Posted by: 1000fish | June 7, 2017


Dateline: November 6, 2016 – Skykomish, Washington

I’ve never been much of a salmon fisherman. Salmon fishing out here generally involves piling on to a crowded party boat, maybe catching two fish, and barfing, whereas a rock cod charter involves piling on to a crowded party boat, catching dozens of fish, and barfing. I get talked into a salmon trip with friends every seven years or so, and while I love to take pictures of the rail bunnies, I never seem to catch much. I have stumbled into quite a few king salmon while steelhead fishing in the Trinity River – these can certainly add an element of excitement to early-season backtrolling, when the weather is perfect but the steelhead are rare. I’d been up to Alaska and gotten the standard kings and squillions of pink salmon, and I got a sockeye in the Sierras about fifteen years ago on a particularly frigid morning with Spellman. My Atlantic salmon is the stuff of sad legend, as it took me about a dozen pricey trips over two years in Scotland, only to get one in Ireland. This left me two salmon species short of an IGFA Royal Slam – the silver and the chum.

Both of these species are fairly common up in the Seattle area late in the year, but this is of course subject to the vagaries of Seattle weather, which vagaries about as much as anything can vagary. Still, Martini and I decided that we should give this a shot before the holidays kicked in and I would be unable to leave the house for fear of missing a rebroadcast of “A Christmas Story” or other festive fare like “Arlo the Burping Pig.”

Yes, it’s real.

Martini and I got talking about a trip, and as always with the Arosteguis, plans got made quickly. November 5 and 6 were chosen, and we signed up with highly recommended guide John Thomas.

Highly recommended guide John Thomas on a sunny day. Sunny days happen every four years in Seattle.

United got me to Seattle on time, which surprised me. Martini was out with some supermodel, so I found a quiet German restaurant near campus and loaded up on sauerkraut, which is always a good idea before you are going to wear waders for two days.

In the morning, we got up to the river quickly – the same waterways that make traffic impossible also guarantee that there are plenty of fish within an hour of downtown. On the drive, Martini broke it to me that the chum fishery was closed – Washington continues to have the most pointlessly complex regulations in the United States. This did not mean we would not hook one by accident, as the two species inhabit pretty much the same water and will strike pretty much the same lures, but this now meant that we would not be allowed to remove a chum from the water, which could make for complicated photos.

We met our guide at the boat launch. I initially thought John was a big, friendly guy, but as soon as he started giving me a hard time about my never having caught a largescale sucker, I decided he was just big.

This is John and his contact information. Spoiler alert – he turned out to be a really good guide, except for largescale suckers.

We set up to backtroll. It was a dark, cloudy, and cold – typical summer weather in Seattle. The silvers and the rain came quickly – Martini got a nice one right away, and I was next up with a solid fish. I was one species away from another royal slam.

Martini gets the first fish of the day.


Steve’s silver. It had started really pouring. 

(I also have the trout slam, with Spellman in 2010, and the bass slam, with Martini on a memorable day in 2012.) John helpfully reminded me that I hadn’t caught a largescale sucker. I reminded him that there isn’t a sucker slam, but if there was, I would have it.

Later in the morning, I had a big strike and a spirited run. John expertly maneuvered the boat to let me fight the fish, all the while suggesting it was probably not a largescale sucker. A few minutes later, a chum salmon surfaced. We anchored near shore, but somewhere in the ritual of getting out of the boat and trying to photograph the creature in the water, I dropped the chalupa. Martini and John were kind and sympathetic, as soon as they stopped laughing.

The Fish Gods smiled on me moments later, and while the catch was unintentional, it counted and I had my third royal slam, as well as one of the more awkward fish photos I have ever seen. Still, I was pleased, and I could relax and focus on species fishing and trying not to die of hypothermia.

We call this photo “Brokeback River.”

You see, the weather was standard Seattle stuff – clouds and rain. But this did not concern me because I had brought my LL Bean wading jacket. It’s green, and it’s from LL Bean, so it is obviously waterproof. Only it isn’t. It’s “water resistant,” which means that it leaks, and by noon, I was soaked through. This is not an ideal situation, and there was no way I was going to say anything in front of these two, as I would be roundly mocked. It was, after all, my own stupid decision to leave a Gore-Tex jacket sitting in the closet at home.

To mix things up a bit, we tried ledgering some worms in slower, shallow water. Very quickly, we began catching what I believe are peamouth, a local cyprinid which had completely avoided me on the July 2016 trip.

Martini caught a bunch of them also. It was a good day, if you had a functioning raincoat.

We were fairly exhausted by the time we got back to Seattle, and Martini and I decided to eat some sort of legendary campus burger which turned out to be just this side of Sonic burger bad. Nursing unstable stomachs. we got me back to the hotel, where I laid out my sweater, which would dry sometime next spring.

The second day featured much nicer weather – we even saw a bit of elusive sun. But the water had clouded up, and fishing was tougher. We still got a few silvers to the boat, which made for great fun, but mid-day, because I have no attention span, I started playing around with micro-rigs under the boat. This resulted in a few more peamouth, and a bigger hookup and breakoff we suspect was a largescale sucker. John was ruthless about this, and began showing me pictures of the many largescale suckers he has caught.

The guys before John started really razzing me. You can tell because I look so cheerful. That IS my cheerful look.

Late in the day, I had a small hit and lifted a curious minnow-looking creature into the boat. We put it in the photo tank, and Martini started thumbing through the Peterson Guide to Freshwater Fishes, as he tends to frequently. Wonderfully, and pointing toward universal justice, the beast turned out to be a longnose dace, a species that Martini had caught in morally difficult circumstances.

