Panama– Sea MonstersDecember 18, 2012
The past week has been wide open in Panama. We are averaging just over one marlin shot per boat per day, catching more than a sailfish per day, and there are so many 40 plus pound dorado that they have become a nuisance. We have had a full boat and some great guests to share the fishing with.
From December 11-14, we had our first annual West Coast Fishing Club Industry Trip. We invited some of the sportfishing world’s best and brightest down to show them our version of fishing and hospitality. Joining us were Ellen Peel, President of The Billfish Foundation, Dr. Russell Nelson, Chief Scientist at The Billfish Foundation, Captain Dale Wills, publisher of In the Bite Magazine, and Raymond “Doug” Douglas, President of King Sailfish Mounts. Their first day, we fished inshore. We caught some amberjacks, mullet snapper, and an 80 pound broomtail grouper. We then decided it best to head offshore in search of black marlin. This, it turns out, was a good decision.
Leading up to the trip, we had been seeing good numbers of small blue marlin, but the blacks had not shown up. On the third day of fishing, Doug and Dale headed offshore aboard the Sula Sula captained by Nelson Castillo. Upon getting the baits set in the riggers, Doug’s bait popped out and he laid into a 400 pound black marlin. He fed the fish, before throwing the reel into gear and coming tight. Doug, in addition to being an avid angler, makes incredible release mounts of all manner of fresh and saltwater game fish. It is good to get him into a nice black—even the best around need some field work every once in a while. A half hour after releasing the black and getting the baits back in the water, we were visited by a big one. A hellacious blue marlin free jumped 20 yards behind the spread. The fish popped Dale’s bait out of the rigger, before following it to the transom of the yellow Gamefisherman. The fish never felt the steel of the hook, but all aboard got a good look at her. Conservative estimates were north of 600. Other estimates were quite a bit larger…. She was longer than the transom.
The next day it was Ellen, Russ, Dale and I that headed offshore. Early morning resulted in a sail piling onto the lure in the left rigger. Ellen made short work of the fish, which we tagged and released in good condition. Ellen is the President of The Billfish Foundation. She is about as nice and sweet of a lady as they come and there aren’t too many people in the world who have been better to Alex and myself than Ellen. The Billfish Foundation is the world leader in marlin and sailfish conservation. TBF is a membership organization that utilizes scientific, economic, and policy initiatives to heighten the profile of sportfishing and keep marlin stocks in good shape. If you like chasing around fish with stick noses, TBF might well be worth an investment in membership. Ellen is the driving force behind TBF’s work.
On this day, the dorado were thick and big. We caught a dozen of them, and pulled the baits away from about as many. We boated one that went 50 and had two others up that were larger than that. About 2:20 the lure in the right rigger popped out and the reel set about screaming. It was a Tiara 50 wide spooled with 80 pound line. The drag on the reel was stiff, but it was hollering like a scolded cat. We set up on the fish and everyone in the cockpit looked at Ellen and pointed to the chair. She saddled up in the bucket harness for her dance with the fish and set forth to cranking. The reel whined and we cleared the remainder of the spread.
About 250 yards behind the boat, the fish made her appearance. A black marlin jumped and thrashed about– a good one. Russ directed the chair, Dale manned the camera. For my part, I talked Andres, the mate, into letting me leader the fish when she came up. He told me to be careful and handed over the gloves (we joke about his reasons for telling me this… I think it is because he is afraid of Alex). Ellen’s handling of the reel was a site to behold. Ellen is 100 pounds soaking wet and the creature she was attached to was more than five times that. After about 20 minutes on the stick, especially after the marlin jumped 40 yards off the gunnel and we got a good look at her, Ellen put her head down and gave the reel hell. She consciously avoided looking at the fish and ocean from which she leapt. The determination she displayed did Miss Ellen’s Mississippi pedigree proud.
After 35 minutes we had the wind on to the water’s surface. I touched the double line, but couldn’t quite reach the orange Dacron. The fish pulled away. Russ is Ellen’s husband. He is also really smart and a conversationalist of the highest order, equally competent with sarcasm and insight. He suggested the reason for the fish’s obstinacy may be that it in fact did not know who it was dealing with. If there is ever to be a person that keeps more billfish off of the dinner plate than Ellen, that person has yet to be invented.
Ellen cranked the fish back to the surface. This time I grabbed the Dacron and gave it hell. The fish was broad-shouldered and impressive. She put on a show on the leader that black marlin are known for. She came completely out of the water, her girth six feet above the white water her exit created. We turned her as she tried to jump away, regained the leader and pulled. The base of her bill sawed through the leader and she was released no worse for wear. There was then exclamations and hollering. It was an incredible site. Ellen said it was her biggest fish yet. For all of us, it was an honor to be part of it.
We have three groups of Texans with us now. Tom Shumate and his buddies Cole, Cotton, and Allen came down to fish with us. Tom’s boat, the Patron, has been racking up titles in billfish tournaments up and down the Gulf Coast for the last couple years. Fishing with them, it was easy to see why. Their approach to fishing was detailed and precise. Their Texan outlook and sensibility made dinner conversations a blast as well. Tom turned a 400 pound blue loose on his birthday. Chef Sarah made him a chocolate cake with cheesecake inside it. The guys also caught several sailfish and saw a couple other marlin that we didn’t get caught. Tom caught a 63 pound dorado… a monstrosity of a creature.
The last day fishing offshore, we were pulling two bonito along a trash line. The bonito were mobbed by 10 dorado that averaged 30 pounds. They mobbed the baits, slashing and chewing as we reeled the bonito away (to save them for marlin). Tom pitched out a strip bait and the yellow and neon blue piranhas boiled around it. Behind the first ten fish, were two dozen others following. Tom pulled the strip away from a 35 pounder that was particularly hungry. He didn’t want to hook it, but was teasing toward the boat. The fish slashed about with vertical stripes of dark green. When the strip was next to the boat, dorado in hot pursuit, Allen grabbed the gaff. On his third try he free gaffed it and tossed it into the box. The dorado wasn’t particularly happy about this development, but we all got a kick out of it.
Fishing aboard the Sula Sula is another group of guys from Texas. Perry Glover and his buddies Nigel, Matt, and Trey have caught a number of sails and taken part in the dorado onslaught. Perry said one day after fishing, “The chicken dolphin in Panama is 30 pounds.” It gets you spoiled pretty quickly. The highlight of these guys’ time on the water was Nigel’s first blue marlin, a spry creature of 300 pounds. We have really had a good time on the boat, it has been great. Imagine the grandness of the coincidence that the Dallas Cowboys finally manage to win a game when we have a boat load of Texans.
Johnny Mack and Stacey Powers have joined us on the Provider as well. They are fishing on the Hooker with Captain Wade Richardson and are wonderful people. Today they raised 23 sailfish and caught 11 of them. Fishing in Panama is great.