Posted by: 1000fish | August 2, 2019

Mar del Plata – “La Costa Dramamina”

Dateline: March 2, 2019 – Mar del Plata, Argentina

When you fly 7000 miles to go fishing, you aren’t going to let a little wind and rain keep you off the water. Gale-force winds and torrential rain, however, are a different story. I always figure if the crew will chance it, I’ll go, but as I watched a deckhand get profoundly seasick off the Argentinean coast, I knew I was pushing my luck. My bucket list is very important to me, but I don’t want to be the one with my head in the bucket.

Well up on that bucket list is a small town on the central Argentinean coast – Mar del Plata. It’s a quick flight from Buenos Aires and is said to have outstanding saltwater fishing. Among other desirable targets, there are supposed to be a lot of wreckfish and loads of giant sand perch – think 20 pounds or more. I would sell my aunt to catch either of these, but honestly, I would trade her for a decent-sized bat ray.

These are Argentinean sandperch. They are bigger than other sandperch. Other sandperch are too small to use as bait for these.

When I was summoned to Argentina for meetings in March, I decided it was time. Through the IGFA and some local connections, I found THE boat in the area, captained by Mariano de la Rua of Aquafish.com.ar. This guy was rumored to be good, and he was.

Mariano’s business card. If you make it to Buenos Aires, it’s a nearby option.

Now all I needed was reasonable weather, which was not too tall of an order in the late austral summer. Previous March data showed reasonably calm conditions, the medium-range weather reports looked good, and I figured I would give it a four-day shot. My Spanish is as good as Mariano’s English, but the magic of Google translate got us through the logistics. (Note – don’t trust Google translate when ordering at a restaurant. You’ll end up with llama testicles in your soup.)

As we got closer to the target weekend, the weather started slipping. I learned the Spanish phrase for “Small Craft Advisory.” Then I learned the words for “Small Craft Warning.” A couple of days later, I picked up sentences like “The Navy is missing a destroyer.” It looked bad – wind creeping over 35, and the area isn’t all that deep, so the swells get impressive quickly. But I was already in Buenos Aires, enjoying all those steak dinners I missed when I had food poisoning last year.

A steak dinner with buddies in Buenos Aires. It doesn’t get much better than this.

A painting on the wall at that same restaurant. The soccer fans among you will get this immediately. The rest of you, look up “Hand of God.” Depending on who you root for, it’s either hilarious or awful.

Another painting. If this doesn’t choke you up, you’re weird.

The next morning, still digesting four pounds of dinner, I headed off to the airport and a 40-minute flight south. I caught a quick shuttle over to the Sheraton, and started setting up my gear. The Sheraton was everything I wanted, in other words, a Sheraton, and I had a bonus view of the harbor.

Mar del Plata – fishing hub and navy base.

Once I had all my rigs checked and re-checked, I wandered into the local shopping district. Mar del Plata is a lovely little seaside resort town, a popular vacation spot for Argentinians, and it had a fabulous array of restaurants. Yes, I had another steak. Note for Argentina travelers – if you are going to need a fair amount of Pesos, get them in the US, at your bank if possible. ATMs here have a ridiculously small limit, and then charge you a service fee for every transaction. So if you can only get 40 bucks at a time, and you need 400, you’ll pay $50 in service fees. Not cool.

Morning broke with scattered clouds – and whitecaps.

At least the sky wasn’t red.

Captain Mariano picked me up at the appointed hour, and through Franco, the deckhand, he communicated that going offshore wasn’t going to work. We would take their big boat to give us the smoothest ride possible, and spend the day fishing inshore for what they hoped would be a variety of species, including the possibility of some big sharks (catch and release of course.)

The Sina Puro.

I’m not going to try to put lipstick on a seasick pig. It was rough out there – a sloppy, three-dimensional ride that could summon breakfast from the most experienced sailor. Still, I knew there were new fish out there that needed catching. A few miles north, we anchored in 20 feet of water. The wind and tide were both behind us, so it was stable enough to fish. The crew put out some big shark baits, and then I went to work with smaller setups. I started by bouncing cut shrimp along the bottom, and got hit immediately. After a short battle, I boated a small sea-trout-looking thing, which turned out to be a new species – the striped weakfish.

Interestingly, it is listed in Fishbase.org as Stripped weakfish. This might be accurate – the fish was not wearing any clothes.

The next hit was much bigger – a very nice fight on my eight-pound spinning rod. It turned out to be an old favorite, the whitemouth croaker – a beast I had caught repeatedly up near Rio de Janeiro. The ones here were big – the three-pounder pictured below would have been in my top five ever in Guanabara. This was promising.

No, Charlie. That is not an Atlantic croaker.

Franco the deckhand informed me that there were some pejerrey in the area – silversides that are quite similar to the jacksmelt we catch in California. They require the same type of awkward, long float rig, but they bit quickly and I was up two species for the day.