A year of suffering rewarded.

To close out the day, Martini and I took turns irritating each other. While I was innocently trying to catch a sucker, I accidentally caught a whitefish. Martini has not caught one of these, but hey, it’s not like I did it on purpose.

Martini gives that exact look when he realizes that Dairy Queen is the only restaurant open.

Moments later, on purpose, Martini caught a coastrange sculpin, which I have not caught.

The beast in question. As if it wasn’t bad enough that he caught it, he also corrected my draft when I called it a “coast range” (two words), when it’s actually “coastrange” (one word.) Talk about adding grammar to injury.

John thought this was pretty darn funny, which I thought was unnecessary and mean-spirited, mostly because I didn’t think of something clever to say. I was ahead a few of species and a Royal Slam, but it had taken an emotional beating to get there. I thought this would be pretty much the end of my fishing year, and with 1630 species on the list, it had been a good one. Little did I know that the holiday season would hold several surprises, and I’m not just talking about my famous Christmas pants. See postscripts for details.



Speaking of barfing, I had the good luck to be invited on an NOAA/UC Santa Cruz deepwater rockfish research trip in November. Captain Tom Mattusch of Huli Cat Charters runs these from time to time, and I got invited partly because I have a bunch of deep drop equipment and partly because I begged. The purpose of these trips is to gather information on deep water species which are normally out of bounds, to determine how California’s Byzantine deep-water closures are helping rockfish stocks rebound from devastating commercial overfishing. I knew I had a chance at some interesting species along the way.

The downside to all this is that we went in November. The San Mateo coast is known for sloppy water, and we were going 30+ miles offshore in between storms. The seas were a steady 10+ feet, and that was enough to make a couple of the graduate assistants go rail bunny for the entire 10 hours.

Steve and some of the research crew. My hat is off to the grad students – while some of them were desperately seasick, there was not a single word of complaint.

While conditions didn’t allow us to fish super deep, we did get to ply some medium depths up to 500′, and I ended up with two new rockfish species – the chilipepper and the greenstriped.

I am the only person my age who grew up in this area who had not caught a chilipepper. 

I didn’t even know these were available.

A big thanks to Tom and the group for inviting me out – they’re a great operation and I look forward to fishing with them again, hopefully in calmer seas.



The perch fishing in San Francisco Bay typically starts heating up in December, but as we are usually busy watching “The Muppet Christmas Carol” and similar highbrow fare, there is not much fishing, especially because I am usually wearing my famous Christmas pants, and I don’t want to get slime on these.

My famous Christmas pants.

However, the day after Christmas – “Boxing Day” to the British and all fans of Muhammad Ali – I was able to slip out for a few hours to Tiburon. I got some of the usual suspects, but late in the day, I had a huge hit on a a pileworm bait and managed to land a positively monstrous Pile Perch. At two and a half pounds, this fish would reclaim that record for me.

I’m sure there’s an even bigger one out there.

And I wasn’t done. On New Year’s Eve, Marta kicked me out of the house for the afternoon so she could visit with some of her clever, artistic friends without me embarrassing her. I headed right back over to Elephant Rock. It was a blustery day, and while I certainly had great fun catching 10 or so assorted perch, there was nothing large or beastly to report. Late in the day, I switched over to a sabiki to see if anything unusual was patrolling the base of the pier. I pulled up an assortment of local kelpfish, small rockfish, and dwarf perch – and then a stunning surprise. I knew the moment I saw it that I had gotten a rockpool goby – a common fish in Southern California that isn’t supposed to get this far north.

A very lost Blenny. Perhaps he was looking for the Jets.

It was species 1633, and was the perfect ending to a huge year. I smiled the whole way home, and met Marta for the wild things that old people do for New Year’s Eve – maniacal party activities like ordering a pizza and building a puzzle and going to bed shortly after midnight.


Posted by: 1000fish | May 30, 2017

Species Wise, Trophy Foolish

Dateline: October 11, 2016 – Male, Maldives

Some species just hate me. The dogtooth tuna is apparently one of those species. It seems to hate me more than spearfish do, and spearfish hate me a lot.

Figuring this out has been a painful and not inexpensive process. This creature, a savage denizen of tropical reef passes, combines the worst characteristics of a yellowfin and a GT – fast, strong, durable, and a dirty fighter. They also live in places that take lots of flying to reach. My first encounter with a dogtooth was off the Great Barrier Reef in 2002, when one unceremoniously tore the hooks off of my Marauder and swam off laughing. The most recent had been on my January 2016 Maldives trip, when they laughed at me some more.

As a species hunter, I advise other anglers to avoid getting focused (= obsessed) on one particular trophy species. If you have to ask if I follow my own advice, you must be a new reader. Welcome! Because as soon as I took another business trip to Singapore and had another chance to go to the Maldives, I took it. I knew there were still a lot of species there, but I confess my heart was not pure. I was mostly thinking about a dogtooth. We’ll blame Phil Richmond – he has caught quite a few doggies while high-speed jigging, and he had talked me through the process and even picked me out some jigs at his favorite Tokyo tackle store. I felt prepared for the dogtooth. No one is EVER really prepared for a dogtooth.

The journey from Singapore to Male is a quick four hours, and my old friend Mohamed Latheef (DETAILS HERE) had organized everything perfectly. The boat was waiting for me a hundred feet from baggage claim, and in just enough cruising time to let me rig some rods, we were anchored.

