Part of the madness of this whole species hunting thing is that I end up deliberately targeting creatures that are regarded as pests by everyone else. And sometimes even the pests do not cooperate, so we end up with the perverse result of me actually working hard to catch something that most other fishermen would be thrilled to avoid. Of course, once I have caught just one of these beasts, then they become a pest to me as well, but by that stage, they have usually developed a fondness for me and I will then be able to catch nothing but that species. As the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for.
Perhaps one of the most reviled and persistent of these piscine pests is Kessler’s Goby, or Kessler grundel in German. Originally from the Black Sea, these small but voracious predators have migrated through the canal system and now seem to carpet the bottom of every major river in Germany. But on a trip this past July (https://1000fish.wordpress.com/2010/07/11/liederhosed-a-ruffe-weekend-in-germany/), my good friend and guide Jens Koller and I somehow managed not to catch one. So on this October return visit, I was determined to get one of these smallish beasts – irritating, yes, but a species is a species. This time, Jens planned to take me fishing in the River Main near Wertheim, Germany, a charming area well known for scenic views, where he believed we would have a shot at some interesting river species, such as the elusive Nase and plenty of solid zander and barbel.
Jens picked me up at the airport on Friday afternoon the 8th, and we headed off toward the river, about an hour away. Road trip with Jens!! We know what that means – never a dull moment, as he can turn from a rational fishing buddy into the Autobahn Werewolf in 4 seconds flat. Still stinging from my abuse in the July blog, Jens kept control of himself for a few minutes, but then someone didn’t go fast enough in front of us, and the familiar cheerful banter started up. “Natürlich wusste ich, dass du die Spur gewechselt hast, Känguru-Hirn! Ich bin ein scheiss verdammter Hellseher!! Mögen sich schädliche Plagen freizügig in deinem Stammbaum bewegen! Rasenmäher!!”
Oh, how I had missed him.
Fairly soon, we were off the freeway and winding our way along the Main, passing through picturesque scenery and bright fall colors. These river towns were wonderfully, Germanically quaint with colorful houses, medieval churches, and the occasional castle looking down from a bluff. Certainly Brothers Grimm fairy-tale territory.
Looking toward the Main from Wertheim
It reminded me very much of Vulgaria, the fictional barony from “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” – cozy and charming, yet overly orderly and faintly sinister. So much so, in fact, that I caught myself looking for the Child Catcher around every corner. That scene still gives me the creeps, especially when he says “There are children here somewhere – I can smell them.” (Of course, it was even creepier when my stepmother said it, especially since she hadn’t seen the movie.)
The Child Catcher. No, this is not Michael Jackson.
I had to sleep in my parents room the last time I saw this. I was 26.
We got to Uphar, the village where we were staying, at around 5. After a brief but expensive stop at the local tackle store, we wandered down to the water. It was definitely autumn – a warm sun but a cold wind, and as the sun went down, it got chilly in a hurry. The cruise boats, long, thin, and brightly lit, worked their way up and down the Main with loads of tourists enjoying the fall scenery. We fished until dark that first evening, and oddly enough, started catching eels.
Perfect for eel parmesan or eel piccata
But no gobies. Could I be grundel-cursed? We had two full days ahead of us, so I wasn’t too worried about anything except dinner. The only recognizable restaurant close by was a Burger King. There is sort of an unwritten rule that three meals in a row there is the limit. That fourth Double Whopper with Cheese always seems to have consequences, but three seems to be OK. So we had 24 hours of Burger King to look forward to – Unsupervised Man Food knows no borders.
In the morning, we got up with high hopes for a good day on the water. It was clear and sunny, not much wind, beautiful fall colors, and the promise of lunch at Burger King. We put in a couple of hours at Uphar, and when that didn’t pan out, we headed for scenic Wurtheim and Jens’ secret barbel spot.
Jens in a pensive moment, thinking up new things to yell while he’s driving
We made the short drive back to Wurtheim and set up on a sun-splashed, grassy bank. We set up a couple of ledger rods, and a few minutes later, I set the hook on a small bite and reeled in something that looked a whole lot like a goby. Flipping through my ID book, I grinned with relief. Hurray, the dreaded Kesslergrundel at last! We gave a high five and photographed the little beast. But Jens was looking at me with a strange glint in his eye. “This will not be the last one of those today.” he said plainly. I smiled. How bad could it be? And then I caught one on my very next cast. “Ha ha.” I said. “Another grundel.” Jens looked at me balefully.
