Posted by: 1000fish | May 16, 2023

Silence of The Mucus


It was great to see Dom. (You all met Dom Porcelli in the critically acclaimed “Schrödinger’s Collie” episode.) He was remarkably calm, considering that he was on the cusp of 1000 species – and 1000 species passes for angling history, at least in this blog.

Dom’s the good-looking one.

He’ll be all modest and quiet about it, but catching and identifying 1000 different fish species is hard. Trust me. Getting anywhere close to this milestone takes giant sacrifices of time with friends and family, endless hours in airports or slogging around a swamp with a failing headlamp, and constant bewildered looks from people who don’t understand that a two-inch bluebreast darter is a major life event. 

The location – Puerto Penasco, Mexico – was a familiar one. We like to think of it as a suburb of Phoenix – Mexico for beginners. It’s an easy drive, especially in Chris Moore’s truck, which is big and comfortable, like Chris. The truck also feels lived in, so I don’t worry about eating Cheetos or other foods that leave permanent residue, whether during or after consumption. (Sorry again, Martini.)

Chris Moore. Ace fisherman, but neck-and-neck with Gerry Hansell for Olympic seasickness champion.

Penasco is warm enough to sneak in a trip right before the holidays, so it’s become something of a mid-November tradition to head there with the Moores. The only downside is that I have to spend four hours each way trapped in a car with The Mucus. This can be emotionally trying, and let’s face it, if you pepper-spray one person inside a moving vehicle, you pepper-spray everyone.

That’s Brayden “The Mucus” Moore on the right.

I flew into Phoenix and stayed overnight near the airport, where some of my local co-workers were kind enough to take me out to dinner.

Some of the team. That’s Andrew, Robert, and David – two of the best guys you could ever hope to work with.

Chris, Carson, and The Mucus picked me up the next morning, and we headed south, with a cooler full of Red Bull and irresponsible snacks, mostly Cheetos. (Interesting medical note: A human can survive almost indefinitely on Cheetos, Red Bull, and fiber capsules. Remove the fiber and you’ll be dead in two days.)

Dom, he of the 999 species, would arrive a day later with a friend of his. He hadn’t fished the area previously, so I was confident he would add quite a few.

We usually shore fish on arrival day, but this time, we decided to do an afternoon boat trip with El Jefe, the brilliant guide who had taken us out in April.

You can find Jefe HERE – I highly recommend him.

Sailing out of Penasco on a beautiful afternoon. This is the spot where Chris usually starts throwing up.

We caught lots of stuff – I personally got eleven different species in just a few hours, including some bonefish on light tackle. It was great fun, but alas, nothing new. This happens when you fish a lot. The Moores got a few new ones – Cortez damselfish and chameleon wrasse come to mind. The Mucus got a spinster wrasse, which I did not have, so that annoyed me, but he annoys me when he just stands there. (I also knew I would have a good shot a spinster the next day, so I’m pretty sure I didn’t hit him.)

We fished the tidepools at Bad Band Beach that evening, and Chris somehow caught a tadpole clingfish – the only one we had ever seen in an area that’s supposed to be loaded with them.

Needless to say, I wasted most of the evening trying to find a clingfish, and ended up catching nothing.

The next morning was an early one. We had a major trip with Jefe – the three-hour run to Bird Island. Conditions were spectacularly flat, so sadly, no one threw up. Bird Island is a rocky outcropping in the middle of the Sea of Cortez. The only inhabitants, as everyone but Cousin Chuck has guessed, are birds. And sea lions. And plenty of fish.

The Mucus and a view of the islands.

The eponymous birds.

There are also seals.

We started on the east side, where the guys loaded up on species. I scored a spinster wrasse, so The Mucus was forgiven. I couldn’t un-hit him, but I promised to smack him one less time on his next screwup.

Species #2042.

The place was full of life. Everyone who dropped bait to the bottom got hammered immediately. Along with several types of grunt, the Moores all got Pacific porgy, a hard-pulling species that I had only seen one other time, on one of my early-90s Cabo trips with Mike Rapoport.

A Pacific Porgy. The best thing about them is that there is only one species of porgy here. In the Atlantic, there are about a dozen, and they all look like a grass porgy to me.

We also got loads of triggerfish. They can be a pest, but they fight hard and this one was my 1000th fish caught in 2021.

The bottom action was wide open, and Jefe moved us progressively deeper, looking for bigger fish. We also saw some surface boils, so I started tossing a spoon and hooked a Sierra mackerel. There are two closely-related species here, the regular Spanish (which I had) and the Monterey Spanish (which I didn’t.) These speedy gamefish tend to show up in mixed packs, so I kept casting and getting mackerel after mackerel. The third one I caught had the right spot pattern and gill raker count. Bingo.

Species number 2043.

Meanwhile, the guys fished the bottom, with Chris dropping a “home run” live bait, Carson going with medium cut baits, and the Mucus picking his nose and mumbling to himself. Chris scored first, and anything you get on a one-pound bait is going to be exciting. After a hard-pulling fight, a solid spotted cabrilla surfaced, and Jefe made quick work of it with the net. 

The beast.

Chris richly deserved the big fish of the day – he has been seasick dozens of hours in pursuit of a trophy like this. But I am also morally obligated to report that, moments after he caught the grouper, Chris produced one of the biggest backlashes since they tried to cancel “Last Man Standing.”

I think Jefe just gave up and burned the reel.

Carson pulled up a beastly stone scorpionfish. It was easily a world record, but I found out a year later that Carson didn’t turn it in, because he didn’t want to pay the registration fee. Dude. It’s 50 bucks for fishing immortality and the ability to casually mention that you have a world record in front of women.

