Dateline: July 30, 2011 – Miami, Florida
I like a good movie now and then, but I’m not exactly a cinema buff. And I don’t mind Gwyneth Paltrow – she was deliciously sociopathic in “Great Expectations” – but I never thought I had much in common with her. Little did I know, that by the end of the day, I would suffer through a crucial and difficult experience that she had endured years before. Gwyneth, if you’re reading this, I’m here to help.
Gwyneth Paltrow in “Shakespeare in Love,” which should have been titled “Shakespeare in Pain.”
Back in March, Marty Arostegui (see https://1000fish.wordpress.com/2011/03/27/cavorting-with-exotic-swamp-creatures/) had invited me back to Miami in August to hit the canals, fish the back country, and then to go over to the Bahamas for a few days. At the time, I thought he might still have just been being polite, but he was serious and this guy gets stuff done. By late spring, we had the dates set up and I had bought my ticket. Of course, the events of mid-July really put fishing well down on my priority list, but as things worked out, this trip was probably the most needed vacation I ever had.
Our planned agenda was a busy one, starting with two days of fishing in Miami, plying the canals that have become hotbeds of non-native beasties that people have released from their aquariums or that have actually been stocked there sort of on purpose. We fishermen often find ourselves sniffing at these not-always welcome visitors, yet here I was about to spend two days fishing for species that otherwise would have taken 5 trips in central America to catch. Still, all these undocumented fish would not have gone over well in Arizona. (See https://1000fish.wordpress.com/2010/06/16/the-countdown-to-1000-puns-in-the-high-desert/) As a consequence of all these thoughts of immigration, that damn Neil Diamond song “Coming to America” drifted through my head for the rest of the trip. I really, really hate that song.
Just to make me mad, United Airlines got me to Miami 12 hours late. So our planned dawn departure was altered to an afternoon launch. We headed down to an interconnected set of lakes near the airport and launched a flats-type skiff. Everything seemed normal, right until they started the engine, but then things went from a calm day on the water to a particularly vicious ride at Six Flags. Martini drove the boat out onto the water and picked up speed. The lagoons soon gave way to narrow canals, but still Martini picked up speed. We ended up in shoulder-width back canals crisscrossed with low bridges, and he continued to accelerate, and, I am pretty sure, laughed maniacally. They fish this area a lot, so it must have seemed safe and familiar to them, but it was neither to me and I spent the next 15 minutes in the emergency landing position while father and son exchanged sad glances.
We have just gone under that pipeline at high speed. Note Marty’s patient expression as he waits for me to stop screaming.
We pounded a side canal, looking for the Jaguar Guapote, an elusive creature with one of the coolest fish names ever. We saw a few, but they are ridiculously hard to catch – the angler has to drop a jig within inches of their noses while somehow maintaining a degree of stealth. The Arosteguis may have these close-quarter combat skills, but I don’t. We did catch some beautiful Oscars and a stray Tilapia or two.
Matching Oscars. Yes, mine is bigger.
But, as far as the Jaguar Guapote goes, I thought I had blown it and I was resigned to looking for big Tilapia or Bluegill. We were working our way back out of the channel, and I was casting a float/worm combo, when suddenly, a small, dark shape emerged from some sunken branches and seized the crawler. Instinctively, I snapped back and flipped a small Jaguar Guapote onto the deck. I was thrilled, and I think Marty was stunned, as he had never seen such a lack of casting rewarded with a fish. (But he was also the first to high-five me when the fish came onboard.) But it’s such a cool fish name, I just loved saying it. “Hey guys, I just caught a Jaguar Guapote.” “My, that Tilapia doesn’t look at all like the Jaguar Guapote I just caught.” “Waitress, do you have Jaguar Guapote on the fresh fish board? You see, I just caught one …”
The Jaguar Guapote – I need to be more careful when I allow Martini to be in my photos.
We then moved to a new spot and saw some beautiful Peacock Bass hugging the banks. While I have caught several species of these Brazilian natives down in the Amazon, they are a thrill to catch anywhere. It was also humbling to watch Marty or Martini cast to a fish I had missed 8 times in a row and get it on the first try.
Marty and a Peacock that ignored me for 10 minutes before he cast to it once.
