Ventilation ducts can be an unexpected but delightful source of amusement. As I shaved on the morning of the 18th, I noticed that I could hear Jens very well in the next room over, echoing through the metal conduit as he practiced new compound swears and sang to himself. (Mostly Britney Spears.) I stood on the toilet to speak right into the grate, put on my deepest voice, and intoned “JENS! JENS! THIS IS GOD. STOP TOUCHING YOURSELF.” He chuckled and cheerfully responded “Dein Atem stinkt wie eine Windel!” which apparently means “Good morning, sweetheart.” And we laughed and laughed.
We hit the water around 8, and after the customary toast, we fished hard all morning. With the skies overcast and a chilly wind blowing right through us, we spent the early hours casting spoons for asp (the European predatory cyprinid fish, not the snake that messed up Marc Anthony’s love life) with nary a bite. We then switched back over to live-baiting for zander. Attila and Jens picked up a few, but the bites were so light, so ridiculously subtle, that it took me more than an hour to finally hook up. I got a couple of decent fish, but Jens and Attila kept landing more and better zander – my hat is off to them. (Because I threw it at them.) The slow fishing pleased me in a strange way, because no fish meant no painful toasts with the schlivovitz. And I was also suffering the after-effects of round two with the goulash, which was like a hangover focused solely on the descending colon.
A standard zander, the sneakiest fish in nature
Conversation with Attila was difficult, as whatever he said in basic German had to be comprehended by Jens then translated into English. But here and there, we covered a few topics of interest. Attila had a few questions about fishing in the USA, especially for walleye. (Quite similar to the local zander.) We also talked about Attila’s family – a wife and two grown children. Then they had a lengthier exchange, where I caught the word “blog” a few times. Jens chuckled, then his face went a guilty shade of blank when I caught his eye. “What?” I asked. Jens looked faintly uncomfortable, but not unamused. Attila had a wan smile.
“Well.” said Jens. “Attila had a look at a translated version of your blog last night. He thinks the little Hawaiian girl is very funny.” I sighed and thought about asking for the bottle. Was there nowhere on earth I could escape from that rotten, unhelpful, competitive little girl? (https://1000fish.wordpress.com/2010/06/19/the-countdown-to-1000-an-inconvenient-youth/)
Due to the lack of a convenient 7-11, Jens and I survived all day on chips and Red Bull. The only things I ever saw Attila eat were simple white rolls and some form of greenish vegetable that resembled a bell pepper but seemed more malignant. On a lark, I asked to try a nibble of one of the “paprikas.” He looked at me as if to say “It’s your funeral, Skippy,” and seconds later, my eyes streaming with tears, I saw him nod sympathetically. This was some sort of Iron Curtain mega-pepper, developed in the last days of the war, and it was completely inedible. Attila finished it without comment as I coughed a thank you and wiped the snot away from my nose, mouth, ears, and armpits.
River Tisza. I got to enjoy this view without being pestered by fish.
The other issue that had come up was the Volga Zander. Attila had mentioned them yesterday, and he had insisted that they were more common than the standard zander, but none of us had caught one. We took to chanting “Vol-ga, Vol-ga, Vol-ga” every time I had a hookup, but this did not seem to alter our luck. I just kept getting standard zanders. Lunchtime came and went, and I watched in horror as Attila ate two of the battle-peppers. As it moved into late afternoon, the sun peeked out, strained through the remaining clouds. It was a lovely day, except for the fact that I had not caught anything all that exciting. I got very, very focused, which might appear to the untrained eye as being sullen or grouchy, but it isn’t.
We moved spots several times in the later afternoon, finally settling on a big flat where there river splits around an island. Jens and Attila both caught nice zanders, then I got one on. The chant started – “Vol-ga, Vol-ga, Vol-ga …” but it was not to be. A normal zander. And another. Then, a much smaller fish latched on, and I reeled it in with only faint interest, swinging it over the rail into the bottom of the boat – it was indeed small, maybe 10 inches, but it had STRIPES! I did a major, Red Bull-spraying double take just as Attila stood up and pointed – “Volga!” And indeed it was. A new species. Perhaps not an enormous example, but this quest long ago dropped any pretense of dignity on that issue.
