Dateline – March 26, 2011: Dania Beach, Florida
The first trophy I ever won was for ice hockey, in Birmingham, Michigan in the spring of 1978. My team, Fidelity Bank, stormed through the playoffs – we defeated City of Berkeley in the opening round, then swept a best of three from Kentucky Fried Chicken to take the Birmingham Hockey Association Bantam title. I was a middle of the pack player for that club, but I had my first-ever hat trick in the opening game, scoring all but the winner in a 4-1 triumph. My first girlfriend, Sue Wenner, was at the game, and I still get a rush of manly feeling every time I recall taking a pass from Mike Carter and burying that long empty-netter to complete the three goals. I raised my stick, looked up into the stands, and there was Sue, deep in conversation with my mother. They had missed the whole thing. Men remember these things. That trophy stayed on my nightstand for months, and I went to sleep staring at it. It is still on a shelf in my man cave/home office. And once in a while, in a furtive phone call, Sean Biggs and I will still reminisce about those glory days, although Sean, he of the booming slapshot, was a lot better player than I was.
BHA stars Sean Biggs and Steve Wozniak, Spring 1978, Birmingham, Michigan. Sean was yelling “cheeeese” when this photo was taken. I think I was scratching myself. INSET: Sue Wenner, circa 1978
Former BHA stars Steve Wozniak and Sean Biggs, May 2008. Sean was yelling “Get that camera out of my face” when this photo was taken. I think I was scratching myself.
Around 33 years later, this February, I found out that I was going to get another trophy, this time from the IGFA. (The International Game Fish Association – the guys who keep all the records and sell those cool t-shirts.) This is not to imply I didn’t win a few in between, although most of them say things like “Participant” or “Successfully Completed Treatment.” This one was a bit different: somehow, I had managed to set the most saltwater records for a male angler in 2010. Even though these records were a litany of “underrepresented” creatures, this means a trophy and a spot at the big show – The Academy Awards of Fishing – the IGFA awards banquet, held at the end of March every year.
The IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame and Museum – the center of the fishing universe.
I didn’t really know what the heck to expect. I drove up from Islamorada in the early afternoon to Dania Beach, just north of Miami. The IGFA museum is certainly an impressive edifice – I wandered around inside for about an hour, and barely got out of the store.
Who wouldn’t want this in their front yard?
This place is steeped in history, with displays like the 1560 pound Black Marlin caught by Alfred Glassell Jr. in 1953. It’s big.
Bigger than the average Cowfish.
I looked for long minutes at the mounts on the wall of the store, and counted off the species I had caught. With bitter disappointment, I noted that I had landed all of them … except one, the Yellowfin Grouper. They must have done this just to piss me off.
The red arrow marks the only fish species on the wall I haven’t caught. I’m sure Jaime Hamamoto doesn’t have one either, so there.
After wandering through the museum and store, and having bought a huge haul of hats and t-shirts, I went the hundred yards back to the hotel. I broke out the shower gel and attempted to make sure 2 days of shrimp puree was out from under my fingernails, then donned my Roosterfish Hawaiian shirt. (And yes, I wore pants also – this was a formal occasion.)
So I checked in at the IGFA event reception desk, and the evening sort of became a blur from there. There were men and women from all over – all incredibly talented anglers – a lot of people I recognized from magazines and television. And then there was me – in my lame roosterfish Hawaiian shirt, awkwardly having realized that roosterfish do not live in Hawaii – rubbing elbows with the A-list of the fishing world. Wow. It was a bit tough to focus; just to be in this place left me in slack-jawed wonder.
The first person I connected with was an old friend I had never actually met in person – Adrian Gray, the IGFA production guy who singlehandedly launched the media attention for my species quest. Please, please don’t send him any death threats. He didn’t know me or the damage this would all do.
Adrian Gray, IGFA Production Coordinator. It’s all his fault.
One of the first guys Adrian introduced me to was Dr. Martin Arostegui, who immediately refused to let me call him anything except Marty. Some explanation is in order here – this guy is simply one of the giants of the sportfishing world. He holds 386 world records and has caught stuff on fly rods the rest of us can’t get with dynamite. And he walked right up to me, shook my hand, and said “We are great fans of your blog.” I snarfed my Pepsi.
I then spent about ten minutes talking to Marty. His son Martini, who has over 100 world records himself, is apparently a big 1000Fish fan and has started his own species quest. As Martini is a freshman at Stanford, Marty asked if I might find some time to take him fishing back in California. (That’s a big yes.) And before Marty headed off to his table at dinner, he invited me fishing the following morning. Apparently, the Everglades near his house are chock full of exotic species. I mumbled a “yes” and was left in stunned silence. What a night, and it hadn’t really started.
