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Florida Shiner Fishing – A Humbling First Day on the Water

Written by on May 14, 2018 No Comments

We start our morning at the Quality Inn lobby where we find cereal and milk, tiny pastries, a waffle maker, and eggs which have been cooked and flattened into a round shape to put on an English muffin with a sausage of the same shape.  I go for the cereal, grab a piece of fruit and we’re on our way.

We follow the instructions on Mark’s phone to the 7/11, about 15 minutes away. Not one to loiter in a parking lot without buying something, I go inside with Mark to get a candy bar.  As we come out, we see an older model, white SUV with a bass boat attached.  The boat’s stern has been drilled numerous times and later filled, as if the owner had difficulties deciding where to put his transducer.  The SUV and boat are the only ones in the lot, so likely belongs to Bob Stonewater.  We see a guy in line at the check-out whose face is young like Robert Redford’s but just as well creased. We wait for him to pay for his food, introduce ourselves and are shaking hands with the Bob Stonewater, former pro fisherman and guide extraordinaire.

Now, planning for our trip to Florida took many, many months watching dozens upon dozens of fishing tournaments and fishing shows, each of which was followed–not coincidentally–by the arrival of numerous tiny boxes that rattled or wiggled just like the lures we’d seen on TV.  One particular show on InFisherman showed Bob Stonewater guiding several pro fishermen on Rodman Reservoir using shiners as bait.  And so of course we thought that if pros can change techniques and catch big fish, we could do.

And just in case I couldn’t pick up shiner fishing, I packed two fishing rods and two bags of tackle.

We follow Bob out of town and into the Florida countryside for a little over an hour to what seems like the middle of nowhere. We turn onto a bumpy, dusty road for a half mile to the Rodman Reservoir boat launch, which contains one dock.  The bathroom is a set of porta potties and I use one because peeing in the woods in Florida is a bit more adventurous than dropping drawers in the poisonous-snake-free woods of Michigan.

Bob Stonewater, who before he realized how challenging his day would be.

Bob has his boat in the water by the time I get out, and frowns when I bring on board not only our cooler with some food and water, but also two rods and two bags of tackle. He says, “Aren’t we shiner fishing today?” and I answer with, “Well, there are a few pieces of tackle Mark got me for Christmas that don’t work so well on the ice in Michigan, so I’m hoping you don’t mind.”

He says, “No problem,” though his face suggests otherwise as he places the bags on the bottom of the boat and puts my poles near his. He puts a square boat cushion on the bow and asks me to sit there, while Mark sits on the padded cooler in front of the console. We head off down a narrow channel with thick floating veggies on either side, then out into a large marsh that is Rodman Reservoir. It’s loaded with stumps and floating masses of vegetation, with a series of triangular, numbered signs: green signs on one side of the safe channel; red signs on the other. Bob weaves past a few of these and stops the boat in front of number 60-something, with a dead tree nearby and plenty of floating mats of veggies.

Rodman Reservoir.

The temperature is in the low 70s, it’s calm and Mark and I both excited because we hadn’t gone shiner fishing in quite some time, as in not since the mid-1990s when we’d hired a different bass guide who’d taken us to two lakes near Orlando, neither of which produced big fish. In fact, they didn’t produce many fish at all.

I feel like a kid as Bob puts a shiner on a weedless hook with a bright orange bobber about a foot above the shiner and throws the hapless minnow into the water.   He hands me the rod and says, “All you have to do is watch the bobber. I’ll help with the rest.”

Help schmelp, I’m thinking. We fish all the time during the liquid water seasons in Michigan. This should be easy.

I watch my bobber go left, then right, then back left and under the weeds. Bob suggests I twitch the line a bit to pull the minnow back out so I can see the bobber. I do, and suddenly, the bobber disappears. Bob calmly says, “You have a fish on, so lift your rod and feel the fish.” I do that and don’t feel much of anything. “Now lower your rod and tighten the line, and when it’s tight, set the hook.”

I reel down until I feel tension against the line, make sure my reel is locked down, and yank the rod with my usual great gusto, swinging upwards quickly. I’m awestruck as the shiner and bobber rise swiftly out of the water and into the air in a spectacular arc, past my ear and behind me somewhere on the water.

Fish 1, Amy 0.

Bob looks at me, sighs and says, “That was a big fish.” He takes the rod from me, reels in the minnow, shows me the bite marks on the shiner and says, “And it was a bass. See the bite marks?”

I nod sheepishly.  He says, “ You have to wait for the bass to have the shiner in its mouth. This is not reactive fishing like you’re used to. You have to feel the fish on the end of the line by lifting up the rod.” And he shows me how. “If you feel a fish, tighten up the line, reel down until your rod is horizontal to the water and then jerk off to the right real hard.”

I feel like telling him that at least I’d gotten the last part right, but he seems humorless, so I say nothing as he throws my half-eaten minnow into the water and puts on a less traumatized minnow.  Bob launches the new minnow out to the weed mass and hands me the pole. “If you ever need to put the rod down, remember to leave it in free spool so that if a fish bites it can just run off with it and not my pole.” I nod.

At that moment Mark’s bobber disappears. He lifts the rod tip, determines there’s a fish on the line, reels up a bit, sets the hook with a grunt…and rips the shiner out of the cover of the weeds, leaving it momentarily stunned on top of the water while the bobber goes flying behind him. The shiner wiggles once and disappears into the water.

Fish 1, Mark 0.

Bob reels in Mark’s bobber and repeats much of what he told me, adding something about “how hard this is going to be.”

Mark and I have fished together since the mid-1990s.  We’ve paid guides in Canada, the Amazon, Florida and in Michigan, and Bob is turning out to be the most intense of the guides. But, I think to myself, at least he’s not fishing. Our Lake St. Clair guide had fished all day and out-fished us, all the while telling us our spin casting technique could use some work.  Bob has three lines out and keeps handing us what he thinks is the most active pole.  He says he has no intention of fishing.

My bobber disappears again, and I’m not sure if it’s because the shiner has pulled its way under the floating weed mass or if I really have a bass on. I lift the rod and it feels like a fish, so tighten up my line, feel a little tension and set the hook…only to bring the shiner and bobber flying out of the water again.

Bob asks me to reel the shiner toward the boat, and he shows me that this time, there are no bite marks on the shiner. He says, “That was all shiner action. Next time, wait until you’re sure. You gotta develop the feel for this.”

“Clearly,” I mumble under my breath.

Score: Fish 2, Amy 0.

A few minutes later, the score is Fish 2, Mark 0. Bob adds another shiner to Mark’s line and tells him, “You just lost a really nice fish.” He walks him through the required motion again, then throws another minnow onto the water. He says, “The fish are biting, so let’s get one!”

Mark watching his green bobber…and hoping he doesn’t screw up again.

I’m not feeling confident or chatty and I’m very focused on the task at hand. I watch my bobber head out into open water, turn around and head back to the weeds. I pull it away from the weeds a couple of times and the fish keeps going back into the weeds to the same spot. It’s not super fast action, so I figure it’s a good time to try out my new Megabass Grenade—a large squarebill lure. I mean, I’d gotten it for Christmas, and here it was April.  I throw it out into open water, reel for perhaps 5 seconds, feel something on the end of the line, smile inwardly, set the hook with great gusto, reel and…and hook into a log. Bob quietly pulls up anchor, takes my fishing pole, hands me one with a minnow on it, and I humbly watch the bobber while Bob maneuvers the boat on top of my lure and removes it from the log. I thank him and tell him I’m done fishing with my stuff. He kind of grunts in response.

Mark is sitting in the front seat when he sets the hook on another fish.  Moments after he sets the hook, I find myself unwrapping his line from around my chest.  Bob approaches Mark with a look to kill. He takes the rod from Mark, reels it in quickly and shows him the bite marks on the shiner.  “That bass couldn’t have been any further inside that bass’ body before you took it away from him.” He goes on again about the steps to successful shiner fishing, and ends by asking Mark to please use his arms to set the hook rather than his body, because, “A previous big guy set the hook with his body while sitting in that seat and broke it.”

Then Bob pats Mark on the back and tells him, “You’ll get this.”

Mark stands, assumes ownership of his new minnow and says nothing.  I avoid his gaze because I’m worried he’s not actually enjoying himself.

As I pull my bobber away from the weeds again, I think about Dr. Glenn Pfau, a guy who charges willing governments and other entities a pretty penny to allow a few dozen top-notch staff spend time being broken down in front of their peers and built back up again, all to help improve their communication skills. I’d never suffered through his training—never been told my hair is too long for my age, that I don’t wear enough jewelry (in fact none), and that all my suits are at least five years old–but here I am on Rodman Reservoir getting that same sense of inadequacy while waiting for a fish to bite again.  All I could think about was what Mark said out loud:  “We’re ruining Bob’s reputation.”

“And to think,” I say, “he’s got us for three full days!”

Suddenly, my bobber disappears under the weed bed. Bob is standing by me and says, “Okay, you have a fish on. Raise the rod tip to make sure.” I raise the rod tip, but I’m still not sure I have anything on. It feels no more significant a tug than the shiner. I tell Bob. He takes the rod from me and raises the rod himself. “That is a bass.” He hands the rod back to me. “He’s moving, so tighten up the line, and keep it tightened as you lower your rod so it’s horizontal to the water, and wham!” I set the hook, my rod bends, I hear him yell, “Reel, reel! You got `em! Keep reeling!” I do as he says and am a strange mix of relieved and excited when Bob plucks a 2-pound bass from the water.

The first fish..

“Yay!” we both say. Mark cheers from the bow.

Score: fish 3, Amy 1.

Bob’s smile is short-lived, though, and as he throws the bass back into the water he says, “You lost a bigger one earlier so let’s put another shiner on and keep going.”

Can you say intense?

Mark’s bobber disappears and Bob is at his side in a flash. “Let it go for a bit.” We all watch as Mark’s bobber goes down and comes back up again in open water, goes down and comes back up again. “He’s being chased,” Bob says, “but it’s all minnow action at this point.” The bobber goes down again—just like it had previously—and this time Bob says, “The bass got it!” Mark reels down, sets the hook and…the bobber goes flying behind him…with the minnow still on the hook.

The look on Bob’s face was one a murderer might have before killing its victim. He looks at Mark and says, “That was a big fish. All it needed was a fisherman at the other end of the line.”

Score: Fish 4, Mark 0.  Bob winning, though, due to his amazing comments.

Bob takes Mark’s minnow off, and throws it in the water. Within seconds, an osprey appears above, circles around, circles again and swoops down to pluck the minnow off the water.  This same scene would play out numerous times before the day is over.  I set my rod down to take photos, making sure, of course, that my line was in free spool.

One of our shiners plucked off the water by an osprey.

Bob, meanwhile, has put another minnow out for Mark and as he does he says, “Lift the rod up to make sure the fish is there, then reeeeeel down to where your line is tight and the rod is horizontal to the water, THEN yank real hard.”

“But not using your body,” I add.

Mark nods.

Before Bob says it, I say, “You got this.”

