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.

Snowman Snowman

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.

Snowman Frosty

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.

jamie-goat

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.

jaime

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.

jamie-malasadas

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.

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Go figure.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The yellowbelly barb – nice fighters on light tackle.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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

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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.

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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

 

 

 

Posted by: 1000fish | November 11, 2016

Breaking Even

Dateline: April 17, 2016 – Dania Beach, Florida

The Fish Gods giveth, the Fish Gods taketh away. But Martini and Val didn’t need to help them.

The giveth and the taketh tooketh place in South Florida, one of my favorite fishing spots on earth. Honestly, there isn’t a lot left for me to catch there. We’re down to some pretty esoteric stuff, but let’s face it, it’s a fun place to fish and I usually scrape up a species or two. Some of my best friends are there – the Arosteguis, for example – and, of course, so is the IGFA. Apart from the fact that the IGFA is just a great place to visit and is right next to a Bass Pro Shops location, they also hold the World Record Achievement Awards dinner every April. This is Oscar night for fishermen – and to Marta’s great dismay, I had managed to win Men’s Saltwater. Don’t act so surprised. That’s Marta’s job.

Marta would probably prefer that I stop bringing the trophies home. Just last week, she looked me right in the eye and said “Aren’t you going to run out of room in the garage?” I told her that I’ll buy a bigger garage. I want to be surrounded with these awards when I get old, and unlike the swarm of cats Marta secretly wants, I know the trophies won’t eat me if I doze off.

This year was the hardest one of the five, but also one of the most special. The first time I won, I was so shocked I don’t think it had sunk in until about a week later.

igfa-weird-place

I kept my first IGFA trophy very safe.

This time, it didn’t even occur to me to try for it until about halfway through the season. Right around the time Santa was making his run to the Island of Misfit Toys, (all of which Marta wants to adopt,) I realized I didn’t have a single record for the season. I sort of figured that the big four-year run that got me to the Lifetime Achievement Award last year should have been enough, which would make sense to all of you who aren’t unhealthily competitive. And this sort of sat in the back of my mind until well into the spring, when a series of fortuitous business trips – Singapore, Qatar, and Australia – put me in the running. Things just seemed to fall into place from there, and I ended up obsessively travelling to a few more places that I thought would produce a record or two. This often comes at the expense of species hunting, and realistically, if I am ever going to reach 2000, I am going to need to focus on the species rather than the records, but I wanted this one and the obsessive nature of my approach to fishing may have helped just a bit.

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The fountain at the IGFA headquarters, Dania Beach, Florida. I want one of these in my yard.

I talked Marta into going by promising to visit a museum or do something faintly cultural, but she loves visiting the Arosteguis, especially Rossi (the cat.) Whether we go out or they cook at home, there is always a meal or two that is (gasp) even better than Skyline Chili, and it always feels like staying with family. We were there a day or two before the event, which we spent doing faintly cultural stuff, and then, on Saturday afternoon, it was off to the WRAA.

Apart from being able to rub elbows with some truly legendary fishermen, where I never feel like I belong, this event has also become a place to catch up with some old friends like IGFA guys Jack Vitek and Adrian Gray. This is the 6th WRAA I have attended, and no, it never, ever gets old. I recall my first one in 2011, when I knew absolutely no one, but now it seems like familiar ground.

igfa-dining

The best-decorated dining room ANYWHERE.

There was one horrible aspect to the event – Women’s saltwater was won by, and it hurts me to write this – Jaime Hamamoto. The good news was that she was busy being valedictorian or something and couldn’t make it, so at least we were spared that pain. But her presence was palpable.

igfa-jaime

They even put her picture ahead of mine.

The specter of Jaime was somewhat offset by the presence of one of my best friends, Scott Perry. Scott and I go back a long, long time, when we both had thick hair and high hopes. He’s been to a couple of these events, and he always keeps Marta from being too mean to me.

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Scott and Martini pose for the camera. Come to think of it, Scott still has thick hair.

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Don’t let her good looks fool you. Marta was probably being mean to me in this picture. And yes, I picked that shirt out myself.

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Steve and Martini. The look on Martini’s face is the EXACT look he gives when he disagrees with your ID on a fish.

Perhaps the most special aspect of the evening, however, was watching someone win the Men’s Freshwater trophy, because that someone else happened to be Martini. We’ve shared a stage before, but it was just an awesome feeling to see one of my best friends add a trophy like this to his impressive collection. I have a lot of fishing buddies, but only one who truly understands the obsessive sacrifice and dedication it takes to pull this off, because he has lived it so many times.

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Martini with plaque, being applauded by Marty and Roberta.

Yes, I got to go on stage and say a few words, but as much of a ham as I am, this wouldn’t be the right place. There were too many people to thank – the guides, the fishing buddies, the Arosteguis, the fish, and even Marta – and then I got back to the table. I did take a moment up there just to stop and look around and remember the moment – these trophies represent, in the humble fashion of a couple of pounds of wood and fiberglass each, years of hard work, good fortune, great friends, and a whole lot of fun. For better or for worse, the eight trophies I have brought home over the past six years, plus 1500-odd fish species, represent my life’s work, and I wanted to take it all in, because tonight was about stopping and recognizing this all, but tomorrow would be about catching the next species and the next record. A lot of people ask me – how much will be enough? I don’t have an answer – I just love to do this.

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They always remember to smile, but then again, they have done this a lot more than I have.

