Posted by: 1000fish | November 3, 2018

Saved by Nikolaj

Dateline: May 9, 2018 – Vrsar, Croatia

I came on this trip with a goal of catching five new species. I got five. But they were not the five I had hoped for. Indeed, four of them came from the harbor, while I was waiting for the boat. This is one of the risks of species hunting, and after all, I was the one who chose to make a return trip to Croatia – a place that has been particularly unkind to me over the years.

Despite my disasters in the region, I have a very good friend there. Part of why we go fishing is to spend time with friends. Sometimes, a great day with buddies can make you forget you didn’t catch anything. I grant you, this doesn’t sound much like me, but it has been a few years since I had fished with Marc Inoue, and I was dying to give the Adriatic another shot. Ah, Marc Inoue – the man who has singlehandedly introduced me to everything that can go wrong in the Balkans.

This is Marc with a TYPICAL tuna.

He is a great fisherman – as evidenced by his amazing Adriatic tuna photos – but the combination of me and him in the same country seems to make things go terribly wrong on a lot of levels. We’ve faced bad weather, family tragedies, bad weather, fungus, archaic regulations, land mines, bad weather, missing vowels, jail for Guido, and, of course, bad weather. But like field goal kickers and Cousin Chuck’s wife, a species hunter needs to forget unpleasant experiences quickly. (Interestingly, all three pastimes occasionally require a helmet.)

I knew I would be in Europe on business in early May, so Marc and I got talking. He would be fishing big bluefin on the surface that time of year, but he also felt fairly good about thresher sharks, pelagic rays, silver dentex, and sharpnose seabream, and there was always a shot at a few other assorted bottom-dwellers that have always fascinated me, like John Dory. I figured there were five species in there for me, and that would be enough to give it a shot.

Marc has moved his operation to Vrsar, in Northern Croatia. This avoids the long drives from Slovenia, and the location is both beautiful and convenient. I flew into nearby Pula airport on a Saturday evening, a quick hop on Lufthansa. (Interestingly, “Lufthansa,” literally translated from the German, means “We Hate You.”)

It looks like they’re speaking Welsh. In Russian.

We flew right in over Vrsar, where I would spend the next four days.

We got me settled into a beautiful hotel near the harbor, and then out for one of what would be several outstanding local meals. (Marc always, ALWAYS finds great food.) I got to meet his fiancee, Maja, and her son, Nikolaj, who turns out to be quite the passionate fisherman himself. More on that in a minute, but suffice to say that Nikolaj, all of six years old, saved the trip for me. (It’s pronounced “Nikolai” – remember that Croatians avoid vowels whenever possible.)

Speaking of offspring, Marc and Maja are expecting. This is awesome, and it proves that it’s never too late for adult responsibilities, except for me.

The happy couple. I want to see Marc give that same thumbs up when he’s changing a diaper at 2am. And while you muse about what a good-looking couple they are, just remember he is my age. I can’t figure it out.

The first day began brilliantly. While Marc was loading the boat, Nik brought his rod down and started fishing the rocks. I had been thinking more about big species, but the little guy inspired me. Moments later, I caught a tompot blenny.

The shortest fishing guide ever.

Blennies are so cool.

Ironically, species 1776 was not anything American-themed. (For those of you who were not paying attention in history class, or who are not American, or who are not American AND didn’t pay attention in history class, 1776 was the first year Abraham Lincoln won the NBA championship.)

Unfortunately for the species count and my stomach, we left the harbor. This marked the first of four days that Marc worked his tail off to catch a bluefin or thresher that just didn’t want to bite. He chummed hundreds of pounds of frozen sardines, rigged dozens of lines in every possible configuration, and tried spots close to shore and almost to Italy. We saw several tuna on the sounder, and Marc got even more worked up than I did every time this happened. He has the resume, but sometimes, the fish just won’t bite. Let’s not blame Marc. Let’s blame Croatia in general.

While we drifted tuna baits, I spent plenty of time putting smaller offerings on the bottom. I caught some interesting stuff, including a catshark I thought just HAD to be a new species. The scientists say it’s the same fish I caught in Wales in 2005, but you be the judge.

This is the fish I caught in the Adriatic.

And this is the one I caught in Wales. I am told these are both the same species, the smallspotted lesser catshark, or, for Martini, Scyliorhinus canicula.

In the meantime, the wind came up and the water got nasty, snotty rough. I wasn’t in danger of puking, except for when the bluefin went right under the boat without biting.

Little Nik was right at the slip when we got back, and I discovered he had fished the harbor all day, waiting for me to return. Maja is an awesome and patient Mom.

The harbor in the evening.

Nik walked me around his favorite spots, and we caught loads of small seabreams and blennies. The highlight of this session was a giant goby – another new species. The kid is good luck. It was difficult for Maja to get him to stop fishing and go to dinner, but not nearly as difficult as it was to get me to stop fishing and go to dinner. (I told her it would get easier with him when he reaches my level of maturity, which Marta guesses will be around age 11.)

Ironically, my first giant goby was a juvenile.

We had another fantastic dinner, this time at a steak place, and the food was so good I nearly forgot about the lack of big fish. Nearly. There were three days left, and my hopes remained high, because when it comes to fishing, I am the ultimate optimist, or, as others would call it, stupid.

We started very early on day two, but not early enough to beat Nikolaj to the water. He was waiting for me, and although he does not speak a word of English (besides “fish”) he excitedly pointed out a small goby. A moment later, I caught it, and after an email consultation with Dr. Alfredo Carvalho, it turned out to be a new species – Bucchich’s goby.

I was beginning to see why people have children.

Marc and I then went out onto the Adriatic and chummed and drifted and drifted and chummed. In the middle of the day, one of the rods went down, but not hard enough to be a tuna. I lifted up with great hopes for a thresher or a pelagic ray, but alas, it was a blue shark.

Alas.

Two years ago, I would have given Spellman’s eye teeth for a shot at a blue shark. But ever since that fateful night in Tokyo where I got one, I have wanted to avoid them, but of course that means that they have taken a special liking to me. We got nine on the trip, not counting breakoffs. We did not see a single thresher shark, or a married one, and the pelagic rays were more pelagic than we hoped.

I was shamelessly looking forward to another session in the rocks with Nik, and he didn’t disappoint. Just as the sun went down, I caught a beautiful ocellated wrasse – the only wrasse from this group that is readily identifiable.

Nik was now my new best friend.

I’ve seen these in books for years.

The little guy was so proud he had helped me catch fish, and I couldn’t help but wistfully muse that if I had a son his age, he would probably be in jail.

Dinner was again marvelous – Italian food overlooking the harbor, and we still had half the fishing in front of us, so optimism remained.

On day three, we mixed things up a bit. We changed boats to the “Bora Bora,” captained by Marc’s friend Milorad. “Mile” is an inshore specialist, so this would be our best shot at a sharpnose seabream, the species that Stefan Molnar shamelessly caught right under my nose on my last trip to the area. We left so early that even Nikolaj was not up, and we spent the first part of the day looking for tuna. While we again saw a few on the sounder, they again did not bite. I must emphasize again that Marc did everything he possibly could have – the fish just weren’t going to cooperate. Luckily, I’ve caught bluefin before, but they were relatively small, and yes, I want a photo with a 500 pounder.

Like this one.

Toward evening, we cruised inshore and set up for bream. The action was immediate and outstanding – we got solid fish on almost every cast for about 90 minutes.

Mediterranean seabream are one of my favorite fish – they fight hard and are great to eat.

For almost anyone else in the universe, this would have been completely epic, but for me, there were no sharpnose seabream.

That’s Marc’s friend Ivan. who joined us as well.

They were everywhere. But they were the wrong species.

Don’t get me wrong – I love to fish, and catching nice specimens like these was a blast – but there was no sharpnose, and so I was lightly disappointed. This is why guides hate me.

“The Bream Team” – Ivan, Milorad, Steve, Marc, and Nikolaj, who came onboard to inspect our catch.

We got in well after dark, so Nik, waiting mournfully by the dock, had no chance to conjure up a species. We had to go straight to dinner before the restaurant closed.

Nik finally sacks out. Until this moment, I wasn’t sure he ever slept.

Dinner was great again, but suddenly, we had one day left, and only one more shot at all these fish I hadn’t caught. Desperation set in, and I lay awake wondering what I had been thinking. When will I get the hint about me and Croatia? But then I also thought about the beautiful location, the great friends, and the amazing food. It would have been an outstanding vacation by almost standard, except for mine, which relate solely to fish species.

Nik and I had some time to fish while Marc loaded the boat, and while we didn’t get any new species, we caught my personal best salema – upgrading my photo album substantially from the micro-sized example I had caught a few years ago.

A normal-sized salema, Monaco, November 2009.

The beastly salema. I have no idea what is sticking out of it, but it went back inside and the fish swam away with no problem.

It was a beautiful morning, flat calm, and we motored out almost to Italian waters. In a wild coincidence, I recognized some oil rigs where I had gone fishing on September 19, 2003 – three days after the very first time I fished with Roger Barnes. It was my first fishing trip in Italy, arranged by a magnificent concierge in Bologna. I had the choice of either touring Venice or getting up at 3am, driving 3 hours to a port called Jesolo, and fishing all day. That’s an obvious decision in my book, but my Mother was bewildered by this for the rest of her life. (I caught two new species that day – Atlantic Bonito, which were awesome, and Brown Comber, which Marc calls “the Adriatic Brown $#!&”, which I have caught at least 9000 times since.)

My 2003 Atlantic Bonito – and I still haven’t been to Venice.

Back in the present day, fishing was tough. We saw some tuna on the graph, but they blew by us never to be seen again. We lost a couple of blue sharks at the boat, which didn’t bother me, but the other pelagics were not to be found. We got to mid-afternoon and the sardines ran low, and I began to accept that we weren’t going to get any of the big targets. In many of my blogs, this is when my patience would be rewarded with a miraculous gift from the Fish Gods. Indeed, one of the rods started pumping and sagging down – very likely a ray bite. I waited, waited, waited, then reeled into the circle hook. I felt weight for a moment, and then that sickening slack as the hook pulled out. I reeled in quickly, hoping to at least see a cleanly bitten bait, but the sardine was mashed. I had missed a pelagic ray, and my last minute Fish God miracle was more of a last minute Fish God kick in the nuts. Unhelpfully, Marc said “If Nikolaj was here, you would have caught it.”

But we’re still friends.

We ran inshore, and toward sunset, we saw a big school of fish breaking on the surface. We rigged Rapalas for trolling and tried our luck. I guessed the fish were horse mackerel or small bonito, but we got no bites in two passes. (Both of these species will generally hit anything in front of them.) We pondered the situation, and were about to write it off to horrible luck when one of the rods went down. This was not a dramatic bite. It didn’t take any line, even though we were going four knots, so whatever it was, it was having a bad day. I reeled in, expecting a small horse mackerel, but it was some sort of bream I had never seen before. I swung it onboard, and we had my fifth and final species of the trip – the saddled seabream. The book says it’s a plankton feeder, so I’m not sure how this happened. Marc had never seen one caught on rod and reel.

It was the only new species of the trip caught without Nikolaj present.

We decided to call it a day on that high note, and so the thresher would have to wait.

Vrsar in the afternoon. The whole country is just as scenic.

Nik was there at the mooring, and proudly showed us a bucket full of blennies. We released these when he wasn’t looking, or he would have insisted on cleaning and eating them. We fished another hour together, and my three-foot guide came through one last time. I caught a beautifully-marked peacock wrasse. It wasn’t a new species per se, as it turns out I had gotten one in 2011 in Slovenia, but that fish was a very plain example and hence hard to discern from the more common Doderleini’s wrasse. This one clinched the ID and let me add a species, so we’ll call the final score Nikolaj 4.5, Marc 1.5.

See “The Slovenian Coffee Trap” for details.

The saddled seabream inadvertently caused an awkward cultural moment. That evening, Marc, Maja, and her parents hosted a cookout for me, featuring grilled fresh seabream.

This was the best meal of the trip.

Maja’s father asked me what I caught. The local name of the saddled seabream is Usata, but, Freud firmly in cheek, I called it an Ustacha. An Ustacha is not a fish. Rather, it is a right-wing Croatian militant group that was awkwardly pro-German in the early 1940s and still does unfriendly things at soccer games. The room fell silent for a moment, but Marc gently explained my faux-pas to relieved giggling.

Oops.

And so the Balkans had given me another reminder that nothing in fishing in guaranteed … except that I will keep going back to the Adriatic until I get a few of those larger species, and failing that, at least to spend a few more days fishing the harbor with my new best friend.

Steve

 

 

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Posted by: 1000fish | October 16, 2018

Pati Training

Dateline: April 19, 2018 – San Fernando, Argentina

I never did figure out what I ate wrong that night in Sao Paulo, but something definitely didn’t agree with me. I felt off the next morning, and by the time I got to the airport to catch a flight to Buenos Aires, I was sweaty and light-headed. I didn’t know it yet, but thousands of ill-willed microbes were doing the macarena through my intestinal tract, and major symptoms were not far off. It would turn out to be an especially stubborn case of whatever it was, but for the moment, there was just anxiety, and the hope that it would either react to a dose of loperamide or at least spare me until I was on the ground.

