ladyfish

WaterLine file photo

Ladyfish: Fun to catch, but watch out.

OK, kids — storytime! Today, I’m going to tell you a cautionary tale in which I will serve as the horrible example, and I will describe for you in detail a very bad thing that happened to me just this past weekend. Whatever you do, don’t let this happen to you.

It started out as a lovely day on the water. Capt. Mike Myers, who is burning the candle at both ends to get his R.N. degree, had a four-man charter and asked me to come along as mate. Since Mike is a friend and I knew he could use the help, I agreed.

Those of you who have been on a fishing charter know that the mate is more or less the do-boy. Tie me on a new leader. Cut off this jighead and get a popping cork rigged up. Pull the Stick-It and let the boat drift 20 yards, then put it back in. Get me another shrimp. Take this little trout off the hook and release it. Aye-aye, Capt. Bligh!

That’s OK. I don’t mind a little work, and it’s always fun to help put people on fish while also furthering their on-the-water education. No bad things here. Not yet.

So we’ve got two anglers on the front, casting DOA CAL shad tails on quarter-ounce jigheads, and two in the back with shrimp under floats. It’s a windy morning, so we’re tucked deep into the backcountry to avoid whitecaps out on the Harbor. The bite is pretty good, and I’m steady taking off fish, rebaiting hooks and casting out shrimp. They’re having a good time.

Most of the fish are trout, but there’s an occasional ladyfish thrown in. Ladyfish have this nasty (and very unladylike) habit of releasing their bowels when lifted out of the water or slung into the boat. Because I am aware of that habit, I’m being cautious when grabbing them to remove the hooks. Regardless of my caution, ladyfish are also slippery and flop around a lot, and the third or fourth fish manages to splat my shirt with a big gob of streaky, oily poo.

That’s not the bad thing that happened. Oh, no. I wish that were the bad thing, because that’s really the kind of no-big-deal thing that I was expecting. No — it’s much worse.

They catch a few more. We’re now getting into some larger trout, and a few are ending up in the cooler. While trying to grab one that flipped out of the cooler as another was going in, my foot slipped and was scraped by one of Capt. Mike’s rusty fillet knives, which are somewhat precariously held in a plastic rack next to the baitwell. Nice 3-inch scratch, just deep enough to bleed. No worries — hazards of the job, keep on keepin’ on.

Now one of the guys has caught another ladyfish, and I grab the line to pop the hook out. Usually ladyfish are only halfway hooked and fall off readily. It’s annoying when you need shark bait, but otherwise convenient. Doesn’t fall off. I grab the hook with my pliers and shake. Doesn’t fall off. I take hold of the fish, being careful to point the pooping part overboard.

The fish wriggles and squirms. My hand, slick with trout slime, can keep hold of the fish but not keep it angled how I want. I’m reaching into its mouth with my pliers, at the same time discussing the virtues of circle hooks with the man whose fish I’m trying to release.

A shower of viscous brown poo sprays from the ladyfish. The hook pops out. I drop the fish into the water. As I let it go, it flops one more time. Its tail catches the stream of excrement and flips it upwards toward my face. I involuntarily blink, but it misses my glasses and hits me square in the mouth. Right in my open mouth.

For a second, I didn’t realize what had just happened. Then — and I’m sorry to make you read this, but I had to live it — the taste hit me. Like cod liver oil and mushrooms, rich and greasy and completely overpowering. I once tried eating a ladyfish fillet. It was horrible, mushy and gray and full of bones. At the time, I thought the meat was the most disgusting part of a ladyfish. If only I had known how wrong I was.

I think I deserve some credit for not spitting it out on Capt. Mike’s client, who was standing right in front of me. Instead, I politely leaned past him and spit in the water. Then I spit again. And again. I went to the cooler, got a bottle of water, and did the rinse-spit-repeat until it was empty and the lingering taste was gone. I was happy to have not vomited. They teased me a little. Not much, or at least not as much as I’d expected.

We went on with the trip. They caught about 50 trout and had some missed shots at redfish — not bad for four hours on a very weird tide (south winds will do that on Charlotte Harbor).

It’s not quite over. When I got home, I related the story to my loving and understanding wife. After an appropriate expression of horror, she innocently asked, “So is that what’s on your face?” I walked to the bathroom mirror and saw a brown-and-white splatter on my left cheek. It had been there for hours. There were five guys on the boat, one of whom is supposed to be a good friend. Not one of them told me.

So, what’s the lesson? I dunno. I guess it would have to be this: If a ladyfish poops in your mouth, after you rinse it out be sure to wipe off your cheek, just in case — because your fishing buddies will never tell you.

Contact Capt. Josh Olive at 941-276-9657 or Publisher@WaterLineWeekly.com.

Contact Capt. Josh Olive at 941-276-9657 or Publisher@
WaterLineWeekly.com.

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