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

Adriatic Molnar Scorpion

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

 

Adriatic Octopus

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

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

Adriatic Dinner

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

Adriatic Dessert

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

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

Adriatic Tuna 2

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

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

Adriatic Lighthouse

We finally leave Lastovo behind.

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

Adriatic Scorpion

Molnar’s pig of a scorpionfish.

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

IMG_3082

Species #3 for the trip.

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

Adriatic Sunset 2

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

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

Adriatic Harbor 4

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

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

Adriatic Cat

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

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

Adriatic Picarel

This is what passes for excitement in my world.

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

Adriatic Split

Split, Croatia. Highest divorce rate in the Balkans.

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

Steve

 

SPECIAL BONUS UPDATE – GERMAN PERCH FISHING

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

Adriatic Falko

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

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

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

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

Adriatic Perch

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

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

Posted by: 1000fish | May 10, 2015

Grahovo

Dateline: July 19, 2014 – Grahovo, Montenegro

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

Grahovo Sign

On the outskirts of Grahovo, Montenegro.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serbia Vegetable

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

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

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

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

Grahovo Coast

The Croatian Coast south of Dubrovnik.

Grahovo Welcome

We enter Montenegro.

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

Grahovo Harbor

Looking up the mountain from Herceg Novi.

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

Grahovo Harbor 3

Steve investigates the harbor.

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

Grahovo Bream

The only world record set in Montenegro to date.

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

Grahovo Molnar

Molnar tries his luck on the breakwall.

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

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

Grahovo Bay

We had scenery like this pretty much the whole drive.

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

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

Grahovo Main

Main street, Grahovo.

Grahovo Truck

One of the houses in town.

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

Grahovo House 1

This was once the house of a leading citizen.

Grahovo Ruins

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

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

Grahovo Street

A sign for a general store, closed years ago.

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

Grahovo Statue

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

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

Grahovo Bar

The group has a beer in Montenegro.

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

Grahovo Bar 2

Marc and Steve in Grahovo’s hotspot.

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

Grahovo Bar 3

The local boys pass a Saturday afternoon.

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

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

Grahovo Goodbye

Heading back to Dubrovnik.

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

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

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

Grahovo Sawmill

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

Steve

 

Posted by: 1000fish | April 27, 2015

The Road Trip – “Band of Brothers”

Dateline: July 2, 2014 – Tampa, Florida

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

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

Band Hats

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

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

Band River

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

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

Band Blacktail

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

Band Topminnow

The savage blackspotted topminnow.

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

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

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

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

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

Band Grayfin

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

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

Band Bowfin

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

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

Band Catfish

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

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

Band DOllar

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

Band Shiner

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

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

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

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

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

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

Band Springs

Manatee Springs. It’s clear.

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

Band Manatee Shiner

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

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

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

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

Band Spottail

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

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

Band Grouper

Enough already. Seriously.

Band Shark

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

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

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

Band Cary

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

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

Band Frank

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

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

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

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

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

Steve

Posted by: 1000fish | April 20, 2015

The Road Trip – “Bird Flu”

Dateline: June 29, 2014 – Ocean Springs, Mississippi

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

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

Flu Cart

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

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

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

Flu Mothers

Best diner in N.O., hands down.

Flu Tabasco

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

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

Flu Cafe

The group at Cafe du Monde.

Flu Beignet

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

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

Flu Bourbon

The heart of the French Quarter.

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

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

Flu Sunrise

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

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

Flu Martini Flu

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

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

Flu Bayou

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

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

Flu trout

The sand seatrout. This pleased me.

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

Flu Redfish

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

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

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

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

Flu Burrfish (2)

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

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

Flu Sheephead

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

Flu Martini Red

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

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

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

Flu Beans

The only known photo of the beans.

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

Kirk Bama Closeup

The USS Alabama.

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

Flu Croaker

The Alabama croaker. I was very pleased by this.

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

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

Heyyyyyyy Romeo, let’s go down to Mexico …

Utter poetry.

Steve

 

Dateline: June 27, 2014 – Lake Livingston, Texas

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

Kirk TX sign

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

Kirk Map

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

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

Kirk Road 1

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

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

Kirk Road

This photo was taken hours later.

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

Kirk Nap

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

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

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

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

Kirk 1 Cichlid

The Rio Grande cichlid. It’s cool.

Kirk Longear

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

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

Martini Beastalupe

Martini and his beastly Guadalupe bass.

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

Kirk Texas

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

Kirk Blacktail 2

Blacktail shiner. A monster by comparison.

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

Kirk Llano

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

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

Kirk Guadalupe

You know where this is going.

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

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

Kirk Family

Kyle’s grandparents and other assorted relatives.

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

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

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

Kirk White Bass

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

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

Kirk K Buffalo

Kyle and a smallmouth buffalo. (Foreground.)

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

Kirk M Buffalo

Martini gets a buffalo.

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

Kirk S Buffalo

Finally, a smallmouth buffalo.

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

Kirk Kirk M

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

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

Kirk K Gar

Here we go again.

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

Kirk R Shiner

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

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

Kirk Kyle

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

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

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

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

Kirk Gar Dance

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

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

Kirk Kyle Gator

Clearly, Kyle can lift heavy things.