Luckily, I had done my Brazil fishing before I ate the bad thing. I’ve fished the heck out of freshwater in the Sao Paulo area, so while I could find some nice angling opportunities, new species were a difficult proposition. I checked with my go-to guy in the area (and almost any area) – Dr. Alfredo Carvalho of the University of Sao Paulo. He came up with one great idea – a banded astyanax – which, as we all know, is a small characin that lives in small creeks and ponds in the area. I had to dig deep into my connections to find a spot. Whether we want to look at it as going back 19 years or 1700 species, it has been a long time since I was hitting Sepitiba Bay with Ian-Arthur Sulocki (the Brazilian John Travolta.)

Ian at center and Steve at right, Altamira, Brazil, 2001. I got food poisoning on this trip too.

We have kept in touch – and he has kept his hair – all these years. He instantly had a contact for me – Mauricio Mihara, who owns a pond northeast of town. With the tireless efforts of Fabio, the driver from the Hyatt, we found the place despite the often epic Sao Paulo traffic. With Mauricio personally guiding me into a tiny creek behind his property, I caught the aforementioned banded astyanax. This qualifies as a huge success in my species hunting world.

Steve, Mauricio, and Fabio with the beast.

The Banded Astyanax gets its media closeup.

I spent the next few hours catching big tilapia.

Mauricio and Steve in the clubhouse.

Another connection – our old friend Cristiano Bernarde – also had a lead for me. He has a friend who owns a farm in the rural area past the airport, and he garnered me an invite to fish there. The owner’s adult son, Rocco, is the guy who actually took a day out of his life, picked me up in Sao Paulo, and took me fishing for the afternoon. For this, he has my eternal gratitude. Because it was a Saturday, the traffic wasn’t as horrible as I expected, and we soon reached some beautiful countryside. The farm had been in the family for many years, and was their getaway for vacations and holidays – Rocco had been coming here since he was a child. The place itself was at the end of a long dirt road, which contained one of the more random businesses I have ever seen – a bar, in the middle of nowhere, called “The Bar at the End of the World.”

Of course, we had a beer.

The farm had access to both a pond and a river, but the river access was overgrown and was likely full of spiders and cobras*, so I stuck with the pond. I expected to try for some more micros, but I had forgotten that big fish sometimes take very small baits.

Rocco and the family dogs. Since I was using sausage for bait, they were very interested in me. The boxer wouldn’t leave, so Rocco carried him away, but when this happened, the German shepherds, who still believe they are eight pound puppies, also wanted to be picked up.

I put a fleck of hot dog on a #16 hook and floated it around the margins, looking for a tilapia or characin of some kind. Instead of the tiny nibbles I expected, the float just disappeared, and line started peeling off my Stradic 1000. Whatever it was only had about 200 feet of pond to work with, and as long as I could avoid the aeration pump, I knew I could land the creature. This battle of the wills went on for more than an hour, but the fish finally got tired and surfaced. It was a tiger surubi, and a big one. I had caught a smaller example in the Amazon in 2001, but this was a beast. I finally got it on the Boga after an 83 minute fight. (Cousin Chuck – They use the metric system in Brazil, so that’s more than an hour.) It weighed out at 19 pounds.

Great fun on four pound test.

Then it was back to that fateful dinner at the Hyatt, which normally has great food but had a fail this go-round. It was an otherwise great night, catching up with two dear old friends from my Macromedia days – Eduardo and Beto. These were my travel buddies from the late 90’s – the guys who showed me the inner workings of Rio and Sao Paulo, which, for a recently-divorced American, was better than Disneyland. We had some caipirinhas, told some old stories, and went our ways late that night.

They get better-looking every year.

So we are caught up to the morning when I started feeling icky. I survived the flight without making any messes, but by the time I got into Buenos Aires, my intestinal tract had gone into full rebellion. There were 14 hours of what I like to call “the baseball game” – where I played the slow runner, the bathroom was first base, and my colon was a left-hander with a really good pickoff move. I travel with a pharmacy full of remedies for this sort of thing, but nothing seemed to take. After a sleepless night, we formed an uneasy truce – as long as I didn’t eat, things settled down. I let this go a full 24 hours, figuring that whatever it was had run its course, but it hadn’t. The minute I ate something, the whole horrible process started again. And I got to do this working around a set of unfriendly business meetings, where it is important that you look like you’re paying attention and not about to crap yourself. I would like to thank my co-workers Chris and Kellen for being understanding and finding me lots of Red Bull and high-grade toilet tissue.

This went on for two days, and while I survived the meetings, it can’t be good not to eat for that long, especially because I felt hungry and food looked good, but I knew what would happen. And I was actually running out of Immodium. It’s almost impossible to run out of Immodium, because one or two of them can clog an industrial dishwasher. This can’t be good for you, but on some occasions, it’s the only choice.

Still, food poisoning wasn’t going to keep me off the water, as long as we remained in that uneasy stalemate, where I promised not to eat and my stomach promised not to turn itself inside out in my pants. The only thing that would stay down is Red Bull, and that again can’t be healthy.

I had taken a little time off after my business trip to meet up with another old friend – Oscar Ferreira. Oscar had gotten out of the guide business in the last couple of years, but he was oddly glad to hear from me and quickly organized a couple of days of fishing. Buenos Aires is another place I have fished a lot, but there were a couple of targets left on the list, especially freshwater stingrays. I don’t get here all that often, and playing hurt is part of this game.

We went out with guide Mauricio Onate, who was definitely the real deal. We were targeting stingrays, but Mauricio and Oscar were also fairly sure we could get some large catfish, especially the Pati, which I thought was interesting considering how much time I was spending on the potty. (They are homonyms, which is legal in most states.) It was a beautiful day on the Parana delta, and we cruised through a bunch of small towns and backwaters before he found a big, open, deep stretch of river. Here, we rigged up live eels and drifted with them – the same way we caught Pati in 2014. The first few bites were smaller fish.

A small pati. Adorable.

About an hour later, I got the run I wanted. Pati can top 20 pounds, and while I quickly figured out this wasn’t quite that big, I was happy to be fighting something reasonable. When we got it into the boat, it weighed out at four and a half pounds, which was what I needed to break the current world record. This was unexpected – but it was record 179.

I caught my first Pati in 2000.

Steve and Mauricio celebrate my first Argentina world record. (The fish from 2014 were in Uruguay.)

We spent the rest of the day chasing rays in quiet back channels,

A typical back channel – I love exploring these places.

While we did get a few piranhas and bogas, the rays remained elusive.

A typical “palometa” piranha – common throughout Argentina.

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

A boga – one of my favorite freshwater light-tackle gamefish.

I’m always glad to visit Argentina, but catching a ray gives me an added motivation to return. We made a quick stop before port, at a location where Mauricio often puts out traps for the eels we use for bait. I put down a couple of small rigs, but didn’t notice any bites. As I brought the rods in to go home, I noticed that an eel had quietly snuck on to one of them – not exactly an epic fight, but my second species of the trip.

The creature.

Sunset on the Parana.

Oscar in a pensive moment.

That night, I did something stupid. My stomach had settled somewhat, and I knew a delightful restaurant a few doors from my hotel – a steakhouse where I had once shared a late evening meal with our old friend Nic Ware. I gave it a shot – the small center-cut filet, the potatoes, even a mixed drink.

The man who served me the steak – yet another Mauricio.

It all tasted so good, and I felt like I had scratched off a necessary bucket list item for any trip to BA, but I would quickly need the bucket more than the list. Luckily, I was back at my hotel before things went wrong. The cramps came on like a visit from Cousin Chuck, only shorter, and I was up half the night. But there was fishing to be done the next day, and I wasn’t going to miss that.

On that second day, I ventured some dry crackers for breakfast and still needed to stop at a gas station before we even made port.

This was in the gas station bathroom. I was not emotionally ready for this at 6am.

I could handle water, a little Gatorade, and some Red Bull, but nothing solid. So whether it was from the illness, or from poor nutrition, I felt woozy and awful, and I was facing 18 hours of flying starting later that night. But there was fishing to be done.

We started for the Pati early, and after a few smaller fish, I got into a nice one that peeled off at least 50 yards of line. As I slowly eased it back toward the boat, Oscar slipped a net under a positively huge muncholo blanco – white catfish. It was the biggest one of these I had ever seen, and I was quite confident it would be a record, It was over six pounds, but when I got the IGFA App working, I was stunned to see a much larger entry for the species – by one Roberta Arostegui.

Drat. Those people are everywhere.

So I kept fishing, and about an hour later, I got another fast run on an eel. I set the hook, and this again was a big catfish. I battled it for about 15 minutes, and as it got boatside, it was clear I had gotten a big Pati. We netted it and ran over to the nearest island to get a legal weight. Five even – another record. Number 180. My next world record would put me into a tie for fourth place overall.

I started to smile at how close I was getting, when the last wave of the crackers hit me and I had to excuse myself to the bushes, which were filled with mosquitoes, by the way.

The five pound Pati. I am emotionally ready for a 20 pounder.

We spent the afternoon trying for rays, which did not cooperate, and casting for trihera, a.k.a. wolffish, which did. Mauricio got the nicest one, pictured below.

These things are savage predators that seem to harbor bad feelings toward surface lures.

Do NOT put this in your pants.

The Arostegui family has quite a few world records on these fish, which get positively huge.

Martini and 28 pounds of steaming trihera on 16 pound test. Terrifying.

As we got into late afternoon, I knew it was time to take my last loperamide and head for the airport.

The anglers celebrate a good day.

It had been a lovely two days, except of course for the dizziness and cramps, but I couldn’t complain about a species and two records. I got on a United Airlines 767 that night, and after refusing some very nice-looking food options, made it home the next day with no further issues. Whatever I had finally cleared up about a 14 hours later, because I daringly ate Skyline Chili for breakfast and that seems to have overpowered the microbes. Note to readers – this stunt was attempted using a professional stomach. Do not try this at home.

Steve

*Marta wants me to mention that there are no known cobras in Brazil. But I still maintain they could be there.

Posted by: 1000fish | October 7, 2018

The Billfish That Shall Not Be Named

Dateline: March 25, 2018 – Kona, Hawaii

I knew my hockey career would end someday – I’m 54 years old, and let’s face it, I was never NHL material. Still, hockey is a game I love, a chance to be a gladiator every week and then shake hands with the guy I just tried to kill. I always thought it would end in some sort of tearful retirement speech in a championship locker room full of young players, who had all learned some life lesson from me, like the fact that referees just love it when you call them a myopic #$%@. I never pictured that it would end on a wet driveway in Walnut Creek, but that is exactly where idiot me was riding my bike on a rainy March day when I hit an edge and fell flat on my knee, face, and shoulder.

This is why smart people do not ride bikes in the rain.

The knee and face are not so necessary, but I knew my right shoulder – the one I punch with – was separated. As I peeled myself off the pavement, the first thing I thought was “Oh, $#!%. I’m going to Kona next week and I won’t be able to reel in a spearfish.” Ten years ago, the first thing I would have thought was “Oh $#!%, I have a game tomorrow.” That’s when I knew I needed to hang up the skates. It kills me to write it even months later, because the mere fact that I had played the game so long – generally without a face mask – had often defined me since elementary school.

A week of Advil and high hopes later, I was in Kona. The shoulder was sore, no question, but I believed I could tough it out. Speaking of pain, let’s get the spearfish thing over with. I didn’t catch one. For the few months preceding this trip, I refused to say its name, just referring to it as “the billfish that shall not be named.” It was not fooled by this cleverness. So no update on the IGFA Royal Slam – I remain a standup triple shy of the cycle.

Still, I got to go fishing in Kona for a few days, and that is always a good thing. The idea was a quick getaway with Marta, to let me get on the water and let her hike Mauna Kea, and for us to share the stray romantic dinner. (Hopefully with each other.) Yes, Marta goes to Hawaii, where the resort has a perfectly good beach, and then deliberately does a 16 mile hike IN THE SNOW. I can’t explain it.

I have caught loads of species in Hawaii – 136 at last count – and I certainly can’t count on getting a big haul every time I go. But it is such a beautiful location, and there is always a shot at something weird, and someday, I will get that damn spearfish.

The sun rises over Mauna Kea.

Speaking of obsessive/compulsive lists, my world record count had crept up on a milestone. I had sort of lost exact count after 100, because once that Lifetime Achievement Trophy was superglued to the mantel, (sorry Marta) I breathed the largest sigh of relief of my life and got back to species hunting. Still, a fact of species hunting is that some number of the weird fish I catch are going to be over a pound, and this means more world records. So I counted, and as I left on the trip, I found that I had 172 on the books. This is good enough for fifth place overall. Not that I concern myself with such things, but 10 more records and I would pass Herb Ratner Jr., the current 4th place holder, and pull into 4th by myself, right behind three of the most amazing anglers I have ever met. (Hint: They all have the same last name, and it rhymes with “Arostegui.”) I knew this would take a while, but it would be in the back of my head until I had it done. (Perspectives from Marta – This means he would think of nothing else but this, day and night, until he had passed this Herb guy.)