That first evening, we worked over a couple of reefs and got many of the expected creatures. I am certainly willing to wade through dozens of fish to get something new, because, well, I get to catch dozens of fish. We caught hard-fighting emperors, triggerfish, monocle breams, and others, but nothing new showed up for hours. I got close with a scorpionsfish, but these are disappointingly difficult to identify, and we’re going to leave this one in the “mystery” file.

These things are brutal to ID. Of course, they’re even more brutal to sit on.

It was still great fishing. The highlight, as ungamefishy as this is, was a whitetip reef shark on an eight pound class spinning setup.

Say what you will, they are fun to catch. 

As the sun began to go down, I got a nice consolation prize – a large red-striped triggerfish that would become a world record.

This broke my old record, also set in the Maldives. There is nothing wrong with doing this, as long as you’re ok with the mental confusion of competing with yourself.

I had learned from my last visit here not to panic. We were heading south this time, so I would be getting plenty of new water, and we had four full days. Something good was bound to happen.

We opened the next morning – a perfect, glorious, tropical morning –  by dropping some cut baits into depths ranging from 100 to 500 feet. This is always a crapshoot, as the guides mostly do jigging or popping, but as we headed over some steep dropoffs, I started getting fish. The first one renewed my faith in the Maldives. An odd fish that looked like a supercharged tilapia, it turned out to be a Mozambique Large-Eye Bream.

A species. This is a good thing.

Sometimes, you can just tell something will be a record. I texted a photo of the fish to Martini, and he responded “That HAS to be a world record.” It was. I also caught around 20 goldflag jobfish – they were small, but another new species.

Every one of these I got was between 14 and 15 ounces. I was happy to get a news species, but missing a record that many times was a bit irksome.

I even got an odd scorpionfish, but as I have discussed, these are nearly impossible to identify.

Mystery file again. These things are as hard as plain brown damselfish to ID.

Later in the morning, I knew it was time to get after my dogtooth. This means jigging. Out came the big spinning reel and cue stick rod, out came the eight ounce metal slab that Phil Richmond had so carefully selected for me, on went the 100 pound mono leader. Jigging is exhausting work. It involves dropping the lure to the bottom, then ripping it up as fast as possible while trying to impart some action to it. It seems like a good idea for a few drops, then it gets old, especially because my left shoulder could be used to teach medical school classes on what happens when old people play hockey.

We began in about 200 feet of water, and worked our way deeper. Drop, wait, rip, rip, rip, rip, drop, wait, rip, rip, rip, drink Red Bull. This went on for a couple of hours, as I am nothing if not stubborn. This area looked like it should hold a dogtooth, and I stayed with the jig despite warnings from my shoulder, elbow, wrist, and toes. We could see things on the sounder. One of them just had to bite. I ignored the fact that I could have been doing more species fishing and stuck to it.

The strike was not what I expected. Because the jig is coming up so quickly, the fish generally chase it from below, and often, this means the initial hit is more of a quick slackening of the line. In this case, it was very quick – a split-second of “what the heck?” which was then followed by another split second of loading dead weight, followed by 30 minutes of violence. Finally, I assumed, I had hooked my dogtooth. The fish was heavy, the runs were hard – it tried to stay deep initially, but then powered out ahead of the boat almost to the surface, then ran back 50 yards toward the reef. Remember that this was all done against a Stella 8000 loaded with 65 pound braid, and a Fox travel rod suited to lifting cinder blocks. The fish circled closer and closer, and the captain and crew got ready with gaffs and tail ropes. I focused on keeping good technique and just prayed all the knots held. The leader finally came into view, and well under the boat, there was some sort of large fish just coming into view through the crystal blue water. It was the right shape, and the right size, and with two or three more pumps, we saw it.

It was a shark. My heart sank into my colon. The deckhands fled to the other side of the boat, leaving me and the captain the undesirable job of reclaiming the jig. Although it wasn’t a dogtooth, the shark had been a worthy adversary, and I wasn’t going to kill it by leaving a jig in its lip. And so, after a bit of trial and error that was quite a trial and included a lot of error, we tail-roped the beast onto the deck. We then conducted the “MMD” – “Mixed Martial Dentistry” – wherein I hold an angry 100#+ shark down on the deck while the captain removes the jig with pliers and shoves it overboard before it kills us both.

A fine catch, but it wasn’t what I expected. And yes, it clearly attacked the jig – Mohamed tells me this other clients have suffered similar mixups. Safely released.

After all that excitement, I was ready to do some bottom fishing, and I tried not to think of all the bottom fishing I could have done if I wasn’t jigging. I also noticed that the wind was coming up. This is not always a crisis in the Maldives, as there is usually an island to hide behind, but the runs between atolls got pretty darn bumpy. We anchored up on a small reef near the island where I would stay for the night, and I started pitching my beloved sabikis. Moments later, I got a very awesome surprise that reminded me of how special a place this was.

The sixbar wrasse. I had seen these in books for years.

Moments later, I got an unexpected reminder of Jamie Hamamoto.

Yes, that’s a lagoon triggerfish. Where were these last January? That is our Captain, Abdul Bari, in the background.

I finished the day with what passes for a good light-tackle battle in my world. While trying to catch wrasses on a small sabiki (roughly #18 hooks) I hooked something I didn’t see for over an hour. It turned out to be a yellowmargin triggerfish of some seven pounds. A note to species hunters – I was using P-Line sabikis, which use much heavier leaders than Hayabusas. I love the Hayabusas for small reef fish, but if I had hooked this fish on three pound leader, there would be no picture below.

The world record is almost twice as big as this one. Wow.

