August 27, 2016

Karma and the 100th Canadian species

Andrea wanted to catch a Trout. He asked his dad Stephano to ask me to take him Trout fishing.

Alright, Andrea, we'll see what we can do.

So I picked them up at 5am this morning and Andrea was excited like a kid who wants to catch a Trout.

But on the way, the 4am alarm puts the little dude to sleep.

He woke up just to see us pulling into our parking spot.

A little of a walk later, we were ready to fish. I showed Stephano how to rig up the rods with light lines and small floats. We started fishing.

It took a while for the fish to respond in the early morning light, but eventually a couple of Creek Chub came to bite. Little dude was pleased.

Eventually, little dude learned to cast and caught a couple of Creek Chub on his own!

But little dude wanted Trout. These aren't Trout!

The Trout were giving us a tough time. We searched high and low, fast and slow...and yet they did not reveal themselves. Finally, I hooked one and handed it off to little dude, but he was too excited and the rod was flinging everywhere while he reeled furiously. Eventually, the line tangled with some branches and the fish shook off.

We went back to searching for Trout. It took another hour before I hooked another. This time, I made sure little dude was in an open area and as soon as the Trout was within swinging range, it was swung up and onto shore. It's not getting away this time!

Little dude was very impressed with the beautiful Brown Trout. The fish gods were pleased.

After little dude caught his Trout, I changed out the float and simply cast the bait out and let it drift slowly along the bottom. I've netted some baby Sculpin last year. They were only 3/4 inch long and impossible to even target in the habitat where I found them. But knowing there were Sculpin here, I paid more attention to the rocky areas in front of me.

All of a sudden, I caught a little movement on a rock. Lo and behold, there was a little fish darting on a rock. At first, I thought it was a Darter species, perhaps a Johnny Darter. But the head looked a bit too broad, and the pectoral fins looked too wide. Hm...could this be?

Instead of catching it myself, I called my friend Kevin over to look at the fish, and suggested that he tried to catch it. He changed his rig to a tanago hook while I kept an eye on the fish. When the bait was finally presented, the fish quickly turned and gulped it up! We thought the hook was set well, but the fish came off halfway up to the surface.

Fearing that was the only chance, we frantically looked for the new location of the lost fish. Luckily, we found it again almost right on top of the same rock. When the fish saw the bait again, it gulped the fleck of nightcrawler skin greedily yet again. This time, Kevin made no mistake and we had a Sculpin in the micro photo tank!

But which species was it? Slimy or Mottled? The little fish would not cooperate and we still couldn't determine its identity after looking at it for a minute.

Well, I just have to catch another one to check. So I grabbed Kevin's rod while he started to photo document the fish. I looked carefully at every crevice, every little sandy patch, every moss covered rock, and finally found another one sitting in between two rocks. It took a little trick to get the bait to the bottom as there was a funny little current that kept pushing my bait off to the side. But when the fleck of nightcrawler skin was put close to the little fish's nose, it gulped it in!

In one smooth motion, I flicked my wrist to set the hook and then lifted it out onto the grass. Yes! I finally caught a Sculpin in Ontario!!!

This is a celebratory moment! Ever since I started species fishing, I have been searching creeks and river big and small, and lake shallows far and wide for these Sculpin. I've had zero success for years and years but I had never given up hope. I even spoke to DFO and MNR scientists who collected fish in the past for locations and habitat information...and yet came up empty-handed. A couple of years ago, I saw a flash and a glimpse of what I thought was a sculpin, but I could not identify it without doubt. Then last year, while I was fishing in this location, I was trying to net some micro minnows and dug into a muddy, weedy shallow where I found 3 juvenile Sculpin in the scoop. It gave me hope.

It is even more awesome that this is my 100th Canadian lifer species. I only know of one other person who has caught 100 species in Canada, and his name is Kazuhiro Fujiki - my fishing sensei - the person who nurtured me into a true species angler and a micro fishing aficionado.

Thank you little Mottled Sculpin. I am glad that out of all the species in Canada, you are the one that help me reach the century mark. You and I have been trying to get together for a long time, and we finally met!

Mottled Sculpin (Cottus bairdii) - Species #6hundred3tySomething (depends on further ID of Peru species)...but definitely 100th Canadian species!!!