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Marta wonders where in the garage this will go.

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Scott and Steve. He supports placing these on the wall above the fireplace.

The party went on well into the evening, and I allowed myself one night of reflecting on what I had done so far and how fortunate I have been.

But then came morning. There I was, in a gorgeous tropical fishing location with one of my best fishing buddies, so I am sure Marta understood that fishing the whole day was a moral imperative.

The first idea was to head to Lauderdale by the Sea and that fantastic pier. It has such a variety of fish, and there is a Skyline Chili nearby. But the weather was against us – a stiff wind pushed up heavy waves that made things difficult. We stuck it out and got a few assorted oddities, but the usual experience akin to fishing in an aquarium was not to be. Still, it was great to be out on the water with Scott. He has adult responsibilities that I don’t, like a family, and we don’t get out that often, but I was secretly thrilled that he didn’t catch another Caesar grunt.

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A spot-tail pinfish. I can never seem to get the silver porgy, which looks quite similar.

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A smooth puffer. These can get positively huge.

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Like I said, they can get enormous. This one is from Rio de Janeiro in 2004. Interesting (or not) side note – I had thought the black jacket in the picture was waterproof. It wasn’t, which made for a long day.

After a few hours, we bailed out and I nagged everyone into eating at Skyline Chili – certainly not Marta’s favorite, but I paid off Scott to vote for eating there. He’s from the south. He’ll eat anything.

After lunch, I remembered that we did have one semi-weatherproof spot on reserve – a boat launch in Boca Raton that produced a couple of species for me last year. (Details HERE.) Before we set up there, I tried to find a few other spots using iPhone email and google maps, which didn’t go well, but I of course took this calmly and in stride. (Perspective from Marta – “Steve was unbearable, and at one stage, he got mad at us because we wouldn’t park in a towaway zone. He thought some sort of damselfish was nearby and was not concerned with details like walking back to Coral Gables.”)

Despite Marta mistaking my enthusiasm for petulance, once we set up at the ramp, things went well. There is a small park we could enjoy, we had cold beverages, it was a pleasant afternoon, and there were plenty of fish for everyone. We made friends with some of the local folks who were fishing there, sharing bait and tips, and the three of us caught loads of local critters, ranging from grunts to porgies to snappers to triggerfish.

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Marta and her new fishing partner with a keeper-sized mangrove snapper.

Some of the fish were beautiful – the porkfish is one of my favorites. Even though I had caught them before, it never gets old to see something that colorful come out of the water.

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A porkfish. No idea why it’s called that.

As we were starting to wind things down, I got a hard strike and lifted up what I thought, at first, was a wrasse.

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Not a wrasse.

Moments later, it hit me that I had a parrotfish. I thought it was likely the redtail I have caught there many times, but it didn’t look quite right. I sent photos out to a few trusted sources, but identifying this creature turned out to be quite a chore. The scientist that Val trusted the most on this group was on vacation for a couple of weeks, and Martini was also ready to help, but I managed to not send him the one picture that would have made the ID clear. Weeks later, when I finally did send him the right photo, and Val’s connection returned, both agreed I had caught something quite unusual – a yellowtail parrotfish. Yes, I know it has a red tail, but I have learned not to argue with either of these people.

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The triumphant angler with his new species.

Shortly after all this, however, Martini turned against me. We were talking about other improbable Florida species, and the Grass Porgy came up. I informed him I had caught one – indeed it was with him in the Bahamas in 2011. He got that skeptical look he gets, went to my blog and pulled up the photo, and shook his head sadly. “That’s a juvenile sheepshead porgy.” he said. “But it has the v-shaped mark on the tail” I countered. I got that sick feeling, because I never do well in these arguments. Martini informed me that most porgies can have that marking, as they can change color patterns seemingly at will based on stress, moon phase, and desire to annoy me. So just when the yellowtail parrotfish – the one with the red tail – had given me an unexpected moment of triumph, here was an unexpected moment of humility. I appealed to Val Kells, who spitefully pointed out that Grass Porgies don’t even live in the Bahamas.

Well phhhhhhhht on both of you. Now I have one more reason to return to Miami. And I will get that porgy, and the darn Caesar grunt, even if I have to spend weeks on the pier, which doesn’t really sound all that bad.

Steve

PS – just for the record, I have caught a beastly sheepshead porgy. Nyah nyah nyah.

igfa-porgy

Cagarras Islands, Brazil – November 2005.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: 1000fish | October 4, 2016

Greece is the Word

Dateline: April 9, 2016 – Nafplio, Greece

Who knew there was an Oracle before Larry Ellison?

So we went on vacation to Greece, which is not exactly a sportfishing mecca. Don’t feel bad for me – I knew I wasn’t going to get away with going to Kona or Bimini every time. Besides, a trip to Greece had been a long time in the making, pretty much since Marta graduated college, which was at least 12 years ago. She had studied Classics, a major with an only slightly higher employment rate than my English and History degrees, and this means she knows a lot about ancient Greece and Rome. (My knowledge of these places is limited to “The Guns of Navarone” and “Life of Brian” respectively.) At least this would be a chance to add country number 88, and there is supposed to be some decent touristy stuff there. Sometimes, sacrifices must be made. And so, with a few calls and a modicum of planning, we were off …

Despite the best efforts of United Airlines, the flights were on time. We arrived in Athens just as the sun was setting, dropped off our luggage, and headed out to explore. This was another one of these places that I felt like I was walking around in an encyclopedia – I has seen photos of the Acropolis since I was a kid, and here I was looking up at it from my table at dinner. The food was excellent – at every single place we ate. Especially notable was the saganaki – fried cheese – because it incorporates two of my favorite things, cheese and fried.

