Posted by: 1000fish | May 5, 2018

The Time of Nic

Dateline: October 14, 2017 – Bang Pakong, Thailand to Lake Fort Worth, Florida

Many of my blogs center on catching a fish in the nick of time, but this one is about the time of Nic.

I always seem to be far from home when bad things happen. I was in Malaysia when my Grandfather died in 1995. I was in Slovenia when my Mom passed away. So when I was in Thailand last October and my phone started lighting up with calls from co-workers at one in the morning, I had a bad feeling. I answered a call from one of my senior guys, Falko, and he was very to the point – “Nic has died.”

Nic and Falko were close.

That’s Nic and Falko at back right. No beer was safe around those two. Germany, 2014.

Nic Ware. It’s one thing when you get a call about someone much older, or someone who has been ill a long time, but this was sudden and hit close to home. Nic was just a few years older than me, and just like that, he was gone.

The first known photo of Steve and Nic, somewhere in Asia, early 2000s. We were good-looking and young, or more specifically, he was good-looking and I was young.

I had spoken to him just a few days before, partly about work topics but mostly shooting the breeze. Longtime 1000fish readers may remember Nic as “The Worst Valentine Ever,” and indeed, Nic will forever be my least attractive Valentine’s date. (We were wrongly identified as a couple in an Outback Steakhouse in Beijing on February 14, 2004.) We worked together for the better part of 20 years; I hired him three different times. We had adventures across Asia, South America, North America, and Europe. (And misadventures in many of the same places.) He kept to himself, wasn’t that open, had very few close friends. But we just clicked. The first legal advice he ever gave me (about a parking ticket) was “Deny everything. Admit nothing. Make counter-accusations.” How could I not love someone who thought like that?

I didn’t sleep much, and the alarm went off when I was staring at it. I had a day of fishing left in Thailand before I headed home. As always, Jean-Francois Helias set me up with his top guide, Kik, this time to give the Bang Pakong River a shot for a few local species I hadn’t gotten yet.

Kik and a local boatman on the Bang Pakong.

On the first day, the day before I heard about Nic, fishing was slow. Water levels had shot up from heavy rain, and the small fish were scattered in the flooded lowlands rather than at a predictable river edge. But we gave it a good shot, and I added one cool species that day – the smooth freshwater puffer.

I hadn’t even know these existed before my trip to Laos a few years ago, (Details in “The French Correction“)

You’re not the first person to notice that they look like a testicle with eyes.

We also got some nice Boesman’s croakers – a solid day.

Boesman’s croaker. They get a lot bigger.

I remembered the last time I was in Thailand with Nic, and having dinner with some of his old CIA buddies. It was like something out of a Warren Zevon song, but I didn’t see any Thompson guns.

The next day, the same day I found out Nic had died, I went out on the water but my thoughts weren’t on fishing. I kept looking at my phone. Nic had sent me texts just a few days ago. The last thing he ever sent me was, and pardon the language, but I will treasure this:

You’re an asshole    🙂

In this particular case, he was probably right. I couldn’t stop thinking about his wife, Lucy, and the pain she was going through. She was the one person he seemed to be able to talk to and who could make him deal with adult responsibilities. She was the Nic Whisperer.

I went through the motions on a very rainy Bang Pakong river.

It poured most of the day.

Kik was helpful every step of the way, but I was somewhere else.

The Hyatt labels have gotten awfully literal.

We were using tiny live prawns for bait, a lot like grass shrimp back home. Late in the morning, I reeled up an odd-looking catfish. Kik jumped out of his stool when he saw it, and for the avoidance of doubt, he was sitting on a wooden stool when he saw the photo. Don’t be gross. I had caught a Pla Kot Kan Lao – the truncated estuarine catfish, and this one is officially rare.

Francois has gotten two of these ever.

Adorable.

I thought Nic might have been looking out for me, but he was the sailor, not a fisherman. We talked about it, but we never did go fishing (or sailing) together. Just like I never saw Roger Barnes sing live. These chances go by so much faster than we think they do.

I got two other catfish that day which have thus far defied identification, so if any of you can figure them out, dinner is on me.

Guessing Ariidae. I didn’t say this was going to be easy.

Guessing in Netuma someplace, but this is a confusing genus.

Nic and I came close to fishing together once in Peru, but he decided it was more fun to sit on the pier, have a few beers, and make fun of me. Nic’s Father was a diplomat, so Nic grew up all over the world. He went to high school in Lima, and knew the place like the back of his hand. He spoke something like seven languages – three of them English.

Nic makes fun of my small fish. Note that he is reclining on solid rock – Nic could make himself comfortable anywhere, even the tiniest middle seat on the worst possible airlines.

When he went on a beer run and I asked him to bring me a Red Bull, he yelled halfway down the pier “¡Senor Wozniak, Yo he obtenido tus laxantes!” People stared, because this means “Mr. Wozniak, I have brought your laxatives!” Remember that I was the only person within earshot who did not speak Spanish.

I got off the water around five and we had surprisingly light traffic back into Bangkok.

Gas station bathroom on the way back to Bangkok. Signs like this go up for a reason, and I would love to know the reason.

I had dinner and a quiet beer at the Hyatt, at the same table where Nic and I, years ago, had giggled uncontrollably at a sales manager’s plaid suit, which looked a whole lot more like pajamas than business attire.

Steve and Nic, Bangkok. circa 2003.

The next morning, I flew through Singapore and caught a connection back to San Francisco. Once home, I got to say hello to Marta, then repack a bag for Florida. Marta loved Nic.