I hear the cackle of either a purple gallinule or common moorhen—not sure which, and study the weeds for a moment.  A purple bird appears, about the size of a chicken with yellow legs and bright yellow and red beak. I put my rod down and pick up my camera and long lens. As I do, Mark sets the hook on a nice fish and reels it in. I turn back and the purple gallinule is gone, so twist off my zoom lens and put on the fish-eye lens to capture a photo of Mark’s bass. It’s perhaps 4 pounds, and Mark is all smiles and so is Bob as I take photographs. I put the camera down, pick up my rod and see my bobber has disappeared under the weeds. I lift the rod, feel nothing–in fact, less resistance than any time before.  Reeling in, I discover my minnow is gone.

“What happened?” Bob asks.

“I got robbed while trying to photograph a purple gallanule and then Mark’s fish.”

“Are we fishing or are we not?” he asks.

Mark says, “She likes taking photographs, too.”

I point to my Nikon 7200 and its 10-inch lens.

“Oh, well, hm,” he says. “Most people don’t know what a purple gallinule is.”

Score: Fish 4, Purple Gallinule 1, Amy 1, but feeling better.

“Okay,” Bob says, “we had a double, so let’s see if we can do that again. But first, we’re going to move to another spot.”

Bob sprints to the bow and lifts the anchor with ease, which is impressive given he’s 70 like Mark, born in September, like Mark, and just a few days older.  He puts the boat into gear and zooms us past a few triangular signs to another spot. He drops anchor, and seconds later, we hear what sounds like an echo of the anchor splash. I ask Bob what the noise was and he says, “We spooked a big gator.”

I mention how when fishing in the Amazon, we had to reel small peacock bass quickly back to the boat, because caiman were often nearby and sometimes pursued the caught fish. He says gators don’t tend to do that. I keep looking around for the big fella and it’s not until later in the day that we see one. It looks like it would measure 12 feet.

Big gator.

While the gators are not interested in our fish, the osprey have caught onto the fact that there are two boneheads from Michigan who have developed the habit of  yanking perfectly good minnows out of the water, into the air, and back in the water again, and who don’t pay as much attention as they should when their minnows are in open water. I say that because as one of my minnows is taking a cruise across open water, an osprey circles over, notices the action of my bobber, swoops down and takes my shiner right out from under the bobber.

Osprey swooping in for another shiner we’d flung around a few times.

Bob is beside me in a flash and says, “You’ll have to jerk that line right when the osprey swoops to keep it away from them.” He throws out another shiner, ensuring it lands near the bed. Like the previous shiner, this shiner heads to open water, and as it does, another osprey circles.  just as it swoops down, I jerk it away, and, for good measure, say, “No! Bad osprey!”

 

Fishing is steady all day, and we eventually start getting the hang of shiner fishing. We’ve each landed 10-15 fish, and I’m feeling pretty good about things when my bobber jerks suddenly away from the weeds to open water and goes under water. I lift the rod, feel tension, start winding up on a fish that’s hell bent to continue heading to open water, when it suddenly starts coming towards the boat.   I keep winding, hope it’ll stop before it gets to the boat, it does not, so I bend over, wind up and jerk…and the float ends up behind me. I wait for the scolding, and Bob says, “You did that just right. Not much more you could have done that time.”

Moments later, we are watching our bobbers when mine suddenly shoots off to the right and disappears. It pops up and reappears for a brief second, then goes down again and line starts spooling freely. I pick up my rod and feel the tension as the bass heads off to the right. I lower the rod, reel up the slack and wham! Bob gets the net this time, and I know I have a big fish. I reel and reel and bring the biggest bass of my life to the boat. Bob nets it with ease. He goes “Yay!” and gives me a fist thump. We photograph my fish and weigh it: 8 pound 14 ounces.

My biggest bass.

I’m happy as can be…until Bob informs me I’m not holding the fish right.

This is how to hold a big fish.  Note only one finger is to be used, and one should hide ones hand near the bass’ mouth.

I am also kind of bummed for Mark, because it was on his bucket list to catch a 10-pound bass and I’m the one with the largest fish of the day. His largest fish of the day is perhaps 7 pounds, Bob guesses, but we don’t weigh it.

Mark’s biggest, albeit, puny bass compared to mine.  Just ignore the way he’s holding his fish….

Bob calls it a day around five and says that Mark and I had used about 5 dozen minnows and each landed 15 or so fish each. Mark says our hook-up rate was pretty miserable. I mention that the ospreys got at least 5 minnows, so at least they are well fed.

You’re welcome, Mr/Mrs Osprey, for all the minnows.  

On our hour and half drive back to the motel, Mark and I reflect on our humbling day.  We  come to the conclusion that Bob is solely and singularly focused on helping people land big fish.  His intensity is because he wants us to be successful.  So, in spite of feeling at times completely inept, we agree we couldn’t have picked a better guide.

We wrap up our day with Popeye’s for dinner, because we are too tired to look for anything else.  Mark gets his fill of spicy chicken and I eat a box of fried shrimp. We drift off to sleep wondering if we’ll ever really get the hang of shiner fishing.  And whether Bob will show up tomorrow.

Fishing for Big Florida Bass – Day Three – the Springs

Written by on May 03, 2018 No Comments

We spend our first day in Florida getting acclimated to sunshine and warm air by touring three nearby springs.  After a simple hotel breakfast of conveniently round eggs and round sausage on round muffins, we head to our truck and see this bird.  It’s a mockingbird, and while known to sing up to 14 songs, it offers us not a single note before flying away.

A silent mocking bird.

Blue Spring is the closest spring to our motel, and the parking lot is nearly empty first thing in the morning.  It’s in the low 70s and we smirk to ourselves as we begin walking in the sun, thinking about those poor souls in Michigan.  We find several manatees sleeping in a protected area, which is roped off and well marked to make it clear nobody can swim or paddle in the area or in the creek.  Four rowdy kayakers are hanging onto the buoys and so excited about seeing a mother and calf manatee in the spring that one about falls out of their kayak.

Nearby, we see several black vultures on the ground, including one that refuses to move as we approach.  It would not be the last time we have a close encounter with one of these big birds.

We walk up-river and see a line-up of gar in the water, several inches apart, barely moving, as if prepared for an attack.

To a smaller fish, this might be the welcoming party nightmares are made of of.

In the middle of the river on a dead tree is this fella.

A cormorant hanging out on a tree.

As we walk along the boardwalk, I spot a kingfisher through the trees, diving down into the water and coming out with something in its mouth.  Zooming in reveals a crawfish had met its fate.

Kingfisher slurping down a crawfish.

Nearby, we find a gray squirrel rooting around for nuts on the ground.  Mark said it looked like a perfect taxidermy specimen.

We walk up river until we reach a gift store that has nothing interesting on the inside, but on the outside is an elderly couple with a small stroller, which, we discover contains a lhasa apsa. We ask the couple about the dog and they say it’s 16 and “We never thought it would live this long. But he’s our buddy so he goes everywhere with us.” Super cute.

Old Shih Tzu resting in its stroller. Not an uncommon sight in FL.

We head back to the car and head to Gemini Springs, which has a big parking lot and a lack of signs telling us not to feed wildlife. We always travel with peanuts just for such occasions and, in this case, we have the honey roasted variety. A casual stroll with a bag of peanuts and the very motion of imitating food being thrown leads to one squirrel approaching for a peanut, which, in a matter of minutes, results in a total of 15 gray squirrels at Mark’s feet taking peanuts.

 

One of Mark’s squirrel friends.

When the nuts are nearly depleted, we walk across a wide, open grassy expanse to some ponds.  We don’t get very far before we run into this fella.

This turtle got a free lift to the other side of the walkway.

As we near a pond, we see a 4-foot gator.  We watch him glide across the water and work his way up to a log to catch some rays.

A happy sunbather.

Check out the webbing. And the need for a pedicure.

Gator feetsies.

We walk on toward a large pond and look down from the observation platform to see tilapia hovering over round depressions which are their beds. They tilapia are bluish with large scales like carp. Two are face-to-face a few inches apart, and suddenly, both dash forward and touch open mouths, perhaps in a gesture to protect their beds.

Tilapia facing off, kind of literally.

Nearby is this bird, which did not seem too worried about us tromping by within 10 feet.

The poorly named green heron.  Per Audubon, this is one of a few North American birds to use tools to forage:  it will place a leaf, feather or other light object onto the surface of the water and when a fish comes by to check the object out–wham!

Nearby we find a large fishing pier over a seemingly endless wetland where five people are fishing.  Below, in the weeds, are several female boat-tailed grackles eating larvae…

Female boat-tailed grackle working for her lunch.

…while the male boat-tailed grackles loiter on the railing waiting for the peanuts Mark throws their way.

Male boat-tailed grackle taking the lazy approach.

It turns out, coots also like peanuts.

American coot waiting for Mark to throw another peanut.

As we start walking back to the car I hear the rustling of leaves above me and look up to see a hawk I haven’t seen before–buff colored on the top, with rusty colored stripes on its chest.  I take several photos, and upon zooming in on my photos, realize he has a squinty, goopy right eye, which, for a hunter, would surely make it hard to catch prey. It’s my first photo of a red-shouldered hawk .  I wish him a speedy recovery.

Red-shouldered hawk.

It’s gotten a little warmer—maybe the mid 70s—and we’re heading to the truck when I hear a bird call I’ve never heard before. I wait for a couple of minutes until this bird appears for a moment before flitting off.

Summer tanager.

We head to Wikewa Springs musing at the fact that we need air conditioning to cool off.  This park consists of a big, bowl-shaped spring perfect for shallow swimming, and a pond connected to a lake where several dozen Japanese students are frothing up the water while trying to kayak, some, it appears, for the first time.

We follow a boardwalk for several minutes and notice that oncoming people are primarily chatting and not really looking around. We see several types of lizards and this bird, which I think is a ruby kinglet.

Nearby, I see a smaller red-shouldered hawk than the one we’d seen earlier, perhaps five feet above us and only 15 feet away. I don’t have to use much of a zoom to get a photograph of it looking to its left, intent on watching a lizard. It pounces on its prey and disappears behind a tree.

Red-shouldered hawk giving us the cold shoulder.

We wrap up our walk and drive back toward the hotel in search of dinner. Afterwards, I call Bob Stonewater and we agree to meet at a 7-11 store at 7:00 in the next morning.

And with that call, Bob Stonewater was unknowingly on the eve of the three most challenging fishing days he’ll likely have all year.

An artistic-y photograph of my heron pal.

Fishing for Big Bass – Getting There

Written by on April 29, 2018 No Comments

The thing about living in Michigan is that winters are long and it’s hard to fish our rivers and lakes several months of the year unless you like ice fishing.  I’ve never gotten into ice fishing:  I prefer certain alcoholic beverages on ice, as well as Coke.  But standing on ice and waiting for a fish to bite, pulling it out of a tiny hole and putting it back into the frigid water afterwards?  That just makes me want to drink more alcoholic beverages on ice…inside my house, where it’s warm.

By the end of March, 2018, our Michigan winter had extended into spring and Mark and I were sick of snow and cold and antsy to go fishing.  We’d planned months before to go to Florida to fish with Bob Stonewater, bass guide extraordinaire.  All we had to do is get there.