My first Volga Zander. Check out the relieved smile on Attila’s face.
Attila smiled broadly and pulled out the turpentine. OK, I figured, this was something to celebrate. And so we took a shot there on the river – “To the Volga!!” Oh, how it burned my largely empty stomach. Moments later, I caught a much bigger Volga zander. And Attila figured this was worth a shot as well, so more of that vile Magyar oven cleaner went down the hatch. As I tried to discern if the swaying motion was me or the boat, another thought occurred to me. The Volga Zander was exactly the type of fish that might not have an existing world record. And so I started rooting through the extensive paperwork I carry with me to research just such a question, and it became clear, or at least as clear as anything could be considering the circumstances, that there was indeed no IGFA record for good old Sander volgensis. So all I needed to do was catch one over a pound, in the next hour. I announced this fact to Jens and Attila, and Attila seemed to think this was the silliest thing he had ever heard. But suddenly, 15.8 ounce Volga Zander were everywhere. I must have gotten 5 or so in this range, although I still couldn’t tell you what the bite felt like. It’s one of those things you have to learn by spending years in a monastery, and it’s not like I haven’t done a bit of fishing. Attila and Jens were just really, really good at this. Attila spent a load of time trying to teach me the secrets – he was a very warm and friendly guy despite his intimidating name – but I was completely lost on this one.
We moved spots and set up near a pair of downed trees. It was getting fairly late, but the Volgas were swarming. I got 2 more that were almost the right size and had scaled down to a very light ledger rod. This rod has a tip so thin, so delicate, that it can detect fish sneezes at over a meter, and I watched it closely, likely without blinking. At about 5:15, it twitched. Well, it wasn’t so much a twitch as a vibration – I actually looked down the boat to see if anyone had bumped the gunwhale. But they hadn’t. It was a bite. I gently picked the rod up, and after a long moment, I felt the faintest of taps, and the line slacked up perhaps a centimeter. Something was down there delicately mouthing the bait. I paused a moment and wondered if he was still down there. He paused a moment and wondered if I was still up there, and the tense seconds passed in this timeless confrontation of brilliant traning and instincts vs. a half-frozen idiot in a boat. He tapped softly one more time, I responded with a testosterone-filled hookset, and the fight was on. This was clearly a much larger fish, but could I finally combine those critical aspects of stripes and 16 ounces? He surged under the boat, then on to the boga grip. Was it the required weight? Oh yeah it was, and the photos you see are that of the proud pending world record Volga Zander.
The pending world record Volga zander. I don’t remember much after this.
In a moment of heady foolishness, I said “Bring on the schlivotitz.” We drank a toast to the Volga Zander, a toast to the record, a toast to the river, and a toast to the Hungarian spirit. This represents, dear reader, what I like to call “bad judgment.” I am not much of a drinker, and, well, I am not much of a drinker. Jens and Attila looked on, likely in great amusement, as I giggled my way through the last hour on the water, missed bites, and unsuccesfully tried to tie basic knots, such as my shoes.
Jens and Attila with a fine load of zander. Which they caught. The extent of my involvement was taking the picture.
And so we pulled back up to the shore at the Hableany and I somehow exited the boat without any sort of disaster. Speaking of disasters, there were a lot of things on the menu which were not goulash, but I did not hesitate and ordered it just once more, determined to prove I could not be undone by a simple bowl of local stew. Again, the peppers went under the table, damaging Jens’ shoes, and we were off to the races. Jens had promised a “surprise” for tomorrow. So had my digestive tract.
Vol-ga, Vol-ga, Vol-ga!
I think he’s holding me up in this shot. If he asked me if I was Hungary, he would be Attila the Pun.
Moonrise over the Tisza