Ultimate Honduran Collecting Adventure
by Eddie Martin
The day had finally come, the departure day for what would turn out to be the ultimate collecting adventure in Honduras. All of my obsessing over details and budgeting of this venture was about to come to a reality. This was my 5th trip to this exciting and interesting country. I was the organizer and long time friend and Central American mentor Rusty Wessel was the guide for this trek across some of the most beautiful and interesting areas of this developing third world wonder called Honduras.
The team consisted of me, a lifelong hobbyist and frequent adventurer, and Rusty Wessel, a noted expert of Honduras who knows how to find and capture the elusive fish of this interesting terrain. Also accompany us on this expedition were:
- Mo Devlin a.k.a. Mojo - an officer of ACA and founder and moderator of Aquamojo.com.
- Ken Davis - a importer and retailer South and Central American fish.
- Brian ONeill - an aquatic biologist by trade and importer of South American fish sold on Amazonbooty.com.
- Warren Van Varick - an avid fisherman with amazing fish-catching skills.
- Tom Koranda - executive with the Hartford Company and officer of the Atlanta Tropical Fish Club.
- Steve Goss - a professional photographer making his second trip to Honduras.
- David Estes - Florida fish farmer and commercial fisherman whose skills with the net were appreciated.
This diverse and talented crew of nine would make up the best team I had ever worked with. When combined with ideal conditions of water clarity and low river levels, the success
All but Steve arrived on schedule. Due to delays, Steve would meet us the next day. The eight of us ventured to Copan the following day, a location that Steve had seen last year. We would head to Rio Choluteca the second day, when we hooked up with our ninth member.
Copan is typically a 41/2 hour drive. Rusty and I are graduates of the Charlie Pyles school of Hondo driving techniques, whose alumni are unencumbered by speed limits and those pesky rules restricting passing on the left side of the road when needed. The ability to pass on speed bumps designed to slow you down for small villages and pedestrians and passing in the imagery third lane up hills and around curves, shaved almost an hour off the normal time. These ambitious driving skills kept the new pilgrims quiet during the first day ride through the beautiful mountainous areas towards Copan. The roads are surprising well maintained for an impoverished country. The roads wind up and down and around hairpin curves with steep drops and no guard rails. We had late model vehicles; however our minivans tires were worn. This caused a screeching sound around the unguarded curves. This combined with top heavy nature of this vehicle, kept everyone awake and alert except for Rusty to which this excitement is common place. At one point we came to a sharp curve around the mountain. The road ahead you could only see over the embankment into the vast Honduran abyss. Barreling towards this dangerous curve at 120 kilometers an hour, I looked comely at my right sided passenger Mo and said I sure hope I make this one.
Mo Devlin is a large muscular man with a bald head and gold loop earrings mimicking Mr. Clean, except for the terrified expression on his face. He latter described my driving as ride at the amusement park absent the fun. I dont think he meant that as a complement.
The Mayan Ruins at Copan are a must see if your in that remote area of the Country. Rusty and I gave a quick tour of the ruins, since both of us were familiar with the highlights and the crew was anxious to collect. After the brief but interesting walk though this archeological monument, we found our familiar collecting location at the banks of the Rio Copan.
We were very excited to see the river not only low but clear. Rusty and I had never seen this river so visible. Usually the swift water carries a reddish brown silt making collecting difficult. Collecting fish in muddy water is like swatting flies in the dark. It was a great advantage for the new Honduran collectors to have eye on target when sampling the diverse species in this Rio. The trophy here is the Chuco micropthalmus. This fish is rarely caught in any signification numbers.
This fish is treasured in the hobby and is not commercially raised as far as I know. These factors make it a target species for this day trip. Ken, Rusty, and I found some schools of small micropthalmus swimming near the rocky shores. I spotted and bagged while Ken and Rusty skillfully herded these unsuspecting juveniles into hand nets. The days catch was well over 50 head. A new high from the previous trips catch of 6 to 12. Rusty and I were ecstatic as was Ken.
Im not sure if the others new the magnitude of this feat, but they all were happy to have enough for everyone. After collecting our gear and sharing some candy with some curious bystanders we were off to the next Rio. There are always some locals, particularly children drawn to the gringos splashing about in the streams. One can only image what is going on in there minds to see grown men so intend on catching fish not big enough to eat.
The next stop was Rio Blanco (formerly listed Rio Amorillo). This Rio is the home of some nice swordtails, beautiful red tiger Motaguensis, Pocieliops pluraspilus, Mexicana mollies and allegedly the Herichthys gold arum. Though I have not seen it Rusty has collect it there in the past. We were not blessed with a catch of the beautiful species. MO caught a 12 inch male Tiger motaguensis, which was photographed by Rusty and released. Plenty of small Tiger motaguensis where skillfully caught by David with a push net, he made in Florida specifically for this trip.
