The Thirty Second Record and Other Hawaiian Tales

Sometimes, Fishing and Romance Just Aren’t Compatible …

December 6, 2012

July 15, 2012 – Kona, Hawaii

It’s nice when the Fish Gods are annoyed with someone else, especially when that someone else is Marta. The Fish Gods don’t like hubris. It’s a fact. This was heavily proven by Marta’s unfortunate adventure with the peppered moray, but she didn’t learn her lesson, so the Fish Gods were forced to down on her even harder. This pleased me.

The week after the moray incident was a happy blur of snorkeling and sightseeing. The Big Island, home to two huge active volcanoes, has scenery that ranges from tropical paradise to moonscape.


The Captain Cook snorkeling area. Although Hawaii is now known for its hospitality, they hadn’t quite gotten this down in 1779.

Mauna Kea looms out of the dawn mist. It is 14,ooo feet above sea level, and has snow on it much of the year. Marta has hiked it. I have gone fishing while she hiked it.

Of course, I also did a series of boat trips with Dale Leverone, who you may remember from


That’s ace skipper Dale Leverone, and his son Jack, who appears rather concerned that the gray triggerfish will attack. If you’re in Kona, look Dale up on or email him at [email protected].

July 10 was my 49th birthday, and while I could never have gotten a better present than that monster moray, I still got to spend the day out fishing with Captain Dale. We spent about half the day trolling for spearfish. We did not see any. This is one of the three billfish I need to get an IGFA lifetime slam on billfish, and I have a feeling it’s going to be the hardest one.

We set up for some light bottom fishing on the way back in, and I was fortunate to stumble into two world records – a Pfleuger’s goatfish and a peacock wrasse, locally called “nabeta.” This whole area is a gold mine of unclaimed records, and I intended to claim as many of them as possible.


A peacock wrasse. Like Jaime, they are irritable and have sharp teeth.

I try to catch fish that match my hat.

We got back into port around 3. I wasn’t emotionally ready to stop fishing for the day. Taking advantage of the fact it was my birthday so Marta couldn’t really complain, I took Jack and headed down to one of his haunts, the pier right in Kona town. We got a few assorted eels, but my one meaningful catch might look to the untrained eye like a palm-sized lump of weed. (It certainly fought like one.) It was the oddly-named panther flounder.


They don’t look anything like a panther. Maybe panthers like to eat them.

Marta took me out to a lovely dinner at Jackie Ray’s for my birthday. She was still smarting over the eel incident, especially when I tried to order PEPPER steak. “You’re not funny.” she mentioned.

Something Marta ordered for dinner. I usually don’t trust brightly colored food. Except for Fruit Loops.

As I blew out the candle on the small cake they gave me, it hit me that I had 365 days until I turned 50. Turning 40 was hard, but I didn’t sweat it because it would be 10 years – an eternity – until I had to worry about another milestone. 40 was 910 species ago, and I knew the next year was going to go by quickly. I wondered to myself what sort of stupid mid-life crisis stunt I could do to scoff at middle age*, because I knew deep down that the next ten years would go quickly too. Fifty might still sound young to anyone who is 49, but 60 is starting to sound darn old. My father used to say that any day the covers come down rather than go up is a good day, and suddenly, I know what he means.

On the 12th, Marta joined us on the boat. We spent a couple of hours trolling for spearfish. We didn’t catch any. I sulked and said things like “There are no spearfish here.” Every time I did this, a report would come over the radio of someone else catching one nearby.

We then set up to do some deep bottom fishing. This can be a bunch of work. We were fishing anywhere from 500 to 800 feet down, and that’s a lot of reeling, especially when nothing is on. Marta decided to check her bait, and as she started reeling, she said “I think I have one.” She reeled up for about 30 seconds, and then I got a small hit and started reeling up a fish as well.

A few minutes later, Marta pulled a red, spiky lump over the rail. She had caught a largehead scorpionfish, a deep water critter with qualities good and bad. Good – I had caught one before. Bad – it was an open world record. Marta’s fish made the cut – she had a second record. I continued reeling, mildly irked.

Marta’s record largehead scorpionfish.

“You’ve caught this species before?” She asked. “But this one is still a world record? You mean I’ll have a second world record, on a fish that you do not have a world record?” There was none of her characteristic subtlety here. “A scorpionfish, huh? That has to STING.” (Why again do I love this woman?) Dale and Jack smiled. As I continued reeling, the Fish Gods raced to my defense. Thirty seconds after she landed her world record largehead scorpionfish, I too pulled a red, spiky lump over the rail – and my red, spiky lump was substantially bigger than her red, spiky lump. I quietly thanked the Fish Gods, as Marta’s claim to the IGFA book would be valid, but would also go on record as perhaps the shortest duration between setting and retiring a record – 30 seconds. She stared at me indignantly. I graciously did the celebration dance all over the back deck.

I think this more or less puts things in perspective.

“It’s going to lonely for you on the couch tonight.” she pronounced. I responded “Our room doesn’t have a couch.” She smiled. “Yes, I know.” And then, quietly, she added “Two words … red coronetfish …”

We also caught a few other interesting creatures in the deeper water. The variety found here is unmatched, and even after fishing here for years, I am always astounded by what we can catch.

