Sometime in your life you may have dreamed of etching your name in history by catching a world record fish. Unfortunately, this was not a dream of mine, rather a horrible nightmare that I relived nearly every day of my life for more than 20 years. It all started in the early 90s when I was hired by Jeff Holtzman to captain his 54 foot Bertram, At The Knot.
When I first started working for Jeff I was a strapping young man with a clean bill of health. I now have a stress related heart condition and my cholesterol is through the roof. I’m a chain smoker and some would even say that I have a drinking problem. I also have more gray hair than Just For Men could ever tackle. Even worse, I now hate the ocean!
Unlike most anglers who simply enjoy a relaxing day on the water, Jeff’s only goal was to get his name in the IGFA World Record Book as many times as possible, taking down anything or anyone who got in his way of doing so. No matter where we fished or what species we were targeting, we were always rigged with two, four, and six-pound test line—Jeff was obsessed. While the man is an accomplished angler with 99 World Records to his name, the amazing feats weren’t accomplished without some truly heartbreaking situations. As Jeff’s captain for each and every one of those record catches, I’ve seen it all and will never forget the excruciating battles. Sadly, I was also the target of his frustration and violent verbal abuse when we couldn’t seal the deal.
If you think it’s a tough job being angler chasing world records, I can tell you that I had the most stressful job on the boat. When fishing with hair-thin line, Jeff’s catch ratio was 1,000 times worse than your kid’s little league batting average. For Jeff to reach 99 world records he, and myself included, had to suffer through 1,829 battles that ended in failure. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve backed the boat into the slip only to be surrounded by dozens of release flags. If I had a dollar for the number of days we came home empty handed I would be a rich man living on a beautiful island in the Caribbean.
Jeff hooked so many big fish on ultra thin line and couldn’t stop them from spooling the reel that we literally had to carry a dozen 10,000 yard spools of monofilament on the boat. In fact, Jeff actually bought stock in the line company and was their biggest customer, purchasing more yards of line per year than the nearest Bass Pro Shops. What makes this even worse was the fact that I was singlehandedly dealt the task of re-spooling every reel with fresh line at the end of each fishing day, which lead to unbearable tendinitis. This must have been Jeff’s way of paying me back for his own shortcomings.
While subduing fish on ultra light tackle is a feat in itself, fully comprehending the rules and regulations for world record catches is another job altogether. There are a number of infractions that could occur in regards to hooks, bait, leader length, line breaking strength and much more. Of course, it was my job to know all of this. In our early days, even after landing record fish on ultra light tackle, we would have fish disqualified due to minor tackle infractions or unauthorized scales. Again, always my fault! This was the kind of stress and heartfelt pain that not even a bottle of the finest rum could ease.
Still, amongst laying claim to numerous feats, one of the more memorable catches I wish I could forget occurred in The Bahamas. Jeff battled a monster yellowfin tuna on six-pound tackle for five hours and forty-three minutes. It was an epic battle that I never thought would come to an end. Sadly, just feet from the gaff the line parted and the fish escaped. That would’ve certainly been Jeff’s 100th record and after listening to him scream and yell at me like a crying little girl for an hour straight, it was also officially my last day at the helm of At The Knot. As a matter of fact, I quit on the spot, poured myself a stiff drink and sat comfortably in the air-conditioned salon while Jeff struggled to run the boat back to port. After 20 years, enough was enough!