Species #58 — Shortfin Eel

This Shortfin Eel wouldn’t cooperate, so I couldn’t get a very good picture. It was good enough for an ID, though. Longfin Eels wrinkle when bent while Shortfins like this don’t wrinkle.

Species: Shortfin Eel (Anguilla australis)
Location: Kuaotunu River, Kuaotunu, Coromandel, New Zealand
Date: February 25, 2014

The Tunnifar is a mythical beast found in the waters of New Zealand. It is storied to be half-man, half-eel and comes out to feed when it feels so inclined. It is inspired by real monsters native to this country, and is almost as terrifying in real life.

From the moment I watched Jeremy Wade chase slimy black River Monsters in New Zealand that converged on him by the hundreds and began taking bites at his protective clothing, I knew I had to do this.

The Longfin Eel is endemic to New Zealand, while the Shortfin Eel is found in numerous locations. The Australian Mottled Eel is an invasive transplant from Australia. All three can be found in New Zealand’s beautiful riverine environments.

***

While I wanted to catch eels from the day I landed, it took some trouble finding them. Apart from isolated Maori populations, nobody actually fishes for them except for occasional novelty. This made finding a fishable population difficult.

Since the blood of this species is slightly poisonous, most people avoid using hooks. Instead, they soak wool or other dense fabrics with blood or scent, then wait for a bite. Once the fish entangles its teeth in the fabric, they pull it in.

This sounded great, but I was unable to try it. Instead, I used a simple bait setup with pieces of bloody beef scraps we got for free from a butcher.

***

The Kuaotunu River was a great place. I added more species here than anywhere else in the country — including in the ocean.

Since the water was clear, fish were spooky. Since the water was clear, we could also see what was there.

I spent most of the afternoon trying to catch a five-foot Australian Mottled Eel. Though I got it to bite twice, it started an alligator-esque death roll that quickly allowed it to get free.

What I did catch was a Shortfin Eel. Then another.

Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner.

Shortfin and Longfin Eels are identical to the untrained eye. You can tell them apart because Longfins “wrinkle” or show visible skin flaps at each of their bends while Shortfins do not.

Neither fish was large, but they were fun to catch. The unique death roll made for quite an enterprise on light tackle. They were too long for my net, so I just had to beach them on the grassy bank.

These sunglasses ruin the picture. Damn.

While I never did catch a monster Mottled or Longfin like Jeremy Wade, I did still manage a river monster or two and had a great time doing it.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #59 — Yelloweye Mullet.

Species #52 — Jack Mackerel

It turns out mackerel really aren’t popular anywhere — except as bait.

Species: Jack Mackerel (Trachurus symmetricus)
Location: Russell Municipal Wharf, Bay of Islands, Northland, New Zealand
Date: February 19, 2014

New Zealand’s Bay of Islands was undoubtedly the coolest place I’d visited at the time — it remains one of the coolest to this day.

After a solid first day of sea kayaking and getting the lay of the land, we decided to mix it up the second day.

It was great in theory, but kayaking for miles in high winds all day was exhausting. Carrying the kayaks five blocks back to the hostel we were saying at was excruciating.

When we repeated the next day, even higher winds blew us onto an island. The island was absolutely covered in sea glass, and after I filled up a small bag with it, we shoved off again.

***

The wind didn’t let up, and we were forced to land on another beach.

Little did we know that the beach was Waitangi Beach.

For those not familiar with New Zealand’s history, the country is unique among white-settled nations in that white settlers didn’t rape, pillage, enslave, and subjugate the natives. Instead, the native Maori and the white settlers signed a document called the Treaty of Waitangi which basically served as teh country’s founding document.

Every year, on February 6, a ceremony is held at the location of the original treaty when a war canoe is launched from a sacred beach. A beach two fishermen had unintentionally landed on in a windstorm, nearly creating an international incident.

We were mortified. Once we realized the gravity of the situation, we hopped back in the kayaks and paddled like mad.

The wind was blowing at 10 to 15 miles per hour, right in our faces, and it took us almost two hours to paddle the three miles or so back to the beach from which we’d launched.

Once we landed, we decided to leave the kayaks on shore.

***

We took a ferry to the town of Russell, where we grabbed lunch and fished from the wharf there. David landed a fish the locals called a Spot, while I landed Species #52 — Jack Mackerel.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #53 — European Perch.

Species #51 — Australasian Snapper

Called “Snapper” in much of the Indo-Pacific, this species is actually a porgy.

