Dateline: January 23, 2012 – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
15 years is a long time to keep up a long-distance love affair, but I have done exactly that with the fishing in Rio de Janeiro. From the first time I saw the place in an encyclopedia, I knew it was magical, and every time I have gone there, it has been fishing romance. Dozens of species, 4 world records, beautiful places to see, great food, great friends.
Rio de Janeiro. I caught my first fish in Brazil by the tiny island on the far left of this photo.
When I found myself heading to Brazil on a business trip this January, I knew I had to add a new chapter to this long-distance affair. Well, long distance romances are difficult by nature, and, to put it lightly, I got dumped. I got dumped like that guy Paris Hilton went out with who no one remembers because he somehow plays quarterback worse than she sings.
It all started so promisingly. Cristiano Bernarde, who you may remember as the good-looking guy from the November Florida Keys adventure (see https://1000fish.wordpress.com/2011/11/13/return-to-margaritaville/), invited me for a day on the Sao Paulo coast, about a hundred miles south of Rio. A good friend of his has a 54′ cruiser and is a frequent visitor at an oil platform some 50 miles offshore, a spot generally crowded with gamefish and exotic bottom species. We would then spend a day at that same friend’s vacation home on Isla Bela, which I thought meant “Beautiful Island” but in fact means “Danger – invisible stinging insects.”
As we pulled out of the harbor, it became obvious that the Fish Gods were displeased with me, likely because Jaime Hamamoto had made some phone calls. The wind kicked up to a rather brisk 35 knots, and we got to run 50 miles head-on into horrendous seas. We made it to the platform in a spleen-rattling 3 hours, and there were definitely gamefish there, but it was so rough I had no chance to fish the bottom for exotic and bizarre creatures. The guys got a nice variety of Tuna and Jacks, and I somehow kept my lunch down, which was a triumph in itself.
One of Cris’ buddies fights a nice Tuna at windswept Oil Rig PMX-1. While his light gear was certainly a daring choice, those swimsuits were even more so.
Cris with a Mahi he caught on a popper out on the oil rig. This is only the 2nd largest fish in this post, but you’ll have to read all the way to the end to figure that out. Yes, that’s a diver in the background – either he’s spearfishing or preparing to abandon ship.
After an evening of this abuse, we figured it was time to head back to port. Still, I figured I would have a day from the shore to add some new and interesting creatures. Oh, I was so wrong.
The vacation home on Isla Bela. It was Swiss Family Robinson meets Frank Lloyd Wright – an amazing warren of rooms and levels built into the side of a hill. Needless to say, I spent most of my time there on the dock seen at lower right.
Cris takes the kids for a spin in the inflatable. These are not all his kids – the 3 in the middle belong to others, and the one right behind him is a 4 horsepower Evinrude.
The dock looked absolutely fabulous – rocky structure with close access to deeper water. I figured it couldn’t go wrong. But it did. The same weather than shook loose my fillings on the boat ride had also brought unusually cold water onto the whole coast, and when this happens, fish just stop. Even I figured this out quickly. But still, rather than hang out and enjoy the company of a wonderful group up on the breeze-cooled patios, I parked myself down on that dock for a full day and night and got … nothing new. Small Squirrelfish. Small Wrasses. Small Grunts. One very irritated octopus.
An angry octopus comes over the railing.
People came down and checked on me. They brought me food. They brought me cold drinks. They brought me invitations to come upstairs out of the sun and stop this madness.
The only minor triumph of the dock marathon – a small brown Damselfish which turned out to be identifiable between two closely related species I had already caught. So count this as half a species.
In the evening, the insects came out. These were some kind of Brazilian no see-um, invisible but packing an evil wallop, and they did not respect my fancy American bug spray. I itched for days. Still, it was a gorgeous place. Not that I looked up from the rods at all.
Isla Bela, viewed from the balcony of my room. To tell you the truth, I don’t even remember taking this picture. It was a beautiful place to spend a day, or so I’m told, but the natural scenery would have been greatly enhanced by 4 or 5 new species.
So that part didn’t work out so well from a fishing perspective. Still, I had a couple of days coming up in Rio, so how bad could that be? You already know the answer – bad. Epic bad. The same cold water that had killed things down the coast at Isla Bela had also shown up in Rio. My good friend and guide Guilherme picked me up at the airport. (For those of you who wonder, he is progressing nicely from the trauma I put him through on that fateful night in May of 2010. See https://1000fish.wordpress.com/2010/05/03/the-countdown-to-1000-the-naked-truth-of-day-three/ and the heartwarming sequel https://1000fish.wordpress.com/2011/03/17/a-ray-of-hope/.)
At the airport, Guilherme warned me that there was a nasty wind and that the water had gone cold and with that, the fish had shut down. He tried to be gentle. He tried to suggest alternatives, such as, well, not going. But I would have none of this. I wanted to go fishing. How could could my piscatorial love let me down all these years?
We drove down to the southern part of Rio, got in the boat, and went out to the islands just outside the port. Guilherme had set up everything perfectly. We had live shrimp – the perfect bait for bigger fish almost anywhere. But as we put them down and brought them up, I noticed something very unfortunate. They came up dead. I grabbed one in my hand and verified what I was dreading – the water was so cold, the bait was freezing to death immediately. When we brought the anchor up, it felt icy.