The dreaded Kesslergrundel
And so I caught a couple more. And a couple more. Uh oh. But I laughed it off. I remained confident that the next bite would be something interesting. But it wasn’t. It was a grundel. And another. And another. My cheerful attitude degraded. Grundel, grundel, grundel. OK, I get it. Come on, give me at least one barbel. Grundel, grundel, grundel. Now please, God, let me catch something else. But they were relentless. As soon as a bait his the water, the familiar tap-tap-tap started until, no matter how large the hook was, a grundel would manage to get stuck and there I would be reeling in another one. I lost count somewhere around 50, and during the course of the afternoon, I must have gotten over a hundred. We moved spots several times. I tried large baits, different baits, artificial baits. It all ended the same way. With a #$%^ grundel on the line. It was impossible to fish two rods, because they bit so quickly we couldn’t even set a pole down before they attacked.
There was only one break the entire afternoon, which also nearly ended in tragedy. I was unhooking and throwing back yet another grundel, when, out of the corner of my eye, just as I was tossing it back in the water, I noticed it looked entirely different than the other grundels, with a much rounder body and a big black spot on the dorsal fin. I unfortunately noticed this well into my toss, and before I could fully interrupt the process, this fish, which looked like quite the different species, spun through the air in slow motion with me yelling NOOOOOOOOOO. Luckily, it landed in the foliage at the edge of the river, and I scrambled to retrieve it for photos. It turned out to be the less common Round Goby, and while it wasn’t any more thrilling to catch than the Kesslergrundel, it was indeed a 2nd new species. And then I caught about 25 more Kesslergrundels before the urge for another Cheese Double Whopper overtook me and we were done for the night.
The Round Goby, a brief respite in the grundel plague
That night, I dreamed that grundels were coming up the drain into my shower and racing downstairs in large, organized groups. Then, with Jaime Hamamoto leading them while wearing a cardboard Burger King crown, they headed off to pillage the countryside. Just before I woke up in a cold sweat, they had captured Jens and were performing experiments on him. Needless to say, I did not sleep well the rest of the evening and kept getting up to check the bathroom.
I think I looked at this photo too much before I went to sleep
Sunday morning, we went back to the scene of the crime and tried a slightly different location, upriver, in the shadow of the castle. The grundels found us in seconds. There was no avoiding them, and frankly, we left quickly because we were both worried that they were going to come up into the parking lot and steal the car. We started the long drive back to my office. Hurray! Another road trip!! We spent the first part of the drive discussing next weekend’s planned adventure to Hungary. Now and then, Jens would stop the conversation to share some pleasantry with a fellow driver. “Ich werde dich heimsuchen und Golfschuh-trangend aus einem Baum auf dich springen!! Hoden!!” Ahh, the sounds of the open road.
Then it got special, because Jens got cut off by someone with a France license plate. The abuse took on an entirely more visceral tone, a nod to the occasional tensions between these two countries over the past 150 years. “Jedes Mal wenn wir euch infiltrieren, funken uns die verdammten Amerikaner dazwischen! Du bist vom Typ Mann, der sich beschwert, wenn jemand die Klobrille oben lässt!!” Literally translated, the last part of this apparently means “You are the kind of men who complain when someone leaves the toilet seat up.” Harsh. And with Jens’ salutations drifting off into the golden autumn afternoon, we continued toward my company HQ, where I would be spending the next 5 days.
Among the many other fascinating facts I learned on this drive is that IKEA’s restaurant is apparently a source of much amusement to Germans. One of their signature dishes – and a favorite of mine – is Swedish meatballs, or Kodballen in Swedish. Interestingly, a German word for poop is Kot, which sounds pretty darn similar. (I would call it a homonym, but I have never been completely comfortable with that word.) So, whenever Germans go into the IKEA restaurant and order Kodballen, the kids giggle for hours.
We pulled into the hotel parking lot at around 7, just in time for me to join some co-workers for dinner in Heidelberg. As far as I knew, my next fishing would be in 6 days. Jens and I smiled and shook hands – I would have to call the weekend a success, with 2 new species. They may have been miserable little species, but they were miserable little species that Jaime Hamamoto had not caught. Phhhhht.
Maturely and non-competitively,
Tens of thousands of grundels lurk under these peaceful waters.