Posted by: 1000fish | June 16, 2020

The Argentine Hat Trick

Dateline: October 17, 2019 – Mar del Plata, Argentina

For those of you without violent hobbies, a “hat trick” is when an individual hockey player scores three goals in one game. You who have seen me play hockey will be surprised to learn that I have actually scored a few hat tricks over the years. (Sean Biggs can bear witness to the very first one, in a Bantam playoff game in 1978.) As my career has gone on, most of my three-goal games have been limited to when the other team’s goalie didn’t show up, so the one you will read about below caught me by surprise.

It is a violation of the species hunting ethos to make a long trip in pursuit of a single species, but I did just that in this case. This past February, I had gone to Mar del Plata, Argentina, obsessed with catching Argentine Seabass, Wreckfish, and especially Argentine Sand Perch. As covered in “La Costa Dramamina“, it was a great trip. Despite horrible weather, we ended up with eight species and five world records, but alas, one of those species was not the sand perch. So I had to go back, because I WANTED THAT FISH.

This particular obsession began on November 23, 2001. I was fishing in Quintay, Chile, and caught a fish the locals called a “rollizo.”

The Chilean Sand Perch.

That night, we were had dinner with some friends, one of whom was Argentinean. He mentioned that the “rollizo” in Argentina get positively huge. (Argentina is the Texas of Latin America – everything is bigger there.) I researched this claim, and discovered that there was indeed a sand perch in the South Atlantic that grows well north of 30 pounds. For two decades, the fish stayed  on my wish list, until February, when I spent two days watching a deckhand puke and still didn’t catch the creature. Challenge accepted.

As I prepared for my second round with the beast, I kept a very close eye on every available weather resource. Surely, it could not get worse than it did in February, when we were blown out over half the time. For weeks, the forecast looked bumpy but fishable. As the big day got closer, the weather kept shifting more toward bumpy and away from fishable, but I also knew I needed one window, maybe six hours, to get my fish. I crossed my fingers and maintained my normal malignant optimism. (Which my therapist calls “denial.”)

The drive down was fast and easy, courtesy of Ruben Gimenez, who had taken me up to BA last year.

That’s Ruben – if you ever need a ride in this area, email me and I’ll connect you.

Sunset on the way down to Mar del Plata – we got there in less than four hours.

It’s much easier to drive than fly if you’re carrying any luggage, and I travel with a lot of fishing gear. I got to Mar del Plata in the early evening, and still had time to have a nice Italian meal in my hotel and put all my gear together. Then I just had to wait and see what the weather would do. Mariano and Franco both texted me throughout the night,

Mariano de la Rua and a friend. You can find him on https://www.aquafish.com.ar/.

Franco DeLeonardis. There is no better deckhand.

While the Friday and Saturday were starting to look bad, the day in question – Thursday – was a go. The tide was a little later, so we didn’t have to leave at sunrise, but there was no way I was going to sleep that well anyway.

The view from my room on Thursday morning.

The group gets together. From left, that’s Steve, Franco, Daniel, and Mariano. Nice hat on Franco, and yes, Marta, he’s good-looking. Stop asking if I have more pictures of him.

Heading out to sea.

We ran about two hours, perhaps 10 miles further than we had been able to go last February. I enjoyed the relatively smooth ride, and Mariano was supremely confident that there were sand perch down there. Now it was all up to the Fish Gods. I set up a big dropper loop rig with a hefty cut bait, lowered it down about 125 feet, and waited. For about an hour, we got a mixed bag of red porgy and a few Argentinean Seabass – steady, solid action.

The seabass – a member of the grouper clan.

Mariano moved reef to reef, and on perhaps the third one, I got crushed the moment my bait stopped. It was a tough fight, tight to the bottom, and it took a few minutes to get it away from the structure. Franco told me it wasn’t big enough to be a perch, and as it surfaced, I saw I had a big seabass – easily bigger than my world record from February.

The new world record Argentinean Sea Bass. At 7.75 pounds, it crushed my February mark.

