Panama: Coiba Trip 2– Thanksgiving, Black Marlin and ConservationMay 8, 2012
Trip two of the West Coast Fishing Club’s Expedition Marlin was epic. From the good friends who met aboard the Provider from Utah, Florida, Minnesota, Nicaragua, and Guatemala, to the flat seas and beautiful sunsets over the island of Coiba, the experience was really something. Guest Rodrigo Meneses is from Nicaragua. Growing up, he spent ten years in the states. At dinner the first night he mentioned in passing to his buddies that he missed Thanksgiving Dinner more than anything else. I looked across the table at him and said, “If you guys would like Thanksgiving, we can make it happen.” The last night of the trip out it came. Chef Katie Thurgood cooked up a 20 pound bird that was tabled alongside Brussels sprouts with candied pecans, mashed potatoes, homemade stuffing, gravy and carrots.
After we carved the turkey there was nothing to be heard but the rustle of forks and the swashing of napkins across bestubbled faces. Then came the question, “Are we having any pie tonight?” Alexandra looked at our enquiring guest and asked, “What kind of Thanksgiving Dinner would it be without pumpkin pie?” The slices came out under whipped cream and silence once again took the place of fishing stories at the table of the Provider. It was a great way to end the trip. We sent our tired guests to bed with full stomachs and much to reflect upon.
Fishing last week was wide open. Captain Jose Gongora fishing with anglers Joe Friederichs and Brad Schwartz caught five marlin, including Brad’s first—a black estimated at 700—and a veritable giant of a fish for Joe, another black. Aboard the Abundancia Captain Donar Vaquiaza fished with Rodrigo and his buddy Estuardo from Guatemala. Nice guys both. We sent Rodrigo home with a backache. He caught four marlin, a combination of blacks and a blue. His trip was highlighted by a 550 or 600 pound black that ate a live bait and came ten feet out of the water three times within 50 feet of the boat. Stu was more than able taking pictures and I filmed the action on his i-phone. Aboard the San Miguel it was Dave Bell and Don Van Hise. Dave caught a big black the first day of the trip and Don released a 450 on Saturday. These guys really had a good time, reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. This is one of the great charms of fishing. Final tally:11 marlin on three boats, with another eight or 10 bites that did not result in release.
All of these fish were caught on live bait rigged on circle hooks. Small tuna-like fish are the marlin’s bread and butter. Bonito are a small species of tuna that are particularly abundant in the waters around Coiba. The aggregations of bonito, schooling and flashing about the top of clear blue water, attract marlin like moths to a flame. The Sula Sula, the San Miguel, and the Abundancia picked up bait trolling clark spoons and feathered jigs around the schools, before bridle rigging the baits—looping floss about the fish and tying them to the circle hooks.
Circle hooks are a great benefit to conservation. Circle hooks are designed so that the point of the hook is perpendicular to the shaft. The point of a j hook is parallel to the shaft of the hook. Whereas a j hook is designed to grab a hold of whatever tissue it encounters first—often stomach, throat, or gills, the circle hook takes hold in the corner of the fish’s mouth the vast majority of the time. This location decreases mortality of the marlin and makes for healthy release. This is a very direct manner in which sportfishermen can help propagate the very fisheries that so enrapture them. All of the West Coast Fishing Club’s boats use circle hooks when bait fishing for marlin. The vast majority of the marlin we catch are released in good shape, no worse for wear.
Not only does the WCFC incorporate conservation practices into its approach to fishing, but all the clients who come to the boat become dues paying members of The Billfish Foundation (TBF). TBF is a world leader in the conservation of billfish (marlin, sailfish, and spearfish) and associated species. It utilizes a diversified approach to conservation, leveraging scientific and economic research, education, and advocacy initiatives to educate governments and influence policy. The Billfish Foundation is a membership-based organization, with members from over 100 nations around the world whose unifying connection is the love of time on the water and desire to ensure that sportfishing opportunities continue to be available to current and future generations. Through an analytical, driven approach, TBF has empowered real world fisheries conservation for more than 25 years. The West Coast Fishing Club is proud to support conservation and believes there to be no better outlet for this support than The Billfish Foundation.
Trip two of the West Coast Fishing Club’s Expedition Marlin in Coiba National Park, Panama was epic. Utilizing the range and capacity of the Pacific Provider, we have brought anglers to a beautiful area, blessed by productive waters that surround pristine rainforested islands. We are supporting fisheries conservation in the most direct sense possible—there are fish here, we are catching and releasing them. We have a world class photographer snapping pictures of anglers in the midst of the moments that they will never forget. Pictures of 700 pound creatures—part sea monster part thoroughbred—leaping ten feet into the air behind sleek, wonderfully outfitted sportfishing boats with names such as the Abundancia, the San Miguel, the Sula Sula and the Hooker. With these pictures, with these stories, we are able to collectively raise the profile of conservation of marlin and tuna. Because without marlin and tuna these pictures, these experiences, and these breathtaking spectacles would by their very nature be impossible.
And when anglers return to the Pacific Provider each evening, after their cocktails and appetizers, sometimes in the midst of fishing stories—some embellished, others perhaps made up entirely—they are presented upon request dinners of turkey and mashed potatoes and stuffing and pumpkin pie. Dinners like this are normally reserved for late November or for Norman Rockwell scenes. But no matter how much they like the turkey, I have it on good authority that they will longer be talking about the fishing, the experience, and the oceans around Coiba. This being said, they really, really like the turkey.