Sunday, May 10, 2015

Fear of Failure: The Fight For Snakehead Supremacy

The Every-mans Angler
As I type its actually November 2014, that's right, I started writing an expedition report for a fish I haven't even caught yet, that's how deep this vendetta Egoes, I'm not just driven by the desire to catch it, its turned into something much deeper than that, I'm compelled, I'm obligated. In the same way a mountain climber eventually has to make his way over to Everest, me and my arch nemesis will one day fight to the death.

Very few people will ever speak of something that eludes them, nevermind immortalize it on the internet. More often the case you'll see the grand successes with the failures intentionally suppressed to make it appear as though they are a superior fisherman. However, I am not a superior fisherman, I'll openly admit to being a mediocre fisherman, not for lack of knowledge, not for lack of trying, even lack of confidence. Fishing is an incredibly easy hobby (or so I've been told), however in an attempt to become a "multispecies angler" you will inevitably spread yourself too thin. Your eyes can sometimes wander from the prize, the task laid out before you.

Which brings me to the matter at hand, THE NORTHERN SNAKEHEAD

The first attempt took place YEARS ago, 2007/8/9 range? Who knows I've lost track of time, but Mark and I decided that we would spend a day at FDR park in Philadelphia wading around for what we were told was an infestation. By the time we were in the know (it was electroshocked relentlessly beforehand), it was already too late. I guess you can't be let down by what you cannot see, so therefore we put our heads down in defeat and made our way back home.

The second attempt came with the help of a close friend at a undisclosed location, we played around for a bit, but our target specimen simply wasn't there. We went on to have success with other species that day but nothing really took the itch out of me, I was driven and I had the snakehead on the mind.

Again, while targeting Bluecatfish in January 2013 we made a futile attempt to cast for them in VA at a spot known to have them, but simply we were there at the wrong time of year.

At that point I was compelled so I made the decision to throw our might at the Northern Snakehead and made a B line straight to the source the Potomac River and its waterways. PMK and The Ultimate Nemesis, we failed to meet our nemesis but I looked one straight in the face and it became personal.

Do I think Northern Snakeheads are any harder to catch then the 117 species I've caught to date? Not really, but it sure feels like it, when something eludes you for this period of time it becomes more than a fish it evolves into a foe, a worthy adversary, an equal.

I can't really recall the exact dreams anymore but I've had several (who am I kidding? MANY) snakehead centric dreams, sometimes I was the victor but more often than not I was left to chase another day. Some took place in real world places, and some took place in obviously fictional worlds complete with green, orange, acidic water and misty swamps or even in my own backyard. I'm sure if I look into this with some sort of dream expert I've developed some sort of complex because of this...

I've started collecting snakehead dvds, however I refuse to watch them until the mission has been accomplished. I've also planned a fish themed sleeve for my right arm and you guessed it, The Northern Snakehead will claim its place in infamy next to the Chain Pickerel and another predator not determined at this time. Here I sit with the current date of April 2015, amending this would-be expedition report, in anticipation, geared up, ready to go, the desire, the will, the drive all set to full gear.....

              Harsh Realities The Case
The snakehead don't need me to bolster its image, it already lives in infamy. Fear propagated by the media, various fish commissions, and the general public has stoked the flame, the fish is the uncontested most hated fish in the United States. Asian Carp? Take a seat! Nobody knows the Asain Carps by name..."you mean those flying fish?"

But the snakehead needs no introduction. I recently was asked what are you fishing for, all I needed to say was remember that fish that COULD WALK ON LAND and was all over the news. It's known. Many a bowfin have died for their resemblance and police officers have even stepped into the mix. My friend told me he was stopped while bowfin fishing not by a fish commission officer, but a police officer, worried about what he planned to do with this fish. A bowfin the overzealous cop mistook for a snakehead!

Yeah. It's that big a deal people, obviously CNN, National Geographic, and various other news outlets think so too....apparently I do as well, because I hear the dark night rises chant "Deshi Basara" which is Arabic for "he rises" playing over and over again in my head. 

With eyes filled with uncertainty and the fear of failure ever so present I stand here now on the precipce, the day before departure, eager, willing, READY.


Day 1: Thursday, May 7th 2015 (3 hours of fishing)

I woke up anxious, but at this point, who wouldn't be? I picked up my rental car and bid farewell to my wife and child, Madelyn was still at school. Its usually in my nature to stall a departure, especially one involving a long drive as much as possible, this was not the case at all. Before 2pm I was in the car and jettisoning a Chevy Malibu toward Washington D.C. as quickly as legally possible. The area where I'm from is a stark contrast to big cities when it comes to traffic, but I managed to dodge in and out of it well and arrive at my destination around 7pm. I quickly scooped up Pat (PMK) and off we went to a night time snakehead spot. We found parking and I started casting feverishly like a maniac, maybe I can get this out of the way quick and painless I thought? Wrong. Hubris is the downfall of man, and that became obvious. Cast. Cast. Cast. Cast. Cast. Cast. Fish. Fish. Fish. Fish. Fish. This was instilled in my head, its all I heard slowly driven mad by this rhythmic routine that I would become all too familiar with. Pat hooked a fish and started to shout for me to net it so I ran as fast as I could, but before I got there he tried to lift it over the wall, snap. Back to the task...cast cast cast.  A local dude named Kareem stopped, really nice guy and offered give me some advice and some on the scene pointers on how to land snakeheads, he took me over to a portion of wall he deemed the best and cast cast cast.......a heavy hit, could it be? It fought like a maniac! It was!....It wasn't it was a 2-3lb Largemouth Bass. Well at least there's an active fish bite I reassured myself, this should be a cake walk.

I meandered to a spot that looked probably the most snakeheady of any spot I've encountered. Cast...cast....cast...cast....cast...can't tell you how many, and then BAM! I was too worked up, I instantly turned to call for Pat to get the net ready, well....first things first, it was barely two seconds after a I hooked the fish, by the time I turned around I got to watch it skyrocket out of the air straight up and spit the hook. I was defeated, that set the precedent for things to come. I casted constantly until it was time to go home.

Upon arriving at Pat's he had some Snakehead he cooked up, I was super reluctant to eat a fish I haven't caught yet thinking some sort of jinx would be applied to me, lets just say I should of went to sleep on an empty stomach. The snakehead was delicious, theres no denying that, but it was essentially a forbidden fruit, and what mark would eventually call "bad Indian joo joo"

Day 1: Friday, May 8th 2015 (16 hours of fishing)

It started off innocently enough, I woke up at 5am. Eager. Willing. Waiting. This trip brought out the best casting I've ever saw. I'd say 99 out of 100 casts landed exactly where I wanted them, I lost no lures, I rarely got stuck, and I made immaculate "hail mary casts" underneath coverage I would NEVER ever attempt on an average day, 3 inch clearance isn't enough to throw a cast, I didn't listen, the game has changed, there are no rules in war. It didn't matter, I was outgunned and an entire morning of being led around by Pat showing me the most snakeheady spots, fell short, not as much as a hit, a follow, nada.

I casted, and casted, and casted. You're probably sick of reading about casting, well I can assure you I was sick of casting, I was starting to develop what felt like a tear in my right shoulder, but SNAKEHEAD, so that basically settled that one. Pat and I got some much needed food, something I honestly only did once a day, maybe, I was too focused. We went back to Pat's place and waited it out for Mark, who drove down from Pa separately one day later, yes that's how desperate I was I needed that one extra day! Pat opted to stay home with his wife since she was about to leave for the week. We wasted no time, back in the rental car jettisoning to the snakehead promised land, it was going down. Mark had no idea what he was walking into, he thought we were fishing, I was fighting a war in my mind and physically, I was very singular, CAST. What was that? Something other than cast? CAST! Mark hopped out of the car and started casting from a stationary position, while I bopped around as Mark would describe it "like a wild man". His stationary postion "fanning the area" as he described it paid off and in less than an hour mark had a 10lb Snakehead. Mark and I have a procedure we've developed over the decade of knowing each other, when its a lifer, its a big deal, a spectacle really, tons of cameras come out, optimal poses, feedback and fish care are all of primary concern, fishing abruptly stops. Sad to say, I crossed into another plain of existence, I merely knew the words CAST. I quickly photo'd marks fish, asked him if he approved and went straight back to casting. We have a rule as friends, we won't target a fish someone has never caught before, so Mark set down his rod and instead spent time consulting and motivating me, something I greatly needed and appreciated and something we both volley back and fourth on various fishing trips. That is the reason we always come home with matching fish, nobody is there to outdo the other, that is why we're bestfriends. Inside I was happy for him, no feelings of jealously seethe through me whatsoever, I've fished long enough to know I can do everything right, if the lure/baits not in the right spot at the right time nothing will happen with empty water. I didn't even remember the fact he caught one it was back to cast....cast....cast.....cast.