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The saganaki is on the left. Best appetizer EVER.

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The Apocalypse, as photographed from our table at dinner.

We spent the next day wandering around the major sights – and although I will never admit this to her, it was fascinating to have Marta narrate the locations. We efficiently hopped from museum to museum, and it always amazes me that some small decorative object that sat on someone’s shelf collecting dust 2500 years ago is now viewed by thousands of people every year. I wondered who the person was, who made the pottery, and whether my aunt’s Franklin Mint cat plates would ever end up the same way.

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The Caryatids. They were very popular in ancient Greece.

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Marta and the Katydids, which sounds like a good name for a band.

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The auditorium at the Acropolis. Neil Diamond played here. When it was new.

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There’s a Christmas Card Shot.

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In the military museum. I personally think the IGFA should give one of these away with the lifetime achievement awards.

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In the days before email, they had chain mail.

I did get to say something I have been waiting 40 years to say. We got into a cab to go to the Polemico Museum. The cab driver was a nice enough guy, but he didn’t speak any English. We showed him where we wanted to go on a map, but he responded with a long speech in Greek. We do not speak the language, so I turned to Marta and said “It’s all Greek to me.” I reveled for a moment, satisfied that this verbal bucket-list item had been completed. Marta looked at me and said “You’re an idiot.”

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Beware of Greeks gifting bears.

Day two was devoted to a road trip to Delphi, to see the fabled Oracle and some other ancient stuff that has nothing to do with fishing. We caught up with our new friend George the cab driver, and we headed north to visit one of the most important places in any ancient civilization.

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George the cab driver. He became our buddy and local connection for the whole trip.

It’s about two hours of driving, but the scenery gets increasingly stunning as you get into the mountains.

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The town of Arachavo – the gateway to Delphi.

Then we arrived at the actual site – a place where ancient Greeks had gone to make their most important political and military decisions. As it turns out, these were mostly based on the musings of inebriated young priestesses, but they managed to do fairly well right until they went on the Euro.

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The Orifice at Delphi.

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Standing by the Temple of Apoplexy.

We returned to Athens for the afternoon, and took in a few more sights, including the original Olympic stadium.

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If you look closely, you can see Ryan Lochte firing his PR guy.

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Marta also discovered the jewelry stores. Ouch.

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We became close with Anastasious the jewelry store owner, Double ouch.

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Another view of the Apocryphal from another restaurant.

The next day was the important one. Finally, we got to head south and go fishing. My spots were from an unlikely source – my semi-nephew Charlie. (Details HERE.)  He had gone to Greece with his family last year, and somehow, my sister permitted him to go fishing, often for 10-15 minutes at a time, despite the terrible risks of disfigurement and disease the sport carries. Charlie kept good notes and passed them on to me. This, I will now confess, is the reason I pushed Nafplio so hard.

As we got close to Nafplio, Marta claims I may have gotten a bit antsy.

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Approaching Nafplio.

greece-coast

I guess it was a bit scenic, but I was too busy looking for shrimp to notice.

For three days, I had been good, or at least what passes for good in my case. I had embraced our time in Athens and not tried to fish while Marta was showing me around some of the most amazing ancient history on the planet. But now we were within a few miles of fish, and, understandably, I was a bit eager. I began pestering the driver about bait, tackle stores, charter boats, and a few dozen other details that I likely wanted that very second.

(Perspective from Marta – He was unbearable.)

Finally, after what seemed like several hours but was probably more like 15 minutes, I had rods together and I raced out to the jetty in front of out hotel, which was to be my home for most of the next 48 hours.

greece-n-view

The jetty of Nafplio.

Yes, our hotel had a jetty in front of it, which I may now confess was a key reason it became our hotel. I began with high hopes, even being presumptuous enough to cast out a whole squid on a bigger rod. And, to be fair, the action was quick. Sabikis in the rocks produced a few bites, and then a hookup – a rainbow wrasse – a species I had gotten before but the one that had now put Greece as #88 on my country list.

greece-rain-2

Greece fits right between Gibraltar and Guatemala.

Now it was about species. I cast baits large and small near the jetty and as far as possible, but the only the sabikis produced for me. I got a nice variety of stuff I had gotten on previous Mediterranean trips – see “Yo, Adriatic“.

greece-rainbow

More colorful wrasses.

Marta got in on the action, catching, among others, some planehead filefish. Yes, I have caught them.

greece-m-file

Marta adds Greece to her country list.

 

greece-file-s

See, I told you.

It was getting late in the day when I pulled up what I thought at first was a small wrasse, but a closer examination – and I ALWAYS do a closer examination – revealed I had gotten a Mediterranean parrotfish. This was new, I was thrilled, and I was filled with hope for tomorrow.

greece-parrot

If you were only here looking for new species, you can stop reading now.

On this basis, I finally agreed to come back to the hotel, wash the shrimp off my hands, and go to a lovely dinner with Marta. The town is beautiful and ancient, the restaurants and people are wonderful, and if there were more fish, I might have never left. One thing I was glad to leave, though, was the retsina, a local distillate that tastes like Pine-Sol but worse.

greece-n-hotel

A view of our hotel as I reluctantly headed back for dinner.

greece-street

The streets of Nafplio. Charming, but they could have used more bait stores.

