Posted by: 1000fish | April 2, 2017

Big Mac and Selfie Kid

Dateline: September 4, 2016 – Tomales Bay, California

This is the story of two teenagers growing up … or not, and we aren’t including me, because that’s never going to happen. This summer, I got to go fishing with the teenage sons of two great friends, here in in Northern California. One of them took a 100 pound bat ray, a 150 pound sevengill shark, and a world record rockfish. The other one took … selfies. The selfie kid reinforces my notion that the current generation leaves America little hope for the future – see “My Failed Weekend of Parenthood” – but the other kid, the one who paid attention and caught a lot of fish … he gives me some optimism. Best of all, I got to fish in Northern California – my home waters.

I don’t get to write about my home waters very often, because I caught most of the species well before I started blogging, but these are my own sacred spots.  These are the places where I really learned to fish, starting in college at UC Davis many years ago … and it is with a college connection we begin this summer’s local fishing tales.

There are precious few new species left within a day trip of home, but one that has annoyed me for years is the hardhead. This unassuming relative of the Sacramento pikeminnow is supposed to inhabit streams in our central valley, but after years of fishing these areas, I still hadn’t seen one. I went to one of the Delphic Oracles of this type of fishing – Teejay O’Rear of UC Davis, and he advised that I fish Cache Creek, in a quiet part of our coastal hills. I have been going there for years, but with the recent drought, I was often looking at dry creekbed where the fish were supposed to be.

This summer looked to have better conditions, and I had a spare Saturday with my college buddy Mike Arnstein in town. Mike, an unassuming areospace engineer (almost all of my friends are smarter than me, except for Kerr,) agreed to make a day out of trying for this beast. Our first stop was to correct a six year-old wrong. In Hawaii in 2010, I had struggled for hours to catch what I had thought was a western mosquitofish, while Jamie Hamamoto snickered at me because she caught one in 30 seconds. As it turns out, these were not mosquitofish – they were a livebearer of some sort, and I still needed a western mosquitfish, which is ridiculous, because the central valley is positively stuffed with western mosquitofish. So we made a run to Lagoon Valley Lake, near Vacaville, and made short work of getting one of these creatures officially on my list. And shame on all of you for not knowing the difference between a western mosquitofish and whatever livebearer that Honolulu fish actually is.

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Yes, I caught this on purpose.

With that out of the way, we headed for Davis, reminiscing the entire way about culturally important things like how we survived dorm life and how good Sue Schroeder looked in a swimsuit. We poked around Putah Creek for an hour or so, continuing to tell college stories, most of which involve me doing something stupid and Mike shaking his head sadly. Oh, and Sue came up again. With that, we were off for Cache Creek. The central valley is a desolate place, with long, flat miles between farm buildings and the irrigation stations that make the whole thing fertile. As we headed west, the bleak scenery changed to hills and tress, and we ended up parked at a remote bridge.

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Mike at Cache Creek. I can’t explain the hat, but I want one.

I had been here before and gotten nothing but small pikeminnows and catfish, but I sensed that today would be different. Mike amused himself dropping worms into a deep hole, and I cast to the far bank and drifted some light rigs along the bottom. We caught a few pikeminnows, but these can be easily differentiated from the heardhead as they lack a premaxillary frenum. (Dr. Peter Moyle’s page-turner of a book – The Inland Fishes of California – contains this scintillating detail.)

Because I knew you would ask.

About 30 minutes in, I got a fish that looked different. I held my breath and looked closely, and there was the frenum I had been looking for all these years. Mike gave me a bewildered high-five, and we were off to dinner and an even more detailed discussion of Sue.

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At last, the hardhead. I drove home singing the Alan Parsons Project song “Frenum.” And George Michael’s “Frenum 90.”

Then it was time to take some teenagers fishing. The first one was Mackie, who is the son of some of Marta’s dearest friends, Hugh and Lisa. (They host the single best Christmas party in the western hemisphere.) About four years ago, Hugh and Marta were chatting, and Hugh suddenly blurted out “I am a bad father.” This caught Marta by surprise, as Hugh and Lisa are model parents. Marta responded “What in the hell are you talking about?” Hugh responded “Mackie, my younger son, loves to fish. I know nothing about fishing. I am a bad parent.”

Marta smiled and said “I know someone who can help you.”

We got Mackie out on a couple of local trips, and he did well. (Aggravatingly well in one case, as he caught a rubberlip perch on his very first trip. It took me 30 years.) If he had been Cole Grossen, or Garreth Bowman, or even my nephew, I would have smacked him, but he is so unbelievably polite and respectful, so completely not like Jamie Hamamoto, that I just couldn’t bring myself to be that upset.

He is not smiling out of spite, like Jamie would have. He just had no idea how hard these things were to catch.

Fast forward a few years. Mackie was now Mac, and he was around for the summer and wanted to go fishing. What better excuse to visit my local haunts? We had a good tide for Tomales Bay, an estuary north of San Francisco that has been one of my favorite shark spots for over 25 years. Tomales is a long, narrow inlet, typically shrouded in fog and blasted by wind, set into the farmland of Marin county. I treasure everything about going there, from packing the rods the night before, to the predawn drive through the back country roads, to the horrible food we end up eating because there is no adult supervision, to the stop at the Petaluma bait store that always seems to have something I need.

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Dawn at Lawson’s Landing, Tomales Bay. Of course, it pretty much always looks like this.

There is no better way to relive your youth than through the eyes of a youngster, and judging from the 9000 questions he texted me the night before, Mac was wound up to get onto the water. He had seen my Tomales pictures, and I always try to warn people that the fishing is probably not going to be as good as it was in the photos, because, of course, I will generally show pictures of the really good days. (Scott Perry seems immune to this rule; he always seems to get a good day.)

There was additional motivation on this trip – a doable, even likely, shot at a world record. Our spiny dogfish, which for years had been lumped under Squalus acanthias, had been reclassified as Squalus suckleyi and was hence wide open. (If you aren’t yelling “Fish nerd” by now, chances are you are Martini. Or Ben.) This seemed like a slam dunk to me, but seemingly common fish can disappear once you actually start trying to catch them. (See “Trout Blasphemy.”)

This was one of those days where the plan worked. With a bit of outbound tide left, I anchored us in 20 feet in the north part of the bay and hoped to get a big ray for Mac. (As opposed to a Big Mac for Ray.)  It didn’t take five minutes for a screaming strike, and from the length of the first run, I knew Mac would be on a long time.

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I took this about 30 minutes in, and the fish had just started running again.

I knew the fish was nearly as big as him, but he played it patiently for close to an hour. That’s the other good thing about bringing a kid bat ray fishing with you – they can fight all the bat rays. It made me remember, not too terribly long ago, when I first discovered the wonder of this place, and the humble majesty of the bat ray – the “mud marlin.”

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That’s a whole lot of bat ray, and they fight like an enraged car hood. Remember that the tide is going by at six miles an hour.

As the tide changed over, we moved down the bay to some deeper water. Just as the water started moving in, taking the boat in line so we faced Inverness, Mac’s rod jerked down again. He leaned back on it, and I could tell from the strong, head-shaking fight that he had a leopard shark – and a nice one.

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These fight hard.

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Yes, they can bite.

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And I got one too.

We got a few more, then things went a little quiet. When things go quiet at Tomales, one of two things is happening – either the fish have just stopped biting, OR, the fish have stopped biting because a big sevengill shark has moved into the area. Fishermen convince themselves of the most amazing things to keep their spirits up.

Moments later, Mac’s rig started the hard bounces that usually indicate a sevengill bite. He set the hook hard, and I knew right away he had one – not a monster, but a sevengill. He landed it efficiently, and he now had one of the more difficult to catch Tomales species on his list.

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Mac and his first sevengill. I tried for a year before I got my first one.

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Once in a while, someone writes in and says something like “Don’ t be dramatic! A small shark like that can’t hurt anyone!” These people are idiots.

Then I got one about the same size. This was shaping up into a really good day. We had just gotten settled back down from photographing the sharks when Mac’s line started clicking out in short bursts. He picked up the rod, fed the fish some line, let it pull tight, and set. Whatever was on the other end was not pleased, and took off down the bay, slowly but powerfully.

I knew it had to be a big sevengill. Mac did a good job with it, staying patient and letting the drag do the work, and about 45 minutes later, it surfaced right beside the boat. I had guessed it at a hundred pounds, but it was a lot bigger than that. I didn’t want to kill it, so I was left with the unfortunate option of lifting the thing into the boat by hand. (Phil Richmond, of course, would have tried to net it.) In a scene reminiscent of Cousin Chuck’s wife carrying him across the threshold, I managed to drag the struggling beast onboard for a few pictures. Unusually for a teenager, Mac has a sense of self-preservation, and he was not comfortable having this put in his lap, but make no mistake about it, it was his fish. Mac had joined the club.

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Mac’s fish.

We had a couple of hours left to try to get a spiny dogfish – I was rather surprised we hadn’t seen one yet. We split up two rods each, used medium-sized baits, and watched the tips intently, but this creature, which usually makes a pest of itself, had become inexplicably scarce. Perhaps half an hour before we needed to head in, my light setup had a bite, and I reeled up what I thought would be a small leopard. Of course, it was the one and only dogfish we would get that day. So I got my record, but I would have much preferred that Mac got one too.

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Don’t ask that awkward question about whether I would have preferred he had gotten it instead of me, because I know the right answer but I also like to tell the truth.

On the way home, it hit me that I had not seen Mac look at his cell phone even once while we were on the water. This gave me hope for America’s future.

The following weekend, I was looking forward to getting out on a Half Moon Bay rock cod charter. These coastal boats take anywhere from 10 to 30 anglers out to the reefs along the San Mateo coast, and while it’s a different group every time, you tend to have the same core of stock characters. These trips are an important part of summer for me.

Just when all seemed good, I got a call from Cole, the teenage son of a hockey teammate. “Uncle Woz! We gotta go fishing!!” You have all met Cole, in the heartwarming “Blue Suede Sturgeon” episode. He’s a good kid, or so his mother tells me, and I truly enjoy taking him fishing, but Cole, like many teenagers, has not yet figured out that life isn’t all about him. (It’s actually all about ME.) Since it was only Tuesday, I knew there would be a bit of drama. Cole is known for stunts like calling on a Tuesday and saying he is free to go fishing Saturday and then calling Wednesday and asking if a friend can go and calling Thursday and saying the friend can’t make it and then calling Friday and saying it turns out he has a ballet lesson on Saturday and wants to go fishing on Sunday. I, of course, was completely reliable as a teenager. (I am hoping that most people who are old enough to contradict this don’t use the internet.)

Somehow, we got the trip worked out, but I knew in my heart I would be yelling “Put the phone down!” all day. This generation has no hope if they can’t devote more than 30 uninterrupted seconds to a problem, and that seems to be about as long as they can go without checking Instagram.

So it was than on a day that the rock cod fishing was ridiculously, stupidly epic – I don’t ever recall getting that many quality fish on light tackle – Cole only managed to stumble his way through to a limit of small school fish. But he did get some really nice selfies.

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That’s a nice photo, but if you’re doing this, you’re not fishing …

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Meanwhile, the fish were biting.

And he posted them on Facebook. (While I was catching nice vermilion cod.)  And people “liked” them – even though the only think I liked all day was the fishing. If these kids end up in charge, we are doomed.

He got this look from “Zoolander.” The other guy is a deckhand, who offers expert de-hooking and photobomb services.

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Meanwhile, I was catching these.

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Even when he got seasick, he never let go of the phone.

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I generously allowed him to be photographed with fish at the end of the day.

I was discouraged all week. I could not imagine a world in which photographing ourselves doing something had become more important than actually doing that thing. My friends might actually read this blog, but I can’t imagine that they want to know what I am catching at the moment I am catching it, let alone what I am eating for breakfast. (Sample Tweet from Cole – “Donuts for breakfast. Yum!” And someone actually “liked” this, which tells us that both people do not have enough homework.) Still, he’s a good kid and I’ll take him out any time, but sooner or later, I plan to accidentally drop his phone in the Pacific.

Just a day later, the universe gave me a positive sign. Mac texted that he wanted to go cod fishing that next weekend, and I knew he wouldn’t do this without checking his schedule first. There would be no last-minute discovery of a crochet class, and I knew he would pay attention the whole day and likely do well. Again, we had 9000 questions texted the night before, and I answered every single one of them because someone did the same for me when I was his age, and I started feeling better again. We made that long, early-morning run to the Pescadero reefs, watching the rocky coastline appear and drift back into the fog. When we got there, the fishing was steady. My jigs and swimbaits were getting some solid fish, lings among them, and Mac was listening and watching and catching some nice fish of his own.

Mac’s first ling of the day.

My fifth ling of the day. It was good out there.

The water was calm enough, the fish were biting, and talk turned to one of Mac’s favorite subjects – world records. We discussed, for the umpteenth time, the possible records we might get on this trip. There were certainly a few open rock cod species, but these were unlikely to appear where we were fishing. I was just emphasizing this point when I reeled up a black and yellow rockfish. (It is actually called a “black and yellow rockfish,” because, well, that’s what it is.) It was clearly over a pound, and somehow, I had nailed a rather unlikely world record. Mac was a good sport, but I could tell he was dying to get one. He knew they were down there.

Yes, that’s a world record, and yes, many of you have caught a bigger one. Submit them!

I was giving him a high five when his rod got a bite, and Mac reeled up the same species, so, thank goodness, he had his world record. (For posterity, Mac’s was bigger at 1.25 pounds so his goes in the book as the current record. Don’t think this didn’t bother me.)

He does get Spellman face when he poses for record photos.

The triumphant anglers and a friend.

And we managed to do all of this without checking our phones or posting any photos. Interestingly, we did eat donuts, no one was told about this until just now. Yum!

Even with this unexpected world record, I wanted to give Mac one more shot at the dogfish, so we did another run to Tomales on the following weekend. We didn’t get the target fish, but the kid did get into another batch of bat rays, and there is something about watching a teenager catch a quarter-ton of hard-fighting fish in an afternoon that just makes me happy. We met his parents for dinner that night, and made sure our address was correct for the Christmas party invitations. Quietly, I began to worry abut how I was going to keep Marta from having more than one cup of egg nog, because she is a complete lightweight – but no matter what happens, at least she won’t put it on Twitter.