Kirk MK Gar

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

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

Kirk Big Gar

The fish was safely released moments later.

Kirk Gator 2

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

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

Kirk Spotted

Kyle seems to thing my gar was smaller than his. 

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

Kirk Kirk 2

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

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

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

Steve

Posted by: 1000fish | April 8, 2015

The Road Trip – “Sexy Rexy Strikes Again”

Dateline: June 24, 2014 – Rural New Mexico

We got the band back together, even if it meant a largely pointless 10 hour drive over roads not intended for anything more delicate than a mule.

The road trip spent its third night in a ghastly northern Arizona motel. With three of us, we were constantly challenged by rooms meant for two. Sometimes this was solved with cots, sometimes it involved floors. I luckily avoided the floor in this one, because I am convinced it would have meant cuddling with vermin.

As I struggled to wake up the next day, Martini was outside on the phone with his family. He then greeted me with the single worst morning salutation I have ever gotten, far outpacing the previous winner, 1983’s infamous “Would you like breakfast before I go to women’s rugby practice?”

Martini waved pleasantly and said “If I start uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhea, take me to the hospital.” I spat out a bunch of Red Bull and coughed back “Good morning to you too.” Martini smiled. “From the sucker eggs in the stream in Utah – my Dad mentioned that water might have giardia. This made things clear but no less upsetting. Luckily, he was fine.

The majority of our day was spent playing tourist, but let’s face it, if we came through here and didn’t see the Grand Canyon and Route 66, we would have felt like idiots. And yes, at age 50, I had never seen the Grand Canyon. The place was fantastic; even I was left in stunned silence.

Rexy Canyon

Luckily, Marta did not come on this trip, because she would want to hike down into the canyon, which would cut into fishing time.

Rexy Canyon 2

It’s hard to describe just how BIG of a hole in the ground this is.

Rexy GC Peng

Penguito, the official mascot of the 2014 road trip, enjoyed the view.

Rexy Bonytail

Of course, there is a fishing tie-in. The Grand Canyon hosts one of the rarer chubs in the US. Martini saw me looking forlornly at this and said “No, no, no. Bad Steve.”

There is still so much of this country I haven’t seen, and in many of the places I have not been, there are fish. So I want to go to those places. Once we finished touring the canyon, we headed southeast and picked up Route 66, that unique bastion of Americana and days gone by when drives across the country were lengthy and personal, going through hundreds of small towns that have faded away since the big interstate highways were built.

Rexy Flintstones

OK, we just thought this was cool. I’m usually Fred, but I was Barney in this case.

Rexy 66 a

Williams, AZ. The last town bypassed by I-40. Still a charming tourist destination – we had lunch and watched a World Cup game in a local bar.

Rexy Mirror

Oh, and we also felt that Martini’s rear-view mirror needed some livening up. 

The next day’s agenda was complex – we would attempt, for the second time, and fail, for the second time, to get Martini his Apache trout at Lee Valley reservoir. (One of my first blogged species – details HERE) We then headed east, toward Silver City, New Mexico. It was on this long and lonely stretch of road that I first heard what was to become the official theme song of the road trip – Blake Shelton’s “Playboys of the Southwestern World.” Apart from being a catchy country tune and tale of lifelong friendship, it also featured lyrics that were pure poetry – Sylvia Plath-like gems such as

“Learned to drink Sangria ’til the dawn’s early light
Eat eggs rancheros and throw up all night”

Brings a tear to my eye even today.

The next major stop on the road trip was Texas, but getting from Arizona to Texas pretty much requires a stop in New Mexico, and if we were going to stop, we were going to fish. This where “Sexy Rexy’ – aka Silver City-based guide Rex Johnson – comes into the picture. Rex is an excellent guide and a great guy – his only flaw, as far as we know, is a comical inability to estimate distances. (As featured in “Elvis Has Left the River“) I have now gone to New Mexico twice to go fishing, and both times involved Elvis. (Actually, multiple Elvi.) This isn’t as bizarre as it sounds, although only barely. A good friend of ours, Gabriele Elli, lives in New Mexico and joins us on these trips. Gabi happens to be an Elvis impersonator.

Rexy Divide

Oh, and we got to cross the continental divide.

We drove into town early in the afternoon, and loaded up on a batch of Taco Bell food that was going to make us regret sharing a room. After lunch, we met Rex and headed out for an afternoon trip to a creek that featured a variety of trout and suckers. This area is stunningly beautiful, and we got a number of interesting creatures, including a few Gila trout. If we had caught Gila trout in this spot last time, we would have all been spared a dreadful and underestimated hike.

Rexy Group

That’s Rex on the right. He thinks it’s 14 miles from New York to Boston. Did I mention he is a math professor?

Gabi joined us that evening. There is something about the way he showed up in the lobby of a small-town La Quinta Motel in a white Elvis costume that radiates a joy in life, one that transcends the bewildered stares of the night clerk. We first met Gabi in “Blue Suede Sturgeon,” and he has been an angling friend and 1000 fish supporter for years.

Rexy Elvi

Gabi and Martini. I still can’t really explain this.

