Dateline: February 25, 2016 – Yu Tang, Taiwan
When life gives you lemons, throw them at someone. Of course, those of you who have played baseball with me might postulate that I couldn’t hit that someone, but you’re totally missing the point here.
I don’t always get to plan my business trips around fishing opportunities, and it happens from time to time that I get sent somewhere at the wrong time of year, (details HERE) or in horrible weather (details HERE), or where the fishing is just plain difficult. This trip managed to combine all three, but I still managed to catch a few fish. The only casualty was my pride, but if you think this is a problem, you must be a new reader. Welcome!
I like Taiwan. It’s a beautiful place. But I have never had much luck fishing there, and this trip had to be scheduled right in the middle of an especially blustery February. This killed most of the interesting options, like chartering a boat or at least fishing some of the rocky shorelines. This left me with the same choices I had last time (CLICK IF YOU DARE), namely, stocked ponds. Yes, I hear you – dignity, pride, blah, blah, blah. If I had any of those things, do you think I would have fished in the fountain at the Royal Hawaiian?
I was in town for an especially difficult business transaction, one that involved a lot of lawyers and yelling, so in short, I spent most of the week actually working for a living. (You can pick up your jaw now.) But I knew there was a good chance that I would have a day free at the end of the week, and so I went to my go-to planning resource – the concierge. These are the same guys who found me my first Taiwan fish in October of 2014, but I wanted saltwater this time. This took a lot more work than the normal carp ponds, but they found stuff.
After several days of lawyers and yelling, and some excellent Chinese food, Thursday rolled around. My main target was a port on the northeast of the island, but I had several stocked ponds marked on GPS as a backup. My driver this time around was Mike, who not only spoke solid English but was also a fisherman himself. We hit the road early, in steady wind and intermittent rain. Despite the low clouds, the scenery was still beautiful – Taiwan is a hilly, forested island once you get out of the big city.
Whizzing by the Grand Hotel. I have always wanted to stay here, but the concierges just don’t know their fishing as well as the Hyatt guys.
We arrived at the coast in about an hour, and I could see surf breaking fifteen feet over some of the seawalls. There was no way anyone was taking a boat out, which was a shame, because Mike told me he had done a lot of excellent fishing in this area when conditions were calmer. We pulled up at the port, and I was looking forward to a day of hunting the assorted tropical whatsits that frequent such places.
This is where things went terribly wrong. Just as I was setting up to drop a sabiki between the docks, an impressively-armed man in military garb came up and said something to Mike in Chinese. From the “I really don’t want to translate this” look on Mike’s face, it was clear it was bad news, and indeed it was – fishing was not allowed in the harbor. I did not take this well, and blamed the usual suspects – mostly Jaime Hamamoto.
Steve and Mike, after Steve calmed down.
But we still had most of a day and there had to be fish to catch, so it was off to the stocked ponds – “ditches,” as Roger Barnes used to call them. Mike’s English was certainly better than my Chinese, but there were always going to be some translation difficulties. The first place we got to was supposed to have groupers in it, and I naturally assumed that since there are many species of grouper, that we should give it a shot. As it turns out, there was only one species of grouper present – the Queensland – which I had caught before, but it’s awfully hard not to fish for something when you’re already there. I rigged up my heaviest rod – a reasonable largemouth setup, and had at it. It wasn’t long before my fetid sardine head got eaten, and I then had to deal with the comical mismatch between 10 pound bass gear and a grouper of indeterminate size. This took about an hour, and if I wasn’t in a glorified concrete bathtub, I never would have landed it.
My third Queensland grouper ever. The first two were a lot bigger.
Just so we’re clear that I have caught a bigger one. In the wild. Weipa, Australia, 2009.
The guys at the pond also told me there was another fish species in there, which they could not describe except for its Chinese name, so I stuck it out for about another 30 minutes until I got a bite. The fish gave an athletic fight – clearly not a grouper, and as I brought it to the net, I was stunned to see a good old-fashioned American red drum. The fish had traveled farther than I had, but it turns out they are very popular with the locals.
Who knew? Note for the world record crowd – fish from venues such as this can not be submitted for IGFA records.
I told Mike we needed to hit the next place. We drove about an hour to get to a park by the airport that apparently had a batch of different fish. It was a much less industrial location, right on a beach, and if the weather hadn’t been miserable, it might have been a pleasant place to hang out.
Looking down the west coast of Taiwan. It actually looked like a decent place to fish the surf, except that the wind was blowing in around 40mph.
I began pitching unweighted shrimp around the margins of the pond, and was surprised to catch another very well-traveled species – an American Black Sea Bass. Mike recognized it as something often stocked in Taiwan, and indicated that it was one of the better fish to eat. (Mike got a couple of fish dinners out of the deal.)
