Dateline: June 2, 2014 – Kona, Hawaii
I have had battles with fish that have lasted over four hours, but none ever seemed so long as the 60 seconds I spent reeling up an orange goatfish on June 2, 2014. It was a big for an orange goatfish, just over two pounds, and for the few of you who care about such things, it was a world record orange goatfish. And not just any world record, but a milestone. I had just set my 100th IGFA world record and had earned the IGFA’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
The orange goatfish in question. I had a matching hat just for the occasion.
I called Marta right away. The first thing she said was “The trophy goes in the garage.” Then she laughed and said “Congratulations.” I called Martini next. “Congratulations, bro. You earned it.” I stared off into space, looking back at the past nine years and realizing I wouldn’t have spent them any other way.
It’s not like I expected Kona to produce a bunch of new species. I have fished there for months of my life and caught loads of fish – it is one of my favorite destinations on earth – all the charm of Hawaii and still an hour away from Jaime Hamamoto. The Big Island has also produced quite a few records for me, so I would hopeful I could squeeze out two more, hit the Lifetime Achievement Award, and start sleeping normally again.
This trip was also about domestic tranquility. Marta’s job is demanding and nowhere near as flexible as mine, and getting her away on vacation without her laptop is a challenge. Kona is one of those places where she can truly unwind, and our favorite hotel has lousy cell service, which I view as an advantage, because it keeps her pesky co-workers away.
Marta and a Christmas wrasse on the Keahou rocks – one of the few places so beautiful she will put up with fishing for extended periods.
I set up two days of fishing with Captain Dale Leverone, my trusted species-hunting partner in Kona.
If you’re in Kona, fish with these guys. They can catch anything you want to – unless I am on the boat and you want a spearfish.
On the first day, we focused on trying to get me my spearfish, which would complete my IGFA Royal Slam on billfish. We trolled and trolled, but I seem to have the gift for repelling spearfish, and none were to be found. We did get a batch of solid skipjack – these tuna pull hard for their weight and kept things exciting.
That’s Dale’s son and first mate, Jack Leverone – a solid guide and angler in his own right.
We also devoted a couple of hours to bottom fishing, but the tides weren’t quite right and the bite was slow. I had another trip coming, and I knew records could come quickly here, so I didn’t pout too much.
As always in Kona, I did plenty of shore fishing near the hotel. One of my favorite spots is the rock jetty at Keahou harbor, the very place where I shattered Marta’s peppered moray record – and the very same place where the yellowmargin moray shattered my hand. (Click HERE for a really gross picture.) That night, I wandered down to the harbor and set up. I lost a couple of eels in the rocks, then got an unexpected new species – a smallscale soldierfish.
The smallscale soldierfish. It’s called that because the scales are small.
Toward the end of the evening, my eel rod bounced once, then the line took off away from the rocks. I set the hook and realized I had something big that was behaving decidedly NOT like a moray. As I got it under control and pulled it up the boat ramp to land it, I realized I had a Hawaiian conger eel, also known as a mustache conger. This was not only a wonderful new species, but also an open world record. That’s #99 if you’re playing along at home.
Photo courtesy of a bewildered 10 year-old local kid.
I was stunned to get another record in the harbor, and even more stunned to realize that I was finally right on the doorstep. The next one was the biggie. I stayed out until the middle of the night trying to get something else – anything else – but there was still another day on the boat coming up. Marta tries to tell me that this is all I would talk about, but I am sure you all don’t believe that.
We spent the next day touring the island, viewing everything from a volcanic crater to the sweeping cliffs at Waipio. (The steepest hike Marta has ever dragged me on – I think it’s Hawaiian for “Puke Mountain.”) Sure, I wanted to be fishing, but these sorts of activities mean that Marta will continue speaking to me for at least a few more weeks.
Volcanic crater on the south end of the island.
Waipio, on the north side. Marta, please stop making me walk up this hill.
Then came the next day with Dale and Jack.
As I have learned over the years, the big events never happen how you imagine them. Although most of my records are of the “no one else knew that was a species” variety, I had always harbored a secret hope that #100 would be something uncharacteristically epic, like a 1403 pound blue marlin. Hey – it could happen. A number of the marlin records, including the all-tackle Pacific Blue, were caught right here in Kona.
And we did troll that day, although I had spearfish in my soul much more than a possible marlin. In one of those sadistic ironies that the Fish Gods love to create, we did brilliantly – four wahoo, two mahi, and a small blue marlin. Everyone in the harbor would have loved to have had my day on the water, but I would have traded them all for one small spearfish.
