Posted by: 1000fish | October 7, 2018

The Billfish That Shall Not Be Named

Dateline: March 25, 2018 – Kona, Hawaii

I knew my hockey career would end someday – I’m 54 years old, and let’s face it, I was never NHL material. Still, hockey is a game I love, a chance to be a gladiator every week and then shake hands with the guy I just tried to kill. I always thought it would end in some sort of tearful retirement speech in a championship locker room full of young players, who had all learned some life lesson from me, like the fact that referees just love it when you call them a myopic #$%@. I never pictured that it would end on a wet driveway in Walnut Creek, but that is exactly where idiot me was riding my bike on a rainy March day when I hit an edge and fell flat on my knee, face, and shoulder.

This is why smart people do not ride bikes in the rain.

The knee and face are not so necessary, but I knew my right shoulder – the one I punch with – was separated. As I peeled myself off the pavement, the first thing I thought was “Oh, $#!%. I’m going to Kona next week and I won’t be able to reel in a spearfish.” Ten years ago, the first thing I would have thought was “Oh $#!%, I have a game tomorrow.” That’s when I knew I needed to hang up the skates. It kills me to write it even months later, because the mere fact that I had played the game so long – generally without a face mask – had often defined me since elementary school.

A week of Advil and high hopes later, I was in Kona. The shoulder was sore, no question, but I believed I could tough it out. Speaking of pain, let’s get the spearfish thing over with. I didn’t catch one. For the few months preceding this trip, I refused to say its name, just referring to it as “the billfish that shall not be named.” It was not fooled by this cleverness. So no update on the IGFA Royal Slam – I remain a standup triple shy of the cycle.

Still, I got to go fishing in Kona for a few days, and that is always a good thing. The idea was a quick getaway with Marta, to let me get on the water and let her hike Mauna Kea, and for us to share the stray romantic dinner. (Hopefully with each other.) Yes, Marta goes to Hawaii, where the resort has a perfectly good beach, and then deliberately does a 16 mile hike IN THE SNOW. I can’t explain it.

I have caught loads of species in Hawaii – 136 at last count – and I certainly can’t count on getting a big haul every time I go. But it is such a beautiful location, and there is always a shot at something weird, and someday, I will get that damn spearfish.

The sun rises over Mauna Kea.

Speaking of obsessive/compulsive lists, my world record count had crept up on a milestone. I had sort of lost exact count after 100, because once that Lifetime Achievement Trophy was superglued to the mantel, (sorry Marta) I breathed the largest sigh of relief of my life and got back to species hunting. Still, a fact of species hunting is that some number of the weird fish I catch are going to be over a pound, and this means more world records. So I counted, and as I left on the trip, I found that I had 172 on the books. This is good enough for fifth place overall. Not that I concern myself with such things, but 10 more records and I would pass Herb Ratner Jr., the current 4th place holder, and pull into 4th by myself, right behind three of the most amazing anglers I have ever met. (Hint: They all have the same last name, and it rhymes with “Arostegui.”) I knew this would take a while, but it would be in the back of my head until I had it done. (Perspectives from Marta – This means he would think of nothing else but this, day and night, until he had passed this Herb guy.)

Of course, I would be fishing with old friends Dale and Jack Leverone.

I really need to get a more up to date picture of them. Jack has grown a foot since this was taken.

Jack wires a black marlin in Australia. He’s going to be a fine captain.

Contact information above – these guys can catch anything that swims around Kona.

When I was packing for this trip, I couldn’t help but notice that I had a whole bunch of highly specialized rods that didn’t see much use. Two that stood out were light high-speed jigging rods – the type we used for trevally in Singapore. (See “Angry White Man”) Even though there was not a lot new to catch this way in Hawaii, it’s still fun, so I packed them both. On day one, we started with these rigs, tossing light metal jigs in 100 or so feet of water and seeing what would bite. It was a blast – nothing new, but all kinds of stuff that pulls hard – including two goldsaddle goatfish that couldn’t agree who would go first.

Two goatfish on the same jig.

Trevally of any type pull hard.

Even squirrelfish got in on the action.