Steve

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Posted by: 1000fish | March 9, 2017

Sweet Sixteen Hundred

Dateline: August 3, 2016 – Tokyo Bay, Japan

We set out hoping each day on the water will be a great one, and once in a while, it happens. And out of those great days, a very few go beyond anything we could ever hope for. That’s a high bar – as fishermen, much of what sustains us is hope … hope, and the photos from those precious days where everything went right. You’ll find them below.

After our freshwater adventures, Phil and I were ready to get back on the boat. The boat has rod holders and adult supervision, so I was less likely to have any more gear disasters.

On our second-to-last day, we set out to pick up some species we had missed inside Tokyo Bay. This would be a whole day of “grab bag” fishing – putting baits down and seeing what would bite, and I can’t tell you how much I love doing this in a place where I haven’t caught most of the fish. Of course, we were also armed with an array of the Japanese specific species rigs – I leave nothing to chance. Neither does Phil – during the early morning bait store run, he bought a dozen live gobies, saying that there was a specific fish we might try for in the afternoon. I trusted him, but I secretly wondered if he was going to eat them himself.

We fished around some banks and dropoffs, looking for a croaker and a few other odds and ends. While we waited for bites, Aki noticed some small baitfish near the boat, and I jigged up what turned out to be a Japanese anchovy.

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Mock if you must, but it’s a species.

Moments later, the custom rig paid off and I reeled in a silver croaker.

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A Japanese silver croaker. Their main diet is Japanese croaker rigs.

Then we were off further down the bay to hunt the banded houndshark – a medium-sized, hard fighting critter that is closely related to the leopard shark found in my California home waters. Phil and Aki had been quite confident we would get one a few days before, and both wondered aloud what was slowing down the bite. We put in our time, and while we were waiting, I stumbled on to a convict grouper – a beautiful bonus species.

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Aki is pleased about the convict grouper.

But the houndsharks would not bite. Aki started talking about moving, so just then, Phil’s rod, a comically light setup better matched to smallmouth bass than sharks, exploded. Phil put his hands up like a defensive back denying a pass interference call, and said “It’s all yours.” Here I’ve been abusing Phil, especially about Betsy the cat, and he goes and does something nice like this. I didn’t need to be told twice.

I grabbed the rig and hung on while the shark stripped light braid off the reel. There wasn’t much lifting power to work with, but it was a great battle.

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The battle rages.

The process took about ten minutes, and as the fish started coming up, I moved to the bow so I could drop it down to Aki and the net. Moments later, we boated the fish. I had my fourth species of the day and had completed the vaunted “Triakis trifecta.”

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Triakis scyllium – The banded houndshark, Tokyo Bay,

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Triakis megalopterus – Spotted Gully Shark, Swakopmund, Namibia.

Triakis semifasciata – Leopard Shark, Tomales Bay, California.

I started to eat my lunch, and this must have made Phil think of the gobies. “The gobies!” he said. Aki immediately responded “Olive flounder. Flathead. There’s a good spot just a few miles away.” We raced off to a sand flat, maybe 20 feet deep, and set up some live bait drift rigs. Midway through the first drift, Phil’s rod sagged down, then mine. We both reeled in an olive flounder – a halibut-like flatfish that is revered among fishermen here.

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Awkward moment with flounder.

We did a few more drifts, and on the third, my rig got nailed again. This time, I reeled up something completely different – a flathead. I have always had a soft spot for these hard-biting, bizarre creatures of the flats, ever since Scotty Lyons introduced me to them in Botany Bay a long, long time ago.

I have no idea what Phil was listening for back there.

We fished some deeper water to close out the day, and I got one more species – the Ryuguhaze Goby.

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This put me at 1587 species lifetime.

That evening, over surprisingly good pizza, I took some time to count the results of the trip thus far. Part of my “hobby” (although Marta calls it a “condition”) is keeping various lists. The main one, of course, is my lifetime species total. I was 13 species away from 1600, but I do not recall ever getting 13 species in a single day. Another list I keep is the number of total fish I catch each calendar year. I generally try for at least 1000, and I noted that I was at 948. This seemed doable. I was also hoping to get at least one world record so I could add Japan to that list, which stood at 22. I went to sleep dreaming good fish dreams.

That last day didn’t start well. Betsy had rejected her outfit and sat perturbed on the couch.

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A perturbed Betsy. She really doesn’t like pleats.

Phil and I got to the boat a bit early, and it was pouring rain. This would not dampen my enthusiasm, because I knew there were still lots of species for to get, and we would be going back to the deep water where some truly awesome creatures could be found. One of the photos that had inspired this entire journey was one of Phil’s deepwater frog shark. and I knew we had a reasonable chance of getting one.

Yes, he caught that from a kayak.

We made a long run to the mouth of the bay, and started off with some drops over 1000′, just to get our arms warmed up. I felt some faint taps once the rig hit bottom. and as I started reeling up, there was clearly more weight than what I had sent down. It takes about seven minutes to bring up that much line, and I was frantic with anticipation the entire time. “What do you think it is?” I asked Phil. “A fish.” he responded helpfully. “Or a rock.” I reeled and reeled, and when I finally saw color in the water, I was thrilled. I had gotten a deepwater eel – perhaps not a glamorous creature, but certainly one I wasn’t going catch elsewhere.

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I could eel the love.

A few drops later, I got a more definite strike, and started cranking up. Aki said “Japanese bonefish.” Naturally, I thought he was full of racoon-dog crap, because I was fishing in 1000 feet. But he wasn’t. When we netted the fish, it was indeed a long, silvery creature with a big eye – a “gissu” – and this “gissu” turns out to be a deepwater cousin of my beloved Albula species.

Jamie has never caught one.

A bit later, we motored in to shallower water – 200-300 feet – and started to fish with krill baits. I didn’t like the rig – it was a sort of hybrid spreader/paternoster with thin mono-snelled hooks. and mashing the pasty krill on them seemed less than reliable. But I had learned to stop questioning Phil and Aki on rigging early in the trip, and the setup got sent deep. Suddenly, here were all that little “whatsits” that Phil told me frequented the area. The first one was a Japanese sailfin.

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This looks like a gurnard and a sergeant baker had an unfortunate night together.

A few minutes later, I got a serranid. It wasn’t big, but was new.

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Kellogg’s perchlet. Good for breakfast.

We moved out a bit deeper, perhaps 600 feet, which seemed oddly shallow after all the deep drop stuff. We explored a sandy bottom, looking specifically for a type of tilefish, but we got that and a couple of other surprises.

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The Horsehead Tilefish

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Goldbridled Sand Perch

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The Abyssal Gurnard. Gotta love that name.

It was just after 11am and I had seven new species. Yes, I realized the next milestone was six away, but I had already been very fortunate. Wishing for six more would likely upset the Fish Gods, and I had no interest in doing that.

We continued exploring. Our next spot was shallower, around 200 feet, and within 20 minutes, I had pulled up two more – the rather unusual groppo and a Seibold’s wrasse.

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A Groppo. I had never even heard of these, and I read fish books the way Phil reads cat fashion magazines.

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The wrasse. Yes, I knew this was nine for the day. I tried to put it out of my head.

Around 1:30, I caught my 52nd fish of the day – another sailfin – meaning I had gotten 1000 total fish (of any type) in 2016. And no, this is nowhere near the earliest in a year I had crossed the 1000 mark. (That would be April of 2006.)

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That’s 1 for 1000, because I can’t make three zeros with my fingers and still hold a fish.

We drifted out on to some deeper rocks, and within 20 minutes, I got two new scorpionfish. Do not put these in your pants.

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The Izukasago Scorpionfish – 10 for the day.

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The Western Scorpionfish – 11 for the day.

On the very next drop, I got a beautiful spiny something, and a quick check of the book told me I had gotten a yellowbarred red rockfish – #1599.

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OK, now 1600 was crossing my mind. A lot.

I didn’t want to be greedy. The day was already stupidly epic – I had reached the 1000 fish caught milestone for 2016, and gotten a huge haul of species. Could I actually be that close? With an appreciable portion of the day still to go? Any time something seems like it should be easy, that usually means that something is going to go wrong. I just kept fishing with the paternoster, hoped for something weird, and looked out for asteroids.

We stayed in the medium depths for a while, and when we slipped over a reef in around 300′, I had a solid take on my scorpionfish rig. Whatever it was pumped hard a couple of times, then lost its temper and snapped me off. Phil saw this, smiled, and said “Dogfish. This won’t take long.” He put down a bigger rig with a heavier leader, and almost immediately, he was in to a nice fish. When he got it up to the surface, it was indeed a dogfish, similar to the ones we get in San Francisco, but with a huge eye. I dropped a similar setup, and as soon as I hit the bottom, a fish took off with the bait and the fight was on. It was a good-sized animal, pushing 20 pounds, so it took a while, but when we finally netted it, it was the same large-eyed dogfish. I knew it was a new species, and that meant, unthinkably, I had hit 1600, just like that. 1500 had come only six and a half months ago, and I felt like that was a serious struggle – now here I was at the next milestone.

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Phil and Steve with their shortspine spurdogs.

And it gets better. Looking at the Squalus species on the IGFA app, it was fairly clear that this fish wasn’t listed. My 1600th species would turn out to be my 133rd world record, and Japan would be the 23rd country where I had gotten a record. Phil’s fish, heavier than mine, would also be a record. (All fish that set or break a record in the same day count.) I had expected a good result in Japan, but this was beyond my wildest expectations. I had gotten 50 species in six days, and we still had an evening in front of us. No matter how Phil dresses his cat, he had put me on one of the single greatest weeks of fishing I have ever done.

We hit a few more reefs, and I scrounged up another species – the hoshi perchlet. I had started on the road to 1700, and everything seemed possible.

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1601

As the sun started to go down, we moved back out to super-deep water. We set up our first drift – I was using a heavy paternoster, but Phil was all-in with a big jig dressed up with fresh mackerel. Phil was in the water first, probably because I was still admiring the dogfish photos or getting a Red Bull or wondering how the heck I had caught 1600 fish species. All of this snapped out of my head when Phil announced “Fish on. Big one.” His jig rod was doubled over and the reel was peeling braid. Phil got a quizzical look on his face for a moment, then looked at me and said “You want him? Big fish.” This is the kind of thing I might – MIGHT – do for a close friend, or Spellman, but here was Phil, after only a week on the water together, handing off a potential monster. I took the rod. Phil mentioned the strike came when he was down 1350 feet.

To address the legalisms here, I would not count this fish as a species, as I didn’t hook it, and it also would not count as an IGFA world record, as again, Phil hooked it. But it did look like it was going to be a fun fight, and who was I to say no?

About 45 minutes later, with the fish still down at least 500 feet, it dawned on me that Phil might have actually put one over on me. I was on the fish for over an hour – the tackle was relatively light, so moving it was painfully slow, and just when I got up a few feet, it would run back a few more. A quarter mile of line is a whole lot when something on the other end doesn’t want to see you. My back started to cramp, my toes started to cramp, but I wasn’t going to give in and neither was it, and of course Phil was very sensitive and helpful as he stood behind me and sensitively yelled “Get that thing out of the water! We have fishing to do! It’s kicking your ass!!”

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And it was.

This delightful encouragement continued as I got the fish coming up to around 200 feet, and just as I thought he was giving up, he turned around and ran about 50 yards deeper. We presumed it was an oilfish, and it couldn’t have hurt me worse if I had eaten four pounds of it. (Look it up. It’s horrible.)

About 15 minutes later, the fish appeared under the boat. It was bigger than I thought it would be, and this time, it wasn’t a blue shark. (After all, EVERYONE has caught a blue shark.) It was a great big oilfish, and when Phil and Aki netted it, I yelled in primal triumph, or because my back gave out.

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Steve, Aki, oilfish.

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Phil, Steve, oilfish. I’ll never wash that shirt again.

We jigged well past dark. We had a few bites here and there, but nothing hooked up for several hours, and I hate to admit this, but it really didn’t bother me. It had been a day for the ages, and anything else would be a bonus. I drank a Red Bull and looked at the lights of Tokyo in the distance.

The bonus happened shortly after 9pm. I had a jig/bait combo down about 600 feet, and I got bumped. The fish came back twice, and I ended up hooking it. It was a reasonable size, but I was predicting nothing after the blue shark debacle. The fish finally got into the lights – it looked to be some kind of dogfish, but I didn’t figure it out until it actually hit the deck and flopped out of the net. It was a sharpnose sevengill shark, one of the most unusual fish I have ever caught. Yes, I recognized it immediately, because this fish is always on the same page as the regular sevengill, and I had looked longingly at it for years, realizing that the “deep midwater” habitat and the “poorly known” notation meant that I would likely never see one. And here I had one in my lap.

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Species 15 for the day, 1602 overall.

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I’m not sure if the eye or the teeth are cooler.

Phil hooked a fish just after I did, and he reeled up the same species, just a half a pound smaller. The species was an open world record, and we had the perfect finish to a perfect day. Of course, no fishing trip with Phil would be complete with a trip to the ramen place, and so, somewhere in the early hours, we had our last ramen meal of the week.

tokyo-ramen

Japanese ramen. It does not come in a plastic for for fifteen cents. It’s actually pretty good, although I am still unclear on the ingredients.

The next day, I had to actually clean under my fingernails and get back to work. Phil generously drove me in to downtown Tokyo, where we visited several tackle stores and I loaded up on even more specific Japanese rigs. These would prove to be very handy in the coming months. He dropped me off at the Marriott late in the afternoon, and I could not find words to thank him enough. Fifty two species, two records, and a major milestone, all in a place where I could have done nothing without Phil’s local knowledge, connections, and generosity. There are very few people who care about this sort of fishing in the way I do, and I had met another one of the brotherhood, God help him.

Steve

tokyo-betsy-2

Betsey waves bye bye.

 

 

Posted by: 1000fish | March 1, 2017

The Launching of the Stella

Dateline: July 31, 2016 – Tama River, Japan

Sometimes, we do stupid things. If no one is looking, these tales can drift off into the mists of history. Other times, we do stupid things in front of witnesses, and those witnesses are too big to kill. Hence, this blog.

Phil and I had hammered the saltwater hard, for three days long on species and short on sleep. Our next step was to investigate some freshwater opportunities around Tokyo, which involved even less sleep, plenty of species, a shameless act in a pay pond, and me doing something really dumb. I’m not sure if the pay pond thing or the dumb thing was less dignified, but anyone who comes here looking for dignity is reading the wrong blog.

