Dateline: April 18, 2015 – Dania Beach, Florida
Years ago, when I had something like nine world records, I saw a Hawaiian-style shirt I liked very much. It featured images of Santiago and The Marlin from Old Man and the Sea, one of my favorite books ever, and I knew I had to own it. Marta was not in favor of yet another Hawaiian shirt, as she claims my clothing storage needs eclipse hers, but I explained that this was thing I needed to wear as I accepted an IGFA Lifetime Achievement Award. She informed me that this would require 100 world records and that I had eight. “Nine.” I reminded her. “Eight and one pending.” she countered. There is nothing more frightening than the fact that Marta actually listens to most of what I say.
That shirt sat, neatly folded, on a pile of other shirts in my old home in San Ramon, then made the move to Alamo where it took up residence on the bedroom hearth. Then, in April of this year, it migrated to my carryon luggage and a United flight, which eventually arrived in Miami on a schedule not related to the published itinerary. Finally, on the afternoon of April 18, I put it on for the first time.
It itched like crazy.
But I got to wear it. You all already know I got the 100 world records – the fish was caught in June of 2014, the record was confirmed in October of that same year, but it was only in April of this year, at the World Record Achievement Awards, that I would actually get the hardware. And at this stage, a very serious discussion would need to take place between me and Marta, because this one was NOT going in the garage. This one was going on the mantle, with a spotlight on it and a button I could push to play a chorus of angels on demand.
It was clear that this was going to require substantial negotiation.
Of course, I was not going to Miami without doing some fishing with Martini, and for the third time in six weeks, we got to hit the water together. This may sound like a lot, but when we had lived only a few miles apart for four years, it had been a lot easier to get together.
The flight to Miami was a redeye, and Martini was at the airport just after dawn, ready to go. He had been telling me about this pier for a long time, and felt that we could get several new species on it.
Martini heads out on the pier, and yes, she was totally checking him out.
We had constant action all day. I have fished in this area quite a bit, so I had already gotten most of the creatures, but they were still great fun – and some of them are beautiful animals. Martini knew there were several new species out there, so I just kept fishing and had a great time.
A doctorfish. I’ve caught them before, but they are always worth a photo.
Scrawled cowfish – we caught dozens of these. It took me hours of effort to catch my first one four years ago. (Details HERE.)
To be fair, I cost myself an hour of fishing (and possibly that much time in the bathroom) by insisting that we have lunch at Skyline Chili. This Cincinnati staple has a branch in Ft. Lauderdale, and I wasn’t going to miss it. Yes, this is runny chili served over spaghetti with cheese, onion, and a huge dose of Tabasco, and I LOVE IT. Martini was not as impressed.
That is a skeptical look if I have ever seen one. I get this same look from Marta any time I suggest displaying a fishing award upstairs.
In the afternoon, things picked up. We stumbled into some big parrotfish, which would be odd on squid baits, but I was thrilled. These things pull hard and are wildly beautiful, and yes, we released them unharmed.
Rainbow parrotfish. Yes, they have blue lips.
Martini and the new world record stoplight parrotfish. This large adult looks nothing like the juveniles I have caught, and I made the mistake of telling passersby that this species has three phases, when Martini knew there were two. He is a marine biologist. I am not. Oops.
Late in the day, I got my smallest parrotfish of the session – but it was a new species. (The princess parrotfish, named after Marta.) Although I would have been thrilled to spend a beautiful day on a Florida pier with a great friend, this – and the Skyline chili – really made it perfect.
The princess parrotfish.
The next day was not exactly big game fishing. Martini graciously took half a day of his time, five hours he will never get back, to drive me to a God-forsaken ditch somewhere in the Everglades, where, somehow, he had figured out there was a population of marsh killifish. I got one.
