A League of their Own
Dateline: April 20, 2013 – Dania Beach, Florida
I’m not as evolved as I think I am, and I don’t think I’m all that evolved. (Marta gives that a big “amen.”) But I always thought I was forward-thinking by believing that men’s and women’s fishing records should not be separate. I figured that fishing was pretty much an equal contest, because while men might be stronger, women are smarter, and if I had to choose, I’d go for the brains. Brute strength is overrated in fishing – the guy with the most world records weighs 135 pounds and thinks he needs to trim down.
I was fine with holding this rather evolved position until April 20th of this year, when I discovered that if we combined the men’s and women’s IGFA awards, I would have been somewhere back in the honorable mentions. Now I am fully in favor of the different categories, for reasons I will explain as soon as I think of them.
The big show. See http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2011/03/26/a-tale-of-two-trophies/ for the story on how this all began for me.
Yes, I managed to win the IGFA Men’s Saltwater title again this year. I did so by turning in 29 world records in the 2012 season, mostly for stuff only me and the scientist who named it care about. But if you took the total records I submitted in winning this award three times in a row – 56 – it wouldn’t even be close to the 2012 score for this year’s women’s saltwater winner, Sue Tindale – an astonishing 71. That’s pushing a lifetime achievement award in one year. 71 to 29. Now I know how the Lions feel every Sunday.
I don’t think winning something has ever been such a humbling experience.
Marta kindly accompanied me again this year. Attending fishing award shows is probably not her ideal way of spending precious vacation days, but she loves the Arosteguis and she loves Cuban food, so that made it OK. I also love this woman so much that I went to the Everglades – WITHOUT A FISHING ROD.
There’s a sign you don’t see every day.
The day before the awards ceremony, while United was still trying to find our luggage, Marta and I headed out the Tamiami Trail and experienced the wildlife. On the same road where I had fished with Marty Arostegui for the first time, (see http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2011/03/27/cavorting-with-exotic-swamp-creatures/) we drove past all the good fishing spots (gasp) and actually went and looked at (gasp) scenery and (gasp gasp) wildlife above the water.
The everglades early in the morning. A beautiful place, but it would be even more beautiful if I was allowed to bring just one fishing rod.
Marta cautiously reaches out to a cormorant.
They quickly became friends. I am not sure who is imitating who here.
The place was stuffed with wildlife, much of which can defend itself. As Marty is quick to point out, alligators scare the bejeesus out of me.
I think that spot on the back of my pants is bejeesus.
I wish I could make a display like this during mating season.
Marta was determined to experience a good Cuban meal on this trip, so Marty and Roberta took us into one of their secret haunts in little Havana. Marta loves trying different foods, and although I am accused of being a culinary coward, I do point out that I have eaten at Burger King in something like 63 countries. Marta tried everything, including some unidentifiable fried thingies that may have been alligator, and she thoroughly enjoyed herself. I courageously tried the chicken, and … the chicken. We chatted well into the evening, and Marty and Marta seemed to think it was funny to tease me about my alligator phobia. There is nothing weird about checking under the bed for them, and no therapist in the land can convince me otherwise.
The next day, we all headed over to the IGFA headquarters for the awards event, which was fantastic as always. Great food, great decor, and a chance to rub elbows with some of the top names in the fishing world. The cocktail hour fishing stories made me feel like a 10 year-old baseball fan in a world series locker room.
With Stu Apte, fly fishing legend, fishing hall of famer, and Korean war fighter pilot. I’m not sure it gets any cooler than that.
The Arosteguis hosted a table, and despite my vile Hawaiian shirt, they invited us to sit with them. As the awards started being handed out, the Arosteguis accepted another batch of plaques to add to their rather impressive collection – one more year like this and they’ll have to build an addition to store them. This always reminds me of my first year at the IGFA awards, only two years ago, where I had known no one and felt as lost as a bag on United – and now I feel part of a family. The Arosteguis have made us feel welcome, even though I drink all their Diet Cokes and never leave enough ice cream for the others.
Our hosts – Marty and Roberta Arostegui.
Later in the evening came that moment that makes everyone wish they had made other plans – I got the microphone. Although this was a three-peat and I’m not exactly shy in front of a crowd, I still got butterflies.
Steve accepts the Men’s Saltwater trophy. This one goes right above the fireplace in the front room. The good-looking guys are Jack Vitek, IGFA records guru, and Rob Kramer, president of the IGFA.
For any award of this nature, there are a lot of thanks to give – the guides, the friends, the fish, and my ever-tolerant girlfriend. Graciously, I congratulated Marta on her first two world records, (see http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2012/07/15/the-thirty-second-record-and-other-hawaiian-tales/) but equally graciously pointed out that I had broken both of them, one in 72 hours, one in 30 seconds. Since we were staying with the Arosteguis, it would be difficult for her to sentence me to the couch, because the cat already has that staked out.
Speaking of the cat, he ignores me for years but the minute Marta shows up he wants love. What’s up with that?
Rossi sells out for Marta.