By the next morning, it had gotten appreciably windier.

See – it isn’t always perfect here.

We couldn’t jig immediately, which I pretended bothered me, so we did some bottom fishing. My first fish of the day addressed a problem from yesterday. I finally got a 17 ounce goldflag jobfish, my third record of the trip.

That’s a look of relief.

We also got on some shallow reefs, and the Fish Gods smiled broadly upon me. A new species is a good thing. A beautiful tropical species is an even better thing. And a new, beautiful, tropical species that Marta had caught and I hadn’t was perfectly sublime.

A checkerboard wrasse. Marta had caught one in Fiji (DETAILS HERE) and I had lost sleep over this for 22 months.

This is why I do this.

I also got a grouper that looked just different enough to photograph. Another note to budding species hunters – there are DOZENS of groupers that look like this in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Either get a couple of Dr. Jack Randall’s books and learn the differences, or photograph all of them.

A snubnose grouper – species #5 of the trip.

Species number six happened moments later.

A black-spotted sand perch. I am fortunate to have Dr. Jeff Johnson of the Queensland Museum on speed-dial – this family is one of his specialties, and he sent me an ID before I had downloaded the photos.

The next fish wasn’t a new species, but it was beautiful enough to include here.

This is actually a goldspot goatfish – but it’s a rare all-yellow color morph. Or it has liver problems. That’s Captain Adbul again – he was always quietly in the background, making stuff happen.

We finished up the bottom fishing around noon, and the fact we would spend the afternoon jigging filled me with dread. But before this could happen, my light spinning rod got a crushing hit. The bait hadn’t even reached the bottom, so I was unprepared and lucky to hang on the the setup – if I had lost another Loomis, I might have done something drastic, like not told you. It was a long, tough fight, and when I finally got the fish to the side of the boat, I was thrilled. It was a positively huge bignose unicornfish, and I had set my fourth record of the trip.

I’m learning to photograph these quickly – they lose their color faster than mahi-mahi.

Then we spent hours and hours jigging and catching nothing. You heard me. Let’s move on.

The wind woke me up a few times during the night, and when I got up in the morning, the seas were a mess. For the time being, I was stuck in the harbor.

Vaavu harbor – my home for around six hours.

This is typically not a bad thing, as harbors are usually loaded with interesting smaller fish, but these fish didn’t want to bite.

A specialized Japanese rig saved my bacon. Months before, during the “Land of the Rising Species Total” episode, I had purchased a bunch of Japanese bitterling rigs – ridiculously tiny hooks in a sabiki arrangement. I had figured that, at some stage, I would need something like this. And here I was. There were definitely some odd species in the coral around the edge of the harbor, but they wouldn’t touch my regular sabikis or my standard micro-rigs. Out came these teensy hooks, carefully baited with teensy bits of Gulp, and over the next couple of hours, I had added four new species. I grant you none of them were spectacular fights, but they certainly photographed well.

Yellowbelly damselfish. Be prepared – the fish aren’t going to get any bigger in this series.

Sapphire damselfish. If you look closely, it’s small.

Maldives cardinalfish. It’s there. Take your time. This one ended up in the mystery file, but when it is finally differentiated as a new species, I’ll be waiting.

Then I actually caught a fish I thought was impossible – the striped humbug. These are what had caused me to get out the really small hooks in the first place, and they had been ignoring me the whole time.

Wind or not, it was a great morning.

The scenery was amazing – the small spot outside the harbor where it was calm enough to fish was a stunning range of blues and greens.

The channel into Vaavu.

Oh, and I caught another checkerboard wrasse, which I may have mentioned Marta caught before me.

More mystery file. I hate juvenile parrotfish.

Things calmed down after lunch, so, unfortunately, we got to spend hours and hours jigging and catching nothing. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I get it.

We did get a nice coronation trout right before dark, but it was not on a jig and it was not a dogtooth tuna. Stop already.

We opened our last day on a shallow reef, casting cut baits back against the structure. I got dozens of emperors and snappers, and at least ten spotted unicornfish. I had struggled to get one of these in January, and now they were everywhere.

Spotted unicornfish. These also seemed to all be 13-15 ounces.

I did get one new and very difficult-to-handle species – the highly-venomous streamlined rabbitfish.

Do NOT put this in your pants.

Then we spent hours and hours jigging and catching nothing. I am past this already. Really. Or not.

As the day went on, the wind got bad enough where we had to hide in the lee of an island. The fishing had gone pretty much dry, but I stubbornly kept bashing the bottom with cut baits. Just then, I noticed the big boxes of lures I always pack and generally forget to use. I figured I may as well try a few of them – nothing else was working. My first cast resulted in a huge strike that broke me off clean. I tied on a heavier leader and got back at it, and spent the rest of the afternoon catching a nice assortment of groupers, snappers, and emperors. The very first fish I landed was a new species – the whiteline grouper.

While the trip hadn’t produced as many species as the January adventure, 12 was nothing to sneeze at – and I felt strangely vindicated by the success on artificials.

Dual hookup on the same plug. I had done this once before in my life.

We pulled anchor near sunset and set off through the chop to drop me off at my hotel. Just because, I put out an X-Rap and trolled most of the way to Male. We hadn’t gotten anything on the troll thus far, but a few miles from home, my rig pounded down hard. I hooked into something that was quite fast, but I stopped it after just a minute or two, so I knew it likely wasn’t a dogtooth. I quietly hoped until we saw silver flashes under the boat, but the fish turned out to be a black skipjack – still a fitting last fish of the trip.