The first freshwater day involved substantial road-tripping. We headed in the general direction of Mount Fuji (where they used to grow Fuji film before everything went digital.) It amazed me how quickly we left behind the urban sprawl of Tokyo and got out into the countryside, and how quickly we got from flat coastal plain to thickly-forested mountains. The conversation in the car was of course mostly fishing – Phil grew up half an hour from where I live, so we knew all the of same Sacramento River striper guides. Barry, Dave, Jolly Jay – each name brought out a smile and a fishing story.

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Mt. Fuji. It never seemed to get any closer.

In these mountains, there were streams, and in these streams, Phil hoped to find us two quite rare and wonderful trout relatives – the masu salmon and the whitespotted char. He was not expecting large fish, but he felt, at a minimum, we had a decent shot at the Masu. So we drove. And we drove. Eventually, we got well up into the hills, and found the Shinkin No Kao River, where Phil had fished before. The scenery was gorgeous. We hiked about a mile upstream and got our first surprise of the day – water levels had dropped and our target fish were nowhere to be found.

So we drove some more. Our second location was the pristine-looking In’no creek, deep in a canyon. It was low and clear, and Phil was incredibly stealthy for something his size that was wearing a bright orange shirt. He went upriver and I went down, he fished his fly rod and I used a small piece of crawler. We could see trout in the water, but they were exceptionally spooky.

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Phil sneaks upstream.

I kept a low profile and cast a number of attractive holes without result. Just as Phil came stealthily back to my spot, I had a small bite and hooked a fish. Flipping it up onto the bank, I was surprised to see that it was not a trout – it was some type of cyprinid, and definitely a new species. Weeks later, it was determined (by scientists) that this was a type of redfin.

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The Tribolodon genus makes it on to my life list.

We hit the road again, examining a few other small rivers without stopping. Looking at the time, which had slipped well into the afternoon, my shame tolerance plummeted – and remember that my shame bar is already set very, very low. We had passed a few pay pond-looking signs. These were of course in Japanese, so I couldn’t be sure, but the picture of a child holding up a trout while the father hands money to someone is almost universal. To make sure we are definite that Phil wanted nothing to do with this, I think he actually said “I want nothing to do with this.” But I persisted, explaining that we could at least technically catch the species and then continue hunting the area for more dignified examples. Phil reluctantly agreed, and we entered what would turn out to be the most shameless fish farm I have ever seen, and I’ve seen a few.

Whereas most of these operations have a single pond or stream that is stocked, this one had divided a mountain stream into a series of pools, each about the size of a big hot tub. Once you settled on which pool you wanted, the staff would walk up with a bucket of fish and release them in the pool. You heard me. Even I knew this was somewhat lame, but I was focused on the species, and so we added a bucket of masu and a bucket of char.

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The pay pools.

The masu were aggressive, likely because they hadn’t been fed in anticipation of my visit. They jumped all over normal trout offerings like small jigs and spoons, so I added this species quickly.

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A small masu salmon.

Phil was loudly hoping I would catch the char so we could leave before more people saw him.

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Phil hides from the camera.

The char, however, seemed less interested in my trout offerings. Ever the pragmatist, I ordered another bucketfull to be added to my pool. Still, they wouldn’t bite, even though I now had dozens of them dashing around at my feet. I began to wonder if, for a bit more money, they could put the fish on the hook and hit them over the head.

Phil, clearly not a fan of this type of fishing, finally offered a piece of advice. “Try a medium minnow lure.” This surprised me, as these were not large creatures, but I followed his suggestion and the char attacked. I added a third species for the day in short order. I felt a faint pang of something that might have been shame, but was most likely gas.

stella-char

Remember that Phil has caught much larger char in much more challenging conditions.

Phil was not heartbroken to leave the trout farm. On our way out, I was taken aback by a terrifying statue. It looked something like a raccoon possessed by Satan, and I was grateful that I hadn’t encountered it in low-light conditions, because I might have wet myself. Phil explained that it was a Tanuki – a raccoon-dog – a form of local wildlife that is considered good luck.

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Phil also mentioned that the Tanuki is a sign of fertility. I countered that it didn’t look all that fertile to me, at which stage Phil told me to look down.

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Yep, that’s fertile all right.

We drove deeper into the mountains, and Phil had one more idea for the day – an attempt to rescue my honor by catching a three-lipped chub in the wild. This creature lives in lakes, which didn’t seem like a problem until I saw that there was no easy way down to this lake and we would need to do a lengthy and steep hike. This was no problem for my host, as he is in shape, but I was less thrilled. Still, we got to the shoreline with only a few slips and falls, all of which were mine. It was certainly a beautiful place to fish as the sun went down, but unfortunately, no chubs were in evidence.

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Kogan reservoir. Stuffed with American bass and a few other interesting species.

The way up was steep and slippery, but Phil owed me this after the pay pond debacle. We came across the skull of a monkey, which had likely died trying to hike up from the lake.

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It likely caught just as many three-lipped chubs as I did.

My travel cold had finally departed, likely due to shame, and I slept well that night.

The next morning, we headed out to some of Phil’s urban Tokyo freshwater stomping grounds. These are not places where one would expect to find water, let alone fish, and yet here they were, little gems in the middle of one of the most crowded places on earth. Our first challenge was, of course, parking. We ended up eating at a less-than-optimal restaurant so we could leave the car there with some hope of not being towed, and off we went to the Yo-dare spillway on the Tama River.

The main target was a barbel steed, a wonderfully-named local creature that has a reputation for savage battles. This is a sight fishing thing, and we walked up and down the spillway wall looking for one, and just as we spotted a few, it started raining hard. This killed the sight fishing for a while, but we stuck it out in our Gore-Tex, and about an hour later, the rain and water settled down. The barbel steed started showing up again. This is a precision-casting thing where the bait needs to land just upstream of the fish, and for the first one, I let Phil cast. He handed off as the fish moved up onto the bait, and yes, they do hit hard. The fight is very reminiscent of the European barbel, and I was lucky to get it to the bottom of the wall where Phil scooped it up with the long-handled net that every Japanese fisherman needs to have.

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The barbel steed – worthy of the name. I caught several more on my own, but nothing this size.

We then walked down the bank about half a mile, and set up on some rocks just below a riffle. I had begun fishing with some ridiculously tiny hooks, hoping to see what local micros might be in the rocks. The first two were surprise repeats.

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Yes, this is a smallmouth bass. Who knew?

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And this is a zacco – scientific name Opsariichthys platypus, and platypi are cool. I originally caught this species in Korea thanks to the kindness of Mr. Lee, a doorman at the Seoul Hyatt.

Putting the micro-rig down again, I didn’t have to wait long for a bite, and this time, something smashed me, peeled line off my Stella 1000, and showed no signs of stopping. Mind you, with hooks in the #26 range, you can’t put on much drag, but it was certainly a decent fish. I played it for at least 20 minutes, with Phil making helpful comments like “You’re going to farm this one.” (“Farmed it!” is a Delta expression for losing a fish. I have no idea where this comes from, but Phil says it often.) Slowly, I got the upper hand, and to Phil’s amusement, I netted a beautiful new species – the white crucian carp.

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The Japanese white crucian carp. Also called “carp minnow.”

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Close relative of the crucian carp – which I can never see without thinking of Roger Barnes.

Then I did something very dumb. I admit that I would never have publicized this had Phil not seen the whole thing, but I did it, and hopefully someone can learn from my tragic example.

I cast my light setup – a Stella 1000 and a Loomis Escape trout rod – and left it perched on the rock while I rigged up a heavier bait. I remember thinking that I shouldn’t leave the rod unguarded, but I only turned my back for a second. I figured that these were small hooks and anything that grabbed them would be hard-pressed to run away with a pound of tackle. I hadn’t counted on a carp swimming into the line and getting snagged, then bolting downstream. There was a noise, and I spun around just in time to see the handle of my beloved Loomis travel rod racing off into the depths of the Tama River. I thought briefly about jumping in after it, but then my reasonable side kicked in and I thought of cell phones, wallets, diseases, and drowning. The rig was gone.

This setup had been with me for years, and I had caught hundreds of fish on it. Yes, I get attached to my tackle, and this was horrible. Phil was actually kind to me, at least for an hour or two, and offered one of his rods as a micro-rig. I felt sick to my stomach, but I was here, and I needed to keep fishing, so I shut it out and kept going. But readers, please, please be careful when setting a rod down – even for a moment. That’s all it takes. And if you have a Stella 1000 in your collection, give it a hug.

We walked back upriver from the rocks of tragedy, and I kept going on micros while Phil tried casting the spillway for larger quarry. I pulled in my final new species of the day, the Khanka gudgeon.

stella-gudgeon

It took me years to catch a European gudgeon, so I was thrilled with this.

In the meantime, Phil had hooked something a bit more substantial.

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Northern Snakehead – I caught one in Macau.

Our dinner that night was quite a treat for me, considering that I am a culinary coward and fear most Japanese food. We happened by an Outback Steakhouse, a middling US-based eatery which looked liked gourmet fare to me after three days of ramen. Phil was patient and put up with my high-maintenance requests.

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The Bloomin’ Onion, an Outback staple. My Grandmother loved these.

Reinvigorated by the food and caffeine, we decided to give the eels one more try. We set up a couple of baits in dark crevices along a tidal stream and waited, both of us focused and not caring that it was past midnight. Phil was walking well downstream, spotlighting the stream and looking for fish, when the rod I was holding went down hard. As I waited for the fish to stop taking drag, it occurred to me that it probably not an eel, or, if it was an eel, it was so big that landing it was going to be dangerous. For Phil. Luckily, it turned out to be a nice, if lost, seabream. I had caught this species before, in a Taiwan pay pond, (DETAILS HERE,) so this does count as a wild-caught example, not that this will even out the shame level in this blog.

stella-bream

A wild-caught bream. Safely released.

With these six freshwater species, I was now up to 30 for the trip. We had two days left, both back in Tokyo Bay with Aki, because I had wussed out of kayak fishing with Phil because I know deep in my heart that large sharks eat kayaks. Could we get five species each day and cross the 40 mark? And could I avoid tossing any more expensive tackle into the water? For the answer, tune in next week, or, as they say in Middle Earth, rune in next week.

Steve

 

 

Posted by: 1000fish | February 22, 2017

Land of the Rising Species Total

DATELINE: JULY 30, 2016 – YOKOSUKA, JAPAN

It was an early wakeup the next morning. Things had sort of blended into the previous night, because I was now fighting a travel cold – with an inadvisable cocktail of Sudafed and Nyquil. Someone should do a study – on me – of what happens when you mix these two with Red Bull. It can’t be good. Nyquil is bad enough by itself – just ask my buddy Bill, who, in the depths of a flu bout, drank a whole bottle and woke up 36 hours later under his kitchen table wearing underpants he did not recognize.

Speaking of strange underpants, Phil was up well before me and had packed our gear. He wasn’t slightly bothered by the late night and early morning, and yelled at me gently (Wakey wakey, cupcake!!!) to get up and get going. My chest had accumulated at least three pounds of Elmer’s Glue-type fluid during the night, and the process of coughing it up frightened Betsy the cat.

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A concerned Betsy!!

I still wasn’t sure who dressed the cat, but think I saw a bookmark for “CatFashions.com.jp” on Phil’s phone.

I was uncharacteristically quiet as we drove back to Aki’s anchorage, but before long, the Sudafed and Red Bull rallied me. Our first stop was the bait store. Japanese bait stores are different than American bait stores. They are much bigger, because they need to have shelf space for all the specific rigs one needs to have to catch Japanese fish. If I was told we were fishing for whiting, I might thoughtlessly tie on a light leader and a smallish hook, but the Japanese will have a specific packaged rig for this and almost every other species. This rig will come in several different sizes and colors, and each will take up at least six feet of running aisle space.

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The whiting rigs. You will not catch whiting without these.

I had my doubts, but Phil, who has spent years fishing here, is a believer. So I bought an assortment of these rigs. I note now that pretty much all of them caught what they were supposed to, and that my own “but this is what I use everywhere” rigs were harder to make and not nearly as productive.

Once we got on the boat, the day passed quickly. We tied on our Japanese whiting rigs, and almost instantly, we caught Japanese whiting.

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A Japanese whiting.

Just to be difficult, I put on my own hand-tied whiting rig next, and caught a new sand perch, but not a single (or married) whiting approached my setup.

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The Matô-toragisu Sand Perch. I assembled these common names as best I could from Fishbase.org, but some of the species only had names in Japanese, so I took my best guess, many of which will amuse Phil. A special thanks to Dr. Jeff Johnson of the Queensland Museum for his time on these and many other IDs.

I then changed back to the Japanese whiting rig, and yes, caught more Japanese whiting. This was downright creepy. Phil smiled. Aki smiled. But I was bewildered.

We then tried for a banded houndshark, with my recently purchased banded houndshark rigs. (Interestingly, or not, this species is in the same genus as the leopard sharks we catch in San Francisco Bay.) Whatever the genus, they were not biting. Aki marveled at this, as these fish reportedly are generally cooperative, but this is always the risk of being a species hunter in a foreign country for a day, or even a week. If the local critters, even the common ones, decide to take the day off, then I need to look for something else.

We moved to a rocky point about halfway down the bay. I had gone to my old standby – small sabikis with small cut bait, and within an hour, I added four new species. Note that these species do not have specific rigs in the bait store, or I wouldn’t have caught them. The first one was a shortnose tripodfish.

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I thought this was one of my Singapore tripods, but Phil made me take a picture just to be sure. This species is dedicated to him.

Moments later, I got a pair of wrasses, which turned out to be the same (new) species. Things were looking good.

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The Kyusen wrasse.

Phil had caught a couple of puffers, and I foolishly wished out loud that I could catch one. You know how this works. I sometimes have trouble catching the local pest species, but once I get one, they won’t leave me alone.

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The grass puffer. I caught roughly 70 more in the next 24 hours.

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The Japanese Coast Guard was conducting drills on the island. It was so loud that we couldn’t hear each other fart.

As we slid into slightly deeper water, I got another sand perch for my collection.

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The six-bar Sand Perch.

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Phil and Aki with Tokyo Bay behind them.

