The Eels Of Justice

The Fish Gods bring justice to an awful situation – and justice weighs exactly 11 pounds

November 14, 2012

July 9, 2012 – Kona, Hawaii

For some time, I have wondered exactly why Marta got back together with me. (So have many of you.) Optimistically, I had ascribed this event to true love, but this trip to Hawaii drove home the awful truth: She got back together with me because she likes to see the look on my face when she catches a species I have not.

This, roughly, is the look on my face when Marta catches a species I have not.


As of press time, Marta has caught seven species I have not. Four of these are from the Kona coast of Hawaii, and while I love the fishing there, it is always bittersweet to visit a place that has had so much triumph and yet so much pain.

The most painful entry on a painful list – the rare and difficult-to-catch red coronetfish.

Still, there are new creatures and new records to be had, and we planned a week there in July at the Sheraton Keauhou.


The Sheraton Keauhou is a wonderfully familiar place to us – it was our first hotel in Kona, and this tends to be our home here. Apart from being well-located to go north or south on the Big Island, the hotel also has about a mile of prime, rocky, fish-laden shoreline. Marta was remarkably kind about letting me rush down to the water and start fishing pretty much the minute we checked in. We have a favorite, private little spot – a hidden ledge with comfortable seating, about five feet above the water and right on a deep hole.

We set up our rigs, enjoying the tropical weather and listening to Marta incessantly remind me, that in this very spot, she caught a large eye emperor, a fish which has eluded me to this very day. Hiss. I was just working up a good snotty attitude when Marta did something to really make me mad.

She caught something I hadn’t.


Yes, I made that face.

Oh, the horror. And you just know Marta texted Jaime Hamamoto right away. For those of you unfamiliar with my 5’4″ arch-nemesis, please see

It was a moray eel, to be precise. At 38 inches and 3.5 pounds, it was a solid fish. Worse, it certainly wasn’t a moray I had ever caught, and it certainly wasn’t one of the morays in the IGFA record book, which meant that, unthinkably, Marta had both another species I did not – #8 if you’re playing along at home – and a likely world record. Sensing my utter despair, she said something like, “Oooh – you’re making that face. My work here is done.” I sulked on the rocks as we weighed, measured and photographed her catch.


I was crestfallen, and I hardly noticed as the lovely sunset came and went, and darkness closed in around us on a soft, warm evening.

The sun sets on my hopes to close the species gap on Marta.

I caught a nice squirrelfish which turned out to be a new species – the spotfin. I dutifully photographed it, but my mind was on Marta’s eel.

The spotfin squirrelfish, species # 1153.

I also got a solid Viper Moray, which turned out to be a world record, but it was not Marta’s eel, and I sulked. I am perhaps the only person to sulk while recording a world record.

The viper moray. These are one of the more irritable morays.

The business end of the viper moray. I’m not a marine biologist, but I would have to guess carnivore here.

I should have avoided dinner that night, because as soon as we sat down at a Japanese restaurant, Marta announced, “I feel like some eel tonight!” The evening wore on as she ran through eel puns – when we were ordering, she actually dared to say “Eel have the tuna.” Ha ha. Thank goodness we weren’t at an Italian restaurant, because she would have trotted out an “eel parmesean” joke. Then, on the way home, I got treated to a chorus of Dean Martin’s “That’s a Moray.”

In the morning, I got a definitive ID on the critter. It was a peppered moray, Gymnothorax pictus, and this led to even more snide comments from Marta, who had become a one-woman peanut gallery. This wasn’t as bad as the plaice incident from Norway, see, but it was getting close.

On the next day, we headed north on Kona for a day of snorkeling and sightseeing. At lunch, she offered to take me to McDonald’s for a “Happy Eel” and she must have asked for a new PEPPER shaker 4 or 5 times. When she referred to Hilo as “Eel-o,” I was at the end of my rope. She continued, “Wow, I guess my conversation has been PEPPERED with eel puns.” Ha ha ha.

I did get a new species – the keeltail needlefish – which was a nice addition to the list, but then I lost a scrawled filefish, which left me grouchy.