Jacksmelt with a Spanish accent.

As the morning went on, the weakfish and whitemouth kept biting. The croakers kept getting bigger – topping out at around six pounds. Great sport on bass tackle.

Steve and Mariano with a brace of solid croakers.

One by one, a few other critters started coming over the rail. The first was an Argentina conger. This relatively small eel is common in the area, and was a nice surprise to tack a third fish onto the species list.

I don’t know why I was yelling at the photographer.

Speaking of congers, Jamie Hamamoto has set yet another record on the Hawaiian version.

Sigh.

The big croakers kept hitting, which kept my mind off the swells. By early afternoon, the already-stiff wind had grown into powerful gusts that swung us back and forth on the anchor. I could only fish one rig at a time, but the fish were there, and there were a couple more catches of note in the afternoon. The first – which might be significant to perhaps me, Martini, and a few assorted species hunters – was a small shark. Most fishermen would say “That’s a small shark alright” and toss it back. But I would say “THAT … is a narrowsnout smooth hound, (note the white spots and narrow snout,) and as such, is not only a new species but is also a world record. Yay!”

This typically evokes sad, polite glances from the crew.

I also got a couple of catfish later in the day. I presumed they had to be a new species, but they turned out to be White Sea Catfish, a species I had caught up in Brazil. The good news – at 3.25 pounds, it beat my old record on the species. That was two for the day, and 195 for my career.

Photos of vomerine patch available on request.

I was just resetting a rod when Mariano pointed south. There was a storm coming, a line of solid black aimed right at us. Time to go.

If you are on a boat and see something like this, leave. Immediately. I christened the area “La Costa Dramamina,” which is bad Spanish for “The Dramamine Coast.”

We were finished, and I was grateful to have snuck out on a plan B trip and added four species and two records. We got into the harbor before the worst of it hit, and I enjoyed a quiet evening in the Sheraton, having a steak and some Argentinean red wine and texting back and forth with Marta, who is getting serious about adopting a cat. (Have I mentioned I am allergic to cats?)

Thursday broke clear and sunny, but even from my hotel, I could see rough water outside the breakwater. It was going to be a pretty day, but the water was going to be lumpy with a very fast drift. It wasn’t ideal, but I was here and we were going to make the best of it. Captain Mariano thought we could give it a shot out in the deep water, but also mentioned the fast drift. I had unpleasant visions of trying to manage hundreds of yards of line – flashbacks from many deepwater rock cod trips here in California where even a 16-ounce jig might be in the strike zone for only a few seconds before it has to be reset. I mentally prepared myself for a lot of reeling.

We got a couple of hours offshore, and it was indeed rough. Bottom fish can be on very small, specific pieces of structure, and when you’re whipping by them, it can be hard to get bites. I baited up a double hook rig with mackerel slabs and waited for Mariano to shout “Go!” Twenty seconds later, I got a nice surprise – I hit bottom. It couldn’t have been 90 feet deep. I asked Franco when we would get to the deep water, and he told me “We ARE in the deep water.” I heaved a giant sigh of relief. It wasn’t perfect, but it was manageable.

We got hookups immediately, but not the kind we wanted. I reeled up a pair of red porgies – one of the more widespread fish on earth. I have caught these in Argentina, Brazil, the US, Spain, Portugal, Croatia, Turkey, and Morocco. Enough already – I again advocate a law that no species be allowed to inhabit more than five countries. The porgies were relentless. For three hours, they played the role of dominant pest, interrupted only by the occasional bluefish, which provided great sport on bait or jigs. But there were no big bottomfish of any kind. Mariano did not panic – he kept motoring from reef to reef and trying an assortment of baits, including porgy fillets.

Mariano bemoaned the weather – he would have preferred to fish a bit further out, but the water was just too rough. He drove us to dozens of rockpiles, each one was jammed with porgies, but he never lost his infectious optimism. It was mid-afternoon when we dropped on some structure in about 100 feet. Again, the bites were immediate, but this time, I had a lot more trouble moving the fish away from the bottom. It didn’t have the hard-swimming fight of a bluefish, so I crossed my fingers, which made it much harder to reel. Moments later, we swung an Argentine Seabass aboard – one of my big targets for the trip, and world record 196.

The Argentinean Seabass.

A larger version, caught on a jig.

Once we found them, they hit consistently – we ended up with at least ten, and it was a welcome relief to get something that wasn’t a porgy. I was ecstatic, but the crew was even happier.

Celebrating with the crew – that’s Franco on the left and Felipe in the middle. Sorry, girls – they’re both married.

