Dateline: January 5, 2015 – Pacific Harbour, Fiji
How could I catch 29 new species and still come away with the bitter taste of defeat in my mouth? One word – Marta. Now, I admit that living with me is a difficult proposition, doubly so during the NHL playoffs, but this otherwise wonderful woman takes sadistic delight at catching species that I have not, and she just had to pick our Fiji vacation to go completely Jaime Hamamoto on me.
Perhaps the low point of our relationship – July 3, 2006 – Marta catches a red coronetfish in Hawaii. This is the only red coronetfish I will likely ever see.
We had been in Fiji for four days, and while I had gotten 16 new species, there had been two close calls where Marta had caught a species hours before I managed to. This sort of stuff makes me nervous. She has seven species I do not, listed in black at the bottom of my species spreadsheet, and, late at night, I agonize over these seven lines.
On January 2, I was scheduled to fish with Sam again. The morning broke clear and sunny, which is not normally an omen for disaster, but on this day, it was, because the weather was nice so Marta decided to come along. It always worries me to have her fish in a new spot. She communes with the Fish Gods, and with Jaime, who is evil, and I knew she would bring all her ill will to bear for the hours we were on the water.
The morning passed uneventfully. I got a couple of new species, which was a nice beginning to the day.
The dwarf spotted grouper. This is a huge one.
Bignose unicornfish – they grow a horn later in life. I was thrilled with this – briefly.
Just after lunch, things started to go terribly wrong. Marta pulled up some sort of reef fish, and said “This one is pretty.” I didn’t want to look. But I did, and sure enough, she had a bridled monocle bream, which I had only seen in books. Not to worry, I thought to myself – we had plenty of time, and I was certain I would catch one quickly.
Marta could use some work on her fish selfies.
I didn’t catch one quickly. I didn’t catch one at all. Then it got worse. Marta pulled up a green moon wrasse, a wretchedly rare and lovely reef species.
Sam is just catching on that the day is becoming awkward.
I must admit it was a beautiful fish.
Oh wait, it gets even worse. About 30 minutes later, while I was still trying to catch the monocle bream, Marta pulled up a checkerboard wrasse. I may have acted faintly displeased. (Perspective from Marta – Steve had a total meltdown.)
Sam is having no part of this.
Again, a lovely creature, but what would have been so wrong with me catching one?
Marta had gotten three species I had not in exactly 68 minutes. Are you #$%&#% kidding me? I knew she was triumphantly texting Jaime. I had managed to catch two new species for the day, but Marta had even gotten more new species than I did in a day – for the first time ever. I was in a very dark place emotionally, comparable to when the NHL cheated the Red Wings out of a title in 2009 or when the Tigers lost that squeaker of a World Series in 2012. And don’t even get me started on Charles White and USC and the touchdown that never happened, because you know if a USC running back got a fish within three yards of the boat they would have counted it.
Sam stayed out as late as he could and was very gentle when he told me we had to leave. At the dock, he quietly mentioned that if I wanted to go out tomorrow, he would be glad to take me. I nodded my agreement, but no words would come out.
The black section on my spreadsheet had grown by 43% in just over an hour. This was a very, very bad day, and Marta was just as helpful and constructive as she had been when she caught the plaice in Norway five years ago. (Details HERE.) She brought my Fiji fish book to dinner and read me the entries on her new species.
I didn’t sleep well, and was up a couple of hours before Sam came to the dock, casting poppers in the rain and hoping the Fish Gods would take mercy on me. Marta was fine with staying at the Pearl spa, and she also went back into Suva to do more cultural things, which was fine with me because it kept her away from the water.
Speaking of cultural, Marta met and hung out with Bernadette Rounds Ganilau, a well-known philanthropist, human rights activist, and former government minister. She’s darn tall.
The weather on the 3rd was vile from start to finish, but there was a steady trickle of interesting new species. Sam had sensed my pain from the day before and brought me a special surprise – a big bag of fresh shrimp, sure to attract reef species much better than the squid we had used before. The first fish of the day was by far the best – a slingjaw wrasse.
