Fishing Bootstrap Style

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

For some reason, I got to thinking about night fishing. In the late eighties, my gorgeous ex-fiancee and I lived for three years right on the beach in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands on the island of Guadalcanal. Back then, people always looked askance when I told them we lived in White River, it was a tough part of town, robberies, some fights. And they were right, it was rough.

It didn’t matter, though, because I started playing keyboards with a rock band called Unisound that was based in White River. We rehearsed over at Chris Brechtefeldt’s garage across the road in the heart of White River, with the big garage doors open. All the locals came to listen and dance in the evenings when we practiced. So the White River folks high and low knew me and the ex-fiancee, we were protected, and we never had any problem.

outrigger canoe

There was a guy from Kiribati named John who kept his outrigger canoe pulled out of the water and stowed by our house. There’re plenty of Kiribati folks in the Solomons and there have been for years. In general, they are an energetic, interesting, musical group of people, with lots of good fishermen and seamen (and women) among them. I discussed some of their history in my post “So Many People … So Little Rain”. Kiribati used to be called the Gilbert Islands. In fact, “Kiribati” (pronounced “Kih-rih-boss”) is the local spelling of the word “Gilberts”. The problem was that the i-Kiribati (the Kiribati people) didn’t have letters in their language for “G’, “lb”, or “s”. Also, they don’t use two consonants next to each other, you need a vowel between.

So they used “K” for “G”, “rib” for “lb”, and “ti”, as in “motion”, for the “s” sound. From that, you get Kiribati, “Kir-rih-boss”, as a transliteration for Gilberts.

The picture below shows where we were living at the time. It was right on the ocean. In the summer, the ocean temperature is around 29 °C (84 °F). In the winter, the ocean temperature goes down to a bitterly cold 26 °C (79 °F).

Anyhow, this i-Kiribati guy John had a tiny little outrigger canoe, just big enough for two people, but he always went out by himself. It looked like the one in the photo above, except it had about a three-foot (1-metre) short vertical mast in the middle of the boat. The mast had a flat board on top to lash a lantern. He’d go out at night about dusk, paddle offshore and light his lamp, hang around offshore for a while, and then disappear into the night. Much later I’d see him come back, one, two o’clock, always with big fish. And I mean nice fish, large tuna, rainbow runner, mahi-mahi. I was curious to see how he did it, so I asked if I could go out with him some night. Sure, he said, next time around.

The waters offshore of that house are called “Ironbottom Sound”, because of the number of ships and planes on the ocean floor from World War II. They make for superb wreck diving, but that’s another story.

ge honiara house

It was one of the nicer locations I’ve lived, right on the water, a small two-bedroom house. Solomons doesn’t get big waves, the islands around break up the motion. A wave a few feet tall, maybe a meter, would be a big wave on that side of the island. So the ocean mostly grumbled and murmured outside the bedroom window.

The previous tenants were a newlywed Canadian guy, his local Malaitan wife (from one of the Solomon Islands called Malaita), and about eight or so of her family, including his new mother-in-law. His wife was a “custom bride”, meaning that he’d paid the customary shell money and pigs and the like as “bride price” for her. When we met them, they still had a week to go on their rent.

He liked the house. I asked why he was moving. He said that the problem that he and his wife had with the house was that under the Malaitan customs of whatever tribe she was from, the mother-in-law was his “tabu”. In their customary ways, that meant when she was around, he couldn’t be alone with his wife. So the sleeping arrangements were:

• His new bride slept with her mum and a couple other single ladies in one bedroom, and

• Two other married couples had the other bedroom, and

• He was sleeping with the single guys in the living room.

As a result, he was happy to move out. He said he was going to rent a really small apartment, with only enough room for him and his sweetie. I could only applaud and hope that she was ready for something new. They packed up, all ten of them or so, and my dear lady and I moved in … the place felt empty without ten people living there.

In any case, after we’d been living there for a few months, one evening about dusk John knocked on the door and asked if I wanted to go out. Sure, I said. I had on the usual islands attire—t-shirt, shorts, and sandals. We carried the canoe out to the beach next to the ocean.

He brought with him the usual island fishing setup—an empty plastic soft-drink bottle with a length of monofilament fishing line wrapped around it. He also had what looked for all the world like a butterfly net. It was a piece of bamboo, with a round ring with a net at the end of the pole. He had a kitchen knife. Finally, he had a “Tilley Lamp”. This is a very bright pressure-style kerosene lamp. All of that went into the boat.

Now, the beach there, as on most tropical islands, is made of coral rubble and coral sand. John said to put some small pieces of coral into the boat. He showed me the size he wanted, about an inch (2.5 cm) in diameter. We put a couple dozen of them into the boat. That was it. I asked what he was going to use for bait. He said we’d catch the bait. I didn’t ask about the small pieces of coral.

The sea is calm most of the time in Honiara, and particularly so at night. We tossed my sandals into the canoe and lifted the boat towards the warm dark ocean. Barefoot, I moved very cautiously over the coral rubble, but John’s feet could handle broken glass, he just strode naturally. We hopped in and paddled out into the welcoming blackness.

