Thursday, January 5, 2017

Puerto Rico Pit Stop: Day 9 -Fishing with Ray

Day 9 of our trip to Puerto Rico was a day I'll never forget. Riding in a local skiff between emerald bays and the mangrove islands that dot Puerto Rico's southwest coast is an unspeakably amazing experience. And I have one person to thank for it: Ray, the kind New Yorker/local we had met a couple of days earlier. I took him up on his offer to go fishing in his skiff, and so on Sunday morning, my sister, my mother, and I left with a cooler full of ballyhoo and high spirits. 

Here we saw a 5 ft sea turtle swim past the skiff.

As we narrowed into the back bays, we set out lines to troll. I opted for the more traditional method of angling here: a simple handline with a teaser skirt and several hooks tethered to each other. On the hooks were delicately placed strips of ballyhoo. 

After a little bit of time without any action, my sister was the first to connect. Much to my surprise, she pulled in a blue runner which had savagely attacked a lure almost half its size. Knowing that they were schooling fish, we trolled the area a bit more but came up fruitless. 

I never ended up catching one of these. 

While crossing open water to another bay,  my bait was fairly near the surface when something hit it, and promptly came off. It then hit another few times until it was hooked, and when brought in, I was astonished to see an inshore lizardfish on the end of my line. In hindsight, this explains its aggressive nature but what a lizardfish was doing so near the surface in deep water is beyond me. Nonetheless, I was ecstatic to catch such an eccentric species, #87 if you're following along.

Its pattern perfectly camouflages with the sandy bottom: a true marvel of evolution.

These buggers have the teeth to match their aggression...

While drifting over the flats, I felt a small bump on my line and pulled it in to check my bait. much to my surprise (again) there was a small, skinny silver fish on the end of my line. As I brought it closer, I realized that it was a barracuda, our intended target! I held my breath as it was hoisted up and there it was, probably the least impressive great barracuda ever seen. A fish is a fish though, and I had species #88, all eight inches of it.

It then proceeded to become the most photographed tiny barracuda ever.

Though petite, a small barracuda still packs formidable chompers.

After the first fish, the barracuda action lit up. We all (even my mother) brought in our share of cudas. None were all too large, but there were several nicer ones in the mix (nicer being relative, of course).

An brief moment of excitement came when my sister hooked a small barracuda. Suddenly, as she was pulling it in, the line stopped and started peeling off. She held on to the spool while staring to panic, and off in the distance behind the boat, I saw the tail of a roughly 15 lb barracuda break the surface. As soon as it started, it was over. My sister reeled in what remained of the small cuda.

After hours of fun, we returned, giving all the fish to Ray. I decided to try the dock one final time, and despite hooking into a few tarpon (and losing them), I nonchalantly caught species #89, the longfin damselfish.

Thus ended our Puerto Rican adventure. A tale of highs and lows, but I left with 17 new species and priceless, unforgettable memories. 

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