Posted by: 1000fish | July 6, 2022

Quest for 952 – The Untold Stories (Part One)


When I reached 1000 species in 2010, I promised to write a thank you note – a very long one – recognizing the dozens and dozens of people who had been kind enough to be a part of my lifelong obsession with catching just one more fish. I never fully did that. The blog, which started with species 953 on April 7, 2010, has served to recognize hundreds of friends since. But now that I have crossed 2000, it’s time to mention the many people behind the first half of “the grand ambition.” These are going to be very high-level summaries, and a lot of careening down the dead end of my memory lane, but all the sordid details will come out in the book. (You can pre-order now through Marta!)

Be forewarned – this is a beast of a post, and won’t be for everyone, but we will resume the regular trip reports after I get all this off my chest. I’ll break it into two still-substantial pieces, to allow time for bathroom breaks and food. So good luck, and if you enjoy reading this just one percent as much as I enjoyed reliving it, and if there are a hundred of you, we’re even. 

This will be Part One, which takes us from the my very first day on the water through 2002, when the species hunt had really crossed the line from a “hobby” into a “condition.”

According to family lore, Species One was a sunfish on a 1968 Maine vacation. My Dad is the one who made it all happen, even though that’s a bit awkward. You don’t see him mentioned here very often – we aren’t close – but he is the one who started it all, 53 years ago. And I was probably saying something like “Look at me, Dad.” I said that a lot.


My Mom and Dad with a pike. It is not unlikely that my Mother caught the fish.

Part of hitting this milestone was a lot of reflection on why I had done it. I certainly love to fish, and I certainly have an unhealthy competitive streak, but there was also a lot I gave up in doing this. (Like the respect of anyone who won’t fish in a hotel fountain.) Who the heck was I trying to impress? Hopefully it’s the kid out there who will get to 3000 someday. Apart from that, you’d have to ask my psychiatrist, and he entered the therapist protection program years ago.

After my parents split in 1972, several other relatives picked up the fishing slack. My grandfather and my Uncle Jim both spent many hours with me, especially on family vacations to Port Sanilac. We added some of the midwestern basics to my list before it was even a list – bluegill, channel catfish, sheepshead, and yellow perch. I also wandered the local creeks for countless hours, looking for chubs, shiners, and sunfish.

My grandfather – my Mom’s dad – with a northern pike, three years before I was born.

I also should thank my sister here. You don’t hear about her often, because she is normal and doesn’t fish very often, but she’s the one who dug through the shoeboxes for these photos.

Steve and Laura with drunk Santa, circa 1968. Yes, I am wearing Garanimals, a line of colorful and highly flammable children’s clothing from the 60s.

Laura also gave us my niece and nephew, two of my favorite fishing partners, and her husband, our favorite rail bunny. More on them later.

College saw the beginning of obsessive fishing for me. As soon as I got my own car and figured out it’s called a term paper because you can write it at the very end of the term, I started spending nights and weekends at spots ranging from Putah Creek to Bodega Bay. I deny all rumors about fraternity parties and dating anyone prior to Marta. (Although I should thank Cindy Condit’s Father for my very first Sacramento pikeminnow and the entire Mantua family for my first ling cod.)

Steve and some kid with fish from San Francisco Bay, circa 1981.

I fished a good bit when I lived in the midwest in the late 80s, but mostly chasing the normal bass and catfish. I was single. You do the math.

Yes that’s me, spring of 1988, photographer lost in the mists of time. I have discovered ice cream since this photo was taken.

When I moved back to California in 1990, my species count was at 25. I started going on local party boats, like the Nobilis with old salt Captain Scott Baggett, and one of my all-time favorites, the Fury, with Captain Bill Gould. Bill was a shark specialist, and some friends and I tried to fish with him every Friday.

On the Fury, summer 1991. From left, that’s Ted O’Neill (who could bench press a car,) some guy who threw up, Dan Koehn (one of the funniest people I have ever known,) me with the gray sweatshirt the guy threw up on, and, at lower right, Jim Larosa, actual height.

Dan being Dan. There was never a dull moment. Ever.

Bill Gould. He was banana-averse, so naturally, we rigged one on his hook. Bill passed away in 1999.

These were marvelous days on the water with good friends, and I got to battle with my first few decent-sized fish – bat rays and sevengill sharks. I saved up and bought my first Penn 113. Dan Koehn and Mark Spellman gave me a Penn 980. Years later, I learned to cast it.

On May 26, 1992, Martini Arostegui was born. I had caught 36 total species at that stage, across one country and five states. Just shy of 19 years later, we would get on the water together for the first time.

I fished a great deal locally through the 90s, honing whatever skills I may have. I mainly targeted trout, bass, stripers, and the occasional bat ray. Some of my most treasured fishing days were heading out with friends and their sons to pass the whole obsession down to another generation.