The pelvic fins are NOT fused into a suction cup, indicating that this is a Sculpin species and NOT a Round Goby. There are 4 pelvic rays, indicating that this is a Mottled Sculpin and not a Slimy Sculpin (which has 3 pelvic rays).

And folks, that's instant karma for taking a child out to catch a fish he wanted to catch. Take a kid fishing!!!

August 14, 2016

2016 Peru (Day 16)

Josh, Joy and I were up early for the 4am taxi. Everything went well and we were on the flight right on schedule. Josh and Joy were off to Cusco while I had a couple of days in Lima before flying home to Toronto.

As I was picking up my luggage in Lima, I noticed Josh's rod case and Joy's backpack came out on the belt. Josh and Joy told me their luggage should check through to Cusco but there they were on the belt. I waited until everyone left and there were no one to pick them up. I gathered their stuff and brought them to the Avianca office so they can be rechecked at the counter to Cusco.

With a slight delay, I headed to my hotel in Miraflores. Originally, I had booked a night at a hostel. But it was getting to the end of my trip and I was needing a bit of privacy as well as comfort. Luckily, I found a hotel room on sale that was located close to the coast. It was perfect since I planned to fish the saltwater around Miraflores for the day. I had already achieved my goal to catch a species on my Salkantay hike. I've caught more fish than I can imagine in the Amazon. The last remaining goal on my trip was to catch a saltwater fish from Peru.

The attendant at the hotel didn't speak English, but somehow he was able to arrange a taxi for me to drop me off at a spot I had mapped out, and pick me up again at 5:30pm.

However, as I got closer to the fishing location, I noticed there was a security gate. The taxi driver told me were were not allowed in. After some confusion, I found out that my intended fishing spot was located inside a private club that required a reservation to access.

Luckily, my friend Steve Wozniak has provided me a back up spot. I was instead dropped off at La Rose Nautical restaurant and my taxi would pick me up from there at 5:30pm.

I had no bait, but I thought it was be possible to find some sand fleas or mussels along the beach. It was too bad that the beach were not sandy but large cobble, and the mussels were small and far out of reach on rocks that were slammed by waves.

I walked along the beach to a jetty where two families were fishing. I saw one of the father had a bag of sand fleas and tried to ask him where he bought them in English. He only spoke Spanish but somehow knew what I was asking, and the only thing I understood from his respond was "cinco kilometer". I assumed he meant the store was 5km away. He saw my rods and must have known I was a tourist (locals usually fish with hand lines). He grabbed a plastic up that was part of the shoreline garbage, filled an inch of it with sand fleas and handed the cup to me. I couldn't believe he was offering some of his bait to a stranger! I offered him a couple of $1 USD bill but he refused it and simply smiled. When they finished fishing, I gave his sons a couple of Kroc spoons that I had to thank them.

I rigged up a high-low rig with 1oz bell sinker and #8 hooks. Somehow, on the first cast, I was able to get a bite on the sand flea!

Giant Blenny (Scartichthys gigas) - Species #629

However, I soon found it was a challenge fishing the cobble bottom in the heavy surf. If I let the rig sit too long, the surf would eventually knock it into some crevice between the cobble and the sinker would snag. If I fish a lighter sinker and let the rig wash in the current, it wouldn't stay in the strike zone long enough.

I caught another Giant Blenny within the hour but then the bite stopped. The friendly family had left and I decided to continue my way to the spot Steve had suggested.

There were a few anglers there fishing with hand lines. One of the younger guys tried to talk to me but we couldn't understand each other well. I fished closer to shore but kept snagging up and losing my rigs. When all the other people left, it was a sign that the catching wasn't happening.

I still have 2 hours until the taxi came to pick me up, so I lingered at the jetty and fished on. Fishing at the end of the jetty, I found a rip current where the bottom was less snag prone and the current was more predictable. I started to get a few bites but I couldn't set the hook into the fish. The sand fleas came back half eaten, so it was a sign that smaller fish were taking the bait.

I switched to lighter 10lb line and #14 hooks, then picked out small sand fleas about the size of the hook. After missing a couple of bites, I finally hooked the culprit!

