Sunday, January 27, 2013

Gone Fishing

The departure of our friends meant that the fishermen friends of ours would be on the water every day until we left (although we would be joining them one day on the water) so Viv and I and our two remaining tour party, Keith and Judy, would be fending for ourselves.

Viv and I had on our list of must do's: volcano, coffee plantation and a local specialty called 'chiccaron' -- crispy pork.  Keith and Judy had been to Costa Rica before and had toured to several other locations as well (in my opinion retrospectively, this is a must do) so were less driven to tick boxes than we were.  So we took it easy for a day, only playing the front 9 holes of the resort golf course that were in the rain forest -- the back 9 were alongside the water -- and checking out all parts of the resort.

Advertisements that I saw said that Los Suenos was the #1 resort in Costa Rica.  I can believe it too as it is built around a nice Marriott Hotel resort as anchor and includes a large marina for the sometimes enormous deep sea fishing boats that congregate there.  In fact a major international fishing competition was just winding up when we arrived that had been relocated from Cabo San Lucas in Mexico due apparently to Mexican drug gangs wanting a piece of the action.  How true that is, I do not know but it does reinforce the friendly reputation of the country.

Walking around the marina, it strikes me that this is something that could easily be replicated in St. George's in Bermuda.  In fact probably far easier as in Los Suenos a man made harbor had to be constructed to provide adequate shelter.  By contrast St. George's harbor is one of the most magnificent natural harbors in the world sited in a Unesco World Heritage city, one of the first Anglo-Saxon settlements in the western hemisphere.  Progress comes to those with vision, capital and the energy to make it happen.  Bermuda please take note!

Furthermore this type of tourism attracts big money.  The cost of these boats runs into the millions and the costs to run them for even 1 day's fishing runs into the thousands.  The people that can afford this kind of activity have to have big money.  The perfect tourist in fact for as we found our fishing friends had rarely if ever been outside the resort in all the times they had visited, they had fished and hung around swapping 'ones that got away' stories in the local bar, called 'Hooked Up', with other like minded fishermen.  Just as I said the perfect tourist.

Our fisher friend, Bruce is a member of a fishing club called Black and Blue fishing (see website) that operates out of Bermuda, Panama and Costa Rica.  It seems like a sort of fishing boat/condo time share where a group of people buy participations in this very expensive hobby.  Consequently there's quite a few Bermudians in Costa Rica too -- we ran into a couple actually.

The local fishing as we found is different to what is found in Bermuda.  For one thing the fish are obviously different.  But also the big one for poor sailors like me is the fact that for some reason the ocean swell hereabouts is nothing like the Atlantic swell is in Bermuda.  A BIG difference indeed!  I'd been on boats beyond the reefs in Bermuda before and had always suffered miserably so the attractions of fishing in Bermuda were zero to less than that.  In fact I only agreed because our friends had 2 forms of drugs that supposedly combat seasickness and planned to take both.

In the end I didn't and only took Sturgeron 15, which turned out for me to be a wonder drug.  My friends said it was because the sea was flat calm too but I don't believe it.  It just worked.

The fishing was therefore something I was able to enjoy.

First of all though, I'd never before realized just how hi tech this enterprise was and also just how much gear the boats carried.  Of course GPS, radio and radar.  GPS was to track where you'd found fish in quantities before -- you'd just mark the place electronically and set a course to get back next time.

Talk about fishing rods.  The vision I'd had before was that of a seat at the back of the boat you were strapped into with a big rod to play the big fish.  I'd seen the movies.  Well it wasn't like that at all.  It could have been I suppose if the fish you were catching were 800+ pound marlins like you would in Bermuda (where fish were far fewer but also far bigger) but we'd be after 100 pound sailfish.  So you didn't need the seat, you just needed a whole bunch of smaller rods and those metal bits that stick up in harbor (called outriggers) spread out and then you'd attach up to 5 or 6 rods plus 2 types of plastic squids (actually shaped rather like phalluses) which were brightly colored and attracted the fish in the first place.  This was the odd thing to me as I thought the fish would just go after the bait fish but no, once the fish rolls up chasing the plastic squids, someone rushes out and picks up one of the rods and skillfully waves the fish baited hook in front of the fish so that when it spits out the plastic, the next thing it tastes is a scrummy hook filled fish.