Night on the ocean is always a magical time and place for me, and it’s triply true on the tropical ocean. There was no moon, but the stars provided plenty of light. As we paddled away from the shore, the lights of the city became visible. I was careful to keep a close watch on the lights behind me as I left the coast. I always want to be able to make my own way back home if I need to. To do that you need to recognize the lights, along with the shifting shapes of the black hills against the stars. So I watched our house get smaller and smaller, and noted the lights and the loom of the hills as we slid out into the warm embrace of the Ironbottom Sound.

Once we got offshore, John pumped up the Tilley lamp. He took a piece of cord and lashed the lamp to the top of the mast. His matches were the usual tropical kind, the type where only one match in three actually lights, so it took a moment to get it lit. Then … we just sat there.

After a while, he indicated something in the island way—by making the “pssst” sound and pointing at it by jutting his chin towards it and looking with his eyes. I looked, and I saw a fish hanging motionless in the water, mesmerized by the light. “Flying fish”, John said softly. He reached out with the net, and with a single, deft movement, he dipped that flying fish right out of the water with his goofy-looking butterfly net

He killed the flying fish in the usual island manner, by biting its head to crush it and kill the fish instantly. I said a silent thanks to the flying fish. It’s strange to relate, but a fisherman occasionally dies himself while killing fish that way. The first time I tried that method was right offshore from our house on the beach in Honiara. Some local guys set a sinking gill net just offshore. It entangled fish down near the bottom, in water three or four meters (10-13 feet) deep. They invited me to help them clean out the net. They showed me how they dove down with mask and snorkel, bit the fishes’ heads to kill them, and then took them out of the net underwater. I had a cold, and my head was stuffed up. As a result, I couldn’t clear my sinuses, which gives you a whacking headache when you dive, and you can’t go deep. I remember hanging upside-down underwater so I could reach the fish, with my sinuses exploding inwards from the pressure, biting a dang fish’s head and thinking, man, do I know how to party or what? …

Anyhow, every few years some guy is killing fish like that, and some fish just swims full speed ahead and gets wedged in the fisherman’s throat. Because of the spines and the scales, and the slipperiness of the tail, it can’t be pulled out and the poor fisherman asphyxiates … like I’ve said elsewhere, Mr. Death has bad eyesight, and you never know if he’s there for the fish, or for you.

But I digress. John killed the flying fish by biting its head, and he laid it into the bottom of the canoe. And in quick order, he’d gotten two more. So I asked if I could give the net a try.

Friends, I’m here to tell you that flying fish actually know how to laugh. At least I swear the flying fish that gathered around to hang transfixed just under the surface and worship the miraculous fabled midnight light laughed at me. I took that deceptive bamboo pole with the net attached, and despite energetically straining what I estimate to be a conservative four percent of the surface water in Ironbottom Sound through that bamboo-handled netting, I never did come up with a single flying fish. They didn’t fly at all that night, but they can sure swim. And even if the flying fish weren’t laughing at me … John sure found it funny. He took the net back and caught one more for style.

flying fish

Now, flying fish are astounding creatures. Before I first saw one, I somehow imagined them as being clumsy in the air. Like … well, like a fish out of water, I suppose. But those jokers are really good aviators. They sometimes fly in groups like birds, gliding along just above the surface of the water. Here’s a question for you. Does a school of flying fish transform into a flock of flying fish after takeoff?

Anyhow, like birds, sometimes the whole group/school/flock of them will swerve as one to avoid some predator in the water. They show schooling behavior both above and below the surface.

They also can fly for a long, long way. They take off and glide and glide … but when they slow down, they don’t need to go back into the water. Instead, they just drop down close to the surface until the long lower tail fin is in the water, give a few flips with their tail to build up speed, and keep flying. Doing that over and over as needed, they can go for a great distance before they drop back into the ocean. You can see in the photo how the lower tail fin is stiffened for the purpose. They go back into the water, not just anywhere, but where it’s safe.

And here’s why I bring up all of that flying fish natural history. Flying fish have wings, and they’ve learned how to fly, for a simple reason—to big fish, they taste really, really good.

Everybody in the ocean would love to invite them over for dinner. They learned to fly because they are voraciously pursued by just about every large fast oceanic predator.

And that makes them just about the best bait imaginable if you want to catch large oceanic fish. The smell of flying fish seems to drive them crazy. I’ve always caught fish when I’ve had flying fish for bait. And now that we had bootstrapped our bait, it was time to go fishing.

So we turned off the light, and in the darkness, we paddled a couple of miles over the soft midnight ocean down the coast, to some spot John knew. The slow stroke of our two paddles in the warm night was almost hypnotic. I used to fish commercially from a two-man rowboat, and I was reminded of that time. There is something elementally satisfying about the slow, rhythmic movement of two men working in concert to propel the boat along, with the dark loom of the land slowly sliding by, and car headlights occasionally flashing from the blackness along the coast.

Once we arrived we got ready to do the actual fishing. He took his kitchen knife and cut the flying fish into small pieces. He put a piece of flying fish onto the single large hook on the end of his fishing line.

Then he showed me what the coral chunks were for. Pieces of coral have lots of small holes in them, where the coral polyps used to live. He hooked the point of his hook loosely into one of these holes, and he started lowering the coral chunk and the hook down smoothly into the ebon ocean. When the hook and the bait and the chunk of coral got about a hundred feet (30 m) down, he gave the line a shake … and the coral chunk came loose and fell off, leaving a free-floating delicious piece of the world’s best bait drifting around deep underwater at night. Irresistible for big fish.