Marta and a Ringtail Wrasse. I mentioned to her that I currently hold the record on this species. She invited me to shut up.

An oblique-banded snapper, one of the more beautiful creatures on the deep reefs.

On the way back in, we stopped on the shallow reefs and picked up an assortment of bottom fish, including two more records – a goldsaddle goatfish and a bridled triggerfish.

The goldsaddle goatfish – Check out the purple and gold around the tail.

Perhaps not the loveliest creature (the fish I mean) but a record is a record.

I did one more day on the boat – the 14th. We spend a few hours trolling for spearfish, and, say it with me, we didn’t get any. If a commercial market ever develops for a spearfish repellant, I am going to be rich.

On one of the deep reefs, I got a decent amberjack. I include this fish only because nothing else in this whole post weighed more than 5 pounds.

Gratuitous decent fish photo. This fish is about 15 pounds – see below.

Of course, I cannot mention amberjacks without going back to December of 2006, when Marta, while drifting a live bait off Kona, got what she said was a fish and we guys insisted was a snag. We mocked her as she wrestled with what we presumed was a boulder, so imagine our surprise when it turned out to be a rather hefty amberjack, Marta’s largest fish ever.

December 2006. The crew and I were rather humbled when Marta’s snag turned out to be a 113 pound AJ.

We also managed to scrape up two more records on the way back to harbor. The first one was a larger peacock wrasse, 4 ounces bigger than my fish from the 10th. The second was an unusual triggerfish, the blueline, which tied the existing record. (Which was also mine, from May of 2011. Do you get the feeling that I am the only person who cares about these species? Why am I alone in supporting these underrepresented creatures?)

Another nabeta. The blue, purple, and yellow highlights were absolutely fluorescent. (Cousin Chuck – that means they glow.)

The blueline triggerfish. Enjoy your moments in the sun, oh obscure species!

I spent the 15th fishing from shore, and the day turned unexpectedly epic. The undoubted highlight was the conclusion of my quest for the evil scrawled filefish. This quest began in April of 2003, when a friend, just to make me mad, caught a scrawled filefish in the Florida Keys. I have been trying to get one ever since, but they are rare, skittish, and have razor-sharp teeth that can slice heavy mono. I’ve had bites, I’ve had them on, but I’ve never landed one.

This is why these things are so darn hard to hook.

While hunting the harbor with Jack after a day out with Dale, I was discussing this species with a couple of kids, and they didn’t seem at all worried about catching one. One particular harbor urchin said “Yeah, come down here about noon and fish between those two boats. Broomtails all over the place.” I went down to the spot and tossed some shrimp in the water. One filefish actually showed up, bit, and wandered off. The harbor urchin told me “Come back in the middle of the day. They’re everywhere then.”

I had my doubts, but I was desperate and I came back the next day at noon. I flipped in a small, weightless hook with a bit of shrimp, and I waited. Moments later, a filefish showed. Then another, and another. And another. Before I knew it, about 15 of them were there, all looking up at me expectantly. I lost the first three, but these fish weren’t budging. My fourth try got a solid hookup, and after a nice fight and a risky reach down to the water, I had my scrawled filefish. I even caught another one just because I could, so not only have I gotten this species, I have caught more of them than that evil person who reeled one in right in front of me all those years ago.

Finally, a scrawled filefish. And it matches my hat!

This wasn’t the only species I added on the 15th. That morning, as Marta went off to do something healthy or intellectual, I hit the rocks in front of the hotel and had a blast. I drifted a lightly-weighted bait in the reefs, and caught all kinds of stuff, including a new species and three, count ’em, three world records.

The new species, which was also a record – because no one else had bothered to turn one in – was a cool one. The Lined Butterflyfish is the biggest of the Butterflyfish, and it weighed easily over the required pound. It is likely the most beautiful record I have.

The lined butterflyfish – my 4th butterflyfish species and by far the largest.

Note to the reading public – it’s not that I have turned in the largest lined butterflyfish ever to the IGFA. I have turned in the ONLY lined butterflyfish to the IGFA. It’s not like this is a hotly competitive fishery – even ESPN 8 doesn’t have “Live from Kona, the Lined Butterflyfish Tournament!”

I also turned in a pinktail trigger to tie my own all-tackle, and I also got a 3 and a half pound peacock grouper while casting a jig – what a huge hit. This tied the all-tackle for the peacock grouper. Jaime Hamamoto just had to mention she has caught much larger ones.

The pinktail triggerfish. They’re everything I could want in an obscure fish – they’re plentiful, hard fighters, and they reach a pound in weight.

A peacock grouper. Note how shallow their habitat is. (This is not the record fish – those photos, self-taken, do not do justice to the colors or surroundings.)

Sunset over some bay that had an extremely long, vowel-filled name.

I was so busy filling out applications and taking line samples and arranging photos that I didn’t count the records until we were back in California, but the total boggled my simple mind when I added it up – 13 records for me, 2 for Marta. That would push my total for the 2012 season up to 29, and I have it on good information that this will likely mean a trip back to a certain banquet next spring.


The paperwork for all 15 world record applications.

*Stay tuned. I am certain to do something supremely idiotic to celebrate my 50th. Feel free to send any ideas to [email protected], but it’s likely to involve a sports car and a fishing trip.


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