Posted by: 1000fish | August 17, 2020

Caipirinha 21, Corimba 0

DATELINE: MARCH 8, 2020 – BERTIOGA, BRAZIL

No, it’s not a lopsided soccer score. It’s the number of drinks I had compared to the number of a certain cyprinid that I caught. (Cause and effect at its worst.) Portuguese is a confusing language, and I mix up the names of drinks, fish, and dangerous snakes. I once thought I yelled for a guide to watch out for an anaconda, and it turns out I warned him about a cocktail.

I had a pretty good idea that this trip to Sao Paulo was going to be my last international adventure for a long time. The airports were desolate, the flights were nearly empty, and I could get seats at my favorite restaurant without any begging. There were only a dozen or so Covid cases in Sao Paulo, but we all knew it was coming. Hand sanitizer was suddenly popular, although it could still be found on store shelves when I was there. (By the time I got home on March 10, sanitizing gel – and toilet paper – were nowhere to be found in the USA. The Brazilians I know still don’t understand the US obsession with TP – they went out and bought all the booze, which makes a lot more sense. Toilet paper can’t make you forget vodka, but vodka can make you forget toilet paper.)

Sao Paulo from my room. That canal contains no fish. Believe me, I’ve looked.

This was a pretty standard run to Sao Paulo. Go in mid-week, do about three straight days loaded with customer and office meetings, stay on my own dime to fish on the weekend, then fly home.

Some of my Brazil co-workers at one of my favorite restaurants – Fogo de Chao, where they bring you large skewers of steak until you tell them to stop.

And I rarely tell them to stop.

Brazil has been an awesome destination for me over the years – I have caught 111 of my 1915 species here. BUT, and it’s as big a but as the one I saw in the mirror this morning – Brazil is a BIG country. I’ve been to the Sao Paulo area quite a bit, and my options here are increasingly thin. There are basically two day trip ideas – the ponds northeast of town, or the Atlantic coast in the Bertioga area with guide Thomas Schmidt, as covered in the well-known 1000fish blog, “Pictures of Other People with Big Snook.” In the freshwater, there is supposed to be a cyprinid called a “Corimba,” which is appropriately elusive. The saltwater is, well, saltwater. I’ll always take my chances in the ocean.

I decided to try a day of each, and this meant driving. There are certain places I will never rent a car and drive myself, like anywhere they drive on the left, and Brazil, because they might drive on the left just for fun. So I called Daniel, an old friend who drives people like me around for a living, and we were set for both days.

That’s Daniel on the right.

Saturday was the freshwater day. We didn’t hit it at the crack of dawn, which was nice, because a good portion of those 21 caipirinhas happened on Friday night. It’s a nice drive in the country, once you’ve escaped the Sao Paulo traffic. The whole thing took about two hours until we were at the Santa Clara ponds, which you may remember from “The Jau of Steve.” Emerson, the same guy who helped me get a Jau last year, was ready and waiting with advice on the Corimba. Basically, it was fishing a dough mixture in the shallow end of the pond and hoping for the best, and my optimism soared when someone landed a Corimba just as I was setting up.

The little girl caught the corimba. It’s always the little girl.

She caught a second one just as I was casting. It just had to happen this time.

It didn’t.

But I did have a great time – there were all kinds of fish biting, notably from the pacu family. These South American natives hit hard and are relentless fighters, and there aren’t a lot of better ways to pass an afternoon than catching a dozen of these.

There were loads of standard pacu. Imagine a 10-pound bluegill.

And plenty of tambaqui. I hope I spelled that right. There’s a drink named something close to that. And a snake.

More tambaqui.

It’s a gorgeous location.

I also caught, of all things, a Mekong catfish.

Oddly, my first pacu was in a pond in Thailand, and now, 20 years later, I caught this in Brazil. Somehow the universe has righted itself.

I enjoyed a day on the water, but I didn’t want to go home without a new species. I even got desperate enough to fish the decorative water feature at a gas station.

Yes, I did.

Alas, all that I could find were western mosquitofish.

So it was up to the South Atlantic to produce a species, and Sunday would be a very early start.

Bertioga is a beautiful seaside town, around 90 minutes from downtown Sao Paulo with no traffic, but there is ALWAYS traffic. Daniel navigated us skillfully through some detours and avoided a construction project that has been going on since I first visited Brazil in 1998. We got to Bertioga at 6:45am. It was great to see Thomas, and we were soon motoring out into the estuary. As we turned to head for the open ocean, we both noticed it was a lot windier than predicted. There were whitecaps, and there was no way a bass-type boat was going out there. But Thomas had an immediate option – he explained that the coastal waterways and rivers could easily fill a full day. I hadn’t done much fishing in this ecosystem, so I was good to go.