The next day was supposed to be our big adventure on the water. To be fair, we threw a lot of requirements at Rex. We were looking for new species, but also for decent fishing for Gabi and Kyle, who should not be victims of my obsessive issues. We wanted to keep it fairly close to home, not violate any major federal laws, and to avoid drug lords and chupacabras. Taking all of these requirements into account, Rex settled on taking us to an isolated fork of the Gila River, which he felt was three hours away from Silver City. This area was apparently thick with smallmouth but also held a variety of other fish, including suckers, catfish, and trout. He especially felt that we could get smallmouth in big numbers. It sounded like fun.

Rexy M Elvis

Martini showed up ready to fish. He is holding Penguito, official mascot of the 2014 Road Trip.

We were more or less prepared for an ugly drive, and Rex did not disappoint us. It turned out to be five hours, often at 2mph while we prayed our way over boulders.

Rexy Sign

Some subtle hints that the road would not be good.

Still, we had Gabi’s Elvis CDs, especially the highly-regarded Volume XXII. (Totally overlooked at the Grammies.) For much of the drive, he led us in song through the entire Elvis catalog, plus some country gems like “All my exes live in Texas,” and Mel Gibson’s classic “All my exes live in Vladivostok.” This, and a bunch of Red Bull, kept our enthusiasm up until we were at the spot.

The best guide in the world can’t always tell when the fish are going to bite, and while this area was absolutely beautiful, it was also apparent that this was not going to be a wide-open day. I got a couple of smallmouth right away, but the creek just didn’t have the right feel. Rex assured us that there were some bigger pools downstream – “about a mile.” Recognizing that this could mean walking to El Salvador, I decided to split from the group and work upstream.

Rexy 1 Canyon

The group heads off downstream.

The area was beautiful – low bluffs boxing in the creek against a bright blue sky. There was wildlife everywhere, including a rattlesnake that added some excitement to a bathroom trip.

Rexy Gila

The scenery. The guys would enjoy it pretty much undisturbed by fish. 

I actually had a nice day of fishing. Working from pool to pool, I found a few more smallmouth, then stumbled through groups of small Desert suckers, some much bigger Sonora suckers, and then a small catfish. The catfish looked at first like an ordinary channel cat, but but I took photos just to be sure. Later on, in the car, a quick count of the anal rays told me I had something unusual, beyond the urge to count anal rays. I had a rare relative of the channel catfish known as a Chihuahua catfish, and this thrilled me to no end. I had an unexpected new species.

Rexy Chihuahua

The Chihuahua catfish. I have one and Paris Hilton doesn’t. 

Continuing up the stream until late afternoon, I kept getting occasional bass and suckers. I saw one trout, which made sure I saw it and then bolted downstream, not to be seen again.

Late in the day, I saw a satin cape fluttering it the distance and wondered who it was. The fact that I could be in rural New Mexico and not know which one of my friends was wearing a red cape should tell you how weird this all had gotten. Moments later, it became clear that it was Martini, at a dead run. Barely panting, he trotted up to me and said “Time to go.”

Rexy 1 Cape

Something you don’t see every day.

Their day had not been as fulfilling as mine – just a couple of bass – and it was time to leave. I was bummed for them, and especially for Rex, who I know tried his heart out. (If you go trout fishing with him, his true expertise, you’ll almost certainly do well.) I took in the scenery one more time, then headed for the car. We would be spending a lot more time in the vehicle, and it was certainly cozy with me, Gabi, and Rex in the back. Then someone had gas. It may or may not have been me, although I had pretty much peaked at a steakhouse two nights before, when what I thought would be a quiet effort to annoy Martini slipped into a polysyllabic thunderclap that terrified everyone, and I mean everyone, in the restaurant.

In a final leap of faith, we trusted Rex’s “shortcut,” ironically back through Truth or Consequences. It was not a shortcut, and just about when we thought we were going to get there, we saw a sign saying we had another 156 miles to go.

Rexy TC

Yes, there really is a town named this.

We toyed with the idea of throwing Rex from the vehicle, but decided it would be rude to deprive New Mexico of a fine math professor, so we instead passed the time telling ribald stories, musing about the trout in local streams, and farting.

The evening in Silver City was a quiet celebration involving fried food and Elvis music.

Rexy Elvis 2

Unwinding over some beers and a private Elvis performance. (We were asked to leave the lobby.)

We had survived the western leg of the journey, and we would be beginning the most fishing-intensive portion of the trip in just a day. Between us and our stops in Texas, however, lay over 600 miles of open road. (135 if you ask Rex.)

Steve

Posted by: 1000fish | March 28, 2015

The Road Trip – “The Audible”

Dateline: June 21, 2014 – Fish Lake, Utah

I usually write about something I’ve caught or at least the place where I caught it. But this post won’t just mention a fish I didn’t catch – it will mention a fish I will never catch and never even try to catch, and the amazing thing is that I’m OK with that.

Western Nevada has some desolate places – some of them worse than Las Vegas, or even New Jersey. After we left California’s eastern Sierra foothills, we headed – deliberately – through some of the vilest desert this side of northern Africa.

Audible DV sign

Why do people voluntarily visit something called “Death Valley?”

I had never been to Death Valley before, and while it is unlikely I will visit again, because it has little water and therefore few fish, I must say it was a startlingly beautiful landscape.

