Further Adventures of an Apprentice Angler - OR - Can't I Just Visit The Bathroom in Peace, Please??
by Christine Rees (Published in Caribbean Compass in 2004)
As I was newly qualified from my beginners' course in fishing from the dinghy, my mentor decided it was now time to refocus our efforts on catching fish from our yacht, Anju, whilst we were on passage. We left Trinidad with a selection of very convincing plastic squid, in a charming assortment of colours, specially rigged for us by Albert Battoo at "Offshore Fishing Supplies" in Tropical Marine. These were designed for trolling behind us at various distances. "They should just skip down the top of the waves behind us", I was told. With the addition of two new rod holders on the stern of our boat, we could either increase our chances of success using two rods and two hand lines or end up with a huge tangle dragging behind the boat!
One thing I very quickly learnt was that our likelihood of hooking something was infinitely increased as soon as I decided to pay a visit to the heads. Now I don't see how the two can be related, I mean normally I haven't even flushed (sorry if that it too much information to share), before the Captain is screaming from the stern of the boat for assistance in landing his catch. In any case, on numerous occasions, I have scrambled back on deck, in a state of complete disarray, to be greeted with scenes of chaos.
On the first such occasion using the new rod holders, during a passage from Tobago to Bequia, I emerged from below decks to the sight of two whirring reels and one frantic man screaming at me to slow the boat down. For a person who is never at their best at 5 am, the challenge of slowing twenty tonnes of steel, which was merrily rolling her way downwind, genoa poled out one side, main right out on the other, was daunting. Needless to say by the time the grey matter sprang to life, the score was Fish "1" - Team Anju "just less than a half". To explain, the fish stole one lure from us and we only managed to hang on to half a fish, when a conniving bigger fish ate half of it off our line. At least the half we saved did contain the lure, so all was not lost. Of course I was severely reprimanded by the Captain for my ill-timed visit to the heads.
It began to feel like a dèjá-vu incident when, on another occasion I found myself in the heads, listening to the Captain's distant screams for assistance. In a flash I was on deck, only to discover a scene of carnage. The whole aft deck was covered with blood! After the longest two seconds of my life, when a whole range of terrifying possibilities crossed my mind. I was enormously relieved when the Captain's head popped up from behind the gas locker. I was a little less relieved when this was to chastise me again for visiting the heads when there was important fishing business to attend to.
As my mind whirled at the scene, he explained that he'd caught a good-sized tuna, managed to land it alone when his cries for help went unanswered and then decided to bleed it, as we normally do, to improve the quality of the meat. At this point the deck became bloody and slippery and he squatted down to get a better balance, while he started to fillet the fish. "Just how long was I gone?" I wondered. I could have been sure it was only a minute or so. "Aren't you supposed to bleed them overboard?" I stupidly dared ask!
During a trip down the windward side of Grenada, it was obviously high time to diversify. I'd been surprised to learn during our visit to Tobago, that Booby Birds used to be considered a delicacy. Yes, you guessed it, we managed to get one entangled in our line. Apparently they are not overburdened with brain cells. Luckily we spotted the unfortunate creature straight away and it hadn't swallowed the hook. Unluckily I learned that it was the apprentice's job to grab the bird while the fisherman retrieved his precious line and lure. I did point out at this time that I only signed up for fishing training, you know, the type involving fish, but to no avail. As the poor bird was reeled it, putting our wind generator and itself at great peril in the process, I readied myself to grab it as firmly as I could. Another amazing thing I learned about Booby Birds is that their heads turn right around and their beaks can reach an awfully long way to find a juicy bit of flesh when they are alarmed. Still, we all escaped serious injury!
As the fisherman put the lines back out he devised a bizarre type of song and dance, which I think was intended to frighten the birds away. It was certainly scary but seemed to attract the fish. Moments later we hooked a wahoo of about 25 pounds or so. It was at this precise time that our landing net decided to break, of course. Landing the fish without our net and with no gaff was tricky and time-consuming. By the time we hauled it on deck, the menacing squall line, which we'd been keeping an eye on, was directly above us. The Wahoo was unceremoniously lashed to the deck, the genoa reefed and in the consistent winds of over 30 knots, which lasted over an hour, Anju hit her world record speed of 8 knots. Is there ever a boring day at sea?
Even more frightening than the Booby Bird incident, was the day a small tern managed to get his wing hooked on one of our lures. Now I know they are smaller than the Booby and seem to be better endowed with brain cells but they too have the fully rotational neck with extra sharp beak attachment. They also come with a posse of friends, eager to stand up for their hapless friend's rights and willing to risk severe injuries to themselves and any wind generators in their path, during their attempts to mob those committing the abuse. An apprenticeship is designed to be a learning curve and at least by this occasion, if I had learned nothing else, I'd realised it was always safer for the apprentice fisher to wear her best sailing gloves when dealing with the feathered type of catch. Again, I'm pleased to report that all parties were unscathed.
After all these adventures, I'm beginning to feel that maybe I'm not ready for the challenges of blue water fishing after all and I should go back to the non-threatening environment of fishing within the anchorage. I mean, apart from ending up with a dinghy full of thrashing cutlass fish with sharp teeth or managing to land a six-foot long Moray Eel on deck again, what could possibly go wrong?
Despite his patient training of his apprentice, the Captain sometimes finds that blue water fishing is an uphill struggle!