What are you thinking?

After an irresponsible snack and some fiber tablets, we headed over to Bad Band Beach to meet up with Dom and hunt for tidepool creatures.

Sunset at Bad Band Beach.

Dom was remarkably casual, considering he was looking at tidepools that easily contained a dozen creatures he had never caught. We sat around and shot the bull a little, and then set to it. Dom got it done quickly – he walked about 100 yards up the beach and got a Mussel Blenny, and that was it. He was the fifth person in the world to catch 1000 species. I remember how absolutely anxiety-ridden I was when I got my 1000th in 2010, but Dom seemed quite at ease. He snapped a couple of quick photos and was fishing again moments later.

The beast. Congratulations to Dom, an outstanding angler and human being.

Inspired by the moment, I got my own mussel blenny a couple of hours later.

Species 2044. Yes, Dom’s pictures are better than mine. 

At dinner that night. The disturbing thing about this photo is that The Mucus didn’t have a phone with him.

The next day, we fished a hodgepodge of local spots. I scored first with a random serrated grunt in the harbor. 

If you fish sabikis and fish them long enough, strange stuff will show up.

We then visited an assortment of locations without great success. In the early afternoon, we got to a jetty by the harbor and Carson did something awful. He showed me a photo. Now, there are a lot of directions this discussion could go, but get your minds out of the gutter. It was a photo of his Cortez Ray, the very species I had set a world record on earlier in the year. But his ray was noticeably different than mine. 

My least favorite Moore child, at least for the day.

The books I used for ID are standards by well-known scientists, but ID criteria get more specific all the time, and while my fish was a Cortez by the older standard, I had missed the boat. I was down a species and would have to withdraw a record.

Carson’s ray, which is a definite Cortez.

My ray, which is somehow a Haller’s – the rainbow darter of the ray world.

This was not a great way to get things going. But this is also part of species hunting – it’s an ongoing process of review, and sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. So now I only have 217 world records instead of 218 and Marta will think less of me. 

In the late afternoon, we went back to the harbor to meet Dom, who was returning from his own Bird Island charter. 

Dom with a solid gulf grouper.

He also put a nice cabrilla on the scoreboard.

We all fished the harbor together for a couple of hours. Dom spent most of his time on the end of the pier crushing some impressive Sargos and other assorted inshore fish. The guy is good.

It’s an interesting dock, because even though it’s in the middle of a busy channel, something new will pop up off it now and then. It was Carson who spotted the chub first, and when we came over to look, sure enough, there was the occasional chub milling about with the school of sergeants and opaleye. I figured these had to be Cortez chubs, because we were in the Northern Sea of Cortez, and that was enough for me to spend a couple of hours trying to get one. 

Carson caught one first, then the Mucus, then Chris, and then, finally, me. I was so excited at the time. I was in the Sea of Cortez, and I caught a chub. It had to be a Cortez chub, because I was in, say it with me, the Sea of Cortez. I had never caught any chubs within 3000 miles of here. 

Triumph! Or not.

ID work is the unglamorous part of species hunting. It is equal parts rooting through dusty books, begging scientists for their opinion, and refereeing raucous and often-vicious exchanges between fellow species anglers. Late one December night, I got the devastating news that these were plain old yellow chubs. The same ones I caught in Hawaii. The same ones I caught in Florida. And probably the same ones that will get off the flying saucer in Roswell. So that was another species I thought I had that I didn’t. This put a damper on my holidays, but then my Brooks Brothers Christmas pants showed up in the mail.

I have no shame about wearing these in public.

Back in Penasco, we had a final dinner (at the celebrated Capone’s restaurant) to celebrate the catches and milestones from a great three days. Somewhere in the dinner stories, it was revealed that The Mucus is possibly the worst babysitter ever. He was asked to mind his toddler little brother for a couple of hours – what could possibly go wrong? We will never get the facts completely straight, but what we do know is that when they got home, the kid was quoting lines from “Silence of the Lambs.” My theory is that The Mucus flipped on the TV and that’s what was on. The Mucus denies this, but everyone admits that a three year-old was running around the house saying “It rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again.” You figure that kid will either grow up fearless or spend years in therapy.


Special Bonus Section – Random Local Species

The rest of 2021 was mostly eating, watching Michigan beat the heck out of OSU, and putting up Christmas decorations – but I did find time for a couple of productive local trips.

Take that, Woody Hayes.

Just before the Penasco adventure, I wandered up to Bodega Bay, a north coast gem of a place I have been fishing since college. The specific target – a kelp surfperch, one of the two North American surfperch I had never caught. It was a beautiful drive, filled with memories, and I caught all kinds of stuff at Spud Point Marina, but just not the right stuff.


I really need to get there more often.

Late in the day, as I was about to give up, that I tried some pilings in very shallow water and caught three kelp surfperch. I’ll be darned.

Now only the spotfin eludes me.

A big thanks to Vince (@prickly_sculpin) for the advice on location and tactics.

A few weeks later, it was Thanksgiving. After watching the Lions lose and stuffing myself with my brother-in-law’s excellent turkey, I decided to duck out of the collective food coma and try a local spot for the elusive coastal sculpin. I am happy to report that I got one, but I really don’t recommend wet-wading this time of year.

Another big thanks to Vince.

I couldn’t feel my toes until late that night, but a species is a species, and with that one, I closed out 2021 at 2046 species. No, I am not going for 3000. Stop it.


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