Of course, I would be fishing with old friends Dale and Jack Leverone.

I really need to get a more up to date picture of them. Jack has grown a foot since this was taken.

Jack wires a black marlin in Australia. He’s going to be a fine captain.

Contact information above – these guys can catch anything that swims around Kona.

When I was packing for this trip, I couldn’t help but notice that I had a whole bunch of highly specialized rods that didn’t see much use. Two that stood out were light high-speed jigging rods – the type we used for trevally in Singapore. (See “Angry White Man”) Even though there was not a lot new to catch this way in Hawaii, it’s still fun, so I packed them both. On day one, we started with these rigs, tossing light metal jigs in 100 or so feet of water and seeing what would bite. It was a blast – nothing new, but all kinds of stuff that pulls hard – including two goldsaddle goatfish that couldn’t agree who would go first.

Two goatfish on the same jig.

Trevally of any type pull hard.

Even squirrelfish got in on the action.

We then trolled, although it felt more like the spearfish were trolling me. At least I got a nice wahoo.

A nice wahoo. Important safety tip – they bite.

The highlight of the trolling was actually a milk crate. From time to time, we will see some floating object while we are offshore. I always like to go look at the floating objects, because there are often interesting fish living on them. This floating object was an upside down milk crate. As we approached it, a few filefish fled the scene, but when the deckhand turned it over, I was stunned to see two frogfish sitting there, placidly staring at me. It was a bit bumpy out there, but I had no shame in asking the deckhand to hold the crate while I grabbed a light rod, armed it with a tiny jighead and a piece of squid, and bumped the largest frogfish in the nose until he bit. I had my best fish of the trip, albeit under undignified circumstances. I also caught the other one moments later. We held onto them and released them near the harbor, where they could find more familiar reef territory and carry on with their little frogfish lives.

Eye and mouth on the left.

They actually walk around on their pectoral fins.

Adorable.

Once we gave up on trolling for the day, we did some medium drops – 500-800′ – to test out the sore shoulder. It ached to be sure, but I could get the rig up and down without crying. We got one fish of note, which you very careful blog readers know was hinted at in the “Gorgeous Swallowtail” episode. It felt like a small amberjack – hard fight and some reasonable runs – so I was quite surprised to see it was a huge spotted unicornfish. At seven and a half, it beat Martini’s 2017 fish by three pounds. That would be number 173. Nine to go.

At least it stayed in the family.

Important safety tip – don’t grab these by the tail.

Because it is almost impossible to get me to stop fishing, Dale kindly made one last stop right at the harbor entrance. Among a couple dozen saddle wrasses and other typical critters, I got a razorfish that looked different. It turned out to be a Baldwin’s razorfish, which would be species 1772.

The fish seemed to have very limited acting ability, so the name is not a surprise.

The next day, Marta joined me. Naturally, the fishing dropped off, but at least she did not catch any species I had not. We had steady action on small amberjack, and the highlight of my day was tying Martini’s 2017 world record on the smalltooth jobfish.

Gotta love the light jigging rods. World record 174. Eight to go.

My final day on the boat was devoted to deep, deep dropping – around 1500 feet. That’s a lot of reeling, and while I was looking forward to seeing what bizarre fish would live at those depths, I knew all that reeling was going to hurt. The shallower stuff had left me feeling like I had been hit by a train directly on the right shoulder, so this was going to be a bummer. Marta, ever the voice of reason, suggested that I give it a miss, which made me even more determined to stick it out. Common sense and fishing have no place in the same boat.

It takes about 8 minutes to drop a rig to the bottom in 1500 feet, and this spare time gives me a chance to think about how long it’s going to take to reel it up. Interestingly, even though it takes much longer to bring up fish than empty hooks, it doesn’t seem that way, because there is a fish waiting there, unless a shark eats it, which happens more than I would like and leads to swearing. There were two catches of note from the abyss – a beardfish and a shark.

A Pacific beardfish – I had caught this species previously, but this one was good big enough to be an unexpected world record. That’s 175 if you’re playing along at home.

The second catch was one of those things that made me happy, but also demonstrated one of the great injustices in the fishing world – the lack of complete identifications in the Squalus genus. Years ago, there were just a few species identified, but as time and science have progressed, dozens have emerged, mostly from deep water. (Such as the Western Longnose Spurdog from Brunei.) So, when I reeled up a small shark with brilliant green eyes, I was filled with hope for a new species and a record.

Squalus spp.

Jack and Dale call these “green-eyed monsters.”

After weeks of research by New Zealand-based shark expert Clinton Duffy, the fish turned out to be a new, but not formally identified, species. This means I would count it as number 1773, because it was a species and was definitely not something I had caught before. But it would not qualify for a record, because the IGFA asks that submissions be on recognized species, which is fair if you think about it.

On the obligatory late afternoon reef stop , I lucked into a big ringtail Maori wrasse, which would be my fourth record of the trip – # 176.

This species has been very good to me.

The big one was still six away, and I had no idea where those six were coming from. The four on this Hawaii trip had been sort of random, so the milestone still seemed a very long way off.

Speaking of random, I now seem to be able to catch Mu – large eye emperor – at will.

With just three new fish, this trip had been a bit of a slow one for the species count. And it lacked the getaway joy of our normal Hawaii vacations – both of our jobs had emergencies, interrupting two of our four evenings, and one can’t help but think that I would have caught something cool one of those nights. We still attempted a romantic dinner at Jackie Ray’s, which went as wrong as a romantic dinner possibly could. On the way over, we found out that Mark Hahn, the husband of one of Marta’s most treasured friends, Lori, had passed away. (A moment of silence for a passionate angler and overall great guy.) Then, just as we ordered appetizers, one of my best friends, Mike Arnstein, called and told me he had been diagnosed with cancer. It was a quiet meal, and any consideration of species, or records, or work emergencies, seemed insignificant.

Mike’s the good-looking one.

One of the advantages of waiting so long to publish is that we already know Mike, after a tenacious six month fight, is OK, and his hair will grow back. I’ve known Mike for 36 years, and it looks like we’ll have him around for quite a few more.

We flew home late the next afternoon. That left us the morning for a quiet walk on the beach, so naturally, I got up and went fishing instead. The Kona Town pier always seems to have something interesting to catch, and things went unexpectedly well for me.

Scrawled filefish, while not a new species for me, are always a difficult catch.

While I cast small jigs for reef fish, I set out a big rod in hopes of getting something beastly. The rod in this case was a special one – a Galahad jigging stick, which is a specialized and brutally expensive piece of equipment meant for defeating dogtooth tuna and similar beasts. It was paired with a Shimano Stella 20000, which can pull trucks out of mud. Davy Ong, the Singapore legend who sold me the rod, was disgusted with me that I had used it to bottom fish for eels in Brunei, and here I was again, putting down this high end rig at the base of the pier loaded with a big slab of mackerel.

Those of you familiar with universal justice know what happened next. The summary: the shortest fight in the history of world records, roughly three seconds, as a big whitemouth moray ate the bait and was unceremoniously hauled out of the water and deposited on the pier, to the astonishment of the other fishermen, nearby tourists, and especially the eel. Of course, the fish was more surprised than worn out, so I was happy to have all 10 fingers when the photos were done.

 

Sorry, Dave. I promise the next fish will be on a jig.

As the morning wore on, fishing got better and better. No new species, but constant action on good-sized quarry – jacks, triggerfish, wrasses, and assorted reef fish. It was getting close to leaving time, but I couldn’t drag myself away, and I knew Marta would not be pleased that I hadn’t answered any of her calls or texts or emails. Finally, as I saw her walking down the pier, I packed up and claimed battery failure, which she did not buy for a minute. But just as I reeled in my last rig, I had a solid strike and a nice, active fight – I figured it was a small trevally. What I pulled up, to my astonishment and Marta’s impatience, was a positively huge barred filefish. Well over a pound, it would qualify as a world record – number 178. Somehow, the first five on the trip hadn’t felt like progress, but this one did, and even though Marta was NOT happy with the fact I had cut our flight uncomfortably close, I walked away from the pier with a smile that wouldn’t go away.

The beastly filefish,

So I would need four more records to take my place at the family table. In the back of my mind, I knew I could do it, but what I didn’t know is that it would have to involve three countries, two US states, 22,000 miles of flying, and an especially vicious case of food poisoning. And my shoulder is feeling much better. I wonder what Marta would think if I skated just a game or two .., you know, just for exercise.

Steve

 

 

Posted by: 1000fish | August 31, 2018

Church of the Almighty Takedown

Dateline: August 13, 2018 – Sacramento, California

I will miss Ed Trujillo.

When you were steelhead fishing with Ed, every strike, whether it just rattled the rod or slammed the tip into the water, was an “MTD” – massive takedown – and every one was just as exciting as the last. A day with fish was a great day, but even a day without fish was still a day on the river, and that is what Ed treasured more than anything, except, perhaps, his wife Carla.

A recent photo of Ed and his beloved Carla. 

A not so recent photo. How in the world did he marry someone that good-looking?

Ed died today. He was 68 years old. When I got the text from Carla, the first that came to mind was Ed talking to me while I fought my very first steelhead. It was January 19, 2002, and he was saying “What a massive takedown! Keep your tip up, I’ll row into shore.” It was a Trinity River beauty, about five pounds, and I will never forget it as long as I live – a big, wild fish smashing a plug in a perfect mountain river.

My first steelhead. I was hooked.

In the 11 years after that, I fished constantly with Ed – some shad and smallmouth in other rivers, but mostly steelhead in the Trinity. As his health declined over the past six years and he couldn’t go to the rivers any more, we kept in touch, but of course, it was never the same. When it got to the stage where he couldn’t row his driftboat, he was heartbroken. As stubborn as an especially stubborn mule, Ed hung in there and got some quiet, good years with his wife and family. But he never got on the river again. I mourned for him then, and I mourn for him now. He was a gifted fisherman and the truest of friends.

I met Ed through a couple of buddies, Chris and Rich.

Chris Armstrong and Rich Terwilliger, from the distant past. (From the Terwilliger collection.)

That first trip in 2002 was a classic steelhead weekend – a race to escape Bay Area Friday afternoon traffic, then the loooooooong run up Highway 5 to Redding, and then left on HIghway 299 and an hour through the mountains into Weaverville. Up way too late having a few beers, up before dawn to have inadvisable breakfast foods, and then on to the river, launching driftboats from impossibly small, secret breaks in the brush. I got my first steelie that day, and perhaps overcelebrated that night with a prime rib dinner that wasn’t all that prime. Indeed, it rebelled at around 2am, and poor Chris had to live through the whole paint-peeling experience.

That next day, after the immodium had taken effect and I dared put on waders, is what cemented the friendship. At the Del Loma put-in (and I’m just using our names for these things – I have no idea what they’re actually called,) Ed rowed against heavy current to get above the launch, well beyond the call of duty, but he insisted there was a nice seam there and we could be in a for an “MTD.” Perhaps three minutes after we set the plugs out, it happened, and it was truly massive – tip all the way to the water before I could pull the rod out of the holder. The fight went on for more than half an hour – the fish stayed in the fast part of the river and hung there in a stalemate that seemed to go on forever. When I finally saw how big it was, I thought it had to be a salmon – but it was a rainbow. A ten pound rainbow, my biggest steelhead for many years, and still one of my “go-to” fish pictures.

I have friends who have fished a lifetime and not gotten a 10 pounder. With Ed, I had to wait 15 minutes into my second day.

Ed celebrates the big fish.

Another photo of the beast. I forgot all about the stomach problems … until I took off my waders.

During the rest of the 2000s, Ed and I got on the river every chance we could get. Thursday was always “fail safe” night, when we would figure out as much as we could about the weather, river conditions, and fish cooperation, and decide “go” or “no go.” We still got it wrong a lot – unexpected rain could show up, the river could go cold, the fish could move up or down. But on the weekends we got it right, it could be spectacular. Before I get into our best day ever, here are some of the fish that made the honor roll –

March 2004, Chetco River. This was my first fish in Oregon.

January 2005 – surprise king salmon on 6# line in the Sacramento.

January 2005, Trinity River – my first ten pound fish “out of the boat” – walking the shoreline where Ed told me to and casting what Ed told me to.

A limit of steelhead caught from shore, Trinity River, October 2006.

We had plenty of two-fish limits, but our personal best day together was March 31, 2007, an Eel River trip joined by Spellman. We caught 11 adult fish, four of which were over ten pounds, and one of which was my personal best – 16 pounds. Spellman got his 11 pound fish of a lifetime on the first drift. It was the steelhead day we all dream of, and to be honest, the conditions weren’t even that good – Ed just knew every seam and fold in the river and exactly where the fish would be holding. I got six of my fish on one Yo-Zuri spoon, and I immediately retired it – it hangs in my garage to this very day.

The beast of beasts. My “go-to” trout picture for all occasions.

Spellman’s 11 pound hog, caught first thing in the morning.

