Posted by: 1000fish | June 17, 2018

Kenya? Of Course I can.

Dateline: January 24, 2018 – Watamu, Kenya

I was in East Africa, 9,840 miles from home, but it felt like Hawaii. This was both a good thing and a bad thing.

It was a good thing because the hotel in Kenya felt as nice as any resort in Kona. This was an unexpected bonus. My last trip to sub-Saharan Africa was in 2006, when I visited Gabon and Sao Tome/Principe as part of a month-long Africa jaunt that jump-started my quest for 1000 species. I experienced everything you read about – airlines with no planes, fishing lodges that didn’t have fishing or lodges, plenty of unwelcome wildlife, and irrational schedule changes that would give a German a stroke. Despite these inconveniences, and a good case of food poisoning, I got over 60 species – and memories for life. So when I decided to head to Kenya before a January business trip to Europe, I certainly expected some interesting fish, but also that I was going have logistical problems. But I didn’t. So if you’re considering an Africa trip, I would put Kenya high on the list.

It also felt like Hawaii because five of the first seven fish species I caught were things I had gotten previously – IN HAWAII. 10,800 MILES AWAY. WTF, Fish Gods? I have fished lots of places between Hawaii and Kenya and not caught most of these species. (Except for the pink Pristipomoides, which I am convinced is the most widespread life form on earth, with the possible exception of time share salesmen.) Jamie Hamamoto is somehow behind all of this.

It was 41 hours of travel from my house in Alamo to the Medina Palms resort, near Malindi on the central Kenyan Coast. 41 hours is a long time to travel, despite the incredible precision and great service from Ethiopian Air, but I got there safely, albeit way past the point where Red Bull could help.

It was eye-opening to see so many famous places on one map screen. Mount Kilimanjaro, where Marta will make me hike someday, and where I will likely barf. Tsavo, where two lions ate several dozen railway workers late in the 19th century. (Watch “The Ghost and the Darkness,” but not with a cat person.) And Mombasa, first capital of modern Kenya. I was truly a long way from home.

Before anyone gets all jealous about all the wildlife and historical stuff I saw, I didn’t. Remember, this is me, the guy who caught a fish in Paris before I saw the Mona Lisa. I spent five days in Kenya and didn’t see a single giraffe. Indeed, I saw absolutely nothing related to “The Lion King,” despite it being one of the great movies of all time. I went fishing and fishing hard, 12 hours a day.

Located on the Northwest Indian Ocean, Watamu is about 2500 miles from anywhere I had fished previously – so I had very high hopes for a big species haul. (Just as I had on my first trip to the Maldives.) We all remember how humbling the first two days of that trip were, so I tried to temper my anticipation, but it was hard to do this when the local fish book contained page after page of stuff I had never seen. On paper, things should have been epic – 25 species or more.

But we do not play the games on paper, or the Detroit Tigers would have won the 2012 World Series.

This all started with an IGFA captain – Angus Paul of Kingfisher Sportfishing. IGFA.org is a great place to start planning a trip, especially to places with limited infrastructure. The IGFA skippers are vetted, well-known, and reliable, although most of them are focused on big game. I won’t turn down a marlin, but I am of course focused on variety, and this is generally found on the bottom.

That’s Angus on the lower left. You can reach him on Kingfisherfishing@gmail.com

A lot of big game skippers will turn up their noses at species fishermen, or, even worse, take a bottom charter with no idea how to catch anything but billfish. Angus not only was up front that he was not a reef guy, but he went the extra mile and booked me with two local experts. I would spend my first two days with Captain Abudi Yusuf on on of Angus’ boats, the Snow Goose, and my final two days with Captain Calvin du Plessis, who has a reputation for deep jigging. Angus also helped me find a great hotel and transportation – now all I needed to do was get there.

I know “Ethiopian Air” sounds like the punchline to one of my tasteless travel jokes, but they really were great. After taking United to Frankfurt, I had a 10 hour layover, then caught an Ethiopian flight to Addis Ababa.

There were no fish at the airport. I looked.

