Dateline – July 23, 2010. Vangshylla, Norway. Our final day fishing here.
After a day of getting stormed on, I felt like we really deserved beautiful weather for our last day on the water, but let’s face it, life doesn’t usually work that way. I was up around 6, and it still looked breezy, although the sky had cleared. We would be fishing with Kevin again today. One of our goals would be to chase some assorted flatfish – flounders and their deeply-compressed ilk. These are typically not so interesting to catch and often difficult to identify, but they are nice to eat, and a species is a species. We headed out to the north, and as we got further up the fjord, the wind seemed to drop off and the sun was peeking out here and there.
We fished for a while on a big, sandy flat and got some smaller flounder called “dabs.” This pleased me – species #1005. (“I might at least get to 1500 if we have a good day.” “Be quiet, Steve.”) Interestingly, or maybe not, small flounder tend to be called “dabs” in many different languages. It’s sort of a universal term, like “golf” or “Jaime Hamamoto.”
The dreaded Dab
About an hour into the morning, an unspeakable disaster occurred – Marta caught a large plaice, a type of flatfish identified by three elements – 1) Small mouth not extending behind the eyes, 2) Scattered orange spots on dorsal surface, and 3) I have never caught one.
The European Plaice. Note that I am fighting a much larger fish in the background.
Marta spent the rest of the day making nasty “plaice” comments. I swear I heard her singing “There’s a plaice for us,” ironic as we were on the west side of the fjord, but she completely denies this. Every time we moved, she would say “We’re trying a new plaice?” If I was competitive, which I am not, this would get old very quickly, which it did not, because, as mentioned earlier in this sentence, I am not competitive about these sorts of things and merely looked at Marta with a zen-like sense of compassion and understanding. (Which, to the uneducated observer of my facial expressions, may have come off looking like scorn and petulance, but that was actually just gas.) “My plaice or yours?” It was insufferable.
Not that I noticed, as I was so busy being compassionate and all that, but the weather was turning nicer and nicer. The Gore-Tex came off. The sweater came off. And that’s all you get – this is a family blog. Get your mind out of the gutter.
We went to sleep in Norway and woke up in Florida!
Marta gets a star
Moving out from the plaice place, we dropped some cut baits in medium-deep water, 300-400 feet – a bit over a hundred meters if the exchange rate is stable. Slight but persistent bites began immediately, and after a few missed hooksets, I reeled up one of the most interesting things I have ever caught – a Velvetbelly Lantern Shark, species #1006. These tiny members of the shark clan inhabit deep northern waters and rove in ravenous packs that can disrupt any bait fishing venture. Iridescent shades of purple and green, they also produce light from special organs on their flanks.
The Velvet-Belly Lantern Shark
Sure he’s cute, but he tried to bite me.
But then things turned gross. I had put down a rig with a couple of fairly small hooks, just to see what else might be biting. (Probably more lantern sharks, but it was worth a shot.) When we went to move plaices, ha ha, I reeled it up – it didn’t even feel heavy, but when it reached the surface, I noticed there was a gelatinous blob on the hooks – a clearish/whitish solid mass the size of a softball. At first, I thought it was a jellyfish and was reluctant to touch it, but as I held it at arm’s length and examined it, it slowly twisted around and revealed – eurgh – a tail. A pinkish, wriggling tail was sticking out of this mass of snot.
Eeeeeeeeew. This is not a picture from a medical textbook. You know the one I’m talking about.
I have caught some disgusting fish. One that stands out is the monkfish, caught off Maine in September of 2005. It looked positively alien.
This is a Monkfish – will you ever eat one again?
But I was about to experience something an order of magnitude more disgusting. I introduce you to the hagfish, a primitive parasite that eats through the body walls of other fish and consumes them from the inside and can produce 10 times its body weight in snot in less than 60 seconds. It looked like something straight out of Jabba the Hut’s snack bowl. But a species is a species, and I was determined to get the thing off the hook and photographed. What followed was 10 minutes that would have put off even the most hardened CSI types, as I used my Swiss Army Knife scissors to snip through the tangled line and ball of slime to reveal the beast, species #1007. Even writing this now, I have the urge to go and wash my hands with a wire brush and Comet. (Note that the hagfish and haggis are not related, although they are equally disgusting.)
The Hagfish. Eech. This is a fish, not an internal organ.
After I surreptitously wiped my hands on Marta’s sweatshirt, we moved … plaices … and finished out the day casting plastic lures at various rockpiles, running up even more solid cod and pollock. (All of which were given a free piece of squid, a pat on the head, and released.) What a glorious, glorious day – this is why we came here. The run home from the flatfish grounds was a tourist’s dream; brilliant blue skies, a deep blue fjord, impossibly green hillsides dotted with red farm buildings. It was mild and pleasant and altogether relaxing as we slid across the water with hardly a bump. (Note – the sweatshirt somehow ended up in my bag on the way home. It didn’t smell as bad as the dead crab, but it was close.)
We had dinner with Kevin – pasta and fish – and it should be noted that Marta, armed only with jarred sauce and an onion, made pasta that tasted as good as any San Francisco Italian restaurant’s and only cost twice as much.
We took a final spin that evening, partly to get a few more coalfish, mostly just to see the fjord as the sun got low in the sky. I knew we would return someday to this magical northern land – there was still a halibut, a wolf-eel, and a #$%^ plaice waiting for me somewhere up here. Of course, I also had to consider how to pay for the next trip – a bake sale just won’t cut it. Selling Marta’s car?
Signing off from Norway – “The Land of the 1000th Fish.”