Audible DV 1

Coming over the hill from California.

Audible Penguito

The barren landscape and Penguito, the official mascot of the 2014 Road Trip. Don’t ask. Neither Martini nor Kyle could explain it, yet it was apparently extremely funny.

Audible DV 2

More desolate scenery further east. The last time I drank this much fluid was right before a colonoscopy.

Martini insisted on turning off the air conditioner, because he wanted to see us suffer. I can think of no other reason, and I will not be responding to comments from you MacGyver types who think there’s a reasonable explanation.

Audible Furnace

We stopped for the sign because it was the only shade for miles.

Audible Therm

I think this about says it all. And I repeat, Martini would not run the air conditioner. 

From Death Valley, we headed toward our stop for the evening – Las Vegas. But before we got there, we had one more destination – Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, which hosts some very endangered species of Pupfish.

Martini had emphasized to me that it would be unacceptable to even talk about fishing for these species. Apart from it being some sort of major Federal crime, it would also be a burn-in-hell kind of wrong thing. There were several varieties there, and one of them is apparently the rarest fish in the world.

We first stopped at a tiny lagoon, half the size of a backyard pool, and looked around. Martini saw them first – Ash Meadows Amargosa pupfish. Electric blue, tiny, swimming from rock to rock with no knowledge that their whole world was the size of my dining room – and these weren’t even the rarest ones. I first thought of the wonder of it all, then, briefly, about the #32 hooks I had in the car. Martini saw the look on my face. “No, no, no.” he said. “No. No. Bad Steve. Don’t even think about it.” This is why people joke he is my older brother. At least I think they’re joking.

Audible Pond

Steve looks forlornly at the pupfish pond.

Audible Pup

The critter. Photo by Martini Arostegui – I was too busy looking for security cameras.

We went to the Devil’s Hole overlook to view another species – the Devil’s Hole pupfish. We hiked up a rock path and, through a fence and in full view of a lot of security cameras, we saw them. A little hole in the rocks, perhaps the size of a hot tub, was their entire universe.

Audible Devils Hole

Devil’s Hole. The entire universe for one species.

In good seasons, there are perhaps 350 of them swimming around in there. When conditions are not as good, the numbers can drop to around 150. It would take one really bad winter, one idiot tourist with a mishandled soft drink, one farmer angry about the water table required for the species to survive, and they would disappear forever. Yet they went about their little pupfish lives, blissfully unaware of how precarious it all really is. And even I was unwilling to think about disturbing this smallest of universes.

Martini bought me a pupfish hat, so I could be reminded that I will never catch this species. It’s the sort of thing Jaime would have done. I’m not paranoid, but I’m sure they are in constant touch and plan these things together.

Audible Pupfish Hat

The pupfish hat. It’s the closest I’ll ever get to a pupfish.

We went on to Vegas from there. I don’t like Vegas. It’s crowded, expensive, and they didn’t build those billion-dollar hotels by paying money to gamblers.

Audible Caesers

“In Las Vegas, they kill the weak and deranged.” – Hunter S. Thompson

Knowing we would be up early, I was crashed out by 10:15. This was Kyle and Martini’s first trip to Vegas together, and while they were 21 and excited to be there, I can only presume that they went to sleep around 10:30. I have no evidence to the contrary. Sure, they didn’t look all that great in the morning, but let’s face it, they didn’t look all that great the night before.

Six AM came quickly, and we were back in the car, listening for someone to shout one of those phrases that means a Vegas weekend has become truly unforgettable, like “Who the hell is SHE?” or “Oh no! I married a goat!” or worse “Oh God no! I married a Kardashian.” What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, as long as you get to the doctor in time.

Our next destination was the Virgin River in southern Utah. There was just one target here – the speckled dace – but the place also apparently has spectacular trout fishing. I’ve obviously caught trout before, but being able to cast for good fish on light gear in a clear, remote stream still is quite a thrill, and we planned to spend our day doing just that.

The drive up is through Zion National Park, and the place is gorgeous.

Audible Zion 1

Your basic Zion National Park scenery.

Audible Zion

Even more Zion scenery.

We hiked down to a couple of likely-looking pools, but to our dismay, the area appeared completely devoid of fish life.

Audible Virgin 2

The Virgin River.

It was early in the day and perhaps a bit chilly, so we decided to wait it out and see if the trout would come out from under the rocks. In the meantime, I brought out the micro gear and started fishing likely crevices, and after a little while – success. I pulled up a steaming ounce of hard-fighting speckled dace.

Audible Speckled

The savage speckled dace – released safely right after this photo.

I put my rig back down, and caught what I thought was another one, but Martini pointed out that I had accidentally gotten a Virgin spinedace – a rare and protected species. We released it unharmed after a quick photo, and put away the micro gear.

Audible spinedace

The Virgin spinedace. Nice to see that they’re here.

While the two fish may not have weighed an ounce in combination, there were still two new species on the board AND I had added Utah to my state list – #42 if you’re playing along at home.

Kyle kept himself amused by drifting night crawlers in the rocks and catching some nice trout. I could not get one – ironic that the least experienced among us was getting the most fish.