 Darkness ensued and we made the decision to try again the next day. The barrage of lures couldn't be easily ignored eventually one would succumb to my assault of perfectly placed casting. We went to move to a spot near a bush and heard a hissing sound meant to scare us away, however we're not from the city, animals don't really invoke fear so we looked closer, I saw a bunch of stuff including an umbrella, I whispered to Mark, maybe that is a homeless person? Before I could get the words out of my mouth mark extended his pole and poked the umbrella, the homeless lady lashed out and I quickly apologized and left. I can sympathize, I could see me sitting in a bush while some idiot with an Iphone, fishing for fun, comes into where I'm sleeping, my temporary home, who cares about my quest for a fish, this lady was on a quest to survive. 

Day 3: Saturday, May 9th 2015 (16 hours of fishing)

Mark and I agreed to wake up at 5am again I set my alarm even early but didn't have to the heart to wake him knowing that he wouldn't target snakehead and what would follow would be very walk heavy, not to mention it was 85 degrees outside. Somehow I forgot to mention that but prior to me coming down almost to the exact day the average temperature was in the 60s, for some reason for my guest appearance resulted in a 20 degree heat spike. Pat and I had some promising sightings, probably the most promising of the entire trip. 10lb snakehead were entirely visible and I started to eagerly sight cast at them, that is until the bane of my existence came, the dreaded kayakers. I abandoned hope and moved to another spot Pat said would produce, I turned around and wouldn't you know the kayaker caught a snakehead, there goes another oen from the gene pool...Cast cast cast cast cast cast cast.......and we were eventually back at Pats house again. A decision was made, back to the locale where mark and pat landed a snakehead and another smited me. Pat stated that he could no longer bare to watch me not catch fish and honestly it was a sentiment I shared.

We arrived and cast...cast....cast. The sun beamed down on me and the fish sat in the shallow water, mostly carp, but with the eventual snakehead goading me. Go ahead guy, make that cast so I can show you how much I don't care. Until wait, one chased it! I casted again, one hit it, he missed but he was into it! and then he wasn't, Mark relegated himself to casting plastic jigs with the hope of a white crappie.....cast cast cast. I lost my bearings, I was too hot, it was looking increasingly futile, I told Mark maybe we should go eat and wait until it got dark. Saturday was the day when the Snakehead truly had me defeated, I would sit and stare, make a poor mans version of a cast and go back to sitting down, what was I doing? Letting my arm that was about to fall off recoop? Probably. But I was definitely defeated, the hot sun didn't help. Mark knows me all too well so we got some beer and some of the best food I've ever laid eyes on. I was re-energized. A new dynamic was introduced, he somehow managed to instill confidence in me, I sort of suspected it to be false confidence but I was compelled to keep going anyway.

