Dateline: April 28, 2014 – Coral Gables, Florida
It never stops. I keep thinking maybe, just once, she will behave herself, but she never does. I know you must all carry deep sympathy for me, because I am the innocent victim of a bad person here, but if Jaime Hamamoto catches one more species I haven’t, I’m going to put my eyes out with a fork. And on top of it all, she completely ruined one of my favorite days of the year.
This should have been a very good weekend. It was time for the International Game Fish Association’s annual awards, and I had stumbled in to two more plaques for the wall. (Clarification from Marta – the GARAGE wall.) This meant I would get to give a speech, and that Marta would have to listen politely, which would never happen if we weren’t in public. As a matter of fact, I actually had to give TWO speeches, but one of them was the shortest address I have ever given in front of an audience. More on that later.
The down side of all this, and it was a very big down side, was that I would be sharing the event with Jaime Hamamoto. “NOT THAT!” I hear you say. But it was true. She had set a bunch of world records in 2013, and had actually won the Women’s Saltwater title. Good grief.
Despite the best efforts of United Airlines, Marta and I arrived in Miami on the Thursday before the event. In the hours before Jaime descended on Miami, Marta found us an interesting tourist spot – The Coral Castle.
The Coral Castle.
The castle is a set of large structures built from solid coral in the early 20th century by a Latvian immigrant. No one can figure out how he moved the pieces into place. Some of the blocks weigh as much as 30 tons, and there is no evidence he used any sort of power equipment.
Marta at the original admission gate.
Edward Leedskalnin, who designed and built The Coral Castle – life-sized cutout.
We also headed out to the Everglades. The Everglades are cool, and there are some truly awesome animals there. The coolest among these, in my humble opinion, is the Roseate Spoonbill.
The Roseate Spoonbill. This photo required a zoom lens of frightening proportions.
A hawk having a snake for lunch.
Late in the day, we got back to the Arostegui house and met up with them and the Hamamotos. The Arosteguis have become family over the years. Wade, Alma, and even Jaime have become family over the years. This was the first time the full group had met, and Marty generously hosted us at one of his favorite Cuban restaurants.
A family meal. Wade and I made sure to sit closest to the kitchen.
The food was outstanding, and stunningly, Jaime didn’t offend anyone. Indeed, she and Marty got along spectacularly, and even after dinner, they talked fly fishing well into the night.
Marty and Jaime. This concerns me.
Still, I am sure Marty saw through her act and knows that she is viciously competitive and that I am the victim here.
The awards program was phenomenal – think of it as the Academy Awards for fishing, minus Gwynneth Paltrow in a bad dress. No matter how many of these I will ever go to, I still get butterflies. There are so many superstars in one room, and so much knowledge and so much passion around fishing – although I am never quite sure I belong there, I at least know that most of the people there can actually relate to my level of obsessiveness.
Photo of the award winners taken during the cocktail hour. Notice Jaime somehow managed to force her way front and center, because that’s how she is.
Over dinner, Jack Vitek began his emcee duties and started handing out the awards. Every year, I am in simple awe at the stories – each one so full of determination and a true love for fishing.
Jack realizes that Jaime has won the Women’s Saltwater title.
Marty and Roberta both won awards, and each of them is a phenomenal speaker.
Marty gives thanks to someone. I don’t remember who it was, but you can be sure it wasn’t Jack’s stylist.
It was a wonderful evening, until Jaime got her award. Although her speech may have come across like a gracious and humble thank you to her family and the IGFA, I knew that she was actually venting her vicious competitive spleen on me. For example, she just HAD to point out that some of her records came from breaking mine. She even had the nerve to thank me for helping her get started on all this. Of course, people laughed to be polite but I could tell that they were horrified.
Jaime makes vicious statements in front of the audience.
The fallout of all this was that Wade also won an award – placing in the guide category. He went up to the podium and apologized to me, which was heartfelt, but it was brutal to relive the bonefish incident. (Details HERE.)
Wade explains the pain of being Jaime’s father and guide.
When my turn came to accept the Men’s Saltwater award, I did what I have always done for these – got uncharacteristically humble. It is a privilege to be included in this group, and I tried to be brief – at least by my standards – and thank everyone I could think of. Let’s face it, none of this would have been possible without so many people who supported me – Marta of course, the Arosteguis, the many guides who put up with me all year, and the friends who spent all those hours tolerating fish pictures.
Jack in an intense moment. Fill in your own caption here.
A few plaques later, it was time for the Men’s Overall. Amazingly, there was a three-way tie – me, Bo Nelson, and a little-known young man from Coral Gables – Martini Arostegui. Bo, ever-modest, said a few quick words and left me and Martini on stage. We stared at each other, as we really hadn’t planned much. More on that later. If you can’t wait, skip to the bottom.
The three-way tie for Men’s Overall.
This may be my favorite photo of all time that doesn’t involve Kate Upton.
And then I got photobombed.
The full group at the awards dinner. Note that Jaime has shoved her way next to Marty.
The day after the awards program, Marty generously offered to take me out fishing, but sadistically invited Jaime along as well. I was too polite to say anything, but I knew things would go badly. We would spend the day reef fishing off Miami, so there was some chance of new species, but I dreaded having my teenage arch-nemesis along. I knew what would happen.