We left on March 23 after I’d worked 10 hours and had failed to get everything done on my to-do list.  Mark drove–and you will see why we drove in a bit.  Between emails, I mentioned several times that I’d had exactly three crackers and a cheese stick for lunch.  Mark kept on driving, determined to get out of Michigan.  When I mentioned at 7:20 that a vacation was supposed to be fun, not torturous, and that I might kill him with the ice scraper if he chose to drive further, he finally pulled off for a drive-thru Arby’s.   We waited 20 minutes–first in the drive-thru line and then, after I lost patience, inside the building–for two lousy sandwiches and a potato cake.   It turns out every Catholic in whatever Ohio town we were in orders fish on Friday nights at Arby’s, that, per a local man missing two teeth and waiting with us for a sandwich.

The sun had set unceremoniously while we’d waited, and I drove on into the dark for another half hour before we found a motel room and passed out under clean sheets and a coverlet that weighed ten pounds and suffocated me.  I awoke at 2 a.m. in a slimy ooze of sweat, turned the a/c down to 60 degrees and went back to sleep.

The forecast the next day included snow in Cincinnati.  Weathermen were right about that.  And about everywhere else they predicted snow.

Note the sign in the far right, suggesting slippery roads.

I drove through snow for half the day and kept driving south until it was warm enough for the snow to turn into a snow-rain mix and then, finally, rain.

Who new rain would be welcome on a long drive?

It was 5:30 by the time we got to Mark’s nephew’s house under partially cloudy skies. We unloaded the drum set that had been in our basement untouched for many, many years, and left it in the capable hands of Mark’s three-year-old grand nephew.  Yes, that is the main reason we drove.

Betcha Mark’s nephew and his wife loved us after this, huh?

We tried to smuggle their French bulldog, Rubble, but they wouldn’t let us.

After dinner with Mark’s nephew and extended family and a night under covers that didn’t try to smother me, we finished our drive to Orange City, Florida.  Here’s how we new we had arrived.

No helmets, short-sleeves, and a dog in a side car.

We found colorful, cold drinks at the Swamp House Grill in Debary, about 10 minutes from our motel, along with crab cakes and sides, all while overlooking the St. John’s River, which is reputed to hold monster bass.  As we ate I was happy Mark was to going to have the chance to catch a 10-pound bass.  I’d set everything up to help him check that off his bucket list.  The rest was up to him…and a guide who’d turn out to be more obsessed about fishing than Mark.

Peacock Bass Fishing in Brazil – 2016 – Day 10 – Almost Pooping My Pants Again

Written by on July 23, 2016 No Comments

We are up at five and finish packing, which consists of putting all sorts of damp clothes into a large duffle bag, all of which are starting to smell like wet athletic socks that have been storedin a locker for a month.  Along with odiferous clothes are a bunch of unused, unopened lures Mark thought we’d have time to try but never did…just like our first trip. We go to breakfast with our carry-on luggage in tow, leaving our heavy bags for the guides to load into a boat. We’ve seen the last of our little cabin.

View out our back door.

View out our back door.

Now, the funny thing about having stomach issues is that instead of doing what I usually do at camp in the morning—look around to see what Amazonian bird might have shown up on a nearby tree and look for pink dolphins playing in the water–my mind is instead focused on the singular issue of bathrooms.  Once kicked out of our cabin, where, I ask, will we have access to a bathroom?  Alejandro says we can use the spare cabin.  I secretly cheer.

At breakfast, conversation turns to toilet paper and Dr. Coz says his wife wouldn’t like it here because of the toilet paper and how you have to reach up into the toilet paper holder and get it from the dispenser, with one’s head practically between one’s knees. Struggling to get the t.p. would put his wife right over the edge. Curt says that one of the things he’d un-invent would be those toilet paper holders. He goes on to say that the first thing he does upon sitting upon the pot is “reach way up there, grab the end and pull and pull until I have a big pile on my lap so I’m ready to go.”

The world's worst type of t.p. holder.

The world’s worst type of t.p. holder.

Dr. Bob says his wife goes through so much toilet paper he should invest in it. That led them to say that all women use a lot more toilet paper than men and they’re quite astounded by that.  I’m intent to keep an eye on the “spare cabin” to make sure it hasn’t disappeared and make a lame effort to defend women.

As we eat our breakfast, conversation turns to the “me generation” and how bad things have gotten with people expecting to get things from the government and how nobody does anything for themselves anymore. Curt also says the next president is important because of the number of old supreme court justices on the bench. He could not have known that chief justice Antonin Scalia would die within 2 weeks after our return.

Our breakfast done, I stop by the spare cabin and chat with my gut, asking it to behave itself the over 2-hour ride back on the airplane to Manaus, because there is no bathroom in the float plane.  Little did I know that would be the least of my worries.

The guides have loaded our luggage into two boats and there are two boats available to transport anglers to the plane. Mark and I get into Sappo’s boat and we wait no more than five minutes for the plane to fly low over the water to check out the scene. The plane banks, makes a quick turn and lands on the water.

As the plane lands, Mark notices that the plane puts up a lot more water than previous float planes we’ve seen land on water. I’m not paying a lot of attention, because the lenses on my camera haven’t acclimated yet to the warm weather—they were inside the air conditioned cabin over night and are all fogged up in the hot, humid morning air.  I wipe off the camera and lens and take one shot of the plane coming in because it’s not like I see float planes every day.

Float plane landing.

Float plane landing.

The plane comes to a standstill and I take another photo, still concerned about my fogged up lens.   The eight new anglers get out of the plane and into two empty boats motored by two other camp staff.   While we wait and watch them, Bobby shows me his photo of the plane and I just nod, still not catching on. The two boats head to camp with the new guests while Sappo and the other guide move our boats into position on either side of the plane.

You'd think I might have noticed how low the floats were in the water.

Just a photo of the float plane.  I wish my camera lens wasn’t fogging up….

Mark, Bobby, Dr. Bob, Curt and I all get into the plane and settle into our seats, Bobby and Curt in the front bench seat, Mark, Dr. Bob and I in seats behind them.  Steve, John and Dr. Coz are on the outside of the plane, either in the other boat or on the float, but I’m in my own la-la land,   fussing with my camera lens.  It’s only after John says that he is standing in water over his ankle while standing on the float did it finally register that the plane is listing to the back and to the left. The plane floats are taking on water.  In other words, we are sinking.

Still in disbelief, I click on the view button on my camera, look at the photo I took and just about get sick at what I see.  How did I not notice?

I tuck my camera away and calmly suggest that Mark take his seatbelt off in case we have to get out quickly.  I also move our carry-ons to the back of the plane.  As I am plotting our escape, warning lights begin flashing on the dashboard, along with warning buzzers.  In an instant, my breathing increases, my butt puckers, and I’m fighting back a voice in my head that’s saying, “GET OUT!”  I’m about to get out when the pilot suddenly appears with a pump in his hand—a two-foot high, plastic gadget—which he attaches to the one of the pontoons and uses to pump water. As he is pumping out the float, Curt is sharing calculations about how much water is being pumped and how much extra weight we might be carrying with us during lift off, should we actually get to lift off.

I’m pondering whether to thank Curt for that information when suddenly, just as quickly as the pilot started pumping water on one side of the plane, he appears to fly across the front of the floats and pumps water out of the other side.  Moments later, he tucks the pump away, reaches inside the front door, turns the warning lights off, tells the other three guys to get in quickly, and without any word about putting seat belts on or anything about safety, cranks up the engine and shuts the door. The co-pilot also jumps in and shuts his door. Without bothering to look at checklists, the pilot quickly guides the plane towards the camp, where, curiously, the entire camp staff are watching.  We do a tight turn-around and start heading down the long open stretch of water while the pilot pumps the steering yoke up and down, which makes the front of the plane go up and down.  We’d had to suffer through this on the Amazon the first time to get lift under the wings, but this time it’s beyond scary because the back of the floats are underwater and the front of the plane way up in the air.  The more the pilot pumps, the higher up the plane seems to rise, the lower it feels we are in the water.  The voice inside my head yelling, “STOP THE PLANE!  LET ME OUT!’ is getting louder, and it’s all I can do to not scream  when I look out the side window and see that instead of the guides taking the boats back to camp like they usually do, they are zooming along side our plane in their boats, faces looking intently ahead, worried.  I nod to Mark and as he looks out at the guide, I say, “Perhaps to pull our bodies out?” Then I tell him I love him and hang tightly onto his hand.

Seating in the plane:

Pilot                Co-pilot

Curt, John, Bobby on a bench seat

Dr. Bob in a solo seat; an open space, Me and Mark in a shared seat

Steve behind us

Dr. Coz in the way back

 

As the guide throttles his boat alongside the plane and the pilot is pumping up and down, each man around me has worry oozing from his every pore.  On and on we bounce like this, for at least 30 seconds, maybe longer, and it seems to me all we are doing is making waves and giving the floats more time to fill with water.   In those 30 seconds, I revisit my life and all the big fish that got away and wonder why I’m not having a hot flash, and wonder if it would it be better if I had a super hot flash and passed out and missed out on my own demise?

Then suddenly, we reach flat water, which, for some reason, is a place where we are beyond or on top of? the waves we are creating, and can finally accelerate beyond what Curt said later, was 40 mph (he was watching the controls the entire time).  The guide boats disappear from view, no longer able to keep up, which I feel is a good sign…unless we don’t make it off the river, in which case, they better keep following.

As we try to accelerate more an more, what worries me–besides flipping over backwards and drowning if we go upside down, and piranhas finishing me off if I don’t drown, and the fact that I’m not wearing my sports bra in all this bounce–is that we keep going and going down the river, and I can’t see out the front window because the back of the plane is down so far in the water, and I don’t know how much straight river we actually have left before there’s a bend in the river. We go on and on, accelerating, until finally, we rise off the water—maybe about ten feet—only to drift back down towards the water again. As the plane drifts back down—in that few moments in space—I recall that our trip to 2013 was delayed because the float plane that was supposed to have taken us out of the jungle clipped trees and half of one wing got torn off.  We’d waited for six hours while another plane came in to take the gringos off that river, took them to our air field and finally, took us to Manaus.  So, knowing that one does not always clear the trees in the jungle, I am holding my breath and my heart is racing and I’m biting my pursed lips and I’m not liking that John is capturing this all on video, when the pilot pulls up again.  This time, we continue rising higher and higher.  When I look out the left side of the plane, all I see is trees….as if we didn’t have a lot of straight river left.

We are just above the trees and sighing out loud when we hear from the back of the plane, Dr. Coz yelling: “I think I might have crapped my pants!”

We all chuckle nervously. I squeeze Mark’s hand.  Dr. Bob, sitting next to me, pulls out this orange and black gizmo called SPOT which he takes with him on trips so he can be rescued. He says he had his hand on the button the whole time we were taking off, which amazes me because he was chatting to me about something most of the time. I notice that there’s another SPOT on the ceiling between the pilot and co-pilot. So at least if we’d gone down, someone would have spotted us quickly…and pulled out whatever of our body parts could be sent to our loved ones.

Finally safe in the air, I take this selfie of two happy people.

Finally safe in the air, I take this selfie of two happy people.