A familiar species in an unexpected locale.
After another couple of seabass, I got a spirited strike and a clearly different fight. As I brought the fish to net, I was thrilled to see that it was my favorite – a “what the hell is that?” I knew it was something seabreamy, but I had no idea from there – but it was definitely new. I caught several of them, and was thrilled to have a new species on the board.
The mystery beast. A few hours later, Dr. Jeff Johnson emailed me confirmation that this was a Shortbarbel Velvetchin – which gets bonus points as an especially cool fish name.
Steve and Mike celebrate the new beast.
We stuck at it the rest of the morning, and while the weather wasn’t very nice, the fishing was solid, and I got several more Velvetchins and Black Sea Bass.
Another Shortbarbel Velvetchin.
We were having fairly consistent action, but it was getting past lunchtime and we had another pond to hit. Lunch ended up being chips and Red Bull – I have my priorities. (Besides, this meal has many things in common with a healthy lunch – both are largely carbon-based, for example. Both have a certain amount of carbohydrates. Both have yellow things.) Getting chips in Taiwan was a bit of an adventure – they really do have a “seaweed” flavor, which wasn’t going to happen for me. I ended up buying “Cajun Squirrel” flavor, because it was actually the least frightening choice of the three they had.
I have no idea what this was about. “Squirrel” was not listed as one of the ingredients. I can’t tell you they didn’t taste like squirrel because I have never tasted squirrel. I hope.
The third choice. I really, really don’t like pickles, especially Gershwins*. And why the heck does a bag of chips in Taiwan have French translations?
Still, these were nowhere near the weirdest chips I have ever seen. That honor would go to some Doritos I found in Japan a few years ago, photos below. I don’t understand what was going on here, and I’m not sure I ever want to. I have researched the heck out of these, and about the only thing I can tell you is that it is NOT what it looks like.
The best explanation I could find is HERE.
Their names are apparently Jonathan and Pierre, and the more I researched, the more confused I became.
Our final pond was about an hour north, and the weather started getting nastier as we worked our way up the coast. As we drove along the shoreline, Mike lamented that the weather was not better – he pointed out several more spots where he had caught fish in milder conditions.
The last venue was smaller than the other two, but was supposed to have some very interesting species. The two most notable were the Asian Red Porgy and Japanese seabass. Porgy and Bass. Sounds like a good title for a fishing opera.
I didn’t say these places were glamorous.
The weather was miserable as I set up – nearly horizontal rain which seemed to blow right into my eyes no matter which way I turned. I used a basic sliding sinker rig and squid, and I immediately noticed that other people were catching things and I was not. Stubbornly, I stuck to my setup, and others continued to catch interesting stuff. About an hour later, I got a light bite, and after a few minutes, I managed to hook a seabream – it looked a lot like the pikey breams from Queensland, but Dr. Jeff Johnson astutely pointed out that it was a blackhead bream. I had my second species of the day.
Bream photographed in driving rain.
Encouraged, I continued to fish the squid, but another hour passed while I got nothing and others got fish regularly. It was getting late, and I figured it was time to do a bit of research. I had Mike chat with the guys further down the bank, and it turns out they were using small, live shrimp. Mike organized some for me, and while he was doing this, a couple of the other fishermen waved me down to their spot. Here I was, halfway across the globe, without language or culture in common with these other fishermen, but we were all out in the rain hoping to catch something and they wanted the foreigner to have a good time. I only had about 30 minutes, but the moment my rig hit the water, I got a solid hit and the bulldogging fight of a porgy.
I loves you, Porgy.*
Moments later, a seabass slashed into my bait and I had a fourth species on the day – rain or not, it was an excellent time, and I owe most of it to Mike and that group of guys.
Bass, you is my fish now.*
I want to give special thanks to Dr. Jeff Johnson of the Queensland Museum – he took time out his day to identify all of these species as soon as I emailed them. Dr. Johnson has been a huge help over the years, identifying dozens and dozens of Indo-Pacific creatures for me and patiently answering every question, of which I always have many.
That evening featured an exceptional meal at one of the best hotels in Taipei – it felt odd to be eating gourmet fare in a suit and tie, when only hours before I had been bundled in dank Gore-tex struggling through Cajun Squirrel potato chips.
Smelling as I did, the walk through the lobby was a bit awkward.
Miserable weather aside, it had been a productive day – I had set out hoping to scrounge up a species or two, and had ended up with four. I still would have preferred to fish in the harbor, but I have learned never to argue with anyone who is heavily armed, especially when I don’t speak a word of their language.
Porgy and Bass*
* These may be some of my most obscure puns ever. They are related to the title. A dollar to the first person to figure it out.