Posted by: 1000fish | January 14, 2016

The Honeymoon Suite

Dateline: July 26, 2015 – Pangbourne, England

Stefan Molnar and I are close friends, but there are limits to exactly how close, and these limits became abundantly clear on a chilly evening last summer.

Since my April trip to England (Details HERE) had not gotten me the two species of ray I wanted, I had naturally been fretting and plotting and losing a lot of sleep. I pride myself on being more stubborn than the fish – much more stubborn, and at least marginally smarter. So I knew I needed to plan a rematch. To give myself some slight chance of getting decent conditions, I settled on late July, where the rain and wind might give it a miss for a few hours. After all, we are talking about England here, a place no one moves for the weather.

Stefan had a few days off and wasn’t busy arranging art lessons for his daughter (explanation HERE,) so he decided to come over to the UK and join me for the saltwater redux and a couple of days of pike fishing. Stefan, as you veteran 1000fish readers will know, is a German co-worker and fishing buddy, who is quite a skilled angler but will go down in history of inventor of the fabled “Five Gram Rule.” (Search it on my blog. It explains a lot about Germany.)

Surprisingly, the weather was beautiful on my first morning in England. I solemnly acknowledged the long odds of there being two such days in a given British month, and set out to enjoy some traditional British float fishing with John Buckingham. This zen-like process, so ill-suited for my abilities, gets me out onto some beautiful streams in the English countryside, and it was great to catch up with an old friend.

Honey Loddon

The Loddon on a perfect summer day. Roger Barnes guided me here dozens of times – it was the site of my first barbel back in 2005.

The Loddon didn’t produce anything massive this time, but we still got loads of bleak and dace, and the stray roach. One of the bleak was my 1000th fish caught for 2015, a milestone important to me, and, well, me.

Honey Bleak

Fish (not species) #1000 of 2015. The good-looking guy is John Buckingham, float fisherman extraordinaire.

That afternoon, Stefan flew in from Germany and met me over at the Compleat Angler Hotel. This is one of my favorite hotels anywhere, because the back lawn features ridiculously good pike fishing.

Honey Bridge

Looking upriver from the front door of the hotel. That’s the only suspension bridge on the non-tidal Thames. (Local fun fact courtesy of Roger Barnes.)

Before we headed south, Stefan and I fished a few hours in Marlow weir. It was a beautiful day, and we managed to get a few fish. This place will always have great memories of Roger, and I couldn’t help but feel he was watching over us, especially when we caught stuff.

Honey M Pike

Molnar and a nice pike.

Honey Idiots

Molnar goes Zoolander while I try to take a serious fish picture.

Honey SW Pike

Another northern from the weir. It’s the same fish in Molnar’s photo above – I caught it a few minutes after he released it.

Toward evening, we headed south to the coast and Langstone Harbour, where we would be based for two days of sea fishing with skipper Glen Cairns on the Valkyrie. We dined in our hotel, which featured traditional British fare made by a traditional British prison chef. Nursing troubled stomachs, we turned in early, anticipating a morning that would likely feature some sort of ugly weather.

Dawn broke clear, sunny, and almost windless. (If you don’t count Stefan.) I couldn’t believe it. A relatively nice day in British waters – surely a sign of climate change, or the Fish Gods taking a day off – but I wasn’t going to argue. We were joined by good friend Nigel, who had set up the whole trip, and his buddy Ray. We motored out about 15 miles and anchored up where Glen had wanted to go in April. I expected immediate rewards.

Honey Langstone

Steaming out of Langstone on a perfect summer day.

Unfortunately, things looked a lot like the April trip for a while. Nigel caught a blonde ray. Molnar caught a blonde ray. Then Molnar dared to catch an undulate ray, for God’s sake. Everyone seemed to be catching rare and wonderful species except for me, which must be what hell is like, except that Miley Cyrus would be singing in the background if this was really hell.

Honey Mol Blonde

I managed to fake a smile for Molnar’s blonde.

Honey Unulate M

But an undulate? This is Jaime Hamamoto-type behavior.

Honey Crab

Molnar even caught crabs.

Of course, because I am in no way competitive, I retained a cheerful and positive attitude, except when I petulantly refused to photograph Molnar’s fish and threw food at anyone who spoke to me. But then, about an hour in to the program, my Shimano spinning rod went down. It was a heavy fish, straight pull with no head shaking, so I guessed ray – but which one? When Nigel finally reached down with the net, I was thrilled to see a blonde ray on my hook.

Honey SW Blonde

A blonde for a blonde. Oh, for those of who who have never seen a picture of me without a hat, or a picture of my back, I have blonde hair.

Glen kept us moving around and trying different bottom types and depths. We got plenty of action – more blonde rays, dogfish, and smoothounds. Nigel, as always, put on quite a show and caught more fish than any two of us – the guy is a machine.

Honey Nigel

Nigel at work. Again.

The day closed out with only the one new species for me, but it was the species that had avoided me in April. And we still had a full day in front of us.

That evening, Molnar and I wasted a couple of hours trying to get a flounder in the harbor. As hunger set in, we decided that the hotel restaurant had been so very memorable that we ate at Burger King. The wind was picking up ominously.

By morning, the weather had returned to standard British summer – cold and wet. It wasn’t awful enough to cancel, but it was going to be as bumpy as the April trip – still, I was grateful that we were going, and there was the added bonus that Molnar would probably puke. We were joined by John Cheyne, an old fishing buddy who works for the Angling Trust and has been very generous with his time, setting up several freshwater trips for me over the years.

We covered quite a few spots that day, searching desperately for my undulate ray, but they didn’t seem to be on the bite. Late in the morning, however, I did jig up a new species – the sand lance.

Honey Lance

Something else I had missed in April, and yes, I was thrilled to catch it.

Action was still steady, even if the footing wasn’t. We got loads of small sharks, including the starry below.

Honey Glen D

My personal best starry smoothhound, just before it started really raining.

RAF Valkyrie

Look up Glen if you’re in the London area. The guy does an excellent job.

As we poked around structure closer to shore, I began fishing a smaller rod with a worm bait, and stumbled into a couple of interesting fish, including a new species – the turbot.

Honey Turbot

It’s not a plaice (Marta just loves THIS STORY) but it’s a neat new fish.

We also got a batch of very nice seabream, which kept me distracted while I hoped one of the big baits would get an undulate ray. Two new species on the day was nothing to sneeze at, but I couldn’t help staring balefully at those rod tips. It got later in the day, not that we could tell from the sun, because the sun was gone and would likely not reappear here until next spring, and only briefly then.

Honey Bream

A black seabream. They tell me they get much bigger than this.

Glen pulled us up on to one final reef. He let us know that we would be able to fish about 30 more minutes, but that he had caught undulates here previously. I remained optimistic. We put down a mix of mackerel and squid baits and got out of the rain, peering at the rigs from inside the cabin. I hadn’t sat down yet when Glen’s rod started pumping. He told me “Go take it. Looks like the right one.” I didn’t argue with him.

I fought the ray for about 10 minutes, and as it surfaced, my other bottom rig started peeling off line. Glen lunged into the water with net to get my fish – an undulate! – and I was already on to the other rig. About five minutes later, Glen netted me another undulate – we had found them. I sat on the deck and just admired the rays – rich shades of brown broken up with dark, wandering lines.

Honey Undulate

My pair of undulate rays.

Stefan and John also hooked up, and the deck was complete mayhem for about 30 minutes. What bad weather?

Honey Hookups

The boys battle their own rays.

Everybody got one. The mission had been accomplished.

Honey Rays

Steve, Stefan, John, and some nice undulates.

While Glen was cleaning up, I snuck down another slab bait and was rewarded with my personal best conger eel. Months later, this species would be at the root of an unintentional but sobering dose of perspective for me.

Honey Conger

A decent conger eel.

Just before this blog was published, Nigel, by coincidence, and with no malice in his heart, sent me a photo of HIS personal best conger.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

95 pounds of perspective. I wouldn’t have stayed on the boat with that thing.

To close out the weekend, Stefan and I had set two days of pike fishing in the River Thames with Steve Roberts, the tweed-clad guide from Pangbourne also known as “The hardest working man in row business.”

There was one rather awkward moment to start the weekend. The Compleat Angler, a magnificent hotel by any standard, made a minor mistake on my booking. I had asked for a room with two beds, as Molnar and I are good friends but let’s get real.

The “Honeymoon Suite” sign on the door was an especially bad portent. As you can imagine, we entered the room to see what WAS technically two beds, but which were bolted together, shared a single bedspread, and were indistinguishable from a regular king. There was a single red rose on the bedspread. While this brings a faint smile to my face now, at the moment, we were both aghast. (How about those Bears?)

The Compleat Angler staff is amazingly efficient, and they managed to unromanticize the room in less than 10 minutes. But I was still bothered by this all weekend, and I would guess Molnar was as well, but of course we didn’t discuss it because we are men and we do not share our feelings, unless they involve large fish or Kate Upton.

The next morning, we drove up to Pangbourne. To my great relief, we were not trying to squeeze into the tiny pram Steve and I used in April, as three large adults in that floating hot tub could only end in tragedy. Steve had actually purchased Roger’s old boat, and it would have a new life just a few miles up the river. It felt comfortable to step in the “Compleat Angler” again; so full of memories, and deserving of a second career on the water it knew so well.

Honey Roberts

Stefan and Steve in my favorite old Thames wooden boat.  You can find Steve on www.facebook.com/riverdaysuk  or http://www.riverdays.co.uk/, and he has my highest recommendation. Except for flounder.

We had decent weather on Saturday – breezy and chilly but at least dry – so we made the run up the river to Goring Weir.

Honey Thames

Heading up the Thames. The rail bridge has been there since the 19th century.

The pike fishing was magical as always. I pathologically buy pike lures everywhere I travel, and it is deeply if neurotically rewarding to finally be able to use them. We did well – 10 fish or so – and yes, I did get the majority of the fish because I had the awesome British flag hat.

Honey P Pike

My best pike of the day with my worst hat ever. And how do I make that face?

Honey Action

Another fish on – photo courtesy of Steve Roberts.

Honey M Pikelet

Molnar with his first pike of the day. Note the windbreakers were coming on and off – and this was JULY.

On our way home, Steve mentioned that we would pass quite a historical boat. He took us by a gorgeous old cabin cruiser, and nothing seemed noteworthy until I saw the name – “MB 278.” That designation was for motorboats that tended Royal Navy warships, and as we drifted past, I noticed a small plaque on the wheelhouse – “Dunkirk 1940.” This had been one of the thousands of “small boats” that made the perilous trip across the channel to effect the improbable rescue of 300,000 British army troops trapped in that French port as the Germans conquered France. I was in awe.

Honey Dunkirk

MB 278. The civilian owner had to repair bullet holes across the bow.