I think that smile says everything you need to know.
It was a lovely day off Miami, until …
You won’t hear much about Wade on this particular day. This is because Wade gets seasick, and there was an unfortunate overestimate of the amount of Bonine it would take to keep his breakfast down. He was out like a light for most of the trip.
Jaime makes sure Wade is completely unresponsive before she heartlessly takes his wallet.
We pulled up on a reef, baited up, and dropped down. Jaime immediately caught a #$%@ Caesar grunt. On her first cast. You just can’t make stuff like this up. Caesar knew what it was like to have his friends betray him, but he never felt pain like this.
We took this photo back at the dock, once I had stopped crying.
The uninitiated among you might say “But Steve, it was early in the day and you would surely have plenty of chances to catch one yourself.” And I would respond “It doesn’t work that way. Get your finger out of your nose.” I knew that was the only Caesar we would see all day. Brutus had done her work.
This took all the joy out of two new species I caught that day – a spotted moray and a blackline tilefish.
The blackline tilefish. This was species 1300 for me. Interestingly (or not) my 1100th species was caught on this very same boat and was also a tilefish. (Details HERE.)
A spotted moray. I love eels. They don’t love me.
Jaime caught this checkered puffer at the dock. It was laughing at me. I could handle this, because I have caught checkered puffers before … but not this big.
Still, it was great to be out with Marty, and Wade, and Alma, but NOT Jaime. Once, just once, I want to catch the weird fish before she does, or even better, to catch it and she doesn’t and I can politely and diplomatically point that out to her, all day. I remember laying in bed that night, with Marta saying comforting things like “Enough about the Caesar grunt.”
I had one more day in Florida, and Marty and Roberta graciously asked me along on one of their Everglades world record jaunts. Marty knew I was painfully close to 100 and wanted to help – he let me know there was a shot at a line-class record on Florida gar. We headed out the Tamiami Trail early and launched the boat before the alligators started getting especially active. I don’t like alligators. (Background HERE.)
Of course, there were alligators EVERYWHERE.
Watching these two work together was a thing of beauty. They are both so passionate about fishing that it never loses its fun, but they are also a well-oiled machine when it comes to catching and recording records.
Apart from a lovely couple, you’re also looking at something like 600 world records.
The fishing was fabulous. I got bass, warmouth, bowfin, and loads of oscars – there was something going every minute, and all the time, Roberta was catching bowfin on a fly rod.
One of the many bowfin we got that day.
We took two cracks at the gar. This was not an easy proposition, as we had to set up where there were a number of gar, then identify an appropriate-sized fish, then sight-cast to it and hope for a hookup. Gars have mouths the consistency of concrete, so this is not easy, especially when I was needing to be alert lest the alligators come on the boat and eat me.
I had the paddle ready to defend myself. Marty and Roberta found this to be amusing.
The first round on the gars was not successful, because I apparently can’t set a hook. But when we came back in the afternoon, we saw one fish that was clearly big enough, and it decided to hang around the boat long enough where even I was able to get a good cast in front of it. I let him wander around with it for what seemed like an eternity, then finally set the hook. I have lost so many of these over the years that I was nervous until Marty netted him, but when the fish hit the deck, I knew I had world record number 98.
World record #98, courtesy of the Arostegui family.
Your mind plays tricks on you in these cases, because being at 98 felt somehow further away from 100 than ever before. But I knew I had a Hawaii trip coming up, so there was a good chance to get it done. This part of the quest, just as it had been for 1000 species, was keeping me up at night, occupying my thoughts constantly, affecting my eating habits, which are horrible anyway, and causing me to involve random strangers in talk about IGFA rules.
But I also had the strength of a lot of friends behind me. I thought back to my moment with Martini on stage, accepting the Men’s Overall together. Everyone expected me to have a lot to say, because I am, to be honest, a ham. Martini took the microphone first, and instead of the gentle ribbing I expected, he gave one of the more moving speeches I have ever heard. He thanked his parents, who have given him so much love and encouragement. He thanked everyone else who had helped him over the years – the guides, the friends, the IGFA. He joked that the only thing his parents never gave him was a brother. (Martini has two amazing sisters.)
Martini then turned to me and said something to the effect of “Over the past few years, I went from a freshman at Stanford, knowing no one in the state, to being part of Steve’s family – over the course of I don’t know how many early mornings and late nights on the water. Some great days and some horrible ones, a bunch of species and a few world records. There are only a handful of people in the world who know how much those hours on the water mean to me and share my obsession with being there. And I knew I had a brother and always will.”
Martini then gestured me to the microphone. I knew that the moment was perfect the way it was, and that for once, I should just shut up. I took the mike, and looked around the quiet crowd for a long moment. They expected me to go on for ten minutes at least, but I uttered the shortest acceptance speech in IGFA history, which consisted of three words:
“What he said.”
Martini and I shook hands and walked off stage together.
I had two records to go. Hawaii was in four weeks. I could pack and repack my gear and read Dr. Jack Randall’s thrilling Reef and Shore Fishes of the Hawaiian Islands over and over. But first, I had an appointment with a clergyman.