I strained my eyes to see a tiny red dot as it spun and slowly grew in size in an abyss of aquamarine water. The mighty Pacific Ocean, prone to fits of watercraft smashing violence was strangely calm, almost as though it was holding it’s breath along with me.
I wondered what lay at the end of my line? What species would be entered into my database in the blank expanse of white that lay next to the number: 1000.
The red dot continued to grow, and soon it became clearer and clearer in the tropical sunshine off of the coast of Hawaii. It morphed as it slowly ascended from 700 feet deep, appearing to be flattened but pointy, angular yet bulbous.
For a moment, the world seemed silent. The lapping of the waves ceased, the wind slowed to a whisper, the boat gently bobbed on the ocean, and the sun cast a weak beam of light through the hazy morning cloud cover. In this moment of peace, my mind wandered to what brought me to this exact moment, the culmination of a lifetime of experiences and this pinnacle of achievement.
Although I had started fishing at a very young age and had always been enamored with our underwater friends, it was not until 2009 that I learned about lifelist fishing. It seemed like a perfect fit, combining multiple hobbies of mine, from photography to traveling and of course, fishing! My first species hunting trip to Hawaii that year ended up being a large bust, due to me falling ill for almost the entirety of the trip. However, the species hunting bug had been planted, and there was no turning back. I had contracted a chronic case of lifelist fishing.
In the subsequent 8 years, the journey of lifelist fishing has taken me on the trip of a lifetime. While I will admit that obsessive lifelist fishing requires one to have both financial freedom and a fair amount of leisure time, I also found that those who are truly passionate about pursuing their dreams always find a way. And the payoff for the sacrifices that were made in my pursuit were even higher than I could have ever imagined.
First, the experiences. Being an introvert, I naturally seek solitude. Anyone who has inadvertently stumbled on me while fishing will usually find that I am not particularly social, and fishing is my time to close away from human interaction. However, whilst closed away from people, the world around me suddenly opens up, invites me into it’s depths, and swallows me. I close my eyes and I’m back in the lava tubes of Hawaii, feeling the damp coolness on my skin as I walked through it’s pitch blackness. I remember seeing each green light blink with the setting sun on the horizon while standing near the end of a mile long bridge on the island of Langkawi. I remember the strength in each footstep, as I rode on the back of a horse through the flooded fields of the Pantanal wetlands. I remember feeling the awe that ran through me while I dipped my fishing line into a canal that ran around the towering Angkor Wat. I remember feeling the roughness of the rope in my hands as I pulled myself up the side of a precariously steep cliff on Lord Howe Island after fishing on a rock ledge overlooking a ferocious Tasman Sea. Innumerable scenes are etched into my memory, each one special to me in it’s own way.
Then, beyond the experiences, there were the people. I met one kind hearted person after the next throughout my travels in the world. From the local Corbina stalkers of San Diego, to the Oio bait dunkers on Oahu, I found camaraderie amongst fellow anglers. And within that group of people I found even more unity amongst fellow species hunters, some of whom I now call my closest friends. Ben, Ken, Michael, Bartek, Martini, Bart, etc etc you all know who you are. Beyond the fishermen, I also found friendships amongst fellow travelers. The friendly companions in my hostel on Caye Caulker, who managed to distract Ken and I from fishing (at least for a short while). The motley crew of bar hoppers in Portland, who nearly caused me to fail to wake up in time to fish for sturgeon due to our late night antics. The woman who provided me with wonderful dinners during my solo journey through Australia, and her young son who followed me on every one of my fishing expeditions. And beyond travellers, there were the hosts and locals, whom I would learn so many things from. The lovely twin girls helping to manage my lodge in Alaska, who didn’t hesitate to pull my father out of the water when he somehow slipped off the dock. The old man on Phi Phi Island, who stumbled out to me while I was fishing in the dark with an old rusty bucket to help keep my fish alive. One of my patients during my medical outreach trip to Belize, who turned out to be the daughter of a local fishing guide. A young boy, who clambered into our boat from a riverside Amazonian village, absolutely enamored with every aspect of me from my fishing gear to my clothes despite not speaking a lick of English. These people (and so many more) were beautiful, inside and out, and reminded me to have an appreciation for life and to respect it’s complexities and to be grateful for it’s differences.