After hours of getting zilch, we moved into some of the estuaries above Sepitiba and at least got a few catfish, generally considered an annoyance. For some reason, I photographed a couple of them, and weeks later, one of them did turn out to be a species I hadn’t caught before.
The Yellow “Bagre” Catfish. There are dozens of very similar catfish species here. I happened to photograph one that was different from others I had captured over the years.
We ploughed the small boat through the swells and back out to the islands, and I dropped all pride and started fishing only small hooks with shrimp. I got a few Blennies this way, and again, weeks later, one of them turned out to be a cool new critter – especially considering the paint job.
The Ringneck Blenny. This particular one was really cool, because it is in its mating colors, which it does one day a year. So I inconvenienced this fish far more than usual.
Like my niece, they may look cute – but they bite.
But it generally remained awful. Normally, in the tropics, a shrimp bait will start getting tapped by small fish the minute it hits the bottom, but on this day, the baits sat undisturbed for lengthy stretches. There is such a fine line between being admirably persistent and idiotically stubborn, and somewhere during the day, I leapt headlong and face-planted on the other side of this line. The fishing just didn’t get any better. I could have bailed out and gone into Rio for the evening, seen some friends, enjoyed a great meal. I could have walked the beaches or toured the Corcovada. But no. I stayed in a small boat on choppy, unseasonably cold water and the Fish Gods ignored me completely. We tried everything, venturing down to the Sepitiba flats (staying fully clothed the whole time, see above) and all the way up to the islands off of Barra. This was a long, bumpy boat ride. Things chafed.
It was at these islands that I had my one small triumph of the trip. Halfheartedly jigging a sabiki rig, I had a tap and reeled up what I at first thought was a Sardine. But a closer look showed me I had gotten something truly weird – a White Snake Mackerel, which isn’t a Mackerel or a Snake, but is a deep-water carnivore rarely seen by fishermen.
This creature had not been caught in Brazil in years, and certainly never in water anywhere close to this shallow. It may not prove global warming, but it certainly verifies that something is seriously wrong with my sense of priorities.
I had to admit that it was beautiful out there – clear blue skies, clear water, lush islands, all kinds of wildlife. (With the exception of fish.)
Pterodactyls circle over our heads. At least I think they were Pterodactyls. That’s the only thing I can think of that poops the size of a volleyball. Accurately.
I guess there are worse places to be stuck. This view is looking up at Barra, one of the southernmost suburbs of Rio.
But did I care? We stayed out until dark, with occasional lethargic taps from half-frozen small fish. The drive to Guilherme’s house was a gorgeous trip back up the coast, but I was deeply morose and didn’t notice.
The next morning, the Fish Gods dropped a big hint that I should not even try to go on the water. Cleverly, they did not go after me directly – they attacked my friends. As we left Guilherme’s house in the early morning darkness, he slipped on a step and, as it turns out, broke his wrist. He gave it a game try, but by the time we had fruitlessly soaked a few squid in the estuary, we knew it was ER time for him, and Sao Paulo time for me.
The one decent thing we did that day was rescue a turtle from a net. And no, this doesn’t count as a species.
Guilherme and a new friend. She was safely released moments later.
And so, that was it. I had been abandoned by my long-time vacation romance. I pouted that I was NEVER fishing in Brazil again. I was humiliated, lonely, devastated. Did I wander the streets of Rio alone, deep in my thoughts? (There’s a way to get robbed.) Did I turn to the bottle? Naaah. Instead, I found comfort with … an ichthyologist.
I know this sounds kinky, but hear me out.
Dr. Alfredo Carvalho is a globally-known Marine Biologist based in Sao Paulo. He isn’t just a scientific resource for me – he is really one of the founding fathers of the 1000fish blog. Not only has he pinned down a large variety of Brazilian species for me, he also takes it as a personal challenge to ID any fish I send him from anywhere in the world. He has identified 87 species for me, always with a cheerful and immediate response, and has become a good online friend. Over the past few years, I have tried to catch up with him in Sao Paolo for dinner just to thank him, but the schedules never quite align. Well, we finally got a chance to get a drink in Sao Paolo.
Dr. Alfredo Carvalho – he’s the good-looking guy on the right. And yes, that’s a rare photo of me wearing clothing with no IGFA, Shimano, or Hi’s Tackle Box logos.
We discussed a lot of topics, but I kept coming back to the awful fishing in Rio and how betrayed I felt. He smiled and said “Well, my friend. If Rio will not love you any more, there are hundreds of species waiting for you in Salvador, and Florianopolis, and hundreds more in Fernando de Noronha.” He promised to set me up with friends to fish any of these places, and I figure if anybody knows where the critters are, it’s him. So while my dalliance with Rio may have run its course, the long distance love affair with Brazil seems to just be starting.
SPECIAL BONUS SECTION – READER UPDATE
A 1000Fish congratulations goes out to Josh Wada, who caught his first Mahi-Mahi last month in Maui. That’s Josh on the right, Dad Glen in the middle, and older brother Griffin on the left. Griffin is a long-time 1000Fish reader and announced last year he is “chasing the Woz” – and hopes to exceed my species total someday. He’s already over 50 species, and we wish him the best of luck, mostly because he isn’t Jaime Hamamoto.
The Wada boys celebrate a nice Mahi in Maui.