Juan Valero’s small catches are starting to leave a big mark in the Washington state record fish book.
His latest, a Pacific sanddab, weighed 1 pound even — and still was a fifth of a pound heavier than his other record, a Pacific staghorn sculpin.
Valero, the only person currently with two record fish in the book, caught his 12.5-inch sanddab on May 25 at the southernmost end of Whidbey Island.
The Seattle angler landed his .80-pound staghorn sculpin not far to the west, off the northern Kitsap Peninsula, last July.
No, Valero didn’t set out either day to nudge pretty low bars slightly higher.
“Honestly, I was not trying to break any records, nor was I targeting any of those species at the time,” he says. “But like that great painting by Ray Troll says, ‘Careful what you fish for‘!”
But now that he has set two records, you might say he’s starting to cast a speculative “eye” on some empty spots in WDFW’s book.
Meanwhile, I’m going to step aside and let Juan Valero tell his own story because I can’t do it any better, and if I tried, I’d mangle its poetry.
“I was born in Argentina into a family of fishermen and seafarers, and as such I have always been drawn to the sea and its creatures.
“I moved to Seattle almost 20 years ago to study fisheries at the University of Washington. I fell in love with the Pacific Northwest and with the woman who became my wife, with whom we have a beautiful, smart and incipient fisherwoman preschooler.
“Our daughter Cecilia loves to do gyotaku — the traditional Japanese way of making fish prints — for which she often requests that I take her fishing or that I go fishing and bring her fish to paint, requests that are always music to my ears.
“The day I caught the staghorn sculpin I was fishing for king salmon, mooching a cut plug close to the bottom near Point No Point. When it hit I could tell it was no salmon, but I thought I may bring it to my daughter to paint it.
“To my surprise, it was the biggest staghorn sculpin I had ever seen. A friend of mine had done her graduate research with that fish species, so I could tell it was a special catch.
“My fishing buddy Nick checked the WDFW fishing records webpage and he encouraged me to go to the application process.
“In the meantime, my daughter and I had quite a bit of fun making prints with it. The fish is now in my freezer, waiting for me to have time to process it for preservation and donation to the UW Fish Collection.
“The Pacific sanddab came under similar circumstances, but in this case fishing for lingcod off Possession Point, although none were to be caught that day. I actually did not realize it was a Pacific sanddab, or that it could be a record until we talked with the WDFW biologist at the launch area.
“Again we went through the application process. This time my daughter was a year older, so she was much more involved in the process and inquisitive about the special fish.
“I am not actively chasing any fishing records, although I had two other catches that were in the Washington record ballpark. One was a 24-pound chum salmon from the Stillaguamish River in 2002 (the record is 25.97 pounds).
“More recently I caught and released a massively oversized lingcod that, based on our estimates from known size of lure and photographic and video images of the fish, was around 54 inches and over 60 pounds. The current state record for lingcod is 61 pounds, caught in 1986.
“Times have changed and the maximum size of 36 inches should prevent that record from being broken. I do research on lingcod as part of my fisheries work, so it was great to see that monster fish swim away anyways!
“On second thought about not chasing any records, my fishing buddy was born in England, and looking at the Washington current records there are several righteye flounders with no current state records. So who knows, maybe we will work on English sole next time my daughter sends me to catch her some future fish prints!
“Life is full of surprises, and be careful what you fish for. I came here to study fisheries, but I ended up being hooked on the region myself.
“I went fishing for king salmon and lingcod; none were caught those days, but I ended up catching some unusually large fish, at least relative to the typical size for those other species.
“I think it is good to be an informed outdoors person; the more you learn about an area and its creatures, the more you enjoy each time you get to go outside.
“Of course I like to catch larger and tastier fish, and sometimes I do. However, in these times of changing, uncertain and even diminishing fishing opportunities, you may end up not catching the fish that you want, but with the right attitude still manage to make the most of any outing.”
FUN FACTS: Juan Valero’s record sanddab topped a .81-pounder caught in 2003 by Richard Bethke — who himself has a 1.27-pound brown rockfish listed.
That’s the next lightest record fish amongst saltwater species.
The smallest freshwater state records are a .53-pound warmouth, .58-pound prickly sculpin and .79-pound green sunfish.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Two image cutlines misidentified Juan Valero by another name. Our apologies.