Game Fish Diaries - Chic McSherry
|Home Gran Canaria Tobago Mauritius Venezuela Costa Rica Panama Cabo San Lucas The Big One|
Back at the Lodge, Jamie went for a sleep whilst Scott and I headed off along the beach. Zancudo beach itself is gorgeous at low-tide, but there is a lot of debris on the high waterline that is dumped there by the river. The sand is a dark, gray-green colour and contains the most interesting stones you could wish for. There are onyx, haematite and jasper to name just a few all in beautiful shapes and sizes, just lying in the sand. The outpouring of Costa Rica’s volcanic past no doubt. Scott was full of plans to start a business and make his fortune, no bad thing in a nine year old.
After beachcombing we went off to watch the saltwater crocodiles at the boat dock. The dock is on the river estuary and the salties come by every afternoon to get the scraps from the returning fishing boats. Some of these reptiles were as big as fifteen feet long. Don’t get in the water.
At the dock I got chatting with a Texan who ran a boat for fishermen. He drawled “How you guys back in Scatland gittin along with yore terrorists. You know, the AH-AR-AY?” It never ceases to amaze me how little Americans know about the world they dominate.
Next morning, Jamie was no better so we cancelled the fishing and just pottered about. The wildlife, even around the relatively developed Zancudo Beach area, was spectacular. Birds of every kind were in the lodge gardens: red-legged honey-creepers; hummingbirds; flycatchers; chicken hawks; turkey vultures; frigate birds; roseate spoonbills; tanagers; grackles…the list went on and on. There were squirrels and huge iguanas too, as well as those little lizards that stand up on their hind legs and run when threatened. Very dramatic. The most unusual creature was a three toed sloth that took up residence above the boathouse and stayed pretty much there for our entire trip, only moving a few feet each day. Later on whilst relaxing in the room before dinner, I browsed Roy’s eclectic collection of magazines which included such gems as “Meat and Seafood Merchandising”. Interesting…
At dinner, the only other lodge guest persisted in talking loudly in his nasal New York accent, boasting about how they had caught over nine sailfish that day. I never got his name the entire trip because he didn’t introduce himself. We called him “Cawfee” because he used the word so much. To pronounce it like he did you have to roll your lower jaw anti-clockwise so that by the time it is extended you are on the W syllable – and W is a syllable in his accent. When he found out we were from Scotland he just stood by our table and said “Wow. Amazing” as if waiting for us to perform a Highland fling, and then turned to Eber, the head waiter and all round Mr Fixer, and said “Can I git another cawfee?” His wife, interestingly, was a cute blonde Russian woman who had a pleasant accent of her own…up until she asked for “cawfee”. Just shows you how easy it is to pick up idiosyncrasies of language.
The thunderstorm that night was impressive. It actually started in the late afternoon and dropped vast quantities of water unceasingly well into the night. Roy explained that the rains were due to start in five weeks but for some reason had come early this year.
Next morning, mercifully, Jamie felt fine. We were off fishing. On the run out we saw two small whales and the boys ordained that this was the lucky break we needed. Seemed they were right because on passing a floating oil drum we hooked up to a big bull dorado (mahi-mahi) and young Scotty took the rod for the first fish of the trip. Dorados are strong and acrobatic so this one gave the wee fella a good scrap before he eventually got it to the boat, teeth gritted and fingers like a vice on the rod. Dorado are excellent food so we harvested this one. Scott was elated, if a little tired, and recounted the entire fight to us all before conking out on the bench up front. It was only 8.30 am.
At 9.15 a sailfish and a marlin crashed the lures simultaneously and Abilio screamed “Push in de bait! Push in de bait!” as I flipped a livey over the side and free spooled. Abilio followed suit after sticking the boat in neutral and his reel started running almost immediately. He set the hook and out came our first sailfish like a Trident missile. Jamie was into the chair like a shot and with me holding on to the rod as a safety precaution (in case it got torn from his hands) he started to fight the big sail. Forty minutes later, after the most spectacular aerial display all around the boat, the sailfish came in close and was leadered expertly by Abilio who also unhooked it and lifted it half aboard for the obligatory photos. Well now we knew: the boys could fight them.