Their aircraft were new and clean, the crews were organized, and things happened on time. Seven hours to Addis Ababa, three hours there in a decent lounge, then a short flight to Mombasa. (The layover, however, meant that I had added a country where I have not yet caught a fish. This will have to be corrected.) It is always a huge relief to see my luggage waiting for me at the end of a trip, and there it was. I knew I was going fishing.

The thing I look forward to seeing the most on any trip, unless I am with Marta, and then I would look forward to seeing her the most. This is not to imply that I have ever checked her as baggage, because, let’s face it, United would lose her.

There was an evil omen at the airport. One of the walls held a mural that featured not one, but two species I have never caught.

Clown triggerfish and queen angelfish, and don’t think this sort of stuff doesn’t bother me.

The hotel car was waiting for me outside of customs, and three scenic hours later, I arrived in Watamu. Mombasa was a little gross, but so is Berkeley. Outside the city limits, I may as well have been in Hawaii. We passed quite a few reserves where the driver told me there were giraffes or zebras or some other kind of lion food, but I was determined to get to the hotel, get my gear together, and catch a fish.

The Medina Palms is an extraordinary resort. Clean, secure, beautifully landscaped, and simply amazing service – delightfully first world.

Just outside of my room.

I know some people may travel hoping to have a truly local experience, but my goal is to catch local fish, have nice meals, and avoid cultural nuances, such as dysentery. On my arrival, I discovered that the bay where the resort is located is a preserve, and there was no fishing from the beach. This was heartbreaking. I actually had to pass about two hours in the afternoon near water, and not go fishing. As you all know, I am always perfectly calm in these situations and am never inconsolable, intolerable, or irrational. (Perspective from Marta – You all know better.)

If you don’t know how hard this was for me, you must be a new reader. Welcome!

I passed the time by meeting Angus to take care of logistics. As we had an afternoon beer at a pleasant beachside cafe, we agreed on a 6:15am pickup on the beach for the next morning, and spent a lot of time talking about what could be caught in the area. While he is a big game specialist, he certainly knew a lot about the local lure fishing – there are GT, amberjack, and big snappers in the area.

The next morning, when I got down there at 6:15, they were waiting. (I had a guide in Gabon in 2006 who unapologetically AVERAGED 90 minutes late. You can imagine how calmly I dealt with that.)

Sunrise at Watamu.

The wind was up, and the water was bumpy – fishable, but the kind of thing that would make Stefan Molnar throw up. A lot. But I was here, and I was going fishing. We motored about an hour south and set up over some reefs in the 200-250′ range. I started dropping a mix of bait and jigs. Action was immediate, but to my astonishment, the first three things I caught were already on the list – from Hawaii. One of them was even a bridled triggerfish, which made me wonder if these would be a scourge here as well.

My first fish of the trip. Triggerfish though it was, I had added Kenya as my 91st country.

Then I pulled up a hogfish, which looked a lot like the tarry hogfish caught in Hawaii, but I figured had to be something new because I was 11,000 miles from Hawaii. I was briefly pleased.

Oh, was I disappointed when I got into the ID book.

My very next fish was a tilefish-looking thing, which looked a lot like the stripetail blanquillo I had caught in Kona years ago, but which had to be a new species because there is no way it could be the same thing that I caught 11,000 miles away. And I was briefly pleased.

Oh, was I disappointed when I got into the ID book.

It took another hour for the first new species, but it was a good one – a rosy goatfish, which was not only new, but an open world record.

Whew.

Shortly after than, I hauled up a halfmoon grouper, which, at two pounds, was also a record. Things were looking up.

OK, now I was feeling much better.

A few triggerfish later, I got a blackside hawkfish, another Hawaiian mainstay. I began to suspect again I had gotten on the wrong flight, and when I got a couple of pink snappers, I became certain there is some sort of fish wormhole between Kona and Watamu. My next catch, however, was a nod to universal justice. Yes, it was another bridled triggerfish, but this was a big one – 2.5#. This broke the existing record, which was mine, so this was rewarding but felt overdue, like Cousin Chuck’s high school graduation. (What a way to celebrate his 24th birthday!)