With the Veatch family at San Pablo, from L-R, Wayne, Will, and CJ. Wayne was a co-worker and great friend, and I admired how he spent every spare moment with his sons. We lost Wayne in 2016.

In the late 90’s, Wayne roped me into coaching Will’s hockey team. We certainly toughened the boy up.

After substantial research, we determined that CJ was the original Rail Bunny, circa 1997. Mind you, he never uttered a word of complaint.

Somewhere in this prehistory, I met the guys over at Hi’s Tackle Box, still the best outfitter in the Bay Area. Owner Jonah Li has been a phenomenal supporter over the years, a go-to source for everything from local secret spots to equipping an Amazon trip.

That’s Jonah on the right in the gray sweatshirt. Support your local tackle store – Cabela’s won’t ever call you with a hot fishing tip. The guy on the left has two Super Bowl rings. Can you name him?

Another character at Hi’s – Steve “Hippo” Lau, a fountain of knowledge on local fishing and hairstyles. 

Competition certainly drives us to do things better, or at least more obsessively in my case, and it was competition with a friend in the mid-1990’s that morphed the species hunt into its current format. Mike Rapoport and I met through a long-forgotten mutual friend, and we fished together constantly. Mike was not only big on local species like leopard shark and bat ray (the vaunted “mud marlin,”) he also wanted to go far afield and catch gamefish. He was meticulous in his preparation and researched fish endlessly, and I owe Mike for introducing me to Tomales Bay – still one of my most beloved spots on earth.

Rapo, in a typical pose with a Tiburon bat ray.

My first fishing trip outside the USA – to the East Cape in Mexico in 1996 – was with Mike. I got my first mahi-mahi, my first sailfish, and my first striped marlin that week.

An awful photo of my first marlin.

I will never forget how hard they pulled, and how I was planning a trip back before I even left. The place was magic – Captain Marco and Captain Victor put us on big fish every day. I knew then I wanted to see what was out there, everywhere. I read travel fishing magazines obsessively, and developed a long list of big game I wanted to catch. The first Sport Fishing Magazine I ever bought had a spearfish on the cover. It’s been 26 years, and I still don’t have a $#%& spearfish.

I started traveling overseas for business in 1995, and I got to visit Australia in 1997. I have been back more than 25 times, and 204 of my species have come from that continent. It all started when a work contact there, Steve Baty, who has since become a great friend, set us up with a Sydney guide for a morning of fishing. 

Steve Baty, and the first thing I ever saw him catch.

July of 1998 found me in Japan on business. Through two friends there, Tejima-san and Abe-san, I not only had a number of adventurous dinners, but also got to go fishing. With a Japanese Seabass (Suzuki,) I added Japan as my fourth country.

Abe-san on the left. The Suzuki was species number 65. Abe and I also got to do a lot of fishing together in California.

Then we get back to Rapo. We had spent a day bat ray fishing in Tomales. At dinner, we did what Alpha males always do at dinner – compete. Once we had settled that my leopard shark was bigger, we somehow got onto who had caught more types of fish. The waitress brought us a yellow legal pad and two pens, and we made lists. This was my first-ever species list, in autumn of 1998, and there were well under 100 species and only four countries on it. Mike had fewer, and I was thrilled. 

That’s Mike on the right, during a Great Barrier Reef trip, contemplating my magnificent Coral Trout.

Once I got home, I went over and over that list and remembered a few more fish to add. By 1999, I had put the whole thing into a spreadsheet and decided that it would be fun to catch as many different types of fish, large or small, game or not, as I possibly could, and I started planning trips around this. 

Early 1999 saw me pick off two of the major trout on the west coast, a cutthroat with Ben Molina in Pyramid Lake, and a lake trout with Tim Hennessey in Lake Tahoe. (My first fish in Lake Tahoe, despite frequent childhood attempts.) To my great shame, I don’t have pictures of a lot of these early guides – at that stage, I didn’t understand it wasn’t all about me. (Marta often reminds me it still isn’t.)

Later that year, I made a swing through South America and did my first fishing in Argentina and Brazil. The team at Guarapo Abierto camp in Corrientes, Argentina, hosted my first ever sleepless species-hunting weekend. (This was before Red Bull became a thing.)

The kid to my left, Daniel, was the translator. He learned a lot of new English words that weekend, and I learned that the Spanish words “punta” means something entirely different if you omit the “n.”

Obrigado to Ian-Arthur Sulocki, my connection into Brazil. We first fished together on August 8, 1999, and 101 of my total species are from Brazil. I have gotten to see some of the most beautiful places on earth during my adventures there. Ian introduced me to the Amazon, which means that he also introduced me to amoebic dysentery. 