The next morning featured more typical July weather, which might mean anything from rain to mist to drizzle. But it’s July, you say. But it’s England, I say. But whatever you say, Molnar had forgotten his rain pants and was in for a crummy morning. I recall a trout trip in 1998 when Spellman forgot his rain gear and toughed it out (to a limit of massive rainbows.) Stefan showed similar mettle, and perhaps even made a bit of fashion history.

Honey Buttocks

Molnar’s outfit – sartorial disaster or fashion-forward? Only time will tell.

Still, we had a solid day, and Stefan did especially well throwing drop-shot rigs. He got several perch that would have been line-class records on lighter gear, but of course, he did this while wearing a hefty bag altered into an impromptu skirt.

Honey Perch

Stefan, a big perch, and the hefty-bag skirt.

Honey Pike Rain

Stefan, a nice pike, and Steve Roberts.

Honey Willow

Bigger pike at top, hefty bag skirt at bottom.

I will confess that Stefan had a marginally better day than I did, but at least I remembered my rain pants. Of course, if he ends up setting the next big fashion trend in Germany, won’t I feel silly.

Steve

 

A Postcript from Roger Barnes – I miss him a great deal, but this had to bring a smile to my face. Katy, Roger’s daughter, found the item below in a notebook of his. “Rarest fish and most isolated in the world – The golden catfish. Only found in one underground lake beneath the Kalahari desert in Africa. The fish is blind and the only food available is debris that falls onto the surface before sinking. Here’s a challenge for Steve Wozniak!”

RAF Note book

Challenge accepted.

 

Posted by: 1000fish | December 26, 2015

Bones and Butterflies

Dateline: June 21, 2015 – San Diego, California

Some people get butterflies in their stomach. But I had them in my brain. This will make sense in about 15 minutes, longer if you read at Cousin Chuck’s level.

First off, let’s get this over with. I do not have a blue shark on my list. I know, I know – you do, and most everyone you know does. But how many of you have a Luther’s Shrimpgoby? I’m glad we had this talk.

In order to address this terrible wrong, I knew I needed to get to Southern California. San Diego has a very well-known shark fishery, and it’s on the ragged edge of a reasonable weekend road trip. (Eight hours when I was in college. Traffic has gotten worse since then, especially once the piston engine became popular.)

Butter Skyline

The crystal blue waters of San Diego, which are even crystal blue in the harbor.

First off, we needed to find a guide. As it turns out, that was easy. Old 1000fish friend Ben Florentino (See Korean Superman) had recommended a Captain James Nelson for San Diego, and James turned out to be the right guy. As soon as we got on the phone, he was talking about zebra perch and diamond turbot and all the other glamorous species that bring anglers to the area from all over the world. We set up three days in June, one to chase sharks offshore and two inshore to see what we could find in San Diego bay.

Lengthy road trips require a partner, and the partner for this one is a tried and true veteran of 25 years of such silliness – Mark Spellman. (See “A Glass of Milk“) The drive down was actually not too bad – until we got about 70 miles north of San Diego. There, it seemed, everyone had decided they were going the same place we were, and we were stuck in traffic for hours. I get grouchy in traffic.

Butter Traffic

It looked like this from Orange County to the border.

Day one began with the highest of hopes – I felt confident that I would finally put that pesky blue on my list. We met James in a foggy harbor at some ungodly hour, and we motored about an hour offshore.

Butter Woody

James, Spellman, and “Woody’s Last Ride.”

Interestingly, or not, I have actually caught a blue, in San Diego in 1991, but I didn’t photograph the darn thing because I was too busy photographing the nice mako I caught that night, and the dude who got spectacularly sick on the bow.

Butter 91

Steve, circa 1991, with the biggest fish I had ever caught at the time. Note the dude barfing on the upper left.

This trip was with college buddy Ira Opatowsky, the Doogie Howser of our class who got into college at something like 16, graduated early, and then got through medical school in a similarly short time.

Butter Ira

Steve and Ira, Circa 1989. Someone should tell Ira that Dr. Huxtable wants his sweater back.

Ira, although giving the appearance of an unassuming and studious sort, had a gift for adventure. Many of the stories are not past the statute of limitations, but one that comes to mind is when he and I, innocently trying to go to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a tour, took a wrong turn and ended up doing a lap around the track in my Ford EXP.

Butter IMS

I could have gotten in a lot of trouble for this.

It has been years since I have seen Ira. We need to catch up.

In any case, we got out to the shark zone and put out some chum. A small blue appeared quickly, and I thought this was going to be the day I wanted. But then things got quiet. Horribly quiet. Quiet like Spellman’s kid after you ask “Who broke the 18th century Ming vase?” We chummed and chummed, and scanned the horizon for fins, but nothing happened. This went on for hours.

I was just getting ready to put squid in Spellman’s hair when I spotted movement out of the corner of my eye. I looked down into the clear water, and staring back up at me was a decent-sized mako shark. I didn’t have time to argue the fact that we were supposed to see dozens of blues before a mako would show up, so I just pinned up a bait and cast, and the shark nailed it immediately.

Butter Mako 3

Fish on. Wrong fish on, but fish on nonetheless.

What followed was the standard mako fight – long runs, some spectacular jumps, and unpredictable dives under the boat. I always get the feeling they are trying to out-think me. But with some great boat maneuvering by James, we got the fish up to the stern, where he was safely released.

Butter Mako 2

The mako at boatside.

By all rights, I should have been thrilled. But this is the perversity of species hunting – I went out after something considered common, indeed, almost a pest, and couldn’t find one. Instead, I got something rare and highly sought-after, but I had already caught the rare thing before and got left high and dry by the supposedly common critter. We never did get a blue shark. James worked his tail off and tried everything he possibly could, but they just weren’t there.

The next two days were spent in San Diego Bay, and this was a very good thing. I knew there were several species awaiting me, but without question the coolest of these was the California butterfly ray. This bizarrely-shaped cousin of the bat ray is supposed to be common in the very southern part of the state, but I had only ever seen one – at the entrance to Newport harbor on a cold morning with Ben Florentino. I had been dying to catch one, doubly so because it is an open IGFA record. I had 15 records in the books for the 2015 season, and I knew a couple more would likely lock up the Men’s Saltwater trophy and give Marta decorating worries.

On that second morning, we motored out into the central part of San Diego bay and put down some slabs of mackerel. Spellman’s rig went off first – a screaming run against the clicker. It could have been a bat ray, or a leopard shark, but after a few minutes on the line, it was clearly something different, with a bobbing, diving fight. Mark wrestled it up, and James netted a butterfly ray – the first I had seen up close.

Butter Spellman Ray

Of course, this meant that he got the species and world record before me, and yes, this upset my stomach. I wonder if he practices that look on his face.

But my upset stomach and I kept fishing, and after a couple of false alarms from leopard sharks, I got a decent ray on the line. They are strong fighters, and it took about 10 minutes to get him to the net, but I had finally gotten my California butterfly ray – a species and a record all in one, and yes, it was bigger than Spellman’s not this sort of thing matters to me. But it was a lot bigger.

Butter First

It’s like Spellman and I have a contest to see who can have the dumbest look on their face.

Butter Ray Solo

These things are just so darn cool. 

There was one other target we wanted to look at for the afternoon – bonefish. “Bonefish?” I hear you ask with incredulity. “In San Diego Bay?” Yes indeed – silvery, swimming evidence of climate change. These are Cortez bonefish – the same species that I caught in Puerto Penasco last year (details HERE,) and they just weren’t here 25 years ago.

James had told us the back bay was positively stuffed with bones, and when Spellman caught one on his first few casts, I was filled with optimism. Mark’s fish was just over a pound, and that meant he had added his fourth career world record. I was thrilled for him, although I would have been a lot more thrilled if I had also caught one, because he now had a second world record for the day. But despite hours of casting and about two dozen round stingrays, which are a pain for James to get off the hook, there were no bonefish for me.

Butter Spell Bone

Spellman’s fourth overall record. Of course, that look on my face is pure joy for him. I love being outfished.

Butter James

Steve and Captain James Nelson. This guy is the real deal – contact him HERE if you’re in the area and want to catch stuff.

That evening, we had a dinner steeped in coincidence. One of Mark and my great friends, Lee, happened to be in San Diego with his family at the same time Mark and I were down there. Lee is a war history buff as much as I am, and we discovered that he was in San Diego when Lee started texting me photos from the USS Midway – while I was fishing about a mile away.

Butter Lee

Lee is like a better-looking older brother to me.

Butter Jen

Lee’s wife, Jennifer, gives the “Mom face” to son Drew, who had just said something he shouldn’t have. I’m not going to repeat it here, but it was darn funny.

I opened day three singularly determined to get that darn bonefish. Mark, James, and I were joined by an old buddy of mine, Mike Arnstein, a savage opposite-field hitter in his college days and the author of one of the greatest, if most unrepeatable, pitching mound pep-talks ever given.

We started the morning on the flats, and Mike stuck an impressive guitarfish.

Butter Guitar

Mike’s guitarfish. It was about five pounds shy of a world record.

I began tossing familiar bonefish baits – jigs and small pieces of shrimp. It isn’t sight-fishing like in Florida or Belize, but I figured they should eat the same stuff. James kept advising me to use bigger hunks of bait – “They aren’t shy.” But I stuck to it because I fear change, and I finally did get a decent bonefish – just enough to tie Spellman’s record. It was a record, and this was a good thing, but I hate ties. Especially paisley.

Butter Bone 1

Ok, that’s more like it.

We then spent the rest of the day in deeper water, looking for assorted sharks and rays. The guys caught loads of spotted bay bass, and around lunch, I got into a bigger butterfly ray, breaking my record from the day before.

Butter Ray 2

The bigger butterfly, but I still have that dumb look on my face. I can’t duplicate it without being in a fish photo. Or a wedding photo.

A moment later, I spotted a slight tap on my big bottom rod. I figured it had to be a small shark, and I waited for it to somehow get through enough of the whole squid to possibly get hooked. But I was surprised by a quick little run, and I reflexively set the hook. The fish was spirited to be sure, but on 50 pound braid and a two-speed Accurate reel, this was a mismatch.

Butter Bone S

A very ambitious bonefish.

It was a bonefish, and it had somehow eaten a whole squid on an 80# leader, proving James 100% right that they were not exactly picky. Yes, the fish was bigger than Mark’s so I turned that one in of course, but I must publicly shame myself for not only ignoring the guide but also for landing a bonefish record on tackle more suited to bluefin tuna. Either way, I was ecstatic – I had all but clinched my fifth IGFA Men’s Saltwater title. The ride home – some 10 hours in assorted traffic – was filled with discussion on how I was going to win over Marta and put this trophy on the living room wall. But as we pulled back in to Alamo at 1:30am, Spellman looked over at me and said “I’ve got nothing. You’re on your own, man.”