Audible trout 1

Lovely scenery, but Kyle managed to hold the trout at the exact angle where the glare would wash it out. Guido could learn a thing or two from him. 

I kept looking for trout – the presumption had been that the bottom would be covered with them, but as the sun got a little higher, it was starting to look bleak.

Audible Re 1

Steve and Kyle stubbornly wait for a fish.

We were considering options for the rest of the day when I got a surprisingly hard strike. I hooked the fish and announced I had a big trout, but a moment later, while the fish was still deep, Martini and his amazing eyesight corrected me. “That’s not a trout.” It was a flannelmouth sucker, possibly the only one in the river – an unexpected third species for the day.

Audible Flannel 1

My flannelmouth sucker – quickly and safely released. I also kissed it for good luck, which has nothing to do with being locked up with men for three weeks.

Now we had a conundrum. We had some fish, but the trout were not showing, and we didn’t want to risk messing with any of the protected species. It was still early, and I could see the wheels turning in Martini’s fertile brain. “I have an idea. It’s going to involve 400 extra miles of driving and may or may not result in another species.” Our first official audible. We were in.

The destination was Fish Lake, a higher elevation spot known to have a big run of Utah suckers this time of the year. We drove on through the afternoon, stopping for lunch – the worst Subway meatball sandwich I have ever had. Seriously, how hard does someone have to work to mess up a meatball sandwich? It’s a formula, and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t include sawdust.

We arrived at Fish Lake around six. The drive had been taken up by mature conversation about meaningful topics, and of course, farting. Martini had been to Fish Lake before, and knew exactly where to look.

Audible Fish Lake

Fish Lake, Utah. It looks desolate, but we were not alone … even as this picture was taken, mosquitoes were massing against us.

We stopped about 50 feet before a culvert that let a small stream under the road. Jumping out of the car, he ran ahead, looked down under the bridge, smiled, and said “They’re here.”

Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw next. There were dozens and dozens of big Utah suckers, holding in place in the fast current, jostling for spawning spots. It may have been hard to get to, but the fishing was pretty much automatic.

Audible Steve Utah

Steve adds a species, courtesy of Martini.

We all hooked up quickly, and Kyle’s was big enough to break the existing record. (Held jointly by Martini and Marty Arostegui.) I caught four or five, but I couldn’t quite get one the right size. I mused that the least experienced of us would get the record – his second of the trip.

Audible Record

Kyle and his record fish. We can’t publish the photo of him kissing it, because, frankly, things got out of hand. It’s lonely in Utah. 

Martini then did something really, really gross. (Even grosser than WHEN HE ATE THE RAW MACKEREL.) Insisting that caviar was caviar, he actually picked eggs from a spawning fish out of the net and ATE THEM. I still get nauseated every time I think about. (Although the Fish Gods would repay him with a nervous moment a day later – stay tuned.)

Martini had one other spot he wanted to try, so I reluctantly left the culvert to head for a small wooden bridge over another feeder creek. It got positively freezing as the sun headed west, but this did not stop a swarm of vicious and organized mosquitoes from pestering us until we left. It was still worth it – we caught trout, perch, redside shiners, and more suckers. The decision to diverge from the plan had paid off handsomely.

Audible Rainbow

Martini and a typical rainbow. He also got a nice brook trout out of this spot.

It had been quite a day – four new species and a new state, but now we had to face a lengthy drive to northern Arizona to put us back on schedule. We sprinted to the car just ahead of the mosquitoes, opened a round of Red Bulls, and headed south.

Steve

Posted by: 1000fish | March 19, 2015

The Road Trip – “And So It Begins”

