A Panamanian fishing trip to remember

Published 10:02 am Friday, March 11, 2011

I’ve been getting a little feedback from people who seem to enjoy reading my stories. Today we are going on a fishing trip of a lifetime — actually two of them.

While working for a company and visiting our Panama City, Panama, location around 30 years ago, some business associates invited me on a two-day fishing trip for sail fish. Obviously, I wasn’t turning that down.

I was told to be at the docks at 4 a.m. I sure wish fish would adjust their schedules to better suit us, but that’s how it goes.

Looking around the docks, there must have been 500 really nice sport fishing boats, and many with people gearing up for another day on the water. As I remember it, our boat was located in the middle of this maze, and I was initially concerned I wouldn’t find it.

Eventually, I overheard familiar voices and walked upon the vessel. It had to be the oldest boat in the harbor, no fiberglass on this beauty. If it ever had teak to begin with, it had been replaced with barn door planking many years before.

We had a crew of three and between all of them, they may have had a total of 10 teeth. Obviously, life on the seas of a Panamanian fisherman is very hard.

It was a 44-foot boat with freezer boxes on both sides almost the entire length of the boat except for the small cabin in the front that housed a toilet, stove and gear storage. Our crew, although not poster material, was extremely confident in our outlook for the trip. I can’t say that I felt the same way at that point.

Things started to look up when we backed out of the slip and began making our way through the maze of other boats. As we cleared their berths, they began to follow. It was then that I understood we were being crewed by the most experienced fisherman in the harbor and everyone else knew it — it was going to be a good trip!

Heading out, the deck hands started fishing for our bait. We had left the dock without a single piece of bait on a two-day fishing trip that cost a good amount of money; this was not something I was used to, but I try to keep an open mind.

After catching a good amount of what I think was false albacore, the deck hands began sewing up what we were going to use as a substitute to ballyhoo, the belly skins of these bait fish. The rest of the bait fish was saved for who knew what.

As soon as this was finished, we started fishing. There was no long run to contend with; I’m not sure if that boat could have survived it if there was one. Fish – on! It didn’t take long until the first of many 100-pound plus sail fish was on a line, sometimes three at a time. We had a really good day of fishing.

That night, we anchored off a little island, turned on the boat lights, and kept on fishing with the remaining parts and pieces of the bait fish. We were catching what they called Doctor fish, a fish with a fin as sharp and as hard as a razor blade on the side of its tail, and red snapper.

I can remember catching a snapper that must have been close to three feet in length. The deckhands took that fish and cleaned it through its mouth, stuffed it full of fruits and vegetables and threw it on the grill. Talk about some good eating.

The next morning it was time to start the engines for another day of sail fishing. OK, while we wait for a new battery, let’s keep on fishing. Yea, my concerns about the boat were real.

Before the end of the day and our trip, we managed to catch more sails than we had flags for and so many dolphin that we asked to stop fishing. Besides, we had filled up all the freezers on board.

On our trip back, those deckhands made the most incredible soup. Using some of the fish heads as a base and adding vegetables, they made a meal you can’t get anywhere. Although I didn’t suck on the heads, as they did, the rest of it was amazing.

What a trip. To top it off, because of sitting most of the day for a battery and giving all the fish to the crew, we got another two-day trip at no charge the next weekend. Needless to say, my trip to Panama will never be forgotten.

I’m sure that crew has long been out of the business, but I have thought many times how much I would love to take by twins, Robert and David, to Panama, get on that same old boat, with that same old crew, and do that trip over again. In my mind, that would be heavenly and maybe it will be possible some day.

BOB RUDZIK is a Newsoms resident. He can be reached at outdoors@tidewaternews.com.