Dateline – July 21, 2010 – Vangshylla, Norway.
The 21st of July broke overcast, drizzling, and still. A fine day for angling, and perhaps a fine day for a milestone.
Steve in quiet contemplation before hitting the water – 7/21/10
(Steve in quiet anything is something to be treasured)
With three species to go, I thought we should have a pretty good shot at two of them today – the coalfish and the maybe the ling. But I was up early, because Red Bull is a perfectly valid substitute for sleep, and the harbor looked interesting, so out I went to explore the pilings. This is always where things get complicated. I had looked at some ID books and really didn’t think there were that many new things I could catch in the harbor, but there is ALWAYS something new to catch in the harbor. So I rigged up some very small hooks and artificial worm and set to it.
The Goldsinny Wrasse – #998
It took at least 4 seconds to get the first bite. I hauled up a small wrasse, which I thought obviously must have been a Ballan, but in giving it a very close look, I had my doubts. So I took photos. And then I caught a bunch more of the same thing, and then an actual Ballan wrasse, which made it clear that whatever I had caught earlier was definitely NOT a Ballan wrasse. Then I got a run of the “Poor Cod” I had caught the night before. (In California, we would rename them “Economically Disadvantaged Cod, declare them endangered, and give them money.) And just before I headed back up to the room, I got a wicked little strike and hauled up, of all things, some type of sculpin which I had definitely never caught before.
The Longhorn Sculpin – #999
Marta came down to check up on me and see if I wanted breakfast. (This is not to imply she would actually cook it, but it might mean she would not hide the cheese.) “Mind if I catch a fish?” she asked. With great trepidation, I handed her the rod. And just to prove she is clearly aligned with Satan, Marta dropped the bait one time and caught a sculpin that I had never even seen before. She had me take several photos, said “My work here is done.” and headed off for a hike. This would be more stunning if she hadn’t done it before, but she pulled this stunt several times. (Including once in Hawaii where she caught TWO species I had not within 60 seconds, despite the fact that I had purposely given her a rod with inappropriate hooks and bait.) Marta shouted from the balcony “I’ll bet Jaime Hamamoto has caught one of those!” I could swear I caught a whiff of decomposing crab.
Say what you will, that’s an evil smile
Even after I finally found the cheese, I had enough time over breakfast to dig into the ID book and figure out the species. The wrasse was a Goldsinny – who knows how that got named – and my sculpin was the incredibly unrare longspined sculpin, which infests harbors throughout the north. Marta’s fish was a Shorthorn sculpin, apparently much less common, go figure. (The Norwegians call this one “Vanlgulke”, also pronounced “Cleveland.”) So I had it pretty well locked in that the next species I caught would be the biggie.
My guide on this day would be one Kevin Hobbins, a German despite the incredibly un-German name. (Apparently his lineage is an intricate mix of British, Irish, and German. The family reunions must have been awkward back in the 1940s.) Kevin had been working at Vangshylla for a full season, almost long enough to pronounce it correctly. He had taken quite an interest in my species hunt, and we spent a lot of time chatting about what I had and had not caught. He was obviously very knowledgeable and seemed quite sure we could find the coalfish right away. One of the neat things about fishing fjords is that you are never far from deep water, and we barely had the boat on plane before he stopped and said “Well, here we are. There are some fish at about 30 meters under us; let’s drop metal jigs through them, about 5 cranks up, then stop, 5 cranks up, then stop.” I looked on the depth sounder and there was a series of pronounced arches from 30 to 40 meters down.
No, this is not cheating
This was all happening a lot faster than I thought it would. I remember thinking “Holy #$%&, is this it? The next one is 1000? Right now? I mean, shouldn’t there be some sort of ceremony? Shouldn’t I at least be wearing clean underwear?”
I cast. Game time.
Reeling up through the school, I had two strikes but did not hook up. Taking a deep breath, I cast again. Letting my jig settle through the depths until it reached about 100 feet, I started reeling again as Kevin had recommended, about 5 cranks, then a pause, 5 cranks, then a pause. About halfway up, my hands shaking just a bit, I got hit again. I missed, or the fish missed, but before I could really consider who it was that really missed, the fish came back and didn’t miss. It was a hookup this time, and my mind was racing as fast as my heart – would this be a coalfish? Or would I end up coalfish-cursed as I have with other species? Would Marta catch one first? Where was the rest of the cheese? The fish was frantically shaking the rod but coming up steadily. I leaned over the side of the boat and peered into the clear water, which looked almost black from reflecting the dark sky. The reel spool was almost full; the fish had to be close. I reeled and stared, and finally, a flash of silver about 20 feet down. Coalfish? Pollock? Cod? I kept pumping, and the fish was almost in sight, when suddenly …
… as I sat at my desk late at night, just about to describe the stunning thing that happened next, my writing was interrupted by a knock on the door. Drat! It was Jehovah’s Witnesses, effectively ending the blogging for the night. (It takes time to scare them off properly.) So tune in tomorrow, brave reader, same time, same place, for the conclusion to our Nordic cliffhanger. Was it a coalfish? Was it a pollock? Did Steve screw up and lose it at the boat? Did a storm blow in and prevent further fishing? Will Consuela discover that she is actually Diego’s half-sister before things get genetically risky? Cue dramatic organ music and cut to commercial …