I followed suit, baiting up, hooking my hook into a chunk of coral, carefully lowering it down, and shaking the coral loose. Soon, he caught a fish, and brought it on board. It was lovely fish, a rainbow runner, Elagatis bipinnulatus, a member of the jack family.

He killed it in the traditional way of fishermen the world round, with a short club. Again I thanked the fish for giving up its life for us, like I always did on the Kenai River, but not out loud, only in my mind. In another man’s boat, I follow his lead.

Then I caught a fish, another nice rainbow runner. He caught one more, but I got nothing for an hour or so. Finally, I felt a single strong tug on the line. As before, I started to bring it in hand over hand, grabbing the line in the safe way from underneath. John sat and watched. One arm’s length at a time I brought it to the surface. As it neared the surface I leaned over to look down into the dark ocean and see what kind of fish I’d caught.

And when my catch finally did break the surface, it wriggled its tentacles, squirted a triple ration of black ink directly in my face, let go of my hook, and headed back to the depths where the only light comes from the creatures who live way down there.

John found it hilarious. I was far less amused.

“How come you didn’t know it was a squid?”, he asked when he could finally catch his breath from laughing.

I allowed as how the squid fishing I’d done had been with nets from big fishing boats, and we were catching a tonne of squid at a time, and besides they weren’t a foot and a half (50 cm) long, they were half that size, and how was I to know it was a dang squid anyway?

He found that curious, that a fully grown man could be a fisherman for as many years as I had been and still not know what a squid feels like on a hand line, even a kid knows that …

But like all good fishermen, after he got done laughing, he explained it. They don’t hit the bait and run with it like a fish. They kind of explore the bait, maybe yank on it, and play with it. You can tell the difference by the feel. Also when you pull them up, they’re more of a dead weight than a fish is.

I said great, let’s catch that squid, I’ll eat him. He said, do you eat those? I looked at him like he’d looked at me, even kids know squid are good to eat. Sure, I said, they’re delicious.

He said you couldn’t catch them with the hook, they’re too soft. The only way to do it was I’d bring it to the surface, and then he’d net it with his magic butterfly net.

And that’s what we did, I felt the yank and hauled it up slowly to right below the surface. When it was close, he caught it in the net. He whacked the net hard against the surface a few times to kill the squid and then brought it into the canoe.

After that, it was late, we had three good fish. The moon was coming up in silent silver majesty. John said the fish didn’t bite as well in the moonlight. Besides, my T-shirt was drenched in squid ink. We headed back. On the way back, I asked John what they had done for bait before they had kerosene lamps, or out in the atolls when the kerosene ran out. He said that they used torches woven out of coconut fronds, no surprise on a coral atoll where there’s no wood. He said it was a pain, though, the torches didn’t burn too long and they shed hot embers and ashes. But it was still the same ancient bootstrap technique, start out with a coconut frond and some chunks of coral, end up with fish for the table. Human ingenuity …

We came in to the beach with the sea almost calm, and we carried the boat up the few feet from the ocean to our house. John wanted to give me one of the fish, but I thanked it off. I knew those fish were feeding his family and what he couldn’t eat he sold. Besides I had the squid. We shook hands in the enfolding tropical moonlight. I thanked him for the fun. He laughed again, that easy island laugh. I knew he’d be telling his friends for a while about the crazy gringo guy flailing away at flying fish without even getting close, and taking a face-full of ink from the squid … but then as the only white guy in the band I was already an object of good-natured laughter in the neighborhood, it would only add to the story.

And I tell you, my friends, those fried calimari rings tasted so good, it was worth it just for that … and the real win was the chance to paddle the dark stillness of Ironbottom Sound and see the fish and the reef glowing beneath me, and watch the stars shimmering in the inky mirror of the ever-mysterious ocean.

When I was a kid, I liked stories with morals at the end. For me, I’d say the moral of this story is that if you want to ride on the night-winds of adventure, often all you have to do is ask someone if you can give them a hand in their voyage, that and be more than willing to laugh at yourself.

My best wishes to all of you, here are my wishes for today in no particular order:

For life, larger music
    wilder laughter
       stronger drums

  greater struggles
       shorter sorrows
    deeper passions
       stranger dreams

For freedom, brighter magic
    stronger witches
        endless nights

   unknown allies
       slower dances
    grand delusions
        deadly fights

For light, more mysteries
    crueler tyrants
        harder choices

   more fear 
       deeper danger
   faster rhythms
        calmer voices

Thanks to all,


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November 11, 2013 10:44 pm

You just post these stories to make the rest of us grind our teeth in envy of your colourful life, don’t you?
And I expect the house you lived in has been drowned by the ever-rising seas that are (we are told) swamping all the Islands.

November 11, 2013 11:16 pm

Aint life grand? 🙂

November 11, 2013 11:24 pm

The gliding flight of flying fish is a good example of the aerodynamic phenomenon called ground effect.

November 11, 2013 11:27 pm

Thanks for sharing, Willis! Lovely story, we are all jealous….

November 12, 2013 12:12 am

I don’t think I could survive that open door. LOL.
I love the stories.

Dudley Horscroft
November 12, 2013 12:29 am

Many thanks, Willis. As an aside, flying fish can do more than 15 knots, and while they usually just skim the water surface they can fly at least as high as 15 ft. This from experience, as they could fly faster than our ship when it disturbed them, and some mistakenly flew sufficiently high to land on deck – disappeared into the crew’s curry pots.