Chalapo Clinid (Labrisomus philippii) - Species #630

I caught a couple of them, and then caught another Blenny with electric blue spots on the back instead of brown spots. I didn't know if they were a different species so I took some photos. However, the ones with blue spots were also Chalapo Clinid.

The young guy later returned with an older guy who was also fishing before. Perhaps they were a father and son duo. As 5pm, the father catch some much larger specimen of the Chalapo Clinid. It appeared that the larger fish started to bite closer to dusk. I would have love to catch some of them, but I didn't want to be late for the taxi and had to leave.

A parting shot of the Miraflores coastline. The Peruvian engineers didn't seem to think it was an issue putting tall buildings that close to an eroding cliff side. Only time will tell the future of these structures.

I was very happy to have caught two saltwater species from Peru. August is winter in Peru and the water was cold. I'm not sure if the surf was always this rough but by the gathering of local crowds watching and photographing surfers along the coast, it may be a less common event. I was told that summer would offer much better fishing along the coast, and I hope that one day I could return to catch some of the more unique and larger saltwater species that Peru has to offer.

I was originally planning to fish the saltwater for 2 days. However, being unable to speak Spanish meant I couldn't arrange any local fisherman to take me out fishing in deeper water. The surf continued to be rough so I decided to scrap any shore fishing plans. So on that note, I will end the blog on this day.

I loved my trip to Peru, filled with stunning landscape, unique but living custom, rich history, friendly people and plenty of fish species. I discovered a new level of strength and determination on my Salkantay hike that I hope will come in handy as I prepare for my upcoming thesis defense. I made new friends in Hugo, Anthony and Homer and hoped to see them again in the future. There are much that I would still need to experience in Peru, but I vow to learn some Spanish before returning so won't feel as lost and ignorant as I did on this trip.

August 13, 2016

2016 Peru (Day 15)

We planned a day to fish for micros around Iquitos. However, before the trip began, Ben's contact had some business and could not show us some of the good spots around Iquitos. Luckily, one of our guides, Homer, had a free day and he offered to take us fishing. It was Joy's birthday and Josh and Joy decided to skip out of fishing for the day.

Homer was monumental in helping us hire a couple of motorbikes to take us to a couple of spots for the morning, as the four of us couldn't speak any Spanish.

Homer had an idea where to go. We drove down paved road to get out of the city and then went down a dirt road that was more like a motorcross bike track. It was amazing the motorbike drivers can navigate through some of these areas that even a 4x4 truck would have to consider twice.

But we finally arrived at a beautiful little blackwater creek.

There were some Cichlids that I could see immediately. They were Aequidens tetramerus.

There were lots of Leporinus moralesi and they were very quick on the bait.

With the smaller hook, we started to catch some other species.

Twospot Astyanax (Astyanax bimaculatus) - Species #625

Moenkhausia colletti - Species #626 (Still trying to verify this)

I spotted a couple of small, slender catfish on the bottom. I must have missed the hookset 5 times before finally hooking one. They were not shy about biting!

Pimelodella sp. - Species #627 (There are so many similar Pimelodella species, still not sure which one)

There were these tetras that schooled together but I kept missing the hookset. Just before we had to leave, I finally caught one and it was stunning!

Moenkhausia lepidura - Species #628

Butterflies love salt. My tackle bag must still have some salt on it.

We never fished the second spot as this spot was already very productive, and it was getting hot toward noon. We took the motorbikes back to our hotel in Iquitos and parted with Homer. After lunch, I picked up some clean laundry while Ben, Michael and George packed for their evening flight.

After Ben, Michael and George left, Josh and Joy came by to drop off their luggage with me. We ere taking the same early morning flight and Anthony had arranged a taxi to take us to the airport from our hotel. It was better for them to drop off their bags at 9pm instead of 3am.

August 12, 2016

2016 Peru (Day 14)

This was our last day at Otorongo. We had a morning left of fishing. Ben and Michael decided to try for more Catfish species while Josh, George and I fished the little blackwater creek and blackwater pond behind the property. Joy elected to sleep in and took it easy in the morning.

We passed by some of Anthony's gardens on the way to the creek.