I spent the next day much in the same place, with brief breaks for food and social interaction. I was certain that the Fish Gods would reward me with at least one more new species, but this area has been fished so hard for so many thousands of years that it’s tough to get anything. I certainly had fun – that second morning featured a run of horse mackerel that were decent sized and hit lures, but the species hunting remained thin pickings.

greece-horse

These things fight hard and hit lures. But the area has been overfished for millenia, so this was about it for dignified creatures.

Still, I was on the water in a lovely Greek seaside town, Marta was bringing me salami and cheese for lunch, and life was good.

We made a brief side trip in the afternoon to a few fishing villages down the coast. I was hoping to charter a local boat to try some deeper water, but this just was not to be, pretty much no matter how much money I offered. These guys seemed deeply rooted in tradition, and the tradition seemed to be sitting on benches near the boats.

greece-point

Another view of Naflpio, from the top of a hill where Marta forced me to hike when I could have been fishing.

I only fished a couple of hours on the last morning – I had promised Marta that we would do some touring on the way back to Athens. Here I must share with all of you a bad thing I did. We were in a small museum, and the women’s restroom on the main floor was closed. Marta agreed to use the men’s – a one-seat affair – if I would guard the door. So I let her get comfortable, then started shuffling across the room and mumbling nonsense Greek phrases – “Oikos saganaki souvlaki Acropolis oikos” in my best old-man voice. I then knocked on the bathroom door, expecting Marta to say, “Ha, ha, you idiot.” But she didn’t. She thought I had abandoned my post and let an old Greek guy in. So she timidly said “Occupied.” I said “Oikos! Saganaki!” In a small voice, she ventured back “Occupied.” I shuffled out, mumbling “Oikos!” (Oikos is a brand of yogurt.)

Moments later, she came racing up to me in the museum and said “You idiot! You wandered away and some old guy came in and tried to use the bathroom!” I smiled and said “Oikos” in my old man voice. She actually laughed … after she smacked me in the temple. Speaking of temples, we visited Mycenae on the way back to Athens. (Yes, I know it’s actually a palace and not a temple, but go with the pun here.)

greece-gate

The Lion’s Gate at Mycenae. For those of you who have read the Iliad, Agamemon lived here. For those of you who haven’t, never mind. If he was that big of a deal, Brad Pitt would have played him.

Marta and I flew to Germany the next morning, where we played tourist for a day before I headed into the office and she headed to New York for a business trip of her own. We would meet again in only four days, for a little getaway I had planned at one of the most romantic locations on earth – the IGFA headquarters in Dania Beach, Florida.

Steve

 

SPECIAL BONUS UPDATE – GERMAIN VISIT

Just a couple of weeks before the Greece trip, we were … blessed … with a visit from my sister and her family.

greece-germains

The Germain family – never quite prepared for the camera.

greece-g-kids

Yes, the kids are growing up. Yes, I’ve caught one of these. 

Of course, we did some fishing, or I wouldn’t have mentioned the whole thing. We headed to Tiburon, scene of so many surfperch records, just hoping to get the kids a decent assortment of San Francisco Bay critters.

greece-g-walleye

Charlie chipped in with this solid walleye surfperch.

greece-g-ebbitt

Elizabeth got several jacksmelt that approached – but didn’t quite make – a pound.

And just before we used up our whole 15 minutes, I stumbled into a big striped surfperch – a 1.75 pounds, it tied the current record. Even five years after the run of perch records Martini and I got here, the place is still producing – and there are certainly worse places to spend an afternoon.

greece-g-striped

An unexpected record.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: 1000fish | August 5, 2016

La Salsa Peligrosa

Dateline: March 12, 2016 – Sonora, Mexico

What the heck was I doing in rural Mexico with “Sexy Rexy” Johnson, and more importantly, how had we gotten there without a major navigational mishap?

For those few of you who do not have my blog memorized, Rex “Sexy Rexy” Johnson is an outstanding trout guide based in Silver City, New Mexico. He has helped me catch a number of unusual species and was the indirect cause of Martini wearing an Elvis costume in the wilderness. Twice. Even on that first trip, Rex had mentioned a friend’s ranch in Sonora, Mexico that had a small river featuring several species I would never get anywhere else. He claimed it was just a few hours from Silver City, but knowing Rex, I figured this was somewhere on the border with Guatemala, or even on the border with Ecuador, and for those of you who paid attention in geography, Mexico doesn’t even have a border with Ecuador. The ideas of the species fascinated me; the idea of the trip terrified me – but new species and good judgement do not always go hand in hand. Marta wasn’t exactly thrilled with my last trip to Mexico, (Details HERE) and this place had even less infrastructure, but with my estate plans and insurance in order, she reluctantly consented. Rex and I worked out some logistics on the phone, and like that, it was settled. I was going to rural northern Mexico. Hurray?

It started, as it often does, with a business trip. This one was to Phoenix, which put me close enough to Mexico to make this worthwhile. Phoenix is within shouting distance of one of my favorite pieces of water in the southwest – the Salt River – a place I can go if I am feeling good about myself and want to get really, really frustrated. (Details in “Return to Salt River“) I did an afternoon here before my meetings started, and the river flow, which had been up a few inches the last time I was there, was down a few inches, and the fish just sat there and started at me. Stubbornly, or stupidly, I stuck it out until dark, and I was rewarded with two bites, and one fish – a Sonora sucker, which was just big enough to break the record on that species and make the afternoon completely worth it.