Steve

 

SPECIAL IGFA UPDATE

Congratulations to species hunter and 1000fish reader Daniel Gross on his very first world record. A student at CSU Monterey Bay, Daniel stuck a 6.5# thornback ray in Morro Bay, California to fill an open record. I can vouch for this one personally – I was there, and if you think it still somehow upsets me that I didn’t catch it, you’re probably right.

Butter Gross

Yes, he does look like Justin Bieber.

Posted by: 1000fish | December 14, 2015

The Editor-in-Chief

Dateline: June 9, 2015 – Destin, Florida

We all have a dream job – something that would be a lot of fun and pay really, really well. No kid grows up saying “I’m going to be the Vice President of License Compliance,” unless they’re German. When I was young, I wanted to either be a fireman or pitch for the Tigers. (I would have been present at a lot of disasters either way.) As an adult, I wanted to be editor of Sport Fishing Magazine, because being paid to write about fishing sounds like about as much fun as I could possibly have while dressed.

The man who holds this position is named Doug Olander, and I have actually known him for quite a while, even though we had never met in person. He is one of the seven people not related to me who reads the 1000fish blog regularly, and the guy who gave me my first couple of national writing gigs, including a big feature in Sport Fishing Magazine a few years back. A wicked wit, he is always first to point out editorial items that Marta misses in the blog, and I am hurt to admit he’s a big Jaime Hamamoto fan, which wouldn’t last long if he went fishing with her.

Destin DO

Doug with a fine roosterfish. Jaime has never caught a roosterfish.

As if I wasn’t a big enough fan, Doug is likely behind many of  the Sport Fishing April Fool’s articles. These have included faux items as diverse as a photo of an alleged saber-toothed tarpon, an ad for an offshore “pay pond” where anglers can fish for penned blue marlin, and my personal favorite, a convincing article that claimed college students were licking the slime off gafftopsail catfish to get high.

Destin gafftop

I am certain that this became a trend at Ohio State. Ironically, this is about the only thing they didn’t get busted for this year.

This past June, some stars aligned, and Doug invited me to go red snapper fishing in the Florida panhandle, as a guest of Sport Fishing magazine. I had never caught an American red snapper. I wanted to get one – bad – and it was a chance to go fishing with an industry luminary. I would finally get to meet the guy who holds my dream job – or at least I thought it was my dream job, because as soon as I saw how darn hard he works, I rethought the whole thing. Now I want to pitch for the Tigers again.

Destin Doug

Yes, his name is Doug, even though he signs everything “Ed.”

We were also joined by Adrian Gray, the IGFA’s production guy. For the record, this is all really his fault, as it was Adrian who arranged an IGFA article on me back in 2007 when I had a mere 660 species. Marta tells me I have been insufferable since then, but she too is a Jaime Hamamoto fan.

Destin Adrian

That’s Adrian on the right.

Adrian was joined by Regina, his girlfriend. She not only loves to fish and runs a successful business, she’s also inexplicably good-looking.

Destin Regina

Let’s just say Adrian has outkicked his coverage, but people say the same thing about Martini with Kate Upton. Notice that Regina hasn’t bunched up her leader on one side of the reel.

I got in to Destin late. I had visions of getting a decent night of sleep, but once we started putting gear together and talking fishing, time flew. We would be fishing with light-tackle specialist Pat Dineen – a guy who has a reputation for finding huge snapper on light gear. It was well after midnight when I finally got to bed, and Doug was still up finalizing some article and making plans for his next trip. The job wasn’t looking as dreamy as I thought. Morning came quickly, and because I was so worked up about fishing for the snapper, I hadn’t really checked the weather forecast. Oops.

Destin Morning

Morning on the gulf – photo courtesy of Adrian Gray.

The dawn weather looked miserable. We met Pat – great guy and a very nice boat – and we decided to make a go of it. Pat was quite clear that we were going to get wet. As we headed through the harbor, I kidded myself that the water could possibly remain this calm to wherever we were going, but as soon as we nosed outside the breakwater, I was disabused of that notion. It was rail-bunny rough, and we needed to go 20 miles west. Then I saw the storm. Pat stopped the boat so we could strap everything down, and then we did what you need to do in these circumstances – get it over with.

Destin Storm

Just another day on the species-hunting trail.

Destin Adrian Storm

Doug and I endured quietly, but Adrian seemed to get a perverse enjoyment out of the conditions.

Once we got to the spot, things happened quickly. We dropped an assortment of jigs and cuts baits on a shallow reef, and the bites were almost instant. I had a triggerfish sneak off with my first sardine, but my second bait got hammered. My medium Loomis travel rod bent over at the handle, but braided line is a good thing, and I finally inched the fish off the bottom and toward the net. These things fight HARD, but moments later, I had my first red snapper.

Destin Snapper 1

I was ecstatic to finally be holding an American red snapper. What storm?

Doug got a couple of fish, but he spent most of his time taking photos for the article he would write. It always amazes me to watch professional photographers at work – the finished product looks so good, but Doug missed loads of fishing time just doing things as simple as keeping the lens clean. This was not how I had pictured the job.

Destin Surface

Pat and Steve with a snapper double. All the good photos here are from Doug or Adrian.

Pat really knew his stuff – the bites were nonstop. These were solid fish, and they were coming so quickly, on bait and and an assortment of jigs, that we all briefly forgot how sloppy the water was.

Destin Double

Another double.

Destin Cobia

Adrian battles a cobia.

Destin Pat 2

Pat with a beast of a snapper, and yes, he used that rod.

Destin Red Pat

If you’re after snapper or inshore action in the panhandle, look up Pat – http://www.flyliner.com/about.asp

On the way back from the snapper spot, Pat volunteered to stop on some patch reefs so I could try a bit of species hunting. It worked out well – I caught a whitespotted soapfish in just a few minutes. My delight at this amused but bewildered the group.

Destin Soapfish

They’re called soapfish because they produce a soapy mucus when annoyed. The water was so rough I almost produced soapy mucus myself.

It was indeed nasty out there, and spending time on the anchor was just daring someone’s breakfast to reappear. We decided to head in before another squall showed up.

In the harbor, Doug made one of his many sage observations – “We could have had the same experience – and kept drier – if we just stayed in port and kicked each other in the groin.” But I had my red snapper, and this is what I remember about the trip.

I spent the afternoon fruitlessly hunting new species on the boat docks, and that evening, we all had dinner together. Adrian and Doug are full-on professionals, and it was great to hear the stories – Doug has been to even more exotic destinations than I have, if you don’t count Cleveland. There were lots of great fishing stories, but I was also struck by how hard Doug was working. When we were relaxing back at the hotel, he was already working on the article.

The last thing we looked at was the weather report. It was getting worse, so Doug and Adrian decided to give the next day a miss and let their bruised rear ends heal. They were on the road early the next morning, and I thanked them both again – for a guy who is spending a lot of time picking out new furniture and paint colors, this was one of the high points of my year. (Marta disputes the veracity of the part about the paint colors, insisting that I have been little or no help.)

Of course, I spent an extra day with Pat, because I just couldn’t believe the weather would stay that nasty that long. Logic like this is the reason I am not a meteorologist. There just had to be something on one of those reefs, and Pat was more than game to give it a try. On the way out of the harbor, we jigged up some live bait, and the first sabiki I reeled in had a strange-looking sardine on it. A quick check of Val Kells’ magnificent book revealed that this was no ordinary sardine – it was a Spanish sardine, and as such, it was a new species. This was an excellent start.

Destin Sardine

The Spanish sardine. Moments later, I caught a red snapper on this very fish.

Unfortunately, that was it for the species hunting, because the weather was horrible. We kept having to run into port to avoid lightning, but despite the inclement conditions, we caught all kinds of fish – this is a fantastic area for inshore stuff like seatrout as well as the snapper.

Destin Bat

We got dozens of Atlantic spadefish inside the bay – I had only caught one of these in my life previously, in South Carolina in 2004.

Pat and I finished up in the late afternoon – he had guided a great day despite the weather, and I can only imagine how good the area would be in calm conditions. I packed the car and headed for Mississippi, which I can only spell because WordPress has a spellchecker.

Since I was already on the gulf coast, I figured that I needed to get back to Gulf Springs, MS, to give the gulf flounder and cownose rays a shot. We had missed these with Captain John Swartz on the road trip last year, (details HERE,) and I was near enough where I had to give it a try.

Captain John was retiring, so he sent me out with a good friend of his, Captain Mike Adams.

Destin Mike Adams

Captain Mike on the right.

Another lifelong Ocean Springs resident, Mike is a solid guide and had gotten the whole sad story of my flounder and ray quest. As long as we had calm weather, we had a very good shot at both. But we did not have calm weather. We had wretched weather. The same storm that had made Destin so difficult had followed me to Mississippi, resulting in a first trip with Mike that turned out to be three trips, because we could get out for an hour or two at a time, then get chased in by lightning, then go back out, lather, rinse, repeat.

Destin Weather 2

Not a promising morning.

There was no chance at the cownose rays, because the outside beaches they live on were facing a stiff wind. So we focused on the protected areas and fished for flounder and whatever else would bite.

I caught loads of flounder, but this was one of those times where the fact that my research is not as thorough as Martini’s came back to haunt me. I was hunting the Gulf flounder, which I had come to believe was mixed in with the southern flounder that are abundant here. But they weren’t. As it turns out, a quick reading of Val Kells’ book would have told me that the Gulf species lives more offshore than the Southern, but I didn’t know that because I did not research all that thoroughly.

Destin Flounder

We got at least a dozen nice flounder, but the wrong species.

Then the weather got vile and we had to go back into port to hide until it blew over. Luckily, Mike’s boat is based at his family’s restaurant, Mikey’s on the Bayou, so we could stay dry and eat well. On our next venture out, while fishing for toadfish of all things, I got a nice black drum.

Destin Drum

My second black drum ever.

I didn’t just slide it into the water – I rolled it over the rail. (Drum roll, please. I know, it’s getting late.) Then, the weather got nasty again and we headed back to port. I passed the time playing with a group of kittens who had taken up residence under the restaurant.

Destin Kitten

This kitten was not so sure about me and gave a teeny meow of warning when I tried to pet him.

Destin Hungry

But as soon as I offered a piece of fish, he became my best friend.

As that squall passed, we headed back out after the toadfish again, and this time, I got a huge hookup. The fish bulldogged into the pilings, and even with 30 pound braid, I didn’t think I had a chance. After about ten minutes, I finally steered it into open water, and Mike slipped the net under my new personal best black drum.

Destin Beast

This one made it onto my Christmas cards.

We got a few more close to this size, but then the weather went bad again. We decided to call it a day, and I closed things up with a magnificent flounder dinner in the restaurant.

Destin Dinner

The freshest possible flounder. Unbelievably good.

Destin Sign

If you’re in the area, Mike is a great guide. http://www.fortbayoucharters.com/

I slept well that night, and caught a flight back to San Francisco the next morning. The trip had produced three species and a couple of trophies, and I knew I would be back for the cownose ray. A big thanks to Mike, Adrian, and especially to Doug, who convinced me that my dream job was a lot harder than I had hoped it would be. (As of press time, the Detroit Tigers haven’t contacted me yet.)