It was a military funeral – Nic was a US Marine. (And also a CIA officer and a lawyer. His resume made me wonder what I did with my life.)

“On behalf of a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”

Old friend Cristiano Bernarde, who has shared a few fishing adventures with me himself, was also very close to Nic. It was Cris who drove me up to the National Cemetery for the service. The whole thing was exactly 20 minutes long. It doesn’t seem fair to sum up a life in 20 hours or 20 days, let alone 20 minutes. Cris and I had lunch at, of all places, Bass Pro Shops in Dania Beach. He had to get back to work in the afternoon, and there I was, at the same Marriott I had stayed at for my very first IGFA award in 2010. It hit me that I hadn’t been fishing with Cris in years – it just always seemed like we would have to schedule it next time. I had a lot of plans with Nic for “next time.” So the next time I’m in Florida, I am making the time to get out with Cris, dammit.

But still, I was in Florida. There are fish here. Marta was locked up in some insane work project, so I decided to stick it out for a couple of days and try to catch a few species. This isn’t as glamorous as it sounds – the weather was unsettled and windy, and the hurricane that had passed through left a lot of damage. My favorite fishing pier – Anglin’s – was partially destroyed, and the coastal water was unseasonably green and cold. I had a all-star team of species experts on speed dial – Martini, Patrick Kerwin, and buddy Dom Porcelli – and everyone had some great ideas.

That first evening, I went up to Boca Raton, to a park Martini had recommended for night sergeant and possibly an eel. I opened a cold drink and set up my gear. I was late afternoon, the tide was rushing out, and I began catching all manner of small reef creatures. As it got dark, I had a crushing bite in the rocks and something broke off a 100# leader. The only thing that could have done this was an eel. (There are no gulf flounder in the area, Martini.) One of the last small fish I got was a very dark-colored damsel, which turned out to be the targeted species. I thought of Nic and smiled – there is no way he would have been out there with the mosquitoes.

Night sergeant. Ironically, I also met a Boca Raton police sergeant that night, because I had not realized the park closes at dusk. He let me off with a brief discussion of local fishing.

The next day was a blur of racing from spot to spot trying to pick up targets that Martini, or Dom Porcelli, or Pat Kerwin had passed along. I caught a couple of nice fish at Juno Pier, but it was mostly catfish.

An Atlantic Moonfish. Closely related to the Lookdown.

I decided to head to Boca Raton again, at a landing that had produced quite a few species for me. I had a big rod out with a bait for eel, and this did get a couple of hits – once from an ambitious nurse shark that put up a good fight for a minute or two. But I had dinner scheduled with the Arosteguis that evening, so I wanted to be more or less on time and more or less showered. I was down to using prawns on a lighter rig, and in the last five minutes I could fish, I got a solid, heavy bite. Lifting up on the 8 pound mono, I could tell immediately it was a moray, and I could also tell that the odds were heavily against me landing it. I gently worked it to the surface, and seeing that I had it hooked cleanly in the corner of the mouth, I gambled and swung it up onto the ledge. My gear held together, and I had finally gotten my Green Moray.

I thought of Vinnie Biondoletti and my eel failures with him all those years ago.

It gave me a good topic of conversation with Marty and Roberta, and I also got to visit with Rossi the cat.

Best cat EVER.

Saturday was my final day of fishing, and I spent it racing all over South Florida after some assorted micros that had frustrated me over the years. In a single morning, I was ignored by the bluefin killifsh, the sailfin molly, the least killifsh, and the brown hoplo. Both Martini and Dom had given me great spots and sage advice, and I still struck out. Bad. Like the kind of struck out where I never even saw the baseball, which used to happen a lot if someone could throw a curve over the plate.

There was one happy development to report on this day, and it was literally a Happy development. Specifically, an Eastern Happy Cichlid. This is one of those weird creatures that Patrick Kerwin somehow figured out lives in the pond at one given shopping center, and he was generous enough to tell me about it. Once I found the place, action was immediate. This was rewarding.

The Eastern Happy Cichlid. Species 1755.

There is no Western Happy Cichlid.

What was not rewarding was battling through the Everglades and watching bluefin killifish laugh at my micro rigs. Or going to some pond north of Miami that was supposed to have least killifish but that seemed to have only alligators.

WTF, Martini?

I decided to close it out at my favorite Boca Raton spot, but then I realized I was totally out of bait. If Nic had been around, he would have gladly driven me up a pound of seafood, but eaten half of it on the way. Instead, Dom Porcelli saved the day by delivering a bunch of shrimp and squid. I was back in business.

Dom Porcelli – owner of a very impressive species list himself.

I caught more than 50 assorted fish that afternoon, none new, but each one awesome. Then it was Skyline Chili for dinner, which made things just about perfect.

Nic would never have agreed to eat Skyline, but he would have come along just to talk. I’ll miss that.

If I’d had the choice, I never would have made this trip, but I will dedicate these three species to Nic. I hope he’s on a long sail with a quiet, following sea behind him.

And wherever you are, Nic – Happy Valentines Day.

Steve

 

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Responses

  1. Steve, next time you encounter sailfin Molly try using a small piece of bread as your micro bait…..this is what mine took and the only thing that interested that particular group in New Orleans city park. Not sure if it truly matters but it was sourdough : ) .

    • Oh, I have tried a number of assorted breads, as well as every possible worm and Gulp permutation. The things just hate me. They’re not as bad as creek chubsuckers, but they’re close.

      Cheers,

      Steve


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