June 30, 2013

U betta Belize it! 2013 (Day 6)

...So the story continues.

We got back to the hostel and I wanted to have my rods rigged before heading out again. I rigged up my two heavy rod ready for battle. I had put on a water bubble on the mainline, then 60lb Big Game mono, and a 6/0 circle hook. One was a 30-50lb TFO conventional rod with a Saltist BG40. The other was a new Tsunami Air Wave kayak spinning rod rated 10-25lb with a Baitrunner 4500B. The Saltist had 65lb braid while the Baitrunner had 50lb braid.

I caught the Horse-eye Jack on the Tsunami rod so I had a feel of its action and backbone. With a softer tip but still a very good backbone, it would be better to cushion the jumps of tarpon. This was my primary rod to use.

Getting to the Split a little after midnight, the crowd had cleared and it was now real quiet. The tarpon were there. I could easily count 6 of them. After catching his tarpon, Eli now focused on getting me a constant supply of lively sardine with the sabiki.

The first sardine was pitched out about 3-4 feet ahead of a cruising tarpon. Eli said the plop and struggling bait usually get a reaction from the tarpon immediately. But again, these tarpon were very wary. They would nose up to the sardine and then turn around. Over and over, I was getting refused.

I thought maybe the tarpon could see me, so I stood back from the edge and squat down. But they were still refusing me. So I head upcurrent, dropped the bait in, opened the bail, and let the sardine drift down to the fish. I was still not getting hit.

After a good hour, we were scratching our heads. Maybe the fish was seeing my floating bubble...so I took it off, removed the swivel and bead, and tied the 60lb mono leader straight to the braid. The fish were still sensing something, so I changed from a 6/0 circle hook to a smaller 3/0 octopus hook that Eli gave me. And they were still refusing my lively sardine, even after I had changed bait a few times.

Instead of working the shadow line beside the concrete structure, I tossed my bait into the channel and let it drift down the current. I made a couple of drifts and was close to giving up on these fish this night.

We had a few sardines in the bucket and some of them were dying. So Eli took one out and tossed it into the current. No more than 5 seconds later, we heard a big "FLOMP!"

No way!!! That was a tarpon. I quickly reeled in my live sardine and tossed it bulls-eye back to where the tarpon came up. Tarpon likes to school...maybe there could be a few there. Since the current was coming at us, I closed the bail, put the reel on baitrunner mode and let the bait swim.

I felt the bait kicked a couple of time and then nothing. Then I felt a little thump. I thought "No!!! Not a jack!"

The baitrunner started with a slow, steady pull. It was so uncharacteristic slow that Eli doubt it was a tarpon. I was calling it a jack when the run stopped. Crap! Should I reel the line in? Was the fish still there? Was it swimming at me? What should I do? What should I do?!?!

Then the run started again. This time, it was more serious. The fish was running down current and out from shore with some speed. I didn't know how long to wait...and I couldn't remember if Eli and I even discussed when to set the hook. Maybe we did agree on a time, but all I could remember was the run...and then reeling the line tight...felt weight and immediately set the hook HARD!

I'm ON, I'M ON!!!

Still having no clue what the fish may be, we just knew it had doubled the rod over. I set the hook again, and again...a total of five times, just in case it was a tarpon. It dug deep for a few seconds and then we could feel and see it...the line angle was coming up...and this big slab of silver cleared the surface with white water everything! It's a TARPON!!!

Immediately, I squat down, tried to point the rod tip down and bow to the Silver King. The fish landed and it was still on! Okay...survived one jump. It stripped off some line and jumped again and I bowed again. Two jumps...two jumps!

The fish soon tried to swim up the current line beside the concrete structure. I had it on a tight but limited line right by the pier following its every move. With such short amount of line, any jump could be very dangerous. A fish could snap off or the hook could pull out if the fish jumped. It went all the way to the edge of the shadow line, then turned around and cleared the water again. Jump number three...I survived three jumps. I barely had room to squat down and no room to point the rod down at the fish...but I survived. The fish ripped some line and jumped again!

