“Every angler is entitled to consider his own methods are best, so long as he can catch fish with them.”
G.W Maunsell, The Fisherman’s Vade Macum.
This is somewhat a delayed post considering it took place over the back end of 2008, but I came across the photos and felt it was a worthy adventure to write about: Caribbean Island, palm trees, tropical fish…in December.
I suppose the trip all came down to fishing, a sport few consider to be enjoyable, but that all depends on how you do it. I have expressed my disdain in the past for the pointless bastards that sit atop boxes and throw ridiculous amounts of ground bait into the water in the hope of attracting a fish (regardless of size) to the hook. What an absolute waste of time! Fishing is about outwitting the fish…Stalking it and tempting the slippery bugger with a single morsel it cannot refuse in the most simplistic of ways.
The people who turn around and say fishing is boring, say it because they have never caught a fish…of worthy proportions. To feel your line suddenly tug and pull away creates the most exciting, heart-jumping of moments a human being could wish to have, its all about ‘the take’, the fight is just about getting the fish in to the net and proving you ability of how not to lose a fish.
Tropical islands and me are the best of friends, I hate the cold, why I haven’t found a way of skipping Britain’s dismal winters is a mystery to me, but I am working on it, believe me! Little Cayman is to the northeast of Grand Cayman and fairly small: 10 miles long and 1 mile wide, stepping of the equally small plane out into the tropical humidity was glorious: the smell, the sounds and the fact that I had 2 weeks to explore this lush paradise both in and out of the water. The island is known for it’s diving, in particular the bloody bay wall, a sheer drop from the edge of the reef down to the ocean floor 3000ft! That’s deep.
We were staying in a small hut on the beach at a place called the Southern Cross Club that specialized in Diving and fishing. It was from here that my Brother and I would chase bonefish on the flats around the island. For those of you not in the know about bonefish, they are THE best fighting game fish in the world (pound for pound), almost invisible to the human eye and notoriously easy to spook, landing themselves with the rather fitting nickname: ‘Ghosts’. I was looking forward to some sport and no sooner were bags stowed, I was happily flicking a fly rod in shin deep water. No more than a few tiddlers followed, apparently if you’re new to this game, you need a guide: enter Carlos.
Carlos was a small, quiet Mexican fellow who had been a fishing guide for years and together with his polarized sunglasses (essential to take the glare off the water), the guy could spot a hay-coloured needle in a haystack from a mile away. As we trudged along the beach behind him, he would come to a sudden halt and with a restrained explosion gesture wildly for us to cast at…nothing. The only time us foreigners could make them out was if they had their tails out of the water whilst feeding.
It was my go first, “Cast….THERE! STRIP! STRIP!”, I tore the line in in short sharp bursts unable to see anything remotely fishy following in the fly until right at the last minute when a faint ghostly-grey shape darted forward and nabbed the fly. I jumped at least a foot in the air as if I had just received an electric shock; the fish felt big and clearly meant business as it sped out to sea making the reel scream all the way down to the backing. Now this was some fishing! I had heard they were fighters but this was insane, the rod was nearly bent double and my arms were beginning to shake under the strain. My first bonefish weighed in at 3lbs- hardly the monster I had thought it was, but quite the gladiator all the same.
Other fish followed even my bro sank his teeth into a few and the only thing he’s likely to catch when fishing is a cold, but that was hardly going to happen in the hot midday sun wading through warm Caribbean waters was it? I caught a Triggerfish, which put up an equally impressive fight, though the fish itself was an ugly little monster. There were also a few Jack, a standard tropical sport fish and tasty too, by all accounts. The hardest thing about this fishing (other than spotting the fish) was the rather unfair rule of catch and release. I would have liked to have tasted the bonefish but as we were in the marine park it wasn’t going to happen. We did eat some fish- everyday when the deep sea fishing boat came out the club bar would have a platter piled high with thin strips of “Tooooonaaaaa” complete with slivers of pickled ginger, soy sauce and wasabi. Beats pork scratchings hands down!
Our quarters were fantastic, the food, usually laid out buffet style was always outstanding, and one of the chefs even cooked made to order omelettes for breakfast by the pool. This was quite a change from my last desert island experience: the fish we caught we had to return and had steak for supper instead, there was cold beer and I had books to read- the luxury! I wasn’t surprised to hear that Hurricane Poloma had recently visited the island and left a trail of devastation in its wake, tearing down the few houses that there were, destroying jetties and snapping telegraph poles as if they were matchsticks- power lines still littered the floor- Shocking.
When I wasn’t fishing, I took a canoe out to Owen Island, 20-minute paddle from shore, and went…fishing. I also caught crabs from between the mangroves, found a rusty machete next to a washed up motorboat and pottered about the small island I had to myself. It was strange how content and at home I felt on the island, everything seemed familiar- I suppose three months shipwrecked on a tropical island will do that to you.
I very much enjoyed the evenings sitting on the jetty as the sun sank below the palm trees, supping a gin and tonic colonial style, read a few pages of a book and of course with rod in hand trying to hook the enormous tarpon that drifted out from under, waiting for the deep sea fishing boat skipper to offload his excess bait from the day. One evening whilst dangling a piece of bacon I had saved from breakfast, a tarpon decided to show interest. If bonefish are good fighters, then what the hell is a tarpon! The fish was at least a metre long and I was woefully ill equipped to deal with the situation. Whilst I barely managed to hold onto the rod the beast launched itself out of the water and snapped the line. Bugger. Another evening I sat on a disused pier with the cook and barman from the club as they threw out their hand lines for jack, they caught a few and much to my surprise, and theirs, a large stingray, watching them argue over the best way to unhook it was pure comedy.
The beach cruiser bikes were a useful way of getting about, from fishing spot to fishing spot, rod over the shoulder as well as taking an early evening cruise to chase iguanas (not the big ones). I even decided to go for a rather tipsy spin in the early hours of new years day, got up to top end of the island and the chain fell off, fortunately after half an hour of wrestling to get the bloody thing back on the island only police car rolled past and gave me a lift home.
“What about the bike?” I said.
“This is an island with less than 100 people on it…who’s going to steal it!”
I do enjoy the tropics, with any luck they are looming on the horizon in the form of a second book. Watch this space!