Day 5: Sport Fishing Success!
If you had asked me two years ago my favorite pastime, I never in a million years would have answered "sport fishing." Back then, I felt that angling just wasn't my scene. Now, after three amazing excursions in different parts of the country, sport fishing is one of my top things to do in Costa Rica.
Today, Samuel from Quepos Sailfishing Charters had invited me to spend the whole day on the luxurious Moonwalker -- a 33' Dawson vessel rigged with Twin Cummins 405 horsepower inboard engines. Driving to the Quepos marina, Sam explained that his company represents over 120 boats equipped with top-of-the-line gear like global GPS systems, ultrasonic fish finders, and Penn International rods and reels that we would be using today. While I wasn't precisely sure what all of that meant, I was impressed.
We arrived at the dock around 7:00 a.m., but before boarding the boat I had to purchase a fishing license for $25. Expecting the credential to be a colorful version of my driver's license, I bounced over to the appropriate booth in excitement. Instead of a shiny new conversation piece, I received a bland cardboard square with a 2011 expiry date and my name printed on it -- no head shot and no images of fishing in action.
My disappointment evaporated as soon as I laid eyes on the Moonwalker. It was somehow more beautiful than promised. January is one of the best months for offshore fishing in the Quepos area, and I was thrilled to be participating.
In addition to Samuel, I was in the good hands of mates Christian and Dempsey, and captain Franklin. As we pulled away from the marina, the crew granted me free reign of the boat. If I wanted to ride up top with the captain or nap below the deck, I didn't even have to ask.
After an hour of traveling, we finally reached our target point 23 miles offshore -- prime waters for Pacific sailfish, marlin, mahi mahi, wahoo and tuna. The mates baited our lines and slowed our pace considerably, as we all watched "the spread" -- a fishing term for the rods.
We waited and we waited. At such a distance from the mainland, the sea emits a surreal cobalt blue color, almost like a computer generated image (CGI) special effect. The water even seems to ripple in slow motion, creating the illusion that it might lead to another dimension.
From this vantage point the curvature of the earth is breathtaking, and I could see why sailors used to think they would topple right off the edge of the world if they got too close.
As I stripped down to my swimsuit to take advantage of the sun, the mates conversely covered every inch of their bodies with protective clothing. Samuel handed me a Pilsen beer, and upon my first sip, we got a bite -- a big bite. The entire boat descended into chaos as we scurried every which way attempting to reel it in. The mates made sure the fish was hooked before handing me the rod.
I had the option of standing upright with a support belt around my waist, or sitting in a swivel chair. They explained that while the chair isn't for wimps, it doesn't merit the same caliber bragging rights as the belt. I opted for the belt.
I regretted this decision within five minutes. I reeled and reeled and reeled, until I was certain that my arms would fall off -- and then I reeled some more. Samuel taught me how to conserve energy by relaxing while the fish takes line. The simple mantra, "reel down, pull up, reel down, pull up," was helpful. Once I mastered that, the crew demonstrated how to guide the line back and forth along the spool so that it distributed evenly as I reeled -- otherwise it would get tangled up in one section. Twenty exhilarating minutes zoomed by in what seemed like ten, and it soon became clear that I had caught a sailfish. The suspense was intoxicating as we waited for it to jump out of the water.
As Christian hoisted the 120-pound creature up for a photo-op, the animal nearly took him overboard. This fish was otherworldly. It was followed by another sailfish that I somehow managed to catch in half the time.
By now, everyone was ravenous. Dempsey prepared fresh sandwiches for us to enjoy along with succulent pineapple. The crew was incredibly attentive. Before I could even think about finishing my beer, Christian was by my side, cracking open another. After a couple of rounds of this I begged him to stop -- if I continued to drink alcohol in such heat they would soon be fishing me out of the water.
The rods lit up five more times in the next few hours, always at the exact moment we would begin to snack. I really wanted to catch a tuna for raw sashimi, but I kept landing sailfish. Finally, we settled into a lull. The crew released six of our nine hookups (three got away) in the course of the day.
During the voyage back to the mainland, I took a nap on the bow of the boat, looking out for sea turtles and dolphins. There was positively no other place I would rather be.