There are certain days spent collecting in the field that stand out, heads above the other days. These are the times when the environment, scenery, mood, company, and fishing efforts collide in a “perfect storm”. I use the term “perfect storm” in a positive light – its one of those rare occasions in which everything lines up … perfectly.
A few stand – out days would include collecting Tomocichla asfraci, Astathoheros rhytisma and Cryptoheros nanoluteus all on a sun- drenched, golden afternoon in the jungles of Panama. Another perfect day was spent exploring a black water swamp in Malaysia. Scooping gem – like Bettas and Puntius pentazona from the primeval, coffee – black waters in the steamy Asian Jungles – that was another stand out day for sure. I have been fortunate to have too many of these memories to count. On this occasion I will take you to another one of my “perfect storm” days …..
BAGAN, MYANMAR – We glided out on the wide banks of the Irrawaddy River – known as the “Road to Mandalay”. This immense river is the life – blood connecting the major cities of Yangon (formerly Rangoon) and Mandalay and other cities and villages in the interior. In Bagan, time has appeared to have frozen somewhere in the 1800’s. There are small villages made of dried reeds. Women and children sitting along the river bank – their faces painted a cheerful – yellow and white with Thanaka Powder. The grandmas are usually seen smoking giant cheroots – a Burmese Cigar about the size of a medium ear of corn. Brahma Bulls are employed to work the fields and pull brightly – painted oxcarts. Majestic and exotic pagodas line the horizon; sometimes the gilded spires at the top will glint, golden in the sun. Amazing, breathtaking scenery took me centuries back in time.
I have been to this magical corner of the world on several different expeditions. On this particular day – we moored our boat along the muddy banks of the Irrawaddy River. A small feeder stream ran through the dense forest and meandered its way to the river proper. We met several young fisherman and explained to them that our interest was to collect small, native fishes. Understanding what we were after, the crew of young men began to assemble a rectangular – shaped net at the mouth of the stream. We walked upstream a bit and began to construct a “mud dam” of sorts. Eventually the stream began to fill – out behind our makeshift dam … becoming a large “pond” rather quickly. Once we were content on how large the backed – up water had swelled, we at once tore down the walls of the dam with our hands. We quickly flung the mud aside as the water began to rush out from upstream. Our temporary pond drained out in a furious torrent – right into the awaiting, rectangular net. As the last of the backed – up stream trickled into the net – we peered in and picked out our awaiting treasures.
Botia histrionica greying out
My interest in recent years has been loaches. I have traveled all over Asia, Northern Africa, and Turkey in my quest for this group of interesting fishes. I will never forget the first, wild Botia histrionica that we pulled from the net that day. They were young, smallish fish of about two – inches. At this size, the young are zebra striped in jet-black on a pearlescent, golden base color. These wild fishes were strikingly beautiful. Botia histrionica is usually sold under the trade name Burmese Zebra Loach. This is a fairly peaceful, widely obtainable loach perfectly suited to the home aquarium. They are gregarious species that is a joy to keep. As these fish mature their pattern lightens and becomes less distinct. Curiously, in times of aggression these and some other Botias “grey – out” in which the pattern and color washes out – almost completely.
Well, all days – no matter how magnificent come to an end. That incredible day in Bagan was made even more incredible when, in addition to the beautiful loaches captured, we also sampled some other wonderful, Burmese fishes. Strange and odd gobies, eels and pufferfish all came up within out nets. That evening we headed back to our base – gliding past the awesome, ancient pagodas – with several containers of interesting, exotic fishes.
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