Phew...survived that one too. The thing about tarpon is...the more they jump, the quicker they tire. But these jumps also increased the risk of the fish throwing the hook or snapping the line. It really was a catch-22, no pun intended. The fish reached the end of the split and took a good run down current. It jumped one more time with a lot of line out. I was afraid this would be the death of me since with more line out, there was bound to be some resistance of the line in the water and less control when I bow to the fish...but I survived five jumps!

The fish was now turned and coming upcurrent at us again. I could tell the fish was now pretty tired and I had more and more control of it. So Eli and I started discussing how to land it.

At first, we thought maybe we would walk it along the concrete wall and land it in the little beach where Eli landed his stingray in the morning. We tried that once but it really wasn't a great place to get a grab of the fish. So I suggested we would lead the fish into the shallow area where I landed the Mutton Snapper for him. The only problem is that once the fish is in the area, we have maybe only one shot at landing it. There were a few benches where the fish could run under to break me off. If it wasn't the benches, there were also a lot of posts under the wooden deck and on the side of the concrete pier where the fish could wrap me. At this point, I had the fish in full control though so we thought this was our best option.

I slowly led the fish around the point at the Split into the shallow sandy area. I could see the fish in the water with the pectoral fin fully spread out like wings. The fish was now simply planing in the water. Leading it all the way just in front of the benches, Eli got down and I lead the fish to him. All I remember was seeing Eli touched the leader and praying that the fish doesn't wake up to run under the nearby bench. "Please...don't run, don't jump, don't thrash...we just want a picture...we'll let you go".

Eli had one hand on the leader and with the first chance, his other hand grabbed the tip of the jaw. Then I saw both hands on the jaw. The fish came out of the water swinging, but Eli manhandled the fish onto the wooden dock, and then pushed it further away from the edge.

I remember letting out a very loud "WOOOOOOOHOOOOOOO!!!" and probably woke up the island. I didn't care...here it was...my first hook up, my first fight, and my first Atlantic Tarpon landed. Thank you Eli!!! THANK YOU ELI!!! And thank you GOD!!!

The fish was barely hook by the skin close the the gullet. I just had to give it a slightly harder pull and the hook came out. WOW! Talk about getting lucky!!! About 6 inches of the line was all abraded by the sandpaper like teeth of the tarpon. I still don't know how I had kept the fish on this long and led it around this well. It was truly a miracle.

Atlantic Tarpon (Megalops atlanticus) - Species #354!!!

Mr. Tarpon, thank you! As I promised you, you are free.

I was balanced on one of the benches that was in the area. You can see all the warning signs trying to land a tarpon with all these benches around. We seriously got very lucky!

It was so cool watching the tarpon swam off, coming up to gulp air three times, then swam out of the gap. I was speechless...I was excited...I was shaking...it was wild!!!

Eli and I couldn't believe we each got our tarpons on this night. We were completely satisfied so we decided to go back to get some much needed sleep.

At the hostel, there were still some people up at 2am, including Alice. I showed them our catches and they were amazed there were fish that big hanging out at the Split at night.

I still needed to catch a bonefish. I set the alarm for 5am to get a morning shot at the bones. Eli would be leaving at around 1pm the next day. He wanted to sleep in and spend the morning packing gear, so he would leave the bonefish hunt to me and me alone.

The 5am alarm came too quick. It was really just a couple hours of sleep. I was so tired and I slept in for another 30 minutes. The alarm rang again and I knew I had to get moving. Although I have two more days on the island, any morning could be the once in a lifetime chance. I just had to get out of bed!

I already had my backpack geared up for bonefish a few hours ago, so I quietly slipped out with two rods while Eli was passed out. I tied on 8lb fluorocarbon leader and 1/16oz jig for the 7' medium rod and a 1/8oz jig for the 9' surf rod.

I knew the bonefish liked to hang out by the dock, so I started checking the eastern side docks. One, two, three...all of them had no bonefish around. I thought maybe I wasn't spotting them properly, but I walked all the way to the Split and saw nothing. Now this sucked.

I knew there were some bonefish on the western side of the island so I started working the docks on the backside. The first dock I came across had a nice sandy area with seagrass on the inside. I started looking around and about 3 minutes later I saw a pair of shadows moved in, grubbed on the bottom for a very short time and then moved out. Could they be?