Steve

 

Posted by: 1000fish | November 19, 2015

The Hook and the Cook

Dateline: June 1, 2015 – Port Hacking, Australia

This episode starts a long time ago – it goes back 15 years, 79 countries, 123 world records, 1360 species, and one Marta, to be exact.

It was May 2, 2000, during what Marta likes to call “The Dark Time” (i.e. before I met her.) My species count was at 119, I wouldn’t set my first IGFA world record for another five years, and I had caught fish in seven countries. (It has been a busy 15 years.)

I was in Sydney on business, my second trip there ever. I was in awe at seeing things, like the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, that I seen in encyclopedias as a kid and never imagined I would visit in person. Truthfully, I’m still in awe every time I see something like that.

Hook Bridge

Sydney Harbour Bridge – they actually have tours where you can walk along the top. I’ll pass, thanks.

I had met Steve Baty a few years before, and he had become a great friend – and hairstyle inspiration. During that May of 2000 visit, Steve set us up to fish on Botany Bay with a guide buddy of his.

Hook Hairdo

Steve Baty on an especially spectacular hair day.

I got four new species that day – silver trevally, yellowfin leatherjacket, bluelined goatfish, and dusky flathead. (Five if you count the local yellowtail a.k.a. “kingfish” as separate from the Southern California version.)

Hook Baty Yellowtail

Steve and Steve, May 2000. I still have that shirt, but it fits differently now.

The guide was named Scotty Lyons, and in the 15 years since that autumn (yes, autumn) day, he and I have fished dozens of days together and put 89 species and four world records on my tally.

Hook Scotty 2

Scotty and Steve, circa a long time ago. The “Squidgies” shirt was a gift from him, and I still believe it is one of the coolest pieces of clothing I own.

This May, I found myself in Sydney again. It had been six years since I had been to Australia, and that, you are likely thrilled to learn, was before the 1000fish blog came into existence. This means there are no previous episodes to refer to, which is a shame, at least to me, because Scotty Lyons is one of the best guides I have ever fished with. Some of our adventures together, such as a week on a houseboat in crocodile-infested northern Queensland with six men and one bar of soap, are, depending on your level of maturity, either eminently bloggable or best left in the mists of history.

(Interestingly, or not, Scotty and family have met the Hamamotos – click HERE for details.)

With a few days in Sydney on my way home from Melbourne, I connected with Scotty, and we planned out our first trip in years. Sydney is a magnificent town – great restaurants, friendly people, as scenic as anywhere on the globe. It was great to be back and wander around some of the old, familiar tourist spots.

Hook Opera

The Opera House lit up during the “Vivid Sydney” festival.

I was unaware that the”Vivid Sydney” festival was happening – imagine my surprise when I showed up to find the streets near my favorite hotel jammed with tens of thousands of inebriated revelers, which is pretty much like any other night in Sydney, except there was a light show.

Hook Sydney

Downtown Sydney completely lit up, just like most of the visitors.

Morning came quickly. I took the very familiar cab ride out toward the airport, then around the edge of Botany Bay to the Sans Souci bridge, where the big green boat was waiting, just as it had been for dozens of mornings over the years. I thought about some of the many species Scotty and I had gotten together, some unexpected, like the rock cale, some struggled for over dozens of trips, like the mulloway.

In planning the trip, we first had to acknowledge that this was not going to be a species bonanza. Scotty and I have picked this place over for years, searching out even the most obscure piscine residents. We have fished Botany in every season, day and night, rain and shine, wind and calm, headed miles up estuary creeks to search out brackish beasts, and driven well offshore to pursue species rumored to be there.

This trip was about trying to put some world records together – I knew there were a bunch here – and also to just get out onto some of my favorite water with one of my greatest fishing buddies, or mates, as they are known in Australia. I wonder how Australian Facebook works, and rather than “friend” someone, if you “mate” them, which makes the place sound a bit racy for my tastes.

Our first day would be in Scotty’s normal stomping ground – Botany Bay. I had figured out at least four of the regular catches there – silver trevally, Maori wrasse, Port Jackson shark, and the oddly named Sergeant Baker – were open world records. So we set out to catch normal-sized examples of stuff Scotty catches almost every time out. It sounded like a can’t-miss proposition, but this, of course, is just begging the Fish Gods to do something humbling.

The day was perfect – a bit overcast, and dead calm inside and outside the bay. There were so many familiar spots, and I flashed back to some of the wonderful species I had gotten with Scott over the years. We drove over the channel where, years before, I had gotten one of the most beautiful fish I have ever caught – the bluefin gurnard.

Hook Gurnard

Imagine my surprise when it opened its pectoral fins.

Our first target for the day was a Port Jackson shark – a type of horn shark common inside the bays. We set up some mackerel slabs, and I also cast a smaller rod with a prawn just for fun, knowing there weren’t any species but there was still plenty of fun to be had. Naturally, that very first prawn I tossed out into Botany Bay returned with a new species attached. I couldn’t believe it, Scotty couldn’t believe it, and we didn’t ask the fish, but I’m sure it was incredulous as well.

Hook Flathead

A very surprised Australian Bartail Flathead. Go figure.

Stunned though we were, the Fish Gods had apparently noticed that I assumed the records would be easy and decided to punish me. While Port Jackson sharks normally show up uninvited in droves, they wouldn’t bite today. I sulked.

But as I sulked, the small rod went down again, and my short attention span was diverted elsewhere. This time, I landed a silver trevally, and at one pound, it was a record. One down, but let’s face it, hoping for three more felt a bit optimistic.

Hook Silver

The Australian silver trevally – Caranx georgianus, for those of you playing along at home.

Scotty moved us outside the bay, and we began searching the reefs that run anywhere from 15 to 100 feet deep as you move offshore. We got into a bunch of Maori wrasses, and after 10 or so, one reached the magic one pound mark. Two down. We turned our attention next to the Sergeant Baker, a large type of lizardfish. I thought this would be easy, because I had caught these every time I hadn’t wanted to.

Hook Maori 2

Maori wrasse. These have a faintly obscene local nickname, but this is a family blog, folks.

We drifted for another hour or two, catching all kinds of interesting stuff, but no Sergeant Baker. From my previous experience, going an hour on these reefs without catching a Sergeant Baker was impossible. We got a bunch of eastern red scorpionfish, but these were not the target.

Hook Scorpion

Do not put this in your pants.

Disgusted with the Sergeant Baker, and noting that it was an extremely flat day outside the bay, we decided to “swing for the fences” and take a shot at a black drummer. Black drummer are a chub species that live in the wash right up against coastal rocks, so it takes a perfect day to back the boat into the surf and cast baits to them. I had caught only one in my life, in 2002, and it was a spectacularly small example.

Hook Drummer 1

A spectacularly small black drummer. How about the cool Akubra hat? (You might recognize it from The Cottonwood Death March.)

I didn’t have much faith as Scotty eased the boat under the cliffs – we had spent hours trying to get a decent-sized drummer, and I just never seemed to get the right day. I began tossing a peeled prawn at likely-looking washes. On my second cast, the line sank for a moment, then shot off to the left. I set the hook, and the fish took off hard for the rocks. My rig was roughly eight pound class, and I just held on for dear life as the fish pulled for the rocks. It chipped up against the bottom a couple of times, but I thumbed down the spool and took my chances. My knots held, and slowly, I got him up out of the structure and into midwater, where he made a few more runs. After about 10 minutes, it surfaced. It was a positively huge black drummer – over five pounds – and this too was an open world record. Three for the day, and now my Australian friends wouldn’t make fun of my black drummer.

Hook Blackfish

One of the toughest light-tackle battles I’ll ever have.

As the afternoon wound down, we stayed out on some of the deeper reefs and fished some larger baits. Scotty figured we might find a Port Jackson shark or something else bizarre, and as it was starting to get dark, I had one big hit, followed by a heavy but not especially enthusiastic fight. I think we both silently guessed Sergeant Baker, but did not want to hex anything by speaking out loud. Moments later, Scotty netted the largest Sergeant Baker I have ever seen, and record number four was on the books. I was officially in the IGFA running. I smiled at the thought of another plaque in the house.

Hook Sergeant

I called Marta immediately, and she answered “It’s going in the garage.”

Our next day was set up to visit another venue I have come to love – Port Hacking. Lesser-known than Botany, but an amazing fishery nonetheless, Port Hacking is pretty much Scotty’s back yard, and it has produced numerous species for me over the years, including some truly memorable catches like the tassled wobbegong.

Hook Wobby

I still can’t believe that anyone swims here.

Port Hacking scenery is some of the nicest in the area, and that’s a lot of choices.

Hook Hacking

Steve wades Port Hacking in search of flathead, circa 2004. Moments after this picture was taken, I almost stepped on a local stingray. I was more upset that I didn’t catch it than I was at the close call.

I would also finally get to meet Paul Brehany. One of Scotty’s best mates, Paul is a well-known Sydney chef and restaurateur. For several years, Scotty and Paul have produced a webcast called “The Hook and the Cook,” where Paul makes amazing meals out of the amazing fish Scotty catches. (TheHookAndTheCook.com) For our day out, we would be filming an episode, presuming I could catch something edible.

Hook-Cook

Scott, Paul, and a big snapper. They clean up nicely.

We had one main target for the day – a record on the Eastern Blue Groper. That is not a typo. The Australians, with their penchant for creating misleading or downright bizarre common names, decided that they just had to call this large wrasse a “groper.” I imagine this makes sense after a gallon of Fosters, but I remain perplexed.

Hook Groper 2

Eastern blue groper – August 2002. Sure, it’s blue, but how do you grope anything if you don’t have hands?

Our plan was to motor outside of Hacking to the south, but the Fish Gods paid us back for the previous day’s calm conditions, and the wind picked up unexpectedly. We were limited to some protected areas of the coast, but Scotty was still confident we could find a groper. In the meantime, I put down some small baits and, stunningly, pulled up a new species. That’s two in two days, which I had thought impossible.

Hook Leatherjacket

The yellowstriped leatherjacket. I had never even heard of them.

We then set to groper fishing. This involves finding a likely reef, and drifting an unweighted crab on very heavy tackle – these fish hit hard and run for the structure, so it’s a quick but violent fight. A couple of crabs later, I got a crushing strike and leaned back as hard as I could on the heavy bottom rod I was using. The fish got into the rocks twice, but I managed to lift it out, and a moment later, we had our record – number five for the trip.

Hook Groper

This is the female – only the males are bright blue. Look closely at the eye.

After appropriate high-fives, we fished for about 30 more minutes on the outside reefs before the wind got to be too much. There was one more surprise waiting for me. After I had pulled in about a dozen of the normal reef inhabitants – scarlet parrotfish, sweeps, and mado – I swung a white and black wrasse over the rail. Scotty saw it first and his eyes almost popped out of his head. “It’s that comb wrasse you’ve been chasing forever, mate!”