November 12, 2013 12:39 am

Willis, I was just editing some of my adventures as my kids want me to write my life story. I just poured a glass of red and was having a break when I came to your article. Synchronicity? I just lost 10 minutes in your memories and was there for every breath.

November 12, 2013 1:08 am

For me, at first light the 4 – 8 lookout went round the deck picking up the high-flyers, and the best of them didn’t go into the crew’s pots, they ended up on my breakfast table.
Happy days. (Sigh.)
And even if ASDA could source them, they wouldn’t be fresh enough.

November 12, 2013 1:12 am

Entertaining post. Thank you.

Joe Public
November 12, 2013 1:28 am

Thanks for sharing yet another episode of your exciting life.

November 12, 2013 1:28 am

Hi Willis
It is a major story after a minor heart attack, fortunately for you and us, the WUWT readers that it was not the other way around. All the best to you.

November 12, 2013 1:29 am

Thank you for posting the story, it made vivid and enjoyable reading.

Dodgy Geezer
November 12, 2013 1:41 am

Willis – I presume you have read the ‘Islands’ books by Sir Arthur Grimble?
‘A Pattern of Islands’
‘Return to the Islands’
Similar stories of a Glibertese District Commissioner in the 1920s. It doesn’t appear to have changed much…

James Bull
November 12, 2013 1:42 am

Thank you Willis as always a great read. As I have found if you want to learn how to do something go to those who do rather than those who think they know.
Your story reminded me of things those on the Ra and Tigris voyages of Thor Heyerdahl told of flying fish landing on board and supplying them with fresh tasty fish with no fishing. He was another man who looked at things and when told it didn’t happen or was impossible he found people who did and could do and then did it.
James Bull

Brian H
November 12, 2013 2:10 am

Evolution works in mysterious ways. Developing a bad taste would surely have been easier than learning to fly! I guess it was the side-benefits …

Paul Marko
November 12, 2013 2:41 am

“Death has bad eyesight.” If that’s not the title of a book, a song, or in a verse, it should be. Don’t think I’ll forget that one for a while.

November 12, 2013 2:53 am

Great read Willis, thank you.

November 12, 2013 3:08 am

real glad youre ok and here to keep writing such interesting stories, true ones:-)

November 12, 2013 3:49 am

I can only echo the previous sentiments. I would be a much poorer world without the delightful illumination you provide!

November 12, 2013 3:50 am

It would be a much poorer world.

November 12, 2013 4:37 am

Thanks, Willis, for a great story.
If you have not already done so, you may like to read the stories of warm seas, sailing, flying, music and some intriguing crime, in Jimmy Buffett’s “Where is Joe Merchant?” and “A Salty Piece of Land”. Both are worth a read – and the escapism works every time.
Good health!

November 12, 2013 5:08 am

I enjoyed the story. I too can tell many such stories from my childhood days living in our house 10 feet off a beach in the Seychelles Islands… but I won’t. But what I will say is that in all the years gone by, and when I have returned to the Seychelles, there is absolutely no evidence of any rise in sea-level. The sea, to this day, still laps the sloped beach in front of my house every day same as it always has… in line with the high tides and low tides that occur at delaying times each day, each week, each month and each year.

Gail Combs
November 12, 2013 5:20 am

In honor of Willis’ bout with the US healthcare system, The Obamacare network is now open. link (Do try to apply)

November 12, 2013 5:51 am

Brings back good memories of being invited to go night fishing off the Big Island in Hawaii using multiple hooks, and of the phosphorence (bioluminescence) highlighting the bow wave and paddle swirls while being taken up a lagoon in Malaita at night.

November 12, 2013 6:02 am

Ah, flying fish. One of my top 5 experiences windsurfing was having a school (flock?) of them cruising in the air right in front of and alongside my board off Kanaha Beach Park. Majestic (and yummy!). Thanks Willis!

November 12, 2013 6:14 am

Loved the story, as usual. My lovely ex-fiancée and I try to go to Cozumel at least once a year where they have an abundance of flying fish. Every time, I try to get a photograph of one. After about 7 years, I still don’t have a good one but I will keep trying. Thanks for the picture so I now know how truly abysmal my photography skills are.
PS Good to hear you are still with us after recent bout with our healthcare system.

gopal panicker
November 12, 2013 6:23 am

good for you willis

michael hart
November 12, 2013 6:23 am

Nice one, Skippy.
So is the taste of flying-fish appreciated away from the locality (of the flying fish)? That is, could you maybe use flying fish paste to make bait in other parts of the world?

November 12, 2013 6:42 am

always wondered, and never bothered to research, how they breathe (or if they do) while airborne.
maybe this article will drive me to actually do it.
have never seen one, way too cold here (Maine) but always wanted to see some.

Gail Combs
November 12, 2013 7:02 am

Great Story Willis.
My life has been a bit more tame but I certainly do not regret following the road less traveled within my capabilities – caving, hiking and climbing – while working and living in cities. I think those weekly trips kept me sane.
Hopefully writing about your adventures to the delight of the rest of us will help keep you sane as you heal.
dmacleo says: @ November 12, 2013 at 6:42 am
…. have never seen one, way too cold here (Maine) but always wanted to see some.
You maybe able to:

Flying Fish
Flying Fish, a fish having large fins with which it can glide through the air. Most flying fish live in tropical and subtropical areas of the ocean, but some range as far north as Maine….