In the late afternoon, Aki decided the tide and light were right to go after a stingray, of course with specific red stingray rigs from the tackle store. I must admit the idea of a big, hard-pulling fish was attractive, but I also wondered about the odds of getting one “on demand.” We anchored up in a quiet cove that had some flow from a tidal creek, and put down pretty much the same stuff that rays love all over the world – slabs of oily cut bait. The boat spun lazily in the breeze, and I passed the time mending the lines. No more than 15 minutes after we started, my beloved 8’3″ Loomis casting rod started slapping down in the holder. I picked it up, put the Calcutta 400 into freespool, and the fish took off. I let it run for a moment, then set the hook hard. It was a ray – it peeled off 30 yards of line, then made smaller runs as it got closer in to the boat. Moments later, Aki scooped up a red stingray with his new net, and I was up another species. That’s seven for the day if you’re playing along at home.

rising-ray

It’s nice when a plan works out.

We were motoring toward a conger spot when the surface near us blew up with a school of jumping baitfish. We had seen this all day, but this was the first one right under the boat, so Aki shut the motor down. I cast a sabiki, and I was instantly hooked up with five horse mackerel. It’s always a challenge fighting five fish, especially when they are organized, and I only got one of them into the boat. But that would be my Japanese horse mackerel, which would also double as bait for the congers.

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There seems to be some kind of horse mackerel everywhere I go.

It had been a great day – eight species and counting – and I watched the sun set and got a good view of Mt. Fuji in the distance.

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Mt. Fuji. Marta wants to hike up it.

The eels didn’t start until well after dark, but once they got going, it was great action. We lowered cut baits down into rocky structure, and waited. The bites are sneaky – they tend to mouth baits quite softly, but if you let them get back into the rocks, they win. I found this out the hard way once or twice, but after tying on a couple of new rigs, I landed a conger.

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The Beach Conger.

Just as I was getting pleased at catching a good-sized conger, I neurotically thought of Nigel’s conger from England last year. Sure, this is a European conger, but it is so much bigger than any other conger I have ever seen that it always puts a sense of perspective on things.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This conger could eat my conger.

It was well into the evening when we got to the ramen place. (Ramen is the Japanese answer to White Castle.) Parking in the area is always a challenge, and I witnessed an awe-inspiring feat of athleticism from Phil. The one parking spot we found was so narrow that only one of us could open the door. He left my side open, then he managed to twist his body – all 6’6″ and 260 beefy pounds of him – over the rods laying down the middle of the car and get out on the passenger side.

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You’ve never seen anything this big move with this much agility, unless you’ve seen rhinos mate.

Betsy the cat was glad to see us that night, and I was glad to see the Nyquil.

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Betsy delighted to welcome us back!!

Phil’s plan for the next day was simple – fish the shoreline areas in the US Navy base. (He’s allowed there, even on his day off.) It’s a huge place, filled with interesting shoreline structure, like aircraft carriers, and best of all, it has American fast food, like A&W. Two chili dogs and three bathroom trips later, we went to work. Phil had some rockfish and another type of conger eel (the white spotted) in mind, although he mentioned that these might bite better after dark. We tried a few spots, and then settled in on a long, rocky wall. After a few obligatory puffers, the species started showing up.

The first was Bleeker’s wrasse – the 60th different wrasse species I’ve gotten over the years.

rising-bleeker

So if a girl wrasse is mean to a boy wrasse, is that sexual wrassement?

Many of the subsequent species were a surprise reminder of home. I pulled up a small fish that looked a lot like a surfperch. I said “Gee, that looks a lot like the surfperch we get on the west coast. What the heck is it?” Phil looked back at me, and said “It’s a surfperch.” We had clearly gotten through the honeymoon phase and were speaking to each other as fishing friends do – with honesty and unrestrained malice.

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Temmick’s surfperch. Who knew?

The next one looked slightly different, so I took a photo. A word to you novice species hunters – ALWAYS take the extra photo.

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The ma-tanago surfperch.

The afternoon went on, pleasant and still, and every now and then, in between more puffers and wrasses, a new species would come up. I hoped new species would come up, just as I hoped my chili dogs would not. The next species was a small rockfish – another reminder of the California coast.

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The Brassblotched Rockfish

Next up was an opaleye – a vegetarian fish that has close relatives in southern California.

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The Japanese Opaleye. We catch California opaleye on frozen peas.

My favorite fish of the day came next – the Kinubari goby. I had seen these in Phil’s fish book, and had admired both their bold black and yellow stripes, and also the fact that they did not have a close relative in California.

rising-goby

Remember, I’m six feet tall. Jim Larosa thinks I’m 5’11”, but Jim has always been jealous of me.

On my next cast, I thought I had snagged up, but a bit of gentle pressure pulled out a reluctant prickleback.

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Dainanginpo Prickleback – close relative of our monkeyface prickleback.

With seven species on the board, and two A&W chili dogs more or less digested, the day was a winner. I got the feeling that Phil would rather be out chasing trophies, but he had also gotten some of the species mania. He flipped through his phone and showed me an assortment of fish photos – “Ever gotten one of these? Of these? We get these all the time. What do you think of this outfit for Betsy … oops.” Deep in my soul, I suspected that Phil was actually concerned about whether turquoise or fuchsia would be better for tomorrow’s cat frock, and this worried me.

There were clearly a lot of fish left to catch, and we had four more days to chase them. My cold seemed to be breaking up, although at the expense of blowing my nose in my spare t-shirt. As the sun started down, I got another rockfish species.

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The marbled rockfish. I’m pretty sure on this name.

With darkness approaching, Phil was surprised that we hadn’t caught the whitespotted conger species yet. “I’m surprised we haven’t caught the whitespotted conger yet.” he said. I had a solid bite moments later, but set the hook too quickly, gaining some gentle words of encouragement from Phil along the lines of “Well, you ****ed that one up.” Half an hour later, the line crept off again, and I set into a small conger. I flipped it up onto the ground and had a look – it was indeed the white spotted one – another new species.

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Ooooh, looks like I could use some sleep.

As it got fully dark, we moved and started to fish some concrete basin walls. I got a few duplicate rockfish, then a new one – the darkbanded rockfish.

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That’s 10 for the day. That doesn’t happen very often, but I was still ready to get some sleep.

There are some people you should not trust with your phone, because they will take disturbing selfies.

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Phil is one of these people.

Of course, this is still better than Jeff Kerr leaving an anatomy lesson on my phone. (See “Korean Superman” for the unfortunate details. Yes, Sharon had an epiphany, but not until most of us had missed the over/under on the pool.)

Exhausted as Phil and I were, we still couldn’t help but try one more fishing spot right after dinner. Phil had a “can’t miss” area for freshwater eel near his house, and we gave it a late shot. We did in fact miss on the eels, although I caught a nice carp.

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Not an eel.

On the way back to home for Nyquil and furtive sleep, I did the math. I was at 24 species, and we had only been at it three days. Tomorrow, we would begin hunting for freshwater creatures, and my dignity would take the day off.

Steve

Posted by: 1000fish | February 15, 2017

Domo Arigato, Mr. Richmond

Dateline: July 28, 2016 – Tokyo Bay, Japan

“Mr. Roboto” is possibly the worst song ever written, but it did make sure that my generation knew at least two foreign words: “Domo arigato.” For years, I thought this was Italian for “There is a cat in the church,” but it turns out to be Japanese for “thank you.” Who knew? Point being, now I have yet another reason to give a heartfelt thank you to someone in Japan, although he is actually from Rio Vista, so I could have done the whole thing in English.

Just how is it that I ended up flying 5000 miles to fish with someone who grew up half an hour from my house? It’s a long story – isn’t it always? At one of the IGFA events, I met one Phil Richmond, who has quite a few world records himself. There is no short version of this, because Phil is perhaps the tallest person to ever win an IGFA award.

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Do not adjust your screen. He really is that tall.

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The unknown female is Hitomi, Phil’s wife. Hitomi is a well-known fishing writer and TV personality in Japan, and yes, this means that Phil is only the second-best angler in the house.

Phil serves in the US Navy and is stationed in Japan, and as soon as we started talking species fishing, he invited me to fish in Tokyo. There are times people make this offer just to be polite, but he was very serious, and when I got some free time last summer, we put a trip together. People usually regret making these offers, because I want to do nothing but fish all day and night, pausing only for occasional bathroom and junk food breaks, often at the same time. Little did I know that Phil would be the one who wore me out.

The flights into Haneda arrive late in the evening. (By the way, if you have a choice, go to Haneda rather than Narita – it’s right downtown, whereas Narita seems to be in North Korea.) On the entire drive to his place, and well into the evening, we talked shop. This guy has a tackle room that has more rods per square foot than my garage, and his local knowledge was encyclopedic – he has lived in Japan most of his adult life, and he spends most of his free time on the water.

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Part of the tackle room.

He was very comfortable with species that I considered unicorns, like oilfish, and the idea of catching an oilfish had me positively giddy with excitement. When I do trips like this, I try not to set expectations too high, because this often leads to bitter disappointment. I figured that I would be thrilled with 20-25 species for the week, and I also knew there would be a couple of possible world records. In emailing back and forth with Phil before the trip, he thought that 30-40 was much more realistic. This was one of those rare occasions I prayed that someone else was right and I was wrong. And oh, was I wrong.

I learned much of what I needed to know about Phil on my first trip into his bathroom, where I was greeted with the following sign:

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I did most of these things in my dorm bathroom at college. This sort of stuff stops right away on that first Sunday morning you have to clean it up yourself.

Phil had generously volunteered to put me up for the whole week. I had my own room, subject to occasional visits by the most entertaining member of the Richmond family, Betsey the cat.

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Betsey the cat. Unclear whether it is Phil or Hitomi who dresses Betsey, and I wasn’t going to ask.

Luckily, the tides were such that we didn’t have to get up at the very crack of dawn, so I did get some sleep. The next morning, I struggled awake and headed downstairs, hoping that there would be enough Red Bull to get me through the day. We loaded the gear in his truck and drove to a nearby suburb to meet Captain Aki, a local, nay, THE local charter guide. Aki and Phil have been good friends for some time, and there is the added bonus that Aki went to college in the US and speaks better English than both of us.

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Captain Aki. If you’re in Tokyo, contact him at http://www.fishtokyo.com/english/.

Aki had been forewarned about my species obsession, and the conversation turned immediately to the variety of local critters he had caught. We ran out into Tokyo Bay on a fine, clear morning – the weather looked perfect. I was positively wound up to get a bait in the water, but we had a fairly long run to get into some deep water, which was likely teeming with new and exotic species.

By this stage, I had bought in to Phil’s theory that many, many new fish would be caught, and my expectations had perhaps gotten ahead of me. Fine day though it was, the tides were apparently not ideal, and when we started dropping baits to the bottom in substantial depths – 800′ and more – bites were few and far between. The slow fishing was, of course, magnified by the fact that I was reeling for ten minutes every time I wanted to check a bait. Initially, I was close to apoplectic, but I settled into my stubborn, “I’m here and I’m fishing” attitude, and a few fish started coming up.

Interestingly, or not, I had thought a couple of these were not new species, because I had caught similar creatures elsewhere, but detailed review of local fish guides revealed good news. The first was a scorpionfish that looked suspiciously like the blackbelly rosefish that haunted trips to Florida and South Africa.

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But it was a Japanese rosefish, and I had my first new species of the trip.

Then I got a small shark, very similar to one caught in Marta’s favorite blog episode EVER. This one took weeks of scientific debate, but it was finally narrowed down to a smooth lantern shark, or, as you all likely know, Etmopterus pusillus. Many thanks to Clinton Duffy, a New Zealand-based scientist who specializes in sharks.

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These can produce their own light, which is why they are called lantern sharks.

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Do not put this in your pants.

I also added a beardfish, which turned out to be a different species from those I had gotten in Kona. Collect them all!

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The Japanese beardfish. It has a Japanese beard.

That was pretty much it for the daylight hours. I couldn’t complain about three new species, but I was a bit disconcerted. My optimism renewed as night fell and I drank the rest of the Red Bulls. We drifted out over some really deep water, and dropped bait/jig combos in midwater below 500 feet. The main target would be an oilfish or an escolar, worthy deepwater trophies, although somewhat risky to eat. (Look it up. It’s horrible.)

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Sunset over Tokyo Bay.

A few drifts in, Phil caught something that still makes me drool with excitement, or jealousy, I forget which – a broadnose sixgill shark. These extraordinarily rare creatures wander the dark midwaters of the world’s oceans, seemingly at random, and I actually got to see one. Yes, I was just sick that I didn’t catch it, but it was still great to see one, or at least I know in hindsight that’s the polite thing to say.

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Maybe if I had used the gear Phil recommended, instead of insisting on my own stuff, I might have caught one of these.

About an hour after dark, I got a bite and was promptly broken off. Apparently, there are snake mackerel there and snake mackerel can bite through heavy leader. Who knew. So, I re-rigged, and moments later, I got more bites and hooked up on a relatively small fish. As it came up into the light, I was overjoyed – it was an oilfish. A small one to be sure, but it was an oilfish, which is one of those weird things I had always dreamed of catching. It had officially become a good day.

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Spoiler alert – by the end of the Japan blogs, you will see a bigger oilfish.

Yes, it was a small fish, but there is enough meat on this creature to sentence three adult humans to the bathroom for a weekend. Look it up. It’s horrible. Speaking of the trots, go on Amazon, look up “Sugar Free Haribo Gummi Bears,” and read the customer reviews, especially the one involving the German woman. (Phil found this.)

As it got toward quitting time, which is quite late with Aki, I had missed a few more bites but not gotten anything else. Jet lag was starting to catch up to me, but I was hoping for one more fish – aren’t I always? But then I got a tap. And another. The fish came back a few times, and I finally hooked it. Many times, fishermen will “call their fish” – I am guilty of this on my home waters, as even I can tell the difference between a bat ray and a leopard shark. (If it’s still taking drag after three minutes, it’s a bat ray.) I wouldn’t dare guess a species, but I did announce it was around five pounds.

There have been times I was wrong, like then I thought the Lions would win the Super Bowl, and there have been times that I was stupidly, comically wrong, like any time I argue with Marta. This was one of those times. The fish got a bit friskier as it got close, and then, as I peered into the depths looking for my five-pound fish, to my great surprise, a seven-foot blue shark appeared. I did not immediately connect this to my fish, and actually worried that it might eat whatever I had caught. A split-second later, at exactly the same time, the shark and I figured out that the shark is what I had hooked. Pandemonium ensued as the it took off on a splashy run across the surface, and I held on, keenly aware that I had never caught a blue shark – and that my leader was mono.