Hook Comb 2

ANOTHER new species. I am guessing Marta made a special appeal to the Fish Gods, because I couldn’t have dreamed of getting three new ones here in two days, and I have some pretty optimistic dreams. For example, I still believe the Tigers will win the World Series next year.

It was a comb wrasse, a rather rare local resident that I only ever seen once – when it fell off my hook in midair in 2008. This was truly satisfying. We headed into Port Hacking to get out of the wind and to try to find something edible so we could film an episode of “The Hook and the Cook.”

Hook Logo

I must have one of these shirts. Marta knows I need more shirts.

It didn’t take long. We found a nice batch of bluefish – “tailor” in the local parlance, and Paul was able to whip up a beautiful ceviche as we continued a pleasant afternoon inside the bay.

Hook Lunch

Paul and my lunch, the subject of an episode of “The Hook and the Cook” – click HERE for the sordid details.

In the few minutes we fished after the meal, the species hunt went from weird to downright bizarre. I was casting a light rod with a prawn bait, expecting to catch the small pink snappers that are stacked in the bay, when I got a decidedly bigger small fish. Flipping it up onto the deck, I couldn’t believe my eyes – or my luck. It was a small Maori grouper, a generally more northerly fish that had gotten quite lost, but it was the third new species of the day and one I had never even considered could be here.

Hook Grouper

A Maori grouper – third species of the day and fourth of the trip. “Unlikely” can’t begin to describe this one.

We headed back to the dock in the late afternoon, and while Scotty pulled the boat out, I had a moment to reflect. It had been great to meet Paul, even better to have been fed by Paul, marvelous to have added a record, ridiculous to have put three more species on the board, but best of all to have spent another day with one of my greatest fishing friends. I smiled to myself and appreciated what had been not just one, but a string of golden moments – we only get so many of these in a lifetime.

Steve

 

Hook Door

If you’re anywhere near Sydney, look up Scotty.

Posted by: 1000fish | October 30, 2015

I’m Here for the Gummy

Dateline: May 30, 2015 – Sorrento, Australia

If there’s one thing worse than a healthy dose of perspective, it’s getting it from a five year-old.

Melbourne Spangled

This is a picture of a five year-old taking me down a few notches. It should be noted that he did not do this on purpose, like Jaime would have. Even at age five, Jaime was already evil.

More on that in a moment, but first, we need to talk about weather. My job is guaranteed to take me to some exotic places, but it is not guaranteed to take me to those places when the weather is good.

So when I was called to Melbourne, Australia in May, I was thrilled – and concerned. Thrilled because I have been to Australia dozens of times, but never south of Sydney. Victoria has a completely different batch of fish than Sydney, and the whole south of the country, from Melbourne west to Perth, is a key area for me to hit if I am ever to reach 2000 species. There are also loads of potential world records in the region, and if I was going to make a run at the 2015 IGFA Men’s Saltwater trophy, that run was going to start here. If I could find a calm few days, I could easily add 20 species and five or more records over a weekend. (Spoiler alert – the Fish Gods routinely punish this sort of optimism.)

I was also concerned – about the weather. I can read a calendar and understand the whole Austral winter thing. Indeed, even finding a guide was harder than I expected, as most local skippers pack up for the season and go tuna fishing up the coast, and the first few folks I called acted like I had lost my mind. “It’s WINTER.” they would say. But after a few days of searching, I found Shaun Furtiere and Think Big Charters. Shaun immediately got what I wanted to do – we were quickly talking about all the weird species he catches while fishing for snapper or gummy shark. I knew I had found my man.

Melbourne Snapper

Shaun Furtiere and a positively huge snapper – his website is FULL of pinkies this size. http://www.thinkbigcharters.com.au/

I was in the Melbourne office for a few days before my weekend on the water, and early in these meetings, I got a huge dose of perspective through a co-worker named David. (As someone who revels in catching fish the size of my pinkie finger, I find perspective to be generally unwelcome.)

I had just met David. We were talking in the office, and another co-worker who I’ve known for a while stopped by to talk fishing. “Oh, Wozniak’s quite the fisherman. Something like a thousand species.” (“1435” I quietly corrected, but who’s counting?) David considered this for a moment, pulled out his phone, and said “Ever caught one of these?” It was a picture of his five year-old son, Jackson, with a spangled perch. I have never caught a spangled perch. Seriously? This is how we’re going to start the trip?

Melbourne Spangled

Jackson and his spangled perch. He’s ten now, and he has probably caught even bigger ones since this photo was taken. This hurts me, because our society frowns on being openly competitive with children, so I have to pretend that I’m not. This is all Jaime Hamamoto’s fault.

After work on my last day in central Melbourne, I took a taxi south to Hastings, one of the vacation towns on the lower perimeter of Melbourne Bay. Shaun met me for dinner – it was a great steak, but both of our food got cold while we rooted through Fishes of Australia and he let me know what they catch here – in good weather. There were dozens of possible species, some rather exotic-looking, like the elephant fish. (Look it up – awesome.) He was concerned about the forecast, but with all the islands and bays in the area, he was confident we would find some shelter and at least be able to wet a line.

We got to the dock just at dawn. It was a beautiful place, and the day was clear, but the wind was blowing hard. I knew this would limit our available spots, but we were heading out.

Melbourne Boat

Shaun launches the boat.

Melbourne Dock

Hastings at dawn.

The day started well enough. On my very first cast in Victorian waters, I hooked a small flathead, which turned out to be a Southern sand flathead, and I had a new species. I was elated until I remembered that it wasn’t a spangled perch. (To be fair, spangled perch are a freshwater fish, so it was rather unlikely I was going to see one, and this bothered me. A lot.)

Melbourne Flathead

These things are so darn cool, especially the big dusky flatheads in Sydney that crush six-inch swimbaits.

I turned my attention to the other main target for the day – the gummy shark, a local dogfish that can grow well over 50 pounds.

Melbourne Candy

Not to be confused with the popular candy.

This is when it got slow. Shaun did the best he could to adjust spots and try different rigs and baits, but the wind kept picking up and seemed to follow us around. I caught loads of flathead and Australian salmon, and got broken off by sevengill sharks a few heartstopping times, but I have already caught big sevengills – an hour from my house. I was here for the gummy.

We pounded it all afternoon, and well past when Shaun would normally have called it a day, I hooked up something that felt bigger than a salmon, but more hopeful than a sevengill. Moments later, Shaun netted a small gummy for me – I was equal parts thrilled and relieved. We headed for the dock soon afterward.

Melbourne Gummy

A rather modest gummy shark – species # 1437.

This was it? A bumpy day at sea and just two species? No world records? I whined to the Fish Gods –  “But I’m in southern Australia!” They did not favor me with a response, and the weather for the next day looked a lot worse. So I did what I always do – started fishing on the boat ramp the minute we landed. In just a few minutes, I got a batch of Australian smooth puffers – another species. Things were looking up again.

Melbourne Puffer

That’s a smooth puffer. Not to be confused with the awkward puffer.

Shaun had some family things to attend to in the evening, so I was on my own in Hastings. There were a couple of hours of daylight left, and there was a pier about 300 yards from my hotel. The outcome should be obvious.

It was a lovely pier, and while it stayed windy, it was still a clear evening and a beautiful spot. The puffers had followed me over from the boat ramp, and I pulled up half a dozen or so from the pilings on a sabiki. My seventh fish didn’t fight quite as hard, and when I flipped it up into my hand, my jaw dropped. It looked as if I had snagged a Christmas ornament.

Melbourne Cow 1

I love Christmas ornaments. But I never expected to catch one.

It was a male ornate cowfish, in all his glory. I had seen these in books previously, and I hadn’t even considered that they might be here at this dock on a blustery Victoria evening. This alone made the trip worth it. I caught a few more, including the beautiful but less-gaudy female ornate cowfish.

Melbourne Cow Female

The female ornate cowfish. Ornate, but not as ornate as the male.

As darkness set in, I was off for a well-deserved pizza. For a small town, Hastings had some very nice food, although I couldn’t find mention of King Harold anywhere.

Melbourne Cow 3

I just felt like posting one more picture of this thing. I still can’t believe I caught it.

The next day’s forecast looked miserable. The wind was supposed to get worse, and the rain that had missed us on day one looked like it was going to arrive in force. I gamely donned my Goretex before Shaun picked me up, and we drove to Sorrento, a summer vacation town about 30 minutes south.

Sorrento is a charming place, even though no spangled perch live there. The rain didn’t materialize, but the wind was gusting to 40. Shaun cancelled his afternoon charter, but he knew I didn’t get there very often and launched the boat.

Melbourne Sorrento

Sorrento at dawn. This was the most sheltered spot, before the wind really got going.

He did, however, promise that we were going to get quite a beating, and he was right. It was a three on the “Oh my goodness/Oh my lunch/Oh my cojones” scale the entire day, but I knew there were species to be had, and I was going for it.

We set up a few medium bottom rigs and then fished smaller stuff to pass the time. My first catch was modest but promising – a silverbelly, which looks a lot like a mojarra with a nose job.

Melbourne Silverbelly

Not a mojarra. This surprises me.

We moved around, trying in vain to find a bit of shelter from the wind, and on the second spot, one of the bottom rigs bounced. I set the hook into something that was clearly decent-sized, but put up less-than-enthusiastic fight. When Shaun netted it, I was thrilled to see it was an Australian Swellshark, an unusual species that can blow up with air or water like a puffer.

Melbourne Swell

I had caught related species in Southern California. For details on this and to see some amazing hairstyles, click HERE.

This fish was also an open world record, so there was hope. I needed to knock off a few more, but the first one is always the hardest, because there cannot be a second one without a first one.

There was plenty of action on the light rods. We caught dozens of Australian salmon – which are not actually salmon. Australians do some confusing things with their common names, calling groupers “cod” and “trout” and calling threadfin “salmon” also even though they are not related to the Australian salmon or any other salmon. We also got barracouta, (not related to barracuda of course,) a odd cold-water species I have captured as far afield as Chile, Namibia, and New Zealand.

Melbourne Barra

A barracouta. Why couldn’t they have named it something less confusing?

We stuck at it, and while the fishing was only a shadow of what it could obviously be in good weather, we added a few more to the tally before we had to call it a day. I was glad to have gotten out at all.

Melbourne Shaun

Shaun and Steve with a bluethroated wrasse, the third species of the day. Shaun is an outstanding guide – if you’re in the Melbourne area, look him up at http://www.thinkbigcharters.com.au/. No, his head is not that big – he’s just a lot closer to the camera.

Moments after adding the bluethroat, I got a much bigger one. A quick check of the record book I bring for just such occasions indicated that this too was an open world record, and that was two for the day, and ten for the season. I was in the running, and while I know I could have gotten more if the weather had just been right, I was fortunate to have gotten the ones I did. Shaun did a fantastic job.

