THE QUEST: BILLFISH ROYAL SL AM ON FLY
THE LONG JOURNEY TOWARD AN INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT ACHIEVEMENT
The long journey toward an incredibly difficult achievement
By Pat Ford
The most elite of the IGFA Slam Clubs is the Billfish Royal Slam on Fly, and it currently has just a single member: Dr. Martin Arostegui, of Coral Gables, Florida. The criteria for membership: Catch all nine species of billfish on fly as defined by IGFA regulations, meaning just 12 inches of shock leader and a tippet of 20-pound-test or less, among other specific rules.
Rufus Wakeman made a run at the slam in 2015-16, managing to catch eight billfish species within one calendar year, but the ninth eluded him — the swordfish. Only three people in the world have caught a swordfish on fly: Two were caught in Africa, but Marty Arostegui is the only one to catch a swordfish on fly in the United States. Wakeman sought out Arostegui’s advice when trying to finalize his quest, and Wakeman’s success inspired Arostegui to complete his own personal journey into IGFA fame.
Arostegui and Wakeman have been fly-fishing most of their lives. Both have fished all over the world, and love the challenge of chasing marlin and sails on fly. Arostegui was a member of the Miami Beach Rod and Reel Club back in 1990 when Tim Choate presented a program on fly-fishing for sailfish in Costa Rica. I’d been fishing for sails on fly with Choate since the late 1970s, and I convinced Arostegui to book a few days to fly-fish on Magic;
I even offered to join him. Arostegui landed several Pacific sails that first trip, and it wasn’t just the fish that was hooked.
When fly-fishing for billfish, the level of excitement is off the chart as the mates tease a fired-up marlin or sailfish right to the boat with a hookless bait. When the fish is within range, the teaser is jerked out of the water, the captain shifts the engines into neutral, and the angler makes the cast. The strike happens less than 30 feet behind the boat, and the bites are spectacular. It’s hard not to get addicted to that kind of adrenaline rush.
Arostegui’s next challenge was to catch a marlin on fly. In 1984, I had caught several white marlin on fly in La Guaira, Venezuela, and even set an IGFA record for white marlin on 8-pound tippet with a 73-pounder. On November 4, 1993, Arostegui added several white marlin along with an Atlantic blue marlin to his list of conquests, fishing with Capt. Carlos Hernandez aboard
Gigi. The following season, Arostegui returned to La Guaira and caught more white marlin as well as an Atlantic sailfish on fly. Then he switched gears.
As a retired physician and successful businessman, Arostegui, like many of us, needs motivation and a set of goals to remain focused on his passion. He loves to travel and fish exotic places, so he decided to see how many IGFA world records he could accumulate. Over the years, this project took Arostegui all over the world, where he set 440 IGFA world records, 240 of which are on fly. Many of them are for critters only a few people may have even seen, but that just added to the fun.
A SWORDFISH STUNNER
Then in 2002, Arostegui did something really spectacular. He fished regularly with Miami legend Capt. Bouncer Smith, and often hired Smith to captain his own boat for swordfish . They had caught several swordfish together, and so one night, Arostegui decided to bring along a fly rod. He had tied up a giant white fly with a Cyalume light in the center, giving it the appearance of a luminescent squid, and matched it with a 14-weight fly rod and an 800-grain sinking shooting head line. The plan was to cast as far as he could and let the fly sink as long as possible. Smith admits that he thought his friend was a bit crazy, but since it was Arostegui’s boat and he was just there to help, he decided to give it a shot. He suggested that Arostegui retrieve the fly in short strips followed by a long pause, to mimic the action of a squid that was attracted to the boat’s underwater lights. Each cast and retrieve would last five minutes if he did it right.
Arostegui got his first bite about an hour into the trip — he set up hard and could feel something heavy shaking its head, but the hook didn’t hold. After an hour more of drifting and casting, Arostegui had a second strike, and this one hit like an express freight train, hooking itself just like a good fish is supposed to do.
THE STRIKE HAPPENS LESS THAN 30 FEET BEHIND THE BOAT, AND THE BITES ARE SPECTACULAR. IT’S HARD NOT TO GET ADDICTED TO THAT KIND OF ADRENALINE RUSH.