 Back at the spot I casted relentlessly, the sun was falling fast and I knew it was optimal time. Back on thursday I brought a white chatterbait but Pat recommended I try a full black. My idea was that in the dark mud conditions white would stick out easier, but I got his idea, black looked way more like a native fish and not a flamboyant lure. Mark yelled at me, "you've been using that same place lure this entire time, switch it to what you originally had, put on the opposite. It sounded absolutely ludicrous, like career suicide, something Mark was solely responsible for, I would of totally balked at the idea of a lure change this late in the game, I was going to live and die using the same proven lure. He reminded me that it was a bad idea to eat a fish I hadn't caught, and proceeded to toss the lure far, far away, declaring that the bad joojoo would go with it. I was pretty much done, this report was written in my head, it was another failure and that was fine with me. It emboldened me, I had several ill thought out plans that would render me pennyless but 2015 was going to be the year of the snakehead, I was gonna stall this report, but then I opted not to because hiding failure is the cowards way out, I'm human, we all fall, so we can rise once more. I was getting ready to pack it up and decided to return to the spot where I had the previous hook up with a snakehead, I casted, I casted, I casted, I lost track of what I was doing and drifted off into a sea of casts and then THUD, SNAKEHEAD. Well, it was a fish but it had to be. I didn't turn to yell for Mark like I did for Pat, i was literally yelling inside my head DO NOT make that mistake, fight the fish, seize the moment. When I felt comfortable I yelled for Mark who to his testament, was exceptionally calm, determined and put fourth the best display of netting I've saw in my entire life, he knew what was on the line and he, who also had to bear the intense heat, stood stress free, and gracefully netted the fish. My body went limp, I didn't know how to take it. Captain Ahab speared the white whale. I instantly recited the words of the joker (Heath Ledger or his writer LOL) in my head ,

"Do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it. You know, I just… do things."

 I caught the car, now what do I do with it? Tons of bro-hugging ensued, I've never bro-hugged before but this was a special occasion and bro hugs felt warranted.

Its extremely frowned upon to release them back into the waterways, perhaps even illegal, but I'm not sure the government can force someone to kill anything, I usually practice CPR (Catch, Photo, Release), but this was a war, and the rules were different, I needed to taste the accomplishment. Someone always loses the war and this day, it was the Snakeheads turn. Mark said, "Man I'm glad it turned out this way, because I can't imagine how it would end up if it went any other way". This fish was caught at the literal 11th hour, it was probably my last time targeting Snakeheads for the weekend, I had a long drive ahead of me so it was very gratifying for me. I was floating through air, for the first time in my life, I actively displayed my catch flaunting it for all eyes to see, I felt I deserved it at that point. Usually if one person notices I caught something I deem that a failure on my part, I don't want un-needed questions, attention, or even added fishing pressure to the location I'm at, it never ends well for future fishing endeavors. I was elated when a passerby in a SUV literally STOPPED DC traffic for 30 seconds with at least 40-50 cars inconvenienced to ask what I had caught. With a chorus of angry beeps reverberating through the air, I eagerly yelled back, Snakehead!!!!, as I took in the natural high, I walked around like a soldier finally free from the constraints of war, vowing never allowing it to get that personal ever again. If this was a book, this would be my magnum opus, I'm happy fading back into obscurity, victory was mine, I caught the Northern Snakehead. It's not species 118 or whatever, it's the Northern Snakehead, it's channa argus, it is legend, at least for me.

I proudly brought it back to Pat's house where we cooked it up and I basked in the sweet sweet taste of juicy Grade A victory. The Snakehead really is delicious, I'm glad the mass market hasn't figured that out, because they would be quickly extinct.

And that is the way the story ends folks, because thats the way the story HAD to end. I'll never forget a moment of this gauntlet for better or for worse...

36 hours of fishing/55 hours in the the math, I made sure to over compensate for eating and breaks, that is the real deal Holyfield and the reason why I lost my voice, as my family has angrily reminded me to stop talking because they can't deal with the rasping mutterings that is my voice it reminds them of pain, perhaps 36 hours worth?

Did I mention I procured a nice collection of chigger bites?

It was Mother's Day the next day so we left for a 630am arrival, after a hard day we had a hard drive. It was finally over. Victory sweet victory. My wife even got to try a good amount of the Snakehead!

Moby Dick, the white whale, mt Everest, whatever your preference, it's conquered .

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