Dr. Marty Arostegui, front and center.
I also met Patrick Sebile, owner of Sebile Lures and also an accomplished species hunter, with a total well over 600, which puts him in the top two worldwide. I would also venture to guess he has caught more species on lures than anyone else on the planet. I have been reading about this guy for years – he is incredibly well-travelled. We are both in the 60s for countries fished, but he has actually stayed in most of these places longer than 36 hours and has thoroughly explored places like Africa that I have only briefly visited.
We talked a bit of shop, but the highlight of chatting with him was beside Pierre’s Clostermann’s plaque in the Hall of Fame. Pierre (1921-2006) was indeed a legendary sportfisherman, but was also a World War II flying ace – one of the first Free French pilots to land in France after D-Day – and also a noted politician and author. Patrick had known him personally, and his admiration was open and very deep.
Patrick Sebile. That’s right, me arm-in-arm with a French guy. Fishing truly brings us all together.
After cocktails, we headed in for dinner and the actual awards. There were so many amazing stories that came to life on the award stage. A couple of lifetime achievement awards were given out – these went to those few maniacs who have somehow managed to set over 100 world records in their career. Captain Bobby McGuinness of Costa Rica gave a brief and heartfelt speech that mostly consisted of him tearing up and kissing the trophy. The man had so much joy and gratitude I dare say there probably wasn’t a dry eye in the house. But Marty Arostegui stole the show. He has been flyfishing angler of the year so many times they should just call it the Arostegui award. He just got on stage and kindly, humbly thanked his family and the IGFA, but most of all, he thanked “the ugly fish.” That’s right, the ugly fish – unglamorous, underrepresented species like the Bowfin that have given him so many records. I choked up a little bit and thought – “My God, there are others out there.” It was there in Dania Beach I discovered I had a second family – people who understood my terrible affliction and could even identify with it.
I saw this pop up and thought “Why did they have to use a picture Jaime Hamamoto took?”
By the time they got to my plaque, it all became even more of a blur. I remember seeing my name up on the multimedia screen, and I remember walking to the stage and hearing some kind words. Then I was expected to actually say something. Now, those of you who know me would suspect I am never at a loss for words, but this was different – in a word, it was humbling. Luckily, emcee Mike Myatt gave me a marvelous setup by mixing up his notes and introducing me as the guy who was trying for 1000 species. I snapped briefly out of my reverie and told him to catch up on the IGFA magazine – I had broken the 1000 mark last July, and that got a round of applause, as Mike is the IGFA COO and should at least keep up on the magazine. Then I tried to thank everyone I could think of and got the heck off stage and let the professionals take over.
Accepting the hardware from IGFA President Rob Kramer
And then they had to give me the microphone. Let’s just say it went better than my unfortunate performance at Spellman’s wedding.
I spend the rest of the evening mingling with the superstars of my greatest hobby. It was like Little League me was allowed to cavort with the 1972 Detroit Tigers, before that debacle in the ALCS that made me hate the A’s forever. (For anyone outside the USA, the short explanation is that my team lost and I am still upset about it, understandable as it has only been 39 years.)
Max Hampl, the Costa Rican boy wonder of light tackle fishing – tied for Male Junior Angler of the year.
Natalie Carter (Female Freshwater Angler of the Year), Jennifer Flournoy, and Kenny Fussell
Patrick and Steve with various hardware. Patrick had so many he couldn’t hold them all up for 1 photo.
These are not “booth babes” hired to make the award photos nicer. These are Roberta Arostegui, wife of Marty and holder of 54 world records, and Heather Harkavy, the 16 year-old Female Angler of the Year who has 93 records. In other words, I am not fit to carry their tackle boxes. For the sake of clarity, Roberta is on the left, Heather is on the right.
Things broke up around 11. I stayed around as long as I could, then made the short walk back to the Marriott, just me and my hardware. And all was right with the world. After a couple of quick victory laps around the couch, I stared at it late into the evening; as to whether it spent any time on my nightstand at home, well, some things are private.
So thank you to my friends who have participated in all the adventures that led to this – Barnes, Spellman, Trujillo, Perry, Lyons, Rapoport, Hamamoto (Wade), Tolonen, Reine, Helias, and Larosa to name a few. And to my family, especially my Mom, who took me to all those 5am hockey practices. Thank you to the IGFA, and especially thank you to the underrepresented fish of the world. I’m trying to find you all, one by one.