Sunday, January 10, 2010

Fish to catch before I die

A couple of weeks ago, just before the end of 2009, I challenged some fishing buddies of mine to come up with a fish “wish list” under the somewhat morbid heading of “Fish I want to catch before I die.”

I’ve had such a list for a while. It has gone through various iterations, as my fishing experiences have both multiplied and improved through time. Originally, it was just a listing of species, and now it’s grown to include specific sizes, approaches and locations.

Here’s what the list currently looks like:

African Pompano – 20 lbs, plus. A beautiful, mirror-sided member of the jack family, the African pompano can be caught off the coasts of southern Florida and in the Bahamas. There’s not a specific angling challenge I’m trying for here, and not many people specifically target them (or at least I’m not aware of many people doing it). I’d just love to catch one. Lists should start simply. I like this fish. I’d like to catch it. It would make a really cool trophy painting.

Bull Trout – The bull trout is one of the more elusive of its species, mainly due to vanishing habitat and the remote locations in which to fish for it. It’s also one tough customer, viciously taking 10-inch long furry flies as well as the 12-inch-long cutthroat that just fell for your dead-drifted nymph. All of my buddies had this fish on their list too, which tells you something. If you were advertising a fish, you’d want to put the word “bull” in front of it. Bull creek chub. Bull pumpkinseed. Bull shad. I should be a fish marketer.

Chum Salmon – Conversely, not every fish sounds good with the word “chum” in front of it. Luckily, chum salmon also carry the name “dogtooth salmon” which sounds way cooler. Regardless, this fish is on the list because a. it’s a salmon, b. you have to go to Canada or Alaska to catch it, c. I like the way it looks. In its best spawning colors, it mixes burgundy, hunter green, purple, various shades of blue and silver and the big males (we’ll call them “bull chums”) sport a mouth that is pulled back in a hideous snarl filled with menacing teeth. And, it’s a salmon, which means it will fight like hell. I’ll target this one with a fly rod, and hopefully have someone nearby with a rifle ready to take on the big grizzly hiding in the woods behind me.

Dogtooth Tuna – A big tuna with big teeth. That’s pretty much why it’s on the list. It lives in an ocean far, far away … but that just adds to its allure.

Giant Trevally – There are several fish in the jack family on this list, and this one is one of the biggest and best. Brutal takes, explosive runs and toe-to-toe brawling make this one of the toughest fish, pound for pound, swimming. These guys aren’t easily (or affordably) accessible for me, but they do frequent some of the most beautiful places in the world. Ideally, I’d like to hook one on the fly while fishing in the Seychelles, but as GTs live near the Niugini bass, maybe I’ll pick one up while I’m over there.

Golden Dorado – 20 lbs. or better, fly-rod or conventional tackle. God, these are the coolest fish ever. Beautiful violence they create. Complete with a head and a set of jaws that would make any bear trap envious.

Golden Trout – Depending on who you talk to, these guys are loosely related to the golden dorado. Loosely. The dorado grow to huge sizes and have been known to rip treble hooks from crankbaits. Golden trout grow to about 12 inches long and sip wet flies from the surface film. But, it’s a stunningly-beautiful fish found in some of the most picturesque places in the U.S. Think I’ll catch me one someday.

Jack Crevalle – 30 lbs. I know these guys are just about everywhere in the Gulf of Mexico (and, in some groups, considered a trash fish), but despite countless hours of surf-fishing and off-shore adventures, I’ve yet to tag a big one. The shark-fishing guys may use them for bait, but I sure would like to catch a good one from the surf. If I ever get around to building a “man cave,” a painting of a trophy jack has to adorn one of its walls.

Muskellunge – 20 lbs. or better. I hear it takes 10,000 casts to catch a muskie, and I’ve yet to rear back for cast No. 1. While the water wolf is typically thought of as a northern fish, we’ve got them in middle and east Tennessee, as well as just north of the border in Kentucky. It would be cool to pick up a big one close to home. On the fly would be great, but I’m really drawn to the enormous, chewed-up wooden plugs with all the cool names.

Niugini Bass – The toughest fish to catch and probably the biggest “stretch” on the list. They live on the far-side of the world, in the remote jungle of Papua, New Guinea, and are a big-time test for any angler. Known to bust the guides off a rod, the niugini black bass are actually a type of snapper that has made its home in the rivers and brackish backwaters of New Guinea. They eat crabs, fish, small crocodiles and mammals. They eat freaking crocodiles! I have to catch one of these.

Peacock Bass – 15 lbs. or better, fly-rod or conventional tackle. The fish must be caught in South America (no offense southern Florida). It’s probably a result of watching too much “Hunt for Big Fish,” but the lure of chucking wood-chopper plugs into heavy-snagged Amazonian lagoons is almost hypnotic. I know I will do this someday.

Roosterfish – 20 lbs. or better. This morning in middle Tennessee, it’s snowing outside and the wind chill is 8 degrees. The thought of going to Costa Rica and casting big topwater plugs to angry roosterfish sounds like an incredible idea right now.

Permit – Size may be relative here, as I’d really like to catch a nice one on a fly rod. Rightly so, it’s considered a big challenge for a fly angler, as these fish are notoriously spooky and even more fickle than their flats buddies, the bonefish. But, I have to catch one before I assume room temperature.

Smallmouth Bass – I’ve caught plenty of smallies, and they are truly my favorite fish to catch … but I really want to catch a five-pounder from a small stream near my home. Luckily, I live right in the middle of Smallmouth Central, but a fish of this size will not be easy to find, let alone catch (“they’re that big for a reason,” a friend of mine says). It’s a quest. A quest for fun. It’ll happen, too.

Steelhead – Every fly angler who has a list, has this fish on it. Almost every gamefish has its loyalists, but few are as devoted as steelheaders. I’ve got a good friend who travels northwest every fall to target these rainbow-trout-on-the-cream-and-the-clear with the fly-rod, and he’s going to get a call from me at some point.

Striper – 30 lbs. plus. This one is coming. I live in an area that is surrounded by lakes and rivers which support this amazing fish, and I’m sure it will come in time. Ideally, I’d love to tangle with a big one on the fly, but a top-water-crushed redfin is an amazing thing to witness. For now, either approach will work for me.

Tarpon – 100 lbs. or better. I want to catch this one on the fly, preferably while being yelled at by a crusty and over-caffeinated guide who wants to catch it even more than I do.

Yellowfin Tuna – 150 lbs. or better. Just a cool, cool fish and one of the toughest fighters out there. Conventional tackle is probably a must on this one, but I don’t care. Just strap me into the harness and let me go. The pain will be worth it.

It may seem like folly, but I’m serious about this list. True, I’ll need to sell a bunch of paintings – and maybe win the lottery – in order to afford to travel to the locations that hold many of these species, but that’s all part of the fun in it.

Jimmy said it best:

Whether it’s big or small

If you have a passion at all

Just say, someday I will

What's your list look like?

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