A Fish Story -February 25, 2002
"We've been incommunicado for a couple of weeks, not out of neglect, but due to weather circumstances beyond our control. We made our landfall in the Bahamas at Matthew Town, on the island of Great Inagua, four and a half days after leaving the Virgin Islands. We arrived in the late afternoon and stayed overnight in order to clear in with Customs and Immigration the following morning. With the paperwork done, we hurried back to the boat and weighed anchor. George Town, our ultimate destination in the Exuma island chain, was still over 200 miles away and the latest weather forecast told us we were on a collision course with a nasty cold front.
We met the front the next day just off the Southeast tip of Long Island. In the preceding hours, the wind had shifted from well aft of the beam to right on the nose and had intensified. With 80 miles yet to go, we decided against being heroes. We ducked into Little Harbour, an all-weather refuge protected from the open sea by a formidable chain of islets and reefs. The timing couldn't have been better - the storm clouds opened up just as we cleared the narrow entrance into the anchorage.
For the better part of a week, our only company in Little Harbour were shore birds and the odd sea turtle. It's a beautiful little bay, but something of a trap once you're inside. We entered during a frontal passage with the usual east swell flattened by the clocking wind. Under prevailing conditions, the seas stack up at the entrance, effectively barring the way out. We weren't going anywhere until the wind and seas abated.
There are worse places to be stuck. The reefs enclosing the bay provided excellent snorkelling opportunities. Each day that David went underwater exploring he returned with lobster and conch. On the passage up, off the north coast of Puerto Rico, we had caught a big mahi-mahi. The freezer was crammed with fish. We weren't about to starve.
We should dispel any notions that we pillage the sea "for the sport of it". We fish because we like eating fish. Our technique while underway is pretty simple. We drag a lure on about a hundred feet of 120 pound test mono filament line, running the line through our stern anchor roller and securing it to a deck cleat. The line is attached to a heavy rubber snubber to take the shock of a strike, and the spool is balanced between the taut line on deck and the cockpit coaming.
We know we have a fish when the spool rattles and the snubber stretches to twice its normal length. We know we have a big fish when the boat starts to slow down. Sometimes we fail to notice these signs and by the time we reel in the line to check, there's only a head remaining on the hook. Something else has intercepted our supper.
Eileen is less enthusiastic about fishing than David. She doesn't like a thrashing behemoth spilling blood and slimy scales all over the cockpit. When we caught the mahi-mahi on our second day out, she exclaimed, "Great, now we can pack away this messy fishing gear!"
A while ago, we read a series of articles on fishing in a sailing magazine and learned that we were doing everything wrong. However, to do it correctly seemed to entail the investment of several thousands of dollars in equipment. Perhaps if we took fishing more seriously, we'd catch more fish, but the fact is that we usually do catch a fish whenever we go offshore. Since they tend to be big and our freezer is small, we can't see the point in being better fishermen. We'd just waste more fish.
As admitted amateurs, we'd like to share what we've learned about deep sea fishing. It boils down to four cardinal rules:
1. Never leave your trolling line out at night. There are scary things down there that you don't want to have to deal with in the dark.
2. Don't try to land something that's bigger than you are. You want the odds to be in your favour.
3. Never try to recover a lure from a live shark, even if it cost you big bucks. It can be replaced, your fingers can't.
4. Don't bother landing barracuda, especially the big ones. They're more likely to be laced with ciguatera, a natural toxin found within coral reefs. Also, we like to think we have a pact with the barracuda we often see while snorkelling: we don't bite them, they don't bite us. It's worked so far.Cheers,
David & Eileen