We moved to another reef only a mile or so away, and dropped down more big slab baits. I had bounced the bottom once or twice, and … boom. My biggest bite of the trip – a grouper-type slam that had me struggling to keep the fish out of the rocks. I said wreckfish prayers as I fought it all the way up, and as it surfaced, I could see it was not a wreckfish.

It was two wreckfish.

They weren’t huge, but they were wreckfish, and I had finally added the species. The day had gone from lousy to epic in just under an hour, and I had Captain Mariano and crew to thank. We stayed on the spot for about an hour and got eight more. I can only imagine how hard a 200-pounder pulls.

They lose the pattern when they get to adult size.

Steve and Mariano with the beasts.

We made the sloppy ride back in worsening conditions, but I didn’t care. Two of the big targets for the trip had happened. I celebrated that night with another steak, and had a look at Weather.com. Things seemed to be getting worse for Friday and Saturday. Weather.com is not generally reliable, except when the forecast is bad.

I had a different boat set up for Friday, with guide Cris Prado. We spoke the night before, and it was going to be an iffy call – no chance of offshore, and the inshore ride was going to be nasty. When Cris got me at 5:30am, even the harbor was sloppy.

Old Polish saying – “Red sky at morn, you’re screwed.” (It rhymes in Polish.)

We gave it a game try, running south a few miles with the weather. Once we tried to anchor, though, it was unworkable. The boat pitched so hard it kept ripping the anchor out, and the deckhand threw up like a Polish bridesmaid. I caught one fish – a particularly large “stripped” weakfish – and when I weighed it in the harbor, it turned out to be a record. It may not have been the best charter I have even been on, but in terms of catch-to-record ratio, I’ve never had better.

Record # 197. This was getting interesting.

Cris wasn’t happy with our result, and before I could even think about going back to the Sheraton, he suggested that we go fish the shore for a few hours. He picked up his rods and some bait, and we set up in a protected spot inside the harbor. Cris has gotten some beastly flounder in this area, so a bit of my optimism had returned. I could only hope the deckhand was eating solid food again.

That’s a big flatfish.

We got instant bites from whitemouth croakers, which was more fun than doing email at the hotel. Toward the end of the session, I pulled up a smaller croaker that looked a bit different.

After a few exchanges with Dr. Alfredo Carvalho, the fish was determined to be an Argentinean Croaker – the seventh species of the day, and 1848 overall.

Just as we were high-fiving about this, my phone rang. It was Franco from the Sina Pura, and he explained that if I could get to the harbor in 30 minutes, we could give it a quick shot offshore. I left skid marks. (Just for clarity – the kind the Roadrunner leaves, not the kind identified with Cousin Chuck.) Cris raced me back over to the dock and even helped me load my gear on Mariano’s boat.

We headed out. It looked nice enough for a few miles, but we were going out 20, and it was at least at bumpy as it had been the day before. We did get in to some nice bluefish, but the bottom fish were not cooperating, and the wind, which was already brisk, began picking up.

A typical Mar del Plata bluefish.

The big croakers also made another appearance.

We moved from reef to reef, and the porgies were out in force. The wind kept getting stronger, and we could see rain moving in behind it. Just before we needed to leave, I got one solid bite and hooked up something heavier than a porgy. I said prayers for a small sand perch the whole way up, but the crew was skeptical and thought it was a big porgy. We were both wrong. It was a Brazilian codling, an oddball bottom dweller that they catch on rare occasions. It was both a new species – #1853, and a world record – #198.

I was two records away from territory uncharted by non-Arosteguis.

And then the rain hit. We were done for the day, and looking at the weather, I knew we were done for the trip. Eight species and five records was a huge haul for three days, but of course, I was thinking about the day we would miss, and especially about the sand perch, but I had gotten in some great fishing and made some lifetime friends. Mariano had a local restaurant prepare the codling for dinner, and it was outstanding.

My only non-steak dinner of the trip.

I headed back to Buenos Aires a day early, and enjoyed even more steaks and a bit of tourism. Best of all, I got to catch up with old friend Oscar Ferreira, who has helped me with so many species over the years.  We fished a couple of hours in the Rio de la Plata, and then I was off to the airport, heading for a few weeks at home, most of which would be spent planning my return trip to get that sand perch.

Steve

One of my catches with Oscar. Sharp-eyed reader Thorke Oostergaard of Norway, passionate species hunter and vowel collector, spotted that this is actually An Aramburui rutilus, so this adds one more species to the trip and adds Thorke to the free dinner list.


Responses

  1. […] main point of this trip was to get back to Mar del Plata and catch the Argentinean Sand Perch I had missed in February. But there are no direct flights from San Francisco to Mar del Plata, and even if there were, I […]

  2. […] catching Argentine Seabass, Wreckfish, and especially Argentine Sand Perch. As covered in “La Costa Dramamina“, it was a great trip. Despite horrible weather, we ended up with eight species and five […]


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