THE QUEST: BILL­FISH ROYAL SL AM ON FLY

THE LONG JOUR­NEY TO­WARD AN IN­CRED­I­BLY DIF­FI­CULT ACHIEVE­MENT

Marlin - - CONTENTS FEATURES - BY PAT FORD

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.

FLY GUYS

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.

MAR­LIN MAD­NESS

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.

CHAS­ING RECORDS

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.

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