The boat was sporting a 60hp outboard motor. The long, narrow design didn't appear to be what you'd take outside of some fresh water river. But we did. From The Rio Indio Lodge, it was about a two minute ride to the sea. And by the sea, I mean, to the breakers. Big breakers. We were hauling into the Caribbean.
Our guide's name was Franklin. His grandfather came from Jamaica. So did his father. They came to Nicaragua because it was a land of opportunity. For them, the possibility of relocating their Jamaican family to a place where there was the potential of jobs and land was the draw. But it was a hard life. Now Franklin says he is living his dream. His office is the sea. His desk is a motor boat. His clients are Rio Indio's clients. They are aligned in purpose, and that is to ensure their guests have the time of their lives while they experience something unforgettable. And that was why I was on Franklin's boat.
Dr. Lopez, the lodge's founder and director ultima, made arrangements for me to take the time to go fishing for tarpon. I like fishing. I mean I don't watch fishing shows on TV nor wear a Bassmaster T-shirt. But I like the thought of fooling something scaly into swallowing something fatal so I can wrestle it into a something like a boat. So primal. But then again, as Stephen Wright says, "There's a fine line between fishing... and standing on the shore looking stupid." Point taken.
The engine pushed hard against the surge that was coming in at what I would guess was about a 5' swell. Not huge, but... it WAS breaking on the river mouth and we were heading straight into it. The boat, probably around 30' long began to fly. The bow launched up into the air as we shoved our way through the breaking surf and with fully half the vessel sliding down the backside of the wave, we crashed down with a massive splash into the trough. At the bottom, looking up the face of yet another cresting wave, it reminded me of being on a dirtbike when I was a kid, full throttle up a hill that would have taken 3 minutes to walk up. And over we crashed again. And again. Until we were out beyond the break and at the leading edge of the sand reef.
That's when Franklin handed rods to Timon and me and we bounced our jigs in the murky water in the hope that a tarpon would come by, hungry and stupid enough to take the lame-looking fish-alike thing with hooks all over it. Meanwhile Franklin and the boat driver caught live bait with other lures. They called them "sardines" but I think that is just their way of saying, "bait".
Once we had some live bait on the hook it wasn't long before all hell broke loose. Throughout the afternoon, I never landed a tarpon, to my dismay. But I did hook up on three of them. The largest one Franklin had ever caught was 158lbs for a tournament. He won an outboard motor, but donated it to a nearby village. The first fish on my line was attached to a hanger-sized hook that was tied to a 100lb test leader, tied to zipline-strength monofilament and eventually to my reel. The 100lb test leader is what broke. It was a BIG fish.
Later in the day, I actually had one on for about 3 minutes. Imagine trying to fly a 747 with kite string. That's what this was like. The boat is gently rocking in the warm Caribbean sun, on the warm Caribbean sea. I was almost asleep. Then the sound of 1,000 cicadas erupted from my hands as the line shot out of the reel impossibly fast. Zzzzzzzzzz..... Heart racing, I nearly fell out of my seat as I looked at Franklin who was laughing and saying "let it run, mon". What??? Like I have any choice in the matter? This was my latest exercise in feeling out of control. I was tempted to just throw the rod and reel in the water and beg Franklin to take us back to the bar.
Let it run???? Mon???? I started tightening the drag on the reel. Franklin yells, "don't reel it mon." Great idea, actually, why would I want something that fast and that pissed off anywhere near the boat. Just as I look up to where the zipline-strength monofilament was escaping at the speed of sound into the Caribbean, something caught my eye. Out of the water, just off to the left, this... thing, a fat, shiny torpedo, launched into the air. My brain cranked the whole thing down and almost in slow-motion, I saw a bright slivery tarpon, about the size of a refrigerator launch into the air. Up. Up. Past eye level, it was at least 8' in the air. My line went slack. The fish slams into the water. The cicadas start up again... ZZzzzzzzz, "let heem run mon, let heem run, hahahaha". This is chaos and wild and insane.
Two more jumps and I was now determined to get a closer look at the refrigerator fish. And that was when my line went slack for good. "Nooooo!!!!" I was out of breath, tingling, wide-eyed and ready to do it again. Which I did. But I never got one close enough for a photo opportunity.
These tarpon are all catch and release, Rio Indio practices very conservation-minded fishing whenever possible. Now I have something to look forward to. This is sort of the off season for tarpon. Franklin tells me that in the fall, October, November, the horizon will suddenly turn white as the massive school approaches the boat. They come like a storm, leaping out of the water and splashing down. "You just drop your line, mon, you catch tarpon, oh yeah..." I hope to see it one day. If so, I'll put my tray table and seat back in its full, upright and locked position, and hang on tight as the big silvery finned monster runs away with my line... mon.