The flight is smooth until about half way back when we get into clouds and the windshield is covered with raindrops. The pilot hardly notices, engaged again in great conversation with the co-pilot and gesturing with his hands.  At one point, he takes off his headset and turns around in his seat to answer Curt’s question about the dynamics of getting us off the water. Afterwards, he puts his headphones back on and goes back to chatting with the co-pilot.

We experience a couple of drops in altitude as we hit turbulence, but again, the pilot is unbothered, so I decide to be unbothered, too.

A little over two hours later, the weather breaks for us to see our way down the runway in Manaus. I am relieved to be on the ground and, after waiting politely behind the Brazilian man who guided us back inside the airport, I make a beeline to a toilet to contribute more to the waste stream. When I return to the lobby, Bobby is pushing a cart with my luggage on it, along with a lot of other luggage, and all I have to do is head into the shuttle. Two women are operating the shuttle; we learn later that Jon was called away and could not be there due to a funeral.

In the shuttle on the way to the motel, Curt shares that the pilot likely fully fueled up before he left Manaus to save time and make it such that he could do all his trips without delay. So, he was weighted down with extra fuel he didn’t need for a 1.5 hour ride. Add excess water in the floats with having excess fuel and it’s no wonder our takeoff was so tough.

We get keys for a room at the motel, and once again, I’m hooked up with another guy. We exchange keys so I can be with Mark.  We drag our soggy, smelly stuff up to our room, shower, and take a nap…in a double bed, together.  There’s nothing like a nice double bed after a week in the jungle on a twin bed…while my spouse was in a twin across the aisle.

Amazon double beds

 

Later, at lunch, Curt says he wasn’t worried about John on the flight off the water because if the plane went down, John could swim like a fish.  But he was worried about caiman and piranhas maybe eating John. We try to convince Curt that piranhas wouldn’t have eaten John if he went for a swim, then we admit that piranhas do tend to munch on people in confined spaces…like upside down airplanes.  Caiman, though, well, all bets are off with them when swimming.

Bobby says that he almost asked to get off the plane. He, Curt, Steve and Coz have all done this 13-15 times on the Amazon, so clearly this was one of the worst flights.  Bobby shares another memorable flight, where they smelled diesel fuel and it was dripping inside the plane. Mark and I counter  with our last trip to Canada and how the float plane blew a “jug” or cylinder and the oil splayed all over the windshield and how we landed on the water just as the engine died, then were dragged to shore by other guides using boats and ropes. Reflecting on the fact that our last two float trips were hair-raising, I announce that I can happily stay off float planes for a long time.

We go with Curt and John to a mall next door and it’s a mass of humanity that I wasn’t mentally prepared for, having just come out of the jungle. People are moving in every direction in stores that are packed like our malls were twenty years ago, and only now so at Christmas. We ask a lady where the pharmacy is, and I loiter outside while the guys go inside, to give Curt some privacy while he picks up whatever it is he came for.  As we leave the mall I see a place that I think might have puppies but instead was a place for little kids to play.

A place called Puppy Play which had no puppies.

A place called Puppy Play which had no puppies.

As we walk back to the motel, cars and trucks and motorcycles buzz by and tI find it amazing—and crazy–what we get used to in the urban environment in Manaus. Not to mention, it’s super hot.

Back at the motel, we wander up to the top floor where there’s a pool and an open area nearby with lots of trees and shrubs still intact. I go upstairs and get my camera and 85-400mm long lens and spend the next 35 minutes in the sun trying to photograph birds. I see an ani of some kind, a red-billed sparrow, a small brown bird I’ll never be able to identify, a few other birds I’ve not seen before, and a bird that could be a kiskadee or a flycatcher, as there are many that look like it. I finally get a decent shot at a blue tanager, which had deceived me in that village we got stuck in in 2013. Mark reads the paper in the shade.

A beautiful tanager.

A beautiful tanager.

 

Palm tanager.

Palm tanager.

Red-browed finch.

Red-browed finch.

Ani.

Ani.

We take another nap and when I wake up I need to do something before being cramped on a plane for many hours. I put on my shorts and go up to the work-out room, and see Steve up there pushing some weights around. I work out for 20 minutes while Mark dabbles on three different pieces of equipment without exerting himself at all.

Later, I do one more birding stint, and finally get a shot at a parrot which lands in a tree far away, in the fading sunlight.   Vultures also fly by. As I shoot, it occurs to me that I see more birds in a few hours overlooking a lot in Manaus than I did during one week in the jungle.

Amazon birdie I still need to figure out.

Amazon birdie I still need to figure out.

We pack up and head downstairs around 7:00 p.m. for a couple of beers. Afterwards, we go back to the room, shower again, and lounge around until 9:00 when we drag our luggage downstairs and drop it by the front door. The rest of the guys are having beer in the lounge and their stuff is already by the front door.

Before the shuttle shows up at 10:00 p.m., I shake Dr. Bob’s hand and tell him it was a pleasure meeting him and fishing with him. He gives me a big ole hand shake in return.

At 10:00 a brute of a guy loads our stuff in a shuttle van; a woman drives us to the airport alone. It’s a horribly bumpy ride in the back of the shuttle, one we notice more leaving the motel than when we came in. En route the talk is about things like wells and groundwater. At one point someone asks Bobby about his ranch and how many deer he’s harvested this year (all huge brutes) and Bobby says he uses a helicopter to get the deer to spread out so the hunters have a chance at them. Curt says, “I love having a rich friend with a ranch and giant deer. It’s so much fun.”

At the airport, we unload our stuff onto two carts and the woman driver takes off without a word. It’s far more impersonal without Jon around. We check in at a line with few people in it, Curt, Bobby and Dr. Coz in the first class line; the rest of us in the other. We drop our bags off and are happy to do so because they seem to have gotten heavier and smell like jungle rot. We get through customs and security and soon are sitting around the terminal area sharing photos on our cell phones. Well, most of us are—I didn’t recharge my phone. Steve shows us photos of his three Clydesdale horses, one of which he had shipped from somewhere across the country, along with his miniature pony which looks clearly tiny next to the big fellas. Steve also talks about the 12-acre pond he built on his property—sounds like a lovely place.

Curt shows us photos of his family and his two rescued dogs, both mutts. He also shows me a giant rattlesnake that was right outside his backdoor and which he “dispatched with a bit of lead to the head.”

Mark mentions our 16 acres and our new log cabin in Northern Michigan, and shares the realization that it’s on the Black River and we’d fished a tributary of the Rio Negro the first time in the Amazon. We named our new cabin Rancho Rio Negro.

After photos are shared all around, I hit the bathroom, and on the way back, point out to Mark a stuffed sloth a lady was watching for her 8-year-old son. Ten minutes later, Mark returns with my own stuffed sloth. It’s in a plastic bag and I take him out so he can get some fresh air.

Amazon sloth

On the way back from the bathroom, I pass Coz going to the bathroom. He stops me and says, “So, how much toilet paper did you use?” I stretch my arms out as far as I can and say, “About that much.” He laughs and says, “I thought so.” Such a funny guy.

The announcement to board allows people 60 and older to board first, not first class, not women with children. Many people get on, many of them fishermen. Mark waits for me in spite of qualifying, and we are happy this time because we paid for seats with more leg room without having to change seats. I’m in the middle of three seats and the guy by the window has nothing to say, which also makes me happy. John sits across the aisle; Steve and Dr. Bob a row ahead of us. Mark is in the aisle and John takes the moment to ask Mark why we saw so few birds in the jungle. He also asks: “If I were dropped off at some random spot in the middle of the jungle, what’s the odds that’d I’d discover a new bird or bug or something?” To that, Mark says, “Pretty good.”

I take my contacts out, put my glasses on, put a blanket around me and am about to nod off when a light lunch is served. It’s a sub sandwich with a big wad of bread, single piece of lettuce, two super thin slices of tomato, a micro piece of cheese and some smoked turkey, also thinly sliced. I pass on the chips and give them to Mark; ditto with the fruit. I save the biscuit for later. I’m still seeing what makes my gut happy and hope my new diet of little food does the trick.

The rest of the trip blurs together–landing in Miami, waiting for our luggage to show up, saying good-bye to some great guys we admire and loved hanging out with.  Several hours pass slowly at a gate before we fly to Detroit.  We land in Miami and wait 45 minutes for a shuttle that never came and finally get pity from another shuttle company who drops us off at Days Inn where we will never stay again due to their poor shuttle service.  Then we are in the cold that is the winter of Michigan, driving home, which feels as foreign as the noise and movement and everything else we have to get re-accustomed to.  Still unable to make a fist, blisters on my hands, tired beyond belief, I am already missing the simplicity and the danger, the freshness and heat of the jungle.

At home, we are greeted by our two dogs and two cats.  All are well behaved until we wake up the next morning to find the dogs have provided an editorial.  A little bit of fishing line later, and even their bed is back to normal.

Snickers and Winston posing with the stuffing from their bed.

Snickers and Winston posing with the stuffing from their bed.

Within a week, I no longer long for normal and wonder when, if ever, we’ll get to return to the Amazon.  We caught a total of 1,278 fish that week, 127 of which were 8 pounds or bigger. The biggest of the week was the 19-pounder caught by Dr. Coz.  As I look back, I wonder if perhaps what I really long for is a rematch with a bigger fish than his.

After note:  Upon returning to the states, I contacted my cousin, Ryan, a pilot, who contacted a sea captain friend on my behalf.  He explained the pumping up and down we experienced “helps break the surface tension of the water when you are trying to get up on the step, the step being the area on the float with the least drag and best acceleration. That pumping the yoke process is pretty common when you are on the heavy side. Doesn’t mean they were necessarily doing anything unsafe.”  Isn’t that reassuring?

Peacock Bass Fishing – 2016 – Day Nine – Oh No!

Written by on July 12, 2016 No Comments

Friday: 2/5/2016

On the fifth day of fishing in the Amazon I awake in the middle of the night wondering what I’m doing here, because the pain in my right hand is constant, and when I stand up at what is about 4 a.m.—though I’m not sure because my watch is on the counter because my left hand is also puffed up—my gut seems to be rather large and extended, making me feel about three months pregnant when yesterday, I wasn’t pregnant at all. To add to my misery, as I rise to stumble to the bathroom, I experience a hot flash so amazing that I am capable of reheating leftovers anywhere on my body. I open the door to the bathroom, the light goes on and the fan starts humming like it always does to wake up my roommate who flops over happily in his twin bed. I close the door behind me, sit down to take a leak, and just as the one-inch cockroaches emerge from under the floor mat, the lights go off. I’m already sweating and it seems unfair to make me wave my arms to turn the lights back on. But it works—the light go back on and I go about my business without fear the cockroaches will crawl up my leg.

The cabin toilet.

The cabin toilet.

I flush the toilet, which makes a rather loud noise for the middle of the night, not unlike a small machine grinding something up and spitting it out, which in this case is pretty much what the toilet does, storing the waste in the pontoons under the cabin until we tourists leave camp. I open the door, step into the main part of our floating cabin, the door shuts behind me, and it’s suddenly very dark. I poke around until I find a water bottle and the aspirin I left on the counter, then work my way back to my twin bed across from Mark’s. I spend the next twenty minutes wondering if my hot flashes could spontaneously ignite the cabin. It’s a great thought to nod off to, which I did until a little before six.