Yaqui Sonora 2

The Sonora sucker. There is no fish you will ever see more and catch less, except perhaps the desert sucker, which lives in the same place.

Yaqui Salt

The Arizona scenery is always stunning, but if you’re taking scenery photos, it usually means the fishing is bad.

Then we had three days of work, which you would find boring. (I’m sure my employees did.) But Thursday afternoon came, and I was off on a long and desolate drive to a town just north of Mexico. It was in this border town that Rex and I connected, ate dinner, and then sacked out for the evening. (Separate rooms, I might add.)

We met a buddy of Rex’s early the next morning and headed in to Mexico.

Yaqui Signs

We go south of the border.

Although I half-expected roving gangs of ruffians to be around every corner, the worst thing we saw was a very aggressive bus driver. Rex’s friend lives about an hour from the border crossing, and we got there uneventfully. The scenery was classic high desert, arid but beautiful, miles of open scrub with mountains in the distance. We reached our accommodations mid-morning – it was a comfortable place, we had food and Red Bull for a couple of days, and now all I had to do was catch the fish.

Yaqui Mountains

Typical scenery as we came to the end of our drive.

The creek itself was the thing of sweaty late night fishing dreams. It looked like what all of us would think would be a perfect trout stream – fast, clear water, plenty of rocks and trees. It was located in a steep canyon so there were shadows on the water most of the time, it was isolated and rarely fished … absolutely beautiful. But what was even more beautiful was the fact that there were no trout here. Give it a rest, trout snobs – native fish deserve a chance to live. Most of these creeks have long since been eradicated by thoughtless cattle ranchers, and only through the efforts of a few dedicated environmentalists have any of these original streams been preserved. This was truly a special place – a snapshot of what things were like before we stepped in and screwed things up.

Yaqui Creek 1

The creek. The seam on the right had about 15 fish in it.

We hit the water at around noon. It was a pleasant day, warm enough for wet wading, and we headed upstream looking for whatever might be biting. The first couple of fish I spotted were micros, so out came the teensy hooks that require a frustratingly teensy fleck of night crawler. The first critter that came up was a Mexican dace. If I only had a bottle of Merlot and some flowers, it could have been the dace of wine and roses.

Yaqui Dace

I should apologize for that pun.

The second micro was a bit tougher – it took about 45 minutes of coaxing, but I finally got one. The photos won’t do this critter – the ornate minnow – justice. It had gorgeous, bright blue fins under water, but I just couldn’t get this to come through on camera. Still, I had two species in the bag, and these were creatures I wasn’t going to see in many other places.

Yaqui Ornate

The ornate minnow.

We continued a leisurely hike up the river, with Rex going ahead to scout out the pools, and in case we encountered a mountain lion. (Rex could defend himself by giving the mountain lion directions back to the cabin – it would be so confused by the time he was finished it would just give up.) There were long, bubbling riffles and the occasional pool formed by boulders or a downed tree. It was these pools that held great fascination for me, for in these pools could be two species that were my main targets for the trip – the Mexican roundtail chub and the Yaqui sucker.

The chub is a close relative of the fish we caught in the Fossil Creek excursion mentioned in “Return to Salt River.” It’s a predator, and I had high hopes that I would be able to get a few on lures. About half a mile upstream, we ran into a big pool behind some timber, and I gave it a try with some small jigs. It didn’t take long. Keeping a low profile behind some branches, I let the jig drift along the deep edge of the pool and four or five chubs raced out to fight over it. I hooked up, dropped, then hooked up again and landed my third species of the afternoon. The chubs were everywhere, they fight hard, and they are more than willing to take lures – pretty much an ideal fish. I saw some that looked close to a pound, which would give me an unlikely world record, but these were a bit more cautious.

Yaqui chub 1

My first Mexican roundtail chub.

We worked our way further upstream, catching dozens of chubs along the way, all the while keeping an eye out for the Yaqui suckers.

The sucker was a bit of a different story. We looked and looked, and Rex finally spotted one on a rocky undercut. It was a beautiful fish, with bright orange fins clearly visible under water, but every time I drifted a bait by its nose, it ignored me. It ignored me like Marta ignores me when I say things like “We should take a vacation to Rwanda – they have huge tigerfish.” So we kept moving along, enjoying the scenery as the sun got lower, and catching at least two dozen more chubs. I kept seeing the stray example over a pound, but these continued to ignore me.

Yaqui chub 2

A chub in spawning colors.

I was casting a piece of crawler under a big boulder when I got a small strike and pulled a fish out of the water. Anticipating another chub, I had flipped it up into my hand and was preparing to remove the hook when I noticed it was not a chub at all. I had gotten my sucker. Everything I had read on this species indicated they didn’t get very big, a la the Rio Grande sucker, and anyone who thinks I’m worried about the size of a species is clearly a new reader. Welcome!

Yaqui sucker 1

Steve and Rex with the Yaqui sucker. This is my 19th sucker species; Martini has the Mountain sucker, which I do not, and Jaime doesn’t have either one.