On the other hand you do have Blue Fish, YUM! I really miss fresh blue fish since I moved south.

November 12, 2013 7:12 am

I just want to know when the compilation book is coming out. That would be a wild read.

November 12, 2013 7:47 am

Thanks Willis!
You brought back long forgotten memories of my grandma showing me, at a very young age, how to subdue squid for processessing for dinner. We had to bite them between the eyes for them to stop moving about. Perhaps we had it backwards, but we used a mallet on the fish? 😉

November 12, 2013 7:51 am

Some of my favorite stories told by my late father were of Guadalcanal. His ship (USS Colorado BB45) was stationed there for a while during the war. He spent many a fine day sailing and fishing in the islands. He claimed to be the only sailor on the ship who actually enjoyed sailing more than drinking. Your story, coming soon after Veterans Day, brought a tear to my eye.

David Jones
November 12, 2013 8:05 am

Great to have you back. Take care of yourself, or perhaps the ex-Fiancee should take care of you!

November 12, 2013 8:12 am

Thanks Willis. Always my favourite posts on WUWT.

November 12, 2013 8:29 am

Willis: at less than 10 miles from Henderson Field it must, as you say, have a whole mass of ships and planes on the ocean floor from World War II, many of them from Tokyo Express runs down “the slot” in 1942. Amazing to think that was more than 70 years ago now – the first successful US land offensive of WWII and essentially the turning-point of the Pacific war.
And sorry to read of the health issues – but I’m sure you will always stay positive which is also a large part of the battle won.

November 12, 2013 8:59 am

Thanks, Willis. Very good story.
I used to catch squids in the Caribbean with white-blue lures that had many small hooks on one end.

November 12, 2013 9:00 am

Willis, may you live well and prosper!
You do a lot of good.

Dave in Canmore
November 12, 2013 9:15 am

“The door to adventure is always open. I post these stories to encourage people to walk though it”
Thanks, one can never have too many reminders

Pat Moffitt
November 12, 2013 9:18 am

Wonder why more fish have not evolved in a similar manner to flying fish? Most fish already “fly” albeit in a denser fluid – gliding in air as such does not seem so great an evolutionary “leap.” Curious as to why we don’t we see this evolutionary adaptation in more “bait” fish.

Gord Richmond
November 12, 2013 9:19 am

Thank you for a wonderful story. I look forward to your health issues improving.

November 12, 2013 9:23 am

Magnificent, thank you. There can be fewer better experiences on this earth than being out in the countryside at night, the velvety dark, twinkly stars…. strange how different it is in the city ….

November 12, 2013 9:32 am

Great story! Thanks for sharing. So glad that you are still here to enlighten us.

November 12, 2013 10:01 am

Great story Willis!
I was thinking of telling you to go fishing in your cardiologist thread; thinking about it is almost as good. Check your local library for books by Phil Wylie written about some of his favorite characters, Crunch and Des; great reads too.
Those rainbow runners are also good bait, but more for the bottom feeders, groupers and snappers.
Fishing in the gulf of Mexico in a similar way, netting baitfish drawn up by the lights and catching sea trout (weakfish relative) and snapper. One time, our baits were getting stolen extremely fast by blue runners, a close relative to the rainbow runners, and my fishing buddy got frustrated and instead of releasing his latest runner, he filleted it. Cutting the filet into chunks, he baited up and dropped it overboard. Surprisingly, the other runners left it alone and when it reached bottom he got a snapper. We both did well using runner chunks and catching snapper and grouper. Yum!

“michael hart says: November 12, 2013 at 6:23 am

So is the taste of flying-fish appreciated away from the locality (of the flying fish)? That is, could you maybe use flying fish paste to make bait in other parts of the world?”

First, a quick answer; absolutely, but I don’t know about the blender fish (paste) idea. Consider it like shrimp, crab or lobster as being irresistible to critters of the sea and land. But the critters like them as fresh as possible. Even chum, chopped, crushed and blended fish works better fresh.
However, many people worldwide enjoy flying fish. Those extremely yummy colored fish eggs adding snap, pop and pizazz to Sushi are often Tobiko, English, roughly pronounced in imitation of the Japanese word, means flying fish roe.

November 12, 2013 10:02 am

thanks for the story. I always look at WUWT and it is your stories I always read.

November 12, 2013 10:43 am

I have never heard of anyone using flying fish as bait fish- Is the Gulf of Mexico different? Plenty of flying fish in the Gulf – they look exactly like the pic. I would count the seconds they seemed to be up in the air, and often they surpassed a count of 20. We were probably going 10 knots or a bit more.

November 12, 2013 11:04 am

Did your fisherman use a circle hook?

November 12, 2013 11:05 am

TheLastDemocrat says:
November 12, 2013 at 10:43 am
Wiki says this, without a source:
“In the Solomon Islands, they are caught while flying, using nets held from outrigger canoes. They are attracted to the light of torches. Fishing is done only when there is no moonlight.”
Maybe the article’s author could cite Willis, & update the light source.