Ed rowing the Eel. We had just released Spellman’s fish. He didn’t stop smiling until the following Wednesday, and even then it was only briefly.

Over the years, Ed and I fished together 95 days, 69 of which were devoted to steelhead. Marta even got in on the action, but even though she loved Ed, she did not like sitting in an open boat in the mountains in the middle of winter. She also had no sense of how hard steelhead fishing really was, because she caught an eight pounder on her first trip and a ten pounder on her third.

Marta’s first steelhead, January 2005.

Marta’s second (and last) steelhead, July 2005. She was smart enough to quit at the top of her game.

Steve and Ed from the same summer Trinity trip.

I managed to get a bunch of my friends out steelhead fishing with Ed. Going through the pictures for this article, it hit me that Ed was the center of so many great weekends with friends, some still regular fishing buddies, some who I need to give a call. A partial list –

Chris Armstrong, who also introduced me to Jarvis in Singapore.

This is how Chris normally looks.

Richie Terwilliger, Sacramento River, January 2005. He handles a driftboat as well as anyone I have ever seen.

The fabled Mark Spellman, February 2007.

Scott Perry, February 2007. I can’t explain this picture.

Garreth “Eminem” Bowman, March 2007. I wonder whatever happened to him.

Jim Tolonen, January 2010. A top-notch angler, Jim is an expert fly-fisherman and also holds the world record on the sand sole.

Dave York, great friend of Marta’s, March 2009. He’s a USC grad, so I brought him a Michigan sweatshirt to wear.

Matt Schaeffer and his son with Ed, May 2009. Matt is one of the better hockey players I have ever skated with.

Ed Martini Shad

Martini Arostegui with a line-class record shad in the American with Ed, May 29, 2011.

You can’t spend 95 days fishing with someone without getting to know them fairly well. Ed came from a Mormon family, but he seemed to spend most Sundays on the river instead of church. I gave him a hard time one Sunday morning – asking him if they would miss him at the prayer service. He looked at me in all seriousness, looked around at the river and the pines and the two big fish hanging on the side of the boat, and said “This is my church.”

The altar at the Church of the Almighty Takedown.

I learned a lot from Ed, not only about how sacred these rivers and fish are, but also from his limitless decency. I am not a patient or forgiving person, (ask Marta) and in my pursuit of a species or a record, I can be downright overfocused and ruthless and forget that we’re just here to have fun. In his own gentle way, Ed always reminded me that even a bad day on the river was still a pretty darn good day. I never apologized to him enough for being the most difficult client ever.

Ed in action on the Eel. He was the guy you wanted on the net with a big fish on the line.

A few years after we started fishing together, Ed began having more and more health problems. He would miss a season here and there with diabetes complications, but he always seemed to bounce back, and there was never anyone happier than him just to be back on the water. As we got into 2010, he was noticeably slowing down, and our outings became less and less frequent. Our last steelhead trip together was in January of 2011, and the last steelhead I got with him was a beautiful red buck that smashed a Little Cleo spoon that Ed had specially selected for me. From there on in, we stayed closer to home in the American River, where he could do shorter day trips.

If I had known this would be our last steelhead together, I would have worn a better sweater.

By my records, I caught 62 adult steelhead in my career with Ed, and 8 of those were over ten pounds. (According to Ed’s fishing reports, we caught just over 9000 fish. You be the judge.) Again by my records, Ed also guided me to 540 fish of all types, including six new species and a world record. (Plus Martini’s record shad.) There were not a lot of species chances on a steelhead river, but in our adventures, I managed to get:

The American Shad on May 12, 2002. They were wide open. Even Spellman caught one.

The Klamath Smallscale Sucker on September 2, 2006. This fish is the world record we caught on January 29, 2011.

The Sacramento Sucker on June 24, 2007. That’s “Eminem” Bowman in the background. Eminem – If you’re out there, drop me a line.

The Redside Shiner on July 21, 2007, on one of our Umpqua trips. These were awesome, dawn-to-dusk smallmouth marathons.

The Redeye Bass on September 10, 2011. There is no parking on this river, so Ed drove me and waited.

Our final species together – the savage prickly sculpin, November 5, 2012. That was the only thing we caught, but look at him smile.

That trip in November 2012 was one of our last times on the water together – he was already having serious mobility problems. Our final day out was on June 8, 2013, a shad trip where there were no shad, but he just couldn’t stop smiling because he was out on the river.

I went up to Weaverville once or twice after Ed stopped fishing, but without Ed, it had lost its magic. It wasn’t about the river or even the fish – it was about fishing there with Ed. We might not have always caught fish, but it always felt like we were just about to.

We still talked on the phone quite a bit – he always wanted to know where I had been and what I was catching. And he always seemed to know how the Trinity was doing, where the fish were, when the rain was coming. He wanted to be back there so badly, and even surrounded by a large and loving family, that big piece of him was always missing the last few years of his life, until he finally was ready to let go, early in the morning on Monday, August 13. When I got the news, I pulled out this picture – my favorite of Ed – with a big steelhead he caught on the Eel.

January 2004. The custom rod was a gift from a friend, and this was his first fish on it. He tried to hand it off to me and I wouldn’t let him – it was great to see him catch one now and then.

The text from Carla was very simple – “Edward, the love of my life, is finally free from pain.” The last time I saw Ed was about six weeks ago, and to be honest, he was miserable. No one should have to go suffer like that, but he bore it gracefully and cheerfully, just like he handled everything. But there is no way I want to remember him like that. I think of him walking on two healthy legs along the Trinity, casting his favorite Krocodile spoon – which I never saw him get a hit on – waiting to row to the next hole and the next massive takedown, hopefully with a quick window of cell service so he could check in with Carla. That is how I want to remember Ed, and I hope that is what he doing right now, because the river misses him.

Steve

 

Ed at the Umpqua “ski jump” launch ramp, April 2006. He convinced me that we had to get into the boat and ride it out like Splash Mountain. I was in the bow bracing myself when he let me know he was joking.

The Pigeon Point fire, September 2006. We got caught on the wrong side of this, so instead of driving 45 minutes back to Weaverville, we had to drive two hours west to the coast, an hour south to Fortuna, then three and a half more hours east back across the mountains on Highway 36 into Weaverville. Ed still insisted on fishing the next day.

Ed on the Trinity. I never could figure out those left-handed baitcasters. (Photo from Terwilliger collection.)

Ed being Ed, January 2010. I had just lost a big fish, but he was so happy to even see the “MTD” he couldn’t stop smiling.

The Ed smile. (From the Terwilliger collection.)

Ed could nap literally anywhere.

Rich with a nice fish on the Trinity. He is standing in almost exactly the same spot where Ed is napping in the photo above. (From the Terwilliger collection.)

Trinity River, January 24, 2004. He kept telling me to cast to a particular seam, which I gave up on, so he cast and immediately got a fish.

Awwwwww.

Sunset at Ed’s memorial service.

 

 

Posted by: 1000fish | August 11, 2018

The Great Paul of China

Dateline: March 8, 2018 – Beijing, China

The history of China is long, proud, and fascinating. My fishing history in China is generally not – so if you read beyond this, don’t expect proud or fascinating, although long is a distinct possibility.

My first fishing trip in China was back in 2004. As usual, I was traveling for business, this time to Shanghai. Shanghai is a marvelously cosmopolitan city on the banks of the Yangtze River, perhaps the most European-feeling city in all of Asia. I had a day free before I flew home, so naturally, I did cultural stuff like visiting museums, walking around the markets, and appreciating the view from the 87th floor lounge in the Hyatt.

The view from the Hyatt.

I did all that for about 90 minutes, but I was surprised I lasted that long, because I was just dying to go fishing. As I don’t speak a word of Chinese, I did what I always do – went to the concierge. Normally, these folks can help with almost anything, including complex medical and legal questions (a story for another time,) but this particular guy was totally stumped. He tried to duck the issue, but luckily, I am over my shyness problem and persisted until they found something. A couple of hours later, I was downstairs meeting my driver and a translator, and they whisked me a out into the countryside to meet, and I quote, “Mr. Fong, the fishing master.” I was intrigued.

It gets rural very quickly outside the Shanghai city limits. The drive was mostly through rice fields, with the occasional small town mixed in. We arrived at a nondescript farm and pulled up near two large ponds, just as the owner came out and greeted me with a big smile. He had a small white cat that followed him everywhere.

The happiest cat ever.

The owner in turn introduced me to Mr. Fong, the “Fishing Master.” The translator explained that Mr. Fong was a champion in many local fishing contests, and they were hoping he could help me catch something. To my great surprise, Mr. Fong was wearing a black business suit. I am fairly sure this was the only time he had ever been called on to guide a foreigner, and he wanted to make sure he was appropriately attired. This took me aback – after fishing with people like Alex and Jarvis, I’m just happy if the guide is wearing underwear.

Mr. Fong, the Fishing Master.

We did our formal introductions, and then the translator took me through the fine points. As one would expect, it was pretty much bread on a float. Half an hour later, I caught some sort of cyprinid, the exact ID of which eludes me to this very day, but I had caught a fish in China.

If any of you know what the hell this is, email me.

We drove back to Shanghai in the evening, and I basked in a sense of accomplishment. I celebrated with a fine meal at Outback Steakhouse. (You heard me. I’m not exactly a culinary daredevil.)

This is why I am not a culinary daredevil. Shingled hedgehog is apparently an acquired taste. 

China was the 26th country where I had caught a fish, and I was thrilled with myself. To put that in perspective, I hit 50 countries four years later, and I am currently at 91.  And the day of that trip – April 28, 2004 – was two months and 15 days before my first date with Marta. Time flies.

For example, if we let time fly to March of 2018, I would find myself in China yet again, this time in Beijing. I have a gift for going to Beijing when it is really cold – my last five trips have been in January, February, or March – and this means things are usually iced over. (Example HERE.)

Steve at Tianamen Square.

I have been to the Great Wall twice, and it was below zero both times, so it was more like the Great Ski Jump of China.

First trip to the Great Wall. Note the frozen river behind me. Note that I still had hair.

Second trip to the Great Wall. Note the frozen tourists behind me.

As with most trips, I was determined to do a little fishing. This is where Paul came into the picture. Paul is the concierge at the Park Hyatt in Beijing, and he took my fishing request as a singular challenge. Awkwardly, he pointed out that any natural location would be frozen over – night time temperatures were in single digits. My heart sank. But Paul was nonplussed – he explained that there were indoor venues for fishing. He apologized that these were not especially serious gamefishing opportunities, and I smiled at the idea of anyone being concerned about my fishing dignity, which I left by the side of a hotel fountain about 30 years ago.

Paul the concierge – “The Great Paul of China.”

Paul and I met a few times to review plans. The venue he found for me looked great on paper – it featured a number of species not yet on my list, notably the black carp and something they called a “topmouth culter.” It looked cool on Fishbase, and I was keen to give it a try.

After a strangely successful business trip, I got up early on my last day in Beijing and set out on an ambitious itinerary.

You can tell a meeting is successful if your employees look worried and confused.

The idea was to head from the Hyatt out to an indoor fishing pond two hours out of town, stay there for a species or two, then get over to the airport and head home so that Marta could show me more paint swatches. The venue itself was remarkably unspectacular – a 50’s era industrial building at the back of a 50’s era industrial park. We walked in out of the bitter cold, and I was struck by exactly how nice an indoor pool smells, because it has chlorine. This was did not have chlorine, because I don’t think the fish would appreciate it, and it smelled exactly like you would expect it to. Think chicken coop, but fishier. There were about 15 local guys fishing in there, and they stared at me to the point where I looked down to make sure I was wearing clothes.

The venue. And you thought species hunting was glamorous.

There were four ponds inside the venue – one with carp, one with tilapia, one with the assorted odds and ends I wanted to catch, and the “forbidden pond,” which I thought would also make a good blog title. I paid for a couple of hours of fishing, set up some float rigs – which are pretty much universal – and got to it. Nothing happened. Then, after half an hour, nothing happened. One of the local guys caught a black carp, which filled me with hope. I went over to examine his catch, and he kindly set me up with some of his special pellet baits. Fishermen tend to help each other out, language barrier or not.

With perhaps half an hour left before I had to head to the airport, I got the tiniest rattle on my shallow float rig. Looking down, I saw silvery flashes under the surface. It wouldn’t fully take the bread, so, in desperation, I took out a small, white jig and flipped it out past the fish. Ripping it just under the surface seemed to trigger the predatory instinct in my opponent, and I got a solid strike. I saw a good-sized silver fish under the surface, and after a brief fight, slipped a net under it.

Success!!

The beast.

A China Rockfish. Completely unrelated to this blog.

I texted friends that I had landed a topmouth culter, but some subsequent investigation, supervised by Martini, revealed that it was actually a related fished called a “humpback.” This was the first definitely new species I could claim from China, and I was thrilled.

On my first trip to China, I was sitting at 342 species. The humpback was number 1770. A lot had happened in 14 years, and I’m hoping in 14 more, I’m reporting something even stranger from China, like the topmout culter, which I am now obsessed with catching. Many thanks to everyone who helped on this trip, but especially to the concierge – “The Great Paul of China” – who went well above the call of duty and made a species happen.