The deckhands – Imran Hassan and Ali Mia, pose with Steve and the black skipjack.

That evening, the wind got up over 40 – even landing the boat at the hotel was an adventure. Even though my shoulder felt like it was going to fall off, I knew we were fortunate. If this weather had come up earlier, we might have missed quite a few species. Of course, we might have also missed roughly 18 hours of jigging, but we’re not discussing that.



Posted by: 1000fish | May 23, 2017

Sean Stole My Red Bull

Dateline: October 2, 2016 – Singapore

This will be a short and spiteful blog. Sure, there are several new species to report, but the main takeaway is that I had looked forward to a Red Bull all afternoon on a hot day in Singapore, only to discover that Sean drank it. He claims this was an accident, but I – DON’T – THINK – SO. He shall be immortalized in 1000fish as a bad person, not as bad as Jamie perhaps, but pretty bad.

You may recall Sean from “The Hengray,” and I too was blindsided that this fresh-faced kid could do something so vicious.

That’s the culprit.

This all started with the Hengmasters – Dave and Jimmy – and yes, they came through again. We’ll get to that in a moment, but first I have to again remind you that Sean left me with only a stale Diet Pepsi. You would think Jimmy would be more careful about who he lets on the boat, so I also blame him, and Dave. And Jamie.

But the first day of heng didn’t even involve them. Dave was working, and I wanted to go fishing, so he introduced me to Sherwin. Sherwin, as OCD as the rest of us, specializes in chasing the assorted cichlids found throughout the fresh water in Singapore. These range from small chromides, to large tilapia, to some positively humongous peacock bass. He loves casting lures, and we met up one afternoon at an undisclosed location which I will not disclose.

We started tossing some hard baits, and small peacocks showed up in force. The guy knows his stuff. We got seven or eight quickly, and one of them looked unfamiliar enough to photograph. More on that later.

Steve, Sherwin, and the peacock bass that sparked a lengthy scientific discussion.

Singapore is a lot easier to get to than the Amazon River.

We walked up and down the bank, and kept running into small schools of bass. Most fish were 1-2 pounds, but we saw a few bigger ones, and let’s face it, it’s always fun to be tossing an expensive lure that had been sitting on a shelf for five years. (Sure, they make nice artwork, but Marta won’t let them out of the garage.) We passed about two hours this way, but eventually, my deep-rooted inner desire to see what other species were there took over. I pulled out the bag of white bread I carry for such occasions and set up a float rod. Over the years, I have gotten all kinds of weird fish doing this at various locations in Singapore – a few examples from prior trips below.

One of the odd central American chromides that has escaped aquariums and happily gone wild in Singapore.

Midas cichlid. The place is loaded with ’em, and they are easy to sight fish.

And if you know where to look, there are some darn big tilapia. Note – fishing in urban areas can be regulated, so check before you start fishing. They cane people here. (Amusing when applied to rich American teenagers – no “affluenza” here.)

So I had high hopes for our new spot, undisclosed though it was, and the Fish Gods let me do well. I started out by catching a few solid cichlids, which I suspect were melanuras, but if any ichthyologists are reading, I would welcome their opinions. If I could prove this is NOT a melanura, I caught one big enough for a record. If it is a melanura, Marty Arostegui has caught about three dozen bigger ones.

Could this be the same creature I caught in Miami?

Then the hornet tilapia moved in.

Local girls jump into a fish photo. My guess is that they are 1000fish readers, or they thought I was Brad Pitt. Hurtfully, Marta suggested that neither option is likely.

The hornets all very solid – but nowhere close to the beast I got in Miami a few years ago.

Miami – April 23, 2013. Current record on the hornet tilapia, caught with white bread from the Hilton breakfast buffet.

We closed up shop toward dark, and after I went back to the Hyatt, I started researching the peacock. After numerous consultations with Martini Arostegui and Dr. Alfredo Carvalho, the fish was identified as Cichla ocellaris, a peacock not on my list. Only it SHOULD have been, because as it turns out, I caught it with the Arosteguis five years ago. Yes, I know I’ve had a couple of these screwups, but Martini owed me this one after he took away my grass porgy.

Steve with the same species, courtesy of Dr. Marty Arostegui, July 30, 2011.

So Sherwin more or less got me a species, and more importantly, he didn’t drink my Red Bull.

Just to show you what a star Sherwin is, he invited me out for a short trip a few nights later, just to cast for the bigger peacocks. I can now tell you that they are there from personal experience – all it takes is a Pointer minnow and a medium spinning setup, and sooner or later, you’ll get one like this.

Thank you Sherwin.

Later in the week, it was time to head out with Dave and Jimmy.

Dave with a narrowbarred Spanish mackerel. Yes, he used that rod and reel.

We let Sean come along because I thought he was a nice kid, and because he promised to stay in the front of the boat and not bother us. It started out as such a nice day, and I brought along my requisite 7-11 food, including an extra Red Bull which I was counting on to pep me up in the late afternoon hours. Jimmy is a superstar guide – you can contact him at or

We started out with me pitching live shrimp, and Dave throwing jigs. As the air warmed up, fish started hitting, and I got a nice Indian Pompano.

These things are so cool.

Dave got an assortment of stuff on the metal, and for the rest of the morning and early afternoon, I fished sabikis and caught two species, less than glamorous perhaps, but they’re on the scoreboard. The first was the blackspot sardine.

It’s a sardine. It’s got black spots. Not much to tell here.

The next one was a bit more interesting – the sulphur goatfish.

These colorful little fish are found throughout the Indo-Pacific.