I have written whole blogs about not catching a blue shark – details HERE.

I got it close twice, and I made it embarrassingly obvious to both Phil and Aki that I wanted this fish badly. I apparently kept mumbling “Oh please oh please oh please.” As it surfaced a third time, Phil did something that earned my undying respect, but also terrified me. He took a net about the size we use on salmon and, without warning, tried to scoop the shark’s head into the boat. To be fair to him, he did buy Aki a new net the next day, but at the moment, I had to contend with a shark that was wearing the shattered remnants of Aki’s net like a ceremonial headdress and was now really, really mad. I breathlessly worked it back to the boat – “Oh please oh please oh please.” Aki patiently rigged a tailrope, and moments later, we pulled aboard the one and only blue shark I have ever caught. The trip, less than 24 hours old, had become epic.

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Who wears socks with sandals? Guido, that’s who.

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Phil, Steve, and shark.

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The dangerous end. I have no idea how this happened without a wire leader.

With that, we wrapped it up and headed for port. I nodded off on the ride, and it was well into the wee hours when we sat down to a well-deserved ramen dinner. We said a quick hello to Betsey the cat back at Phil’s place, and I nodded off for a few hours. Wakeup call was early the next morning, and the tides looked very promising for an inshore expedition.

Steve

 

Posted by: 1000fish | December 28, 2016

The Snowman Dies

Dateline: July 10, 2016 – Wenatchee, Washington

While we’re on the topic of bitter, unexpected disappointment, I can tell you about my fishing trips with Martini this spring and summer. It is true that if you fish enough, you are going to get some things at the last minute – and I fish a lot. But I am as subject to the laws of probability and the whims of the Fish Gods as the next guy, and sometimes, like my beloved Detroit Tigers, I sit waiting for the ninth-inning rally that never comes. I expect this in a fishing trip sometimes, even with Martini involved, but I do NOT expect this in my Christmas specials.

And what brings this up? I’ll tell you what – The British have done something vicious to Christmas, leaving me with exactly the same sick feeling I get when a fishing trip goes badly.

I am no stranger to disappointment – after all, you’re talking to the guy whose first (15,000 mile round) trip to the Great Barrier Reef was blown out by a late-season storm. But disappointment, especially that gut-wrenching, didn’t-see-that-coming sort of heartache, should not be a part of Christmas TV specials. Marta and I are connoisseurs of Christmas TV. We own dozens and dozens of specials, and we watch almost all of them every year, usually leading off with the seminal Rankin-Bass “Rudolph.” Marta and I are understandably proud of our Christmas TV collection, and there is a definite theme that runs through all of these shows. THERE IS A HAPPY ENDING. Scrooge finds Christmas Spirit (three of them actually,) Rudolph gets Clarisse, Tiny Tim DOES NOT DIE, and Frosty gets resurrected. It’s a good system – we have enough misery the rest of the year. Some of you have mentioned that some of my blogs have similarly implausible happy endings. Who could forget the last-minute manna of “A Quappe for Steve” or the heartwarming “Miracle at Slavski Laz”? So imagine my surprise on a cozy Thursday evening last December. Marta and I had houseguests – Sam and Kate Clark, a young British couple that you may remember from “Two Records and a Wedding.”

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Sam and Kate Clark. They’re British.

We had just finished introducing them to some marvelously cheerful American holiday fare, like “A Muppet Christmas Carol,” when they suggested we watch a British special. Figuring we were in for something good, as everything British is sophisticated, we signed up to watch an animated feature called “The Snowman” written by Raymond Briggs.

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It begins well enough. A boy makes a snowman. It comes to life. They frolic around the back yard and the house. Then they take flight, soaring over the ocean, seeing whales and icebergs and then visiting Santa and the land of the snowmen at the north pole.

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Somewhere in all this, there is a nice song. Then they fly back and the boy drifts off to sleep, cozy in his bed. He wakes up the next day and goes in the back yard to visit his friend … but the snowman has melted. Marta gasped in concern, but I have seen “Frosty” enough to know that Christmas snow is magical, and that this snowman couldn’t die, and a happy ending was coming any second now. So we waited. And waited. As we held on for that happy ending, the camera pulled back, the music drifted out, and we were left with the stark scene of an emotionally-shattered boy weeping over a pile of slush. The British snowman … dies. Fade to black, and a generation grows up pessimistic and bitter.

Snowman Melted

WTF, Britain? With Christmas shows like this, it’s a miracle you got into the EU in the first place.

So now we get back to Martini. Martini is a grad student in Seattle who is studying things that involve a lot of big words, and he takes it as seriously as you would expect, so there hasn’t been a lot of time for us to fish this year. I’ve gotten up there twice, and you can guess from the text above how things went. Our first round was at the end of March, and was specifically aimed at one small fish – the surf smelt – which only runs into the bays around this time of year. But we figured there had to be something else for us to catch with a weekend at our disposal. And we tried. Martini had done his usual exhaustive research and identified a few likely targets, so the weekend began with high hopes. But our day hunting odd surfperch in Westport got done in by tremendous waves, and our general pier fishing just didn’t pan out.

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I’m sure there were fish in here, but we couldn’t find them.

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At the diner where we ate breakfast – best Star Wars poster EVER.

Still, we got to hang out together, and with no Dairy Queen in sight, Martini felt it was safe to eat. We spent the next day chasing the elusive surf smelt, a smaller beast that comes into the bays in droves in the spring, reacts well to sabikis, and is somehow the only fish in all of Washington State’s ridiculously Byzantine regulations that can be caught without a license. We got to a tiny pier in a scenic bay north of Seattle, and after a liberal application of Martini’s special chum that seemed to contain everything from cat food to Fruit Loops, our target fish began to show up.

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The chum. It was nasty.

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It was cold.

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It’s certainly a beautiful area.

The locals gave us quite a schooling, catching at least five to my one, but we got our fish and the weekend was worth it, even if it was for a single species. And I found a Dairy Queen on the way to the airport!

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Martini prepares to do battle with the new Dairy Queen “Double Colon Buster.”

I then take you to July 7. Martini and I had set up a “can’t miss” trip for some suckers and other species in Washington and Idaho. He had been to some of the spots a month or two before and they were crowded with our target species, and we had every reason to expect a great result. It looked liked we would have a hot, beautiful weekend in the scenic northwest, and I expected this to be a good story just as I (used to) expect every Christmas special to end happily. Our first night, Martini got me at the airport and we headed east, through the semi-trackless wastes of Southern Washington. I say semi-trackless because this area is positively exciting compared to some other places I have driven, like the Kalahari Desert.

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The scenery of eastern Washington.

Well past dark, we got to a backwater that Martini had somehow discovered contained the tadpole madtom, a small catfish species that was bizarrely transplanted here some years ago. (His source was well-regarded species hunter Bryan Jones, who writes a nice fishing blog of his own.) Despite a swarm of insects, a few of which did not bite, we both got our fish and the trip was off to a roaring start.

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This was the best picture of us with the fish.

But we did notice it had started raining. Once we were back in the car, we became aware that thousands of insects had flown in and refused to leave. We tried shooing them out, driving with the windows down, and finally brushing them off. I was apparently a bit too aggressive in this process, as I noticed the next morning that the ceiling upholstery on my side was covered in hundreds of tiny smudges. Martini shook his head sadly and said “Every time you leave my car, there are more stains it.” I’m afraid he’s correct, but who knew the whole top was going to fall off that drumstick? Who knew that Cheetos dust is permanent?

The next day, we awoke to unexpected, driving rain. This did little to dim our optimism, as we were off to a spot where Martini had personally seen both largescale and bridgelip suckers earlier in the year. There were also peamouth and possibly even chiselmouth in the area – does it get any better than that? We were both foaming at the mouth with excitement, and looking up sizes needed for potential world records. We got there, jumped out of the car … and had our Snowman moment. There was almost no water – flows had dropped to a trickle. The fish were not there. This set off a mad scramble – the fish had to have gone either up or down stream, so we started looking. First we went up, navigating some 20 miles of iffy road and some people I am certain I saw in an X Files episode. Nothing. So we drove back, waded out and fished the main river, which was unbelievably cold – and Martini did this barefoot. Nothing. As it got into the evening, we headed back into Lewiston, got dinner – yes, at Dairy Queen – and went to another spot in town to fish the night shift. We got masses of northern pikeminnows, but nothing else would bite.

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This is the look Martini gives when he can’t believe he is about to eat at Dairy Queen AGAIN.

Talk ranged to bizarre “audible” ideas, but the best of these required a 1000 mile detour. We decided to stick it out and try some other spots back to the west, where Martini had also gotten fish a month or so previously. We would not be defeated. Because just as we believe that Christmas snow is magical and Frosty lives forever, we just knew we were going to get our fish tomorrow.

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Karen shouldn’t cry. Frosty is born again with each Christmas snow.

We spent much of the evening looking at options for where we might find the fish – up tributaries, down main channels, up to dams, in side basins. The following morning, we were up and at it again. Our first destination was the Dworshak dam. It was a beautiful place that offered an excellent aerial view of likely holes where we should have been able to see the fish – IF they were there. But we just couldn’t find them. Some other folks were catching beautiful summer salmon on jigs, but that’s the perversity of our brand of fishing – we passed this right up and kept looking for our obscure beasts. They weren’t there. There are times you just have to show up and take your chances, and thus far, we were standing in a pile of slush. While snacking on beef jerky and an assortment of exotic Cheetos, we decided to make a major move back into central Washington and try a spot on the Columbia where Martini had done well earlier in the year.

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This meant four more hours of Monet-inspiring eastern Washington scenery.

The highlight of this part of the drive was a stop at a Snake River backwater, where Martini had been told that a population of banded killifish had somehow cropped up. (Bryan Jones again gave us this spot. If it weren’t for Bryan, this trip could have actually gotten worse.) We made quick work of these attractive micros and headed for Martini’s spot in Wenatchee.

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The banded killifish, male and female.

Once we got to the floating dock where Martini had fished earlier in the year, I was just sure we were going to get a sucker or a peamouth. But we didn’t, and after some highly questionable diner food, we caught a few hours of sleep in a motel that failed to meet even my modest standards. If you’re a fan of mildew, let me know and I’ll give you the address.

The morning of the 10th – my 53rd birthday – broke miserable and raining. We gave it another few hours at the dock, and we even saw a largescale sucker. But all that would bite were the northern pikeminows, and after a few dozen of those, we decided to try something else, slightly desperate perhaps, but at least a change of scenery.

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A northern pikeminnow. We caught a lot of these.

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Wenatchee is also a beautiful place. Except that there were no suckers.

We battled our way through horrific I-90 traffic to Seattle, and set up on Lake Washington, where there are rumored to be peamouth. It would be a minor victory, but a nice birthday present, and at least we were trying new ideas. Lake Washington was a lovely place, and as soon as we set up, we caught masses of panfish. Each time the float dipped, I was certain it was going to be a peamouth. But each time, it wasn’t. I nearly wet myself when Martini caught a yellow perch, as these look a lot more like peamouth than bluegill do, especially to someone who had gotten as desperate as I was, but it was not a peamouth. We kept at it, stubbornly, conversation at a minimum, but it quickly turned to evening.

As darkness fell, I thought of the Snowman special. I stared at my bobber and mumbled to myself “Come on, Snowman. Don’t melt.” But the sun went down, there were no peamouth, and I felt like that kid staring at the slushpile. We drove back into Seattle, cleaned up, and had a nice steak dinner to celebrate my advanced age – always good to have a birthday with family, especially because you can stick them with the check. Our conversation was not about how things had gone wrong – we had already moved on from that. It was about how we would get it right the next time – and we will. The lessons here were simple – go after the fish when they are actually there, understand that not every fishing trip is going to live up to expectations, and never trust British people with the remote around Christmas time.

Steve

Posted by: 1000fish | December 18, 2016

Wade’s Daughter

Dateline: June 12, 2016 – Oahu, Hawaii

This is the face of evil.

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Oh yes it is.
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And again.

How else can you explain someone smiling when they have just shattered my four day-old bonefish record? I know it doesn’t look like the face of evil, but remember that we’re talking about Jaime Hamamoto here. For those of you who have not been introduced to the Hamamoto family, here is some light reading to get you up to speed:

“The Worst Little Girl in the World”

“Three Days of Hawaiian Hell”

Et tu, Jaime?

In summary, Wade and I have been fishing buddies pretty much forever. Wade has a daughter, Jaime. Long ago, Jaime was small. But they fed her, and now she is 19. For as long as I can remember, Jaime has been a ridiculously skilled angler, and even when she was six, she was nonchalantly catching stuff I had never even seen – especially the rare and wonderful lagoon triggerfish. She gave others the impression that she wanted to help me catch these fish, which Marta always thought was really touching. But I wasn’t fooled by the cute and helpful exterior. I always thought that Jaime seethed with competitive rage and was secretly trying to sabotage me. Most of you, of course, saw it my way.

(Or not.)

It had been a couple of years since I had fished with Wade and Jaime, so it was time. I consider them family, especially because Jaime is evil and she would fit right in. So I ended up in Honolulu, waiting outside baggage claim and wondering what rotten stunt Jaime would pull this time.

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Like when she caught a razorfish right in front of me. It took me years to catch one of these.

Wade had a species in mind the moment I got my luggage unpacked and the rods put together. They picked me up and we headed to a beach east of Waikiki, and as we pulled up, I could see a dark patch just off the shore. This was our target – a school of orange-spot sardines. I set up a sabiki and cast, and moments later, the job was done. We had a species on the books.

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That’s Diamondhead in the background. I’ve been to Oahu a few dozen times but never visited there. Remember, I went fishing in Paris years before I visited the Louvre.

We were then off for the other side of the island, where there are several piers that always seem to produce something interesting. On the way there, I had Wade stop at a ditch – but not just any old ditch, a ditch recommended by fellow species hunter Kenneth Tse. And it was in this ditch that I dragged up a small fish I thought was a mosquitofish but actually turned out to be a swordtail.

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This was great, except that it called my original western mosquitofish catch from Oahu into question. A few blogs from now, you will see that I just went and caught a confirmed western mosquitofish in California and stopped any possible debate.

