Dateline: April 17, 2016 – Dania Beach, Florida
The Fish Gods giveth, the Fish Gods taketh away. But Martini and Val didn’t need to help them.
The giveth and the taketh tooketh place in South Florida, one of my favorite fishing spots on earth. Honestly, there isn’t a lot left for me to catch there. We’re down to some pretty esoteric stuff, but let’s face it, it’s a fun place to fish and I usually scrape up a species or two. Some of my best friends are there – the Arosteguis, for example – and, of course, so is the IGFA. Apart from the fact that the IGFA is just a great place to visit and is right next to a Bass Pro Shops location, they also hold the World Record Achievement Awards dinner every April. This is Oscar night for fishermen – and to Marta’s great dismay, I had managed to win Men’s Saltwater. Don’t act so surprised. That’s Marta’s job.
Marta would probably prefer that I stop bringing the trophies home. Just last week, she looked me right in the eye and said “Aren’t you going to run out of room in the garage?” I told her that I’ll buy a bigger garage. I want to be surrounded with these awards when I get old, and unlike the swarm of cats Marta secretly wants, I know the trophies won’t eat me if I doze off.
This year was the hardest one of the five, but also one of the most special. The first time I won, I was so shocked I don’t think it had sunk in until about a week later.
I kept my first IGFA trophy very safe.
This time, it didn’t even occur to me to try for it until about halfway through the season. Right around the time Santa was making his run to the Island of Misfit Toys, (all of which Marta wants to adopt,) I realized I didn’t have a single record for the season. I sort of figured that the big four-year run that got me to the Lifetime Achievement Award last year should have been enough, which would make sense to all of you who aren’t unhealthily competitive. And this sort of sat in the back of my mind until well into the spring, when a series of fortuitous business trips – Singapore, Qatar, and Australia – put me in the running. Things just seemed to fall into place from there, and I ended up obsessively travelling to a few more places that I thought would produce a record or two. This often comes at the expense of species hunting, and realistically, if I am ever going to reach 2000, I am going to need to focus on the species rather than the records, but I wanted this one and the obsessive nature of my approach to fishing may have helped just a bit.
The fountain at the IGFA headquarters, Dania Beach, Florida. I want one of these in my yard.
I talked Marta into going by promising to visit a museum or do something faintly cultural, but she loves visiting the Arosteguis, especially Rossi (the cat.) Whether we go out or they cook at home, there is always a meal or two that is (gasp) even better than Skyline Chili, and it always feels like staying with family. We were there a day or two before the event, which we spent doing faintly cultural stuff, and then, on Saturday afternoon, it was off to the WRAA.
Apart from being able to rub elbows with some truly legendary fishermen, where I never feel like I belong, this event has also become a place to catch up with some old friends like IGFA guys Jack Vitek and Adrian Gray. This is the 6th WRAA I have attended, and no, it never, ever gets old. I recall my first one in 2011, when I knew absolutely no one, but now it seems like familiar ground.
The best-decorated dining room ANYWHERE.
There was one horrible aspect to the event – Women’s saltwater was won by, and it hurts me to write this – Jaime Hamamoto. The good news was that she was busy being valedictorian or something and couldn’t make it, so at least we were spared that pain. But her presence was palpable.
They even put her picture ahead of mine.
The specter of Jaime was somewhat offset by the presence of one of my best friends, Scott Perry. Scott and I go back a long, long time, when we both had thick hair and high hopes. He’s been to a couple of these events, and he always keeps Marta from being too mean to me.
Scott and Martini pose for the camera. Come to think of it, Scott still has thick hair.
Don’t let her good looks fool you. Marta was probably being mean to me in this picture. And yes, I picked that shirt out myself.
Steve and Martini. The look on Martini’s face is the EXACT look he gives when he disagrees with your ID on a fish.
Perhaps the most special aspect of the evening, however, was watching someone win the Men’s Freshwater trophy, because that someone else happened to be Martini. We’ve shared a stage before, but it was just an awesome feeling to see one of my best friends add a trophy like this to his impressive collection. I have a lot of fishing buddies, but only one who truly understands the obsessive sacrifice and dedication it takes to pull this off, because he has lived it so many times.
Martini with plaque, being applauded by Marty and Roberta.
Yes, I got to go on stage and say a few words, but as much of a ham as I am, this wouldn’t be the right place. There were too many people to thank – the guides, the fishing buddies, the Arosteguis, the fish, and even Marta – and then I got back to the table. I did take a moment up there just to stop and look around and remember the moment – these trophies represent, in the humble fashion of a couple of pounds of wood and fiberglass each, years of hard work, good fortune, great friends, and a whole lot of fun. For better or for worse, the eight trophies I have brought home over the past six years, plus 1500-odd fish species, represent my life’s work, and I wanted to take it all in, because tonight was about stopping and recognizing this all, but tomorrow would be about catching the next species and the next record. A lot of people ask me – how much will be enough? I don’t have an answer – I just love to do this.