Melbourne Bluethroat

The record bluethroat. These things fight hard. 

I had an afternoon flight to Sydney, so we headed in around 11. I almost always take the time to cast a sabiki around docks whenever I finish a day, and in this case, I got one more small reward, a common weedfish –  the eighth and final species for the adventure. (Although, I noted with some deflation, none of them were spangled perch.)

Melbourne Weedfish

You never know what might show up in the rocks while the skipper is putting the boat on the trailer.

Shaun had been awesome, helping me turn a weekend most fishermen would have spent in front of the TV into a great trip. I knew I had eight species, and I knew I had two records, but I also knew I had only scratched the surface. I was already making plans to come back, but in the meantime, I was heading to Sydney, where the weather was calm and an old friend had the boat warmed up and ready.

Steve

 

 

 

 

Posted by: 1000fish | October 4, 2015

The Heng of Dave

Dateline: May 23, 2015 – Northern Singapore

Dave has massive heng. You’ll know exactly how massive in about 2000 words, but trust me, it’s massive. I wasn’t even sure if heng is a noun or an adjective, but whether he has heng or is heng, it’s darn big.

And how did I find myself in Singapore, holding a rare fish next to Dave and his positively ginourmous heng? It started with an audit. Somewhere back in the 1990s, the company I worked for enjoyed making me argue with the auditors. One of these auditors, Chad, did a bit of fishing. He introduced me to one Chris Armstrong, who does a lot more fishing. Chris then introduced me to two of my most important fishing connections – Ed Trujillo and Jarvis Wee Lee. Ed introduced me to steelhead fishing and guided me on some of the most magical days I ever spent on a river. (Background HERE.)

Jarvis opened the door for me to fish southeast Asia. Apart from picking through dozens of species in Singapore for me – 54 and counting –  he also helped me add Malaysia and Indonesia to my country list. Because he secretly controls the world fishing tackle trade, Jarvis is a busy man, but he shared his connections with me, introducing me to friends such as crazy Alex (unfortunate details HERE,) and to Dave, the guy who is or has the great big heng.

Dave took me out fishing in October of 2014, betting that his secret barramundi spot could produce a few unexpected creatures. We visited Palau Ubin, an island off northern Singapore, and I am sworn to secrecy from there, but his spot was absolutely jammed with barramundi.

There were also some surprises. Before we even got to the lake, I nearly lost a pair of underpants, as I spotted what I thought was a tiger about to kill and eat me. When Dave finished laughing and got me off the roof, he explained it was an old ceramic decoration.

Heng Tiger

Tell me you wouldn’t have wet yourself.

Dave happily tossed lures and caught some solid barras; I brought out the #16 hooks and started tossing baits around the bank. Moments later, I got a sullen tug and listless fight, and pulled up a small puffer – the green spotted puffer – which was indeed a new species.

Heng Puffer

Dave and Steve celebrate the greenspotted puffer.

I then just had to cast a bit for barramundi. I landed a couple of these light-tackle powerhouses – great fun on a trout rod. Barramundi will always have a fond place in my heart. Not only were these the first species I caught in Singapore, making it my fourth fishing country back in 1999, but a barra on 16# line was also my first IGFA world record, in 2005 with Jean-Francois Helias.

Heng Barra

A Singapore barramundi, courtesy of Dave.

The photo above is the one that started all the “heng” talk. I showed it to a co-worker, and she said “Oh, you are very heng.” I told her that my friend Dave had actually done all the hard work, and she said “Then Dave is very heng.” I asked her what that meant. She explained it was a “Singlish” word and told me to look it up. And just as when my Mother told me to look something up, I didn’t do it. This is why I still don’t know what “tact” means.

After a few nice barramundi, I noticed that the pond was full of mullet. I get frustrated with mullet, as they rarely bite and can be hard to identify, but I had brought a loaf of bread just in case. The process is maddening. If you throw a slice of bread in the water, the fish will devour it like a pack of hungry piranhas, but anything on a hook gets little more than a sideways glance. I am either very optimistic or a slow learner – the two are often indistinguishable – and I stick at these things far longer than normal people. After an hour or so, I finally got one to bite – and then the fun started, because I needed to go through a number of scientists before someone gave me the word that I had caught a greenback mullet – a new species and two for the day.

Heng Mullet

A greenback mullet. The back wasn’t green. Go figure.

Just as we were leaving, I saw several tarpon-like jumps in the middle of the pond. Dave informed me that they were ladyfish. There are several ladyfish species, and I hadn’t caught the one that lives in this region. This would have to wait until next time, which of course meant that I lost sleep. I lose sleep over every species that gets away, which means I don’t sleep much.

Four months later, I was called to Singapore again.

Heng Night

Singapore at night, from some sort of a really tall building.

At this stage, I still didn’t know what “heng” meant, but I knew that Dave had it and therefore I needed to fish with him again. I asked him to set something up for ladyfish, and I also asked him what “heng” was. He started laughing and told me to look it up. So I finally did:

heng /heng, hɛŋ/ a. n. & int. [Hk. 幸 hēng to hope, to expect; gracious, favourable, fortunate, happy (Medhurst); Mand. xìng good fortune; rejoice; fortunately, luckily (Chi.–Eng. Dict.)]  A a.Fortunate, lucky. N a. Luck, good fortune

Well I’ll be darned. Dave definitely is heng and has heng and it’s quite a bit of heng at that.

In order to pursue the ladyfish, Dave brought in some skilled help – local guide Jimmy Lim. I had heard about Jimmy for years – he is supposed to be THE expert on fishing the northern estuaries, especially for you lure-tossing types. Jimmy also has heng. The place was just full of heng, and I hoped some would rub off on me, as long as heng didn’t turn out to have some sort of gross double meaning, as things often did with Alex. (I have an ugly history with misunderstanding foreign words.)

It was me, Dave, Jimmy, and a couple of their friends. I was expecting another “peanut gallery” a la Alex, but these were nice enough guys and excellent fishermen, and were certainly more polite than Alex. They didn’t call even one of my catches “panty fish.”

We started early and went right after the ladyfish. I would have said “bright and early,” but it wasn’t bright, nor would it be all day. It was chilly for Singapore, which means it was still hot for Michigan, and we had occasional rain. I was wearing my lucky red Hi’s Tackle hat – the only red Hi’s hat Alex hadn’t swiped. (Red is considered a lucky color here.)

We started drifting some live shrimp over a deep channel. I missed a hit on the first pass, and on the second, I hooked up. The fish came flying out of the water like a miniature tarpon, so I knew I had the right one. Ladyfish are acrobatic fighters, and I played it softly for about five minutes until Jimmy slipped the net under it. We had our species.

Heng Ladyfish

Steve, Jimmy, and the ladyfish.

Jimmy is awesome – contact him if you’re in the area: Jimmy Lim itsgreat7070@gmail.com or https://www.facebook.com/ItsGrRReat

One of the guys had a look and said, “Dude! You got one! You are so heng.” Then they admitted they don’t catch them very often, and indeed, we didn’t see one the rest of the day. But it was already a good day, pretty much no matter what happened from then, as long as Cousin Chuck didn’t show up naked.

I faintly believed that this was the last new species I would ever get in Singapore. Still, I had most of a day ahead of me on a boat full of local experts, so I was  looking forward to a great time catching whatever happened to swim by. Jimmy, quiet and serious, was racking his brain for species ideas, and kept moving spots because he remembered catching something exotic there.

In the next few hours, I got loads of small snappers, bream, and trevally. As we moved onto some mud flats, we started getting catfish. These were greeted with groans and mumbling, especially by me – they are difficult to unhook and hard to ID. About five whiskered pests later, I got a huge bite and something ran off for Malaysia. I barely turned it on my relatively small Stella 3000 reel, and after a stubborn battle, Jimmy netted … a catfish, albeit a big one. Saltwater catfish are hard to identify, but this one was clearly different – it had stripes, and a vomerine tooth pattern I didn’t recognize. (I can’t believe I know what “vomerine” means, but I still haven’t looked up “tact.”)

Heng Sagor

The beast.

It turned out to be a Sagor catfish, which not only was a new species, but also a world record. This was getting positively epic, and the day wasn’t over yet.

I also got a gray eel catfish – one of the least attractive of a rather homely family. I had caught these previously – in Thailand – but they are worth a photo or two.

Heng Eeltail

These are also quite venomous, so don’t put one in your pants.

Heng mouth

A face only a mother could love.

Late in what I could only call a great day, there were two more surprises. The first, a spotted scat, was not a new species, but is such a cool fish I felt the need to post a picture of it.

Heng Scat

These are also venomous. In general, if something has sharp spines, don’t thrust your hand on them.

The second surprise – my last fish of the day – came as I cast a sabiki just as we were packing up. The lovely creature below is a lagoon shrimpgoby, and this was indeed a new one.

Heng Goby

The lagoon shrimpgoby, which spends life shacked up with a shrimp. I think they leave the burrow to spawn with their own kind, but if you ask me, the whole thing is scientifically and morally confusing. I can’t imagine how the IRS would handle it.

That was three new species for the day, including the first and the last fish caught, in a location where I thought I had gotten pretty much everything. Throw in a world record, a day on the water with some good guys, and the fact Alex wasn’t there, and you can’t get any more heng than that.

Steve

Heng Duo

“Hey Steve and Dave, who’s the ugly one?”

 

Posted by: 1000fish | September 23, 2015

Qatar Hero

Dateline: May 8, 2015 – Doha, Qatar

For unknown reasons, my pants failed. It was not a simple tear that I could patch with duct tape – the entire right seat of my Columbia travel pants had burst open, taking all the mystery out of whether I wear boxers or briefs. This might not play well in a conservative Muslim country, and was certainly not an auspicious beginning to the trip.

Pants Pants

The Pants of Doha.

And how was it that I found myself with my rear end exposed, floating a few miles off of Qatar? Per usual, it started with a short notice business trip. The nature of my job is such that I can be sitting at my desk on a Thursday evening, looking forward to a weekend of Marta putting my things in the garage, when the phone will ring. The conversation is always the same. “Steve, we have an emergency in (FILL IN NAME OF “EXOTIC” TRAVEL DESTINATION HERE.) We would like you to come and fight with the customer, who we are expecting to pay us (FILL IN WILDLY OPTIMISTIC AMOUNT AND DATE HERE.)”

I always check three sources before I travel somewhere – the CIA Factbook on the country (to make sure there isn’t a rebellion going on,) my travel doctor (to make sure there isn’t a nasty epidemic going on,) and IGFA.org (to make sure there is fishing.) Qatar passed with flying colors, and so I was off.

My flight landed in the evening, and I got to walk around Doha a bit – this is a major, first-world metropolis with beautiful buildings and landscapes, something like Dubai without all the craziness. (Dubai adventure HERE.)