Mark is up and “ready for another great day on the river,” and, at breakfast soon thereafter, 82-year-old Dr. Coz says he’s just getting warmed up and could stay another week. He asks Bobby if he can take the coming week off and hang out in Manaus, then fly back to the jungle afterward, because while the camp is full next week, the following week they only have 4 guys, so there’s room. Ain’t nothin’ like an 82-year-old dentist being more physical than my wimpy self.

Bobby, meanwhile, is sitting at the table applying a BENGAY look-alike to his hand, and offers me some. I take it readily, and find myself smiling as I inhale a smell that reminds me of the ointment my mom had applied to me when I had a chest cold as a kid. I rub some on both hands and promise never to come to the Amazon again without it. Bobby mentions they also make the stuff in a spray. I thank him for sharing, and it’s about then that Dr. Coz finally concedes his shoulder’s a little sore; Bobby says he’ll spray his shoulder before they go.

Hoping I won't need to punch anyone, cuz this is as much of a fist as I can make.

Hoping I won’t need to punch anyone, cuz this is as much of a fist as I can make.

The rest of the guys show up to eat, and while they pile up their plates, I ponder whether eating is a good idea in my bloated condition. I decide that eating nothing will make me woozy, so take on an egg and a melon slice and nibble on some bread.

We get ready for the day like any other day, except that this time I make absolutely certain there is toilet paper packed in my dry bag. Our destination is essentially a lake connected to the river and sprinkled with trees. My hands scream at the idea of pulling six-inch lures across the water, but it’s my turn to rip lures while Mark does clean-up with a jig.

Shortly after we start fishing, several pink dolphins appear like they had every other day. Amazing swimmers and super smart, the dolphins have figured out that where there are anglers, there are fish weakened due to having fought a hook on our line.  Our guide, Sappo, motors our first few small peacock bass—three to five pounders—back to shore so they can recover and not become dolphin food. As we head away from shore, though, Sappo releases one fish, and by the flash of pink and splash afterwards, it’s pretty clear the dolphins—a.k.a. potos–had breakfast on us.

Amazon dolphin.

Amazon dolphin.

We continue flogging the same shoreline for quite some time, and at one point, a fish hits, I set the hook, and the most amazing pain shoots through my hand and up my entire right arm. Momentarily powerless due to the jolt, I lower the rod to get a different grip. The fish gets off and I reel in nothing but my lure. Behind me I hear, “Amy,” so turn around to see Sappo using his arms to show me to keep the rod tip up. I nod, not willing to say “Eu nao posso,” or “I can’t.”

To add to my misery, the day is super hot and when I have a hot flash, I feel like keeling right over and fall out of the boat and into the water. My gut is still bloated, my right hand is killing me and my glasses keep fogging up so I can’t see very well. I pour water from a water bottle over my head to try cooling off and that helps one of my many problems. I curse myself for wanting cheese with my whine, and force myself to rip lures again and again. As I throw and pull and reel, pull and reel, I find that the jerking of lures is putting more pressure on my stomach while also straining my inflamed hands. I survive on auto-pilot until about 10:30 when I see a perfect spot to go take a leak.

See, the thing about being a woman in the Amazon basin is that when Nature starts calling, you start looking for suitable places, which is where there is at least one big tree to hide behind and at least one rise to duck down behind as well. I’m always happy to find such spots.  Sometimes I see birds when I’m looking for good spots for taking a leak.

Rufescent heron.

Rufescent heron.

At last I find THE spot, and am quite happy when Sappo pulls the boat to shore. I jump off, bounce my way across the very unconsolidated, springy, leafy vegetation, until I find my way behind some trees. I’m thinking once again about snakes and tarantulas and can only and hope for the best…

…And then it happens.

As I squat down, my gut explodes and I’m suddenly caught literally with my pants down, sinking in the Amazon leaf debris, relieving internal pressure both fore and aft so to speak. I call to Mark and ask him to bring me the gray waterproof bag, which contains toilet paper. He comes within a few feet and slings the bag sideways. He tells me to take my time. I tell him if I do I’ll need to get pulled out because the thick, fallen leaves aren’t supporting me. I whisper, “Go away snakes and spiders,” as I finish my business, bury my mess and step gingerly to one side…where I immediately start sinking. I move my other foot, take a step forward, and begin quickly springing my weakened body up the rise towards the boat. I reach the boat feeling only marginally better, so sit in the water to cool off.  I thank the piranhas and other aquatic nasties for not wanting to eat me.

When I’m finally feeling less like a firecracker about to implode, I thank the guys for their patience and we return to fishing.  We find a new area to fish and between casts I see a bird I’ve not seen before, which I later identify as a black-tailed tityra.

Amazon black-billed tityra.

Amazon black-billed tityra.

It’s Mark’s turn to rip the big surface lures while I throw a jig, which is less strain on my hands. My gut is content to just grumble for a while, my hands reasonably hanging onto the pole, and I start getting into the groove of things again…when the sun hides behind a cloud and the wind kicks up. Rain starts within a half hour and the temperature drops several degrees.

Cheery weather.

Cheery weather.

It rains until 2 p.m. and I tell Mark I’ve never fished so much with a wet butt until this trip.  My rain jacket is soggy inside and out, and my hands and toes are shriveled up like prunes.  We catch only a couple of small fish in the rain, but learn later that Curt and John ripped through the rain and kept catching fish on a black and purple ripper. John got three 14-pounders. I’m so happy for him I could throw him in the water wrapped with bacon.

We fish until we get to a back eddy where we hang out in the shade and eat the last of our daily world’s-driest-cheese-sandwiches, washed down with rain water.  As I’m chewing, I notice an orb weaver—a rather large spider—that has made a superb web between two trees next to our boat. He’s hanging out between trees, somehow able to avoid the pouring rain.

We continue flogging a large, shallow area with trees, catching very little all afternoon. My gut seems to be twisting itself up for round two, but I’m determined to get home before I do any more to relieve my stomach in the jungle. I’m soaked, and because the temps have fallen, I’m borderline feeling chilled.  I wonder if I can force a hot flash to come on, but, unable o figure out ho two do that–and in spite of my angry hands–continue flogging the water to keep warm. Mark catches quite a few fish on a red and yellow jig but continues fishing with it even when the tail is bitten off. Having flogged surface baits for a while, I ask for a jig and Sappo hands me this small blue and green thing that is so light I cannot cast it very far. I ask to swap it out, and in the last half hour, use a black, red and white jig. Right as Sappo says we are going to move, I say, “Uma momento, por favor,” and reel in my second to last fish, a three-pounder. We move one more time across the river to another cove and I pull in a six pounder on my very last cast.

Before we leave, I ask to wait to try to add one more new bird to my list.  It’s sprinkling and dark, so not my best shot of my first long-billed wood creepers creeping up a tree.

Long-billed wood creepers.

Long-billed wood creepers.

When we return to camp, I take a few more photos, like this one of the cook cabin.  Or the cook in the cook cabin.  Or the cute kid in the cook’s cook cabin.

Kitchen cabin.

Kitchen cabin.

We take a few more photos with Sappo for the record book. He shakes my hand and says “Good job, Amy.” I shake his hand and say, “Muito obrigado,” or “Thank you very much.”

Amazon Amy and Sappo

Mark tells him, “Voce um grande guia,” which is, “You are a great guide.”

Amazon Mark and Sappo

Back in our cabin, I relieve my gut one more time and take another Amazon shower consisting of water pumped in from the river. Afterwards, we open our wallets and leave payments and tips for the cook/camp staff in one envelope and the guides in another envelope. The recommended base amount is $200 per person. The first envelope gets handed to our camp host, Alejandro and he counts it and divides it amongst the camp staff. The other envelope is handed directly to the guide, at a base of $200 per person. We tip both for doing a good job. We also give Sappo a knife Mark bought many months ago just to give to whomever our guide turned out to be.

We enjoy some drinks on the hill overlooking the cabins and share the day’s fishing stories, most of which at least have elements of truth to them.

Cabins from the hill where we met for drinks and snacks before dinner.

Cabins from the hill where we met for drinks and snacks before dinner.

At dinner, the stories include the various trips to Venezuela that Steve and Dr. Bob went on to hunt or fish. Bobby and Curt add that they went to Venezuela many times and that the economy and government now is on the brink of collapsing completely, that they pulled out of there years ago. (Within a week after our return, the national news would show Venezuelans standing in line to get basic food supplies, and that a revolt is likely).

Dinner in the dining cabin.

Dinner in the dining cabin.

During one of his trips, Curt shares how he got on an elevator with an Indian couple who couldn’t remember where their car was located, so hit every button on the elevator. The door opened, they’d get out, look around, and get back on again. After the third or fourth time doing this, Curt shut the door and told them to get another elevator. Too funny.

Curt’s son, John, said when he was growing up, Curt would go to the grocery store every Sunday to get the newspaper and read up on the Dallas Cowboys. He’d test the clerks to see who could do the math involved in getting a paper or other products, such as 3 items for a dollar—he’d only buy two and see if they could figure it out. I think there’s a bit of a devilish side to Curt.

Fabiano (the cook helper), Mark, John, Dr. Bob, Bobby, Dr. Coz, Steve,  Bobby, Curt and camp host Alejandro.

Fabiano (the cook helper), Mark, John, Dr. Bob, Dr. Coz, Bobby, Steve, Bobby, Curt and camp host Alejandro.

I’m off to bed early and add Cipro to my aspirin regimen to calm my unhappy gut. I go to sleep thinking surely, my troubles are over.  Little did I know.

Peacock Bass Fishing 2016 – Day 8 – My Trouble Begins

Written by on July 06, 2016 No Comments

Thursday, 2/4/2016 

I wake up at 4 a.m. with a crampy pain in my left hand and it takes an aspirin to help me get back to sleep again.  It’s an interesting pain–puffiness mixed with tingliness in my hand, and when I place my arm just so on my bed I experience a ray of painful tingles up the area where my tricep would be had it not fallen off years ago.  As the aspirin works to make the pain bearable, I have plenty of time to wonder if I’ll be able to handle a fishing pole.  I contemplate duct tape and how helpful if might be to have my hand duct taped to the fishing pole if I can’t hold onto it.  I fall back to sleep realizing that the life of a bureaucrat who types emails eight hours a day does not make for a fit angler in the Amazon.

Two hours later at breakfast, I hold a cold can of Coke to my left hand and the cold seems to help a little.  The guys don’t seem to notice as they talk about the tree frog calling out all last night.  Curt says the frog finally shut up around five a.m.  and that if he could have brought a loaded shotgun he’d have blown the frog right out of the tree so he could have slept better.  I can only laugh.

It’s a warm morning but the icy pop and aspirin has made it such that I can grab onto a pole, so nothing else really matters.   Sappo guides our boat into a lagoon where peacock bass are chasing bait fish near tiny, grass-lined islands.  We use our surface baits to attract them around the islands, and, in deeper areas we throw jigs.

Some of our jigs.

Some of our jigs.