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Jaime, however, has no trouble catching them.

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At least the scenery was amazing.

We spent the remainder of the afternoon at Heeia pier, an old favorite that has produced at least a dozen species for me over the years. These are pleasant hours – except when Jaime reminds me that she has caught several lagoon triggers here. (SEE how she mocks, derides, ad belittles me? Imagine how much harder this would be if I was sensitive.) Still, it seemed like we were catching something every minute, and there was pizza to look forward to for dinner.

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We got at least a dozen surgeonfish – these things pull hard on light tackle. Well, technically, they pull hard on any tackle, but they don’t go as far on the heavier stuff.

Toward the end of the session, my mini-sabikis paid off when I got a small palenose parrotfish – the third species of the day.

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It’s small, so you shouldn’t be Scarid.

Day two commenced at a ridiculously early hour – it was debatable whether we got there early in the morning or late the previous night. Apart from wanting to start at first light, we also had to consider that this location has about three parking spots, and we wanted to secure one of these coveted spaces. And so it was that we were stumbling around in the dark, trudging out to a rocky point where Jaime had set a number of records on fish I hadn’t seen outside of books. Dawn broke a bit drizzly, but of course, the rainbows ended right on Jaime’s head.

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Yes, the rainbows seem to follow her around.

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Paradise.

We set up with a big rod in the surf, and then we all walked out onto the reef and cast assorted cut baits into the wash. Wade scored first with a nice chub.

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Knowing Wade, he ate it on the way to the cooler.

The reef fish started to show in numbers, and we spent most of the morning fighting or unhooking fish.

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Christmas wrasse – each one is a gift.

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A huma huma nuka nuka apuaa.

By 10:30, I had already caught over 40 fish – great fun even if they were familiar species. I had just cast a thumbnail-sized piece of shrimp on a #6 circle hook when I got a subtle bite. I let the fish swim the slack out the line and load the rod, and then I just started reeling. It was only then I realized I had something very big – after a hard pump, the fish took off for Maui, and I was left chasing it along the beach. Luckily, it headed away from the heavy reef, but it was still strong enough where I knew I would have trouble if it changed its mind. The fight went on for close to 10 minutes, but I could finally see a flash of electric turquoise in the water. I figured it had to be a parrot, and a large one. Jaime raced over and positioned herself to help land the fish, and after a few more tense minutes, she grabbed the leader and we had the fish. But it wasn’t a parrot. It was a surge wrasse, and a positively huge one. I got on the IGFA app, and this fish, at 3.25#, easily beat the old record.

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Species four, world record one. It was officially a great trip, and we were only halfway done.

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Steve marches the surge wrasse back to the surge, where it was safely released.

We fished well into the afternoon, then decided to break for lunch and to try some other spots. In a stream in a public park back in Honolulu, we fished for an assortment of interesting micros, and I ended up with a new species – the convict cichlid.

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The must have these in Australia.

Then, speaking of lunch, we saw the red and white truck.

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The red and white truck.

This is the best food truck EVER, because it sells malasadas, which are like doughnuts but much, much better.

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These are locally made, farm to table malasadas. They are AWESOME. And they are HEALTHY. (If you do anagrams, the work “salad” is in there.)

We tried a couple of harbors in the evening, but the early start meant that poor Jaime was exhausted. Of course, Wade and I, prime examples of healthy living habits, were ready for more, but we felt it was best to let Jaime get some sleep. We had another big day in front of us – and I had no idea it was going to be as big as it turned out to be.

Our first errand that morning was to catch a red devil – a Central American cichlid that has been transplanted here but has eluded me for years. Jaime had a “can’t miss” spot – an arboretum on the north side of the island.

This was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a serious fishing location. They open it for a couple of hours on the weekends, mostly for kids to fish for tilapia with their grandparents. Thus, when I showed up looking like a semi-serious fisherman, it attracted loads of attention, including quite a bit of notice from one of the volunteer docents, who had clearly retired here after she spent a lot of time protesting something. I am sure someone (in Berkeley) thinks she is a very nice lady, but she just KNEW something was wrong and pestered us from the minute we parked until we were halfway down the hill to the lake. (“Why are you here?” “What is that equipment for?” “What is the logo on your hat?”) When we pointed out that we were allowed to fish under the posted rules, she shifted gears and badgered us about walking on the properly marked paths. Even though she wouldn’t answer me, judging by the amount of time she put into this, no, she did not have anything better to do.

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Jaime strays from the marked path.

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There were all kinds of birds, but best of all, there were piglets. Piglets are cute.

The fishing was undramatic. As soon as I opened the bread bag, about a dozen orange shapes swam over and waited to be fed. I caught one, photographed it extensively, and added it to the list.

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The red devil. A big thanks to Dr. Alfredo Carvalho for confirming the ID on this one.

Our next stop just HAD to be the research pier. I couldn’t stay away, because this is the only place I had ever seen a lagoon triggerfish. I have certainly done much better in other locations, but that one sighting, years ago, has kept me coming back. Wade was his usual positive self, and told me it was only a matter of time until I stumbled in to one. Jaime then clarified that it might be a large amount of time. I asked her to keep her unkind comments to herself. She reminded me that she had caught a huge bonefish nearby.

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She always has this photo handy, on screensavers, keychains, t-shirts, mousepads, fridge magnets, etc. 

We set up midway down the pier and I pitched out one bait near the reef and worked another near the pilings. I had gotten a couple of wrasses when I saw a flash of color out of the corner of my eye. It was a big lagoon trigger and it was heading right for Wade’s bait. It stopped and picked up the shrimp. Wade hesitated a split second and set the hook, and the fish was on, streaking for the reef. A heartbeat later, with no discussion, nothing but a knowing look, Wade did something inconceivably kind. He handed me the rod. There was a moment of drama while we borrowed a net so I wouldn’t have to dive in and retrieve it with my teeth, and finally, unbelievably, I had caught my lagoon triggerfish.

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I remember having trouble taking this photo – my hand was shaking.

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To be clear, this would not have counted for an IGFA record – but I certainly counted it as a species. Of course, it would have been better as a solo act, but pride is not a concern here. And before anyone gets all purist about this, read the next paragraph.

Moments later, we had set up again. Wade’s rod, secure in a holder, went down right away. He held his hands up and said “it’s all yours.” Thus, I got both of my career lagoon triggers within two minutes of each other, both on Wade’s rod. This one was smaller and wouldn’t be a record, but this was the last thing on my mind. I was ecstatic. The lagoon trigger was one of those things I had wanted for years, an elusive, impossibly beautiful species that had been repeatedly caught in front of me. And now I had two.

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A team effort if there ever was one.

With that, we were finally done with the research pier. We had enough time to get in a couple of hours at one of my favorite spots, not just in Hawaii, but anywhere. (And I’ve been fishing in a few places.) I call it “The Aquarium,” primarily because I can’t pronounce its Hawaiian name, but also because it is like fishing in an aquarium. It’s a coral shelf with an edge that drops into 8-10 feet of structure-filled water. We cast lightly-weighted baits near the coral heads and hold on – I’ve caught an incredible variety here, and it always seems to produce something new and fascinating.

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And we pass all kinds of scenery on the way.

Wade sent me and Jaime down to the water, and he stayed up on the small sand bluff and guarded the gear. He could probably outfish both of us combined, but he is as happy helping others do well as he is catching the fish himself.

After a batch of triggerfish, jacks, and saddle wrasses – nonstop action for an hour – I reeled in a small wrasse I didn’t recognize. It turned out to be an elegant coris – my seventh species of the trip.

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I would have been thrilled with four. Heck, I would have been thrilled with the lagoon trigger.

After the photo session, we kept at it – more wrasses, tangs, jacks, triggers, hawkfish, and others I am sure I’ve missed. I just took it all in – we only get so many days like this in a lifetime.

Being in this reverie, I was unprepared for the vicious hit that nearly ripped my rod out of my hands. My Stella 3000 started screaming out line against a tight drag, and I help on with the whitest of knuckles. I prepared for the inevitable breakoff – this area is loaded with sharp obstacles – but the fish stayed right on the surface and ran hard. It slowed down about 60 yards out and began wallowing on the surface – it was then I could see it was a big needlefish. This was very likely not a new species, but it was certainly a great fight, and I enjoyed it for the whole 15 minutes it took me to land it. Jaime helped me corral it into the shallows and get the Boga on it, and it was only then I got quite a surprise. This was a keel-jawed needlefish – the species I hadn’t caught. Not only was it a new species, it was also an open world record.

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Eight species for the trip, and two records. Note the fleshy keel at the end of the lower jaw.

I was done for the evening – it was time for pizza.

It’s very rare in this blog that all kidding is aside, but it is for a moment. This is one of the most sacred places I have ever fished – a secret place shared with me by people who have become nothing less than family. It seems like such a short time ago Jaime was a toddler, and here she was, a grown woman, standing on the next rock over and quietly outfishing me.

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There’s no real explaining how some of these fishing friendships build, where you might see someone every year or two but it always seems like you are picking up from yesterday. And how few people there are who not only love to fish as much as I do – there are plenty of those, likely including you – but also someone who is as relentless about the sport as I am; someone who will sacrifice doing almost anything else to go fishing and not view it as a sacrifice. This is Jaime’s time with her father; this is how she has grown up and this is what she will pass down to her family. (If Wade ever lets her date.) This is Wade’s gift to her – time – a gift that can’t be bought. Just as I look at the Arostegui family with admiration, I look at Wade the same way. For a lot of reasons, I didn’t spend much time with my own dad, so I am keenly aware of how important, how sacred this time is, and it makes me feel good to be around people who get it right. Every time I have spoken to Wade in the past 18 years or so, I didn’t hear about Jaime going to a Miley Cyrus concert or out partying with friends – I heard about what she wanted to catch next. Don’t get me wrong – she has plenty of friends and has run up an academic record that is simply frightening in its excellence – but this is what she lives and breathes. (As two IGFA trophies will attest.)

We cast silently, hooking up and releasing a fish now and then as the sun began to go down. I thought about how fortunate I was to be here, and also some of the things I never did in life because I was too busy chasing a species or a record. One thing that crossed my mind was never having children, although Marta seems to think this is for the common good. Was Jaime the daughter I never had? I’d have been proud. (Except I would have grounded her for being mean to her mainlander uncle.) But still, after 18 years of me misspelling her name on purpose just to annoy her because I was secretly jealous of her lagoon triggerfish, it is time to let that go, and for the 1000fish blog to formally recognize her as … Jamie.

Steve

jaimetrophies

Posted by: 1000fish | December 6, 2016

The Old Swimming Hole

Dateline: May 31, 2016 – Mammoth Springs, Arkansas

I truly enjoy being in nature, and from time to time, I have seen some amazing things. But I haven’t seen 1% of the stuff Tyler has, and as it turns out, his major tool for viewing the wildlife of the Ozarks is not a pair of binoculars. It’s a chainsaw. You heard me. Before we get into the whole tale of backwoods wonder, I should probably explain who Tyler is and also make it clear that no animals were harmed in the making of this blog. (Some may have been irritated.)

It all began in September of 2015, at a Sonic restaurant in central Illinois. (More details HERE.) Martini and I had fished with Ben Cantrell, a top-notch Peoria-based species hunter. As I struggled to choke down a ghastly Sonic burger*, the discussion ran into other fishing opportunities in the region, and the one that sounded the most fascinating was the Ozarks. The place is loaded with species I haven’t caught, from a diverse array of micros to some larger trophies such as black buffalo, blue suckers, and paddlefish.

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The first picture I ever saw of Tyler Goodale. Yes, that’s a blue sucker. It’s rarer – and tastier – than unicorns.

I couldn’t wait to go, but my schedule being what it is, it took eight months to set it up. Ben kept me in the loop on his travels, and when he planned an Ozarks trip over Memorial Day, I made arrangements to tag along.

This is when Tyler’s name started coming up. Every time Ben mentioned the Ozarks, he also mentioned Tyler. Tyler is a guy who grew up in the Ozarks and has managed to catch all kinds of rare stuff that most of us can only dream of. The first photo I ever saw of him also featured a blue sucker, one of the holy grails of the life-lister community. Tyler isn’t easy to reach – he’s pretty much always on the water – but Ben managed to get him to come along for our weekend. I was thrilled – Ben is an accomplished species hunter himself, but you can never have enough local expertise, and Tyler’s middle name is “Local Expertise.”

I was somehow on time to St. Louis, despite flying United, and Ben was kind enough to pick me up at the airport and do all the driving. He’s a road trip expert; the car was fully stocked for three days of intense fishing. I was thrilled – until I looked in the cooler and realized that Ben and I have somewhat different ideas on road trip cuisine. Whereas I am good with breakfast at Taco Bell, lunch at Taco Bell, and dinner at Dairy Queen, Ben had actually packed stuff like yogurt and string cheese. This was going to be an issue.

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Note where we ate dinner on that first evening.

We met Tyler early the next morning. He comes across unassuming, even quiet, but it became very clear in about five minutes that Tyler has a deep knowledge and love of the outdoors and specifically of fishing. He seemed to know every body of water in the state, what lives in it, when and how it could be caught, and even the Latin names of the fish. (It should be noted that Ben has an extraordinary amount of knowledge himself. I was in very good hands.) We were going to need all of that knowledge, because the conditions had turned out to be challenging – heavy rainfall had blown out many of our prime destinations, but I was here and we were going to make the best of it. For me, it beat sitting at home and watching Marta put my fishing trophies in the garage again, but Ben had already caught most of the small stuff in the area, so he was much more cursed by the weather than I was.

Our first stop was a ditch. It didn’t look different than any other ditch, and there were miles of ditches in the area. But as soon as I could get a small hook and a bit of worm down, I pulled up a plain-looking sunfish. It was so plain, so homely, that it couldn’t have been anything except a bantam sunfish, which usually shows up in books with notes like “no strong distinguishing markings.” Identifying one is a process of eliminating all the other sunfish until you’re left with this one.

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The bantam sunfish. That’s Tyler with the thumbs up and Ben in the background. (You are not the first person to notice that Ben looks like he is passing gas.) If you want to fish the area, Tyler is a highly qualified guide – I can put you in touch with him. He also guides hiking and birding excursions.

Next up, Ben and Tyler spotted some topminnows cruising the surface, which is how they got their name. We dragged nearly-microscopic bits of worm near them until they attacked, and I was up another species – the starhead topminnow.