Steve

 

Special Bonus Section – Rock Greenling

The rock greenling is supposed to be relatively common off the coast of central California. Although the kelp greenling is certainly more common, almost everyone I know has also caught a rock greenling, even though I have not. In 2013, Martini caught one right in front of me. (Details HERE.) This hadn’t reached lagoon triggerfish levels of annoyance, but it was close. So I am pleased to report that, on a random trip to my very favorite Elephant Rock Pier, I got one. And let us never speak of this again.

The rock greenling. Thank you, Elephant Rock.

 

Posted by: 1000fish | July 17, 2018

The Gorgeous Swallowtail

Dateline: January 26, 2018 – Watamu, Kenya

Can a single fish justify 19,000 miles of flying? In my case, probably. But it would need to be a really, really weird fish. And any of you who have met me know that my standards for weird are extremely high. Just look at Cousin Chuck.

Thursday brought a change of boats and guide. Kenya had given me seven new species and four records so far, and while this was certainly solid, I knew there were a lot more fish out there. Every great trip needs a “signature fish,” and this hadn’t happened yet. Still, I slept well Wednesday night. Maybe it was the confidence of knowing I was heading out with a bottom fishing specialist, or maybe it was the Scotch and Ambien. Either way, Captain Calvin du Plessis believed we could find some weird stuff on the deep reefs, and it seemed like he enjoyed the challenge. We had traded numerous texts and calls, and I didn’t even need a Red Bull to get wound up in the morning, although I drank a couple just to make sure.

You can reach Captain Calvin at http://www.biggamefishingkenya.com/kenya.html or SoolymanKenya@Gmail.com

The Medina Palms at daybreak. There were no fish in the pool. I looked.

The wind had finally laid down, so the morning was still and beautiful. (But my brother-in-law Dan would still barf.) Calvin had some deeper reefs in mind, about 90 minutes out of port, so I settled into a deck chair and watched the coastline grow dim in the distance. I was hopeful that my Stella 20000 would finally get a challenge, although there are no dogtooth in this immediate area. When we pulled to a stop, I dropped a jig, got a jarring strike, and managed to reel up another personal best coronation trout. Calvin was thrilled for me.

I never, ever get over how beautiful these things are.

Ever, ever, ever, ever.

With my rather limited attention span, when the jig didn’t get hit on a couple of casts, I started dropping bait. Quickly, I made like Cousin Chuck in a singles bar, and hooked up with something big that had no interest in meeting me. When it surfaced, I was thrilled but bewildered. It appeared to be a positively huge spotted unicornfish – clearly a world record – but I had caught spotted unicornfish in Hawaii. I sighed, but there was a surprise coming in a few hours.

As far as I knew, it was Martini’s record I would be breaking, so at least it would stay in the family. (Details in “Homonyms, Pomfrets, and the Pier Panther.”)

Late that evening, when I was online back at the resort, I discovered that this was actually a reticulate unicornfish. So it would a new species and a record, and I would leave Martini’s spotted unicorn intact. (For exactly one month and 26 days.)

The pink Pristipomoides scourge took over, so I went back to the jigs and promptly got my personal best ruby snapper. The sheer size of this fish took some of the sting away from the fact that this was yet another species I have caught in Hawaii. (And Brunei.) Still, I couldn’t argue with the quality of the fishing. Calvin was thrilled for me, and there were high-fives all around.

These were big fish, and everything in this family pulls hard.

I took a moment and looked around. The weather had turned nice, and I was in a beautiful location halfway across the globe, and these are both good things. But in the back of my mind, I kept thinking that the trip still wasn’t as exotic as I thought it would be. I am not a fan of “exotic” in terms of dysentery, poisonous animals, or insurgents, but I had pictured Kenya as less comfortable but loaded with weird fish that would never dream of showing up in Kona. I petulantly mused that I would trade my air-conditioned suite for an air-conditioned queen room in exchange for a few more species, but even I realized that the Fish Gods do not make bargains like this. I needed to focus on fishing hard and hoping that luck would go my way.

Calvin mentioned that we could catch some deepwater anthias nearby, and I was definitely game to add one of these small serranids to my list. We motored into about 550 feet of water, and I started changing my rigs over to some smaller hooks in the #4 range. Calvin stopped me and told me to leave on the 5/0 setup on my rod. This bewildered me, but he lives here and I don’t, so I just took his word for it. I presumed there was a misunderstanding and we were going for something big. I remember chuckling to myself and mumbling “That must be a darn big anthias. Ha ha.”

I freespooled my bait to the bottom, and a few seconds later, I got hit hard. As soon as I lifted into it, I knew that I had hooked the biggest fish of the trip. Now it was up to me not to screw it up. The fish battled most of the way up, with hard, head-shaking runs, and on several occasions, it stopped me dead on 40 pound gear and tried to head back to the bottom. In the last hundred feet or so, the pressure change caught up to it and the fight was a bit less exuberant, but still heavy. I predicted a 20 pound grouper. Calvin predicted anthias, which I thought was an attempt at humor. I mumbled “That must be a darn big anthias. Ha ha.”

A moment later, I saw a flash of bright orange color deep under the boat. Then I saw yellow, and whatever the fish was, it was definitely large. As it slowly came out of the depths I couldn’t quite make it out, and I just kept reeling as we drifted along. Finally, the fish surfaced in a brilliant explosion of orange, pink, and yellow. My brain attempted to process what I was seeing, and the best I could come up with was a big lyretail. “It’s a big lyretail!” I exclaimed. “No,” responded Calvin. “It’s a darn big anthias.” My brain still tried to work through what looked a lot like a very lost eight pound decorative goldfish.

It hadn’t occurred to me that an anthias could be this big.

That’s when it hit me. It was an anthias. A huge, fluorescent, magnificent, impossibly beautiful anthias. I had failed to consider that the anthias on this deep reef are mega anthias – their genus is actually “Meganthias.” (And their common name is “Gorgeous Swallowtail.” Look it up.) It would clearly be a world record, but much more importantly, it was perhaps the most beautiful, improbable thing I have ever caught. And for close to five minutes, I was actually silent. (Which was the true miracle of the entire trip.) Exotic had happened.

I must have texted this photo out 500 times when I got back to port. It has its own Facebook account. I show it to strangers on airplanes.

We stayed in the same area and managed to catch a couple of smaller swallowtails.

Even five months later, I can’t believe I caught this.

The small ones were extraordinary as well – not as stunning as the first one, but a stark reminder that I was indeed 10,000 miles from home. I had done what I came here to do. Everything else would be a bonus. That one fish alone, that one moment when I saw what it was, made the entire trip worth it.

Gratuitous Swallowtail photo. These are apparently exceptional eating, so each of the crew got to feed their extended families for a couple of days.

And there were some bonuses. A few miles away, in deeper water, I got a nice hit on a jig. I was hoping it was going to be a rusty jobfish, a species Martini had caught right under my nose in Hawaii last year. But it turned out to be something so much more satisfying, because instead of irritating Martini, I got to annoy Marta. The fish was a longtail red snapper, yet another Hawaii fish, which Marta had caught and I had not.

And mine was much, much bigger.

Marta and her longtail, August 29, 2008. That is a very young Jack Leverone in the background – he has since grown into the hat.

Late in the day, we made some drops in very deep water – over 900 feet. Along with some of the inevitable pink snappers, I got a pair of seabream-looking things that turned out to be blueskin seabream – my 11th species of the trip. It was an excellent finish to what had been an epic day.

The blueskin seabream – a big thanks to Dr. Jeff Johnson of the Queensland Museum for this and so many more IDs.

I celebrated at the resort with a fresh grouper dinner and some indefinite number of beers.

My final day in Kenya was a Friday, and after a day like Thursday, I wasn’t worried about getting much. I had gotten a bizarre impossibility, and I was as close to content as I ever get.

The sun comes up over Turtle Bay. I took a walk along the beach before we headed out, and saw at least four species I hadn’t caught.

Still, we had one more day on the water. We started in the shallow reefs, and I knocked off two new species quickly. The first was a monocle bream. I keep thinking I’ve caught all of these, and then a new one will turn up.

1000fish welcomes the Thumbprint Monocle Bream to the species list.

The second new species, which came a few casts later, was a nod to universal justice. On this trip, I had caught – repeatedly – two species of hawkfish that I had also caught repeatedly in Hawaii. This fish was a hawkfish, but finally, a different one – the speckled hawkfish. It would be my 13th and final species of the trip – taking me to 1768 lifetime – but the day was young.

I was very happy to see something new come up.

I also got a male cigar wrasse.

The males are much more ornate than the females – it’s sort of like New Jersey.

We spent the rest of the day drifting through a series of reefs and dropoffs. I dropped bait and jigs, and in between about 50 solid grouper and snapper, I got two more records. The first was another rosy goatfish – half a pound bigger than my goat on day one.

I like goatfish. Oddly, I do not like goats. Marta would like a pet goat, which I think would be a bad idea.

I also got a two pound coral hind – my eighth record of the trip. These records not only put me into competition for the 2018 IGFA all-tackle record award, but this particular one also broke Marta’s last remaining world record. (Set in May 2017 in Egypt.) It took me eight months to break this one, which is long by our standards.  (I broke her first world record in two days, and I broke her second in roughly 30 seconds.) Perhaps some of you are just now figuring out just how unhealthily competitive I am. A world record is certainly worth sleeping on the couch for a few nights, especially in the summer, because the air conditioning in our bedroom has failed.

Truthfully, she doesn’t care that much, as long as I don’t put any more fishing awards in the house.

We could have moved out to some deeper water late in the afternoon, but I have to admit that the action was so good where we were that I never considered it. Great fishing is great fishing, and Calvin had guided another amazing day.

Yet another nice coronation trout.

A big tomato cod. I caught at least 20 this size, most on the bass rod behind me.

Calvin’s crew – fantastic guys who thought of everything I needed before I even knew I needed it.

The sun had started going down, and I knew it was time to head back to port. The score for the trip would end up 13 species, eight records, and one guarantee that I would return, likely with Marta, to look at some of the wildlife and clear out a few more species. I hated to start taking the gear apart and cleaning it, but it was time. It all went so fast, and still, except for when we landed that one fish, I never really felt like I had gone that far from home.

Steve

 

Posted by: 1000fish | June 17, 2018

Kenya? Of Course I can.

Dateline: January 24, 2018 – Watamu, Kenya

I was in East Africa, 9,840 miles from home, but it felt like Hawaii. This was both a good thing and a bad thing.

It was a good thing because the hotel in Kenya felt as nice as any resort in Kona. This was an unexpected bonus. My last trip to sub-Saharan Africa was in 2006, when I visited Gabon and Sao Tome/Principe as part of a month-long Africa jaunt that jump-started my quest for 1000 species. I experienced everything you read about – airlines with no planes, fishing lodges that didn’t have fishing or lodges, plenty of unwelcome wildlife, and irrational schedule changes that would give a German a stroke. Despite these inconveniences, and a good case of food poisoning, I got over 60 species – and memories for life. So when I decided to head to Kenya before a January business trip to Europe, I certainly expected some interesting fish, but also that I was going have logistical problems. But I didn’t. So if you’re considering an Africa trip, I would put Kenya high on the list.

It also felt like Hawaii because five of the first seven fish species I caught were things I had gotten previously – IN HAWAII. 10,800 MILES AWAY. WTF, Fish Gods? I have fished lots of places between Hawaii and Kenya and not caught most of these species. (Except for the pink Pristipomoides, which I am convinced is the most widespread life form on earth, with the possible exception of time share salesmen.) Jamie Hamamoto is somehow behind all of this.

It was 41 hours of travel from my house in Alamo to the Medina Palms resort, near Malindi on the central Kenyan Coast. 41 hours is a long time to travel, despite the incredible precision and great service from Ethiopian Air, but I got there safely, albeit way past the point where Red Bull could help.

It was eye-opening to see so many famous places on one map screen. Mount Kilimanjaro, where Marta will make me hike someday, and where I will likely barf. Tsavo, where two lions ate several dozen railway workers late in the 19th century. (Watch “The Ghost and the Darkness,” but not with a cat person.) And Mombasa, first capital of modern Kenya. I was truly a long way from home.

Before anyone gets all jealous about all the wildlife and historical stuff I saw, I didn’t. Remember, this is me, the guy who caught a fish in Paris before I saw the Mona Lisa. I spent five days in Kenya and didn’t see a single giraffe. Indeed, I saw absolutely nothing related to “The Lion King,” despite it being one of the great movies of all time. I went fishing and fishing hard, 12 hours a day.

Located on the Northwest Indian Ocean, Watamu is about 2500 miles from anywhere I had fished previously – so I had very high hopes for a big species haul. (Just as I had on my first trip to the Maldives.) We all remember how humbling the first two days of that trip were, so I tried to temper my anticipation, but it was hard to do this when the local fish book contained page after page of stuff I had never seen. On paper, things should have been epic – 25 species or more.