We then started casting some small baits for Tilapia. Oh, Tilapia. I don’t like Tilapia. I don’t like to eat them, and I hate trying to identify them. While I enjoy catching any fish, there is nothing so frustrating as holding a fish in my hand and knowing it will be almost impossible to pin down to a specific species. They are hard to identify even in their pure forms, and they shamelessly cross-breed with anything that will hold still, resulting in bizarre and impossible to pin down hybrids. The one scientist that really understands this family stopped talking to me a while ago, probably because he thought I was stalking him. (On advice of counsel, I am unable to comment further on this matter.)
But there was some slight hope here, because this beast had defined yellow and black bars and teeth – most Tilapia I have seen lack teeth, so I figured this feature might be helpful. Indeed, the beast turned out to be a Hornet Tilapia, a newbie for me, and an immigrant from Africa. (Neil Diamond started in my head again. “We’re coming to America … today.” God I hate that song.)
The Hornet Tilapia and a typical view of the canals we fished.
On the second day of canal fishing, we headed to a different part of town and launched for a half day. (We needed the afternoon to prepare for the trip to the Bahamas.)
We opened the day casting to more Peacock Bass, and they opened their day by continued to ignore me. After quite a bit of advice and some lucky casting, I finally managed to get the one pictured below.
The Arosteguis let me catch this fish out of pity.
Our main target for the morning was the Midas Cichlid – a bizarre bright orange transplant from central America. (And there went Neil Diamond in my head again. On the boats and on the planes … Who writes his lyrics – Dr. Seuss?) Like a freakishly large Goldfish with a bad attitude, these Cichlids are thick in certain parts of these canals, and stand out like, well, a bright orange fish in clear water. I kept pointing at small groups of them as we whizzed by at high speed. Martini would say “Wait until we get there.” When we got there, there was an underwater orange mass that looked like a sunken 400 pound pumpkin. “Now we’re here.” Martini said. I cast, and the entire pumpkin moved over toward the bait, and the float went down. It was easy, which, in my world, makes it fun. The two professionals looked at me patiently.
Now that’s just weird. Martini made me touch the forehead bump – it is soft and squishy, much like my own.
We moved further up the canal, and it was still chock full of fish – dark shapes loomed under every ledge. We cast jigs and bait, and kept picking off nice fish. Martini caught a Bluegill as big as a human head.
This is a Bluegill. Yes, the same thing you caught as a kid, except that this one has shoulders and a forehead. There is no nuclear plant nearby, so I am at a loss for an explanation. Sure, a scientist might tell you this is a breeding male, but I like the radiation idea better.
As we eased along the bank, my float shot off to the left. I set the hook, and the fight was on. I landed a beast of a Tilapia, and with its big black blotches on the sides, this was clearly a Spotted Tilapia. Another easily identifiable Tilapia? YES!! I couldn’t believe my luck, and I’m sure Dr. Kullander is thrilled I won’t be pestering him. Of course, another immigrant, and off Neil Diamond went off in my head again. Who recites the Pledge of Allegiance in a song? And shouldn’t he have retired or something? The guy performed at Martin Van Buren’s inauguration, for God’s sake.
The Spotted Tilapia – species # 1094.
I was really on my best behavior most of the trip. I said “please” and “thank you,” showered now and then, and worked hard at decent table manners. But I did have one major etiquette slipup. Marty had made it clear he was looking for an IGFA length record on the Oscar, and every time we saw a decent Oscar, we stepped back and let him throw a jig at it. So at the end of the side channel, Marty saw what looked to be a big Oscar, and we moved away so he could set up. He told us it was no problem to keep fishing the bread rigs where we were, but in hindsight, I should have just waited. Because we all know what happened. Whether it was the fish Marty initially saw or another big Oscar, I got a huge hit on my light rod and finally wrestled in … a large Oscar. A length record Oscar. Marty’s length record Oscar.
The stolen world-record Oscar. They forced me to smile for this photo.
I felt bad, as he was pushing hard to get his 400th record, was hosting me in his home, and was even passing up fish to give me shots. Then I catch his fish. Bad, bad Steve. Marty, as always, was a great sport, and to end the drama, his 400th record was approved later in the summer. What a milestone. And so it was that my 38th world record was pretty much a gift from the master himself. But I still faintly felt like I had gotten an Oscar I did not deserve – which is the one thing I have in common with Gwyneth Paltrow. Marty doesn’t look a thing like Meryl Streep, but he may have felt her pain.