Our guide, Juan, wasn’t a lot of help in the matter. Our poor Spanish found its match in his very limited English. We had managed to communicate enough to rent his 20-foot fishing boat for the afternoon. Our hand signals and insistence that we wanted some “pescado” brought a little light to his eyes.
He did work cheap. We got him and the boat for the afternoon for less than ten dollars. The trip didn’t cost him much in fuel, since we only went out a couple of hundred yards off the beach, but it served our needs well. Rob and I had hauled our fishing gear all the way down to Mazatlan, and we wanted to get a fish dinner.
We had already struck out with our spear fishing gear. We had a great time swimming the clear warm waters and had enjoyed plenty of shooting. As novices we usually got fooled by the magnification of the water and missed dozens of shots. Finally I managed to hit a big striped fish I saw hiding in the kelp.
Popping up to the surface, I yelled to my partner whose snorkel was bobbing nearby. “I got one!” I called in triumph! Rob came to the surface and swam over to inspect our dinner. “Nice job,” Rob offered with just a hint of sarcasm. “Now we’ve got something to put in our aquarium!” I guess the fish was a little small, and, after filleting, we might have maybe an ounce of meat!
But now we were on the high seas, or at least the deeper waters of the bay, so we were bound to catch something good. We were using the bait Juan had dug up for us, a big coffee can full of sand crabs. The little gray critters stayed on a hook pretty well, and we figured he’d know what would work. We only had to wait a few minutes.
Jigging up and down to try to find the right depth for fishies, we didn’t have long to wait. The rod tip bounced a little, and I hauled up a pretty blue striped fish. It was thin and flat like an angelfish, and didn’t have much bulk. I showed it to Juan. He gave the fish a thumbs-down, so I unhooked it and threw it back, another aquarium fish!
Soon Rob had a bite and pulled up a two-pound gray fish that looked kind of bassy in shape. Our captain assured us that it was “muy bueno,” so we put it in the gunnysack. Over the course of an hour, we managed to hook about ten varieties of fish; about half met the approval of our local expert and the rest were released.
We did manage to haul up some species of saltwater catfish that got quite a response. Juan didn’t even wait for us to unhook the little critter. He took his knife and cut the leader. We weren’t really sure if the problem was the barbs on his side or the slime that covered his body, but it was obvious he wasn’t meant for a fish fry!
Then we started having problems. We were getting bites, and as we hauled in the line a little ways, we could feel the weight of the fish disappear. We would then pull in our lines to find the hooks missing. The leaders were cut right above the hooks. I looked up at Juan after the third time I’d been cleaned. “Tiburon?” I questioned. Was this a shark? Juan shrugged his shoulders. This was obviously something new for him. Since he fished mostly with nets, he wasn’t sure what was getting us.
Finally the mystery was solved. Rob got a hit and hauled up a squat, fat little critter with a beak-like mouth. It was some variety of puffer fish, designed to crack open coral and shells. As he lifted it over the gunwale, the fish closed down its lips and severed the 30-pound test line like it was nothing! This fat little critter was our hook stealer! We let Juan throw him overboard; I figured that the fish could just as easily take off one of the joints of my finger!
In pretty quick order we had managed to fill up our sack. For a few more pesos Juan made quick work of the fish, cutting out a couple of dozen small fillets. He even gave us a little salsa to use for flavor!
We had a great cookout on the beach and washed down the catch with a six-pack of cold beer. The gear may have taken a little effort to pack and haul (it would have been much easier with the travel rods I have today), but as usual, any fishing trip is worthwhile, especially when you can catch something different and learn something new!
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