Moments after that stupendous capture, Martini and I were investigating a culvert when I heard a WHACK that sounded like a small, highly-accelerated rock going off his forehead. I turned around to see that he had been nailed above the left eye by some sort of ill-willed Alien/Predator style insect. By evening, he looked like he had been on the wrong end of a bar brawl with three right-handed hockey players.
Martini before being treated. He didn’t say a thing, but it must have hurt like crazy.
Having his face swollen half shut did not stop him from helping me fish the boathouse that night. Our target, the elusive if ironically-named hardhead silverside.
The hardhead silverside joins the species list.
Later in the week, Marta showed up, and so the activities shifted to museums and birdwatching. I say this without resentment. Really, I do.
Well, except there was that one trip to Boca Raton. Boca Raton has artsy stuff and other things which apparently should interest Marta, according to an article I once read in Cosmopolitan, or Yoga Weekly, or Sport Fishing Magazine, I forget which. And since we were up there, I reasoned that I may as well stop at a certain boat ramp Martini had recommended. While Marta was not exactly thrilled, I quickly added two species – the jenny mojarra and the sharpnose puffer.
The jenny mojarra, featured prominently in Forrest Gump.
Puffers are so cool.
On Friday, one of my great friends, Scott Perry, flew in from California just to attend the awards ceremony and throw wadded-up paper at anyone who booed me.
Saturday afternoon, we piled into the car and drove up to Dania Beach, where four of us would get our lifetime achievement awards – the 15th, 16th, 17th, and 18th individual anglers to be recognized in this fashion. (Yes, I actually was the 15th, but why are you all so competitive? Jeez.) The other three anglers were Bo Nelson, quite a regular on the award stand, Dennis Triana, a local guy who had managed this while having one major thing I do not – responsibilities – and a woman by the name of Roberta Arostegui. Yes, that Roberta Arostegui, joining Marty and Martini. The cat gets his next year.
I was actually quiet on the drive, deep in thought about everything I had done to get to this stage – the air miles, the thousand of hours on the water, the friendships I had made, but also all of the things I had passed up. I still sometimes wonder why I did this. Perhaps as a legacy, perhaps for my own ego, perhaps because I am unhealthily competitive, perhaps because I irrationally love fishing – the only person who could ever get to the bottom of this would be a world-class psychiatrist, and every time I see one of them, they give my money back and run off screaming.
Walking the red carpet – from west to east, that’s Roberta, Marty, cousin Angel, some tall chick, Angel’s girlfriend Marizza, and Martini.
First there was cocktail hour, which may explain the inability to ever fully organize the group photo.
If you look carefully, you can see Richard Hart, the snoring master from Karaoke Night at Srinakarin.
We then walked inside, and after a viciously competitive silent auction, we started dinner and the actual awards. Jack Vitek did an outstanding job hosting the show, except for that brief moment he looked like he was possessed by Satan.
I’m not sure the camera had a flash.
Bo and Dennis both accepted their awards with modesty and presence. Bo has done some amazing stuff over the years, chasing a lot of line-class and fly records throughout the US and Mexico. And Dennis – he probably had the most amazing journey of all to 100, juggling a job and a young family and having to plan out trips around responsibilities I can’t imagine. If he writes a book on this, I’ll be the first to buy it – this was hard enough for me, and I’ve been able to fish in over 80 countries.
Then there was Roberta. Apart from the lifetime achievement, she also cleaned up the women’s awards for the 2014 season. Remember, the figures you see below are just for 2014.
Her speech for the Lifetime Achievement award was the best moment of the evening. She spoke of the journey to 100 records, and the countries and states it took her to – 16 of each – but also to the fact that she had been able to do all of this with her family. She pursued her passion while living her dream – and that’s what it’s all about.
We needed another car for Roberta’s trophies.
After the long and standing ovation for Roberta tapered off, I knew they were about to introduce me. I had one more moment of what passes for introspection, and realized how humbling this all was. This is something we all did together, on different paths and for different reasons, and just being there was one of the greatest honors I will ever have.