This was a beautiful fish in a beautiful location, and I was thrilled. I was up four species that I wouldn’t find anywhere else, and the trip had already been a success, presuming that I got home safely tomorrow. Sure, Mexico has had its share of issues, but with everything going on in the world right now, it felt as safe as anywhere except of course my garage, where I can hide behind all the fishing awards and hockey gear. The hockey gear makes me feel especially safe, because it smells like vomit and even a hardened terrorist would run screaming.

We got a few more chubs, and then began heading downstream toward what promised to be an excellent fajita dinner. (Little did I know that my choice to take French instead of Spanish in high school would cost me dearly that evening.)

As we got to the house, we both agreed we had about 30 minutes of daylight left, and we could fish a while longer with no fear of chupacabras. We went downstream, picked off a few more chubs, then got to a lovely pool above a pile of branches.

Yaqui pool

The pool in question.

I approached it cautiously, as it was getting to that perfect few minutes of dusk and I didn’t want to spook anything. That’s when I saw it. In hindsight, I got perhaps a bit overexcited, especially when I grabbed Rex, physically lifted him into a vantagepoint where he could see it, and whisper-shouted into his eat “Holy **** will you look at the size of that chub!!” This one was clearly over a pound, and I was going to get it.

This is where bad planning came into play. I had two rods with me, one set up for micros with a #22 hook and a one pound leader, the other set up for larger fish with a #12 hook and a 6# leader. Moments before, I had broken off the larger rig. Light was fading, and I didn’t think I had time to re-tie, so I just cast the micro setup. I threw it four times, each time drifting it in front of the beast, which just sat there and watched it go by as the evening grew more crepuscular. (Look it up, Cousin Chuck.) But on the fifth cast, when I could barely see the bait tumbling down the current, the fish made a definitive movement toward it. The line jumped. I lifted back gingerly, and all hell broke loose.

The fish took off for the timber, and I leaned back as hard as I dared, but with one pound leader there is very little margin for error. Branches thrashed back and forth on top of the water, and the fish rolled on the surface several times trying to get free. I expected the sickening feeling of a breakoff at any second, but then the fish bolted back out into the open water. It stayed there for several minutes, slowly tiring, and after what seemed an eternity, Rex took the $1.99 net I had bought at Walmart (ALWAYS have a net) and scooped up my fish.

It wasn’t a chub. It was a sucker, and a big one.

Yaqui record

I didn’t know they got this big, but they do. And so I entered an unlikely freshwater world record from Mexico.

There was appropriate whooping and celebrating, but then we realized it had gotten fairly dark and we didn’t want to attract any chupacabras.

Dinner was excellent, except for one minor hiccup. Being that I speak less Spanish than the average houseplant, I misinterpreted the written warnings on the salsa and had a rather bumpy first round. Who knew that “Yo Gringo! Peligroso! Caliente!!” represented a problem. (You would think the skull and crossbones would have tipped me off.) I adjusted to the milder option for my second plate, but this is still the kind of mistake that carries about 36 hours of reminders.

With no Milk of Magnesia around, it was a difficult morning, but I managed to struggle out of the cabin, slightly bowlegged, and get back onto the river for a few hours. The chubs were everywhere, and I managed to up my personal best up to around 12 ounces. They were hitting just about any small lure I could get in front of them. Rex had promised this place was going to be magical, and it was.

Yaqui Chub 3

The sharp-eyed among you may have noticed I am wearing the Devil’s Hole Pupfish hat Martini gave me two years ago. Strange indeed that a hat representing a critically endangered species would give me so much luck, but I believe the fact that I have made peace with the idea that I will never catch one of these somehow pleases the Fish Gods.

We also got several more suckers, in smaller sizes but still in lovely colors. In the species hunting world, there are some who say you aren’t **** until you catch a sucker. So I guess I’m **** in Mexico, which I actually could have told you about 30 seconds after dinner last night.

Yaqui sucker 2

Another Yaqui sucker.

The fact this fish is still on earth is owed in large part to a very small group of environmentalists who have fought tirelessly to preserve the remaining native high-desert habitat. I’ll be publishing more on them in future episodes, so stay tuned.

At about noon, I was seized with one more reminder of dinner, and then we were off on the road back to the USA. The drive and customs went smoothly, although I am told the wrong day can see several hours of waiting time. There were no strip searches or removal of the fenders, and we were back in the US in the late afternoon. Rex and I parted ways there, so I could head four hours northwest to Phoenix for my flight, and so Rex could head “a mile or two” northeast to Silver City. Speaking of historic miscalculations, my drive took me through Tombstone, Arizona, one of our most infamous wild west towns and scene of the legendary Shootout at the OK Corral. (Where Kevin Costner shoots a bunch of local misfits because the director ran out of plotlines.)

Yaqui OK

This is across the street from the site of the shootout, but you could describe almost any corner in a major US city that way.

It’s amazing to think that just a little more than 100 years ago, our society was so chaotic that there was a major gunbattle on a crowded urban street in the middle of the afternoon. Of course, we changed things a lot since then.

Tombstone is also the site of Boothill Graveyard, a monument to both the short and brutal lives led by many in that era and also to their amazing ability to write clever epitaphs, often, I imagine, while under fire.

Yaqui Boothill

The gate to the graveyard.

My favorite marker memorializes one Lester Moore.

Yaqui Moore

“Here lies Lester Moore, Four slugs from a .44, No Les, no more.”

Another favorite concerns one George Johnson, who apparently had very bad defense counsel.

George Johnson Grave Marker at Boothill, Tombstone AZ (8 January

“George Johnson, hanged by mistake, 1882.” Oops.