November 12, 2013 12:31 pm

Willis Eschenbach says:
November 12, 2013 at 12:25 pm
All the more reason to edit the entry.

November 12, 2013 1:23 pm

“TheLastDemocrat says: November 12, 2013 at 10:43 am
I have never heard of anyone using flying fish as bait fish- Is the Gulf of Mexico different? Plenty of flying fish in the Gulf – they look exactly like the pic. I would count the seconds they seemed to be up in the air, and often they surpassed a count of 20. We were probably going 10 knots or a bit more.”

They’re the devil to catch, but they can be caught using cast nets. How and where, I never learned as apparently that constitutes proprietorial knowledge and held tight to the vest. The pro’s use a buggering big 20 foot cast net and I have trouble throwing 8 foot ones well.
But, and this is a big but; I’ve seen flying fish dart out of the water avoiding something big that I’d love to catch. I’ve also had the energizing vision of seeing a dolphin (mahimahi in Hawaiian) skip across the water chasing them. No, I don’t know if the fish caught the fish; only that they both went below water. Every time the flying fish popped out and dolphin burst out of the water chasing it, a number of flying fish popped out of the water just before the dolphin. Most were definitely on a strong angle away from the path of the first flying fish. Beautiful colors and flashes from all the fishes involved. Hours of my casting a lure later that day, no fish… Time to go find some flounder and daydream of skittering flying fish.

Gary Hladik
November 12, 2013 1:34 pm

Slo-mo flying fish, one of my favorite segments from the BBC’s “Life” series:

November 12, 2013 1:52 pm

ATheoK says:
November 12, 2013 at 1:23 pm
Just so your readers know, mahi mahi is the dolphinfish, not the marine mammal, although the fish is often just called “dolphin”, too, without confusion in context.

November 12, 2013 2:01 pm

Sorry to hear health has led you into Medicinia; beware the natives in white coats.
It they offer you a brew called statins – be careful. If it doesn’t suit, stop taking it; they have scores with the same name, but different side-effects.
Stop sooner than later, and try another.
And another, until you have one that doesn’t take away your joie de vivre.
And many thanks for the reminiscence.
I’m no fisherman, but I’ve seen flying fish on a tanker deck with a forty five foot freeboard, southbound off West Africa, in May and June.
A week later we had an albatross on deck, and, because the wind that day was behind us, so the relative wind as practically zero, the second mate and I went out to help the bird. A good idea when four or five decks up and four or five hundred feet away. Less good when you face a wild bird the size of turkey, with a beak nearly a hand-length long, right about ah – crotch – level!
We did manage to get a bag half over its head, heft it over the side, and ease the bag half off, so a shake of the head freed it.
It didn’t come back and defecate on s – which I’d feared, but rather swooped away – a monarch of the Southern Winds.

Peter Melia
November 12, 2013 2:41 pm

Of course fishing as described by Willy is wonderful (except for the fish) but not all of us can aspire to such adventures. Certainly not me.
But there are alternatives for working men.
When I was gainfully employed part of the job was to visit ships. Not Willy’s romantic boats, but great big clunky merchant ships, just about anywhere in the world. You might imagine that these ships could be at sea, in rivers, in canals, in port, anchored, laid-up, drydocked, slipped, being built, being scrapped, bought, sold, sea-trailed, whatever. It was my living.
One ship was anchored off Dubai awaiting orders, when I caught up with her. Life was quiet out there, in the Emirates summer, off-shore breezes made the summer heat acceptable. Everyone was working normal daytime hours, with only the basic watchkeepers for deck and engine.
The long evenings dragged, films, videos, cards, chess, draughts, beer, most of all general chat.
The crew were Philippino, great people, cheerful, hardworking, ever-smiling, wise. The officers were German, great people, sense of humour, hardworking, ready-smiling, wise. The civilian onboard was British, great people, cheerful, sense of humour, hardworking, ready-smiling, wise.
So on the whole there was a good atmosphere on board and when one day the Phillys (for that’s how they were universally known, such as English are Brits etc) asked the captain could they do some fishing. The captain had no problems with that, the prospect of really fresh fish spoke for itself.
The Phillys said they would fish about 11 o’clock that evening and would the chief cook mind keeping the galley open? Of course the chief cook was also a Philly and that was a foregone conclusion.
So that evening we gathered, the captain, the mate, the chief engineer, the second, the chief steward, the radio officer, the electrician, and the civilian, on the bridge wing, the long bit of the bridge which stretches out into space, way out past the side of the ship.
The lights of Dubai are of course a major sight in that part of the world. Year by year the buildings get higher and more numerous. The roads get busier. Dubai gets more and more prosperous, it that is possible. The lights of Dubai are one of little delights shared only by merchant seamen, never dreamt on by tourists, or tourist writers.
So that was our background. Distant, the lights of Dubai. All around, the lights of the anchored ships. Below us on deck, intense activity as the fishing took place.
The ship had, amidships, largish cargo derricks for the cargo hoses and these where normally neatly stowed. Now though, the grinning Phillys, in their usual crewman off-duty attire of shorts, tee-shirt and sandals, had unshipped the port derrick and raised it to about 45 degrees angle. From the top of the derrick they had rigged a cargo net, a huge heavy rope net commonly used in ships for lifting large bundles of stuff into, or out of, a ship. On the tip of the derrick they had installed a cargo lamp, a large electric lamp containing several bulbs, meant to be slung high up to provide powerful illumination as and when required. The net was lowered into the water until it disappeared, and lowered until one of the Phillys, the bosun, now tonight’s master fisherman, who was peering intently over the side, and decided that such and such a depth of immersion was enough. Then the powerful lamp was switched on and the entire ship’s complement waited. The deck watch was somewhat superfluous since everyone was there. The engine was put on trust as the engineer and crew came up to see the show.
We all waited. Suddenly a mighty turbulence erupted above the place where the net lay submerged, below the light. The fish were attracted to the light and it seemed as if there just wasn’t enough water there for them all, so many where there. The master fisherman gave the order and quickly the net was hauled in, and as it came up crammed full of fish, the whole crew cheered. The derrick swung around and the net lowered onto the deck.
Fish where everywhere. Of course the Phillys are by nature fishermen so they had no problem selecting those which they wanted to keep, and the rest returned to the deep, superfluous to requirements, was not, want not.
All hands carried the fish harvest back to the galley were the cook and his merry men were waiting, those fish were fried, boiled and grilled.The aroma of minutes old freshly caught fish fish pervaded the entire ship. The crew had by now brought out tables and chairs to the main deck and we (for the captain’s party had descended from the bridge wing) had a place of honour. Such a feast we all had, fish of every kind, dozens of them kindly explained to the civilian by the kindly phillys, but the names of course immediately forgotten. Beer was freely available, without any worry since the Phillys are, by and large, an abstemious lot.
Afterwards all was cleared up until the whole place was immaculately clean, the derrick restowed, the light disconnected and stowed away as before the adventure started. But the civilian wondered, there appeared to be a discrepancy between the fish eaten that night, the fish returned to the deep and the actual haul. The next day the mystery was solved. All over the outside of the accommodation, on lifeboats, ventilators, hatches, deckhouse roofs, anywhere, appeared fish, being sundried, Phillipino fashion.
And so ended another boring day at sea.

