Posted by: 1000fish | August 11, 2018

The Great Paul of China

Dateline: March 8, 2018 – Beijing, China

The history of China is long, proud, and fascinating. My fishing history in China is generally not – so if you read beyond this, don’t expect proud or fascinating, although long is a distinct possibility.

My first fishing trip in China was back in 2004. As usual, I was traveling for business, this time to Shanghai. Shanghai is a marvelously cosmopolitan city on the banks of the Yangtze River, perhaps the most European-feeling city in all of Asia. I had a day free before I flew home, so naturally, I did cultural stuff like visiting museums, walking around the markets, and appreciating the view from the 87th floor lounge in the Hyatt.

The view from the Hyatt.

I did all that for about 90 minutes, but I was surprised I lasted that long, because I was just dying to go fishing. As I don’t speak a word of Chinese, I did what I always do – went to the concierge. Normally, these folks can help with almost anything, including complex medical and legal questions (a story for another time,) but this particular guy was totally stumped. He tried to duck the issue, but luckily, I am over my shyness problem and persisted until they found something. A couple of hours later, I was downstairs meeting my driver and a translator, and they whisked me a out into the countryside to meet, and I quote, “Mr. Fong, the fishing master.” I was intrigued.

It gets rural very quickly outside the Shanghai city limits. The drive was mostly through rice fields, with the occasional small town mixed in. We arrived at a nondescript farm and pulled up near two large ponds, just as the owner came out and greeted me with a big smile. He had a small white cat that followed him everywhere.

The happiest cat ever.

The owner in turn introduced me to Mr. Fong, the “Fishing Master.” The translator explained that Mr. Fong was a champion in many local fishing contests, and they were hoping he could help me catch something. To my great surprise, Mr. Fong was wearing a black business suit. I am fairly sure this was the only time he had ever been called on to guide a foreigner, and he wanted to make sure he was appropriately attired. This took me aback – after fishing with people like Alex and Jarvis, I’m just happy if the guide is wearing underwear.

Mr. Fong, the Fishing Master.

We did our formal introductions, and then the translator took me through the fine points. As one would expect, it was pretty much bread on a float. Half an hour later, I caught some sort of cyprinid, the exact ID of which eludes me to this very day, but I had caught a fish in China.

If any of you know what the hell this is, email me.

We drove back to Shanghai in the evening, and I basked in a sense of accomplishment. I celebrated with a fine meal at Outback Steakhouse. (You heard me. I’m not exactly a culinary daredevil.)

This is why I am not a culinary daredevil. Shingled hedgehog is apparently an acquired taste. 

China was the 26th country where I had caught a fish, and I was thrilled with myself. To put that in perspective, I hit 50 countries four years later, and I am currently at 91.  And the day of that trip – April 28, 2004 – was two months and 15 days before my first date with Marta. Time flies.

For example, if we let time fly to March of 2018, I would find myself in China yet again, this time in Beijing. I have a gift for going to Beijing when it is really cold – my last five trips have been in January, February, or March – and this means things are usually iced over. (Example HERE.)

Steve at Tianamen Square.

I have been to the Great Wall twice, and it was below zero both times, so it was more like the Great Ski Jump of China.

First trip to the Great Wall. Note the frozen river behind me. Note that I still had hair.

Second trip to the Great Wall. Note the frozen tourists behind me.

As with most trips, I was determined to do a little fishing. This is where Paul came into the picture. Paul is the concierge at the Park Hyatt in Beijing, and he took my fishing request as a singular challenge. Awkwardly, he pointed out that any natural location would be frozen over – night time temperatures were in single digits. My heart sank. But Paul was nonplussed – he explained that there were indoor venues for fishing. He apologized that these were not especially serious gamefishing opportunities, and I smiled at the idea of anyone being concerned about my fishing dignity, which I left by the side of a hotel fountain about 30 years ago.

Paul the concierge – “The Great Paul of China.”

Paul and I met a few times to review plans. The venue he found for me looked great on paper – it featured a number of species not yet on my list, notably the black carp and something they called a “topmouth culter.” It looked cool on Fishbase, and I was keen to give it a try.

After a strangely successful business trip, I got up early on my last day in Beijing and set out on an ambitious itinerary.

You can tell a meeting is successful if your employees look worried and confused.

The idea was to head from the Hyatt out to an indoor fishing pond two hours out of town, stay there for a species or two, then get over to the airport and head home so that Marta could show me more paint swatches. The venue itself was remarkably unspectacular – a 50’s era industrial building at the back of a 50’s era industrial park. We walked in out of the bitter cold, and I was struck by exactly how nice an indoor pool smells, because it has chlorine. This was did not have chlorine, because I don’t think the fish would appreciate it, and it smelled exactly like you would expect it to. Think chicken coop, but fishier. There were about 15 local guys fishing in there, and they stared at me to the point where I looked down to make sure I was wearing clothes.

The venue. And you thought species hunting was glamorous.

There were four ponds inside the venue – one with carp, one with tilapia, one with the assorted odds and ends I wanted to catch, and the “forbidden pond,” which I thought would also make a good blog title. I paid for a couple of hours of fishing, set up some float rigs – which are pretty much universal – and got to it. Nothing happened. Then, after half an hour, nothing happened. One of the local guys caught a black carp, which filled me with hope. I went over to examine his catch, and he kindly set me up with some of his special pellet baits. Fishermen tend to help each other out, language barrier or not.

With perhaps half an hour left before I had to head to the airport, I got the tiniest rattle on my shallow float rig. Looking down, I saw silvery flashes under the surface. It wouldn’t fully take the bread, so, in desperation, I took out a small, white jig and flipped it out past the fish. Ripping it just under the surface seemed to trigger the predatory instinct in my opponent, and I got a solid strike. I saw a good-sized silver fish under the surface, and after a brief fight, slipped a net under it.


The beast.

A China Rockfish. Completely unrelated to this blog.

I texted friends that I had landed a topmouth culter, but some subsequent investigation, supervised by Martini, revealed that it was actually a related fished called a “humpback.” This was the first definitely new species I could claim from China, and I was thrilled.

On my first trip to China, I was sitting at 342 species. The humpback was number 1770. A lot had happened in 14 years, and I’m hoping in 14 more, I’m reporting something even stranger from China, like the topmout culter, which I am now obsessed with catching. Many thanks to everyone who helped on this trip, but especially to the concierge – “The Great Paul of China” – who went well above the call of duty and made a species happen.



Special Bonus Section – Rock Greenling

The rock greenling is supposed to be relatively common off the coast of central California. Although the kelp greenling is certainly more common, almost everyone I know has also caught a rock greenling, even though I have not. In 2013, Martini caught one right in front of me. (Details HERE.) This hadn’t reached lagoon triggerfish levels of annoyance, but it was close. So I am pleased to report that, on a random trip to my very favorite Elephant Rock Pier, I got one. And let us never speak of this again.

The rock greenling. Thank you, Elephant Rock.



  1. Shingled Hedgehog appears to be a type of mushroom!

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