That’s Ian-Arthur in the center. Yes, he looks like John Travolta. Get over it, Marta. 

On the way home from that Brazil trip, I stopped in Florida and fished with Vinnie Biondoletti, legendary Islamorada flats guide and bonefish expert. While we did indeed get a bonefish, Vinnie also found himself hunting things like scrawled cowfish. (I had picked off a few Florida species in April of 1999 with Daytona Beach guide Ty Moore, but the Keys became my go-to Florida spot for years.)

Vinnie has guided me to 38 species over the years, including my 100th (a great barracuda) in August of 1999. He is still unclear on why anyone would want to catch a scrawled cowfish. Vinnie missed one trip with me ever, when he had emergency surgery in December of 2003. From his hospital bed, he set me up for a memorable day with Captain Jim Wilcox that netted three new species, including my first Spanish mackerel.

By the time I got my 100th species, I decided that 1000 would be a worthwhile goal. That kept me busy for 10+ years.

On April 29, 2000, Steve Baty brought me out with Paul Hedrix to fish some of the rivers near Sydney.

I got my first Australian bass on that trip. It was species 117.

A few days later, on May 2, 2000, Steve Baty connected me to Scotty Lyons.

Steve: “How are we going to get this in the boat for a picture?” Scotty: “No no no no no.”

The first fish I caught with Scotty, a yellowfinned leatherjacket, was the first of 97 new species and at least a dozen world records with a man who has become a dear friend. This is another world-class gamefish guide who made it a personal challenge to find me every weird thing that swims anywhere near his local waters. You’ve all met Scotty in a couple of blogs, but he has been there practically since the beginning.

On the way home from that Australia trip, I stopped over in Hawaii. I had met a limo driver there a few years before, and he and I had stayed in touch and kept talking about fishing together. The driver’s name was Wade Hamamoto.

The first species I got with Wade – a Hawaiian chub on May 3, 2000 – was only the 123rd species I ever caught. The Hamamotos were responsible for 36 species on the quest for 2000, and countless days of my most treasured fishing. They have also become family, Wade as much of a brother as Martini, Jamie that weird cousin who keeps catching stuff that I can’t.

I’ve watched Jamie grow up from a little monster into an adult monster.

Interestingly, my very first fish in Hawaii was not with Wade. It was with Maui inshore guide Kenny Takashima on July 12, 1999. The most notable species I got that day, a peacock wrasse, later became one of Jamie’s many world records. Kenny almost cancelled the day for a “doctor’s appointment” he was juggling, but he decided late the evening before that we could go. While we were fishing, it came out that his “appointment” was for chemo – for terminal cancer. He passed away just shy of two years later, and I have never forgotten how much joy he got from just being on the water. We never know how many days we have.

September 15, 2000 was the only time I ever added two countries in one day. On an unpronounceable cod charter out of Malmo, Sweden, I picked up fish in both Sweden and Denmark. (My first Atlantic cod and my first Atlantic herring.)

Pronounced “Cleveland.”

March of 2001 found me in Chile, exploring the coast south of Valparaiso with an old friend. Remember that I do not speak a word of Spanish. In a tiny fishing village, Quintay, my friend, Marcela, organized a local boat to take me out, and I added Chile and four species to my list that day. The only lure I had was a steelhead spinner I got in college, but it did well.

Marcela and I have stayed in touch all these years. She has been seriously ill since last summer, and I hope you will all join me in wishing her a complete recovery.

I should probably mention a few other friends here as well. My first northern pike – a fish I grew up admiring because my dad had a tackle box full of pike lures – as well as my first walleye and my first three muskellunge – were all courtesy of Bob Reine, a buddy I fished with constantly in the 1990s. We did trips to Minnesota – my 10th state – and Canada – my 14th country.

Minister BS

Bob earns $12 the hard way – Lake of the Woods, Ontario, 2002.

I couldn’t mention friends without giving a nod to Mark Spellman, who has let me take the first bite for some 30 years. Our first fishing trip together was in 1993, and we have gotten out on countless ill-planned expeditions since.

One of my more improbable adventures with Spellman, a four-sturgeon day on the San Joaquin river in 1997.

We have also sought out local gamefish like albacore, shown here (with Scott Perry on the right) on our 2004 adventure with Captain Colin aboard the New Mary S II out of Half Moon Bay.

A lot of my local rock cod species and other California staples have been with Mark. We’ve been on dozens of party boats together, and I should also give a big thank you to every kind-hearted skipper on every one of those charters, from the Queen of Hearts to the Blue Horizon to the Ankenney Street to the Reel Screemer to the New Gravy to the Captain John and half a dozen more I’m forgetting. And a bigger thanks to Gary the deckhand (“Roll ’em or troll ’em”) – he never missed a gaff shot. Gary, whose full name was Gary Allen Christensen, passed away at sea in 2010.