Frank Wood
November 12, 2013 4:19 pm

Willis you write the best stuff!

David Riser
November 12, 2013 4:32 pm

Easiest way to catch a flying fish is check the decks of your small ship, (50 – 200ft long) after a storm, if they aren’t there look under the Executive Officers pillow before he/she gets off watch!
David Riser

Lauren R.
November 12, 2013 4:40 pm

What a lovely story! Please post more as you get time…or maybe start your own blog for these? And if there is a moral to it, I like the one you suggested. Wonderful!

M.C. Kinville
November 12, 2013 5:00 pm

I first observed flying fish late last century from a Blackhawk helicopter flying off the coast of Haiti. I had asked to fly along on a mission delivering supplies to a construction project north of Port-au-Prince. The whole trip seemed surreal to this small town Alaskan guy, and this flight took that feeling even farther. I hope to never forget what a giant flock of flamingos looks like when it takes flight all at once, and as a group, banks sharply and flashes from pink to white, or seeing the flying fish swimming below the surface, suddenly bursting up into the air and flying. We also flew over the long abandoned French forts, cannons cast askew inside the thick stone walls when the wooden interior structure fell to rot.
So much of life is defined by perspective, and I thank you for sharing yours.

November 12, 2013 5:01 pm

hope all is well from a fellow nail banger. Thanks for another great story. Fried calimari mmm…every Christmas
Eve one of our seven fishes at the family festivities.Great with beer.

Cynical Scientst
November 12, 2013 7:33 pm

Pat Moffitt says:
Wonder why more fish have not evolved in a similar manner to flying fish? Most fish already “fly” albeit in a denser fluid – gliding in air as such does not seem so great an evolutionary “leap.” Curious as to why we don’t we see this evolutionary adaptation in more “bait” fish.

Well for a start the squid that Willis caught can probably also fly. Most small squid fly. They tend to do it at night though, so it is hard to catch them in the act. Unlike flying fish which really just glide, squid have jet propulsion (they squirt water out the back) and can fly for surprisingly long distances.

November 12, 2013 7:47 pm

Cynical Scientst says:
November 12, 2013 at 7:33 pm
“Flying” has evolved before in fish, but the key adaptation of Cenozoic flying fish of the family Exocoetidae, besides obviously their large, wing-like pectoral fins, seems to be the tails capable of such rapid movement that they propel them out of the water with forward thrust.
Good point about flying squid.

F. Ross
November 12, 2013 8:27 pm

Love your stories Willis…
Just wondering – were you ever a bartender in a French bistro in the 70’s? No wait, that’s another story.
Do you suppose telling your lore is as good for your health as it is for us to hear them? Seems like a win-win situation.

Bill Parsons
November 12, 2013 10:34 pm

Gail Combs says:
November 12, 2013 at 5:20 am
In honor of Willis’ bout with the US healthcare system, The Obamacare network is now open. link (Do try to apply)

Very funny Gail.

November 12, 2013 10:38 pm

Very nice.