Dateline: June 19, 2014 – Bishop, California 

It began with the gentle strains of Simon and Garfunkel’s “America,” the 60s anthem of self-discovery through a trip across the states. And that was pretty much the last song I recognized for the next three weeks. This is because I had signed up to do a cross-country fishing road trip with two 21 year-olds, both of whom would sit closer to the radio than I did. The idea sounded perfectly idiotic, which is exactly why it was so appealing. Drive across the country for almost three weeks, hopping from fishing spot to fishing spot, searching out oddball species and world records.This was Martini’s trip – his present to himself for four years of relentless work at Stanford, and he had asked his best friend Kyle and me to go along. We had talked about it for almost a year, and with Martini’s post-obsessive penchant for detailed research and planning, he had scoped out each day for target locations and species. It would be some 4000 miles of driving over nearly three weeks, but if things went well, it could be a bunch of species for me that I would never catch any other way. We would be specifically searching out some truly undermarketed creatures – anonymous beasts like the Guadalupe bass and the grayfin redhorse. Before any of you start thinking how hard it would be for me to be the adult supervision for that long, it is probably fair to admit that I would not be the adult supervision. Indeed, out of of the three of us, I might be the biggest risk  to do something memorably stupid. The guys spent the pre-launch night over at my house in Alamo. I had met Kyle a few times, and even though he is not as intense a fisherman as me or Martini (who would be?) he does have a gift for catching the biggest fish. (Details HERE) This ability would lead to some annoying moments later in the trip. Even though we would be in a car together for untold days, we still stayed up late talking about the trip. The western portion of the agenda would be heavier on driving and some mandatory sights, such as Death Valley, the Grand Canyon, and the Bellagio restroom in Vegas. The fishing was planned to escalate in intensity as we entered Texas, which seemed an awfully long way off, and then wind through New Orleans, the Gulf Coast, and end up in Florida and finally back home for the guys. It was early when we got into the Ford Escape. I failed to call shotgun and moped about the prospect of facing 4000 miles in the back seat. Martini made a u-turn and, at around 7am on June 19th, we were off. Road Escape Kyle calls shotgun while I was barely awake. Many road trips begin with a surge of energy that fizzles out after about 90 minutes and settles into “Are we there yet?” Whether it was the Red Bull or the anticipation, we didn’t seem to lose momentum. It all seemed like we couldn’t miss. I couldn’t help but be reminded of my college road trips, which seem so long ago yet strangely entertaining to people who are not Marta. Road college Road trip, circa 1983. That’s Tim Bacon in the Nixon mask, me in the jockstrap, Kevin Gurney in the hat, and Mike Wilcox trying to hide his innocent face. I haven’t talked to these guys in years – I need to change that. On road trips, some things never change – the endless conversation focused on intellectual topics, not inane things like sports and swimsuit models; the healthy food, not like Red Bull and Cheetohs; and the farting. I was getting a chance to re-live college, and get it wrong all over again. The day had one fishing target – the elusive Owens sucker, which is alleged to live in the Owens River watershed. Martini and I had taken a crack at this beast last year, and had been humiliated. (Peripherally mentioned in “The Road to Orick.”) This time, we would be going during the height of their spawning run and should have found quite a selection. At least that was the plan. We had a six hour drive to the first fishing stop, but our route took us straight through Yosemite, some of the most sublime scenery in all of California. Road Yosemite The first group shot of the trip. This is the best we would smell for 20 more days. I have been to Yosemite only three times, including a trip in the 1970s with my stepmonster’s parents, who, as I may have mentioned previously, were inexplicably kind and stable. Road Yosmite 2 General Yosemite scenery. My prose can do it no justice.  Well before lunch, the first enduring prank commenced. For no good reason, I purchased a can of baked beans and left them on the driver’s seat. (Unopened, for those of you who wonder.) Martini nearly sprained his buttocks avoiding a hard landing on them, turned to us, and said “What kind of idiot would do THAT?” Sheepishly, I raised my hand. For the next three weeks, at every stop, we placed the beans on Martini’s seat. He forgot about them only once – more on that later. The first place we went was a creek off the Owens river that was supposed to have a spawning run of the suckers. It did not. We did, however, get the first fish of the trip – a nice rainbow trout pulled up by Kyle. I smiled faintly that the least experienced one of us would catch the first fish. Road Kyle Trout On the scoreboard – first fish of the trip. A bit Guidoesque on the photo, though – see “The Minefield Road Martini trout Martini followed up with a trout that might not have been larger but was certainly better-photographed. We then headed to Convict Lake. The fish just HAD to be there. We just couldn’t open the trip on a sour note. Road Convict Convict Lake. The Eastern Sierra is full of scenery like this. The hike to the back of Convict Lake is not particularly brutal, unless you happen to be fighting a nasty chest cold and are not used to any altitude. So it was that Kyle suffered through the walk, beautiful as it was, but not nearly as much as we suffered when we got to the creek and it was utterly devoid of anything but beautiful trout. Road Rainbow 1 The creeks were full of trout like this. Naturally, we left. This would have made anyone else but us three happy, but we packed up and pretty much had to admit defeat. Road Deer Martini snapped this shot of a deer on the way out of Convict. It was getting to be a late summer afternoon in the eastern Sierra, and the view was marvelous. Martini had one more spot to examine – a bridge on the Owens that “looked” good on Google Earth. This was not Martini’s normal standard of planning. Martini’s planning skills would make even the Germans say “Wow, that guy thinks of everything.” Road bridge The bridge. It didn’t look like much at first. I was the one who actually got out of the car to look in the water. It looked empty and sterile, but I stared for a few minutes, and then, for a precious few seconds, a fish head eased out of the shadows, giving the classic white flash of sucker lips. That was enough for me. Martini and Kyle had expressed their doubts and headed out to investigate other spots toward the lake, so I raced to the bank and began casting. There were two guys fishing below the bridge, and we began chatting. Over the next hour or so, I got two small trout.  They had caught only one trout – I gave them mine so they would have a fish fry – but they told me they could see dozens of big trout in the creek just downstream from the bridge. They invited me to their spot for a look. There were dozens of big fish in the water a few yards downstream of the bridge. But they weren’t trout – they were Owens suckers, and I had found their mother lode. There was no cell signal, and Martini and Kyle were out of shouting distance, so I set up just out the shadow of the structure and cast. It was quick – as soon as my bait hit the bottom, two or three suckers would ease over toward it and I would get a bite. I missed a couple, then hooked up. Just as I was landing the fish, Martini and Kyle showed up. Martini netted my fish, and before I had even thought of it, he had pulled out his Boga Grip and weighed it. The Owens sucker was an open record, and my fish qualified. Road Steve Owens The day suddenly turns good. The next hour was a team effort to get Kyle and Martini their fish. Martini got one first, not record size but a rare new species for his collection, which I felt was moral judgement from the Fish Gods. Kyle’s came shortly thereafter. I played “goalie,” standing downstream to net their catches. Road MK Owens Kyle, Martini, sucker, and scenery. Not necessarily in that order. Things were now really good. Just before we closed up shop for a well-deserved dinner, Martini got one more fish that was much larger, so while we all three would get credit for a record that day, Martini’s would stand as the current one, which he may have felt was moral judgement from the Fish Gods. (Or not. He isn’t nearly as spiteful as I am, as long as he’s had enough sleep.) Road Martini sucker Martini’s big fish. The day was now officially epic. Road intimate An awkward moment. I quietly mused that it was going to be hard to match today for pure epic – a new species and three world records. There were many high-fives and some quiet moments enjoying the view before we headed off for a well-deserved steak. A slow start had turned into an epic day. The trip had a high standard to keep up. Road Meadow 1 Looking across the valley to the eastern Sierras. Once we caught some fish, I noticed the scenery a lot more. We crashed out that evening, three of us jammed into a room meant for two people who liked each other a lot. The next day, I would be doing one of the strangest things I have ever done – making a long detour to look at a fish  – a fish that even I would never try to catch. Steve