Pants skyline

Doha at twilight.

Pants Mosque 1

Playing tourist near the main mosque.

The place is clean and safe and jammed with high-end shopping, my favorite being a Carrefour supermarket because they had fresh shrimp I could bring for bait. Marta, although she was 8000 miles away, managed to find jewelry stores in the same mall and direct me to them.

Pants Jewelry 2

Oh yes she did. Now do you see why she likes it when I travel?

Pants Outfit

Why couldn’t she have asked for this? Spoiler alert – her birthday is coming up.

Fishing-wise, I had found a reasonably reputable-looking tour company that offered charters – QIA. (WWW.qia-qatar.com  or info@qia-qatar.com.) This is not an inexpensive destination – the folks in the oil business must make a lot of money, but I was here and I had to give it a shot. My first day would be a short one, as I had to get to some meetings, but on my last day I was free until late afternoon and would make a more concentrated effort. Between the two, I hoped I could scrape up a few Persian Gulf species.

QIA picked me up very early – around four – because even in the more temperate months, the dawn hours are precious – temperatures get over 100 by mid-morning. The driver introduced me to my guide, Hari, pronounced “Harry.” Hari was Nepalese, which was not as surprising as it sounds, because almost no one I met in Qatar was actually from Qatar. They bring in foreign labor for jobs ranging from construction to drivers to senior management at my hotel.

Pants Boat

Hari and the boat.

We motored out of the harbor. Qatar is a strangely beautiful place – stark desert rising up out of the Persian Gulf. It looked like two worlds – mosques and old Arabic buildings on one side, but just across the bay was the Doha skyline, as modern as Dubai or Miami.

Pants Skyline 2

Downtown as viewed from across the bay. It was something like 5am, and it was already over 90 degrees.

The main point of day one was to catch a fish and add Qatar as my 85th country, and that happened immediately. We set up a few miles offshore, drifting cut baits on sand bottoms in 40-50 feet, and I caught a quick succession of threadfin breams.

This is when my wardrobe malfunction occurred. (Now I can feel Janet Jackson’s pain.) Poor Hari had a terrible time not laughing, but the idea of facing the Intercontinental Hotel lobby in my skivvies had me worried. Doing my best MacGyver impression, I took out some 8# fluoro leader and a small hook, and using one of the zip-off legs as a patch, repaired my trousers enough where I could get through to the elevators later without getting arrested for indecency. I don’t know what it is about me and world records and nudity, but I view the fact I had underwear on as a move in the right direction. (Those of you who have read this blog from the beginning will remember the original naked world record debacle. Those of you who haven’t are probably a lot better off.)

As we moved from spot to spot, I got some bigger hits, then hooked into a nice bream, which looked a lot like the breams from Australia. But this was an Arabian Yellowfin Bream, and at a pound, it was a new world record. But the world record photos still feautured me in my underwear.

Pants Bream 1

The bream. The underwear. For the inquiring minds out there, they’re Polo boxer briefs.

We then took a meal break. I brought some sandwich makings with me, and just as I was preparing lunch, I realized it was May 5th. And so, to celebrate, I threw the mayonnaise overboard. You know, to Sinko the Mayo.

We fished hard for a few hours. I got endless threadfin breams, a few small catfish, and one other new species, the Gulf Herring.

Pants Herring

The savage Gulf Herring.

With two species and a record, it was a great start, and I was looking forward to the full day I had scheduled later in the week.

Day two started well. Since we had so much more time without the distraction of meetings, we could go much further out into the Gulf. The fishing was mostly drifting, in anywhere from 40 to 90 feet of water. Like Dubai, the water was shallow a long way out and the bottom was very barren – rockpiles were few and far between.

We got our first species of the day while registering with the Coast Guard. I pulled out a sabiki while they were checking my passport, and hooked a wide-banded hardyhead. Hari was bewildered at my joy over a fish this small, but he was pleased that I was happy.

Pants Hardyhead

Hardyhead on right, hardhead on left.

We headed well offshore this time, at least 15 miles, and set to it. We spent the time talking as best we could – his English was certainly better than my Nepalese. There had just been a devastating earthquake in Nepal, but luckily, his village and family were OK.

On our first drop offshore, I got another Arabian yellowfin bream, which was bigger than the earlier bream, and therefore was another record. This pleased me.

Pants Bream big

A record with my pants on! What a relief for us all.

Just as I was measuring this fish, one of my sabiki rigs got hit, and I pulled up a ballyhoo-like Sind halfbeak, another species.

Pants Sind Halfbeak

The hemiramphidae are a favorite of mine.

Hari knew the area very well, and could find small rockpiles by visual reference, even miles from land – the guy was good. On one of these small piles – which felt about the size of a compact car, I got a yellowfin hind, a type of grouper common in the Persian Gulf.

Pants Grouper

One of the few rocky-bottom fish I would see all day.

Moving back onto deeper sand patches for a few hours, we got four more new species – deep flounder, bartail flathead, gilded goatfish, and Gulf lizardfish. I was absolutely thrilled that the numbers were piling up – I attribute this to the structural integrity of my backup pants. There is nothing that hurts focus like exposed buttocks – especially if they’re mine.

Pants Flounder

Deep flounder. It was in shallow water.

Pants Flathead

This is why they are called flathead.

Pants Goat

Goatfish always seem to be beautiful. More examples HERE.

Pants Lizard

Gulf lizardfish. Another ID nightmare.

We caught loads of marine catfish throughout the day – they fought hard and filled in the slow spots nicely, but this family is tough to identify. But one of them was big enough – over four pounds – to give it a shot as a world record. After weeks of drama on the ID, Dr. Patricia Kailola pinned this one down as a giant sea catfish, Netuma thalissina, and the trip had three (unexpected) records.

Pants Catfish

Thanks also to Mark McGrouther of the Australian Museum for facilitating yet another tough ID.

Late in the day, as Hari moved us to try some inshore spots, we saw some fish hitting bait on the surface. Hari expertly maneuvered the boat to drift through them, and I got to cast poppers and jigs through the school – they turned out to be queenfish, aggressive strikers on artificials and a great way to mix things up. You game and (gasp) fly anglers could make a nice day here chasing these around.

Pants Queenfish

A nod to those of you who insist on using lures.

Just before we pulled up for the day, I pulled up a beautiful prawn goby on a sabiki. These gobies exist in a symbiotic relationship with a prawn in the same burrow. I read that in the ID book and am not exactly sure what that means, but I don’t think the church would approve.

Pants Prawngoby

It’s called Luther’s Prawn Goby, which makes me suspect the Protestants would give at least a tacit nod.

I said my goodbyes to Hari in the harbor, and I tipped him well for the extra effort, for gutting it out for two days with me, for tolerating me in my underwear for three hours, and to make sure he had something to send home to his family.

Pants Hari 3

Hari and Steve – the selfie.

The final count was eight new species in a day – 10 for the trip. Eight is an epic day anywhere for me. The three world records were a bonus, but they started me thinking … these would put me at seven for the year. I figured I needed to have at least 20 to have a shot at the IGFA Men’s Saltwater title for 2015 …

I mentioned this to Marta and was greeted with a supportive chorus of “No, no, no, no, no. I thought you were through your ‘Big Year’ phase. For the avoidance of doubt, if you win another trophy, it’s going in the garage  – right next to the Lifetime Achievement Award.”

Challenge accepted.

Steve

 

Posted by: 1000fish | September 13, 2015

Two Records and a Wedding

Dateline: April 26, 2015 – Pangbourne, England

I have caught thousands of trout, but this was the most beautiful. It wasn’t the largest brown I’d ever gotten – not even close. But by its very existence, it proved something wonderful … and brought back the memory of a dear old friend.

But before we get to the trout, we’re going to need to cover a lot of ground, involving a crucian carp, a Royal Air Force sweater, a wedding, a brutal day at sea, and some conveniently esoteric British fishing regulations.

So, obviously, I found myself in England again. My last two trips here had not been for the happiest of occasions, (details HERE and HERE,) so I was due for a good time, and a wedding generally qualifies as such. And this wasn’t just any wedding – this was for Katy Barnes, Roger’s daughter. I had fished with Roger 11 years and never met Katy in person, but we got to know each other quickly through the sad summer of 2014, and she and Sam are now as much family as Roger was.

Of course, I was going to do some fishing. No, not during the actual wedding, although it was held painfully close to a river, but even I know that running off during the vows to hook a barbel might be considered rude. (Or so Marta tells me, but what if it was a really big barbel?)

On my first day on the other side of the pond, John Buckingham took me out for a day of float fishing. I love using the centerpin and delicate float gear, even if I haven’t completely figured out how to use all the accouterments. Of course, it was no trouble to catch crucian carp – now that the pressure was off, I got four or five. It was an education, as always, to watch John land big carp on 3 pound line when I never even saw the bite.

RAF Crucian

I would have done anything to catch this fish last May.

I stayed at the Compleat Angler in Marlow, so the Thames was right there, but I couldn’t bring myself to cast the weir just yet.

RAF Marlow

Looking out from the hotel bar toward Marlow. There are a lot of fish in that river.

I went and looked at the boat, and I knew that fishing the Thames was never going to be the same without Roger, but I also knew I couldn’t NOT fish the Thames.

RAF Angler

The bow of Roger’s old boat.

It is too special of a place with too many memories and too many fish yet to catch. One of the fishermen I met at Roger’s memorial was one Steve Roberts, a tweed-clad gentleman who had been a great friend of Mr. Barnes. Steve was just opening his own guide service on the Thames – indeed, he ended up buying Roger’s boat. (River Days Guiding – you can find him on www.facebook.com/riverdaysuk  or http://www.riverdays.co.uk/.)

Because I am every guide’s worst nightmare, I decided to give Mr. Roberts a severe test for his first Wozniak excursion. Rather than the pike and perch he knows so well in his home waters near Pangbourne, I asked him to find me a flounder. (“A what?” I could hear him thinking.) He was game, although this would require a long drive to a part of greater London that would be described, in local parlance, as “dodgy.”

Tilbury is supposed to have excellent flounder fishing the right time of year, but the place is like Cleveland without the charm. We set up on a long stretch of seawall and prayed we wouldn’t get mugged. It was rather chilly, but luckily, I had brought my Royal Air Force sweater.

I had always wanted an RAF sweater – one of those heavy white turtlenecks the aircrews wore in World War II. After I pestered Marta for years, she finally found one online and bought it for me. Then came the really difficult question – where the heck was I going to wear the thing? Sure, it would look appropriate if I was blowing up the Mohne dam, but otherwise, I was lost. But I was going to England, where it is generally cold and rainy, and I decided that this was the appropriate place to get some use out this “jumper,” as they call them here.

RAF Thames Essex

Lovely Tilbury. If I had caught a flounder, it would have all been worth it.

RAF Steve R

The first photograph of Steve and Steve. The big white thing holding back my stomach is the aforementioned RAF sweater. And yes, I think it’s totally cool.