So I went up on stage and they gave me the hardware. It was heavier than I thought – I have deliberately never picked one up before, because I always wanted the first one I touched to be mine.
Rob and Jack present Steve with something that is NOT going in the garage.
I don’t remember much about my speech. I tried to thank as many people as I could, and I probably mused at more length than I remember about what an amazing journey it had all been. When I was finished, I just sat there at the podium for a moment, looking around the room and taking in the moment.
And apparently making a face I shouldn’t have.
There were two people I looked for the moment I got off stage. The first was Marta – she has shared this entire journey and made it all possible by wanting me out of the house so much. The second was Martini – one of the few people who knows exactly what I had to go through to do this, and who encouraged me at key moments with kind words like “The next five will be even harder.”
Martini has no idea I wiped my nose on his shirt.
Scott was quietly there, as he has been for 23 years.
That’s Scott Perry on the right. If I ever run for office, he is the guy Fox News would want to find.
This is the one I want Marta to frame and put on her desk. Oops – Birthday present spoiler alert.
Before we left, we got the four award winners together for a photo.
That’s me with Dennis, Bo, and Roberta. My congratulations to them.
I should have slept very well that night and dreamed, at least for an evening, some proud dreams about an accomplishment some ten years in the making. But it was a short night, and I dreamed only of what I had yet to do – there were so many more species out there, so many more countries, so many more records. I was 51 when this happened, but that’s far enough along where I knew I wouldn’t be able to get every species, or every country, or all the records.
But I knew that I wanted to try. As long as I live.
And so, at some ungodly predawn hour, I dropped Marta off at the airport and met Scott over at the pier. We had a whole day ahead, a cooler full of Red Bull and squid, and a reef underneath us that just had to hold something new.
The pier at dawn, when all is still possible.
It was perfect, and I was looking forward to a long day of trying different spots and rigs, when Scott just had to piss me off. He caught a Caesar grunt. Just like Martini. Just like Jaime. And I knew that was the only one we would see all day. Next time, I’m not giving him any squid.
That’s Scott’s hand and Scott’s Caesar grunt. No squid for you next time, Mr. Perry.
An hour later, things went more in my favor. I pulled up a Spanish hogfish, adding to my hogfish collection.
My fifth hogfish species.
Just before lunch, I added another species – one I had never even heard of.
The green razorfish. It was turning into a good day, except for the Caesar grunt.
Scott then managed to catch one of the largest mojarras I have ever seen. On a day of sabiki-based species hunting, this is what passes for a trophy.
This could have eaten any mojarra I’ve ever caught.
The Caesar grunt remained elusive, but I did get a juvenile beaugregory – not a new species but a beautiful photo when they’re young.
Not exactly camo, but the reefs are full of garish color patterns.
Then it was time for lunch. You know where this is going.
Yes, I made Scott eat at Skyline. No matter what it did to his intestinal tract, it was scant revenge for the Caesar Grunt.
Late in the day, I added one more species – the clown wrasse. This was the creature Martini thought I would catch the most quickly out here, which goes to show that the Fish Gods don’t ever let anything go as planned.
Three clowns, one wrasse.
We closed things up in the evening, a perfect day – except for, of course, the Caesar grunt. We had dinner with the Arosteguis, and in the morning, flew off in opposite directions.
The trophy arrived at our Alamo home via Fedex about a week after I got home. I put it on the mantle. Marta smiled and quietly announced her initial list of demands. I won’t bore you with them, but why would you ask if my dignity was involved? Maybe I like dusting and vacuuming without complaint forever. Maybe I like cooking dinner in a frilly apron once a week. Focus on the positive, readers!
Spotlight and chorus of angels still under negotiation, and yes, that is a flying pig on the right.
It so became that the Lifetime Achievement Award is my only fishing trophy on display in the main house. The Santiago shirt, unfortunately, has been sent to the garage.