And of course, a classic that speaks to one of the lowest-budget funerals in history –

“Johnnie Blair. Died of Smallpox and a cowboy threw a rope over his feet and dragged him to his grave.”

After that cheerful little trip down America’s memory lane, I finished up the drive to Phoenix, where I would catch a flight home the next day. Although I could have eaten anywhere I wanted to, I ended up with a small salad and a glass of ginger ale. Fajitas would be off the menu for some time.

Steve

 

PS – A big “THANKS FOR NOTHING” to my Spanish speaking friends, who shall go nameless, except that Marta is one of them. When I asked for simple translations for titles for this missive, harmless things like “The Secret Stream” or “The Hidden Canyon,” I got back suggestions that ranged from “La Comadreja Enferma” to “El Calzoncillos Del Destino.” If it weren’t for Google Translate, one of these might have become the title.


 

 

Posted by: 1000fish | July 24, 2016

Porgy and Bass

Dateline: February 25, 2016 – Yu Tang, Taiwan

When life gives you lemons, throw them at someone. Of course, those of you who have played baseball with me might postulate that I couldn’t hit that someone, but you’re totally missing the point here.

I don’t always get to plan my business trips around fishing opportunities, and it happens from time to time that I get sent somewhere at the wrong time of year, (details HERE) or in horrible weather (details HERE), or where the fishing is just plain difficult. This trip managed to combine all three, but I still managed to catch a few fish. The only casualty was my pride, but if you think this is a problem, you must be a new reader. Welcome!

I like Taiwan. It’s a beautiful place. But I have never had much luck fishing there, and this trip had to be scheduled right in the middle of an especially blustery February. This killed most of the interesting options, like chartering a boat or at least fishing some of the rocky shorelines. This left me with the same choices I had last time (CLICK IF YOU DARE), namely, stocked ponds. Yes, I hear you – dignity, pride, blah, blah, blah. If I had any of those things, do you think I would have fished in the fountain at the Royal Hawaiian?

I was in town for an especially difficult business transaction, one that involved a lot of lawyers and yelling, so in short, I spent most of the week actually working for a living. (You can pick up your jaw now.) But I knew there was a good chance that I would have a day free at the end of the week, and so I went to my go-to planning resource – the concierge. These are the same guys who found me my first Taiwan fish in October of 2014, but I wanted saltwater this time. This took a lot more work than the normal carp ponds, but they found stuff.

After several days of lawyers and yelling, and some excellent Chinese food, Thursday rolled around. My main target was a port on the northeast of the island, but I had several stocked ponds marked on GPS as a backup. My driver this time around was Mike, who not only spoke solid English but was also a fisherman himself. We hit the road early, in steady wind and intermittent rain. Despite the low clouds, the scenery was still beautiful – Taiwan is a hilly, forested island once you get out of the big city.

PB Hotel

Whizzing by the Grand Hotel. I have always wanted to stay here, but the concierges just don’t know their fishing as well as the Hyatt guys.

We arrived at the coast in about an hour, and I could see surf breaking fifteen feet over some of the seawalls. There was no way anyone was taking a boat out, which was a shame, because Mike told me he had done a lot of excellent fishing in this area when conditions were calmer. We pulled up at the port, and I was looking forward to a day of hunting the assorted tropical whatsits that frequent such places.

This is where things went terribly wrong. Just as I was setting up to drop a sabiki between the docks, an impressively-armed man in military garb came up and said something to Mike in Chinese. From the “I really don’t want to translate this” look on Mike’s face, it was clear it was bad news, and indeed it was – fishing was not allowed in the harbor. I did not take this well, and blamed the usual suspects – mostly Jaime Hamamoto.

PB Mike Steve

Steve and Mike, after Steve calmed down.

But we still had most of a day and there had to be fish to catch, so it was off to the stocked ponds – “ditches,” as Roger Barnes used to call them. Mike’s English was certainly better than my Chinese, but there were always going to be some translation difficulties. The first place we got to was supposed to have groupers in it, and I naturally assumed that since there are many species of grouper, that we should give it a shot. As it turns out, there was only one species of grouper present – the Queensland – which I had caught before, but it’s awfully hard not to fish for something when you’re already there. I rigged up my heaviest rod – a reasonable largemouth setup, and had at it. It wasn’t long before my fetid sardine head got eaten, and I then had to deal with the comical mismatch between 10 pound bass gear and a grouper of indeterminate size. This took about an hour, and if I wasn’t in a glorified concrete bathtub, I never would have landed it.

PB Queensland

My third Queensland grouper ever. The first two were a lot bigger.

PB Weipa

Just so we’re clear that I have caught a bigger one. In the wild. Weipa, Australia, 2009.

The guys at the pond also told me there was another fish species in there, which they could not describe except for its Chinese name, so I stuck it out for about another 30 minutes until I got a bite. The fish gave an athletic fight – clearly not a grouper, and as I brought it to the net, I was stunned to see a good old-fashioned American red drum. The fish had traveled farther than I had, but it turns out they are very popular with the locals.

PB Redfish

Who knew? Note for the world record crowd – fish from venues such as this can not be submitted for IGFA records.

I told Mike we needed to hit the next place. We drove about an hour to get to a park by the airport that apparently had a batch of different fish. It was a much less industrial location, right on a beach, and if the weather hadn’t been miserable, it might have been a pleasant place to hang out.