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I didn’t say these would be exciting species.

Considering that our main fishing spots were unavailable, we were doing well. Tyler spotted a snake right by where I had been fishing moments before and caught it for photos.

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It’s apparently not poisonous, but I still would have preferred to have not known it was there.

Our next stop was an unlikely one – a municipal park in the middle of Poplar Bluff. Tyler swore the place had fish, but the only wildlife I could see were really, really bad softball players. We crept up on a small creek, and, I’ll be darned, it was stuffed with fish. We got some beautiful sunfish – some of the prettiest fish of the trip – and I added a red spotted sunfish to my species list.

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Cousin Chuck gets three guesses as to why they are called “red spotted sunfish.”

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We also got loads of longear sunfish – these were clearly the “dominant pest” of the trip, but they are beautiful.

We also saw swarms of brook darters, but these were less interested in food than they were in making little brook darters. I tipped my hat to Tyler for another spot I would have never guessed on my own, and we continued.

The final stop of the day was a state park about an hour outside of town. On the way there, Tyler and I cleaned out a gas station for snack food while Ben sniffed at us and ate yogurt. Who the heck brings yogurt on a fishing trip? We hiked in to a beautiful spring-fed pond – the first relatively clear water I had seen all day.

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The pond. It contained an evil species.

On the way in, we heard at least a dozen different bird songs, and Tyler named every species. He also knew all the plants – this was very helpful in a place with abundant poison ivy. Tyler mentioned he had seen foxes and bobcats at this spot, and mentioned some rare birds that nested there. I asked how he had managed to see all of this stuff, and his answer surprised me. He mentioned that he had done a lot of work clearing land for construction, which involves chainsaws. “When you walk around the woods with a chainsaw, all kinds of stuff comes out.” I had never thought of it that way.

When we got to the pond, Ben started casting a spinner and nailed a beautiful chain pickerel.

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I have caught one chain pickerel in my life, and it wasn’t this big.

It was in this pond that I encountered one of the most frustrating fish in nature – the creek chubsucker. These cyprinids, found throughout the eastern US, have a vile habit of congregating in plain view and then NOT EATING. Ben and Tyler tried to warn me, much as Martini had tried to warn me about the desert suckers, (see “Return to Salt River”) but I couldn’t believe something that obvious wouldn’t bite. But they wouldn’t. No matter what. It was horrible. (I quickly started calling them creek chub****ers.) Of course, I wasted a couple of hours pointlessly casting for them, and they spent a couple of hours ignoring me. Somewhere in this masochistic ritual, I hooked a fish. Flipping it up on the bank, I thought it had to be a chubsucker, but it wasn’t. It was, to Tyler’s great surprise, a hornyhead chub, a new species.

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This took some of the sting out of the creek chub****er debacle.

On the way back to the car, we walked through a small, clear creek, looking for possible micros. A lot of micro fishing consists of poking small baits into likely-looking crevices under rocks, and there were a lot of likely-looking crevices. Moments later, a small fish pounced on my offering, and I pulled up my fifth new species of the day – the Ozark sculpin. Sculpins are cool, and before you start poo-pooing small fish, you should know that one sculpin species, the cabezone, reaches more than 20 pounds. The Ozark sculpin doesn’t get quite that big, but don’t change the subject.

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The Ozark sculpin. They’re called that because they live in the Ozarks.

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Tyler spotted a turtle and got it to pose for photos. This was less troubling than the snake.

That evening, as we ate dinner in someplace that was bad, but not Sonic-level bad, we got to swap fish photos. Tyler, who was already full of surprises, just stunned me. Apart from the fact he had pictures with some stupidly rare fish, his micro photos, especially on the darters, were flat-out art.

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Orangethroat darter, Upper St. Francis River, MO. 

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Current Darter, Current River, MO.

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Ben also takes some outstanding micro photos.

Tyler has been asked to do the photo work on a couple of books of midwestern species. When these come out, I’ll pass the information along – these photos show more than anything why we species hunters spend all this time going after minuscule fish. Some of them are simply beautiful.

The next morning began with a warning. The guys told me we would be go going to a great spot, but that I was going to have to be patient. That’s all they would tell me. I was intrigued, but as you all know, I possess a Gandhi-like level of patience, especially on fishing matters. (Perspective from Marta: “Not.”)

Before we got to the patience-requiring spot, we stopped in the park again and took another shot at the brook darters. They seemed a bit less reproductive, and Ben and I both managed to get one.

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Good start. Ben took this photo, by the way.

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No, Ben is not doing what you think he is. (He’s fully housebroken.) This is what micro fishing often looks like.

We then headed west to explore some different watersheds. Remember that we were limited to smaller, spring-fed waterways because of the rain, so the bigger fish were off the table. We pulled up at a remote creek later in the morning, and I added another species – the Ozark minnow.

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They’re called that because they live in the Ozarks.

We were then off for the Zen spot, which they were now calling “the old swimmin’ hole.” We meandered through some beautiful countryside, getting on to progressively smaller roads until we ran into a beautifully clear river. Tyler explained it was spring-fed, and that we should have no trouble tracking down four or five new species. I was just asking him again why I would need so much patience, but then I saw the parking lot. All the cars were the same color – primer – and I could hear drunken howls and yelping in the distance. We stepped out of the car, and I could see exactly what they were talking about. It was a beautiful fishing spot, featuring everything from a deep hole under a rail bridge to some wonderful clear riffles. But it also featured about 100 partying teenagers, many of whom were stumbling through the riffles, jumping off the bridge, or barfing.

Tyler told me “Just be cool. They’ll start leaving around dark.” I was horrified. As soon as I started wading, I could see exotic sculpins and madtoms, but every time I tried to settle in and drop a bait to one, some inebriated local would splash through and disrupt things. I’m sure I was very patient with all this. (Perspective from Marta: “No. Apoplectic. Apoplectic would be the right word.”)

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Revelers walk right in front of me while I try to get a sculpin. The woman nearly stepped on my bait, and when I mentioned to her that I was fishing, she burped and said “That’s stupid.”

Ben and Tyler just smiled and told me to relax. I almost never relax. After half an hour, I did get a knobfin sculpin, to the woozy cheers of those nearby.

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The knobfin.

A frustrating hour later, I got an Ozark madtom, again to more confused applause. These fish should have taken me ten minutes, and even though there were clearly more species available, I couldn’t handle the riffle crowd any longer.

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The Ozark madtom. They’re called that because they live in the Ozarks.

I joined Ben and Tyler up on the bridge, but there were a lot of people jumping into the river, from the exact spot where we wanted to fish. Tyler told me to be patient and set me up with a small jig. I cast the rocks repeatedly, hoping for an Ozark bass, which is a rock bass relative supposed to be quite common in the area. Ben caught one. Tyler caught one. I got nothing but endless longear sunfish and a headache from some moron yelling “Woohoooo! Party!”

We went back down to the riffle for a while, and with Tyler’s guidance, I pulled up another new species – the duskystripe shiner.

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Hey, it’s a species.

Ben was getting plenty of fish as well, but I could tell the fracas was wearing on him also – but let’s face it, they had just as much right to be there as we did. Slowly, the light shifted into evening, and the youngsters either ran out of beer or passed out in the bushes, and we could finally fish a bit more seriously. Back up on the bridge, I kept casting jigs into the rocks. Fish started jumping and feeding more actively. Redhorses started coming into the shallows, and even thought they wouldn’t bite, it was great to have some peace and quiet. Ben managed to catch the biggest striped shiner I have ever seen.

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The striped shiner that ate Godzilla.

Moments afterward, I got a solid hit and reeled up an Ozark bass. We were some 15 feet above the water, and it seemed to take forever to handline it over the rail – but I got it. That was six for the day, so it was worth dealing with the madness.

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The Ozark bass. They’re called that because they live in Ozarks. On a side note, I might have overcelebrated this one.

Ben reminded us that we had one more species to catch – a madtom that was supposed to come out after dark. I was hungry and out of Red Bull, but I refused to eat Ben’s healthy offerings. Malnourished and uncaffeinated, I stuck it out until around 10, when I got a small, sneaky bite and landed a beautiful checkered madtom – species seven to close out a great day.

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They look a lot like the bumblebee catfish of Southeast Asia, but they are distant cousins at most.

Past midnight, we checked into some sort of Motel Fungus just across the border into Arkansas. If I could get a fish in the morning, Arkansas would be the 49th state where I had caught a fish, leaving only Oklahoma before I would have to start on another list, like all the provinces of Mongolia.

Dawn came early, especially as our motel had failed to mention that there was a railroad line IN THE PARKING LOT. We had just a few hours before Ben and I needed to head north and drop me off in St. Louis, but the guys had a few creeks in mind. I was just hoping to get something. Again, we were limited to small water, but shortly after we started, I pulled in a northern studfish, albeit in a somewhat unequal contest. I was up to 49 states and briefly considered going directly to Oklahoma and getting it over with. Ben shut that idea down very quickly.

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A new species and a new state. The only thing that would have made the morning better would be Taco Bell breakfast.

We tried a few more isolated streams and got one more new critter for the day – the strawberry darter.

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My darter photos were getting better but still not anywhere close to Tyler’s.

We tried a spillway for redhorses, but it was still too roiled for any larger species. We passed a pleasant hour landing solid longear sunfish, and then it was time to hit the road. (But not before one more meal at Dairy Queen, to Ben’s intestinal chagrin.) The two Arkansas species moved my total for the trip to 14 – stunning considering that the whole thing looked washed out only 48 hours before. Best of all, the original target species were still there, providing a perfect excuse for a trip later in the year.

But before I could plan my return to the Ozarks, I was going to have to deal with a looming emotional crisis. In just 10 days, I would be flying to Hawaii to fish with my teenage arch-nemesis, Jaime Hamamoto.

Steve

*And remember that my standards are extraordinarily low – I actually like Dairy Queen food. So trust me when I tell you to avoid Sonic.

 

Posted by: 1000fish | November 27, 2016

Bungle in the Jungle

Dateline: May 18, 2016 – Ayuttayah, Thailand

Call me what you will, I don’t like camping. I feel that deliberately staying outdoors and sleeping in tents insults our forefathers, who fought to give us indoor plumbing and Hyatt hotels. Still, there are times when camping is required, and this would be one of those times. My amazing connection in the region, Jean-Francois Helias, had recommended an excellent river for Thai exotic species, but it would require several days of camping. Jean-Francois, who could sleep on a mechanical bull in the middle of a food riot, is amused by my reluctance to experience the great outdoors, but cobras and tigers worry me.

Jean-Francois had an excellent locale in mind for this visit – the Petburi River in western central Thailand. This is supposed to be a very scenic place laden with exotic fish … and tigers and cobras. It would require three nights under the stars, but looking at the photos of previous trips to the area, I had to chance it. Jean-Francois sent me out with an old friend – top guide Kik, who had fished the area and would take care of all the arrangements. But those of you who know me well know that I must really want to go fishing if I’m going to camp. Locations like this normally offer outstanding fishing … normally.

The day before the big jungle drive. Kik and I decided to fish the Chao Phraya river in Ayuttayah, about two hours north of Bangkok. He figured there were a couple of things there I had never caught, notably the swamp eel. Yes, that’s right – I did a four hour round trip for a swamp eel. If this surprises you, you must be a new reader – welcome! It’s an easy drive on big freeways, and there are 7-11s and McDonalds everywhere, which give me a comfortable feeling of civilization. We got out there mid-morning – it’s in the middle of a big city that’s quite a tourist destination. The place is loaded with temples, which I noticed vaguely as we headed for the ramp.

I have had boat ramps blocked many times, generally by inexperienced anglers who do not understand that there are other boats. These people are idiots and they deserve our sympathy. But I had never seen a boat ramp blocked by … an elephant. As a matter of fact, several elephants. I do not particularly trust elephants – one cornered me on a beach in Africa in 2006, and I can tell you that they’re a lot bigger than they look in zoos. Luckily, the only casualty that day was my underpants.

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Elephants being taken down to the boat ramp. Yes, you can hear their footsteps from some distance away.

In this case, the pachyderms were not wild – they were residents of a nearby preserve, and they were being brought down to the water for water and food. Yes, they smell like an elephant, and bugs swarm off them when they enter the water, but they are still awesome. They are friendly, curious, and I could always hide behind Kik if something went wrong.

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And they have their own built-in snorkel.

After that slight delay, we got on the water. The swamp eel came quickly – we dabbled worm baits in likely crevices, and the action was instant.

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My swamp eel – the day was already a success.

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Adorable.

In the same spot, but fishing out away from the rocks, I got a bite and a spirited little fight. Lifting the fish into the boat, I was thrilled to see a tiger botia, one of the largest loach species. I had seen these in books for years, and now I had one on my list.

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The tiger botia loach. Not related to tigers.

The rest of the day passed pleasantly, with plenty of fish and one more new species – the borneen catfish.

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There are plenty of nondescript catfish in the area, but this was one of the identifiable ones.

We also got featherbacks – I’ve gotten these before but they’re so cool that I always put up pictures when I get them.

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With his French accent, Jean-Francois calls these “fizzerback.”

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An elephant follows us up the ramp.

I was up three species and this was before the main trip had really started. Things were looking very good.

The next day, we set off early for the Petburi. Most of the drive is on big, modern freeways – meaning that there are 7-11s and McDonalds. (I made sure to load up on every possible fast food, as I would be existing on freeze-dried camping food for three days.) It was only the last 50 miles or so that were on a rural dirt road, but this seemed to take forever. I was, of course, very eager to go fishing.

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It was a beautiful place, but a long, long road.

Somewhere in there, we lost cell signal, which is the new indicator of whether we’re truly in the boonies. (It was sobering to realize I would not be able to check baseball scores for three days.) I had to admit it was a beautiful place – increasingly steep hills, endless jungle, an occasional glimpse of some amazing bird. The road had a few rough stretches, but mostly, it was just long. After a couple of hours, we started seeing the river, and it was GORGEOUS. Small, clear, and loaded with fish that were big enough to see from the road.

We made a quick stop to fish a riffle and pool. I caught a few small barbs, but the highlight was the one that got away – some kind of huge barb hit a floating fruit bait but the hook pulled out.

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Our first fishing stop of the day.