This is a slingjaw wrasse. Looks like a normal wrasse, you say? See below.
Hence the name. Is that cool or what?
The rest of the catches were on the tropical micro side, but they were beautiful and they were new, so I had started rebuilding my confidence from the previous day’s disaster.
Sam gamely trolls through rotten weather. Trips were booked through Callan at Xstreem Fishing – +679-363-2188 or email at email@example.com
With the miserable sea conditions, you can imagine how difficult it was to land this blue-green damsel.
And this jewel chromis. They are among the most savage fighters in the damselfish family.
A snooty wrasse. No idea how that name happened.
The yellowstriped threadfin bream.
I briefly thought this one was a green moon wrasse, but it turned out to be the closely-related bluntheaded wrasse. A new species yes, but not the one Marta had gotten.
Sam and Steve – of course the sun came out as soon as we landed. The count had gone up to 24, but none of Marta’s catches had shown themselves. This cast a pall over an otherwise solid day.
Our last full day, the fourth, marked the first time the weather broke enough to get out to the main reef. I was positively giddy with excitement, as I figured this offered a good shot at some big fish, new species, and possible world records. The main fish I desired on this jaunt was a dogtooth tuna, a vicious resident of deep dropoffs that can destroy even the stoutest tackle. I hooked one on the Great Barrier Reef in 2003 – it tore the hooks off the plug and disappeared.
For this adventure, I would be fishing with Mark, nephew of Callan at Xstreem fishing, who had plenty of experience jigging the offshore reefs for big game fish. The ride out was a bit lumpy to be sure, but once we got there, we were protected from the waves by the main reef, and we could set to fishing.
Initially, we waded through loads of lyretail grouper – not a new species but an excellent table fish.
I had caught these before in Jordan.
I got a few other things I had caught before, but they were still beautiful enough to share here.
An especially colorful cheeklined wrasse.
A redstripe triggerfish. I have caught these in eight countries, but I never get sick of looking at them.
After a while, I started to dredge up a few new ones. The first was a pastel ring wrasse.
The pastel ring wrasse – it missed being a record by less than an ounce.
I got three other new species – that’s four for the day (and 28 for the trip) if you’re counting along at home. We jigged our arms off but the dogtooth would not cooperate.
The whitespot snapper.
The barcheek trevally.
The netfin grouper. Something tried to eat it on the way up.
The Fish Gods may have ignored our ride out to the reef, but they were paying attention when we started for home. The wind, which was already a concern, picked up quite a bit, and the waves got big – six to eight feet, right on our nose. A ride that normally takes 45 minutes took three drenched hours, and while I was never all that worried about our safety, I was quite concerned about keeping my lunch down.
The offshore team trying to dry out at the dock. That’s Mark on the left.
Lyretail grouper for two.
On the 5th, we had half a day at the resort before our flight. We spent some time in the spa, had a great lunch, and wandered the grounds, with me discussing the pain she had caused on the 2nd, and her just smiling. Of course, I did spend a few more hours getting rained on, hoping to scrape up just one more new critter before we had to head to the airport.
Enjoying the Fiji weather.
I had ignored the mullet all week, thinking they were the same striped mullet I had seen everywhere else on the planet. But I brought out a loaf of bread just to make sure, and as it turns out, they were a new species – the hornlip. And Marta didn’t catch one, so the trip closed on a small note of triumph.
Normal people would look at the trip as a smashing success – 29 new species is one of the best weeks I have ever had, rivaling epic journeys like Weipa in 2009 (42 species) and Koh Kut in 2006 (41 species.) And I would fondly remember each of these 29 fish, but as I flew home, the three fish I could not get out of my head were obvious – the bridled monocle bream, the green moon wrasse, and the checkerboard wrasse. My relationship with Marta would survive those 68 very bad minutes, because I am kind and forgiving, but I was already planning a trip back to Fiji.