First off, the marlin tore a gill and died on the line, so we had to keep it – Dale would ordinarily release. Worse, some guy walked up to me and said “Wow, what a day you had. I trolled all afternoon and just got one lousy spearfish.” I didn’t know whether to cry or slap him.
Distraught as I was that we hadn’t gotten a spearfish, I was still looking very forward to the session of bottom fishing at the end of the day. The tides looked good, and I had gotten plenty of records in the area we set up. I felt surprisingly calm, but Jack pointed out that I had a bit of an itchy trigger finger and that my first few hooksets looked like Spellman’s, or even worse, Guido’s. (Click HERE for an explanation.) I took a deep breath and dropped to the bottom again.
It happened quickly, and I knew the moment I hooked it that I had the right fish. It was a hard, bottom-hugging fight, and when I saw it come up bright orange, I knew right away it was big enough. I didn’t wait for Jack with the net, I just held my breath for a split-second and swung it onto the deck.
World record #100. Now I can get back to trying to catch 2000 species.
There were high-fives from Dale and Jack, and just like that, it had happened. Even though almost every record I had set was on a fish no one else had heard of, I was going on the same wall in the IGFA museum as some very famous anglers – as the 15th individual angler to ever win the award. I sat in the fighting chair, stunned – and, for once, quiet.
The quiet lasted all too short of a time. I got up just to take in the scenery, looking up Mauna Loa and out on the open Pacific. I made eye contact with Dale. He glanced down at the sonar, and gently said “There are fish down there.” I didn’t need to be told twice. After hooking and losing a few fish, I got a solid take and I was back in the game. I jokingly said “This will be #101.”
When the fish surfaced, we all sighed. It was a pinktail triggerfish, which can swarm these reefs and which all seem to be the same 16-20 ounce range. I weighed it out of habit, and the Fish Gods had clearly taken the day off. It was a pound and a half, and it WAS world record 101.
Record 101. Do you think they’ll give me another trophy if I get to 200?
I had several months for it to sink in – records can take a while to be officially verified. The actual confirmation came late on an October evening. I had been checking the IGFA website frequently, and on that day, the status changed from “pending” to “approved.” I woke up Marta to tell her. She simply said “Garage.”
I felt a lot of things – little bit of relief, a little bit of accomplishment, a little bit of pride. This was my small piece of history – my name will be on that wall long after I am gone. I hope a father and son see it together around 2114. I hope the son asks who I was, and the father tells him “Steve Wozniak was a fisherman in the last century. He had the mark for most species of fish caught for a long time, and he was the first ever to 1000. His record of 1999 species (he never got the spearfish) stood until Martini Arostegui broke it on July 10, 2061. Martini’s grandson – Martin Arostegui-Upton IV – broke it again last year. Wait until you see the Arostegui wing of the museum!”
This was a long journey – Nine years and one week from start to finish, 16 countries, hundreds of thousands of air miles, thousands of hours on the water and in the library. There are so many people to thank over the course of 100 world records that I’ll never get even close to doing justice to the list. But a big thanks to Jean-Francois Helias, who got me started on records back in 2005, to Scotty Lyons, who found records when we had run out of species, to the Hamamotos, my Hawaiian family, who shared their secret spots, to Dr. Alfredo Carvalho, who helped with so many IDs, to Jarvis and Alex, who opened their Singapore connections to me and put unpleasant things in my luggage, to Ben Florentino, a bass expert forced to fish for “googly gobs,” to Marc Inoue, who believes I bring bad weather, to Jens Koller, who helped me explore Europe, to Dale and Jack Leverone, marlin experts who never stopped trying to find bigger goatfish, to Oscar Ferreira, who found me a pati catfish in the shadow of Buenos Aires, to Ed Trujillo, the steelhead guide who found me a Klamath smallscale sucker, to Jeff Kerr, a dedicated fisherman who should never be left alone with my camera, to Dr. Jeff Johnson, who has pinned down so many exotic Pacific species for me, to everyone at Hi’s Tackle Box for the gear and advice, to Robert Armstrong at Shimano for his unflagging support, to Doug Olander at Sport Fishing Magazine for my first national writing gig and all the cool shirts, to Spellman and Scott Perry and Stefan Molnar, whose quiet days off are often hijacked by my adventures, to the Arosteguis, who guided and inspired me when 100 seemed out of reach, to Marta, who put up with me, to the obscure fish, who are the real stars of this story, and to all of you, who patiently read along as it all happened.