Every time we hear splashes, Sappo moves the boat in that direction.  After a few casts, and we are usually able to entice the fish to bite. It’s an interesting way to fish—listen for splashes, move in that direction and cast to the big splashes.

Mark's biggest fish of the day.

Mark’s biggest fish of the day.

I’m in an intense fishing groove for hours, until just before lunch, when a wave of heat overcomes me.  There’s no breeze and I’m feeling suddenly woozy, so Mark asks Sappo to pull off onto one of the islands so I can cool off …and take a leak in the water.   The lagoon is so open I have no other option for taking a leak anyway, and this way, I can solve two problems at once. As I sit down, it feels like sitting in a giant puddle after a warm rain storm, the only difference being that these puddles have piranhas in them.  I know piranhas won’t attack unless cornered or threatened, and feel like a kid, sitting in water up to my chest, splashing the water.  Truly, the only difference between me and a kid are a few wrinkles and the fact that part of my heat is due to hot flashes.

After I’ve cooled off,  we motor back to the same area we’d started fishing earlier. We’re about to head out of the lagoon when a fish hits my line, drags me and the boat to an underwater log I didn’t see, and hangs me up there. Sappo waves at me to stop reeling because he thinks the fish has rubbed the lure off on a log and is gone.  He pulls out a long stick he keeps with him in the back of the boat, and has wrapped it around the line a couple of times to free the lure, when the line starts going out again. Sappo quickly untangles his stick from the line because it’s suddenly clear the fish is still on the line. I reel, the boat gets pulled around a bit more, I yank with all my might and pull up my biggest fish, a 14-pounder. It will remain my biggest fish of this trip, one pound shy of my biggest on our first trip to the Amazon, and one pound larger than Mark’s largest this trip.  Poor fella.

Me and the fish that beat Mark's biggest.

Me and the fish that beat Mark’s biggest.

Once we finally head out of that lagoon, the rest of the day is disappointing.  We enter one lagoon after another, one of which has a plastic bottle floating on top the water, which means it was already fished today. We retrieve the bottle and get a few fish now and again, but it’s really slow compared to the morning.

At one opening amongst some trees, Mark throws his lure and loses it to a big fish. We look for 15-20 minutes for the lure before finally giving up on ever seeing it again. I hope the big fish can rub the lure off on a log somewhere.

Some of our lures.

Some of our lures.

As we are looking for Mark’s lure, the sky darkens, the wind kicks up and it suddenly starts to pour. We motor 20 minutes in the driving rain to a small inlet, during which I discover my Marmot Precip raingear is as waterproof as a sieve.  We eat lunch in the rain under some trees while Sappo bails our boat. And then Nature calls.

For some reason, I convince myself that it’s safe to pee in the woods when it’s raining because–I surmise–snakes don’t come out in the rain.  And while I had to pee in the water earlier due to the open landscape, at lunch we’re surrounded by trees and I feel I have to venture out in search of a pee spot rather than look really obvious about it.

So off I go, springing over the land in search of a spot out of eyesight of the guys.  I find the perfect spot–behind a tree in a wallow–and there, in the Amazon, in the pouring rain, I make an interesting discovery:   wet pants and wet underwear are not easy to pull down in the rain–neither slide down easily.  I pull down my pants and, with them lying in a heap on the ground, roll down my underwear, both while reaching up under my sieve of a rain coat. Because it’s raining, it’s hard to know if I’m peeing on my own pant legs, so I just hope for the best.  And of course, using toilet paper is impossible in such condition, so when I’m done, I wiggle and roll my underwear back into place, pull up my pants, zip them, pull my rain jacket down over my butt and laugh out loud because I can’t remember being so wet in forever.  I laugh again when I realize I’ve sunk down eight inches in the unconsolidated leaf litter.

I spring back to the boat and before enjoying my cheese sandwich, stop to photograph the men, who have no idea how good they have it.

Ain't nothing like lunch in the pouring rain...after taking a leak in the pouring rain.

Ain’t nothing like lunch in the pouring rain…after taking a leak in the pouring rain.

We fish the rest of the afternoon, and over time, I’m more and more challenged by my puffy hand and my wimpy disposition. I pop another aspirin and try to ignore a bit of a shooting pain up my arm when I get a ten pound peacock in another lagoon.  My ten-pounder is followed hours later by a couple other smaller fish. All said, it’s a long afternoon; the fish not very cooperative.

It turns out that my 14-pounder makes me the big fish winner of the day, and I get congrats by all.  I thank them and say I’d do a “high five” if I could unfist my hand.  We drink beer, have a dinner of lasagna with beef and ham, and another entre of beef with potatoes.  I will note here that until this point, I had not eaten any meat.

At dinner, Curt asks about time travel and how quickly the week passed “with ye all.” He says, “Just a week ago I met you guys at the hotel and now here we are a week later.” It’s true that tie flies when you’re having fun.  Even if you can’t give high fives to celebrate that fact.

 

Peacock Bass Fishing – 2016 – Day Seven – the Wood Lizard

Written by on June 30, 2016 No Comments

Wednesday: 2/3/2016

I awake with puffed up hands in the early morning, unable to make a fist.  It’s the same problem I had two years ago in the Amazon and I’m betting an aspirin–or several–will make it better.  After showering, I head with Mark to the breakfast cabin.  There, Bobby shows me the note I’d sent to him in 2013 with a clown colored Aile magnet lure I’d mailed him as a thank you for inviting us on the trip in 2013.  I am touched that he kept the note and lure in its box for three years. He’s such a sweet guy.

It rains on and off in the morning and I think I’m in a groove because I hardly notice when it’s raining and when it’s not.  I don’t even notice it’s raining when I see John and Curt wearing rain gear.

John (middle), Curt and their guide.

John (middle), Curt and their guide.

Seppo guides our boat off the main part of the river to a narrow inlet that doesn’t look real passable to me.  We’re wondering if Sappo knows where he’s going, because we end up stuck on a log, literally, and watch as Sappo jumps out of the back of the boat, walks up another log, looks over a ridge, decides his path into a lagoon isn’t the best bet, and turns us around.  It’s all part of exploring the jungle.

Our guide returning to the boat to get us unstuck from the log.

Our guide returning to the boat to get us unstuck from the log.

En route to a new spot, I spend way too much time trying to photograph these speedy little birds I think are a type of swift…if only because it flies so swiftly.

Swift flying swiftly.

Swift flying swiftly.

After getting dizzy photographing a moving bird in a moving boat, I see a large bird politely sitting on a log and waiting for us to buzz by in our boat.  It’s much easier to photograph.

Green ibis.

Green ibis.

In the early hours we also kick up a couple of cocoa herons.

Cocoi heron.

Cocoi heron.

Later, a swallow-tailed kite looks down at me from above.  Like most people, I wave.

Swallow-tail kite.

Swallow-tail kite.

I also take a few photos of a large bird I think is just a turkey vulture but which, upon closer inspection, turns out to be a yellow-headed vulture, a new bird for me.

Yellow-headed vulture.

Yellow-headed vulture.

Of course, we are on the river to go fishing, not birding, and we are fortunate to find several hot spots throughout the day and get a total of 48 fish including two 11-pounders.  Mark catches his 11-pounder in the rain.

Mark's 11-pounder.

Mark’s 11-pounder.

I wait for the sun to shine to catch my 11-pounder.

My 11-pounder.

My 11-pounder.

Mark gets a 13 pounder in the final half hour, beating his Itapara best by one pound.  His biggest now is one pound bigger than mine.  Gr.  This turns out to be one of my favorite photos of the trip, though, because Sappo is in the photo.

Mark with his big fish of the day, with Sappo in the background.

Mark with his big fish of the day, with Sappo in the background.

We have lunch with Curt and John again and I get the first part of Curt’s story: how he paid for his first two kids’ hospital bills on a credit card, worked for Hughes Aircraft and his division folded, so he another guy started their own company.  It involved creating a device to lower an H bomb into a 3,000-5,000 foot hole filled with sand, concrete, etc. to test it. He also created machinery to support oil rigs and has three patents. He started the business in 1986 and sold it in 2006.  He’s been “between jobs” ever since.

As we are listening to Curt, something runs alongside our boats and settles in the brush next to us. Mark and I guess it’s a Jesus Christ Lizard, so I step out of the boat and stalk it with my camera. It’s a lizard of some kind, and it comes to rest on a branch overhanging the water. I get several photos and figure out later, it’s a wood lizard, our first.

Wood lizard sitting on wood like it should.

Wood lizard sitting on wood like it should.

Lunch ends and we go back to flogging the water.  At some point while in the rhythm of jigging, Mark says this was his most fun day because we’re into the groove, have a good sense of what works and what doesn’t, and we’re following Sappo’s advice to have one of us wake the fish with a top water bait and the other person follow with a jig or red and white Perversa or Yozuri.

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We’re back to camp by 5:00 to shower and enjoy cold beer on the hill with the guys.  Bobby hands me his cell phone and shares the latest Johnny Lee country song, about how things should be. It’s a great song. Johnny Lee is one of Bobby’s hunting clients, and it’s quite clear Bobby has a lot of respect for him.

At dinner, the conversation turns to politics and how the current generation of kids expects to be given things, including forgiveness for their tuition loans. Nobody gave us forgiveness for our loans, we paid them. Bernie Sanders gets no votes around our dinner table.

I mention my work on an employee engagement team and share hat while the Millennials coming into work are highly sophisticated in their use of technology compared to me, many grew up getting awards just for showing up and participating in something.  So they expect awards and acknowledgment and pats on the back.  Dr. Bob counters with, “I guess I’m just old school. I just want to tell people what and how to do something and expect it to get done. I don’t need to hear their ideas.” He said he got started in the Army and went into vet school as part of the Army. In that role, he also oversaw food distribution during the Vietnam War.   After the war, he went on to start up his own vet practice and farms the very farm he was raised on. He runs his vaccine business, too. I feel lazy and underachieving next to him…like I do next to the rest of the guys.

On the way back to our cabin, I tell Mark that it was a great day–the fishing was great, the weather great, my hands not too puffed up, and I liked chatting with the guys.  Mark said his highlight was holding a fish and noticing its heart beating.  We were too geeked in 2013 to notice such things.

We go to sleep to the sound of a tree frog calling from a tree outside of Curt’s cabin.  Our froggie pal emits sounds a lot like the sound of lures ripping across the water…all night long.

Peacock Bass Fishing in Brazil – 2016 – Day Six – Snakes at Camp

Written by on June 23, 2016 No Comments

Tuesday: 2/2/2016 Third Full Day’s Fishing

I start the morning with a couple of aspirin because my left hand is all puffy.  I also wrap the fingers on my left hand with some very cute duct tape because I have a few blisters.  I’m feeling more like a wuss every day.

It rains on and off all morning and we end up in a lagoon where we get a few fish after a lot of ripping and jigging. I have my best luck with a maroon and blue Yozuri, nabbing one six-pounder and one ten-pounder. I also use the black and red Barboleto Perversa and catch a couple of fish during a brief feeding frenzy.

My spotted peacock friend.

My spotted peacock friend.