But we do not play the games on paper, or the Detroit Tigers would have won the 2012 World Series.

This all started with an IGFA captain – Angus Paul of Kingfisher Sportfishing. IGFA.org is a great place to start planning a trip, especially to places with limited infrastructure. The IGFA skippers are vetted, well-known, and reliable, although most of them are focused on big game. I won’t turn down a marlin, but I am of course focused on variety, and this is generally found on the bottom.

That’s Angus on the lower left. You can reach him on Kingfisherfishing@gmail.com

A lot of big game skippers will turn up their noses at species fishermen, or, even worse, take a bottom charter with no idea how to catch anything but billfish. Angus not only was up front that he was not a reef guy, but he went the extra mile and booked me with two local experts. I would spend my first two days with Captain Abudi Yusuf on on of Angus’ boats, the Snow Goose, and my final two days with Captain Calvin du Plessis, who has a reputation for deep jigging. Angus also helped me find a great hotel and transportation – now all I needed to do was get there.

I know “Ethiopian Air” sounds like the punchline to one of my tasteless travel jokes, but they really were great. After taking United to Frankfurt, I had a 10 hour layover, then caught an Ethiopian flight to Addis Ababa.

There were no fish at the airport. I looked.

Their aircraft were new and clean, the crews were organized, and things happened on time. Seven hours to Addis Ababa, three hours there in a decent lounge, then a short flight to Mombasa. (The layover, however, meant that I had added a country where I have not yet caught a fish. This will have to be corrected.) It is always a huge relief to see my luggage waiting for me at the end of a trip, and there it was. I knew I was going fishing.

The thing I look forward to seeing the most on any trip, unless I am with Marta, and then I would look forward to seeing her the most. This is not to imply that I have ever checked her as baggage, because, let’s face it, United would lose her.

There was an evil omen at the airport. One of the walls held a mural that featured not one, but two species I have never caught.

Clown triggerfish and queen angelfish, and don’t think this sort of stuff doesn’t bother me.

The hotel car was waiting for me outside of customs, and three scenic hours later, I arrived in Watamu. Mombasa was a little gross, but so is Berkeley. Outside the city limits, I may as well have been in Hawaii. We passed quite a few reserves where the driver told me there were giraffes or zebras or some other kind of lion food, but I was determined to get to the hotel, get my gear together, and catch a fish.

The Medina Palms is an extraordinary resort. Clean, secure, beautifully landscaped, and simply amazing service – delightfully first world.

Just outside of my room.

I know some people may travel hoping to have a truly local experience, but my goal is to catch local fish, have nice meals, and avoid cultural nuances, such as dysentery. On my arrival, I discovered that the bay where the resort is located is a preserve, and there was no fishing from the beach. This was heartbreaking. I actually had to pass about two hours in the afternoon near water, and not go fishing. As you all know, I am always perfectly calm in these situations and am never inconsolable, intolerable, or irrational. (Perspective from Marta – You all know better.)

If you don’t know how hard this was for me, you must be a new reader. Welcome!

I passed the time by meeting Angus to take care of logistics. As we had an afternoon beer at a pleasant beachside cafe, we agreed on a 6:15am pickup on the beach for the next morning, and spent a lot of time talking about what could be caught in the area. While he is a big game specialist, he certainly knew a lot about the local lure fishing – there are GT, amberjack, and big snappers in the area.

The next morning, when I got down there at 6:15, they were waiting. (I had a guide in Gabon in 2006 who unapologetically AVERAGED 90 minutes late. You can imagine how calmly I dealt with that.)

Sunrise at Watamu.

The wind was up, and the water was bumpy – fishable, but the kind of thing that would make Stefan Molnar throw up. A lot. But I was here, and I was going fishing. We motored about an hour south and set up over some reefs in the 200-250′ range. I started dropping a mix of bait and jigs. Action was immediate, but to my astonishment, the first three things I caught were already on the list – from Hawaii. One of them was even a bridled triggerfish, which made me wonder if these would be a scourge here as well.

My first fish of the trip. Triggerfish though it was, I had added Kenya as my 91st country.

Then I pulled up a hogfish, which looked a lot like the tarry hogfish caught in Hawaii, but I figured had to be something new because I was 11,000 miles from Hawaii. I was briefly pleased.

Oh, was I disappointed when I got into the ID book.

My very next fish was a tilefish-looking thing, which looked a lot like the stripetail blanquillo I had caught in Kona years ago, but which had to be a new species because there is no way it could be the same thing that I caught 11,000 miles away. And I was briefly pleased.

Oh, was I disappointed when I got into the ID book.

It took another hour for the first new species, but it was a good one – a rosy goatfish, which was not only new, but an open world record.

Whew.

Shortly after than, I hauled up a halfmoon grouper, which, at two pounds, was also a record. Things were looking up.

OK, now I was feeling much better.

A few triggerfish later, I got a blackside hawkfish, another Hawaiian mainstay. I began to suspect again I had gotten on the wrong flight, and when I got a couple of pink snappers, I became certain there is some sort of fish wormhole between Kona and Watamu. My next catch, however, was a nod to universal justice. Yes, it was another bridled triggerfish, but this was a big one – 2.5#. This broke the existing record, which was mine, so this was rewarding but felt overdue, like Cousin Chuck’s high school graduation. (What a way to celebrate his 24th birthday!)

My initial record, in 2012, broke an existing record held by good friend Phil Richmond.

We moved inshore for the late afternoon, and I added two more species there – a goldstripe wrasse and a redspotted sandperch.

Wrasses are one of the most consistently beautiful fish families.

I caught a few other equally gorgeous wrasses, and even though I had gotten these species before, they are still lovely enough to include here.

The spottail coris, which I first caught in Jordan on New Year’s Day 2010. This one is a female, so it’s a coris girl.

The yellowbar wrasse, which I first caught in Mozambique in March of 2006 as part of the aforementioned Africa trip.

Sand perch IDs are not a problem, because Dr. Jeff Johnson is an expert on them, .

The redspotted sandperch.

It was well into the evening when they dropped me back at the Medina Palms beach.

Captain Abudi Yusuf, along with deckhand Arfun Photobomb.

Four species and three records was a good start. It wasn’t the huge haul I had imagined, but it was nice. And I had three more days coming up. So I settled down for an evening enjoying the resort, which had an excellent restaurant and a nice bar. A note to you prospective travelers – I did not see a single mosquito the entire time I was in Kenya. I also did not see any lions, which is just fine me.

The next day started perfectly – early and punctual. Captain Yusuf ran us out to some different reefs, further north. We first set up to try some sabikis over a shallow reef – the water was a gorgeous crystal blue. Very quickly, we added two nice species – the cigar wrasse and a red bar anthias.

The cigar wrasse. Dr’ Jeff Johnson couldn’t believe I hadn’t caught one of these before. They are apparently quite common throughout the Indo-Pacific. Of course, once I had caught one, they wouldn’t stop biting.

The anthias is worth mentioning for future reference. Note that it is small. Note that all other anthias species I have caught were small – see example in “The Winds of Nausea.” This will provide some background on a misunderstanding I would have in just less than 24 hours.

The Red Bar Anthias

We moved deep for the rest of the day. The quality of the fishing was outstanding. We started getting much bigger stuff – groupers, jacks, and a nice Indian Threadfin.

This was on a pike rod and 15# braid, and they were everywhere. Jigging specialists will love this place.

As we worked our way through some rockpiles with a metal jig, I got a solid hit and the unmistakable bottom-hugging fight of a grouper. Most grouper fights are like Cousin Chuck’s honeymoon – enthusiastic but brief, and ending badly for half of the participants. As the fish became visible under the boat, I saw it was something very orange, and when I pulled it onboard, it took a moment to figure out I had gotten a rather nice yellow lyretail, or coronation trout, as the Australians like to call them. I had admired these in books for years before I got my first (small) one in Jordan in 2009.

Not huge, but my personal best.

These are one of the most beautiful fish I have even seen.

The action was nonstop, and in the midst of all the chaos, I had two more noteworthy catches. The first was a world record on a gray seabream. I had caught close relatives of this species in the Maldives.


These are a very difficult ID. Write me if you encounter this problem – I can save you some time.

And the second was an unexpected new species, the brownspotted grouper, which I admit I didn’t figure out until I was going through the books a few weeks later.

Let this be a lesson – always photograph any of these Indo-Pacific spotted groupers. There are a lot of them.

And so, as they dropped me off on the beach to head for another fresh grouper dinner and a visit to the spa, I did the math.

Deckhand Arfun drops me off while I do the math.

I was up seven species, which was about half of what I had hoped for, but I also had four world records. The fishing was simply outstanding, and if I hadn’t been worried about getting odd species, it would have been even better. My petulant inner child started making an appearance, but I had a cold beer or two and slapped it. I had to just go with whatever happened and trust in the Fish Gods. And little did I know, that in less than 24 hours, that the Fish Gods would give me a shot at the fish of a lifetime.

Steve

 

 

 

Posted by: 1000fish | May 26, 2018

A Case of the Bens

Dateline: November 18, 2017 – Long Beach, California

Yoga is good for you? Baloney. Yoga has nearly killed me several times. Marta, as you know, is a yoga teacher in her spare time, and this means that I am often called upon as a test animal. (“Ready? Now then – nose against rectum. Namaste!”)

The cruelty is generally physical in nature, but it can also be emotional, especially for me. For example, last November, Marta was going for her Iyengar yoga teacher certification in Los Angeles. This is a big deal in the Iyengar yoga world. It takes about three years of studying, and still, some applicants don’t pass. You can imagine how much stress this was for her, but of course, it was even more stressful on me. Some of you hippy liberal types might think the main point would be Marta’s experience, but let’s stay focused here!

Marta went down to LA a couple of days before me and was in no mood to socialize before the test. Being the dutiful, kind, and loving partner that I am, I volunteered to come down and drive her home on Sunday. Sure, it was a chance to go fishing in LA for a couple of days, but I didn’t realize I would have to spend 24 hours with Marta when she would not know whether she passed her assessment. These would be rough hours, a time of intense worrying, and no matter what she will tell you, she took it out on me. It’s a long drive up I-5 when your passenger guesses that they failed their assessment every three minutes.

But before we cover my emotional torment, there is some fishing to discuss. I drove down in the afternoon, and made a quick stop in Malibu. Barbara Streisand wasn’t available and wouldn’t let me on her beach, so I took a shot at calico surfperch.

If I caught one, you would see a picture of that here instead of some general Malibu scenery.

The next day, I connected with our old friend Ben Cantrell, who has conveniently moved to San Diego. (You may remember Ben as the guy who spent over a month with a catfish spine lodged in his calf.) Our plan was to spend a day of bumming around the Los Angeles piers. Targets were many, but catches were few. Still, it was a lovely day, if you don’t consider that Ben had a nasty cold and that Marta was doing the written, demonstration, and Pranayama portions of her assessment. (I have no idea what most of that means, but she made me put it in here.) While I had wanted a spotfin croaker, no new species were to be had. I settled for an overambitious thornback and a beast of a diamond turbot. Late in the afternoon, Marta reported to me that she felt she had done reasonably well on this part of her assessment. This made me feel good.

The turbot. My first one was caught in San Diego – details HERE.

We tried several piers, finishing up at Redondo Beach.

A lovely sunset at Redondo Beach, which we got to enjoy undisturbed by fish. Then we got to eat at Taco Bell.

The next day, we added an extra Ben to the equation, because you can never have enough Bens. This time it was Ben Florentino, the legendary kelp bass guide made famous in the “Korean Superman” blog.

The fabled Captain Ben Florentino – you can reach him on https://www.fishcoastalcharters.com/.

Over the years, Captain Ben has put 12 species and quite a few world records on my list, so I wasn’t expecting a huge species haul. Still, there is always a chance at something weird in Los Angeles, like the (still) elusive zebra perch, and it’s always a lot of fun to go out in the kelp beds and toss lures.

We had a blast catching the usual reefy inshore species – and Ben C. added a couple of new ones, especially a nicely-colored sheephead.

Ben’s first sheephead.

My first “three color” sheephead.

I caught loads of fish – bass, barracuda, rockfish, and my personal best scorpionfish.

My PB scorpionfish. Do not put this in your pants.

A California barracuda. Great fun on light tackle.

It was one of my smallest fish, however, that was the most memorable. While we were casting lures in kelp lanes, Ben F. noticed some large jacksmelt. The jacksmelt is an oversized silverside that is found up and down the west coast. They are a common pier catch, are completely inedible, and never, EVER reach one pound. I tied on a small spoon and starting getting a few, and these were, AS ALWAYS, close to but not quite a pound. I have caught thousands of these and I had never seen one big enough for a record. I got four in a row that were so, SO close, but didn’t make it, and just when I was lamenting that this fish just KNOWS it weighs 15 ounces, one of them actually pulled the Boga down to that 4th black stripe. It was a pound. A world record jacksmelt, which was a great point of personal pride, even if it won’t garner any major press coverage.

My moment of triumph.