As we move into 2002, I was on the road more than I was off it, and a lot of my travel was to the Far East. Some of my earliest species fishing in Asia was in Singapore, and Jarvis was my first contact there, taking me pond fishing way back when I had hair. I was introduced to Jarvis by Chris Armstrong, the same guy who introduced me to Ed Trujillo.

That’s Chris on the left. The guy in the middle is Chad, who introduced us.

My first trip with Jarvis was January 31, 2002, and I netted my 187th species, a snakehead. But the barramundi below is a better photo.

Jarvis introduced me to Alex, who christened me “Angry White Man.”

Alex and a sailfish that was the center of a vicious prank.

These two have been there for 81 species, several records, and three new countries to my list. They still don’t understand anyone who doesn’t throw high-speed jigs all the time, and most of my catches are dismissed as “panty fish.”

While we’re in Asia, merci beaucoups to Jean-Francois Helias, the man who has put up with me for weeks of fishing in Thailand, leading not only to 121 species, more than any other single guide, but also to my very first world record. (And many since.)

My first trip with Francois, February 2002.

Francois, a very dear friend, is also the guy who brought me to Laos and Burma. He also introduced me to the IGFA media folks, leading to a lot of the PR stuff you all have been forced to read. So blame him.

Speaking of the IGFA, a few folks there who should be mentioned in all this: Adrian Gray and Jack Vitek. These guys have been indispensable on records, ID messes, and obscure international connections. 

With Adrian at my first-ever IGFA event. He runs the creative, production, and design stuff.

Jack Vitek, who was the records coordinator for many years, is now the Director of Marketing.

In the early 2000s, I added a number of countries in South America courtesy of co-worker, expert angler and all-around madman Gerardo Martinez. He kept me out of jail in places like Paraguay, Uruguay, and Colombia.

Gerry and my first fish in Uruguay.

The travel continued at a crazed pace for many years. While an airport is an airport and 16 hours on a jet is never fun, in hindsight, I was very fortunate to see the world, meet hundreds of amazing people, and add a whole bunch of species because of this, even if it meant getting a lot less sleep. So thank you to all the great companies I have worked for, and almost all of my bosses. (And to cover this yet again, if I stayed extra time on a trip to go fishing, I paid for the expenses.)

My sister has lived in Northern Virginia since the late 1990’s, but it was only in 2002 I figured out that it was a great fishing destination. (The increase in visits after this discovery is purely coincidental.) With guide Gene Hoard, I added the humble white perch and also caught dozens of striped bass in Lake Anna – great fun on light tackle.

That’s Gene on the right.

2002 also saw my first new species with Ed Trujillo. Although mostly a steelhead guide, Ed put me on six new species and one world record. (And brought me to Oregon, which was my 20th state.)

We lost Ed in 2018. The river misses him.

On July 5, 2002, I added the Philippines as a country. The story involves a decorative pond at a shopping mall and a sympathetic security guard. 

This shouldn’t surprise any of you by now. But there are loads of species to get in this country, so … I shall return.

I did the first of three Great Barrier Reef trips with Captain Kim Andersen in August of 2002.

Before I got onto the reef, I fished the Cairns area rivers with a series of local guides, including Glen Stewart, Kerry Bailey, and Justin Gibbins. It was Justin who led me to my 200th species, a dusky bream in the Daintree River.

On Kim’s boat, across the three trips, I netted 43 new species overall, including my first black marlin and my first giant trevally. Oh, how I look forward to writing those blogs someday. I saw an article on coral trout in an encyclopedia when I was seven or eight and I dreamed about going halfway across the world to catch one. 

Kim Andersen, with one of the aforementioned coral trout. It lives in coral, but it’s not a trout – the Australian common names are a mess. They call grouper “cod” and threadfin “salmon.” Another thing they call a “salmon” is in no way a salmon, but is also not a threadfin. Either way, I got my 300th species on that trip, a yellow-tailed emperor. (Kim also added my 400th species, a redfin emperor, in 2005.)

Finland joined the country list in September of 2002. On a short-notice business trip to Helsinki, I found a local guide and caught a nice pike. I normally take very good notes, but for some reason, the man’s name is only in my log as “M.” 

It’s the guy on the right. If anyone can find him, there is a reward involved. Contact me for details.

Anyone who has made it this far needs a drink and a bathroom trip, hopefully in that order, so let’s take a break here and pick things up next week. Where we stand, as of December 31, 2002, is 238 species, 16 countries, 15 states, zero world records, and a series of bewildered fishing buddies. I promise it will get a lot worse in Part II.




  1. I too wore Garanimals!

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. Great Read Steve, can’t wait for part 2 👍

  3. Keep writing,. I’ll keep reading.

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