Up for a Challenge? Try an IGFA Slam Quest
By IGFA Public Relations Coordinator Kelsey Johnson
They aren’t targeting the biggest fish. Nor are they weekend anglers, content to catch whatever is in season at their local spot. Fishermen on a slam quest are a particular group, investing an extraordinary amount of time and research into capturing all the species on their list. Some cross continents in a mere 100 days to complete the challenge; others plot and plan over several years to achieve their goal. We caught up with a few slam masters and asked them: What’s so alluring about completing a slam?
The fish are, of course, at the center of every slam adventure. There are six Royal Slam clubs – the billfish, salmon, tuna, shark, bass, and trout – each of which requires the angler to catch between six and nine IGFA-recognized species within the category. Catching eight stripers may seem like an easy enough task, but hooking eight different species of bass turns out to be more challenging than one might think.
“I don’t think I even knew what a shoal bass was until we decided to take on the Bass Royal Slam,” shares Bo Nelson, an IGFA Representative from Arizona. He and Pete Binaski, an IGFA Representative from California, targeted their slams together and are two of only four people to have completed all three freshwater Royal Slams. “Each of the species is different, even though they’re all bass or trout or salmon. You have to think about each of them differently if you’re going to be successful.”
Even when the angler is familiar with the species, actually getting one on the line is an undertaking in itself.
“It took my son Wes two years and four visits to Fort Lauderdale, Florida to catch his first swordfish,” Mark Davis, of Malibu, California, tells us. Now working on his second Royal Slam, 12-year old Wesley recently hooked two more swordfish but lost them both. “Catching even one swordfish in your life is incredible,” Mark says, now working on his fifth Royal Slam, “but keeping them on the line can be kind of hit and miss.”
Slam clubs also appeal to the conservationist in each of these anglers. Neither Grand nor Royal Slams require the fish to be weighed, allowing anglers to practice catch-and-release as often as possible. The vast majority of all the fish Bo, Pete, Mark, and Wes caught for their slams were released to be caught again another day.
Although they target different species, each of these slam champions shared that the underlying theme of their quests is camaraderie. Finding a great new guide or captain, or returning to fish again with a friend is always a treat, as is getting to know other anglers and swapping tips and stories while traveling for a new species. But for these anglers, it was their company in completing their slams that was truly inspirational. In fact, it was a friend who inspired Mark Davis to go after his first slam.
“I remember seeing that IGFA slam certificate up on Charles’ wall and thinking ‘Wow – I want that,’” Mark says of his friend Charles Bunk, an early slam achiever. “At the time there were maybe only 40 slam holders in the whole world, so it was very prestigious.”
Mark now has four certificates up on his wall, but his pride and joy comes from more than just the pieces of paper. His son, Wes, shares his slam bug, and some of their best times together have been on the water.
“Some people like tournaments, others like fishing for records,” Mark observes. “But for my family, the experiences we’ve had tackling our slams together have just been great. Wes is going after his second and now my wife Wendy is working on her first – that’s how much we all love fishing together.”
The same spirit of adventure and achievement also inspired Bo Nelson and Pete Binaski.
“These slam clubs are kind of like a treasure hunt,” Bo muses. “Pete and I started off trying to complete the trout slam together in a year, but when we really got into it, we were so excited that we pulled it off in 100 days.”
That short of a time frame is almost unheard of, but Bo and Pete had location on their side. Many, though not all, of the required trout and salmon species are available on the west coast of the United States, so traveling to achieve those slams was not as intensive as it might have been otherwise – with one exception.
“I caught my Atlantic salmon in Quebec, Canada, but Pete wasn’t so lucky that day,” Bo shared. “He ended up traveling all the way to Russia before he finally caught his Atlantic.”
Travel and Adventure
But rather than lament an unlucky day in Quebec, Bo lists the inspiration to travel as one of the top reasons he and Pete have so enjoyed their slam quests – as does the Davis family. Unlike the Grand and Super Grand Slams, which require anglers to catch three or four of a designated species in the same day, Royal Slams always send the angler to distant waters to complete the goal. While Bo and Pete were lucky enough to have many of the trout and salmon relatively close at hand, the bass were not as readily available.
“I can think of one lake in the entire state of California that has white bass,” Bo recalled. “And we ended up in Georgia’s Flint River to find our shoal bass.”
With only nine record holders, the Bass Royal Slam has the fewest number of achievers of all the freshwater slams – a phenomenon Bo attributes to the popularity of stripers and largemouth bass overshadowing offshoot species like the rock, shoal, and white bass.
According to Bo, “That’s actually the really cool thing about these slams. We’ve been to so many rewarding places that we would probably never have visited otherwise because the fish we were after don’t all live in the same place. We’ve been back to some of these places several times now.” The Flint River, in fact, gave Bo all four of his shoal bass records (two of which are still standing).
The Davis family agrees that traveling to find their slam species has been an incredible part of their journey. Their Billfish Royal Slams have taken them from Hawaii to North Carolina to Venezuela to Florida – and a few places in between.
“I probably never would have gone to Venezuela or Panama if it weren’t for fishing,” Mark shared, “and nighttime swordfishing on a boat in Florida is one of my family’s favorite memories.”
Tips from the Slammers
So how do these slam superstars figure out where to travel to target their species? They were both quick to point to the same answer: the IGFA’s World Record Game Fishes book. According to each of them, the records section is where the richest information can be found. Looking up a particular species yields all the record-setting locations and catch dates, which can be great clues in figuring out when and where to arrange travel plans.
Bo and Mark also suggest calling ahead to talk with a local captain or guide before you embark on a trip.
From Mark: “You really want to do your research if you’re going to take on a challenge like this. Give yourself the best shot you can by calling a guide or captain to make sure the bite is really what you think it should be.”
From Bo: “I never would have figured out some of the environments where these fish live if it were not for the guides we had along the way. They were really invaluable to our whole adventure – and most were great people.”
Finally, they offered patience as one more common piece of advice.
“Fishing of any type isn’t something you accomplish in one day,” Bo observes. “I have caught somewhere around 220 bull trout – another fish I had never even thought about before we took up the slams – but only 12 or 13 of them have turned out to be records. To complete a challenge like this takes a lot of dedication and persistence.”
“Patience is one of the great things my family has learned while we’ve pursued our slams,” Mark reflects. “You don’t always get the fish you’re targeting, and even when you do, it doesn’t always stay on the line. That’s fishing – and doing it together has really kept us close.”
All Grand Slam and Royal Slam Clubs have an application fee of $50 (US). Members receive an embossed certificate depicting their catches and recognition in the IGFA World Record Game Fishes book. For more information please call 954-924-4246 or email email@example.com