There was little drama to the day, apart from the brawl that broke out at a nearby pub. There were no flounder – Steve did his best, but they just weren’t there. But in just a few days, we would try the Thames together in his home weir, and I expected this would be a different experience altogether.

Then there was the matter of a wedding to attend.

After careful consideration, I decided not to wear the RAF sweater at Kate and Sam’s wedding. I wore something more suit-like, and tried to stay out of the way as much as possible, except when there was food. Katie looked lovely, Sam looked not completely terrified, and I have to call that a win. Marta was locked up in some venture capital event for the week, so my date was John Buckingham, a wonderful person to be sure, but perhaps a touch less attractive than Marta. Of course, that’s just my opinion.

RAF Dee

The only photo of me and John at the wedding. The lovely woman in the foreground is Dee, Roger’s girlfriend of many years.

The event was held at the Henley rowing museum, which, although Kate and Sam will protest otherwise, was quite posh. Henley is a town upriver of Marlow, best known for its annual regatta. (Where the wealthy and powerful of Britain watch rowing competitions, wear outlandish school blazers, drink expensive French chardonnays, and get sick in the hedge.)

RAF Blazers

Outlandish school blazers.

RAF Henley

Looking down the Thames from outside the museum.

The ceremony itself was lovely, blessed by weather that had unexpectedly gone from a predicted storm to perfect.

RAF Wedding 1

To the right after Sam and Katy are Dee, Pippa (Katy’s Mom,) and Roger’s Mom. 

To my great delight, the wedding featured some classic British wedding millinery. As a fan of Downton Abbey, I was hoping I would see these at least once in person, and now my wish is fulfilled.

RAF Hat

Authentic British wedding headgear. Awesome.

RAF Redheads

There was also authentic British wedding hair. Also awesome.

The cake was a quiet tribute to Roger.

RAF Cake

This represents Sam’s first fishing trip with Roger, on which Sam caught a pike in the 20 pound range. It took me a lot of years to catch a pike that big.

RAF Katy 1

My favorite picture of Katy.

RAF KSS

Yes, Sam really is that tall.

Two days after the wedding, I had optimistically arranged a day of sea fishing on the south coast. There are quite a few rays and flatfish there I haven’t caught yet, but the constant challenge is vile weather. My last trip in this area, with Roger in 2010, was a windswept debacle that saw the reappearance of more than one breakfast. (Details HERE.)

The connection to this trip started with Roger, then to Steve Collier, owner of our favorite pub in Twyford, and then to a friend of his named Nigel, who Steve mentioned is one of the most intense and skilled sea fishermen he has ever met. Needless to say, Nigel and I hit it off well. He organized for me to go out with a group of his friends, but warned me that the entire venture was completely weather-dependent and that the weather in April was typically rotten.

Nigel called me the night before and I expected the worst. He said “Great news – it’s only blowing 25.” It is clear that the British standards of acceptable weather differ somewhat from our own, but the point was that we were going. He drove me down to Langstone the next morning – the same area near Portsmouth where I had fished in 2010. We passed the hour-long drive talking about Nigel’s trips in the area, and I lost count of the species I could add.

We boarded the Valkyrie, a sturdy power catamaran, and Nigel introduced me to skipper Glen Cairns. Glen has fished this area his entire life and knew every hole and reef. This did not mean, of course, that he could control the weather.

RAF Group

From left to right, Nigel, Glen, and Steve. We apparently share the same hairstylist.

The weather was not so awful that we couldn’t go out, but it was rough enough to keep us from reaching some of the prime ray spots. Glen anchored up and gave it his best, but it was all kinds of sloppy. Molnar would have gone rail bunny in five minutes.

RAF water

A lovely day on the water, at least by British standards.

It was quickly obvious that Nigel knew what he was doing. Before I had my first bite, he landed both ray species I wanted desperately to catch – the blonde and the undulate.

RAF Nigel

Nigel at work.

RAF Blonde Nigel

Nigel’s 17 pound blonde. At this stage, I figured I had to get one.

RAF Blonde Ray

Then Nigel’s friend Ray got one.

I figured I had to be due any second. But it didn’t happen. Nigel still got a few fish, while I got nothing. I was reconsidering our friendship when I finally had a small bite. I hauled up a pouting, a cod relative locally held in low esteem, but when I weighed it, I was thrilled. Low esteem or not, I had tied the world record on this fish. Of course, this is because no one else bothers to turn them in – everyone on the boat had caught a larger one at some time in the past, and they were stunned – and lightly amused – that the record was only two pounds.

RAF pouting

Steve gets on the board with a record. I had caught the species before, but obviously not this big.

We stuck it out for hours at the ray spot, but the bite dried up completely, and we finally moved to a harder bottom where Glen knew we would at least get some action with sharks. We all got a smoothound or two, and then I got an odd bite and odder fight. It was not a shark, and when I got it to the net, I was thrilled – I thought I had gotten my blonde ray. But I hadn’t.

RAF Spotted

The spotted ray.

To Glen and Nigel’s astonishment, I had gotten a spotted ray – a relatively rare creature that occasionally wanders into the area. Not only was it a new species, but it was also a record. Despite a bit of a pounding from the rough water, the day had been more than worth it.

RAF Valkyrie

If you find yourself in London, look up Glen – Langstone is a short drive away and great fishing on the right days.

I then turned my attention toward reacquainting myself with an old friend – the River Thames.

Back in the day, the Thames was a famous trout fishery. Because of this, and because the British love to leave esoteric laws on the books well after they are pertinent (e.g. it is illegal for women to eat chocolate on public transportation in London,) there are quite a few trout regulations on the books for the Thames, even though the pollution killed off most of them years ago.

One of these regulations had to do with the closed season. For “coarse fish” – which include the pike and perch I love catch – the Thames season is closed from March 15 to June 15. But the “trout” season remains open in that period, even though the trout fishery was almost non-existent for many years. In recent years, stocking programs and vastly improved water quality, both of which Roger helped work for, have helped the trout start to come back, and once in a while, Roger would mention that he caught a Thames trout.

This loophole is used by some to continue fishing in the off season, although Roger would always make a game effort at fishing for trout, having me use smaller lures and fish more likely areas. We never did get one, although I saw one once above the Temple lock.

So it was that Steve Roberts and I set out to give it an effort after this elusive creature. It was a beautiful place, but a typical English spring day – blustery and cold. Luckily, I had the RAF sweater.

Steve picked me up at Marlow and took me out to Pangbourne – a lovely 40 minute drive through some classic English countryside. We arrived at a boat ramp, and I could tell this would be another amazing fishery. I readied my trout gear while Steve went to get the boat.

RAF Pang

The boat ramp at Pangbourne, so called because the River Pang meets the Thames here.

Steve walked off onto the path, carrying a pair of oars, which I presumed were for an emergency. I fished the bank a bit, and kept waiting for the sound of an engine starting. It was then I saw Steve and the boat. The oars were not for an emergency. They would be our primary method of propulsion, thus earning Steve the nickname “The hardest working man in row business.”

RAF Boat

Dude, you have to be kidding me. But we managed nicely in the small punt, although it was difficult to get far enough apart to get decent photos.

We first tried the weirpool. It was cold and getting colder, but after a couple of hours of casting a small spinner, I got a big hit and landed a nice chub.

RAF Chub

A European chub – always fun on lures, but not a trout.

I also ended up with two pike later in the day – it always amazes me how small of a lure they will take.

RAF Pike

But they weren’t trout.

The day was winding down, and the gloomy light was slowly fading into a gloomier light. We were working our way back to the ramp, but Steve spotted one more spot to try – a perfectly trouty-looking confluence where the River Pang joined the Thames. I cast it twice without result, then got a sharp strike on the third try. I reeled in a frisky fish, which I presumed was a perch, and I had flipped it into the boat before I realized that it was a trout.

RAF Trout

An authentic Thames trout. 

Reserved and British though he is, Steve whooped in celebration, and so did I. It didn’t need to be said that we were both thinking of Roger. This fish became perhaps the most photographed trout in the history of trout, and Steve learned about both selfies and photobombing in the same moment.

RAF Trout 2

So it certainly wasn’t a big trout at all, but it was the most beautiful one I have ever seen. It was a link to the past and a dear friend, and it was a link to a better future for the Thames. I let it go, and it swam off into the riffle, unaware that it had nearly made two grown men cry.

Steve

RAF River 2

Pangbourne at dusk.

Posted by: 1000fish | September 5, 2015

The Interior Design Crisis

Dateline: April 18, 2015 – Dania Beach, Florida

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

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

It itched like crazy.

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

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

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

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

Deco Pier 1

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

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

Deco Doctor

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

Deco Cow

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

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

Deco Sceptic

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

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

Deco Rainbow

Rainbow parrotfish. Yes, they have blue lips.

Deco Stoplight

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

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

Deco Princess

The princess parrotfish.

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

Deco Marsh

Hurray!

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

Deco Sting

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

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

Deco Silverside

The hardhead silverside joins the species list.

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

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

Deco Jenny

The jenny mojarra, featured prominently in Forrest Gump.

Deco Puffer

Puffers are so cool.

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

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

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

Deco Team

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

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

Deco Group 3

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

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

Deco redeye

I’m not sure the camera had a flash.

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

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

Deco Roberta 1

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

Deco Roberta

We needed another car for Roberta’s trophies.

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

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

Deco Stage

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

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

Deco Podium Bad

And apparently making a face I shouldn’t have.

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

Deco Hug

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

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

Deco Perry

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

Deco Trophy

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

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

Deco foursome

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

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

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

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

Deco Pier 3

The pier at dawn, when all is still possible.

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

Deco Caesar

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

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

Deco Hogfish

My fifth hogfish species.

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

Deco Razor

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

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

Deco Mojarra

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

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

Deco Beau 3

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

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

Deco Skyline 3

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

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

Deco Clown

Three clowns, one wrasse.

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

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

Deco Mantle

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

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

Steve

Deco Wall

Deco wall 1

Posted by: 1000fish | August 28, 2015

Swede Home Alabama

Dateline: April 5, 2015 – Birmingham, Alabama

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

Micro Selfie

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

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

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

Swede Yeehaw

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

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

Swede Silverside

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

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

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

Swede Culvert

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

Swede relief

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

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

Swede Platy 2

A platyfish goes on the scoreboard!

Swede Platy

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

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

Swede lined

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

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

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

Swede Spotted

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

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

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

Swede M Spotted

And it’s a nicer photo.

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

Swim Shorthead

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

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

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

Swede chair

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

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

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

Swede threadfin

There were zillions of these right underfoot.

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

Swede silver

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

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

Swede Hurricane

Martini explores Hurricane Creek.

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

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

Swede Alabama shiner

The Alabama shiner, an official Alabama souvenir!

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

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

Swede Bass

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

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

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

Steve

Older Posts »

Categories

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 62 other followers