Rob Choi is, unquestionably, an extremely talented fisherman. This year he was awarded Saltwater Expert Angler status by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. How does a person earn such a title? All you have to do is catch a trophy (citation) fish. In six different species. In one year. This is an incredibly difficult task even for power boaters, but Rob accomplished it fishing solely from a kayak, only the second angler to have done so.
Being very good at catching fish is just one of Rob’s talents. He also captures them with beautiful, handmade prints using Gyotaku, a traditional Japanese technique of directly printing from nature. I didn’t know much about this art form, and after reading a little bit about it on Rob’s blog here I wanted to dig a little deeper. Rob generously agreed to a little Q & A about Gyotaku.
On your blog you mention that your Mom taught you the art of Gyotaku fairly recently. Did you grow up in an artistic household? Is this your first venture into art?
As long as I can remember, I enjoyed being creative. Also, I got my bachelor of arts from Virginia Commonwealth University with a major in illustration… so yeah, art school kinda helps
Can you describe the process of making a print from a fish?
You take a fish, put ink or paint on it, then paper on top of that, rub it down, pull the paper off, voila.
(Rob made a video of the process you can watch here. Having done a little printmaking myself from woodblocks, which are decidedly less rounded and slippery and challenging than fish, and I can tell you that Rob is being humble here. Even in the video he makes it look easy. And as for the details he adds with a brush once the print is made, he is a gifted painter. I’m not saying this wouldn’t be fun and rewarding for a beginner to try, but it will take some practice to get the results you’re hoping for!)
You are primarily a catch and release fisherman. Unfortunately there are occasions when a fish does not survive. Do those instances feel less unfortunate when you are able to create art with them?
Definitely. I also keep fish on rare occasion when I get the hankering (or when the kids start asking for daddy’s fish sticks). It’s a fun way to commemorate the catch and sort of pay respect to it.
How many species have you printed? Are any of them particularly challenging and if so, what about them makes them more difficult?
Flounder, striper, speck, red, black sea bass, sheepshead, tautog, tripletail, sunfish, largemouth bass, hickory shad, and probably a few others I can’t think of at the moment. The hardest was a 45″ striper just because of the sheer size.
Your signature on the prints is beautiful. Tell me about that.
The top one is a box “C” (for Choi) and there is sort of a cursive “r” in the middle. I went to VCU for illustration and many of us made up little logo type signatures for our paintings so I figured, might as well use it for these prints. The bottom one is my Korean name (since my mom turned me on to this type of art).
You have donated many prints to charity tournaments. You have much to be proud of as an angler, but how does it make you feel to see fellow fishermen bid on your artwork?
It’s a very different sense of pride from my angling accomplishments. The simple fact that the buyer/bidders enjoy the artwork to that extent is truly gratifying.
Thanks to Rob for the opportunity to share his art with the Dispatches from the Potomac readers. I encourage you all to follow Rob’s blog, Angling Addict – Ramblings of a Kayak Fishing Junkie.
Okay I have only been able to catch one tiny little snakehead fish. But I continue to try, because they fight like hell. I really want to catch a big one on a fly rod. In fact I just purchased some new frog flies that I think are going to be very effective.
But while I’m waiting for that to happen, my friend Monica was kind enough to share some snakehead with me that is actually of the size that a person could cook and eat. The last two times I saw Monica were the last day of school in third grade, and then again a week ago when she came kayaking with us and brought me this gift of snakehead fish. I encourage you to check out her new blog, Shedding Suburbia. Monica is a great writer and I know you’ll enjoy her insightful commentary on life and the outdoors.
Okay back to the snakehead. To be honest, even though I had heard good things about them, I really didn’t know what to expect. I mean, we’re talking about a fish that is alarming in appearance and behavior. It looks ancient and wicked and completely alien. When caught it thrashes so violently if you get one to take a fly or lure in the shallows against the weeds you’d swear you had an alligator on the line. As difficult as they are to hook, they are damn near impossible to land. And once you get the powerful, slippery bastards in the net or in your kayak, you’re only about a third of the way into the battle.
So honestly, how good could something taste that is constructed entirely of muscle, slime and anger? Despite being decidedly nervous about trying new foods, I wanted to find out. I decided the safest method would be beer battered and fried, so I picked up the basics shown above. When recipes call for beer, I always like to use something flavorful and interesting. Here the Sam Adams Octoberfest seemed like a nice choice. Then I cut the fish, which was very firm, into bite sized pieces.
So far, so good. The fish had no odor to speak of, and the texture was firm. The bite-sized pieces were dipped in the batter and plunked into a skillet with some hot vegetable oil. They cooked for about four minutes, until golden brown as the package instructs, turned once for another four, then drained on a paper towel.