Posted by: 1000fish | March 1, 2015

100

Dateline: June 2, 2014 – Kona, Hawaii

I have had battles with fish that have lasted over four hours, but none ever seemed so long as the 60 seconds I spent reeling up an orange goatfish on June 2, 2014. It was a big for an orange goatfish, just over two pounds, and for the few of you who care about such things, it was a world record orange goatfish. And not just any world record, but a milestone. I had just set my 100th IGFA world record and had earned the IGFA’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

100 GOAT

The orange goatfish in question. I had a matching hat just for the occasion.

I called Marta right away. The first thing she said was “The trophy goes in the garage.” Then she laughed and said “Congratulations.” I called Martini next. “Congratulations, bro. You earned it.” I stared off into space, looking back at the past nine years and realizing I wouldn’t have spent them any other way.

It’s not like I expected Kona to produce a bunch of new species. I have fished there for months of my life and caught loads of fish – it is one of my favorite destinations on earth – all the charm of Hawaii and still an hour away from Jaime Hamamoto. The Big Island has also produced quite a few records for me, so I would hopeful I could squeeze out two more, hit the Lifetime Achievement Award, and start sleeping normally again.

This trip was also about domestic tranquility. Marta’s job is demanding and nowhere near as flexible as mine, and getting her away on vacation without her laptop is a challenge. Kona is one of those places where she can truly unwind, and our favorite hotel has lousy cell service, which I view as an advantage, because it keeps her pesky co-workers away.

100 Xmas

Marta and a Christmas wrasse on the Keahou rocks – one of the few places so beautiful she will put up with fishing for extended periods.

I set up two days of fishing with Captain Dale Leverone, my trusted species-hunting partner in Kona.

100 Sign

If you’re in Kona, fish with these guys. They can catch anything you want to – unless I am on the boat and you want a spearfish.

On the first day, we focused on trying to get me my spearfish, which would complete my IGFA Royal Slam on billfish. We trolled and trolled, but I seem to have the gift for repelling spearfish, and none were to be found. We did get a batch of solid skipjack – these tuna pull hard for their weight and kept things exciting.

100 Skipjack

That’s Dale’s son and first mate, Jack Leverone – a solid guide and angler in his own right.

We also devoted a couple of hours to bottom fishing, but the tides weren’t quite right and the bite was slow. I had another trip coming, and I knew records could come quickly here, so I didn’t pout too much.

As always in Kona, I did plenty of shore fishing near the hotel. One of my favorite spots is the rock jetty at Keahou harbor, the very place where I shattered Marta’s peppered moray record – and the very same place where the yellowmargin moray shattered my hand. (Click HERE for a really gross picture.) That night, I wandered down to the harbor and set up. I lost a couple of eels in the rocks, then got an unexpected new species – a smallscale soldierfish.

100 Soldier

The smallscale soldierfish. It’s called that because the scales are small.

Toward the end of the evening, my eel rod bounced once, then the line took off away from the rocks. I set the hook and realized I had something big that was behaving decidedly NOT like a moray. As I got it under control and pulled it up the boat ramp to land it, I realized I had a Hawaiian conger eel, also known as a mustache conger. This was not only a wonderful new species, but also an open world record. That’s #99 if you’re playing along at home.

100 Conger

Photo courtesy of a bewildered 10 year-old local kid.

I was stunned to get another record in the harbor, and even more stunned to realize that I was finally right on the doorstep. The next one was the biggie. I stayed out until the middle of the night trying to get something else – anything else – but there was still another day on the boat coming up. Marta tries to tell me that this is all I would talk about, but I am sure you all don’t believe that.

We spent the next day touring the island, viewing everything from a volcanic crater to the sweeping cliffs at Waipio. (The steepest hike Marta has ever dragged me on – I think it’s Hawaiian for “Puke Mountain.”) Sure, I wanted to be fishing, but these sorts of activities mean that Marta will continue speaking to me for at least a few more weeks.

100 crater

Volcanic crater on the south end of the island. 

100 Waipio

Waipio, on the north side. Marta, please stop making me walk up this hill.