Interestingly, at least to me, is that just a few weeks earlier, Martini had set a world record on the Pacific Sand Dab. This is another generally-tiny creature that gets caught in pestilential droves, and are usually the size of my hand. This is slightly but measurably weirder than a one pound jacksmelt. There is a fine line between persistence and stubbornness for the sake of stubbornness, and we both crossed that line years ago.

Well done, Martini.

We moved back into the estuary, and Ben got a nice bat ray.

The mighty mud marlin.

Ben and Ben celebrate a great day on the water. You can book Ben on https://www.fishcoastalcharters.com/.

Just as we were wrapping things up in Long Beach, Marta called. I crossed my fingers, hoping for good news, even though the official results would not come in for 24 hours. I answered the phone, and Marta said “I blew it.” My heart sank, as this would mean a far less cheerful ride home. But when I questioned her further, details began to emerge that gave me some hope. It turns out that she felt she had not handled one student well and that she thought they would flunk her for that. When I asked her how the rest of the program went, she thought she would have passed otherwise. I know squat about yoga, but you would think that touchy-feely holistic types wouldn’t be so vindictive.

We spent the night in Los Angeles. The mood ranged from resigned to depressed to curiously upbeat (as soon as I managed to get lightweight Marta a couple of tropical drinks.) We had a lovely Jamaican dinner, and I tried to convince her that things might turn out fine, but she wasn’t having that, so I gave lightweight Marta more tropical drinks and tried to be supportive. (At times, literally.) I maintained my hopeful attitude, even when she woke me up at 3am to announce that she must have failed and that she had likely wasted three years of her life. To get even with her for this, I made sure we had lunch the next day at the fabled Willow Ranch BBQ on I-5. Marta was so bummed by this stage she didn’t even point out that the only vegetable on the menu is deep-fried jalapenos.

Marta poses in front of the Willow Ranch BBQ. You can tell this is before the meal, because she is not doubled over with cramps. 

I tried to keep the conversation positive and focused on my world record jacksmelt as we ground out the miles north through the desolation of California’s central valley. But every few minutes, she would announce that she must have failed. She revealed that she could try the certification again in 12 months. This would mean another year of me being forced to do random and painful yoga experiments. No one ever seems to understand I am the victim here.

At exactly 5:47pm, just as we had exited the freeway and were heading to our house, which still does not have a wood floor, her phone chirped. “That’s the email from the institute. My results are in.” she said. I told her to wait so I could share the pain or joy, and wisely decided not to tell her she had ended a sentence with a preposition. She ignored me and opened the email. Her eyes went cloudy, and I thought to myself, Ohhhhh #&$%, she really did fail it and now my life is going to be miserable, because I am the real victim here.” I pulled the car to the side of the road.

She could hardly speak, and my heart dropped. Then, quietly, she said “I passed.”

I told her that I knew she would the whole time, although I secretly wet myself with relief. (And, ok, maybe a bit of pride and joy for her. And obviously, “wet myself” is just an expression. Or is it?) She thought for a moment, and said “If I start studying right now, I can go for the next assessment level in two years. But I would need to start preparing right away. Can I have you do a class tomorrow morning?”

If only she could understand how much her obsessive hobbies affect our lives …

Steve

 

Posted by: 1000fish | May 5, 2018

The Time of Nic

Dateline: October 14, 2017 – Bang Pakong, Thailand to Lake Fort Worth, Florida

Many of my blogs center on catching a fish in the nick of time, but this one is about the time of Nic.

I always seem to be far from home when bad things happen. I was in Malaysia when my Grandfather died in 1995. I was in Slovenia when my Mom passed away. So when I was in Thailand last October and my phone started lighting up with calls from co-workers at one in the morning, I had a bad feeling. I answered a call from one of my senior guys, Falko, and he was very to the point – “Nic has died.”

Nic and Falko were close.

That’s Nic and Falko at back right. No beer was safe around those two. Germany, 2014.

Nic Ware. It’s one thing when you get a call about someone much older, or someone who has been ill a long time, but this was sudden and hit close to home. Nic was just a few years older than me, and just like that, he was gone.

The first known photo of Steve and Nic, somewhere in Asia, early 2000s. We were good-looking and young, or more specifically, he was good-looking and I was young.

I had spoken to him just a few days before, partly about work topics but mostly shooting the breeze. Longtime 1000fish readers may remember Nic as “The Worst Valentine Ever,” and indeed, Nic will forever be my least attractive Valentine’s date. (We were wrongly identified as a couple in an Outback Steakhouse in Beijing on February 14, 2004.) We worked together for the better part of 20 years; I hired him three different times. We had adventures across Asia, South America, North America, and Europe. (And misadventures in many of the same places.) He kept to himself, wasn’t that open, had very few close friends. But we just clicked. The first legal advice he ever gave me (about a parking ticket) was “Deny everything. Admit nothing. Make counter-accusations.” How could I not love someone who thought like that?

I didn’t sleep much, and the alarm went off when I was staring at it. I had a day of fishing left in Thailand before I headed home. As always, Jean-Francois Helias set me up with his top guide, Kik, this time to give the Bang Pakong River a shot for a few local species I hadn’t gotten yet.

Kik and a local boatman on the Bang Pakong.

On the first day, the day before I heard about Nic, fishing was slow. Water levels had shot up from heavy rain, and the small fish were scattered in the flooded lowlands rather than at a predictable river edge. But we gave it a good shot, and I added one cool species that day – the smooth freshwater puffer.

I hadn’t even know these existed before my trip to Laos a few years ago, (Details in “The French Correction“)

You’re not the first person to notice that they look like a testicle with eyes.

We also got some nice Boesman’s croakers – a solid day.

Boesman’s croaker. They get a lot bigger.

I remembered the last time I was in Thailand with Nic, and having dinner with some of his old CIA buddies. It was like something out of a Warren Zevon song, but I didn’t see any Thompson guns.

The next day, the same day I found out Nic had died, I went out on the water but my thoughts weren’t on fishing. I kept looking at my phone. Nic had sent me texts just a few days ago. The last thing he ever sent me was, and pardon the language, but I will treasure this:

You’re an asshole    🙂

In this particular case, he was probably right. I couldn’t stop thinking about his wife, Lucy, and the pain she was going through. She was the one person he seemed to be able to talk to and who could make him deal with adult responsibilities. She was the Nic Whisperer.

I went through the motions on a very rainy Bang Pakong river.

It poured most of the day.

Kik was helpful every step of the way, but I was somewhere else.

The Hyatt labels have gotten awfully literal.

We were using tiny live prawns for bait, a lot like grass shrimp back home. Late in the morning, I reeled up an odd-looking catfish. Kik jumped out of his stool when he saw it, and for the avoidance of doubt, he was sitting on a wooden stool when he saw the photo. Don’t be gross. I had caught a Pla Kot Kan Lao – the truncated estuarine catfish, and this one is officially rare.

Francois has gotten two of these ever.

Adorable.

I thought Nic might have been looking out for me, but he was the sailor, not a fisherman. We talked about it, but we never did go fishing (or sailing) together. Just like I never saw Roger Barnes sing live. These chances go by so much faster than we think they do.

I got two other catfish that day which have thus far defied identification, so if any of you can figure them out, dinner is on me.

Guessing Ariidae. I didn’t say this was going to be easy.

Guessing in Netuma someplace, but this is a confusing genus.

Nic and I came close to fishing together once in Peru, but he decided it was more fun to sit on the pier, have a few beers, and make fun of me. Nic’s Father was a diplomat, so Nic grew up all over the world. He went to high school in Lima, and knew the place like the back of his hand. He spoke something like seven languages – three of them English.

Nic makes fun of my small fish. Note that he is reclining on solid rock – Nic could make himself comfortable anywhere, even the tiniest middle seat on the worst possible airlines.

When he went on a beer run and I asked him to bring me a Red Bull, he yelled halfway down the pier “¡Senor Wozniak, Yo he obtenido tus laxantes!” People stared, because this means “Mr. Wozniak, I have brought your laxatives!” Remember that I was the only person within earshot who did not speak Spanish.

I got off the water around five and we had surprisingly light traffic back into Bangkok.

Gas station bathroom on the way back to Bangkok. Signs like this go up for a reason, and I would love to know the reason.

I had dinner and a quiet beer at the Hyatt, at the same table where Nic and I, years ago, had giggled uncontrollably at a sales manager’s plaid suit, which looked a whole lot more like pajamas than business attire.

Steve and Nic, Bangkok. circa 2003.

The next morning, I flew through Singapore and caught a connection back to San Francisco. Once home, I got to say hello to Marta, then repack a bag for Florida. Marta loved Nic.

It was a military funeral – Nic was a US Marine. (And also a CIA officer and a lawyer. His resume made me wonder what I did with my life.)

“On behalf of a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”

Old friend Cristiano Bernarde, who has shared a few fishing adventures with me himself, was also very close to Nic. It was Cris who drove me up to the National Cemetery for the service. The whole thing was exactly 20 minutes long. It doesn’t seem fair to sum up a life in 20 hours or 20 days, let alone 20 minutes. Cris and I had lunch at, of all places, Bass Pro Shops in Dania Beach. He had to get back to work in the afternoon, and there I was, at the same Marriott I had stayed at for my very first IGFA award in 2010. It hit me that I hadn’t been fishing with Cris in years – it just always seemed like we would have to schedule it next time. I had a lot of plans with Nic for “next time.” So the next time I’m in Florida, I am making the time to get out with Cris, dammit.

But still, I was in Florida. There are fish here. Marta was locked up in some insane work project, so I decided to stick it out for a couple of days and try to catch a few species. This isn’t as glamorous as it sounds – the weather was unsettled and windy, and the hurricane that had passed through left a lot of damage. My favorite fishing pier – Anglin’s – was partially destroyed, and the coastal water was unseasonably green and cold. I had a all-star team of species experts on speed dial – Martini, Patrick Kerwin, and buddy Dom Porcelli – and everyone had some great ideas.

That first evening, I went up to Boca Raton, to a park Martini had recommended for night sergeant and possibly an eel. I opened a cold drink and set up my gear. I was late afternoon, the tide was rushing out, and I began catching all manner of small reef creatures. As it got dark, I had a crushing bite in the rocks and something broke off a 100# leader. The only thing that could have done this was an eel. (There are no gulf flounder in the area, Martini.) One of the last small fish I got was a very dark-colored damsel, which turned out to be the targeted species. I thought of Nic and smiled – there is no way he would have been out there with the mosquitoes.

Night sergeant. Ironically, I also met a Boca Raton police sergeant that night, because I had not realized the park closes at dusk. He let me off with a brief discussion of local fishing.

The next day was a blur of racing from spot to spot trying to pick up targets that Martini, or Dom Porcelli, or Pat Kerwin had passed along. I caught a couple of nice fish at Juno Pier, but it was mostly catfish.

An Atlantic Moonfish. Closely related to the Lookdown.

I decided to head to Boca Raton again, at a landing that had produced quite a few species for me. I had a big rod out with a bait for eel, and this did get a couple of hits – once from an ambitious nurse shark that put up a good fight for a minute or two. But I had dinner scheduled with the Arosteguis that evening, so I wanted to be more or less on time and more or less showered. I was down to using prawns on a lighter rig, and in the last five minutes I could fish, I got a solid, heavy bite. Lifting up on the 8 pound mono, I could tell immediately it was a moray, and I could also tell that the odds were heavily against me landing it. I gently worked it to the surface, and seeing that I had it hooked cleanly in the corner of the mouth, I gambled and swung it up onto the ledge. My gear held together, and I had finally gotten my Green Moray.

I thought of Vinnie Biondoletti and my eel failures with him all those years ago.

It gave me a good topic of conversation with Marty and Roberta, and I also got to visit with Rossi the cat.

Best cat EVER.

Saturday was my final day of fishing, and I spent it racing all over South Florida after some assorted micros that had frustrated me over the years. In a single morning, I was ignored by the bluefin killifsh, the sailfin molly, the least killifsh, and the brown hoplo. Both Martini and Dom had given me great spots and sage advice, and I still struck out. Bad. Like the kind of struck out where I never even saw the baseball, which used to happen a lot if someone could throw a curve over the plate.

There was one happy development to report on this day, and it was literally a Happy development. Specifically, an Eastern Happy Cichlid. This is one of those weird creatures that Patrick Kerwin somehow figured out lives in the pond at one given shopping center, and he was generous enough to tell me about it. Once I found the place, action was immediate. This was rewarding.

The Eastern Happy Cichlid. Species 1755.

There is no Western Happy Cichlid.

What was not rewarding was battling through the Everglades and watching bluefin killifish laugh at my micro rigs. Or going to some pond north of Miami that was supposed to have least killifish but that seemed to have only alligators.

WTF, Martini?

I decided to close it out at my favorite Boca Raton spot, but then I realized I was totally out of bait. If Nic had been around, he would have gladly driven me up a pound of seafood, but eaten half of it on the way. Instead, Dom Porcelli saved the day by delivering a bunch of shrimp and squid. I was back in business.

Dom Porcelli – owner of a very impressive species list himself.

I caught more than 50 assorted fish that afternoon, none new, but each one awesome. Then it was Skyline Chili for dinner, which made things just about perfect.