I wouldn’t be writing a blog post about this unless it was really good or really bad. And this fish was really good! The fish is tasty and mild, and cooks white and flaky. This was a lunchtime experiment, served with some cheddar macaroni salad and tartar sauce out of the jar from McCormick. I think next time I will maybe add a little kick to the batter, maybe a little cayenne pepper or something. And perhaps look for an interesting tartar sauce recipe. But I will gladly keep any snakehead fish I catch, and be happy to know it’s in the freezer for a quick, easy and delicious meal!
Sometimes it’s a ghostly blur in the corner of the frame. Sometimes it’s totally gone and you’re standing there like an idiot, your hands holding what looks like an imaginary fish and your face not yet registering what has happened. And sometimes the camera captures the “OOHHH NOOOO” coming out of your mouth as your hands desperately reach for what is already long gone.
So if you’ve ever flopped the flounder, shed the shad, tumbled the trout, plunged the perch, dropped the dorado, pitched the pike or sunk the smallmouth, dig out those fumbled fish photos and submit them here! Click here or on the graphic to the left to enter your photos (up to three) and vote on your favorites!
The Northern Snakehead Fish, subject of much discussion and debate among anglers and conservationists, seems here to stay. And while certainly invasive, the nightmare predicted by some who thought they would eat everything in the river doesn’t seem to be playing out. And in the middle section of the Potomac River, their numbers, size and fierce fight have attracted countless anglers. When my friend Kodi, who recently caught a 30-incher from his kayak, invited mutual friend and guide Harold Harsh of Spring Creek Outfitters and I to join him for some kayak largemouth bass and snakehead fishing, I had to go.
We went down the Maryland side to Mallows Bay and met at sunrise. At one point in the planning process I wondered if it would be easier for me to take the shorter drive down the Virginia side and just paddle across from Quantico. This picture shows what a stupid idea that was. The Potomac is wide where I live, maybe 800 yards or so. But down here, it’s got to be at least five miles across. I couldn’t understand how all the muddy water from the Upper Potomac from recent downpours wasn’t turning the Middle section just as brown. To quote the old Saturday Night Live skit about how the National Change Bank can make a profit just offering change for various denominations, “The answer? Volume.”
This is Harold, one of the best people you’ll ever meet. I met Harold many years ago when I first started fly fishing and booked a float with him on the North Branch of the Potomac. It’s worth noting that the farthest upstream and the farthest downstream I have fished the waters of the Potomac (over 200 miles between), I fished both with Harold.
The picture above looking out past the shipwreck across to Virginia is out in the main stem of the river. Mallows Bay looks more like this, with weeds and grasses providing lots of cover for bass and snakehead. It’s tidal here, so at low tide normally the fish that seek cover in the taller weeds you see here get forced back into a position where they are more exposed and, presumably, easier to catch. But the rain pushed the water levels up a bit. For whatever reason, the fishing was extremely tough.
My very first Snakehead encounter happened in a little cove. You see Harold’s kayak in the distance, he’s at the opening of the cove there. I was paddling quietly back there in maybe twelve inches of water, the bottom eleven of which was all grass or Hydrilla or whatever it is. I heard a noise to my left and saw large, black fins weaving and splashing between the tall weeds. Snakehead. I threw the popper tight against the weeds but could not entice him out. When I had exhausted that option, I decided to paddle over and just see if I could get a closer look. I drifted silently to the weeds, peering over the edge of my kayak, looking for movement. Then the water exploded next to me in a violent burst as the Snakehead bolted to safety. Not gonna lie here, it scared the shit out of me. But I immediately knew I just had to get one of those fish on my line!
The fishing did not improve. Harold caught a decent largemouth and hooked a Snakehead but lost it. And I missed a few bass and that was it. So we left Mallows Bay and headed to a pond that Kodi knew about which held a lot of Snakehead. It was a little tricky too, as you had to cast out beyond the lily pads, which left you very little room to strip in a top water fly before you had to pick it up and recast. But I got lucky and fooled this little one right as my fly reached the lily pads. People asked me how the fight was. He was overmatched with my 7-weight Sage, and I had to basically horse him over the pads, if he went down in there I never could have gotten him out. Even a small one, though, is pretty intimidating. Slimy, more beautiful in color and more hideous in form than I expected. They look equal parts ancient, evil and angry.
It was a tiring day of not catching many fish in the hot sun, but it is always a pleasure to be among good friends, and the challenge of catching fish who don’t want to be caught is a character builder. Sometimes the fish win. Regardless, if you’re only going to catch one fish all day, let it be something new and exciting!