The next sailfish showed up at 11.00 am and this one took off round the boat proving one of the real values of a centre console boat in the process: on a cruiser you have to turn the boat so it’s always facing backwards when you hook up to a hot fish and that’s not always easy; whereas on a centre console you simply run round the boat after the fish. After I had it settled down we got Scotty in the chair and he started his battle. Man that boy was determined. He’d already fought a very large dorado you recall and this sailfish was running about 140lbs we reckoned, but Scotty wasn’t to be denied his prize and he determinedly cranked it all the way to the boat.
At about 11.00am a sailfish pulled a teaser and we were just about to pitch a bait when two large blue marlin tore into the spread, one of them hitting the left flat lure and taking off into the distance. Abilio gunned the engine to set the hook, almost tipping me into the water, yelling “Big mahlin! Big mahlin! Big mahlin!” quite unnecessarily. I picked up the rod and fitted it to the belly belt I was wearing. The fish was off and running. I was pointing the rod straight and watching as over 500yards of line disappeared from the reel when suddenly I spotted the other marlin right under the boat. If we pitched it a bait we’d have them both! Luckily common sense prevailed and I concentrated on the one I was attached to that was rapidly disappearing into the distance. I bent my legs and braced against the power. If you’ve never done this you won’t understand: it’s like being connected to an 18 stone greyhound. Jamie wanted the rod but I said “No son, this one is too dangerous!”
With the line disappearing so fast, Abilio decided to chase the fish and gunned the engine. Given the pressure that was being exerted on my body the slightest movement was dangerously destabilising and I yelled at him to stop before things got too crazy. The marlin was exploding out of the water, first away in the distance and then closer to the boat as it pulled a huge belly of line around. Eventually it settled down and I began to get the upper hand. It wasn’t easy I can tell you and with about 10 minutes to go I sat down in the chair because the pressure on my back without a harness was too much. But we got him: he looked about 250lbs which means he was most likely a male (females always being more than 350lbs). Abilio leadered and unhooked him, then held him in the water for some photos and to let him recover. He swam off gracefully after a few minutes. What a day.
Back at the bar in the evening, Roy told me of his plans for his trip of a lifetime: pick up his 43ft motor yacht in Trinidad, sail to Tobago then to Guyana, then to Surinam and then to Brazil where he and his wife would follow the Amazon up to Peru. “An all too short six month trip” he beamed. We had our dorado for dinner and, amazingly, it was awful. I have never known anyone to cook dorado badly but this one was and it was the only bad meal of the trip. I have no idea how an otherwise skilled chef managed to do that.
Next morning saw me aching all over from the marlin fight. A word of advice to those who want to try big game fishing: get fit!
The first thing you have to do on each fishing day is catch bait. You do this by simply running out into the sea off Zancudo and dropping a line with a string of bare silver hooks on it and jigging it back to the boat. The sardines, goggle-eyes and blue runners just grab anything that moves and you can normally fill the bait well in about 20 minutes. This morning, however, bait was tough to get and it took us an hour before we had enough. It was about 7.00am when we set off and the sweat was already rolling off me. It is so hot there, and the humidity is total, even after four days I hadn’t acclimatised.
Hot could equally describe the fishing that day. We took ten strikes from sailfish, hooked up with five and got three to the boat. One of the hook-ups was a double header with two fish on simultaneously, causing line twists and curses from me and Abilio (in Spanish of course to save the boys ears). We eventually unravelled the lines and then started the fight for real. Sadly mine came off but Jamie held onto his. Later in the day Scotty fought the biggest sailfish of the trip – it looked about 160lbs and it gave him a real workout, coming to the boat three times before Abilio could leader it and release it.
The highlight of the day was when we found a semi-submerged rainforest tree complete with a resident turtle. Underneath were vast schools of bonito tuna, small yellowfin tuna, dorado, amberjacks, trigger fish. It was fabulous and we trolled round and round it taking hookups three at a time on light spinning rods to these small but fierce fighting fishes. Abilio ran some bonito and dorado baits for a big marlin that he was convinced he saw but we didn’t take any strikes. It may have been there but not hungry, these skippers can see a long way underwater, but it could also be that he wanted it to be there as I never saw a single thing despite following where he pointed.