About 30 seconds later, I saw 3 shadows moved in. I tried to make a long cast beyond the fish so I could stealthy bring the jig back to the fish, but somehow I misjudged the cast and the jig landed about 10 feet from a pair of the fish. The two fish swam off, but one was still hanging around. I bounced the jig closer to the fish and it might have sensed the commotion. The fish swam right over, circled around the jig, I felt a little tap, and started to see my line flew off! Oh yeah, THIS WAS A BONEFISH!!!

I forgot how much fun they were. It wasn't a big fish so with a lighter drag, this fish fought well. It made one long initial run, and then two smaller runs before it cooperated at the dock. My only option was to flip the fish up the dock since it was too tall for me to reach down and cradle the fish. I could see the hook was well set but it was still a nervous moment bringing the fish up.

Hell yeah! It's a day late...I was hoping it would happen on my birthday...but I got my boner!!! Finally!!!

Bonefish (Albula vulpes) - Species #355

This dock was hot. There were small packs of bonefish coming by every so often. I hooked into a 4lb bonefish that found a dock post and snapped me off. Then I spotted a school of 30+ bonefish all between 2-5lbs sitting shallow. I tried to toss a jig onto the beach and work it out, but a misjudged cast landed the jig about 20 feet from them and they were spooked off. It's amazing how wary they could be!

The tide started to bottom out and it seemed like the fish had moved out. I checked a couple more docks to find much of the same. Having landed my target already, I decided to go back to the hostel and maybe grab some more sleep.

When I passed by the eastern side docks, I just had to take a few more looks. Maybe it was the tide, but I started to see a couple schools of bonefish. I tossed the jig with a shrimp tail toward the school. Even as the jig landed 15 feet from the school, a couple of fish got spooked but others came investigating. Interesting!

There were three bonefish fighting over the shrimp and soon I was hooked up. Oh yeah!

Not all docks were equal. After fishing these docks for the next 2 mornings, I found that there were certain docks that consistently held bonefish. They were not always there as well. It certainly depends on a certain phase of the tide when they would appear. Once the tide changed, they would move out.

I walked back to the hostel and to my amazement, there was a school of 50+ bonefish right my the area! I managed to get two out of the school before they became very spooked.

They look so cool in the water. Here's a release shot.

After that, I decided to call it a morning. It was about 8am when I returned. Eli just woke up and he was packing his gear. After packing, we decided to get some juice and brunch before he leaves. I couldn't believe how fast the time flew by...but at the same time, it felt like we lived through a long fishing trip together. It certainly suck to say goodbye.

This afternoon it was flat calm. Very beautiful, very serene...but it was also extremely hot and the mosquitoes were out in full force!

Well, this is where the fishing came to a stop. Maybe I was completely fished out. Maybe it was that most of my fishing targets had been met. Or maybe it was the company of Alice...I simply stopped fishing.

I hung out with Alice and Carina a lot. Alice was from Saskatoon and Carina was from San Francisco. Carina was very cool, but I think I bonded the most with Alice. We just chilled on the hammock in the afternoon, then we grabbed a few beers and went to the government dock to watch the sunset. Yeah, I didn't even bring a rod even though the day before we caught snappers and tarpon from the dock.

When we got back, Susanne had brought the snapper to a nearby grill and it was waiting for us. Thank you again Eli for this fish. The entire hostel bonded over this communal snapper dinner. It was a fun time!

Early that afternoon, Alice said she wanted to go out to Lobster Fest and find a place to dance. So I said we could go out for sure. We had a good group from the hostel and added three cool Irish along the way. Somehow, my birthday was mentioned and Carina started to buy birthday rum shot...and then birthday beer...and more birthday beer. I haven't drank so much since my last year of undergrad!

It was a bit disappointing that the Lazy Lizard closed early since this was the last day of the Lobster Fest. It wasn't even 12pm and the bar was closing. Booo! But we hung out at the Split for a little bit.

So we were looking for a place to dance but there wasn't much choice. While walking around town a lot of Belizean guys got a bit pushy and touchy. Carina and I had to step in to protect Alice. She was still young and a bit too trusting, but we could see a bad situation coming.

At the end, we just found a dock to chill. Sometime during the night, the idea about waking up to watch the sunrise and going fishing was made, so we went back to the hostel at 1am to get a few hours of sleep before waking up at 5am again.

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