Then came the next day with Dale and Jack.

As I have learned over the years, the big events never happen how you imagine them. Although most of my records are of the “no one else knew that was a species” variety, I had always harbored a secret hope that #100 would be something uncharacteristically epic, like a 1403 pound blue marlin. Hey – it could happen. A number of the marlin records, including the all-tackle Pacific Blue, were caught right here in Kona.

And we did troll that day, although I had spearfish in my soul much more than a possible marlin. In one of those sadistic ironies that the Fish Gods love to create, we did brilliantly – four wahoo, two mahi, and a small blue marlin. Everyone in the harbor would have loved to have had my day on the water, but I would have traded them all for one small spearfish.

100 Marlin

First off, the marlin tore a gill and died on the line, so we had to keep it – Dale would ordinarily release. Worse, some guy walked up to me and said “Wow, what a day you had. I trolled all afternoon and just got one lousy spearfish.” I didn’t know whether to cry or slap him.

Distraught as I was that we hadn’t gotten a spearfish, I was still looking very forward to the session of bottom fishing at the end of the day. The tides looked good, and I had gotten plenty of records in the area we set up. I felt surprisingly calm, but Jack pointed out that I had a bit of an itchy trigger finger and that my first few hooksets looked like Spellman’s, or even worse, Guido’s. (Click HERE for an explanation.) I took a deep breath and dropped to the bottom again.

It happened quickly, and I knew the moment I hooked it that I had the right fish. It was a hard, bottom-hugging fight, and when I saw it come up bright orange, I knew right away it was big enough. I didn’t wait for Jack with the net, I just held my breath for a split-second and swung it onto the deck.

100 Goat 2

World record #100. Now I can get back to trying to catch 2000 species.

There were high-fives from Dale and Jack, and just like that, it had happened. Even though almost record I had set was on a fish no one else had heard of, I was going on the same wall in the IGFA museum as some very famous anglers – as the 15th individual angler to ever win the award. I sat in the fighting chair, stunned – and, for once, quiet.

The quiet lasted all too short of a time. I got up just to take in the scenery, looking up Mauna Loa and out on the open Pacific. I made eye contact with Dale. He glanced down at the sonar, and gently said “There are fish down there.” I didn’t need to be told twice. After hooking and losing a few fish, I got a solid take and I was back in the game. I jokingly said “This will be #101.”

When the fish surfaced, we all sighed. It was a pinktail triggerfish, which can swarm these reefs and which all seem to be the same 16-20 ounce range. I weighed it out of habit, and the Fish Gods had clearly taken the day off. It was a pound and a half, and it WAS world record 101.

100 pinktail

Record 101. Do you think they’ll give me another trophy if I get to 200?

I had several months for it to sink in – records can take a while to be officially verified. The actual confirmation came late on an October evening. I had been checking the IGFA website frequently, and on that day, the status changed from “pending” to “approved.” I woke up Marta to tell her. She simply said “Garage.”

I felt a lot of things – little bit of relief, a little bit of accomplishment, a little bit of pride. This was my small piece of history – my name will be on that wall long after I am gone. I hope a father and son see it together around 2114. I hope the son asks who I was, and the father tells him “Steve Wozniak was a fisherman in the last century. He had the mark for most species of fish caught for a long time, and he was the first ever to 1000. His record of 1999 species (he never got the spearfish) stood until Martini Arostegui broke it on July 10, 2061. Martini’s grandson – Martin Arostegui-Upton IV – broke it again last year. Wait until you see the Arostegui wing of the museum!”

This was a long journey – Nine years and one week from start to finish, 16 countries, hundreds of thousands of air miles, thousands of hours on the water and in the library. There are so many people to thank over the course of 100 world records that I’ll never get even close to doing justice to the list. But a big thanks to Jean-Francois Helias, who got me started on records back in 2005, to Scotty Lyons, who found records when we had run out of species, to the Hamamotos, my Hawaiian family, who shared their secret spots, to Dr. Alfredo Carvalho, who helped with so many IDs, to Jarvis and Alex, who opened their Singapore connections to me and put unpleasant things in my luggage, to Ben Florentino, a bass expert forced to fish for “googly gobs,” to Marc Inoue, who believes I bring bad weather, to Jens Koller, who helped me explore Europe, to Dale and Jack Leverone, marlin experts who never stopped trying to find bigger goatfish, to Oscar Ferreira, who found me a pati catfish in the shadow of Buenos Aires, to Ed Trujillo, the steelhead guide who found me a Klamath smallscale sucker, to Jeff Kerr, a dedicated fisherman who should never be left alone with my camera, to Dr. Jeff Johnson, who has pinned down so many exotic Pacific species for me, to everyone at Hi’s Tackle Box for the gear and advice, to Robert Armstrong at Shimano for his unflagging support, to Doug Olander at Sport Fishing Magazine for my first national writing gig and all the cool shirts, to Spellman and Scott Perry and Stefan Molnar, whose quiet days off are often hijacked by my adventures, to the Arosteguis, who guided and inspired me when 100 seemed out of reach, to Marta, who put up with me, to the obscure fish, who are the real stars of this story, and to all of you, who patiently read along as it all happened.

Steve

 

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