Anthony made this pond by damming the creek. When the water level is higher, he would keep more Arapaima in the pond. He only had one in the pond at this time. Aside from the Arapaima, all other fish species occurred naturally. Every few years, flooding would replenish the pond with new fish.

Anthony mentioned two other species of smaller Trahira in the pond that we should target. He called them "Red Trahira" and "Purple Trahira". I fished a small spinner for an hour and only caught the regular Trahira (Hoplias malabaricus). Anthony immediately killed any H. malabraicus caught from the pond because they would eat all the fish in the pond. When nothing is left, the H. malabraicus would cannibalize each other.

After an hour of casting, I switched to small chunks of bait instead and caught the two species of Trahira along the undercuts along shore. They may be small, and extremely beautiful, but they are vicious predaotrs!

Aimara (Hoplerythrinus unitaeniatus) - Species #619

Erythrinus erythrinus - Species #620

We tried to fish some areas for Electric Eel, but found none of them.

Anthony said there were Angelfish in the creek, so we fished with tanago hooks.

We didn't see or catch any Angelfish, but there were a lot of Tetra species!

Bandtail Tetra (Moenkhausia dichroura) - Species #621

Glass tetra (Moenkhausia oligolepis) - Species #622

Moenkhausia chrysargyrea - Species #623 (seems most likely)

Astyanax sp. - Species #624 (In the publication Ornamental Fishes of Peru, this was listed as an Astyanax sp., but no one seems to know which species it is)

We also caught more of these. This one is a confirmed Mesonauta mirificus.

I saw something came up to the surface to breathe, but not too sure what it was. Anthony and the guides said it could be some of the smaller electric fishes. I tried to fish a larger chunk of bait for a while and caught another Crenicichla. We think it is Crenicichla lucius.

Crenicichla lucius

We had lunch at noon and spent the rest of the time packing all our gear.

Parting shot of Yamil and I. He was a solid guide for the past week. He made sure we always had fresh bait, always pointing out new areas to fish when the bite slowed, and made sure to tell me all the species that were "muy aggressivo" to make sure I didn't get poked or bitten.

During our week at the lodge, the water level has been falling. When we arrived, the boat was able to dock at this wooden dock.

A little over two hours later, we were back in Iquitos. Here is our parting shot - from left George, Ben, Anthony's wife, Anthony, Michael, me, Josh, Joy and Homer (one of our guide).

I'll give another shout out to Anthony and his operation, Otorongo Expedition, for the fantastic week. His kitchen staff produced delicious meals and always had a smile on their faces. His housekeeping staff always had fresh sheets for us and our laundry were always done same day. The guides Anthony employed paddled hard in the strong Amazon current, pulled boats over obstacles in the small creeks, chopped through jungles and sloshed through mud, and basically did all they can to help us find new species to catch. As for Anthony, he personally accompanied us each day to ensure everything went as smoothly as possible, and took us to all the fishiest spots that he knew. He expected much better fishing for Peacock Bass and big Catfish, but it appeared the seasons and the water level worked against us on this trip and we never had any wide open fishing. Yet, he spared no cost taking us all over the map to fish. It took a lot of his resources just to provide this great trip for us. Anthony took very good care of us and we highly recommend Otorongo Expedition to anyone looking for a similar experience!

August 11, 2016

2016 Peru (Day 13)

After a whole day of mud and catfish, we decided to change our game and fish a small pond from shore.

One of our guides arrived early to cut a set of steps into the muddy bank so George has an easier way up. Our guide also cleared a path with the machete for us.

We were told to fish shallow water by poking our bait through holes in the weeds and lily pads for cichlid and other micro species. I started with the tanago rod and added a new tetra species.

Ctenobrycon hauxwellianus - Species #611

Josh and Joy hooked into a few Oscars to my right but they had a hard time pulling them up through the weeds. I tried to fish around the weeds but had no bites. I decided to switch spots.

I found George fishing an areas with some lily pad on a makeshift platform that the guides had erected. He said Anthony caught some "Keyhole Cichlids" between the pads. I tried and quickly caught one.

Aequidens tetramerus - Species #612 (we think these are A. tetramerus...still checking)

Cichlasoma amazonarum - Species #613 (4 anal spines and rows of scales extending onto dorsal and anal rays)

I caught another Pike Cichlid among the "Keyhole Cichlids". I'm not sure if this is just another Crenicichla semicincta or it is another species. Pike Cichlids give me headaches.