The keeltail needlefish. Though they are aggressive, they are deceptively difficult to hook, as their mouth is almost all bone.

Marta also caught one. Luckily, I caught mine first, or this blog might have been titled “Marta Needles Steve.”

That evening, we visited the rocks again, and it was another lovely tropical evening full of peppered moray reminders.

A black durgon, one of the common catches off the Keauhou rocks. Marta lurks in the background, trying to catch something rare.

This does not go on the species list – only the fish count. And as much as I wanted to run it up to the kitchen, lobsters were out of season and I released it.

I fished for eels relentlessly, but it seems that Marta found the only peppered moray. I did manage a record on the yellowmargin moray, but it was scant consolation for the events on the 7th.

The yellowmargin. Jaime Hamamoto has caught bigger ones, but I gave her the wrong address for the IGFA.

On the 9th, we drove south to hike in the volcano crater area. This is a stark, beautiful landscape, almost like another planet, except that on another planet, Marta wouldn’t be there making eel jokes. I slammed my foot on a rock, and she asked “Did you bruise your eel?” Hardy har har.

The volcanic crater on the south end of the big island.

Possibly my favorite Marta photo of all time.

That evening, Marta went to bed early, exhausted from abusing me. I took a late evening walk over to the Keauhou harbor and its wonderful little concrete pier that has delivered over a dozen new species to me over the years. It was also July 9, and this brought back thoughts of my mother. It was one year ago exactly that I got that terrible call in Slovenia telling me she had passed away, and I wondered how a year had gone by so quickly. (See I thought about all the things we had lost with her passing – the family history, the glue to the relatives (even the ones we never liked all that much,) the person who would always answer the phone and would read through even the lamest of my blog posts. It was a beautiful, starlit Hawaiian evening, an hour or so before my 49th birthday.

Using a 15-pound rig, I got a very quick bite and breakoff. In the dim light, I could see it had been an eel coming out of the reef. So I brought out the heavy artillery – a GT Rod paired with a Stella 8000 loaded with 65-pound braid. I tied on a 100-pound leader, and knotted on a heavy duty 8/0 live bait hook. I added a mackerel head and lowered it to the edge of the coral. Moments later, an intimidatingly large head snaked out of the darkness and eased over toward the bait. I edged it away, knowing I would need to get him away from the coral to stand a chance. This went on for about 10 minutes, but I got him about five feet away from his hole and I let him take the bait. The strike was crushing, and I hauled back on the rod, faintly aware that anglers who use beautiful custom GT gear to catch eels will have a special place in hell.

I got him on top after about a minute, and then walked him all the way up the boat ramp to land him. This was a bit of an adventure, wrestling with a well-armed sea creature on a slippery surface, but I carried the day and soon had the beast up on dry land. It was a huge, huge eel. It certainly wasn’t anything I had caught before, and it certainly wasn’t one of the current record morays –but the big, big question – was it the peppered moray? Had the Fish Gods dispensed severe but fitting justice upon Marta by having me catch an enormously bigger fish just two taunt-filled days after her catch?

An early birthday present from the Fish Gods.

Some of those teeth were half an inch long and stout. Do not put this in your pants.

I took the world record photos and measurements, let the beast go, raced to our room, and emailed the photos to Dr. Carvalho in Brazil. It was now well after midnight, but I slept fitfully, getting up every hour or so to check email and see if Dr. Carvalho had responded. At 4:48 am, I got one of the best birthday presents a guy could ever get. The email arrived, and the fish was indeed a Peppered Moray. At 11 pounds, it positively shattered Marta’s record. I woke her up to share this wonderful news.

I expected Marta to hiss at me or throw things. Instead, she propped herself up on one elbow, smiled sweetly, and said “I have two words for you – red coronetfish.” Crestfallen, I serenaded her with a quick chorus of “That’s a Moray.” I then dozed off myself, content that the eels of justice may turn slowly, but that for once, they had turned my way. And in just 36 hours, they would turn again – but far more quickly.

–– Steve


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