Nic would never have agreed to eat Skyline, but he would have come along just to talk. I’ll miss that.

If I’d had the choice, I never would have made this trip, but I will dedicate these three species to Nic. I hope he’s on a long sail with a quiet, following sea behind him.

And wherever you are, Nic – Happy Valentines Day.

Steve

 

Posted by: 1000fish | April 16, 2018

Mimi, Ajak, and Fred

Dateline: October 1, 2017 – Bandar Seri Bagawan, Brunei

I’m running out of countries to fish in Asia, but I have no idea how I missed this one for so long. Brunei is a small nation on the island of Borneo, which is otherwise shared by Malaysia and Indonesia. An oil-producing nation with a rich and varied history, Brunei is now an autonomous Sultanate, but only gained full independence from Britain in 1984, the same year I gained full independence from my parents. It is located on the South China Sea about a thousand miles east of Singapore, which is where I already was, on a business trip. The blessing of being sent to all these cool places is evened out by the curse that I am generally not on my own schedule. I can do side adventures to some really great places, but I usually have to work with a weekend or similarly short window. This means that I have to gamble on everything going right with weather and logistics, and this doesn’t always happen.

Brunei has great fishing and an IGFA Captain, Alfred Yong. (He goes by Captain Fred, and can be reached on www.captfredshop.com.) But the end of September is in their windy season, and Captain Fred warned me that the good areas are 80 miles out to open sea in an area called the Brunei Dropoff. We discussed, and he agreed to take me if the weather stayed civilized. With my schedule, we would squeeze it in to one 36 hour mad dash – get on the boat early one morning, run to the dropoff, fish overnight, then come home the next evening so I could get a flight back to Singapore and some more meetings. He thought it would be about 50/50, which is enough of a shot for me to give it a try. I figured I could always find some shore-based fishing if the weather was really bad, just to add the country. Either way, I hoped to fish the shore the afternoon I arrived – what else could I possibly find to do in an exotic tropical country? (This is a trick question. Brunei has lots of really cool stuff for normal people to do, but this is me we’re talking about.)

Booking a flight was a challenge, because I inadvertently kept pricing itineraries to Bahrain or Bhutan, which I am sure are both very nice places but are not a short flight from Singapore, and do not have IGFA skippers.

I figured the shore fishing idea had to be easier than Macau. (As you recall from “The S.A.R. Fishing Fishing Tour,” In that case, I was told, by a well-meaning but poorly-informed concierge, that all fishing in Macau was illegal. That put quite a cramp in things.)

In booking my hotel for Brunei, I used my normal criteria – the nicest-looking place I could find on the water. The Empire Resort looked beautiful, and it had a couple of miles of gorgeous, private shoreline.

The Empire Resort, Brunei.

The view from my room.

I figured I may as well ask the concierge about fishing, and perhaps any guides who could help me with the shore-based stuff. This is when they dropped the bomb – no fishing at the resort. Are you kidding me? Why else would someone even go to such a beautiful place, unless it was for fishing? (There are actually lots of other reasons to go to Brunei. For example, they have proboscis monkeys.) But what kind of sick pervert bans fishing?

This is where another concierge came into the picture. A day after this whole unfortunate exchange, I got a random email from “Mimi.” Mimi explained that she works for the hotel and had heard of my shore-fishing plight, and that her husband, Ajak, was a rather keen angler. She told me they would be glad to take me out the day I arrived, and on the other days if the boat didn’t work out. Not as a paid guide – just as a favor to another fisherman. This is from someone I had never met in my life. What wonderful people.

The flight went seamlessly – Singapore Air doesn’t mess up very often. United should send people to fly on Singapore just to see what it’s like when a plane shows up on time. The car to the hotel was waiting for me, and about 20 minutes, two Red Bulls, and a can of Pringles later, I was downstairs waiting for Ajak and Mimi to pick me up.

Mimi showed up in a car with her son and her sister. She explained that Ajak had been called in to his work on the offshore oil rigs, but that she would still take me to some of his favorite spots.

But Ajak makes the blog anyway! Here he is with a beautiful queenfish caught off one of the oil rigs.

She had brought a cooler full of shrimp, squid, and Pepsi, and I should point out they were all in separate compartments. This person had never met me before in my life, and she was about to take an afternoon of her life to help me catch a fish. As pessimistic as Marta can remind me that I am, it’s moments like this that remind me that humans are pretty good to each other. If they weren’t, I wouldn’t have caught nearly so many fish. Marta’s take on this: “Women rock, especially Mimi.” Marta then proceeded to mention that men could not have possibly done something that took this much organizing.

We fished two spots that afternoon. The first one was a rocky estuary shoreline. It didn’t take long to get a bite, and perhaps the Fish Gods sent me a slight message by giving me one of the species most difficult to tell apart from any of its close relatives – a marine catfish. But a fish is a fish, and I had added country number 90. I smiled and briefly thought back – I had only added number 50 (Switzerland, with the fabled Jens Koller) in April of 2008, nine and a half years ago. I grinned at how much fishing had happened in the interim, but then I remembered how many airline miles it had all taken.

Country number 90, with Mimi in the background.

I later discovered Mimi’s son in full photobomb mode.

I kept fishing, and got an equally unidentifiable species, the ponyfish.

I hate these things. They’re almost impossible to tell apart.

Somewhere in there, I asked Mimi why her sister had come along. Patiently, she explained that as Brunei is a Muslim country, that a woman being seen in public alone with a man who is not her husband could raise some eyebrows. Having a larger group removes the eyebrow factor. Of course, this now meant that I had taken up the afternoon of two more people. There is no way to ever repay kindness like this – all you can do it pass it to someone else. Martini, for example, wants to pass on all his kindness to Kate Upton. Whatever happens, Marta reminded me again that Mimi is a superstar and I could never have done this on my own.

Steve, Mimi, and a micro-snapper.

We finished our day at a pier along the same estuary.

The pier. There was no way I was passing this up, even after I saw a crocodile in the water by the right tower.

It was there I checked off two species – some sort of anchovy and a lovely violet demoiselle. This was a fantastic start, and I had my fingers crossed that the weather would stay nice for the boat trip.

The genus is Stolephorus. The species may never be known, but as I have caught nothing in Stolephorus, that’s a new one.

The demoiselle. I am always grateful when damselfish are not plain brown.

A beautiful sunset on the estuary.

Toward sundown, they dropped me off back at the Empire, and I headed for dinner. The Italian food at the hotel was outstanding. Fred called that evening and confirmed that the weather looked great. We were going, and I was thrilled. I managed to get a few hours of sleep before a very early wakeup call.

Fred picked me up before dawn, and we drove to a port in the very northeast of Brunei – about 25 minutes.

The Apollo is not the fastest boat in the world, but it was darn comfortable, and the crew was great. I could spread my gear out wherever I wanted to, and there were cold beverages at hand. I spent the first hour or so setting up my gear – putting rods together, tying and retying leaders, and assembling terminal rigs.

Captain Fred on the left. The guy is awesome.

On our way out, I asked to make a quick stop on some shallow reefs, and Captain Fred found a couple of nice spots. I dropped some medium and small hook rigs, and while everything got attacked immediately, it was clear, as Fred had warned me, that these were generally small fish. I started bringing up an assortment of reef critters, and while I caught at least 50 fish, nothing was new. So I settled in for about eight hours of cruising to the dropoff. This gave me plenty of time to eat lunch, take a solid nap, set up my heavy gear, eat dinner, drink lots of Pepsi, and otherwise become heavily caffeinated before the main event.

We passed occasional oil rigs on the way out.

Fred and I got to talk a lot of fishing. We would be heading to the Brunei Dropoff, about 80 miles out. The Spratly Islands, full of dogtooth tuna and Chinese Navy, were another 200 miles out. I need to get there sooner or later. It was just after dark when we pulled up to the first spot, where we would anchor over a patch of rough bottom in about 450 feet of water. After waiting 8 hours, I was beside myself to get going, and the anchoring process seemed to take forever. I first dropped a jig, because I was determined to test out my new Stella 20000 and Galahad jigging rod. This had been what I was dreaming of for the entire trip – some kind of huge predator, hopefully a dogtooth tuna, crushing a high-speed jig and ripping line off of a wrenched-down Stella drag.

I gave it a game try, for at least eight minutes, but the big predators did not seem to be active, and I have the patience of an impatient seven year-old. Emotionally, I needed to get some bait on the bottom. The rigs hadn’t been down five seconds when the bites started. The first fish I brought up was a yellowfin seabream – related to the Australian pink snapper.

An exotic sea bream – the first newbie of the boat trip.

On the very next drop, I pulled up a pair of bight alfonsino, part of a deepwater family that I always love to catch. We hadn’t been at it ten minutes and I had added two species.

Some fish come from a rough neighborhood. These come from a roughy neighborhood.

I then got into a school of lavender snapper – a strangely ubiquitous creature that I have caught anywhere from Hawaii to the Indian Ocean.

These things live EVERYWHERE.

Once the snapper had calmed down, I got a deepwater soldierfish, which turned out to be a Japanese Soldierfish. Then came a Rosy Dwarf Monocle bream, and it was a pound, so I had no problem turning it in for a record, even if it did have “dwarf” in the name. I added another soldierfish, and this one was big enough for a record, so that was two for the IGFA, and I am certain Marta texted me to not even think about another trophy this year. (It happened anyway.)

The rosy dwarf monocle bream. It weighed a pound, so there. Jamie hasn’t caught one.

Now THAT’S a soldierfish. A Japanese soldierfish, to be exact.

Somewhere in there, before the lavebder snappers found me again, I got some sort of odd shark, which turned out to be yet another addition to my Squalus collection – the western longnose spurdog.

Many thanks to Clinton Duffy, a New Zealand-based shark expert, for identifying this one.

Captain Fred was fishing on the other side of the boat, and the dude is a machine. He was pounding the bottom fish, and was getting consistently better specimens than I was without doing anything visibly different. He got a couple of groupers I had never seen in my life – one with thin lines along the flank, the other with a beautiful oblique pattern. I stayed patient, and about half an hour later, I got one of the lined groupers.

This put me up to six species for the deepwater part of the trip, eight overall.

Then the lavender snappers took over again.

It got very late, and I knew I wanted to get a bit of sleep before giving it a try in the dawn hours. Just before then, things got weird. I kept trying to jig intermittently, because I had my new Stella 20000 and Galahad jigging rod, but it just wasn’t happening. I finally did something that Dave at Lure Haven is going to be very upset about. I used the jigging rod as a bait stick and dropped a big slab of mackerel to the bottom. I’m sorry, Davy. And you just know what happened. I got a pounding bite. Reeling up and setting the hook, I got stuck in the rocks, but I could tell there was something on the hook. This is a strong rod and 65# braid – I took my chances and just wrenched on it, and moments later, the fish pulled free. I was guessing eel the whole way up, and sure enough, it was a good-sized conger. It turned out be a Philippine conger – a new species and my third record of the session.

There is a special place in hell for people who use specialized jigging setups to bait fish for eels. I have previous infractions along these lines.

After that, I caught no more than two hours of sleep, then got back up at dawn to jig some more.

Sunrise on the Brunei Dropoff.

With only 36 hours available, and a lot of that spent in transit, I had to take advantage of every moment. Nothing hit on the jigs, so I went back to bait. My first fish of the morning was a ruby snapper – I had gotten small ones in Hawaii before, but at least it was a break from the lavebder pests.

This is my largest ruby ever. Four months later, I would get a much bigger one, but that is a tale for another blog.

Moments later, I got a strong bite and reeled in an excellent surprise – an oblique-banded grouper.

This would be my 10th Brunei species and fourth record, which made it an excellent morning.

We fished until about noon, and while the action was constant, there were no other new creatures to report. The crew started pulling the anchor, and I settled into my routine of cleaning and packing gear.

Just as we started under way, a pair of egrets glided into view and made a clumsy landings on the back of the boat.
The egrets. Still, I have no egrets about this trip.
It didn’t strike me as strange for a moment, but then it occurred to me that this is a land bird and was very, very lost. Fred explained that they occasionally get swept out to sea by the wind, where they usually die a miserable death unless they can hitch a ride on a shore-bound vessel. This was life and death for these little feathered souls, and they were not budging. We left them some bait to eat and went about our business. They were terrified by us, but I think they were more terrified by the open water. We soon made peace with each other, and after a while, they moved up to the side rail.
Their position for most of the trip. They seemed to understand we weren’t going to hurt them.
They would let us walk by them without flying off, and this uneasy peace lasted eight hours until we reached land. When they flew away, it felt wonderful. Don’t ask me to describe this and do it justice. I am a fisherman, not a poet, but it felt like the universe had done the right thing.
I thought a lot about those birds, fortunate passengers on a journey every bit as unlikely and every bit as random as mine. Fred, Mimi, and Ajak had all done a wonderful part in helping me along – I had reached 1750 species, and I still had a couple of days in Thailand coming up. Hopefully, I would keep landing on vessels with the right people headed the right way.
Steve

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