Of course there was also the path of self improvement. I started my fishing career angling for lowly government stocked rainbow trout, those poor things missing the majority of their tails and heads deformed into just vague visions of what their proud, wild cousins looked like. As I began on my journey to catching more species, my techniques would become more and more sophisticated. I would have to learn how to cast a surface iron on a crowded party boat in San Diego. I would have to learn how to work a jerkbait through the rapids in the Amazon. I would have to learn how to butterfly jig grouper from the depths of the Cortez Sea. I would have to learn how to drift a microscopic piece of bait through the crystal clear waters on impossibly thin line to attempt and tempt a butterflyfish to bite. I discovered how to read the water, how to read the land. I would learn how to captain a boat, and had soon taken boats miles offshore in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans by myself. My gear became more and more specialized with Van Staals for surf fishing, Stellas for pelagic popping, Trinidads for freelining bait, Talicas for probing deepwater pelagics, the list goes on and on. I became more and more skilled at packing my tackle for travel, purchasing only the most lightweight and strong items and developing very specific systems for each style of fishing. Soon, the skills that I had to develop stretched far beyond just fishing. This path has strengthened my proficiency in so many other crafts that this hobby commands, from photo-taking, to HTML programming, to writing, to even such mundane things such as booking cheap travel and finding convenient hotels. Lifelisting, as you see, spreads it’s tendrils deep into so much more than just fish…
And one can’t forget the fish. The beautiful, strange, ugly, rare, common, giant, miniscule but always desired fish. Some people ask me what my favorite catch was. An impossible question to answer, really. To know that each and every single one of the 1000 species has a story behind it, an adventure, a tale, a journey, for it’s picture to be on my list, then one must understand how important each one was to me. OK fine, maybe not some of the micro species… Just kidding of course. I do have a soft spot for reef fish: the parrotfish, the angelfish, the surgeonfish, the butterflyfish. These fish are all so vibrant and unique and most of all, difficult to catch! I challenge any trout angler to try and catch one of these reef fish and not feel the frustrating burn as the fish turns away from a perfectly presented offering. Of course, along with the reef fish, I also have a soft spot for the trevally and jack species. I mean, you have to give them some credit for being so absolutely powerful and pure brutes of the ocean. Then there are the wrasses, who have a beauty that is also undeniable, with their kaleidoscope of colors and patterns. And you can’t forget there are Amazonian fish like the Payara, who are probably one of the most fearsome and terrifying looking fish in freshwater… and whom I absolutely adore. So yeah, pretty hard to find a favorite. The entire rainbow spectrum of fish are my favorite.
Tick, tick, tick, tick…
The sound of my braid to leader knot passing through my guides interrupts my ponderings. I watch as my flashing LED light arrives at the ocean surface, and come face to face with a most peculiar fish.
I quickly swing the fish over the edge of the boat and find myself looking at a Deepbody Boarfish. Although it is not known to be particularly rare, the fact that they have small mouths and live in extreme depths of up to 3000 ft deep means that very few ever see the light of day.
And just like that, a chapter of my life is complete. #1000: Antigonia capros.
I take a deep breath, take a look around, and drop my weight over the side of the boat. There are more fish to catch, after all. By the time my weight has hit the bottom, at 800 feet, I have already begun plotting. I wonder what the weather is like in the Indian Ocean in December?
A few small tugs interrupt my thoughts. #1001 has come knocking.
All photos property of COE
References (compilations listed clockwise from top left)
1. Pacific Ocean, Mazatlan, Mexico
2. a. Atlantic Ocean, New York, USA
b. Tasik Temenggor, Malaysia
c. Lord Howe Island, Australia
d. Red Hills, Arizona, USA
3. a. Lord Howe Island, Australia
b. Lord Howe Island, Australia
c. Rio Grande River, Colorado, USA
d. Verde River, Arizona, USA
4. a. Unnamed Lake, New Jersey, USA
b. Mingo National Wildlife Refuge, Missouri, USA
c. Fuerteventura, Canary Islands, Spain
d. Mazatlan, Mexico
5. a. Puerto Lobos, Baja California, Mexico
b. San Felipe, Baja California, Mexico
c. Taipei, Taiwan
d. Cabo San Lucas, Baja California, Mexico
6. Rio Roosevelt, Brazil
7. Tasik Temenggor, Malaysia
8. Phi Phi Island, Philippines
9. Mazatlan, Mexico
10. Pantanal wetlands, Brazil
11. Payara (Hydrolycus scomberoides)
12. Arctic Grayling (Thymallus arcticus)
13. Puddingwife Wrasse (Halichoeres radiatus)
14. Little Tunny (Euthynnus alletteratus)
15. Flatwhiskered Catfish (Pinirampus pirinampu)
16. Whitetail Shiner (Cyprinella galactura)
17. Lavender Jobfish (Pristipomoides sieboldii)
18. Gold-saddle goatfish (Parupeneus cyclostomus)
19. African Pompano (Alectis ciliaris)
20. Sabre Squirrelfish (Sargocentron spiniferum)
21. Doctorfish (Acanthurus chirurgus)
22. Rubberlip Perch (Rhacochilus toxotes)
23. Blue and Yellow Grouper (Epinephelus flavocaeruleus)
24. Bignose Unicornfish (Naso vlamingii)
25. Horseshoe Leatherjacket (Meuschenia hippocrepis)
26. Yellow-edged Lyretail (Variola louti)
27. Buffalo Sculpin (Enophrys bison)
28. Spotted Ratfish (Hydrolagus colliei)
29. Chum Salmon (Oncorhynchus keta)
30. No Common Name (Acestrorhynchus pantaneiro)
31. Surge Wrasse (Thalassoma purpureum)
32. No Common Name (Crencichla marmorata)
33. Glasseye (Heteropriacanthus cruentatus)
34. Fantail Filefish (Pervagor spilosoma)
35. Ozark Bass (Ambloplites constellatus)
36. Blue Parrotfish (Scarus coeruleus)
37. Black Piranha (Serrasalmus rhombeus)
*All common names as designated by fishbase.org