I also catch a peacock on a yellow and red jig, and one on a purple and black top water bait. Yesterday, white Yozuris were king. They did no good today.  And nothing worked consistently throughout the day.  Hence, the nature of fishing.

My biggest fish of the day.

My biggest fish of the day.

This was Mark’s biggest fish.

Mark's biggest fish of the day.

Mark’s biggest fish of the day.

After releasing one fish weighing perhaps four pounds, we hear a violent splash amongst some trees in pretty shallow water, caused by a dolphin trying to make an easy meal out of the fish we’d just released.  Minutes later, as Sappo is about to grab another fish out of the water, I see the pink face of a dolphin flash by right next to the boat.   It’s a mental photo I won’t ever forget—in one split second the dolphin showed up, determined the fish was attached to a hook and line, and disappeared fro sight, only to loiter nearby to get the released fish after it was off the hook. THAT’s a smart animal.

Later, Mark caught another vicunda.

A vicunda.

A vicunda.

After lunch we spend a lot of time in a lagoon in pretty shallow water.  As we head into the lagoon Mark has a gigantic hit at his top-water lure, and while we try many times, we can’t get the big fish to bite again. While trying to attract the big fish, two dolphins appear, one of which is little and follows Mark’s lure. Upon seeing that, Mark changes his lure because, he says, “The last thing I want to do is catch a baby dolphin.”

Pink river dolphin.

Pink river dolphin.

Throughout the day, Mark speaks Portuguese with our guide, Sappo, which Sappo seems to enjoy. Sappo has two boys, one of who’s name is Marcos who likes all sorts of critters like Mark.  The toughest part of the conversation is when Mark tries to explain to Sappo the Zika virus, which is taking over the news and spreading throughout Brazil and lately, the US. Somehow, Mark is able to explain how babies are being born in Brazil with tiny heads and how it was suggested that Brazilian women not get pregnant until they got a handle on this. Sappo had no idea about all this because he’s been in the jungle for months.

As they chat about the Zika virus, we go through a really narrow area which produces a couple of small fish. Beyond the trees, the area opens up into a big wetland and we hang out with a couple of boat-billed anis and what I learn later is a female green kingfisher.

Boat-billed and.

Boat-billed and.

Female green kingfisher.

Female green kingfisher.

We catch a few more fish, none of them big. On the way back toward the narrow area, Mark puts on a Wide Glide, which is a big, heavy lure that makes a huge splash when it hits the water. On Mark’s third cast, he catches a peacock bass.  After we clear the narrow area and return to the bank that once held a big fish, I take over flogging the Wide Glide…for the last half hour or so.  It’s ridiculous how much of a splash the darn thing makes.  Unlike Mark, all I do is scare the fish away.

We net 70 fish all day and think it’s a decent number until we get back and hear Steve and Dr. Bob got 143 fish, 17 of which were over 10 pounds. John also shares his results and feels good until Steve and Dr. Bob arrive. Such is the nature of fishing, the lucky sticks.

To make me feel even wimpier, after catching more fish than me again, Dr. Coz goes over to play a game with the camp staff.  The object is to kick a soccer ball over a rope tied between two sticks and to return it to your opponent after one bounce.  His agility and energy make me snarl.

Dr. Coz playing ball.

Dr. Coz playing ball.

A better idea than being active after fishing all day is sitting at the table on the rise and drinking beer until 6 when dinner is served.  Just sayin.’

Me and the guys, drinking beer on the rise.

Me and the guys, drinking beer on the rise.

Right before dinner, we learn that when Alejandro and the rest of the camp staff came to this new camp site, a bird was munching on a dead anaconda. The camp workers also saw (and killed) a coral snake. Alejandro thinks that the commotion around camp will keep the snakes away. Righto!  Later, though, he mentions that the more it rains, the more the snakes come out. I know I will have nightmares about peeing in the rain.

At dinner, I learn that Steve manages six banks in Tennessee.  Dr. Bob runs a farm in TN with tobacco, other crops and animals, in addition to running a veterinarian and a lab that manufactures parvo shots for pets. I ask him about Dr. Bob about Bordetella and tell our story of Winston getting kennel cough in spite of the shot.   Dr. Bob says there are at least six strains of Bordetella out there, and the shot treats one strain. He doesn’t recommend his patients get the shot. “It’s a waste.” I tell him all kennels around us require it and he just nods.

Somehow talk turns to botflies. Curt had one in his back once and it had wings before it was removed. Mark says Curt must have liked having the insect around because most people get them out when they’re at the larval stage. Mark went on to talk about removing a botfly from one of the rabbits we rescued back in the day, then told the story of our black kitten, Preto and his allergic reaction to a botfly and how that resulted in him being called the $1,200 pet.

As we walk back to the cabin I smile thinking about that glimpse I got of the dolphin.  Then I remember what Alejandro said about snakes and wave my flashlight around looking for, what, I’m not sure.  Safely inside the cabin, I pop a couple aspirin, kiss Mark goodnight, and fall into my wee twin bed.

Peacock Bass Fishing in Brazil – 2016 – Day Five – The Camp Moves

Written by on June 23, 2016 No Comments

Monday: 2/1/2016 Second Full Day’s Fishing – Camp Moves

I’m awake at 5:20 thanks to Mark getting up, turning on lights, and announcing it’s time to get up.  We get our Coke/coffee fix in the main cabin before 6 a.m. and are ready to fish by 6:30. It’s cloudy but no rain (yay!), giving my rain coat—a Marmot Precip that is still soggy—time to dry out in the boat.

We head toward what will be the area of our new camp, because camp is moving while we fish.  In which direction, I haven’t a clue–it could be north, south, east or west, I’m thinkin.  Wherever it is we go, it’s slow fishing for a while.  We catch a few fishand at a spot Sappo seems to know has a big fish, I cast a dozen times, before WHAM! I hook a 12-pounder.

My 12-pounder.

My 12-pounder.

After a good morning flogging the water, we head across the river to join John, Curt and their guide in the shade to have lunch. We chat about dolphins, dinosaurs, all sorts of things. Curt says he’s really busy the rest of the spring and summer but that we should all get together sometime. He’s such a sweet guy.

Eating our very dry sandwiches on the water with Sappo, our guide, Curt, John and their guide.

Eating our very dry sandwiches on the water with Sappo, our guide, Curt, John and their guide.

 

After lunch we get two doubles, which is when both Mark and I are fighting fish at the same time.  Later, we ask Sappo to pose with a fish.  He takes off his hat just for the photo.

Sappo with one of our peacock bass.

Sappo with one of our peacock bass.

As the afternoon gets warmer, the fishing becomes hit or miss–mostly miss.  At one opening into a small bay, Mark loses a big fish that smartly rubs him off on the only log in the area. He’s grumped the rest of the day. Later, in another lagoon, Mark has a kingfisher go after his Yozuri lure several times. So he’s real careful as he fishes and eventually switches lures.  This particular kingfisher is a real character, hanging out with us and moving to different trees when Mark casts in a different direction to avoid catching the silly bird.

Female Amazon kingfisher interested in Mark's lure.

Female Amazon kingfisher interested in Mark’s lure.

Sappo takes us to several shallow areas that don’t hold many fish, but eventually finds two “honey holes, “one with small fish, one containing a 9, 8 and 7-pounder. Lures are white Yozuris with pink or green and a pink top, white bottom, black-spotted top water bait.

Mark's spotted peacock.

Mark’s spotted peacock.

We see dolphins throughout the day and one goes after one of Mark’s fish in the fastest flash of boiling water smeared with pink I’ve ever seen. We also see a four-foot caiman and a five-foot caiman.

A four-foot caiman.

A four-foot caiman.

We’ve netted 45 fish by 4:00 and we head back to camp. It’s an hour boat road, and I realize as we buzz along that when the weather is tropically perfect like this, I could ride in a boat all day.

The cabins at our new camp are tied to shore and all but a little of each cabin is sitting right in the water.

 

DSC_5143

 

On the Itapara River in 2013, our cabins were pulled onto sandbars and only the back 1/4 of the cabin–if that—was in the water. With most of the cabin in the water, every step one’s partner takes makes the cabin wiggle. Something as simple as going to the bathroom is made all the more interesting with someone else walking around inside the cabin. To add to the interesting setting, our cabin has a few cockroach friends—1 inch, ¼-thick brown fellas that have travelled with us from one camp to the other. They hang out below the rubbery grate on the bathroom floor most of the time. However, at night, they sometimes run around on top of the grate, making it such that I have to stomp my foot at them so they leave me alone.   What fun!

DSC_4960 (1)

Alejandro and workers have cleared a path from one cabin to the next; they have also cleared an area on a small rise and set up a plastic table and chairs. After I shower, I join Bobby and others on the rise and take a beer out of the small cooler Fabiano has filled for us. Bobby offers me use of his satellite phone to check on the dogs and I decline after expressing my gratitude, saying that a real vacation is not worrying about the dogs or my mom. Making a phone call home may make me worry about one or the other. As Dr. Bob said, “Sometimes ignorance is bliss.”

Alejandro joins us and I ask what happens to the waste at camp. He says all wastewater from each cabin goes into the pontoons underneath each cabin. Before the camp moves, each cabin is pumped of its waste and dumped on a spot on the ground. He says they have to do that. Paper is burned, including the toilet paper, which we have to put into a garbage can instead of flushing it down the toilet.  I tell him I’ll sleep better knowing my shower isn’t sucking up someone else’s poo water.

Before dinner is served, a man visiting from the nearby village takes one of the camp worker’s kids out for a spin in a native boat.  I

 

DSC_4964

Dinner is chicken, peacock bass fish, rice and beans, a salad of cucumbers and purple cabbage, and a few potatoes mixed in with the chicken. Dessert is what the guys call “diesel ice cream,” which is made from a local fruit.  It sounds awful but is really not all that bad if your taste buds are as bad as mine.  I’m still amazed that we can get ice cream in the jungle.

"Diesel ice cream."

“Diesel ice cream.”

The talk is of business, and at one point, Bobby says, “I hope you don’t me saying this, Amy, but women can be caddy and nasty and really stir up an office.” I admit that that’s the case and propose that this goes back to at least high school locker rooms, if not earlier. In a locker room, when two guys disagree they call each other names; often there’s a fight, somebody loses, and they move on because there’s a resolution one way or another. In a woman’s locker room if two women disagree, they speak unkind words to each other, and since there is no physical fight, there’s often no conclusion.  In some situations, we carry grudges like badges, and in the very worst, we share our situation over and over again to taint the rest of the work place.

After failing to defend women, we talk about fishing, the Flint drinking water issue, and high mercury in fish.  I ask our camp host, Alejandro about how a guide becomes a guide on the Amazon.  He says they often start as camp assistants like Fabiano, bringing in the meals, cleaning up afterwards, serving snacks, offer drinks, and in our case, makes sure Mark gets a cup of coffee after dinner.  Alejandro fishes every single day, and he takes Fabiano out with him to help him learn the ropes. The rest is up to him…sort of. The guides are almost always from the local village/Indian tribes and Alejandro has no bearing on who gets hired.  Alejandro also said that Brazilians pick up on new rivers and geography better than any other people he knew.