Species: Australasian Snapper (Pagrus auratus)
Location: Paihia, Bay of Islands, Northland, New Zealand
Date: February 14, 2014

Love was in the air. It was Valentine’s Day, and I was joined for the romantic holiday with the love of my life: fishing. To make the holiday even more romantic, I was living out a lifelong fantasy: I was in New Zealand.

One of my closest friends in college was David Clarke, a native Kiwi who came to the states to play basketball at Oregon Tech.

David is about as personable of a guy as you’ll meet, and his appreciation of sports, food, humor, and the outdoors made us fast friends.

After college, his parents, Jim and Jane, came to graduation where I met them for the first time. We got on well, and they offered to have me stay if I ever visited.

At the time, I didn’t think that was plausible, but I thanked them anyway.

***

A few months after graduation, I realized that I wanted to change careers. I’d been an insurance agent for the five years I’d spent in college, and though I liked the people I worked with and for, I didn’t love sales.

So I gave plenty of notice and started studying for the LSAT, deciding to pursue a career in law. Well, I bought the LSAT study materials and took a “cold test” to see where my score was at the time, so I’d know how much to realistically study.

December 13, 2013 was the last day of my job. I’d go back and help out part-time a few months later, but this is the day I cleared out my office and said my goodbyes.

On December 16, 2013, I took my LSAT cold test. I know this because of Twitter Advanced Search which has enabled me to pinpoint exact dates in my past using powerful keyword filters and my favorite social media site.

I scored a 158 on my first attempt, which, as you can see in the screenshot of the tweet above, is respectable. I knew my target score of 170 was very possible for my target school: Stanford.

David FaceTimed me that same night. We caught up and on December 18, I tweeted again.

Five minutes after I told David, he told me his mom had already begun planning our itinerary.

I put the studying on hold — okay, I stopped altogether — and prepared for the trip. And boy was it a trip.

***

My flight from SFO – AKL was booked with Hawaiian Airlines.

Klamath Falls (LMT) has had a love-hate relationship with air service over the years, allowing for limited flight availability.

It just so happened that the flight from Klamath Falls to San Francisco was available through our flavor of the month sole carrier, United, so I booked a separate flight to SFO. Unfortunately, as a rookie traveler who’d never left the country, I booked my flights separately, without linking the itinerary.

So, when the flight from LMT to SFO diverted to SJC because of heavy fog, I was worried. They bussed us up to SFO in nice charter buses, but by the time I got there, I’d missed my flight.

Further, it was a flight that only went out three times per week, and my flight happened to be the last Hawaiian departure of the day.

For nearly three hours, I scrambled on the phone to get help, but they refused. Their customer service was effectively useless, so by the time I finally agreed to pay hundreds of dollars in change fees, they informed me I could fly out of Oakland two days hence or wait for five days in San Francisco for the next flight.

What followed built from a comedy of errors into madness.

I had a lot of luggage for the month-long trip in which I planned to do a lot of fishing, and since I was only 23 at the time, renting a car wasn’t really an option. So, using the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system, I traveled from SFO to OAK.

It took half a dozen connections, walking more than half a mile fully encumbered in Oakland at night, but I made it without being assaulted, robbed, or raped.

The change fees, motels, and transportation costs totaled an additional $500 — money reserved for blackwater rafting in caves and an additional charter fishing trip — that was no longer available to me.

But eventually, I made the 14-hour trek from OAK – AKL.

***

This post is already running long for the usual fare on my blog, but stick with me. Just like that travel fiasco, it was long and convoluted but worth it in the end.

***

David and I met up, I got a good night’s sleep, then we stocked up on Red Bull from his fridge (his brother Johnny was the regional rep for New Zealand) and almost immediatley headed north to the Bay of Islands. It was wonderful.

We checked into our hostel and found piles of South Americans and Europeans with a healthy appetite for Red Bull and traded cans for money and meals more than once.

The hostel had two crappy plastic kayaks the guest could use, and after the rude Australian owner shouted at us for not being gentle enough when unburying the kayaks from a pile of garbage behind the hostel, we lined them up parallel to one another, loaded our gear, and grabbed on.

One of us grabbed the nose of each with one hand, the other grabbed the rear of each with one hand, and we made our way across the five blocks or so to the beach.

By the time we put in, our forearms were already sore, but we hit the water and caught the most common fish in the New Zealand nearshore biomass, the Australasian Snapper, using a variety of baits.

None were large, but we boated enough to keep us entertained before making the long trek back to the hostel where we got to know the primary German, French, and Argentinian guests staying nearby.

Apart from the excessive cigarette smoking, it was a great. And despite how different New Zealand was from my home, it quickly found its way into my heart.

#SpeciesQuest #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #52 — Jack Mackerel.