Snowy egret & little blue heron - all images copyright/Lisa Brunetti

My childhood years spent along the muddy Mississippi River prepped me for an easy transition to life along a lazy river in Ecuador, where I now live.  After losing power for five days during this rain-soaked February, I refrained from throwing away the preseasoned “lomo fino” filet of beef that was in the freezer.   It presented a good excuse to clock out from painting and see if this river girl could catch a catfish or two!

I traded paintbrushes for my trusted Ambassadeur 5500C fishing reel to see what species might sample the gourmet bait!  The herons and egrets made room for me,  and I trekked across the large river-stabilizing boulders and cast into the main channel.   Within a minute, the first ‘tap-tap-tap’ began on the line, and to my amusement, I reeled in a young catfish that was not much larger than the hook!    I chuckled, quickly removed the hook, hurled the fish back into the river and secured the bait before casting into another area.

The next prize was surely a clump of debris, and with disinterest, I reeled the cantankerous bulk along the muddy bottom.  Squinting to look closer, I realized that my bounty was a beautiful crab, which dropped off as it became airborne!

After several misses, I finally hooked something worthy of my efforts;  a silvery-white catfish was the next victim,  and I reeled it to shore with ease.   The catfish barbed my hand while I groped to secure it – YOW! – I had forgotten how painful the catfish can be!

Ready for a second catfish, I rebaited the line and cast into the river again.  A frail ‘tap-tap,’ warned me that another baby was dining on the bait.  I jerked the line and hooked another lightweight fish.  Pooh!  I wasn’t too crazy about receiving a second prick from a fish too small to eat!

To my surprise, the fish looked like a cross between a catfish and an eel.   ‘What… is.. this?…”    A lack of barbs did not mean the fish was benign, and I pondered how to remove the hook.   I proceeded carefully and inspected it with the curiosity of a child.

Its tiny eyes were set forward at the top of its catfish-like head. (Front arrow).. A ‘bow-tie’ pelvic fin garnished the area  below its gills. (Lower arrow) At times its pectoral  fins flared out as if they belonged to an angel.  (Bottom arrow)

Skittish of being pricked again, I used a rock as an extension of my hand to hold the body as I wriggled the hook.  To my horror, the fish suddenly squirted a liquid from two (?) little black retracting pipes at the front of its dorsal fin!  Luckily the liquid missed my face and eyes, although I wiped away any chance of a possible acidic burn.

My compassion evaporated after the ‘spitting’ incident, and I hurriedly removed the hook.  The fish flailed again, and flopped four feet down to the boulders below.  The recently-placed rocks were unstable, and retrieving the fish was not worth the risk of being injured by a shifting boulder.  I retrieved my camera, took a photo of the mystery fish, then moved to a new location.

Black-crowned night heron y green kingfisher

An ample supply of catfish and crabs entertained me for another hour, until the end-of-day mosquitoes sent me home.   A dinner of freshly-caught catfish brought back nostalgic memories of Mississippi, although I was soon online in search of more information about the mystery fish.   After fruitless research, I returned to the rocks the next morning to find the fish had been moved to a different location. (Black-crowned night heron?)  Beside it was the head of a small catfish, though the mystery fish was untouched! My brow raised. Even birds avoid this creature.  I poured water over it for better photos, and to my surprise, it flopped its tail!

A shovel doubled as a walking stick and a tool for handling the fish, and  I ambled down the boulders and cautiously cleared the area near the fish.  How could a little bitty spout on a little bitty fish threaten me as much as the possibility of being pinned by a great big boulder?!

Surprisingly strong, the fish continued to challenge my presence.  With girlish retorts and jerky movements,  I positioned it for better photos and gladly said, ‘Goodbye,’ as it flopped out of reach and edged closer to the river.   That’s a a ‘life fish’ for me, though I will be happy if I never have another close encounter with that species of mystery fish!