by Capt Gene Kelly
In the rivers of Costa Rica, considered by some to be the Mecca of tarpon fishermen, we often fished by dropping our lures to the bottom and just wiggling them a little bit. This was a very successful method, with one small drawback. The first thing a tarpon does upon feeling the sting of a hook is to jump, and since our lures were directly below the boat, we often got soaked by the splash the fish made upon hitting the water. At other times, the fish would hit the boat and also on occasion, land in the boat.
These occasions would call for drastic action on the part of my two fishing partners and myself. Luckily, we were fishing out of fairly large dugout canoes (about twenty five feet in length by four feet in width) and if the fish didn't land directly on one of us we could generally run to the other end of the boat and hide. The fish would either stay in the boat and beat himself to death, or keep thrashing around until he got back in the water.
This was all taking place in the early seventies, and we were fishing on the cheap.
We lived in a shack on the edge of the Rio Colorado in Barra Colorado Norte, and
fished with one of the locals. Each morning we would awake to dozens of pairs of
small eyes peering at us through the cracks in the walls, and each afternoon upon
returning from the days fishing, we'd send one of the pairs of legs that went with
those eyes on a mission of great importance -
The only other anglers fishing the river at that time, were staying in Casa Mar, the only fishing lodge in Costa Rica at that time, and although we were friendly with the operators of the resort, they didn't like us coming around when the guests were on the grounds. There were probably afraid that their clients would find out how much it cost us to fish, as compared to what they were paying.
We'd have a lot of giggles among ourselves about the tourists with their fancy tackle and fishing outfits, especially when it came to one pair of anglers that we came to call the patchmen. These two guys each had matching outfits, and were adorned with what were probably patches from every place they ever fished, every rodmaker, reel manufacturer and lure company that existed, plus a couple that had nothing to do with fishing, but what the hell, there was a leftover space. They looked something like a human version of one of those stock cars that you see racing around Daytona.
The fishing that week was about as good as it could get. In two days, I wound up in the water twice, due to hyperactive fish. It was shortly after one of these unscheduled baths, when I was just sitting down drying out, that the patchmen got the surprise of their lives.
One of them was fighting a fish and it appeared that it was directly under the boat. The two patchmen and the guide were all on the same side of the boat, a small Boston Whaler type, waiting expectantly for the fish to be brought in, when the fish exploded out of the water on the opposite side, paused in mid air directly above the unsuspecting occupants, and landed on top of them. When the blood and scales stopped flying, there was nothing in the boat that wasn't broken. The styrofoam cooler was in pieces floating around the boat. Those eight ounce bottles of coke that were built as solidly as bowling pins were even broken. There were no fishing rods left in the boat, having all been flipped in the water by the fish. And the patchmen were desperately in need of a drink.
Our patch laden friends didn't fish the rest of that day, and I'm sure they had a lot more than one drink when they got back to the lodge, but they were back out the next morning. They had, however, developed a new fishing method, one that would insure that they would get no more surprises. Normally the guide would paddle the boat after the fish to make it easier to land. Their new system was to have the guide paddle away from the fish. I guess the idea was that eventually the fish would get away or die of old age. Either way they would be safe.
What their system didn't account for was other people's fish. During one afternoon of truly spectacular fishing, there were a dozen boats, including the patchmen in one small area, most of them fighting fish. We could see from the way they kept looking around that they were getting nervous until finally an opening developed between two boats, and they had their guide start paddling in that direction. What they were unaware of was that one of my partners had a fish on that also wanted to aim for that opening. My buddy started giggling and took the pressure off his fish, allowing it to run free. When it seemed to be in just the right spot he put the brakes on the fish, which caused it to erupt out of the water, about ten feet away from the patchmen. That was enough excitement for them. They immediately broke off their fish and went back to the lodge, undoubtably in need of a sedative, or at least a rum and coke. They never did fish again that week.
Capt Gene Kelly
Tropical Fishing Adventures
PO Box 2104, Montauk, NY, 11954
631 668 2019