They always remember to smile, but then again, they have done this a lot more than I have.
Marta wonders where in the garage this will go.
Scott and Steve. He supports placing these on the wall above the fireplace.
The party went on well into the evening, and I allowed myself one night of reflecting on what I had done so far and how fortunate I have been.
But then came morning. There I was, in a gorgeous tropical fishing location with one of my best fishing buddies, so I am sure Marta understood that fishing the whole day was a moral imperative.
The first idea was to head to Lauderdale by the Sea and that fantastic pier. It has such a variety of fish, and there is a Skyline Chili nearby. But the weather was against us – a stiff wind pushed up heavy waves that made things difficult. We stuck it out and got a few assorted oddities, but the usual experience akin to fishing in an aquarium was not to be. Still, it was great to be out on the water with Scott. He has adult responsibilities that I don’t, like a family, and we don’t get out that often, but I was secretly thrilled that he didn’t catch another Caesar grunt.
A spot-tail pinfish. I can never seem to get the silver porgy, which looks quite similar.
A smooth puffer. These can get positively huge.
Like I said, they can get enormous. This one is from Rio de Janeiro in 2004. Interesting (or not) side note – I had thought the black jacket in the picture was waterproof. It wasn’t, which made for a long day.
After a few hours, we bailed out and I nagged everyone into eating at Skyline Chili – certainly not Marta’s favorite, but I paid off Scott to vote for eating there. He’s from the south. He’ll eat anything.
After lunch, I remembered that we did have one semi-weatherproof spot on reserve – a boat launch in Boca Raton that produced a couple of species for me last year. (Details HERE.) Before we set up there, I tried to find a few other spots using iPhone email and google maps, which didn’t go well, but I of course took this calmly and in stride. (Perspective from Marta – “Steve was unbearable, and at one stage, he got mad at us because we wouldn’t park in a towaway zone. He thought some sort of damselfish was nearby and was not concerned with details like walking back to Coral Gables.”)
Despite Marta mistaking my enthusiasm for petulance, once we set up at the ramp, things went well. There is a small park we could enjoy, we had cold beverages, it was a pleasant afternoon, and there were plenty of fish for everyone. We made friends with some of the local folks who were fishing there, sharing bait and tips, and the three of us caught loads of local critters, ranging from grunts to porgies to snappers to triggerfish.
Marta and her new fishing partner with a keeper-sized mangrove snapper.
Some of the fish were beautiful – the porkfish is one of my favorites. Even though I had caught them before, it never gets old to see something that colorful come out of the water.
A porkfish. No idea why it’s called that.
As we were starting to wind things down, I got a hard strike and lifted up what I thought, at first, was a wrasse.
Not a wrasse.
Moments later, it hit me that I had a parrotfish. I thought it was likely the redtail I have caught there many times, but it didn’t look quite right. I sent photos out to a few trusted sources, but identifying this creature turned out to be quite a chore. The scientist that Val trusted the most on this group was on vacation for a couple of weeks, and Martini was also ready to help, but I managed to not send him the one picture that would have made the ID clear. Weeks later, when I finally did send him the right photo, and Val’s connection returned, both agreed I had caught something quite unusual – a yellowtail parrotfish. Yes, I know it has a red tail, but I have learned not to argue with either of these people.
The triumphant angler with his new species.
Shortly after all this, however, Martini turned against me. We were talking about other improbable Florida species, and the Grass Porgy came up. I informed him I had caught one – indeed it was with him in the Bahamas in 2011. He got that skeptical look he gets, went to my blog and pulled up the photo, and shook his head sadly. “That’s a juvenile sheepshead porgy.” he said. “But it has the v-shaped mark on the tail” I countered. I got that sick feeling, because I never do well in these arguments. Martini informed me that most porgies can have that marking, as they can change color patterns seemingly at will based on stress, moon phase, and desire to annoy me. So just when the yellowtail parrotfish – the one with the red tail – had given me an unexpected moment of triumph, here was an unexpected moment of humility. I appealed to Val Kells, who spitefully pointed out that Grass Porgies don’t even live in the Bahamas.
Well phhhhhhhht on both of you. Now I have one more reason to return to Miami. And I will get that porgy, and the darn Caesar grunt, even if I have to spend weeks on the pier, which doesn’t really sound all that bad.
PS – just for the record, I have caught a beastly sheepshead porgy. Nyah nyah nyah.
Cagarras Islands, Brazil – November 2005.