That was a good start, but I was of course focused on the perch. We made a few more drops on the same reef, using large slabs of porgy and other cut fish as bait. About 10 minutes later, one of the rods I had put in a holder slammed down and started spooling out line. I grabbed it and set, and whatever it was, it was big and pounding hard. The entire crew gathered quietly behind me, and I didn’t need to be told it was a perch. Once I got it off the bottom, I backed off the drag and played it carefully, so it took a while, and the entire time, the crew was completely silent – it was just me, the fish, and the wind. I kept peeking over the rail, and after what seemed like forever, I could see color. Perch color. I walked up across the back of the boat and Franco made clean work of it with the net. I had my sand perch. Nineteen years had passed since I had first lusted for one, and finally, on an increasingly breezy Thursday in the South Atlantic, I had one.

The silence, needless to say, ended.

Do not put this in your pants.

Before I reset the rods, I weighed the fish. It was just over 11 pounds, which would not quite make the 50% of maximum for a world record. (A couple of resources say they reach around 30 pounds, so you would need a 15 pounder to qualify.) But I had the species, and that was the important thing. Of course, I also kept fishing, with a newfound respect for exactly how big and strong these fish were – easily the equal of our local ling cod. Was it worth the wait and all the travel? Of course it was. Whenever I actually have the fish in my hands, all is forgiven. This was also species 1899 for me, so my thoughts also turned to milestones – if I could scrape up one more oddball creature, I would hit 1900.

I set up and dropped another big cut bait, on my favorite Tsunami travel boat rod and an Accurate 870, spooled with 40# braid. I bumped it along the bottom – it was a fast drift but not impossible, and I was very grateful to have a day like this, even if I had to fly here twice to get it. Mar del Plata is a lovely little seaside town, and with the perch pressure off, I was looking forward to seeing a bit more of it. I began thinking of what sort of steak I would be getting that night, and so it caught me completely by surprise when something down there tried to murder my bait. I was barely able to set the hook, because it was only a split second between bite and a screaming run. I just held on and hoped it wouldn’t bury in the rocks. The Accurate can produce a lot of drag, and I was using a 60# leader, so I was confident enough to pull back hard. Franco guessed big perch, I guessed shark – it was that much bigger than the first fish. The fight went on for about 15 minutes. The fish was still making runs even when I had it well off the bottom, so I kept the pressure on and focused on making short pumps to keep it coming toward me. I had lost track of things until I felt the leader knot slip on to the spool, but then I started peeking over the rail. A shape emerged from the depths, substantially bigger than the first, but clearly a perch. Franco took one look at it, dropped the net, and picked up a substantial gaff. I backed off on the drag in case anything went wrong, but nothing went wrong. Franco flipped it up over the rail, and the reverberating thump it made on the deck told me I had a world record.

At 22 pounds, this would be world record #204. I have very few records that weigh more than 22 ounces, so this one was special.

I had now accomplished everything I wanted to do on the trip – anything else would be a bonus.

We stuck it out until late afternoon, landing a bunch more seabass, and one more perch that weighed a few pound less than the beast. At the end of a long day, we started steaming home, full of grins and random high-fives.

The team lines up in reverse. From left to right, that’s Mariano, Daniel, Franco, and Steve. Franco apparently turned his hat inside out.

As soon as we had cell signal again, we started checking the weather. It was not a pretty picture. The wind, which had originally been unappealing but fishable all weekend, had degraded into storm conditions. We were looking at 40+mph for the next two days. I breathed a sigh of relief that we had gotten out onto the water at all, and looked forward to dinner at Lo de Fran, where they made a brilliant, multi-course feast out of our catch.

The best seafood place in Mar del Plata, and that’s a high bar.

I forgot all about steak for a few hours.

We celebrated well into the evening, but by the time Franco had dropped me off back at my hotel, it was pouring. Always a light sleeper, I was awakened several times by rain driving against my window, and when I got up in the middle of the night and looked out, I couldn’t even see the shore.

