Dateline: April 5, 2015 – Birmingham, Alabama
What kind of idiot drives eight hours to try to catch a two inch fish? If you don’t know, you’re probably a new reader. Welcome!
These are the kind of idiots who drive eight hours to catch a two-inch fish.
Martini and I were not discouraged by our March fishing trip, the semi-debacle that turned into a race to stay ahead of a cold front. Sure, we showed great determination, but there is a fine line between determined and stupid. And so it was, less than a month after Dial M for Micro, we found ourselves saddling up for a jaunt to Alabama – which apparently has more freshwater species than just about anywhere.
Martini is the one who plans these things out – his research is painstaking and exhaustive. He offered me the option to meet him in Miami and drive up, which is a long way, or to fly in to somewhere north and avoid all that endless I-75. I would like to think I chose Miami to share the road hours with Martini, and that was part of my decision, but the ugly truth is that I knew that if I drove from Miami, I would get to go through Gainesville and get another crack at the elusive variegated platyfish. As you all know, I attempted to catch one of these in March, an attempt which ended in humiliation, and eight hours in the car was a small price to pay for another shot at the beast.
One of the many highlights on the drive from Miami to Gainesville.
It is a long drive, but we had lots of Red Bull and a good supply of Taylor Swift CDs, which, now that I look at it, sounded a whole lot less creepy in the first draft. We made one stop on the way, hunting a brook silverside. I am as proud as you are bewildered that I caught one.
Sure it’s small, but has Jaime caught one?
Then we were off after the platyfish. We pulled into the neighborhood where I had screwed up so spectacularly only 28 days before, and set up the teensy float. I was admittedly nervous – this fish seemed to require hand steadiness found only in deceased persons, and I wondered if I could pull it off. Even the slightest finger twitch can make a bait move critical millimeters away from a hungry platyfish, and once I had started missing them in March, things quickly snowballed into an avalanche of failure and disgrace.
We pulled up at the small residential creek where Martini had made my inner child weep.
Every time you think I spend all of my time in beautiful foreign locales, look at this picture.
Martini awaits with the photo tank. It was early and he had a remarkably positive attitude.
Martini was silent and patient, but the pressure was enormous. I tried to go to a quiet place in my soul, but my soul has very few quiet places, and so it was that I simply went at it and tried not to think a lot. My hand was still not too steady – perhaps it’s all that Red Bull – but about ten minutes into what could have become an ordeal, an enraged bull platyfish ignored my poor presentation and somehow managed to get hooked.
A platyfish goes on the scoreboard!
A closeup of this unusual and beautiful creature. The mouth is intimidatingly small.
Martini was almost as happy as I was. We headed off to Blue Springs for a few hours, where we both got lined topminnows, although Martini could not find the russetfin I had gotten in March. Perhaps this is because he was mean to me in March. Still, we celebrated that evening with the first of several great barbecue meals on this trip.
The lined topminnow. I love micros when they don’t look like nondescript shiners.
We had one target in mind that next morning – the elusive grayfin redhorse. Martini had caught one previously (details HERE) but was kind enough to stop on a likely river for me to get one. He then did something even kinder – when I set up to fish a bait right under the bridge, he went walking downstream looking for fish, and moments later, that long-distance whisper came over the water – “Steve! They’re – right – here!” He had spotted a fish a short walk downstream, and waved me over so I could cast to it. This is what fishing brothers do for each other.
Only he nearly got screwed for his kindness. Minutes later, I got the bait presented to the fish correctly, and it struck. I landed it, thrilled to get my grayfin, but moments later, it hit me that this fish didn’t look gray at all. It looked spotted. It was a spotted sucker, one of the truly rare species in the life-list brotherhood, and I was holding one – a marvelous if unintended gift from Martini.
A spotted sucker – the great surprise of this trip, apart from the restaurant we would experience about seven hours after this picture was taken.
He gamely photographed it for me, and while he was plainly shared my joy, he was also pained that he had passed it up. Part of the unwritten rules are that, if he had known it was a spotted, and he spotted it, he had every right to cast to it – but he had passed it to me.
Not one to mope, Martini stalked up to the same corner, and moments later, spotted another fish. He skillfully cast to it, and in short order, he had caught the spotted sucker that he spotted, and yes, it was bigger than mine.
And it’s a nicer photo.
Martini immediately texted Mike Channing, the species-hunting pastor from Wisconsin. The spotted sucker is a biggie in species-hunting circles, and Martini was justifiably proud. Martini told Mike the whole story, and Mike wrote back “Don’t EVER give Steve any advantages.” I buy this guy multiple meals at Dairy Queen and he treats me like this?? Oh, the pain.
That’s Mike on the right. It’s bad enough when someone tells the world to offer you no advantages; doubly so when it’s a pastor. Even worse, he’s probably right.
That night, we pulled up at a questionable-looking motel in rural Alabama. We went inside to get the rooms, and improbably, the clerk was a Nordically-blonde woman named Clara Larsson. So I said “Swede Home Alabama,” and I’m not sure, but I think Martini threw up. (I also think she was wearing blue Swede shoes.)
Speaking of throwing up, the only food option in town was a Mexican restaurant – we had hoped to find authentic barbecue and ended up with something that was not exactly Mexican food and was confusingly served by a Chinese waiter. Happily, this would be our only night without barbecue food on the trip.
Martini sits quietly outside the restaurant, trying to outlast his enchilada.
Morning saw us deep in Alabama, heading to one of Martini’s most impressive research achievements. He had located a spot on the Alabama River where southeastern blue suckers apparently gather to spawn. This is a large fish with a very small mouth that favors fast, deep water. In other words, the Fish Gods have pulled a prank on us, but we were game to fish in the tailrace of a huge dam, although our equipment was a touch light for the eight plus ounces needed to occasionally touch the bottom.
We gave it a game try, but a funny thing happened on the way to catching no suckers – we noticed that there seemed to be some fish in the racing current at our feet, and in short order, a sabiki appeared and we discovered that we were on a veritable swarm of threadfin shad.
There were zillions of these right underfoot.
We also got silver chub in the shallows, so even though the blue sucker remained elusive, I was up two more species.
The silver chub. Martini caught them also and figured out the ID.
In the morning, we drove north into yet another watershed rumored to be full of exotic species. To be fair, the place definitely has a lot of fish, but we also seemed to have arrived at a time with colder-than-normal conditions, so while we did get some species, we had to work for them. Some of the places we visited, such as Hurricane Creek in Tuscaloosa, were absolutely beautiful, and it was great fun hopping from spot to spot, knowing each one could hold something new and interesting, at least to us and a few ichthyologists.
Martini explores Hurricane Creek.
But despite our best efforts and the capture of loads of bass, catfish, and sunfish, nothing new appeared that day. Undaunted, we dined that evening in an authentic Alabama barbecue joint, meaning that we saw as many firearms as we did rib slabs. I will say that everyone was very polite.
Not to be deterred, we spent the early morning back on Hurricane creek, casting for bass and searching for new and exciting micros. Our persistence was rewarded when I got an Alabama shiner – I only got one all morning among a swarm of blacktail shiners, which I had already gotten on the Great Road Trip of 2014. (Details HERE.)
The Alabama shiner, an official Alabama souvenir!
An hour or so north, after winding through some country roads that had a church at least every half a mile, we came to a creek that had low, clear water. Martini spotted some type of bass – at least two pairs. These could be Alabama bass, which would be a new species for both of us, so he set to casting. And they ignored him. He is incredibly persistent, but they just ignored him. He finally moved down the creek, and I decided to take a crack at the bass, even though they were both likely phenomenally annoyed and wouldn’t eat again until August.
Naturally, my first cast, with a bargain-basement jighead and grub, got smashed, and the fish bent the hook and escaped. I was disgusted with myself, because I knew I would not get another chance. (Kids, always tie on the good lure FIRST.) So, I tied on a high-quality plastic, and naturally, my second cast also got hit, likely by the same fish, and improbably, I had added the species.
The Alabama bass. Or so I’m told by scientists.
I flew out of Birmingham early the next day, leaving Martini to do two more days of fishing and then head back to Florida on his own. It had been another good road trip, and I knew that we would be hitting the water together again in only eight days.
I also knew that, in only 11 days, Marta and I were going to face a major home decorating decision.