In the midst of tarpon season, a curious email arrived with an unusual request. It went something like this:
I’m from Ontario and I’m trying something interesting this year. I’m a fly fisherman in my 60th year and I’m trying to catch 60 species of fish before my 60th birthday. I’m currently at 52 species with two weeks to go. I won’t be able to get the final eight species in Ontario, do you think you can help?
Rick, as it turns out, was a well-traveled fly angler who loved sight fishing. To mark his 60th year, he had laid out a challenge for himself that would quickly evolve into a fascinating pursuit. Now with the clock ticking, he had to add eight new fish species to reach his goal of 60 fish species in one year before he turned 60.
In pursuit of his goal, Rick had mined just about every viable species out of the waters around his home in Ontario. After Rick had caught every traditional species, he became industrious and went after species not normally targeted by anglers. He stalked goldfish in a neighborhood pond. He snuck a nymph past a cloud of greedy rainbow trout and delivered it into the mouth of the elusive striped shiner. He’d even dabbled in taming tiny darters and minute daces with a fly.
To avoid burnout and to add a few bucket list species to his list, Rick worked some special trips into his quest for 60. Halfway across the world in the Seychelles, he’d added giant trevally, bonefish, and a triggerfish to his list. In Cuba, he added a permit and tarpon on his way to the coveted grand slam. His Yukon trip yielded a dolly varden, a grayling, and even a lake trout on fly.
By the time Rick landed in Sarasota, he had already checked off nearly every respectable saltwater species. So, we made plans to catch the last few good saltwater species that weren’t already on his list and then we would try to get him to 60 by going slumming for a variety of lesser valued species, known by locals as garbage fish.
We took care of snook on the dock lights the first evening and then checked off speckled seatrout early the next morning. With the good species out of the way, we transitioned to the second half of our plan – catching trash fish. With both a guide and an angler that were more suited for shallow water sight fishing, we drifted over deeper water blindly casting for new species.
The interesting thing about Rick’s list, is that it disrupted the hierarchy of the fish kingdom and inverted conventional thinking. What the list did was equalize the value of fish. On Rick’s list, a goldfish had the same value as a giant trevally. A tarpon and a striped shiner were equals. Even a native brook trout, taken from a storied trout creek, had no more value than a lousy bullhead caught out of a mudhole.
The process of completing the list changed the way you thought about fish. For instance, I could’ve never imagined that I’d ever be frustrated by a tarpon beating a ladyfish to a fly, but that definitely happened while fishing with Rick. With a tarpon already on Rick’s list, it carried less value than the ladyfish that wasn’t yet on his list.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I felt tremendous relief and even a little joy when Rick was finally able to add a ladyfish to his list. I’ve never been happier (and never will be again) to see a lizardfish come to hand. I certainly can’t see myself ever making a 5-mile run to pursue a catfish on the fly again. And I will surely never again celebrate with an angler for landing a gafftopsail catfish, as I did when Rick finally caught his 60th species.
It was a strangely compelling and oddly satisfying experience for a guide. Rick was a pleasure to have on the skiff. He entertained me with the stories of fishing and travel that he’d accumulated over the last year. And although I’d only met Rick and learned of his quest recently, it was pure joy to watch him finish off the 60 species challenge that he had started nearly a year ago. Congratulations Rick and happy 60th!
Thanks for Reading
Captain Brian Boehm
Quiet Waters Fishing