We then trolled, although it felt more like the spearfish were trolling me. At least I got a nice wahoo.

A nice wahoo. Important safety tip – they bite.

The highlight of the trolling was actually a milk crate. From time to time, we will see some floating object while we are offshore. I always like to go look at the floating objects, because there are often interesting fish living on them. This floating object was an upside down milk crate. As we approached it, a few filefish fled the scene, but when the deckhand turned it over, I was stunned to see two frogfish sitting there, placidly staring at me. It was a bit bumpy out there, but I had no shame in asking the deckhand to hold the crate while I grabbed a light rod, armed it with a tiny jighead and a piece of squid, and bumped the largest frogfish in the nose until he bit. I had my best fish of the trip, albeit under undignified circumstances. I also caught the other one moments later. We held onto them and released them near the harbor, where they could find more familiar reef territory and carry on with their little frogfish lives.

Eye and mouth on the left.

They actually walk around on their pectoral fins.


Once we gave up on trolling for the day, we did some medium drops – 500-800′ – to test out the sore shoulder. It ached to be sure, but I could get the rig up and down without crying. We got one fish of note, which you very careful blog readers know was hinted at in the “Gorgeous Swallowtail” episode. It felt like a small amberjack – hard fight and some reasonable runs – so I was quite surprised to see it was a huge spotted unicornfish. At seven and a half, it beat Martini’s 2017 fish by three pounds. That would be number 173. Nine to go.

At least it stayed in the family.

Important safety tip – don’t grab these by the tail.

Because it is almost impossible to get me to stop fishing, Dale kindly made one last stop right at the harbor entrance. Among a couple dozen saddle wrasses and other typical critters, I got a razorfish that looked different. It turned out to be a Baldwin’s razorfish, which would be species 1772.

The fish seemed to have very limited acting ability, so the name is not a surprise.

The next day, Marta joined me. Naturally, the fishing dropped off, but at least she did not catch any species I had not. We had steady action on small amberjack, and the highlight of my day was tying Martini’s 2017 world record on the smalltooth jobfish.

Gotta love the light jigging rods. World record 174. Eight to go.

My final day on the boat was devoted to deep, deep dropping – around 1500 feet. That’s a lot of reeling, and while I was looking forward to seeing what bizarre fish would live at those depths, I knew all that reeling was going to hurt. The shallower stuff had left me feeling like I had been hit by a train directly on the right shoulder, so this was going to be a bummer. Marta, ever the voice of reason, suggested that I give it a miss, which made me even more determined to stick it out. Common sense and fishing have no place in the same boat.

It takes about 8 minutes to drop a rig to the bottom in 1500 feet, and this spare time gives me a chance to think about how long it’s going to take to reel it up. Interestingly, even though it takes much longer to bring up fish than empty hooks, it doesn’t seem that way, because there is a fish waiting there, unless a shark eats it, which happens more than I would like and leads to swearing. There were two catches of note from the abyss – a beardfish and a shark.

A Pacific beardfish – I had caught this species previously, but this one was good big enough to be an unexpected world record. That’s 175 if you’re playing along at home.

The second catch was one of those things that made me happy, but also demonstrated one of the great injustices in the fishing world – the lack of complete identifications in the Squalus genus. Years ago, there were just a few species identified, but as time and science have progressed, dozens have emerged, mostly from deep water. (Such as the Western Longnose Spurdog from Brunei.) So, when I reeled up a small shark with brilliant green eyes, I was filled with hope for a new species and a record.

Squalus spp.

Jack and Dale call these “green-eyed monsters.”

After weeks of research by New Zealand-based shark expert Clinton Duffy, the fish turned out to be a new, but not formally identified, species. This means I would count it as number 1773, because it was a species and was definitely not something I had caught before. But it would not qualify for a record, because the IGFA asks that submissions be on recognized species, which is fair if you think about it.

NOTE FROM DECEMBER 2018 – The species has been identified, as Squalus hawaiiensis, the Hawaiian dogfish! A hige thanks to Martini, who found the publication moments after it hit the academic press.

On the obligatory late afternoon reef stop , I lucked into a big ringtail Maori wrasse, which would be my fourth record of the trip – # 176.

