Forgetting I had a rig in the water, I had just started to take a shower when the clicker went off. I really had no choice. I raced onto the back deck, wiped the soap out of my eyes and landed the fish. I still feel terrible about the emotional damage to the crew; with therapy, they should begin speaking again soon.
So how did this all start? Like almost all -pointless -accomplishments — as a competition between two buddies. About 13 years ago, over a few beers, my friend Mike Rapoport and I decided that the number of species of fish one had caught was a worthwhile topic for debate. After my list turned out to be bigger, he sulked off in defeat, while I decided it would be a pretty neat thing to track.
So the idea took on a life of its own, and pretty soon I decided 1,000 species was an auspicious-enough goal. I had about 100 at the time. (I have a pretty good idea now that catching 2,000 should keep me busy for at least 10 more years.)
Of course, this quest hasn’t always been fun and games. Among other stupid moves, I once stepped on a scorpionfish in Hawaii. (Reef shoes — don’t leave home without ’em!) An angry elephant cornered me for some scary moments on a beach in Gabon. I nearly stepped on some kind of viper (I was a bit too busy running and screaming like a 9-year-old girl to ID the species) in Mozambique, and I have been bitten by a veritable insect zoo of bugs. I saw my life flash before my eyes in a sudden, violent hailstorm in a small skiff off the coast of Brazil, and my last trip to the Great Barrier Reef featured four days of 15- to 20-foot seas.
Against all the odds, I’ve turned out OK, although the elephant incident cost me a pair of underpants.
I get asked a lot about the extremes — the biggest and smallest fish, hardest to catch, and so on. To tell the truth, they were all hard in their own way, but some of them took more persistence than others. Some species are inherently difficult to catch. Many inhabit waters far from home. That means lots of travel — which anyone who has spent time in airports knows can be quite a downer — and of course there’s no guarantee the fish will be there, so some species have taken multiple trips.
The Atlantic salmon stands out as one of my tougher catches. I just never seemed to be in Scotland on the right weekend, and I finally got one pretty much by accident on a pike trip in Northern Ireland. My coral trout took me two trips to Cairns, Australia — 19 hours each way.
But even local species have thumbed their noses at me. The rubberlip surfperch, common in San Francisco Bay near my home, evaded my efforts for something like 30 years — from high school until January of 2011.
The hardest-pulling fish I’ve encountered would be a tie between a 180-pound yellowfin tuna in Mexico or a hefty bronze whaler shark off the beach in Namibia.
The most savage strike had to be that of a mahseer on the Cauvery River in India.
The most beautiful fish would be some small tropicals out of Hawaii; the least attractive has to be a monkfish.
My favorite countries to fish? Australia, with all kinds of amazing fish in all kinds of amazing settings, anywhere from the tropical north on down to Sydney. Thailand also is an extraordinary spot, with everything from giant Mekong catfish to a wild assortment of saltwater critters. And the Amazon is the one place where I consistently catch things that scientists are still figuring out.
The real joy in this has been all the extraordinary people I’ve met and been able to write about: the guides, the scientists, the local fishermen who have all taken time out of their day to help me catch and identify some obscure critter (and a very patient girlfriend, Marta, who enjoys getting out on the water herself — and who has caught seven, count ’em, seven species that I have not, which gives her great joy).
So now it’s the chase for 2,000. My 2012 trips have included Argentina, Wales, Serbia and Hawaii, and I am planning to get to the South Pacific and Indian oceans within the next few months. Anyone sufficiently curious can track the adventures and species I’ll catch — from the mundane to those beautiful, strange, ugly or nasty — on my new Sport Fishing blog. On to 2,000!