My initial record, in 2012, broke an existing record held by good friend Phil Richmond.

We moved inshore for the late afternoon, and I added two more species there – a goldstripe wrasse and a redspotted sandperch.

Wrasses are one of the most consistently beautiful fish families.

I caught a few other equally gorgeous wrasses, and even though I had gotten these species before, they are still lovely enough to include here.

The spottail coris, which I first caught in Jordan on New Year’s Day 2010. This one is a female, so it’s a coris girl.

The yellowbar wrasse, which I first caught in Mozambique in March of 2006 as part of the aforementioned Africa trip.

Sand perch IDs are not a problem, because Dr. Jeff Johnson is an expert on them, .

The redspotted sandperch.

It was well into the evening when they dropped me back at the Medina Palms beach.

Captain Abudi Yusuf, along with deckhand Arfun Photobomb.

Four species and three records was a good start. It wasn’t the huge haul I had imagined, but it was nice. And I had three more days coming up. So I settled down for an evening enjoying the resort, which had an excellent restaurant and a nice bar. A note to you prospective travelers – I did not see a single mosquito the entire time I was in Kenya. I also did not see any lions, which is just fine me.

The next day started perfectly – early and punctual. Captain Yusuf ran us out to some different reefs, further north. We first set up to try some sabikis over a shallow reef – the water was a gorgeous crystal blue. Very quickly, we added two nice species – the cigar wrasse and a red bar anthias.

The cigar wrasse. Dr’ Jeff Johnson couldn’t believe I hadn’t caught one of these before. They are apparently quite common throughout the Indo-Pacific. Of course, once I had caught one, they wouldn’t stop biting.

The anthias is worth mentioning for future reference. Note that it is small. Note that all other anthias species I have caught were small – see example in “The Winds of Nausea.” This will provide some background on a misunderstanding I would have in just less than 24 hours.

The Red Bar Anthias

We moved deep for the rest of the day. The quality of the fishing was outstanding. We started getting much bigger stuff – groupers, jacks, and a nice Indian Threadfin.

This was on a pike rod and 15# braid, and they were everywhere. Jigging specialists will love this place.

As we worked our way through some rockpiles with a metal jig, I got a solid hit and the unmistakable bottom-hugging fight of a grouper. Most grouper fights are like Cousin Chuck’s honeymoon – enthusiastic but brief, and ending badly for half of the participants. As the fish became visible under the boat, I saw it was something very orange, and when I pulled it onboard, it took a moment to figure out I had gotten a rather nice yellow lyretail, or coronation trout, as the Australians like to call them. I had admired these in books for years before I got my first (small) one in Jordan in 2009.

Not huge, but my personal best.

These are one of the most beautiful fish I have even seen.

The action was nonstop, and in the midst of all the chaos, I had two more noteworthy catches. The first was a world record on a gray seabream. I had caught close relatives of this species in the Maldives.


These are a very difficult ID. Write me if you encounter this problem – I can save you some time.

And the second was an unexpected new species, the brownspotted grouper, which I admit I didn’t figure out until I was going through the books a few weeks later.

Let this be a lesson – always photograph any of these Indo-Pacific spotted groupers. There are a lot of them.

And so, as they dropped me off on the beach to head for another fresh grouper dinner and a visit to the spa, I did the math.

Deckhand Arfun drops me off while I do the math.

I was up seven species, which was about half of what I had hoped for, but I also had four world records. The fishing was simply outstanding, and if I hadn’t been worried about getting odd species, it would have been even better. My petulant inner child started making an appearance, but I had a cold beer or two and slapped it. I had to just go with whatever happened and trust in the Fish Gods. And little did I know, that in less than 24 hours, that the Fish Gods would give me a shot at the fish of a lifetime.

Steve

 

 

 

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Responses

  1. Stayed in Watamuu a few years back.. fished with Angus Paul.. magnificent place…
    Sunrise over Turtle bay will stay with me..

  2. Great to see you entering so many fish as All-Tackle records in IGFA. You are a great contributor to our scientific data base of fish. I hope you reach 2000 soon. Marty


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