Josh caught me double-fitting - a tanago rod in one hand and a spinning rod with bigger bait that I was hoping for an Electirc Eel (since Anthony caught 3 along the shoreline!)

I caught a new micro...which I'm still trying to determine which exact species.

Brachychalcinus sp. - Species #614 (some thinks it is B. copei, but I'm not so sure)

Even though it was hot, muddy and sweaty after our morning of fishing, everyone was smiling and having the time of our lives!

We returned to the lodge for lunch. Some of us wanted to fish more, as it was our last fully day at the lodge. We took the boats out and fished in the creek at the lodge.

Before we even left dock, I took a piece of old bait off the hook and tossed it off the side of the boat. It landed in about 6" of water and a fish came up to grab it! Hurriedly putting on a fresh chunk of those "sweet juicy grub", the fish came back and it was a new cichlid species!

Bujurquina syspilus - Species #615

There were some fish plopping on the surface under a tree. Yamil and I paddled over and we found a school of this Pacu species. We're been using these for the past few days as bait (caught in cast net), but this was the first time I caught some with hook and line. They really like chunks of the palm weevil larvae.

Mylossoma aureum - Species #616

Another species were also in the mixed school (plus lots of Piranha).

Roeboides myersii - Species #617

We poked around shallow log jams hoping to find other species of Cichlids but a small Catfish species took the hook.

Pimelodella cristata - Species #618 (I'm certain it is a Pimelodella, and P. cristata seems the closest)

I've caught Oscar (Astronotus ocellatus) in the past in Florida, but it was great to catch one in their native habitat!

Josh and I wanted to try for Catfish species one last time. We headed off for the prime hour just before dinner.

Our last sunset at Otorongo, and it was a stunning one!

We fished from this store (which was not opened at the time). However, there were a lot of debris floating down the river continuously, making the condition very difficult to fish. You can see a huge debris pile floating down the river in the center of this picture.

I think Josh caught an Amoured Catfish from the spot during our 1 hour session there. We decided to move upstream to a more sheltered spot, but only got snagged over and over again.

Back at the lodge, there was a tasty surprise. We called these "Otorongo donuts". They tasted a little like the breading from corn dogs.

August 10, 2016

2016 Peru (Day 12)

We've been trying for Catfish species so much and so hard and the reward had been few and far between. We decided to start early and fish the main stem Amazon River for much of the day.

A beautiful sunrise greeted us.

Close to our intended fishing location, we saw some Amazon river dolphins (Inia geoffrensis), aka pink river dolphins. They didn't jump so the best we got were photographs of their backs as they came up to breathe.

Michael joined me in the boat again today. Instead of the aluminum canoes, we were in a wooden canoe that was very low to the water. It was raining lightly but we were not bothered.

It took us a while to find an area with active Catfish, but we started catching new species of them.

Brachyplatystoma vaillantii - Species #608

A Flatwhiskered Catfish came to play as well.

Then we caught some of these Catfish that looked like the Flatwhiskered Catfish, but they had spots. It turned out the spotted ones were a distinct species!

Zamurito (Calophysus macropterus) - Species #609

It started to rain heavier and finally the wind picked up. Anthony was rounding everyone up as the waves were getting bigger and it was beginning to be dangerous to fish.

We returned to the boat for breafast and waited out the rain and particularly the wind and waves. The tucuxi dolphins (Sotalia fluviatilis), however, didn't seem to mind.

When the storm passed over, we got back to fishing. Instead of fishing from boats, I decided to fish from shore instead. I fished a heavier rod with a larger bait hoping for larger catfish species and freshwater stringray species, plus a salmon rod with smaller hook and smaller bait to pick up some of the smaller catfish species. Unfortunately, although I did catch quite a few catfish, most of them were not new species except this one.

Laulao Catfish (Brachyplatystoma vaillantii) - Species #610

George really cleaned up this day with three freshwater stingray, one of them was pretty big. Michael got the big fish of the trip on this day with a huge freshwater stingray!

We returned to the lodge for dinner and were treated to more breaded Arapaima. Oh so good!!!