That was what Bruce did whilst his wife Kathy kept a little notebook with statistics: time of strike (that's what its called when the fish bite), what type of fish, whether Bruce was successful converting the first contact with the squid into a hookable action (i.e. reeling them in), how long it took to reel them in, the state of the fish when released (it was all catch and release), and I suspect other stuff that I have no notion about.

Bruce improving his stats!

In Bermuda, some days you could go all day and only get 1 or 2 strikes (some days none at all), however Bruce told me that Costa Rica and Panama were the best fishing he'd ever come across as the fish bit all day.

We headed off around 7 am and set out full speed for about an hour before the captain slowed down, set out all the outriggers and various lines and rods and began to trawl -- I think that's what it is called.  Basically it was motoring around at slow speeds until something happened which in our case was after about 20 minutes at which point the skipper said "left lure" -- which meant that a fish he'd seen had gone after the lure on the left which was the green one (the other was bright pink).  Bruce jumped up and grabbed a rod whose line plus bait was in the same direction as the lure and started to reel the bait fish in so that it ran in front of the sail fish that was nibbling the lure.

A few minutes later I heard Bruce say something and he began reeling the line in furiously while the boat attendant (who did essentially everything the skipper didn't) strung up a replacement rod -- he'd prepared several others.  When he'd reeled the line in Bruce showed us the fish head on the hook which was all that was left after the sailfish had had his snack.

According to Kathy that meant Bruce's stats on the day were 0 and 1.

No matter as no more than a couple of minutes later another fish was sighted. I never figured out how the fishermen knew there was a fish nearby.  The captain said he saw them.  Bruce and the attendant said that they knew from the action of the rods.  This time Bruce was successful in hooking the fish and he passed the rod to me!

We'd drawn playing cards to see in which order each of us would have a turn reeling in the fish.  Bruce said he didn't want a turn today as he'd done nothing but fish yesterday and would be doing the same for the rest of the week.  Kathy too.  I'd drawn the high card so had the plastic waist thing attached which you used to secure the rod when reeling the fish in.  Bruce had said "hold the rod up, make sure you keep the line tight, but whatever you do if the fish is running, don't reel.  Let it go.  You can always reel it in later on when its stopped running."

Now it took just about as long for him to say that as it took for me to type -- which is not long.  Also at the time when nothing much is happening, its easy to think "Sure, no problem" but when Bruce passed me the rod a number of things quickly passed through my mind:

1) Bahamas -- why Bahamas?  Well in the early 1980's I'd worked in Nassau for a while with my then bank employer and one weekend took a resort diving course.  Sean Connery's favorite diving spot was the Bahamas so I thought why not?  After a brief session learning in a hotel pool I went out onto the dive boat, the dive master said "ready?" and when I nodded he pushed me in and I went straight down to the bottom in about a second and a half.  Now I knew I shouldn't panic, only breathe deeply and evenly, calmly clear my mask and all the rest of it.  But I only knew that when I was on dry land, not when I was sitting on the bottom of the sea.  (I did survive though!).

2) Corporal Jones -- this was a character in a wonderful British TV comedy called Dad's Army.  Cpl Jones was an old soldier who'd fought everywhere for the empire and whenever things got hairy he used to go rigid and say "Don't Panic. Don't Panic."  Well of course he was panicking like crazy.

Well of course lots of people do this, some older and less fit than me, so really! So I grabbed the rod and reeled that sucker in!  It was a 100 pound sail fish apparently.  I only saw it when it was jumping out of the water some 100 metres away from the boat and it did look magnificent.  The attendant cut the line as soon as the fish came near enough but that counts as a catch.  And it was my very first catch too!

All 4 of us pulling in our fish -- Me (2), Viv (3), Keith (3) and Judy (3)

In all we caught 11 sail fish out of 20 that struck (Bruce's stats for the day therefore were 11 and 20) while Keith was lucky enough to catch a 30 pound mahi mahi (aka dolphin fish -- see below) which meant that not only was it a good day's fishing, we also had 2 monster bags of very fresh fish that we could take down to the Hooked Up restaurant and bar and have cooked for us in a variety of different ways.

Keith's Mahi Mahi
What a day!

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