This species has been very good to me.

The big one was still six away, and I had no idea where those six were coming from. The four on this Hawaii trip had been sort of random, so the milestone still seemed a very long way off.

Speaking of random, I now seem to be able to catch Mu – large eye emperor – at will.

With just three new fish, this trip had been a bit of a slow one for the species count. And it lacked the getaway joy of our normal Hawaii vacations – both of our jobs had emergencies, interrupting two of our four evenings, and one can’t help but think that I would have caught something cool one of those nights. We still attempted a romantic dinner at Jackie Ray’s, which went as wrong as a romantic dinner possibly could. On the way over, we found out that Mark Hahn, the husband of one of Marta’s most treasured friends, Lori, had passed away. (A moment of silence for a passionate angler and overall great guy.) Then, just as we ordered appetizers, one of my best friends, Mike Arnstein, called and told me he had been diagnosed with cancer. It was a quiet meal, and any consideration of species, or records, or work emergencies, seemed insignificant.

Mike’s the good-looking one.

One of the advantages of waiting so long to publish is that we already know Mike, after a tenacious six month fight, is OK, and his hair will grow back. I’ve known Mike for 36 years, and it looks like we’ll have him around for quite a few more.

We flew home late the next afternoon. That left us the morning for a quiet walk on the beach, so naturally, I got up and went fishing instead. The Kona Town pier always seems to have something interesting to catch, and things went unexpectedly well for me.

Scrawled filefish, while not a new species for me, are always a difficult catch.

While I cast small jigs for reef fish, I set out a big rod in hopes of getting something beastly. The rod in this case was a special one – a Galahad jigging stick, which is a specialized and brutally expensive piece of equipment meant for defeating dogtooth tuna and similar beasts. It was paired with a Shimano Stella 20000, which can pull trucks out of mud. Davy Ong, the Singapore legend who sold me the rod, was disgusted with me that I had used it to bottom fish for eels in Brunei, and here I was again, putting down this high end rig at the base of the pier loaded with a big slab of mackerel.

Those of you familiar with universal justice know what happened next. The summary: the shortest fight in the history of world records, roughly three seconds, as a big whitemouth moray ate the bait and was unceremoniously hauled out of the water and deposited on the pier, to the astonishment of the other fishermen, nearby tourists, and especially the eel. Of course, the fish was more surprised than worn out, so I was happy to have all 10 fingers when the photos were done.


Sorry, Dave. I promise the next fish will be on a jig.

As the morning wore on, fishing got better and better. No new species, but constant action on good-sized quarry – jacks, triggerfish, wrasses, and assorted reef fish. It was getting close to leaving time, but I couldn’t drag myself away, and I knew Marta would not be pleased that I hadn’t answered any of her calls or texts or emails. Finally, as I saw her walking down the pier, I packed up and claimed battery failure, which she did not buy for a minute. But just as I reeled in my last rig, I had a solid strike and a nice, active fight – I figured it was a small trevally. What I pulled up, to my astonishment and Marta’s impatience, was a positively huge barred filefish. Well over a pound, it would qualify as a world record – number 178. Somehow, the first five on the trip hadn’t felt like progress, but this one did, and even though Marta was NOT happy with the fact I had cut our flight uncomfortably close, I walked away from the pier with a smile that wouldn’t go away.

The beastly filefish,

So I would need four more records to take my place at the family table. In the back of my mind, I knew I could do it, but what I didn’t know is that it would have to involve three countries, two US states, 22,000 miles of flying, and an especially vicious case of food poisoning. And my shoulder is feeling much better. I wonder what Marta would think if I skated just a game or two .., you know, just for exercise.





  1. Great catches my best friend !
    Best regards from southern red sea Egypt

  2. […] of the summer – #188 – wasn’t even caught this summer. As I mentioned in “The Billfish That Shall Not Be Named,” I caught an unidentified dogfish in the abyssal depths off Kona this […]

  3. […] first thing I looked at was a spearfish. It would have been amazing to close out the 2K mark with the billifish that hates me and also complete my royal slam. But the spearfish were not biting, and getting to Hawaii was a […]

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