Roy was on great form that night. His dad was visiting and Roy did a fabulous job of giving an old man centre stage by talking about his war record with pride and emotion. The old man had been on the beach at Iwo Jima and had watched most of his friends killed, earning two Purple Hearts for his bravery there. He never thought he’d get off the beach alive and I for one am truly grateful to men like this who handle their past with such quiet dignity. He was only a teenager, not terribly much older than my kids, after all.
Sadly, Cawfee decided that he had to tell the tale of his own dad’s war effort. He was in the logistics corps and never saw any fighting, being a bridge builder for the tank divisions. No bad thing of itself, but what is wrong with giving an old man his moment of glory in peace.
Last day and the bait was really tough. It took us a whole hour and a half to get sufficient quantities. The fishing was equally tough, in fact it was awful. Not a strike did we take. Some boats found fish way offshore indicating that the water inshore was “green” and not to the fish’s liking. We headed out over 30 miles but still didn’t get any offers so we decided to run back and try inshore for roosterfish: tough and striking looking denizens of reefs and surf. On the way we came across a huge school of dolphin. Dolphin hunting in huge packs like this are totally different to dolphin cruising along the beach in Florida or in aquaria. These mammals were motivated and clearly enjoying every second of the hunt with some of them leaping over 20ft in the air and crashing back to stun the baitfish below. Dolphin swim with yellowfin tuna and we dropped a live bait over the side to see if we could hook-up with a beer-barrel of muscle. No takers though so we set up a small lure and trolled for the obvious bonitos that were showing. We soon took a solid strike and Jamie brought in what was to be our only fish of the day. Despite trying for several hours and hooking, briefly, a roosterfish off the reef, that was that. Even paradise can have slow days.
Back at the Lodge, the staff had very kindly made a birthday cake for Jamie. It was a strange confection I have to confess and was more like a toffee jelly than a cake. We sang Happy Birthday in Spanish and English anyway and he was really touched that everyone had gone to so much trouble – especially since it was four days early! The confusion came because of my bad Spanish: I thought I’d said “next week” and I’d actually said “weekend”…
Our last day dawned and we headed off to check in at Golfito after saying goodbye to the wonderful Eber and the rest of the staff. Roy’s Zancudo is a special place, no question. The airport at Golfito is equally special. Check-in, for example, is on the back of a 40 year-old Fiat pickup truck. There is none of that security X-ray nonsense. There isn’t even a ticket – just a guy with a clipboard and a pencil behind his ear. The plane on the return leg makes a stop on a rough airstrip in the centre of a plantation too; a bit like the local bus service which adds to the charm of the experience.
With a day to spare in San Jose we hired a driver and took off to do some sight-seeing. First stop was the unmissable La Paz Waterfall Gardens. Sensational waterfalls (although not for the unfit as it is a very steep climb down and then back up, although the pathways are safe and well maintained). But the highlight there has to be the hummingbird garden. These little airborne gems will come right up to you and feed from tubes of nectar that you hold out for them. We spent hours there, mesmerised by them in their dazzling brilliance. Then it was off to the Volcano…but it was shut because of low cloud so a quick about turn and an hour later we were wandering though the Bird Gardens seeing all the indigenous species of birds in the well maintained aviaries. Well, not ALL 880 species: just a fair selection of them.
Finally the long trip home with Continental managing their usual trick of overselling seats and casting about desperately to bribe some passengers to stay longer. This time it worked in our favour as when we reached Newark, not only were they overbooked but they’d double assigned our seats.
We got the upgrade. First Class all the way home.
As often happens, what started as a hobby website grew arms and
legs until it eventually became a full-blown book. In February 2004
it was published under the slightly enhanced title Game Fishing Diaries: Details from Fishing in Life and is now available from most outlets from as little a $2.99
on Amazon Kindle. In November 2011 Volume 2 made an appearance also
available on Kindle