I was certainly proud, and I was certainly surprised, but most of all, I was humbled to be in the company of so many amazing anglers. Sue Tindale was very understated when she accepted her award – with a very heartfelt thanks to her husband, Scott, who guides her on most of these trips. What an awesome team. Sure, Marta likes to fish with me now and then, but she’s a big Jaime Hamamoto fan. Grumble.
Sue accepts her award from Jack and Rob.
I did have one huge surprise waiting for me in the banquet room, and I’m not referring to the tub of cheescake topping I found. (And pretty much ate on my own.) I was still distracted over the men’s saltwater trophy and figuring out exactly which one of Marta’s paintings it would replace, and I hardly noticed that my name had gone back up on the screen. Something big was happening, and no one had warned me.
I had won the men’s overall – the big kahuna of fishing awards. 29 records had been enough to slip by the totals of all the freshwater and fly experts, and I had a second plaque, leaving nowhere for Marta to sleep. I am rarely caught by surprise and even more rarely at a loss for words, but this was a rare moment. I remembered to thank everyone I could think of, and it was at that moment I noticed that the two plaques I had were a spearfish and (an Atlantic) blue marlin – two species I have not caught. So even in a moment of triumph, there was a reminder of how much I haven’t done.
Rob was saying something like “Where did you get that awful belt?” I happen to love that belt. Marta has tried to throw it away, which just makes me love it more.
So I had my moments, moments I will treasure forever – but then the women took back over. Heather Harkavy, the teenage record machine who we had watched grow from a youngster into a young woman, got her lifetime achievement award – a hundred records. Wow. This was ladies night, and it was enough for me to sit back and watch. It was a great evening for all of us, and most importantly, a great night for the sport that was here long before us and will hopefully be here long after.
Heather Harkavy and her lifetime achievement award. That’s her proud dad in the background.
Of course, I had to do some fishing. We’ll divide this into two categories – stupid stunts in front of Marty, and unexpected world records.
Marty was kind enough to take me out for a day of shark fishing, targeting the elusive finetooth shark. The Arostegui curse (see http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2012/08/17/hex-of-the-arosteguis/) was in fine form, as we managed to avoid our targeted small fish and instead hook a bunch of large lemon sharks.
One of the fish was hooked awkwardly, so we had to remove the hardware by hand – releasing these fish unharmed is very important to both of us. Dehooking an uncooperative 100 pound shark is a complex process, not exactly safe unless handled by an expert, like, say, Marty. I suggested that I could do this one on my own, and while Marty agreed, he did look at me like I was deranged. A broken rod, a lost tailer, and a badly scraped knee later, I had proven him right. Maybe I’ll get the finetooth next spring, and maybe I’ll wear a suit of armor while I do it. Or I’ll just let Marty take the hook out.
Just because I was on top didn’t mean I was winning.
The big loser was the cooler. The fish was safely released and continues to patrol the waters off the Everglades.
Marty gives that patient look he gives when I do something really, really dumb.
On the way out of town, I spent a night at one of my favorite hotels anywhere – the Hilton Blue Lagoon by the airport. This hotel has half a mile of magnificent shoreline along a lagoon, and a breakfast buffet that offers numerous bait options. Over the years, I have gotten everything from tiny exotics to tarpon here, mostly from my favorite spot behind the pool, a small opening in the trees where the exotics seem to congregate. Every chance I have, I get out there with a few slices of bread and a light float rod. On this particular trip, an evening jaunt, I caught Mayan cichlids, bluegill, and some nice hornet tilapia. (Sure, this sounds nice, but all I could think about was the two pound plus hornet that I broke off right at the bank.)
The world record on hornet tilapia was a pound and three quarters, and it was caught in this very same body of water by … you guessed it … Dr. Martin Arostegui. On a fly. (So even if I broke it, well, who am I kidding. I’m not all that concerned with artistry.)
As the sun started to set, the fish started getting bigger. I caught two hornets that were painfully close to the record, and I knew the big one I lost had to be out there someplace, nursing a sore lip. I thought to myself … “Sue Tindale wouldn’t have screwed this up.” As I mused on this truism, my float disappeared. I leaned up on my light rod and something big pulled back. I spent the next few minutes extricating whatever it was from the bushes, and as it finally tired and came to the surface, I saw it was an impossibly big, beastly hornet tilapia. I didn’t dare pull it up by the line, so I carefully clambered down the stone wall that borders the water and boga-gripped the fish. It was three pounds, shattering the existing record by a pound and a quarter, so big that I could emotionally deal with the fact I didn’t catch it on a fly*. I had added a rare freshwater record to my 2013 total.
The Tilapia. Like the shark, he was safely released, albeit with a bit less excitement.
I was thrilled with the record – I’ve made something of a career out of pursuing batches of exotic fish. But for the next three days, the micro-fish hunt would be going on hold. Uncharacteristically, I would be going trophy hunting, a process which would test my faith, patience, sanity, and checking account.
* A few days later, I got yet another reason to admire Marty. Without telling him I had broken his record, I just showed him the same photo you see above. Whereas I might have pouted or thrown pasta at someone retiring one of my records, Marty just burst into a thrilled smile and congratulated me. “What a monster!” He cares a lot more about the sport and the success of others than about his own accomplishments, and that, more than any other quality, is what makes him so remarkable.