This is what it looked like Friday morning.

Martini would call this “A little sloppy.” Marty would call this “Sailfish weather.” But I called it “Breakfast buffet in the hotel.” The weather had gone completely dreadful. There was no need to try to read a forecast – it was now, and it was bad.

Friday’s wind readings. Red and yellow are bad. Hell, even green is miserable.

As the morning wore on, it became clear that no one was taking a boat anywhere for a few days. Resigned to this, I began calling United and looking for an earlier flight home. But Mariano and company were not so easily defeated. After a substantial lunch at Lo de Fran, they invited me to rainsuit up and join them for some shore fishing in the harbor. It’s a rare guide who is as stubborn as I am, but these guys just don’t give up.

The harbor jetty where we froze our soggy butts for several hours. 

There were two fish captured during this adventure. One of them was a smallish whitemouth croaker, but the other was a surprise. Toward quitting time, I had what was only verifiable as a bite because I reeled in my rig and discovered a fish on the end of it. It was clearly an eel, and upon closer examination, I recognized it was an Argentine Conger – a species I had gotten in February. This one was slightly larger, and at Mariano’s suggestion, I weighed it. It was over a pound, and I had my third world record of the trip.

The beast.

A moment later, it hit me that I had gotten three world records in around 30 hours, and all of their common names started with “Argentine.” Hence, the Argentine Hat Trick, which I believe the IGFA should immediately recognize with a fancy patch and appropriate publicity. They could also venture out into other country-themed fishing trifectas, for example, a Brazilian codling, a Brazilian whitetail dogfish, and a Brazilian wax, which I would also qualify for, except that I didn’t do in 30 hours. I could do these all day – how about a Sacramento sucker, Sacramento perch, and Sacramento Blackfish? (As if anyone is ever going to catch a blackfish.)

Of course, every time I feel even slightly proud of a conger, I think back to my English friend Nigel’s personal best from the murky waters of the channel.

Nearly a hundred pounds of steaming perspective.

That was it for the fishing – the weather somehow managed to get even worse overnight. But I slept well, knowing that I had finally gotten my perch, and my Argentine hat trick. (Which didn’t even include a Greater Argentine, but aren’t they all?) Ruben picked me up the next morning, and we made our way through the showers up to Ezeiza Airport in Buenos Aires. United was on time, and I started the long trip home. Taxiing out to the runway, I could swear we passed my Gol flight from Sao Paulo, which was likely just arriving in Argentina, probably with the wrong luggage.

Steve

 

SPECIAL UPDATE – IGFA MEMBERSHIP EXTENSION

The IGFA recognizes that the COVID-19 pandemic is keeping many of us off the water and unable to fully utilize the many benefits of an IGFA membership. During this challenging time, they are offering three free months as an IGFA Digital Member, with member benefits and exclusive angling content. (If you start right now, you might have just enough time to read through all the Arostegui family records.) You can sign up at https://igfa.org/join-igfa/. Feel free to email me at S_Wozniak10@Yahoo.com if you have any questions.

 

 

 

 

 


Responses

  1. Have a nice catch….
    Amin
    Egypt

    • Great to hear from you, my man!!

      Steve

  2. I don’t get to go on all these fancy guided fishing trips like you do, but you have still inspired me to spend hours at the local ponds and streams catching glorious species like the common goldfish, Blacknose shiner, and the always exciting banded killifish. If you’re ever up Nova Scotia way let me know, I can put you on to our finest Taco Bell and maybe track down a random species or two. 🤟

    • Thanks for reading! Marta is always pestering me to get up to your part of the world – I am told it is gorgeous, and it is also filled with Canadians, who are much nicer than Americans. I’m sure there are some species to get, especially in saltwater. (The charter is on me.)

      Cheers,

      Steve

  3. […] few other species in the area, because even though I have done 14 hour round trips for one species (heck, I’ve done 14,000 mile round trips for one species,) it would be nice to have some backup options. As Luke and I discussed further, it became apparent […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Categories

%d bloggers like this: