Posted by: 1000fish | May 4, 2019

The Wretched Kitten

Dateline: January 29, 2019 – Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

This was not the introduction I wanted to Tanzania. We had just stepped on to a beach crowded with wooden fishing skiffs, but the first thing I saw was the most wretched, miserable kitten I have ever seen. She was barely old enough to open her eyes, emaciated, soaking wet, lost, and mewing piteously for a mother who had likely abandoned her.

Her fur was matted down, she was tangled in a patch of seaweed, and her legs trembled so badly that each uncertain step seemed to go nowhere. And no one was doing anything. We sometimes forget that the real world isn’t Disney, and in this third world country, people had enough trouble feeding themselves, let alone a stray animal. Marta would have simply adopted it right then and there, but my companions were in a hurry, and I felt like a monster for walking away. (Note that Marta would have adopted it despite the fact I am allergic to cats. Every time I point this out, she calls me a wuss.)

And what had brought me half a world away, to Oyster Bay, Tanzania? A Boeing 737 MAX, ironically, but the real reason was, as always, fishing. Surely you knew that, unless you found this blog looking for Apple computer. I’m not that guy. I’ve caught more fish than he has. I’m probably a marginally better dancer, but he has a full head of hair and quite a bit of money, so we’ll call it even.

Yes, I’ve met him.

Africa fishing is never easy to set up, but finding a boat in Tanzania was especially challenging. Sure, I travel a lot for business, and while this gives me opportunities to go fishing in cool places, I can’t always choose the timing. Since I was already in Europe for meetings, I had decided to make a swing through Africa. Ethiopia had been a success, by the modest fishing standards one would expect of Ethiopia, but Tanzania has some big-time opportunities, like dogtooth tuna. But, alas, January is not the season. I figured there still had to be something to catch, but that’s where the trail went cold.

I finally found a serious professional guide. Jason Alexiou is based in Tanzania and has a website full of dogtooth pictures. I often look at dogtooth pictures late at night when Marta is snoring. (I have excellent video of her snoring, but the editor won’t let me publish it.)

Jason with a line class record dogtooth. You can reach him on fishing_tz@yahoo.com. Note: this will be the biggest fish in this blog. If you’re looking for big fish pictures, skip this and go to Jason’s website.

Another beast from Tanzania. I have to get one of these someday. Right after my spearfish.

Jason warned me that this was the wrong time of year, and that he was fully booked in late January. Normally, the conversation would stop there. But he still wanted to help with my quest, and after a spirited email exchange, he had arranged a winning option. He knew a local commercial guy, Mohammed, who fished the reefs around Dar es Salaam and, even more interestingly, around southern Zanzibar. (A chance to add another country!) Jason warned me it was a basic boat, and that the guide did not speak any English, but I knew if I could just get on the water we could figure it out.

Well beyond the call of duty, Jason arranged logistics down to the minute. (No mean feat anywhere in Africa.) As I landed at Dar es Salaam, I got a text telling me that Mohammed and a “translator” would meet me at 3pm at the hotel, and so I waited in the lobby at 3pm.

The Doubletree Oyster Bay.

And there they were. Mohammed was a friendly guy with a ready smile, and Hamissi, who looked to be a teenager, would act as translator. Translating for me is a rotten job. I talk quickly, I rarely pause, and I ask loads of questions in the same sentence. As Hamissi worked through my dozens of requests, it became clear that Mohammed knew what he was doing. Hamissi’s English was much, much better than my Swahili, and the fish photos on our respective iPhones did the rest. After a Coke in the lobby, we decided to go take a look at the boat where we would spend the next four days.

From left to right – Steve, Hamissi, Mohammed. This photo was taken moments after I saw the wretched kitten.

We looked at the boat – “Mwangamizi Wa Mwili.” It was indeed basic, and launching would involve a trudge through the mud.

Remember, we would be going on the open ocean.

