Traveling on Semester at Sea as a student in 2006 gave me an almost overwhelming appreciation for life, and all the gifts this world has to offer. I think this feeling is synonymous with all Semester at Sea Alumni. When I was asked to produce a film to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Semester at Sea, I knew immediately that I wanted to portray this feeling through the film. If you are a Semester at Sea alumni, you know exactly what I am talking about. If you are not hopefully you get a little taste of this feeling by watching this film.
Fly fishing China is an oxymoron. In 2006, I found this to be true after diligently trying to find a river with wild fish. I quickly realized every river in China is dammed. The rivers I found were either a trickle or dammed and made into a fish farm every 100 yards or so. Don’t get me wrong, with proper due diligence finding a river with wild fish is very plausible in some of the more remote areas of China. Maybe some of the border areas of Mongolia or areas in Tibet or any of the Eastern border areas in the Himalayas. After leaving China disappointed in 2006, I received some emails replies from members of a sport-fishing club based in Hong Kong that I had found through the IGFA. While Hong Kong isn’t technically China, it seemed that one of the biggest cities in the world does have a small population of sport-fishermen. On our recent stop in Hong Kong, I found this to be true. Thanks to my fly-fishing friend in Japan, Captain Keiichiro of Seakuro, I was linked up with one of the few fly-fisherman in Hong Kong, a nice Japanese fellow by the name of Koichi Hamaguchi aka: Lefty Hama. I met Hama early in the pre-dawn hours on our last day in Hong Kong. We rigged our 6, 8 and 9 wt rods as we waited for what Hama referred to as “the only sport fishing boat for hire in Hong Kong.” I felt very lucky to be fishing with one the few local fly-fishermen and the only sporting fishing charter among millions of people.
The original purpose of the trip was to target the specific sea-bass species native to the area known as “Lo Yu” or Chinese Spotted Sea-bass (Lateolabrax Maculatus). Hama, being from Japan, explained to me how the Sea-bass in Hong Kong receive a lot of catch and take fishing pressure, because of this, the fish rarely look up unlike the Suzuki or Japanese Seabass that can often be caught on the surface. Therefore, the main technique used to catch Chinese Spotted Sea-bass on a fly is using a sinking line. He explained that in the last couple years he has fished hundreds of times from the pier while only catching Sea-bass twice. After hearing this, I didn’t expect to catch anything this morning, I was really just stoked to be out fishing in a unique setting with someone from across the globe that shared the same passion as me.
We fished for a couple hours in the shimmering glow created by Hong Kong harbour’s industrial ships and marine lights. We moved from spot to spot as we cast our sinking lines towards structures created by the commercial tankers, ports and jetties. As the sun rose, the glow from the city lights dwindled and we continued to laboriously cast in hopes of something to bite. We were fishing near a Chinese navy base when our guide let the boat drift naturally by the current. All morning we had been stripping fast with hopes that the quick strips would instigate a strike. While I felt the boat naturally drift I thought it might be wise to change it up. I held the same point on my depth charger line and jigged it using the boat’s drift to create the action on the fly. For whatever reason, this was the ticket for success. I immediately felt a hard tug, as a rush of adrenaline ran through my body, I stripped set the line, raised my rod and yelled “FISH ON!” You would have thought Hama won the lottery because he immediately started jumping up and down like he just won the Super Bowl. His excitement was contagious. I immediately got another charge of exhilaration just from witnessing his reaction. It was simply awesome. The fish made a good run against my tightly set drag before we finally saw a glimpse of the fish. At first glance, I thought “permit? no freaking way,” until I realized it was a Giant Trevally. Not a huge one, maybe 2 kilos or 4 pounds tops. We took a bunch of pictures and videos before releasing the fish unharmed.
Hama explained that in late 2012 the Hong Kong government put a ban on bottom trawling. He attributes this to our success. He explained how before 2012 it was hard to find some Giant Trevally up to a 1/2 kilo or about 1 pound but thanks to the ban on bottom trolling the bait fish populations have recovered significantly in just the course of a couple years. This was music to my ears, hearing about an Asian government doing things to conserve and improve the natural resources. Absolutely encouraging and inspiring after just coming from Japan where it seems as if conservation is not a word in their dialect. Hama clarified that he not only has only caught only 2 Sea-bass while fishing from the shore in over 100 outings, he has only caught 2 Giant Trevally in the course of two years. This made what was about to happen next completely special. In the same spot, using the same technique and the same fly, I hooked up with another fish! I couldn’t believe it and neither could Hama. It was as if he had just won another lottery AND won ANOTHER Super Bowl. He was completely ecstatic. Jumping up and down, throwing his fists in the air, yelling and screaming. This fish fought harder and was a bigger, weighing about 3 kilos, about 6 or 7 pounds. I couldn’t help but sharing Hama’s excitement. I have some great fishing buddies back home in Colorado that get super excited when I catch big fish but no one has ever shown this kind of elation for a fish I’ve caught before. It was truly a remarkable experience.
As we have traveled throughout Asia, a common term you’ll hear when people are asking for a tip is “lucky money for me?” I always wonder, how the hell it is lucky if you are asking for it? A tip will be given if a tip is deserved. Well, Hama and I insisted on tipping our captain this day, even though he said a couple times over, “this too much,” but we insisted because he deserved it. Later that night as we pulled out of the brilliant Hong Kong skyline towering over us, I couldn’t help from thinking to myself that this day was a “lucky fish for me,” and I attribute the luck to a nice fellow who goes by the name of Lefty Hama, because if anybody deserves it, he does.