Posted by: 1000fish | May 29, 2019

Out of Africa

Dateline: February 1, 2019 – Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

I knew that February first would be my last day fishing in Tanzania. (For now. Marta wants to hike Kilamanjaro, so I’ll be back.) But what to do for a closing act? The Africa trip had been great fun – three new countries, ten species and counting, and five completely unexpected world records. I had given plenty of thought to my world record totals – I was now at 194, and 200 is a milestone reached by two anglers ever – Marty and Martini. (With Roberta on their heels.) But after three days of fishing, I have to admit I was growing tired of pulling tiny pieces of wood out of my rump. The walk out to the boat was also becoming a bit of a trial, although I did get to feed Bahati the kitten again. She looked less wretched.

The walk out to the boat. High heels not recommended.

The Oyster Bay fleet at dawn.

Just as we were ready to launch, one of the other boats got stuck. My guys stopped everything and went over to help – Hamissi told me later they didn’t even know the other fishermen, but that everyone in the bay helps everyone else. I think of our American harbors, where boaters lay on the horn for someone who is at the launch a moment too long, and I think we could learn a thing or two. (Unless I am delayed while trying to launch a boat, of course, in which case the horn is mandatory.)

In addition to the butt splinters, I had also developed heat rash. This was my first ever experience with prickly heat, and it is something you should avoid. I have spent years fishing in hot climates without developing a case, so I’m struggling to come up with a reason why it decided to happen now. Marta suggests it is a sign of aging. Dr. Marty Arostegui suggests that I should have showered more often. With soap.

A closeup of the bench. It looks smooth because all the rough edges were stuck in the back of my legs. There will be no heat rash photos. It wasn’t pretty.

In talking to Mohammed, it would seem our best shot at new species would be close inshore. We had pounded the deeper reefs earlier in the trip, but he thought we might find something new much shallower. I brought two pillows from the hotel, one for each butt cheek, and I hoped this would finally stop the splinters, because any more wood in my butt and I would need to wipe with Varathane.

We spent most of the morning catching endless small emperors and monocle breams. Great sport, but not the variety I was looking for. Mohammed and the crew kept hauling up the anchor and trying new places, many of them in just a few feet of water over lovely coral reef. The wrasses were relentless, but alas, nothing new.

But they are beautiful.

I had my hopes raised by a strange-looking baitfish, but it turned out to be a striped mackerel, a species I had caught in Malaysia.

Fish should only be allowed to live in a maximum of five countries.

I had put down a bigger set of hooks with squid on them, and when I reeled them up, I was surprised to find a very small moray attached. It was just as vicious as its larger cousins, but as I outweighed it by 222.75 pounds and am at least twice as smart as it, I managed to avoid serious injury. Weeks later, Dr. Jeff Johnson identified the beast as the rather unusual lipspot moray, my 11th species of the trip.

For scale, that’s a washcloth.

As it got late, Mohammed moved us to one last spot on a deeper reef edge. I dropped down a few light bait rigs, and got two nice fish right away. The first one was a small but spirited sky emperor – a species I had caught in Egypt.

They pull hard.

The next cast got me another enthusiastic hit, and this was a new one – the honeycomb filefish. This would be the 12th and final new species I got based in Dar es Salaam.

Another one I had admired in books for years.

Just as I finished photographing the filefish, my other rod, set with a bait on the bottom, started bouncing. I carefully reeled into it, and felt the characteristic heavy head shakes of a moray. I swung it onto the deck, and was absolutely thrilled. It was a greyface moray – also known as a geometric moray – and while I had caught one before (in Jordan,) this example would be big enough for a world record.

I was done for the day – a great way to close things out.

The eel gets to enjoy the bench. He was safely released, by the way.

It was a perfect last catch for a great day. We headed in, on flat water, enjoying the views of Oyster Bay.

That’s the Doubletree. A nice hotel in an upscale part of town – I felt perfectly safe walking around the neighborhood. For those of you who do things other than fish, there were quite a few food and shopping options.

The team. I was going to call them “Team Tanzania,” but they would prefer to be known as “Team Zanzibar.”

I said my goodbyes to the guys, and left them with some equipment, hats, tips, and eternal gratitude. This was beyond just working hard – they had gone well beyond anything I could have reasonably expected. All three of them clearly got my passion for catching whatever was down there, and despite the language barrier, and the sun, and the waves, they had all become more fishing buddies than guides. It was sundown when I got back to the hotel and ate a curiously good chicken quesadilla.

Sunset on Oyster Bay.

It had been an extraordinary week and a half. Thirteen more species, taking me to 1840 lifetime. Three new countries, to put me at 94. Six records, to put me in shouting distance of 200. New friends. New splinters. On the flight out that night, I was completely exhausted and wanted to sleep, but the woman next to me had a toddler with an attitude. When the little guy finally fell asleep, exhausted from snarling, his Mom crashed on my shoulder. I didn’t have the heart to wake her.

She slept like this for around two hours, and I didn’t move, as a tribute to Moms everywhere.

I thought of my own Mom, who would have wondered why in the world I was fishing all the way in east Africa, but most of all, I thought of the Mother cat, who came back for Bahati the kitten.

Steve

 


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