Costa RicaCosta Rica

I Caught a Shark

Destination: Drake Bay

For the first three hours of our morning at sea, Vincent and I saw absolutely nothing but a few white boobie birds (insert dirty joke here). We were out on one of Aldea del Rio's beautiful 27' fishing boats, feeling sad that no whales, dolphins, or fish wanted to come out to play.

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Just when I thought that the trip was going to be a complete failure, a school of spotted dolphins surfaced nearby. Immediately after they disappeared into the distance, a sphere of floating puffer fish neared the boat. Unlike typical puffers that inflate on all sides into the shape of a ball, these ballooned only on the underside of the neck. Flaco, a guide native to the area, had never seen the species before.

From that moment on, animal sightings were endless. Throughout the day, we saw five to six schools of bottlenose dolphins, often mixed with the spotted variety. Born to entertain, each would periodically jump or spin about 10 feet up and out of the water. After each acrobatic feat, Vincent would joke that he had personally trained them all.

We passed by a fleet of manta rays, equipped with fins mimicking those of sharks. They leapt straight into the air at odd intervals before belly-flopping back into the blue. The minute the rays vanished, a green sea turtle floated by, followed by a brown boobie chasing after a flying fish (the fish paralleled the water for a jaw-dropping 50 feet before disappearing into the deep). The number of marine creatures surfacing was astonishing.

Just when I was beginning to nod off, one of the lines finally got a bite and I reeled in my first mahi mahi. This was shortly followed by a second and a third, all the way up to a thirtieth. When the cooler was almost full, Vincent and I decided to go snorkeling just a few miles off of Cano Island (locally known as Isla del Cano), one of the two most vibrant diving spots in Costa Rica.

A massive school of purple, iridescent fish was also enjoying the 300-foot deep water, and we lowered ourselves into the epicenter of this giant cloud. A few amberjacks weaved in and out of the group, but other than that our view was not terribly diverse -- until Vincent asked me if I had seen the shark.

Vincent and I joke around more often than not, so I assumed he was just trying to scare me because I am gullible. Not this time -- I looked down to find a juvenile silky shark gliding but a few feet beneath me, followed by a second identical animal. I had to lift my flippers and align my body with the surface just to avoid kicking them.

The predators obviously had no intention of attacking, so I didn't panic -- but had Vincent shown any sign of fear I would have wet my swimsuit in an instant. We returned to the boat a few minutes later, just in case Jaws was lurking about below.

Once the rush of swimming with sharks wore off, something powerful tugged on the line. My arms nearly fell off trying to coax the beast to the surface, but I was determined not to ask for help from one of the guys. Thanks to my recently strengthened yoga arms, I managed to reel the monster in with less grunting and cursing than would be expected.

I had been awaiting a snapper or a large mahi mahi, and was both shocked and proud to find an adult white tip reef shark at the end of the line. Interestingly, only in Costa Rica are white tip reef sharks active during the day; they live nocturnally nearly everywhere else in the world.

Since no one on our boat had any interest in tasting shark meat, we cut the line and released it. As easily as that, a fisherwoman was born. After a while, my body demanded rest, and I quickly discovered that sport fishing is equally tiring as it is fun. Unfortunately, now I was suddenly ready to go home -- and everyone else was just getting started. Luckily, the boat had a padded dock, which was perfect for catnaps. A half an hour of sleep revitalized my tired muscles for another cycle of fishing.

After an eight hour day, we returned to Poorman's Paradise. Instead of partaking in another beach landing, I dove from the boat a quarter mile offshore and swam. Following an entire day of fighting fish, swimming against the rip tide took every last bit of energy that I had -- and it felt amazing. That night we ate our prize for dinner, and treated the guests at Poorman's Paradise to the freshest meal in Drake Bay.

I Caught a Shark in Pictures

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