We fished into late afternoon, and I was wiped out. But I had that Red Bull on ice, and the mere thought of it had kept me going. Finally, about 4pm, I opened the cooler. There was no Red Bull. I diplomatically inquired “Who the **** took my Red Bull?!” Sean looked up, with those innocent eyes of his, and said “That was yours?”

In Singapore, it is considered rude to kill someone over soft drinks, so I had to accept what had happened in a mature and forgiving fashion, which is hard because I am neither. (Hurtfully, Marta suggested that this is correct.) I loudly made it known that Sean was a bad person and that my afternoon was ruined.

We pulled up to the dock just past six, and Sean, recognizing that my mood had dipped dangerously, sprinted off the boat. He’s fast, and I figured I had made my point. But a few minutes later, he reappeared, carrying four cold Red Bulls and a look of contrition.

Steve forgives Sean and makes $12 the hard way.

And yes, Sean is still welcome on the boat. But I’m putting a padlock on the cooler.


Posted by: 1000fish | April 17, 2017

The Thing in Ben’s Leg

Dateline: September 19, 2016 – Poplar Bluff, Missouri

The Thing in Ben’s leg was there, quietly waiting to reappear. It had been there for 41 days, giving Ben a few hints to its presence and slowly working toward an unsettling outcome. The rest of us had no idea that The Thing was even there. We just wanted to go fishing.

The destination was the Ozarks – the same location as our now-legendary Memorial Day trip. (As immortalized in “The Old Swimming Hole.”) That adventure had rewarded us with a bunch of micro species – something of a miracle considering that all the main waterways were flooded after unseasonable storms. This time, we were hoping for less rain so we could get after some of the major species on my list, like the black buffalo, the blue sucker, the black redhorse, and the ever-elusive paddlefish. Ben had signed up to go with us, even though he was limping a bit. It seems that on an August trip to Peru, Ben dropped a catfish on his calf and spined himself rather impressively. The lodge owner did the right thing by pouring hot water on the wound – hot water “cooks” the protein in the poison. Unfortunately, the water was a bit too hot, so Ben ended up punctured and scalded in one golden evening. Photo below, but if you’re squeamish, you might want to skip to the next paragraph.

Oops. Too late.

In the month since, it hadn’t quite healed right. The doctors put Ben was on antibiotics a few times, so it sounded like he was on the mend. But he wasn’t, because Ben had brought an unintentional souvenir back from Peru, and we’re not talking about the obvious – he has a steady girlfriend. Get your mind out of the gutter.

This time, I drove myself from St. Louis to Poplar Bluff. It’s a few hours, but I had an iPod full of hits from the 80s and a nice dinner at Cracker Barrel – who could ask for more? I would meet Tyler in the morning, and Ben would join us on Saturday. The forecast wasn’t perfect, but it didn’t look disastrous, so I was thrilled. is a free site, and around 10pm, it proved again that you get what you pay for. Without warning, the skies opened up into an old-fashioned, all-night deluge. I settled in to the Holiday Inn, got on the internet, and watched the water levels rise at almost every place I had wanted to fish. The Fish Gods were making it known that they were in charge.

Still, I was here and I was going to find something to catch.

Tyler and I met early the next day at Taco Bell, for a marvelous breakfast and a strategy session.

Taco Bell breakfast is awesome. Nutrition? Digestibility? This is a fishing trip, people!

Of course, the unexpected rain had messed up the main rivers we wanted to fish, so we were going to have to scramble for smaller, clearer waterways. We headed about an hour away to the Current River watershed, and started working through some of the Tyler’s spots – this is a large inventory, as he has apparently fished in just about every body of water in the state at just about every water level and just about every season. He brought his girlfriend along, and she had the best line of the trip early on that first morning. When I opened my breakfast Red Bull, she turned around and said “That stuff smells like the breath of someone in a diabetic coma.” Wow. This needs to be their next marketing slogan.

Things started quietly in a small creek – narrow enough to jump across. In just a few minutes, we micro-fished up both a redbelly dace and a fantail darter.

The Redbelly dace. This passes for exciting in my world.

The fantail darter. Photo by Tyler Goodale.

We moved around the Current River area quite a bit. It hadn’t clouded up too badly, but the water was higher than Tyler wanted it, and he kept us going spot to spot looking for the fish he knew were there.

The Current River, Southern Missouri.

One by one, we started picking up small species. They all count the same on the scoreboard, and with high water, I was happy to be getting a few new ones.

The bigeye chub. But even with that big eye, it didn’t see me coming.

The Carmine shiner. Bizet’s favorite fish.

The telescope shiner. Yet I saw it with the naked eye.

Improbably, I had tacked on five species, and the total weight of all five wouldn’t tip the scales on a medium Red Bull. We headed for a bridge where Tyler had seen shadow bass and some assorted redhorses, and we finished the day there.

The shadow bass was quick. Now all I need is a Roanoke Bass to complete the Ambloplites genus.

I also caught one of those huge striped shiners. Yes, that’s a shiner, not a tuna.

I was up to six species – a good day by any measure. Tyler added a lot of interesting asides about the local fauna – his ability to name birds by their call still astonishes me. I am also unsurprised to report that Tyler’s luck with snakes finally ran out during the summer, and he got nailed by a cottonmouth. The good news is that it eventually healed, but if you are squeamish, you might want to skip the next photo.

Oops. Too late.