November 13, 2013 1:03 am

Willis-san: Great story. I’m an avid fisherman, too, and greatly enjoy having a house on the beach in an area called Shonan on the east coast of Japan.
It’s wonderful being able to be fishing for various fish species within 10 minutes of making up my mind to do so.
Squid fishing is one of my favorites because of its level of difficulty and squid is absolutely delicious as sashimi, calamari, in pasta, squid Jambalaya, Paella, etc.
In Japan, there is a squid delicacy called Shiokara, which is slices of squid fermented in squid guts… I know it sounds perfectly vile, but it’s delicious.
In Japan, we use a squid lure called an “Egi”, which is shaped a bit like a 4 inch shrimp with a weighted head and a cluster of barbless 1/2″ pins on the tail
The trick is to find out what color of Egi the squid are hitting, what depth they are hiding and what lure action is most appealing on any given day.
You’re right about squid ink. I learned early on to only wear black when squid fishing because your clothes will be ruined if squid ink gets on them.
Fishing Tip of the Day: You’re probably aware of this, but the best way to remove squid skin is to use dry paper towels to pull the skin off. It takes a long time to try and remove it by hand.

November 13, 2013 1:08 am

Nice story. Not envious at all, hell no.

November 13, 2013 3:21 am

Life is an adventure when you view it that way!
The best look at a flying fish that I ever had was when one hit me in the shoulder at about 20 knots.

Alan Watt, Climate Denialist Level 7
November 13, 2013 7:17 am

I’m more interested in diving than fishing and Willis’ mention of the wrecks in “Ironbottom Sound” got me curious. I found this link to a document prepared in 1999 on the contaimination dangers from all the ships and planes sunk around Guadalcanal during WWII. The main thing I was interested in was the inventory of sunken ships.
There were 5 nightime surface naval battles fought between 1942-08-07 and 1942-12-01 during the Guadalcanal campaign in the immediate area:
1st Battle of Savo/Savo Island (1942-08-07 .. 08)
2nd Battle of Savo/Cape Esperance (1942-10-11 .. 12)
3rd Battle of Savo/Guadalcanal I (1942-11-11 .. 14)
3rd Battle of Savo/Guadalcanall II (1942-11-14 .. 15)
4th Battle of Savo/Tassafaronga (1942-11-30 .. 12-01)
Japanese naval forces were either bombardment groups shelling Henderson Field or supply missions (destroyers and transports) attempting to land toops and supplies.
Due to wartime secrecy and later record destruction, the exact numbers identities and locations of lost Japanese ships is not known, but based on the best available information there are 65 Japanese, 44 US, 1 Australian and 1 New Zealand ships sunk around Guadalcanal, along with 1120 Japanese and 330 US aircraft. Many of these were in “Ironbottom sound”. 52 of the 111 vessels have been located. 10 are in depths less than 100m; 8 between 100-500m; 31 between 500-1000m; and 3 at greater then 1000m. The shallow wrecks are extremely corroded; the deeper wrecks much less so, presumably due to less oxygen in the water.
The details on ships are:
Japanese Vessels (65):

21 destroyers (DD) (for abbreviations see next page);
3 heavy cruisers (CA);
2 battleships (BB);
6 submarines (JS);
5 transport vessels (AP/APD);
20 supply/transport vessels (JT);
1 landing tank (LST);
2 cargo ships (AK);
1 light cruiser (CL);
1 carrier (CV) and
2 craft of unknown designation (Table 2).

US vessels (44):

20 destroyers (DD);
8 heavy cruisers (CA);
8 transport vessels (AP/APD);
1 tug;
1 light cruiser (CL) and
6 patrol vessels (PT) (Table 3).

One heavy cruiser (CA) from the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) the HMS Canberra, and one mine-sweeper, from New Zealand (NZ) Moa, were also sunk.
Total tonnage for all wrecks is 446,517, comprising 321,822 Japanese, 117,595 US, 7,100 Australian and 1,800 New Zealand (some of this had to be estimated). [These are presumably short tons of displacement, not metric tons and not the “Registry tons” used for modern ships].
The Wiki Reference on the Guadalcanal campaign gives a different (lower) figure for both US and Japanese naval and aircraft losses, and claims 31,000 Japanese and 7,100 US battle deaths for the entire operation which lastted exactly 6 months from August 7, 1942 to February 7, 1943 when the Japanese evacuated their remaining forces.

Jan Smit
November 13, 2013 7:27 am

Having been utterly mesmerized just a couple of days ago by the film the Life of Pi, your story came to life before me even more than your usual yarns Willis. Thanks for brigtening up my day…

November 13, 2013 10:17 am

Yea, Life of Pi is awesome!!! Totally… I hope everything works perfectly for Willis. Now, what I want to hear, some old fart telling us what fishing was like on the Dead Sea before it got sick. Anybody that old?

Alan Watt, Climate Denialist Level 7
November 13, 2013 11:10 am

More information on the naval battles of Guadalcanal, today is the 70th anniversary of the 3rd Battle of Savo / Guadalcanal 1, and on this day in 1942 the following ships were sunk:
(Abbreviations used)

BB Battleship
CL Light Cruiser
CA Heavy Cruiser
DD Destroyer
APA Transport Attack Vessel


BB Hiei
DD Akatsuki
DD Yudachi


CA Atlanta
CA Juneau
CL Helena
DD Barton
DD Cushing
DD Laffey
DD Monsen
APA John Penn

Quite a few more ships were sunk on November 14th and 15th, including Japanese: 1 battleship, 1 heavy cruiser, 1 destroyer and 17 transport vessels. Also lost on those two days were 3 more US destroyers.
The neighborhood of Willis’ house would not have been pleasant 70 years ago.

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