Dateline: November 11, 2011 – Miami, Florida
Having spent quite a few late nights staying up after everyone else just to add a new species or two, having spent whole days of my life chasing some obscure fish known only to me and its mother, I thought I knew a thing or two about determination. But this latest trip to Miami showed me I still have quite a bit to learn on the topic.
Home of the Arostegui Persistence Clinic.
In mid-November, I went to Miami on a business trip, so I called Marty Arostegui and asked his advice on what to chase. For you more recent readers, Marty Arostegui is, to put it lightly, a major-league fisherman. He has more world records – over 400 – than anyone else on the planet. We became friends at the IGFA awards dinner last year, and he has invited me fishing on a number of remarkable and instructive occasions. See https://1000fish.wordpress.com/2011/03/27/cavorting-with-exotic-swamp-creatures/ or https://1000fish.wordpress.com/2011/07/30/the-one-thing-i-have-in-common-with-gwyneth-paltrow/
I have fished South Florida quite a bit, so it’s unlikely that I could randomly catch something new. We are down to targeting specific creatures, and in this case, Marty suggested a Cero Mackerel, a speedy gamester that prowls tropical inshore reefs. Marty even invited me out for a day on his boat to give it a shot.
Marty Arostegui, on a calmer day.
Marty had warned me that the wind might pick up, not unexpected in November. When I got up early to head over to his place on the 11th, it was indeed howling – palm trees swaying hard, flags crisply snapped out, the occasional cow flying by. I pretty much thought (and perhaps even secretly hoped) that we would give this one a miss and I could spend a few hours drooling at his fish pictures.
But when I arrived at the Arostegui residence, Marty was in a rush to get on the boat. There was no question about going – when I suggested that we might consider waiting for a nicer day, he just said “We’ll live. The Ceros are here. The sooner we get out there, the sooner we’ll get back.”
We poked the boat out into Biscayne Bay, and oh, what a different picture it was from August when we covered this same ground on the way to the Bahamas. (See https://1000fish.wordpress.com/2011/08/04/pilates-of-the-caribbean/)
Yes, that’s a waterspout, in the calm part of the Bay. Yes, we went fishing anyway.
The benevolent, glassy lake had been replaced with angry whitecaps as far as I could see. Oh, it was nasty out there. But there was no question of not going. This was a mission, and we were going to get the job done. My breakfast, the classic unsupervised man food combo of Zingers and a Red Bull, was already filing a protest. (For you healthy eaters and non-Americans, Zingers are a sort of quasi-digestible chocolate pastry thingie bought in gas stations. They are 4 inches long but weigh nearly a pound.)
Motion sickness and I have a tenuous relationship. I can get very queasy in rough water, but I have never barfed at sea, most likely out of fear that some immature person will take a photo of me and post it in their fishing blog, like this:
A gratuitous photo of my brother-in-law Dan Germain being seasick.
We put some minnow plugs behind the boat and began to troll. I was just getting used to the swells when one of the poles went down hard. I stumbled toward the rod, pulled it out of the holder, and started cranking. Could it be a Cero? Could it be this easy? Not a chance. It was a Blue Runner, a common inshore jack I had caught many times previously. Then we got another. Apparently, a gigantic school of them was following us around in the swells and hitting every time we dropped a lure back. I mentioned to Marty that we could always try it another day. I don’t think he heard me – he was too deep in thought on how to get me a Cero.
Marty contemplates how to escape the Blue Runners.
We picked up and ran a few miles, but the Blue Runners either followed us at high speed or were in a school the size of Bolivia. The swells tossed and rolled the boat, and my ill-advised breakfast made dangerous gurgling sounds in my stomach. I planned several emergency routes to the rail. More Blue Runners came on board. I dropped more hints that discretion might be the better part of valor, and Marty, without calling my manhood into too much question, let it be known that we still had a good shot at the fish and should stick it out.
To be fair, this was not done in the savage, mocking fashion most of my friends would have employed – Marty just wanted this fish as bad as I did, and he took it as a personal challenge. Considering he has 400+ IGFA world records and made his living as an Emergency Room doctor, I would venture to say he doesn’t back down from a challenge very often. Between waves of nausea, I considered myself lucky to be in such company – someone who completely understands that minor inconveniences should not stand in the way of getting a new species or record. What was I thinking when I suggested bailing out of this? Am I getting mellow in my old age? God forbid.
Marty moved the boat again, this time several miles north. We put the lures back out, and at least the Blue Runners didn’t find us. We had trolled for about 20 minutes, with Marty clearly annoyed that the Ceros were missing, when the right side rod went down. Ahhhh, I thought – the Blue Runners were back. Or were they? I hoped it wasn’t a Blue Runner, but I also prayed it wasn’t another one of those large Oscars. (Granted, this would be difficult in saltwater.) It was actually quite a surprise catch – an especially ambitious Coney Grouper had come up off the bottom and taken the lure. Go figure.
An especially ambitious Coney Grouper.
The business end of the especially ambitious Coney Grouper. I almost tried to pick this one up by the lip – which would not have gone well.
We had trudged another few miles in the slop, with the wind noticeably picking up, when both setups got hit at the same time. I snatched the left rod and started cranking – “This feels bigger!” I yelled up at Marty. He smiled back at me. I turned around and looked in the water – the fish was must more slender than a Runner, and there were gold streaks along the sides. I got it to boatside, and Marty appeared from nowhere and swung it aboard. It was a Cero, species #1108.
I high-fived Marty, and he said “Get the other rod.” I turned around and the other trolling setup was straining in the rod holder, with a fish still on for what must have been a wild ride. I reeled in my second Cero Mackerel in 5 minutes.
We took some photos, and headed for the barn. After all, what kind of idiot would be fishing out in these conditions? Well, I can think of two … but the guy who made this one happen was Marty – so thanks again, Dr. Arostegui.