The next day, we connected with Ben bright and early and started heading off to a few of the locations they had scoped out. Ben was limping a bit – his leg was still sore from the Peru debacle – but we didn’t think much more of it. There was fishing to do. Or at least there would have been fishing to do if the water wasn’t high and muddy. We drove for hours and tried some classic spots, but the water was just blown out. As my old steelhead guide Ed Trujillo used to say “Too thick to drink, too thin to plough.” This put me in a foul mood.

Tyler tries to find worms or bury his head in the sand, I forget which. Note the water conditions behind him.

We finished the evening back at Wappapello dam, one of Tyler’s home locations.

Wappapello. A beautiful place, but the water needed to be five feet lower.

We got a few of the local critters, including a nice longnose gar, but none of the rare stuff wanted to bite.

Someday, I am going to get a paddlefish. Someday.

Ben’s limp had gotten worse, although he never said a thing. But that spine was in there, its barbed edges working its way through his calf. Still, he kept it to himself – an example of the “Don’t Ask / Cantrell” policy.

On the Sunday, our first task was a fool’s errand – pursue the creek chubsuckers in Poplar Bluff. Better known as creek chub****ers, these vile little fish flit about in plain view but refuse to bite. As long as you are stealthy, they will wander around a shallow pool right in front of you, nibbling toward your micro-bait, then spooking for no reason, then coming millimeters from your bait and needlessly changing directions. These fish are God’s punishment on microfishermen, and I am convinced the creeks in hell are full of them.

Ben and I both found small schools of them and set to it. This involves creeping up to the stream, then fishing from a prone position for a long time. Remember that this is in a public park, and people will point and stare and make unkind comments.

Steve and Ben pursue the creek chub****ers.

We put in a solid couple of hours on this with no success, and I discovered that the grass where I had bedded down hosted some sort of biting insect. Now and then I would hear Ben whisper an expletive as a fish came close to his bait. But then, around 10, I heard Ben in his outdoor voice – “I got one! I GOT ONE!!” I jumped up, and Ben indeed had gotten a creek chub****er. I picked his brain for what he had been doing, which depressingly turned out to be pretty much what I had been doing all along. I returned to my spot, and the guys knew I might be there all day. I became one with the chub****ers, as they grazed around the hole like a herd of playful but sadistic sheep. My entire world became four by six feet and 18 inches deep, and biting insects be damned, I just kept easing that teensy hook as close as possible to the nose of the hungriest-looking fish I could see.

90 minutes later, just as the cramps got really bad, one of the chub****ers drifted right up to my bait, examined it, backed up, eased forward, and ever-so-gently slurped it up. My reactions, honed by several hours of itchy frustration, were jungle-cat quick, and I snatched the poor thing out of the water, over my head, and onto the bank five feet behind me. I tried to stand in primal triumph, but my buttocks and both feet were asleep, so I staggered around a moment before taking the requisite selfies.

This fish is one of THE microfishing trophies, and I can see why.

The best thing about catching one is never having to face fishing for them again.

Ben and Tyler were both pleased, and we could finally head over to Big Creek at Sam A. Baker State Park, which apparently was loaded with much more cooperative species. Ben had talked about this place quite a bit, and was looking very forward to giving it a try. This is a spot I will remember forever – it seemed like every few yards held a different structure and a different set of species. We set up our gear and waded wet on a beautiful late summer day.

The steelcolor shiner was the first new one – this fish stayed in the faster-moving areas, so it was tough to present a small bait.

One of the more attractive shiners.

Moving upstream, Tyler spotted some whitetail shiners. This species tends to dart in to feed for a moment and then disappear. Tyler did a skillful job of stirring up sediment to keep them interested, and then, after fending off a few sunfish, I got one. After the chub****er, it all seemed like a bonus.

Note the white spots on the base of the tail.

While we were getting the whitetails, I noticed some relatively larger fish had come into view. In a moment when the surface got perfectly still, they came into focus. They were Logperch – the largest of the darter species, and one of the most beautiful. Most midwestern fishermen have gotten one, and this was my big chance. They spooked. Tyler told me to sit still, and magically, they came back. We had gone through a few cycles of this when I hooked my first one, and my day seemed complete.

I had seen these for years. It was great to finally catch one.

The triumphant anglers.

Ben was having a good day as well – he had added a gilt darter, which meant that I spent the next couple of hours trying to catch one. Unsuccessfully.

Ben’s gilt darter. I forgive him.

It was getting late in the day when Tyler pointed out another fish ahead of us in the shallows. “Ozark chubs.” he said. The fish were four inches long and 15 feet away. How does he do that? But a few casts later, I had my fifth and final species of the day.

Species #11 for the trip. Ben also got one.

I tried for redhorse as it got late, and while I got a beautiful northern hogsucker, that was it for the afternoon.

Northern hogsuckers are cool. The Hoover company should pay royalties to this fish.

It had been an unexpectedly great day. We said our goodbyes in the parking lot; Ben and The Thing in his leg headed north for home, Tyler and I went back to Poplar Bluff, and then Tyler headed out after dinner at Dairy Queen.

A few hours later, The Thing in Ben’s leg finally made its move. He was on the long drive home, still very sore, when he reached down to feel his calf. In what was certainly a horrifying moment, he could feel a sharp point under his skin – on the opposite side of his leg. The Peruvian catfish spine had broken off and had been there for 41 days. He went in for surgery the next morning and had it removed, and he’s been doing fine ever since. And yes, I am about to show you a picture of it. If you’re easily nauseated, you might want to skip to the next paragraph.

Oops. Too late.

On the Monday, I had a few hours to kill before I needed to get back to St. Louis for my flight. I considered a few options, but I knew that Wappapello was the closest and had the best shot at one of the bigger critters I had missed so far. After a hearty breakfast at Taco Bell, I got two dozen night crawlers and headed off to the spillway. I was the only person there when I arrived, and armed with knowledge from Tyler, I set to fishing for a few hours.