But it floated, and I knew there had to be plenty of strange fish out on the reefs. I looked for the kitten on the way out, but she was gone. I went back to the Doubletree, had an improbably good chicken quesadilla for dinner, and got some rest. Morning came quickly.

Sunrise over Oyster Bay.

I looked for the kitten on my way to the boat in the morning, but she was gone. Of course, I hadn’t dared to tell Marta about it, because she would call me a monster and make me go adopt it. The weather was warm enough, but very breezy. I knew this would mean bumpy water, but I was here and I was going to fish. We were joined by a third crewman, Haijulikani. The four of us dragged the boat through about 100 yards of mud and launched from there.

I settled into the front bench of the boat. (Some of my co-workers pointed out that my athletic career should have prepared me for sitting on a bench for long stretches. Ha ha.) The bench must have been designed by Germans, with an eye toward extracting information from political enemies. It was an old, splintery plank, set just far enough off the deck where my feet didn’t reach, so all of my 223 pounds was resting on the backs of my thighs right on that infernal board. Every bounce drove splinters into my legs.

We ran about an hour to the south, and set up on some medium-deep reefs – about 125 feet. For the time being, I forgot about the box of toothpicks under my skin and got fishing. Action was quick. I pulled up a few puffers – Suez puffers, a species I had caught in Israel 10 years ago, but it was a fish, and I was in Tanzania.

That made 93 countries on my list.

I was thrilled to add a country – this gets harder and harder to do, and I have no idea what the next one will be. But the next fish was a new species – a slender threadfin bream.

My first new species in Tanzania.

This family is found throughout the Indo-Pacific – I’ve caught them as far afield as Thailand and Japan, but there helpfully seems to be a different type in each location. (Goatfish should take a hint from this.) I then got an assortment of small emperors before I found another new fish – the harlequin sand perch.

Thanks to Dr. Jeff Johnson of the Queensland Museum for another ID.

We tried a few different spots, which meant the whole crew had to hand-heave the anchor back up. Action remained constant, albeit with relatively small fish, which is a reporting of fact rather than a complaint, because if you think I have any pride associated with fish size, you must be a new reader. Welcome! As we started the afternoon, one of my light rigs got hit hard, and I was into a respectable fight. After several minutes of uncertainty, I landed a starry triggerfish – a new species. I had admired these in fish books for years. Through Hamissi, Mohammed let me know that they didn’t see this species very often.

The starry triggerfish.

They look like this right out of the water.

Best of all, it weighed a pound, and it would qualify as my 190th IGFA world record. This also led to some reflection – by my math, this put me 10 records away from 200. I wonder if that would qualify me for a second lifetime achievement award, but then quickly realized that Marta would put it in the garage, especially after she found out about the kitten.

Late in the day, I stumbled into two more new ones. The first was another threadfin bream – the Delagoa.

This would be my sixth species in Nemipterus. Jamie Hamamoto has zero.

I also added another puffer – the “Half-smooth golden puffer.” There’s a smooth puffer. There’s a golden puffer. And there is apparently a half-smooth golden puffer.

Half of it is smooth.

Haijulikani and Mohammed on the way home.

So the first day had been a rousing success – five new species, taking me to 1833, and a record. As we headed in, I thought about the kitten again. Overwhelmed by guilt, and faintly fearful of Marta, I walked back to the beach with a handful of fish scraps, determined to feed every stray I could find. But I only ended up feeding two. Somehow, improbably, the wretched kitten was there, and she had found her Mother.

I fed them until they wandered away, completely full. Even if they were destined for a much rougher life than the average American housecat, at least this afternoon, they would be well-fed. I named the kitten Bahati, which means “lucky” in Swahili, because their word for “wretched” is “Tabuu,” and that would be a weird name for a cat.

Steve


Responses

  1. Congratulations , very nice report !
    Waiting You in Egypt .

  2. Great going Steve. See you very soon.


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