The day was getting away and we had a long drive ahead. Steve Goss was due to arrive at 8:05 p.m... We had a very difficult time finding the Hostel the night before and wanted to spare Steve of that anxiety.
It turns out that Steves taxis driver got him to Hostel with out incident. The Tamerindo Hostel is run by a delightful couple Juan and Angela, who where very accommodating to a group of mostly middle age ****** fish collectors. We had the top floor of the two story converted home to ourselves. We had full use of the kitchen for water changes and fish maintenance activities. They actually were more curious of this mysterious process of bagging and transporting fish than concern about water on the floor and fish flopping on the about. However one employee was taken back early one morning by Warrens eel squirming in the bag near where she needed to make coffee.
The second day was what several of us were waiting for. This was a long days drive passed Tegucigalpa to the upper reaches of Rio Choluteca in pursued of the anableps dovii. This is a rare livebearer sometimes called the four-eyed livebearer for its unique eye structure. Its eyes set up on top of its head so it can cruse on the surface of the river looking above the water. This unique configuration resembles a Cayman like quality. This is not a fish for every hobbyist. It requires a large tank, at least 250 gallons and only about three quarters full to appreciate the unusually swimming style of this interesting species. It is an ambitious predictor so other tank residents are limited. The collecting went very well as a large hogaboomrum, was captured when a tire was dragged up in the seine. The tire, housed this beautiful specimen, which was successfully transported back to Atlanta with Ken Davis. This fish may show up in competition at the Chicago ACA in July. Other species included spot tail molly (with the bar tail), convicts, a type robertsoni, cutteri, Motos, loiselli and managuense.
The anableps collection was postponed till after dark. They are much more vulnerable to collecting when spot-lighted with flashlights. Steve Goss, a new comer to the fish collecting caught the first two-- quite a feat by any experienced collector. Mo was the most successful at the collection though everyone participation was productive whether spotlighting, herding or bagging, collection is a team effort. Because of the challenging nature of these unusual fish, only four volunteered to transport them back. Ken Davis took some to his hatchery in Georgia and Rusty took 8 of the largest specimens to donate to the Denver Zoo and Brian took some to Louisville which where later donated to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.
The rest of the catch went to a Florida fish farm rented by David and me. Unfortunately they became unlikely victims of a Florida brush fire latter that spring.
The next day after an exhausting night drive to the hostel in San Paulo Sula. We prepared our fish for the relocation to La Ceiba. La Ceiba is like a home away from home to us experienced Honduran fish collectors. The City is a typical third world city with dangerous neighborhoods and dirty congested streets. It boasts a lively nightlife for those who like a little risk with their recreation. La Ceiba is now one of the fastest growing cities in Central America. American franchises populated the city; we saw Pizza Hut, Applebees, Burger King, ect. I hate it!!
One raining evening in a restaurant in San Pedro Sula, while others were resting at the Hostel, Rusty and I reminisced about the past days of Honduras. This rain shower was a down pour reminding us that the dry season was almost over. It left a melancholy atmosphere as we watched the street in front of this open air restaurant become a torrent river. We reminisced of the Honduras before the franchise restaurants and the modern improvements became so conspicuous. The first time for me was almost 15 years ago. Taca Airlines loss my luggage and I spent the next 12 days doing with one change of clothes I had carried on in my backpack. I went to the airport the first three days to be told no senior, manna. Latter I learned that manna may mean tomorrow in every other Spanish speaking country but in Honduran it means not today. The day before I was to leave, a cheerful airport employee proudly delivered my luggage. I guess I was just lucky to have gotten it at all in his eyes. I tipped him anyway.
La Ceiba use to turn off the electricity on Tuesday to conserve energy. Sometimes in the heat of the day or night a brown out would occur. This is when the electrical needs surpassed capacity and the lights would dim or go out completely. One evening after the electricity went out I was serenaded to sleep in the Honduran blackness by gun shots from the guard securing our hotel. This commotion didnt seem to interfere with the squadron of mosquitoes in my room. Then the restaurants were only locally owned establishments and the people where less suspect. The roads were less navigable and the phone service was limited. Anything that was needed out of the ordinary was obtained on the black market. We purposefully rented old trucks with broken windshields, because the insurance didnt cover replacing the glass. This way in the likely event of flying debris hitting the windshield we where off the hook. It was broken when we got it!
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