Action was quick. Just a few minutes in, I got a good run and hooked up, but it was a drum. Then the bluegill started. And the bluegill continued. But at least I wasn’t snagging up every time like I had in May, and I never complain about catching stuff. I went through most of the morning, and while I hadn’t gotten anything new, I was having a lot of fun. I caught a few more bigger drum – two and three pounds – which stopped my heart because I knew they weren’t bluegill and they could have been a sucker or buffalo. Just as I released one of the sheephead, my baitrunner drag went off and I hooked into what I thought was another drum. As I got the fish to shore, though, I saw it was a buffalo – presumably a smallmouth. I took a couple of pictures just to be sure, and texted them to Ben, Tyler, and Martini. I continued fishing – I only had a few minutes left. Before I could even rebait, my phone started chiming. I kept baiting and cast out, but the phone alerts kept coming. I finally checked it. All three of them were responding with something along the lines of “Holy ****, dude! That’s a black buffalo!!” By the time I packed up, Ben had checked it with a biologist – I had indeed gotten the elusive black buffalo.

Another very lucky moment.

I knew better than to keep fishing – this was a sign that I should call it a day. The drive back to St. Louis passed quickly – the countryside is beautiful, and I had 12 more species to think about.

As of press time, Ben’s leg has fully healed, and the lodge in Peru will not allow anyone to pick up their own catfish.



Bonus Feature –

NPR did a news story on microfishing, and our very own Ben Cantrell was the special guest star –

The Ben Cantrell NPR Interview

For an engineer, he handles the media pretty well.

I have been looking for an excuse to put this picture in my blog. Not sure what happened here, but it doesn’t look like Cora the cat is very happy.



Posted by: 1000fish | April 2, 2017

Big Mac and Selfie Kid

Dateline: September 4, 2016 – Tomales Bay, California

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

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

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

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


Yes, I caught this on purpose.

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


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

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

Because I knew you would ask.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


These fight hard.


Yes, they can bite.


And I got one too.

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

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


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


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

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

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


Mac’s fish.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Meanwhile, the fish were biting.

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

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


Meanwhile, I was catching these.


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


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

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

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

Mac’s first ling of the day.

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

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

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

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

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

The triumphant anglers and a friend.

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

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


Posted by: 1000fish | March 9, 2017

Sweet Sixteen Hundred

Dateline: August 3, 2016 – Tokyo Bay, Japan

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

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

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

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


Mock if you must, but it’s a species.

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


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

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


Aki is pleased about the convict grouper.

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

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


The battle rages.

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


Triakis scyllium – The banded houndshark, Tokyo Bay,


Triakis megalopterus – Spotted Gully Shark, Swakopmund, Namibia.

Triakis semifasciata – Leopard Shark, Tomales Bay, California.

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


Awkward moment with flounder.

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

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

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


This put me at 1587 species lifetime.

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

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


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

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

Yes, he caught that from a kayak.

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


I could eel the love.

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

Jamie has never caught one.

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


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

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


Kellogg’s perchlet. Good for breakfast.

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


The Horsehead Tilefish


Goldbridled Sand Perch


The Abyssal Gurnard. Gotta love that name.

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

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


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


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

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


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

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


The Izukasago Scorpionfish – 10 for the day.


The Western Scorpionfish – 11 for the day.

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


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

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

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


Phil and Steve with their shortspine spurdogs.

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

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



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

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

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


And it was.

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

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


Steve, Aki, oilfish.


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

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

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


Species 15 for the day, 1602 overall.


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

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


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

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



Betsey waves bye bye.



Posted by: 1000fish | March 1, 2017

The Launching of the Stella

Dateline: July 31, 2016 – Tama River, Japan

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

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

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


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

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

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


Phil sneaks upstream.

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


The Tribolodon genus makes it on to my life list.

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

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


The pay pools.

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


A small masu salmon.

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


Phil hides from the camera.

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

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


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

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


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


Yep, that’s fertile all right.

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


Yes, this is a smallmouth bass. Who knew?


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Northern Snakehead – I caught one in Macau.

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


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

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


A wild-caught bream. Safely released.

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




Posted by: 1000fish | February 22, 2017

Land of the Rising Species Total


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

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


A concerned Betsy!!

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

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


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

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

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


A Japanese whiting.

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


The Kyusen wrasse.

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


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


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

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


The six-bar Sand Perch.


Phil and Aki with Tokyo Bay behind them.

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


It’s nice when a plan works out.

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


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

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


Mt. Fuji. Marta wants to hike up it.

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


The Beach Conger.

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


This conger could eat my conger.

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


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

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


Betsy delighted to welcome us back!!

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

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


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

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


Temmick’s surfperch. Who knew?

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


The ma-tanago surfperch.

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


The Brassblotched Rockfish

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


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

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


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

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


Dainanginpo Prickleback – close relative of our monkeyface prickleback.

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

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


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

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


Ooooh, looks like I could use some sleep.

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


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

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


Phil is one of these people.

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

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


Not an eel.

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


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.


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


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.


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:


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.


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.


Captain Aki. If you’re in Tokyo, contact him at

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.


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.


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


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!


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.)


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.


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.


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.


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


Phil, Steve, and shark.


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.



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.”


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.

Snowman Snowman 2

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.


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


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.


The chum. It was nasty.


It was cold.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


A northern pikeminnow. We caught a lot of these.


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.


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