Rio Itapanhau. I always thought Itapanhau was a drink. Or a snake.

We started by giving an honest try at a big snook, casting plastics and live shrimp at dropoffs and holes in the river. I’ve caught three snook species, but never a big one, and I like the idea of trophies as much as the next guy. Just like last time, I caught a snook, and just like last time, it was not impressive.

Cris Bernarde catches snook he can hide behind, but this is all I seem to get.

He sends me a picture like this almost every week. Jerk.

My only catch on a plastic was an overambitious croaker.

The ground croaker – I caught my first one in 2010, shortly after the 1000fish blog debut. (Remember that if you’re ever on “Jeopardy” and “Great American Literature of the 21st Century” pops up. Alex, I’ll take Sciaenidae for $1000 please.)

I am certain that if we stuck to big snook tactics all day, we would have gotten one. But I have the attention span of a caffeinated ferret, and it wasn’t long before I was impatient to try for some new species. I wasn’t targeting anything in particular, but I know if you drop enough shrimp in enough saltwater on small enough hooks, you’re going to catch something cool. We worked our way south, hitting likely back bays and structures, but I have done so much fishing down here that everything I got was a repeat. We had reached Santos, about 20 miles south, and things were not looking good … until I brought out the Sabikis. These bait-gathering rigs are pure magic for species hunting, especially when baited with bits of shrimp. On my first drop, I struck gold. (At least in the species-hunting sense. You serious fishermen might want to skip this next part.)

I caught fish on all six hooks of the rig, which is not unheard of, but two of them turned out to be new species, which is fairly special. Four of the fish were false herring, a common catch here, but one of them was an American Coastal Pellona, a new one for me, which looks pretty much like another herring. Young life listers – photograph everything. (In case you wondered, which you probably didn’t, my personal best on a sabiki is four new species on the same rig, a batch of wrasses in Belize in December 2005.)

It has a longer anal fin base than the false herring, and it also has a black tip on the dorsal. Thanks to Dr. Alfredo Carvalho for the ID!

I almost threw the other species back, because again, it looked like another herring. But when I was taking it off the hook, it bit me. Herring don’t have teeth. Upon further review, I realized I had a (teensy) South American Spanish Mackerel – a species I had actually caught on that same Belize trip and failed to photograph because I thought it was a regular Spanish Mackerel. Again, photograph everything.

Note the teeth.

Just for scale.

This is what they are supposed to look like – that’s the Florida species, December 13, 2003.

I was ecstatic – the pressure was off and I could just fish. I rigged up live shrimp on my lightest rod and started bouncing the bottom. I wasn’t thinking about species – I just wanted to catch stuff and enjoy the rest of the day. Those with pure hearts are rewarded. I caught a small ladyfish. I had caught many ladyfish in Brazil before, on some of those golden trips to Sepitiba bay in the late 1990s, but I had not been following the latest scientific classifications on them. So, imagine my surprise when Dr. Alfredo Carvalho informed me that the Brazilian ladyfish are now considered Elops smithii, differentiating them from the ladyfish we get in Florida. Hat trick.

One of three I caught in just a few minutes. They are great fighters. They jump.

They had a nice blue sheen fresh out of the water.

A much younger Steve with a Brazilian “Malacho” ladyfish. The original 1999 catches do not seem to be photographed – this is from the 2010 “Naked Stingray” expedition.

We stuck at it for another couple of hours, and the action was constant. I caught about 10 more decent fish, all stuff I had gotten before but very welcome for a quick stay in the boat. I got personal bests on southern kingfish and lookdown, and on 8# tackle, it was simply spectacular. And remember – this was the backup option.

It’s the same southern kingfish they get off the east coast beaches. This one was a quarter-pound shy of the world record.

My largest lookdown to date. My first was in the Arosteguis back yard.

One of the weirdest-looking fish ever. Which makes them cool.

Thomas and Steve head for home. When we can all travel again, he’s a great option very close to Sao Paulo.

And back to the Hyatt.

That night, I stayed up late, finished some emails, and looked at the view outside my room. I knew it would be a long time until I returned to Sao Paulo, but I had a steak and caipirinha, and looked forward to whenever it would be.

Steve


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