Mark asks if Alejandro knows Preto, our first guide, and he says no. Mark then asks if Alejandro knew Andre, the guy we befriended when we were stuck in a small village trying to get home in 2013. (The story in 2013:  the plane that was supposed to have taken us out of the jungle had  load of heavy americans and clipped a wing on some trees during take-off, knocking half the wing off.  Because the plane’s load was quite heavy and the waters low, it took 2 trips with a new plane to get the guys off the water. That same plane was then used to get us out of the village and back to Manaus…about six hours after our original departure time. During those six hours, we met Andre, who was mid-twenties, perhaps, and a chief negotiator with the Indian tribes to get access to local waters for us gringos.)

Alejandro frowned and said, “Yes, and I have some news about Andre. Terrible news.”

“Such as?” we ask.

“He’s, well,” he started as if searching for words, “dead.”

To which one of the guys said, “Bad news doesn’t get much worse than that.”

We learn that Andre had been shot 7 times after being lured into a place in downtown Manaus. He had River Plate Anglers brochures with him, but things didn’t go as expected. Mark and I wondered out loud if he was into something more than negotiating for River Plate. Alejandro said Andre had 4 boats, a marina, nice cars including a new Peugeot, a young wife, and he wanted to work a gold mine somewhere on the Amazon, which is illegal. Andre was about to start work on that, but Alejandro told him the police were onto him and he pulled out.  We concluded he was into some bad stuff and it had gone poorly for him.

Somewhere along the line Dr. Bob says that when he and Steve went by in their boat earlier in the day he saw me flogging the water like everyone else and that I’m quite the fisherman. He’s very sweet for saying so, especially since my hands are puffy and I can’t even make a fist.  Regardless of the kind words, he and Steve–and everyone else for that matter–are out-fishing me, and I’d just assume they all get befriended by piranhas.  Not really.

Dr. Bob (in the bow), Steve and their guide.

Dr. Bob (in the bow), Steve and their guide.

Mark and I are back to the cabin by 8:00 and I’m done writing in my journal by 8:30. It’s quiet except for the humming of the camp generator. I’m getting ready for bed, and have powder on my hands and am about to powder my butt when Curt walks in, says, “Hi, Ye’all” and turns around all embarrassed. As I clap my hands to get rid of the powder, Mark invites him in and tries to make him feel comfortable about the fact that he walked into the wrong cabin. He says, “it’s a good thing we weren’t “necked!” (To learn about naked and necked, see Day Four).

Peacock Bass Fishing Brazil – 2016 – Day Four – Were they Naked or Neck-ed?

Written by on June 23, 2016 No Comments

Sunday, January 31, 2016:  First full day fishing

We’re up at 5:30 and are ready for breakfast at 6. Breakfast is homemade chocolate-yellow bread, homemade dough balls with gooey stuff inside, fresh pineapple, slices of melon, fried eggs and pieces of white bread. It’s plenty to get us going. Before we leave the dinning room, we make sandwiches, which consist of cheese with mustard on the world’s driest bread. (We avoid the lunch meat that we think messed up Mark’s intestines in 2013).  Our sandwiches are wrapped in plastic wrap by Fabiano, the cook helper, and placed in a rectangular Tupperware container. To that, we add some leftover pineapple, a slice of melon I’m not sure how to eat nicely without a fork, and a piece of chocolate-yellow leftover from breakfast.

We’re off in the sprinkling rain at 6:30, in the opposite direction from yesterday. Which direction, I haven’t a clue. The morning’s floggings result in a 12-pounder for Mark on a bright green ripper-type lure made by a guy named Kermit  Adams. (If you go to Kermett’s site, you’ll see a 2013 photo I took of Mark holding a big peacock bass, caught with one of Kermmett’s home-made lures.)

Mark's 12-pound peacock bass.

Mark’s 12-pound peacock bass.

Mark’s 12-pounder is a beauty and the biggest peacock we’d get all day.

On the other hand, you can’t beat the beauty of a wolf fish, or Traira.

Me and my toothy wolf fish pal.

Me and my toothy wolf fish pal.

We spend the day going in and out of narrow bodies of water, that lead to wide, vast lagoons. We have lunch with a pink dolphin at an inlet to a lagoon.  I take a dozen photos, none of which are any good at all.

Amazon river dolphin.

Amazon river dolphin.

We also do a pee break. Now, being a woman, a pee break is a big deal, because my goal is to get out of range of the guide and not get nabbed by a snake, especially a poisonous one.  And that’s a big deal, especially since our guide pointed at something on the water earlier and yelled “Cobra!” which means snake.  Luckily, the cobra was just some vegetative fuzz, but it did worry me that he worries about snakes.  I thought our Amazon guide was supposed to be fearful.

Piece of fuzz that from a distance, Sappo thought was a "Cobra," or snake.

Piece of fuzz that from a distance, Sappo thought was a “Cobra,” or snake.

The other thing about peeing in the Amazon is that the ground consists of unconsolidated layers of thick, fallen leaves, making the ground springy to walk on.  It’s not unlike walking on a trampoline, except that I don’t know what’s underneath.   So I hustle quickly on the springy ground, looking forward for snakes, backwards at the guide, until I finally find a spot behind a rise or tree.  I go about my business, only to discover that by the time I’m done, I’ve sunk down 8 inches into the soil and leaves. I try not to think about whether tarantulas and snakes like to hang out under leaves, as I hastily pull up my pants, step off to one side onto higher ground, and hustle back across the springy vegetation to the boat.  There, my dear Mark is waiting for me, having handily peed next to the boat.  What’s the adventure in that?

Having survived a pee break, we head down a narrow body of water, and without warning, the quiet vibration of our electric motor scares some tiny proboscis bats out of a tree. They fly out of the tree and land on the bark in the sun. It seems like a stupid thing to do to me—fly out of the protection of the inside of a tree to sit outside on the tree where predators can get you. But it provides a great opp to shoot a few photos. These bats are only 2.4 inches long.  The only other time I saw some was in Costa Rica while on a cruise with my dad in 2003.

A proboscis bat, also called a river bat, amongst other names.

A proboscis bat, also called a river bat, amongst other names.

After lunch, I set the hook on a fish, only to see the top 2/3 of my rod floating in the water and the bottom 1/3 in my hand. It’s my green and white rod, the one that replaced the custom-built one Mark had made for me for the 2013 trip, which had also broken. The original rod was green with white guide wraps (because I’m an MSU Spartan), with my name and peacock bass on it. After the first one busted, Mark asked the maker to replace it; a year later we got a rod without my name or bass on it, and on its first use, it breaks, too. So much for those rods.

Evidence showing why one brings extra rods to the Amazon.

Evidence showing why one brings extra rods to the Amazon.

In spite of my rod, I keep winding and we get the fish netted. I reel in the rest of the rod, Sappo cuts the lure off and puts it on another rod. Thankfully, we brought six rods, so still have plenty to choose from.

While I’m struggling with my gear, we see a green kingfisher make fishing look really easy.

Green kingfisher with what may be a fish.

Green kingfisher with what may be a fish.

It rains on and off lightly until around 3:30 when it pours…till nearly 4:00.

Mark enjoying a wee Amazon rainfall.

Mark enjoying a wee Amazon rainfall.

Mark took advantage of the rain to catch a piranha.

Mark showing a little rain can't stop him from catching piranhas.

Mark showing a little rain can’t stop him from catching piranhas.

I took advantage of the rain to catch a peacock bass.

Amy in rain with peacock bass

My rain gear is not up for the rain and humidity combo, and with no rain pants, it’s a chilly ride home.  I go right from wet clothes to a shower and never felt so good drying off.

We go to the dining room to have a couple of beers and share the day’s stories. Bobby got several large fish (like 8,10,11, and 12 pounds) and Dr. Coz got a 15-pounder. Dr. Coz would later say that he “sure as hell wouldn’t bet against Bobby cuz he’s a fishing machine!” Bobby is impressed with the 82-year-old Dr. Coz because he never asks to take a break and fishes with Bobby cast for cast.

Dr. Coz is wearing a colorful lightweight jacket and Dr. Bob rags on him about how “The outfit is something queers might wear.”  Mark mentions that wearing that in San Francisco would ensure he’d never be lonely. Dr. Coz has done several marathons and the jacket is from the 1996 marathon.  He’s proud of it.  He also used to do triathlons.

Somehow the conversation turns to the fact that at one point, Dr. Coz, 82 had spent 28 years as a single man. That fact somehow led Steve to suggest that Dr. Coz share a story about a hot woman with whom Coz had his hands full. Dr. Coz starts his story by setting the scene: a woman, a hot tub, glass mirrors, and surround the tub, several candles…

Before he could get too far, Dr. Bob asked if Coz was naked or necked? Coz asked what’s the difference, and Dr. Bob said, “Naked is having no clothes on; being neck-ed is having no clothes on and having bad intentions.”

Coz said, “Oh, we were neck-ed all right!” With a glint in his eyes, Coz went on to explain how he and the woman were both facing the tub, she behind, him in front, and when she leaned around in front of him, her hair caught on fire from one of the candles. Coz said he got all wide-eyed and panicked, worried about the story that would come out about the dentist catching a woman on fire at his home. So he swiftly dunked the woman’s head into the water. “She was surprised at what I’d done, but upon seeing the crinkly, crispy hair pieces that had fallen off, quickly understood what had happened. “ Then Dr. Coz grinned, “And then we went right back to our business.”

Other stories emerge, including  Bobby being super sick on one trip to the Itapara (before he met us).  He said he had a 104 degree temperature and spent the day puking, sleeping, fishing, and then doing that all over again. Curt says it was the first time he out-fished Bobby. Bobby claims he got ill due to eating some “giant rat meat” he’d had for dinner, which Curt had declined.  They’d slept in hammocks one night, and Bobby said it’s bad enough sleeping in a hammock; it’s horrible in a hammock when you’re sick.

Steve tells of when he and Dr. Coz were on another trip and Coz had his own tent and was making strange, moaning noises on and off all night. When Steve imitates the noise he sounds like an ill cow. He says it wasn’t until morning that he learned the noise from Coz was because he was suffering from really bad leg cramps.

Dr. Bob shares his story of Steve getting up in the middle of the night last night to use the bathroom. Steve was apparently turned around and didn’t realize there was no external light switch outside the bathroom. According to Dr. Bob, Steve tried every switch in the cabin before he finally discovered all he had to do is open the door and the light went on in the bathroom.

Somebody mentions the fact that the light in the cabin bathrooms only stays on for perhaps a minute.  When the lights go off, the user of said bathroom has three choices: 1) open the door to turn the light back on; 2) wave one’s arms over one’s head to get the light to go back on; or 3) sit in the dark. Opening the door always works but it’s disruptive to one’s roommate. Waving one’s arms works about half the time. Sitting in the dark meant that the cockroaches could be out running around. Let’s just say I did a lot of waving while in the Amazon.

View out our back door.

View out our back door.

Good stories, and great, funny guys. I suspect the stories will only get better when I leave, though, so Mark and I depart and leave them to their tales. It’s sprinkling a little outside, but 10 minutes later it pours and we go to sleep to the sound of rain pouring on the cabin’s metal roof.

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