I was very psyched thinking about the next couple of days. We pulled into the camp – a platform on the back of a local villager’s hut –  and I raced to get my stuff unpacked and my rigs ready. I stared balefully at the tarp-covered tent where I would sleep, or not, for the next three nights.

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The platform might keep cobras away, but that’s an easy jump for a tiger.

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There were puppies. I like puppies, but so do cobras and tigers.

Just when all seemed right in the world, the skies darkened, thunder roared, and it began pouring in that tropical way that it only can in the tropics. It did this for about four hours, and I sat forlornly under the tarp watching the river rise and cloud up. Hopefully, it would settle out just as quickly. As soon as the storm tailed off into a steady drizzle, which was about an hour before sunset, I went down to the river and fished some of the edges. Although the water was depressingly murky, I scraped up one new species, which goes by the catchy Latin name of Opsarius koratensis.

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An Opsarius. Collect them all!

I gave up as it got dark, as the tigers and cobras would be stirring. I joined Kik back up at the tents and ate one of my freeze-dried camping meals – chili and macaroni is a favorite. This is when I had to face sleeping in a tent in the middle of a jungle that never quite cools off at night. Kik had gotten me a first class tent and an air mattress, but the temperature and humidity hovered over 90. I could open the vents on the tent, but I certainly wasn’t sleeping outside with the insects – and cobras and tigers. This meant that inside of the tent got rather sweaty and I felt exactly like the inside of a steamed dumpling. No matter how much benadryl I took, I never really dozed off that well, so I was wiped out by the next morning. Luckily, I brought lots of Red Bull.

I was still half asleep when we met our guides – very nice local guys with the typical Thai homemade narrow wooden boats, powered with outboards that feature a very long prop shaft.

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The standard Thai fishing boat.

Nothing wakes a person up like a solid dose of terror, and that was next. The Petburi is a narrow mountain river with a steep grade, and that means lots of rapids. As we motored up to the first set of impassable, roaring whitewater, I presumed that we were out of river and would stop there. But no. They sped up, motors roaring so loudly that I couldn’t hear myself scream.

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Yes, they drove a boat up this with no warning.

One guy sat in the front – the “goalie” – and used a pole to deflect rocks and direct the motorman, who kept the throttle floored as I held on in sphincter-knotting terror.

Click HERE for the video. It’s a bit long, but skip around and you’ll find the rapids scenes. Listen carefully and you’ll hear me screaming like a nine year-old girl covered in bees.

Kik explained it would have been even more dangerous with lower water. So I was a bit grateful for the rain, right until we started fishing. The water, which had come up about 2 feet, was muddy and cold, and this didn’t bode well. But I set to it, and after a few moments, I got some small bites. These went on for some time before I finally hooked a fish, and then the problem was obvious.

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The problem.

These were freshwater puffers – one of the same species I had caught a few years ago in Laos. (See “Shangri Laos” for details.) They are sneaky and have very sharp teeth, and although I tried baits large and small, this seemed to be the only thing that would bite. I would cast out a big bait for a catfish or jungle perch, then pass the time with small hooks catching puffers. I would then reel in the bigger rig to see that it had been cleared off by puffers. This went on for hours. Every so often, I would catch a small barb, but recognize it as something I had gotten at Srinakarin.

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A local barb. These were a welcome relief from the puffers, but I had gotten this species before.

Then we would move up another few rapids, leaving my throat sore from screaming and other parts sore from clenching. Kik cast lures endlessly, but the water was blown out. They figured it would clear in a few days, but in a few days I would be back in San Francisco.

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Then we caught more puffers.

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I did manage to get a zig-zag eel.

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But mostly it was puffers. I caught 83 of them in total.

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It certainly was a beautiful place. But you all know how much this matters to me if the fishing isn’t great.

Toward the end of the day, it hit me that we were going to have to go back down all the rapids that we had ascended.

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Steve gets emotionally prepared to do the rapids in reverse.

More screaming. More clenching. But these guys were good – they hardly ever even hit a rock, let alone spill water on me. (Which made the stains much more difficult to explain.) We returned to camp at dusk, and I ate my REI freeze-dried camping food quietly, hoping that tomorrow would be a better day.

I thought I would be wiped out enough to sleep well, but once the sounds of the nighttime jungle started, I was wide awake. More benadryl, more sweaty tossing and turning, and a really bad dream that Jaime showed up and caught a Caesar grunt. A long and sticky night blended into morning. I told myself that the fishing just had to get better. The guys ran us downstream this time – more rapids but I was too exhausted to scream or clench. We set up shop on a rocky ledge, and the Fish Gods threw me a curveball. The very first fish I caught was a new species – the blackstriped barb.

bungle-new-barb

Go figure.

This filled me with hope, but the Fish Gods often mistake hope for hubris, and the puffers came back with a vengeance.

bungle-puffer-4

Apparently they don’t mind cold, muddy water.

It was approaching noon and I had caught nothing but puffers for three hours. If the fishing had been up to its potential, I would have braved anything, but as things were, the idea of another night in the sweatbox was not appealing. I decided that I would catch 10 more fish, and if they were all puffers, that I would bail out and head back to Bangkok.

bungle-puffer-5

Ten minutes later …

Kik agreed with me, and we hit the road in the early afternoon. The trip was uneventful until I threw my fishing clothes into the tub at the Hyatt.

bungle-laundrry

My clothing soaks in the tub. This strongly resembles a soup my ex-wife used to make, although she didn’t use as many socks.

Of course, Kik and I weren’t going to give up so easily, so we decided to go back to Ayuttayah the next day. The drive seemed quick and familiar, and even allowing for some extra sleep, we were still on the water by late morning. Of course, there was an elephant at the boat ramp.

bungle-onk-4

Their eyes are amazing.

There were plenty of fish biting, and by lunch, I had gotten two new species – the yellowbelly barb and a catfish with no English name.

bungle-barb

The yellowbelly barb – nice fighters on light tackle.

bungle-catfish-1

Pangasius macronema – a smaller relative of the Giant Mekong Catfish.

We spent the rest of the afternoon catching a variety of barbs and catfish – Ayuttayah is a great species location – and I closed up the day with a final new species, the duskyfin Glassfish.

bungle-glass

Kik and friend celebrate my final new species of the trip.

Even though the jungle trip hadn’t gone quite as planned, we had still bagged eight species, and these were eight that I wasn’t going to get anywhere else. I had to write off my two nights in the jungle to experience – if I’m ever going to reach 2000 species, this won’t be my last camping trip. Jean-Francois has already suggested another jungle location for next year, and while I am hopeful that Hyatt will open a location there in the next few months, chances are I’ll be back under the stars soon.

Steve

PS – Bangkok international airport has added some fine dining …

bungle-dq

Oh yes they did.

 

 

 

Posted by: 1000fish | November 20, 2016

The Hengray

Dateline: May 8, 2016 – Ponggol, Singapore

Was Dave’s heng up to the challenge? Could Jimmy pull it off for a third time in less than a year? No one will know until the end of this post, of course except for me and Dave and Jimmy and some assorted friends I’ve already told. Oh, and the biologist who finally figured out exactly which stingray I caught, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. (And as you recall, heng is a Singaporean term for “luck.”)

I had been out twice with Dave and Jimmy, and apart from the fact that they bicker like an old married couple, the fishing had been great. Click HERE and HERE for the sordid details.) In an effort to catch a longtail stingray – one of the last identifiable creatures in Singaporean waters I had not caught – we had stumbled into six new species. (And quite a few nice fish – astonishing considering that I spend so much time targeting micros.) Since I have fished Singapore frequently over the past 20 years, finding anything new is a major triumph – but if anyone can do it, these two can.

It started, as it always does, with a business trip. I needed to be in Singapore for a week, which is not a bad thing. This city-state at the end of the Malaysian peninsula is smaller than San Diego, but it is a crossroads of commerce in Asia, and it thankfully lacks much of the “adventure” that marks trips elsewhere in the region. The streets are safe, the nightlife is vibrant, and it is full of restaurants I know and trust, like Black Angus, Pizza Hut, and Burger King. I’ve often heard Singapore called “Asia for Beginners,” and I believe this is a good thing.

hray-mbs

Singapore at night. Photo taken about two hours before we got on the water. I blame the vibrant nightlife and my vibrant co-workers.

A full slate of meetings inconveniently took up the week, but the weekend was mine. Saturday arrived, and I taxied to Ponggol Marina bright and early, having barely had time to stop at the Hyatt and get my gear. (See “vibrant nightlife” as mentioned above.) Dave and Jimmy were ready, and I dare say they both smelled better than I did.

hray-dave

Jimmy, Steve, and Dave. It was a rough morning. If you’re in Singapore and want to get on the water, contact Jimmy at itsgreat7070@gmail.com or https://www.facebook.com/ItsGrRReat

Dave brought along another friend, Sean, who was certainly nicer and more awake than any of us. (Although roughly five months later, he did something horrible to me.)

hray-sean

Sean displays the painfully good attitude that comes from being young and getting a full night of sleep. He may look nice, but wait until you read what he did in October of 2016.

The fishing started out slowly. It was a bit cool by Singapore standards, maybe 82 degrees, and my small rigs seemed to get nothing but tripodfish.

hray-tripod

These bottom-dwelling oddities are as sharp as they look. There are several species in the area, but I’ve gotten them all.

Dave, as usual, refused to debase himself with bait fishing, and he cast high-speed jigs relentlessly. I sort of have to respect this blind devotion, just as Dave will grudgingly admit that my persistence on the bait rigs is bewildering and yet strange to him. Late in the morning, he got the first decent hookup, a solid Indo-Pacific ladyfish, which was a tremendous battle on his inadvisably light tackle. (The local anglers seem to stick with rods more suited to planter trout than tropical gamefish, yet they seem to land most of what they hook.)

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Dave battles a tenpounder as a 747 makes a landing approach into Changi. The roar of the jets didn’t help my headache.

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Dave’s first catch of the day. These things pull hard.

Moments later, I had a hard strike, and something heavy took my shrimp and headed for Malaysia. As I was using more suitable gear, my fight was substantially shorter, although Dave mentioned that his fish was bigger than mine.

hray-lady

Another Indo-Pacific ladyfish.

In terms of species, nothing much else cooperated throughout the afternoon, and I stayed awake with a steady diet of Red Bull and Advil. We got a few more ladyfish, a variety of snappers, groupers, and sweetlips, as well as several dozen more tripodfish, but the rays would not cooperate. This was especially frustrating because I knew they were there – we had seen some commercial fishermen pulling in their nets that morning and they were positively loaded with small rays. As we got late in the day, Jimmy quietly stuck it out in that same area, and he mentioned that I should use a whole, live prawn. I had switched to smaller chunks, as the rays I had seen looked to be fairly modest in size. Moments later, and well past when Jimmy would have usually left, I had a very light strike – so light that I thought it might have been the bait moving. Then it went again. Breathlessly, I reeled tight on my line and started lifting up. The small circle hook latched on to something, and thus began a fight that was equal parts short, one-sided, and listless. As my weight surfaced, Jimmy swept in behind me with the net and scooped up the small stingray I had been trying to catch for years. We had done it. Jimmy and Dave’s heng had proven itself yet again.

hray-group

Steve, Sean, and Dave celebrate the latest species. Interestingly, or not, the fish turned out to be a dwarf whipray, not the longtail ray I thought it would be, so there is still at least one more species out there for me in Singapore. How the heck did Jimmy know something this small could inhale a whole prawn?

hray-spines

Handle with care, and never, ever, put this in your pants.

I dare say my Saturday night was a touch less vibrant than my Friday. From what I remember, I went face down in a room-service Caesar salad at around 9 and that was it for my evening.

Dave had a interesting plan for us on Sunday. The destination was Palau Ubin, a small island on the north end of Singapore. Dave has a connection there who owns a disused shrimp farm, and these ponds, which flood and ebb with the tide, have attracted quite a variety of species, most of which Dave doesn’t care about, because they are small and do not attack expensive lures. This was the first place I ever fished with Dave, and while I had pulled two species out of the place, we also knew there were swamp eels – these would be the target for the day.

In order to catch the eels, I set up a couple of bottom baits and waited. I immediately had a false alarm – a small barramundi took off with the bait. As amped-up as I was, even I knew something that fast couldn’t be an eel, so I had fun fighting it and then set up the eel rods again.

hray-barra

A barramundi. A 2005 line class record on this species was my first world record ever.

hray-2005

May 25, 2005 – Thailand. My first world record. To be clear, this is not a big barramundi. They had just opened up 80# line class on the species, and Jean-Francois Helias rarely misses an opportunity like that.

While I was still waiting for the eels, I noticed some mudskippers along the shore. Mudskippers, a fascinating creature that can breathe in air as well as water, frequent muddy shorelines in the region and are maddeningly difficult to catch. They will chase baits for some distance, running on their modified pectoral fins, but getting them to bite is another problem. (And when they do bite, they often fall off the hook while you are swinging them up on the shore.) But I had plenty of time, and I worked at it for more than an hour, losing two that were inches from my hand. But finally, I launched one over my shoulder, chased it down, and took pictures. It turned out to be a yellowspotted mudskipper, and this was a new species. The day was a triumph.

hray-mudskipper

This made my day a triumph. And some people say I have low standards, at least until they meet Marta. Then they question her standards.

I went back to the eels for a couple of hours, but they would not cooperate. I recognized that this would be more of a nighttime thing, and I can’t necessarily say I was looking forward to braving the mosquitoes just to catch a swamp eel. As we were getting ready to head home, I broke out a sabiki rig and fished the shoreline for a few minutes. Along with the regular ponyfish and puffers, I got one very surprising fish – a duckbill sleeper. That was two for the day, three for the weekend, and life was good. My lifetime total had crept up to around 1518.

hray-duckbill

The duckbill sleeper. I’ve caught members of this family as far afield as Thailand and Belize. The head is on the right. Look carefully.

And so we packed it in, grabbed some cold sodas for the road, and caught the 10 minute ferry back to the mainland.

hray-p-group

The guys waiting at the ferry dock.

Singapore had produced three more new – if unexpected – species for me, all through the kindness and tireless efforts of Jimmy, Dave, and their friends. I couldn’t wait to return and chase the longtail ray, and I even knew when I would be back – October. But before I could worry about that, I had other challenges to face. The next morning, I was heading out for five days in a desolate strip of jungle in western Thailand, where, I dare say, conditions would be a bit more difficult.

Steve

 

 

 

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