PB Shoreline

Looking down the west coast of Taiwan. It actually looked like a decent place to fish the surf, except that the wind was blowing in around 40mph.

I began pitching unweighted shrimp around the margins of the pond, and was surprised to catch another very well-traveled species – an American Black Sea Bass. Mike recognized it as something often stocked in Taiwan, and indicated that it was one of the better fish to eat. (Mike got a couple of fish dinners out of the deal.)

PB BSB

A familiar species in an unexpected locale.

After another couple of seabass, I got a spirited strike and a clearly different fight. As I brought the fish to net, I was thrilled to see that it was my favorite – a “what the hell is that?” I knew it was something seabreamy, but I had no idea from there – but it was definitely new. I caught several of them, and was thrilled to have a new species on the board.

PB Velvet 2

The mystery beast. A few hours later, Dr. Jeff Johnson emailed me confirmation that this was a Shortbarbel Velvetchin – which gets bonus points as an especially cool fish name.

PB Velvet 1

Steve and Mike celebrate the new beast.

We stuck at it the rest of the morning, and while the weather wasn’t very nice, the fishing was solid, and I got several more Velvetchins and Black Sea Bass.

 

 

PB Velvet 3

Another Shortbarbel Velvetchin.

We were having fairly consistent action, but it was getting past lunchtime and we had another pond to hit. Lunch ended up being chips and Red Bull – I have my priorities. (Besides, this meal has many things in common with a healthy lunch – both are largely carbon-based, for example. Both have a certain amount of carbohydrates. Both have yellow things.) Getting chips in Taiwan was a bit of an adventure – they really do have a “seaweed” flavor, which wasn’t going to happen for me. I ended up buying “Cajun Squirrel” flavor, because it was actually the least frightening choice of the three they had.

Porgy Squirrel

I have no idea what this was about. “Squirrel” was not listed as one of the ingredients. I can’t tell you they didn’t taste like squirrel because I have never tasted squirrel. I hope.

Porgy Doritos

The third choice. I really, really don’t like pickles, especially Gershwins*. And why the heck does a bag of chips in Taiwan have French translations?

Still, these were nowhere near the weirdest chips I have ever seen. That honor would go to some Doritos I found in Japan a few years ago, photos below. I don’t understand what was going on here, and I’m not sure I ever want to. I have researched the heck out of these, and about the only thing I can tell you is that it is NOT what it looks like.

Porgy Dor 3

The best explanation I could find is HERE.

Porgy Dor 1

Their names are apparently Jonathan and Pierre, and the more I researched, the more confused I became.

Our final pond was about an hour north, and the weather started getting nastier as we worked our way up the coast. As we drove along the shoreline, Mike lamented that the weather was not better – he pointed out several more spots where he had caught fish in milder conditions.

The last venue was smaller than the other two, but was supposed to have some very interesting species. The two most notable were the Asian Red Porgy and Japanese seabass. Porgy and Bass. Sounds like a good title for a fishing opera.

PB Pond

I didn’t say these places were glamorous.

The weather was miserable as I set up – nearly horizontal rain which seemed to blow right into my eyes no matter which way I turned. I used a basic sliding sinker rig and squid, and I immediately noticed that other people were catching things and I was not. Stubbornly, I stuck to my setup, and others continued to catch interesting stuff. About an hour later, I got a light bite, and after a few minutes, I managed to hook a seabream – it looked a lot like the pikey breams from Queensland, but Dr. Jeff Johnson astutely pointed out that it was a blackhead bream. I had my second species of the day.

PB Bream

Bream photographed in driving rain.

Encouraged, I continued to fish the squid, but another hour passed while I got nothing and others got fish regularly. It was getting late, and I figured it was time to do a bit of research. I had Mike chat with the guys further down the bank, and it turns out they were using small, live shrimp. Mike organized some for me, and while he was doing this, a couple of the other fishermen waved me down to their spot. Here I was, halfway across the globe, without language or culture in common with these other fishermen, but we were all out in the rain hoping to catch something and they wanted the foreigner to have a good time. I only had about 30 minutes, but the moment my rig hit the water, I got a solid hit and the bulldogging fight of a porgy.

PB Porgy

I loves you, Porgy.*

Moments later, a seabass slashed into my bait and I had a fourth species on the day – rain or not, it was an excellent time, and I owe most of it to Mike and that group of guys.

PB Bass

Bass, you is my fish now.*

I want to give special thanks to Dr. Jeff Johnson of the Queensland Museum – he took time out his day to identify all of these species as soon as I emailed them. Dr. Johnson has been a huge help over the years, identifying dozens and dozens of Indo-Pacific creatures for me and patiently answering every question, of which I always have many.

That evening featured an exceptional meal at one of the best hotels in Taipei – it felt odd to be eating gourmet fare in a suit and tie, when only hours before I had been bundled in dank Gore-tex struggling through Cajun Squirrel potato chips.

PB Hyatt

Smelling as I did, the walk through the lobby was a bit awkward.

Miserable weather aside, it had been a productive day – I had set out hoping to scrounge up a species or two, and had ended up with four. I still would have preferred to fish in the harbor, but I have learned never to argue with anyone who is heavily armed, especially when I don’t speak a word of their language.

Steve

PB PB

Porgy and Bass*

* These may be some of my most obscure puns ever. They are related to the title. A dollar to the first person to figure it out.

 

 

 

 

 

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