Dateline: August 4, 2011 – Bimini, Bahamas
Remember – objects under water can appear larger than they really are. Hopefully, this will not be as difficult a lesson for you as it was for me.
How 5 months can change everything. I look back to March of 2011, when Marty Arostegui was some guy I read about in magazines, and now, in August, I was a guest on his boat heading to Bimini for a fishing trip. Bimini Atoll, a fairly remote outpost of the Bahamas archipelago, is a famous spot for gamefishing, with some of the top bonefish flats in the world and access to hundreds of miles of fertile reef. It is constantly featured in fishing magazines, and I couldn’t believe I was actually heading there.
Sunrise over a glassy Biscayne Bay.
This is a family trip that Arosteguis take at least once a year, generally with a few guests. Apart from Marty, Martini, and Roberta, this year’s roster included me and Martini’s high school buddy Kyle, a lineman-sized, marvellously polite young man.
The ride over was simply gorgeous – flat calm. We got out of Miami at daybreak, enjoyed the rising sun as we sped across the 40 miles that separate the mainland from Bimini, and got in to port by late morning. We checked in at Guy Harvey’s Bimini Lodge – how darn cool is that – then headed right back out to fish.
Our first partial day was a fun one chasing around some of the reefs close to the island. We got a nice assortment of stuff, and with a tiny but beautiful Triggerfish, the Bahamas became country #71 on my fishing list.
That’s one small fish for Steve, one new country for the list. What a beautiful place.
Among a very nice batch of reef fish, I added one creature to the list – the Rosy Razorfish.
All of these wrasses have nasty teeth. Check out the shadow at upper left.
That evening, Roberta mentioned that a hurricane was working its way along the eastern part of the Caribbean, and that we would need to keep a close eye on the weather for the next few days. We dined on fresh seafood that evening, and enjoyed a perfect warm evening on the terrace restaurant overlooking the harbor, which, I pointed out repeatedly, was likely loaded with interesting small fish. It’s not hard to guess what I did until the early hours.
Day two was a full day on the water. We ran south and began hitting spots the Arosteguis has fished for years, each with its own special code name – “The Spleen Spot,” “Diaper Reef,” “Wounded Possum Hole,” etc. No, I don’t know what a possum what doing in the Bahamas or how it got wounded.
We caught all kinds of interesting stuff. My first new species of the day was a Grass Porgy, something that gave me special satisfaction because I had thought I had gotten one of these several times over the years, only to find out that Porgies love to change color patterns and imitate each other when stressed.
The Grass Porgy – it’s the Y-shaped dark marking on the middle of the tail that gives it away. I am the probably the only person in California that cares about this.
At one particular old navigational marker, which the Arosteguis called “The old navigational marker,” we got into loads of reef fish and a few gamefish. The highlight catch of the day was Kyle’s beastly Barracuda, featured below.
A brute of a Barracuda. One of these would figure prominently in an emotionally difficult event just a few hours later.
But it’s not all about fishing. The Arosteguis spend a lot of their time here snorkeling, spearing lobsters, and swimming on the reefs. Later in the afternoon, we anchored up near a series of coral heads. They jumped in as soon as we pulled up, but I stayed on the boat for a while, and managed to catch this monstrous Bandtail Puffer.
A monstrous Bandtail Puffer. It really is a large one. If the IGFA would do records in grams instead of pounds and get rid of that silly 1 pound minimum, this fish would be a world record, it’s that big of a Bandtail Puffer.
But after a while, the water looked too good to pass up and I dove in, which led to unanticipated but permanent psychological consequences. Because I am an inexperienced snorkeler, I am troubled by visions of large predators sneaking up in my blind spot and devouring me. So I turn around now and then to look for large predators. I have been snorkeling off and on for 20+ years and had never uncovered a large predator via this method, so imagine my surprise when, closer to the reef, I spun around and came face-to-face with a Barracuda. At the time, I would have estimated it at 14 feet long and just over 7000 pounds.
The business end of a typical Barracuda.
Facing what I assumed was imminent death, I did what every other rational person would have done – got ready to fight for my life. I was close enough to the reef to be able to stand up on a rock, and it was there I prepared to make my stand. During this process, I may have inadvertently let out what I like to think of as a small, manly grunt, but which was described by other witnesses as “a high-pitched scream that you might expect from an imbalanced 9 year-old girl. If she was covered in wasps.”
Martini came rushing over, spear in hand, and asked what the issue was. I spluttered out – “Barracuda. B-b-b-big Barracuda.” Completely innocently and with no ill intent, he asked “Where – near that small one?” There was indeed a small Barracuda sitting there staring at us. While I insist that the 7000 pounder must have made a wily escape to humiliate me, Martini’s position is that the small fish is actually the one which followed me, and yes, it was substantially smaller than 7000 pounds. More like 12.
No one had explained to me that scuba masks make things look bigger. No one had explained to me that Barracudas do this sort of thing all the time and never attack. But everyone – except Roberta, who was kind and smirked less than the others – explained that I had better write about this incident or they would see that it became public knowledge. So here you are, you vultures.
We did a bit of shark fishing before we headed back that evening, and while we did scrape up a couple, including a nice Caribbean Reef Shark for Kyle, the Arosteguis commented that the changing weather had definitely put the bite off.
Martini expertly wires Kyle’s Caribbean Reef Shark. I have never caught this species. I have no ill feelings for Kyle, or at least I didn’t for about 20 hours after this photo was taken.
Oh yeah, and I also caught this big Ocean Triggerfish after I got back on the boat and stopped trembling.
We decided to head back to Miami on Thursday – the hurricane had apparently stalled over some of the eastern Caribbean, but you can’t trust a hurricane, as my last trip to the French Quarter proved.
So we got up on the morning of the 4th and poked around some more of the local reefs in the morning. This led to some great catches, including a huge Sharksucker, a solid Horseye Jack, and an excellent new species – the Cottonwick Grunt – which I also believe was the name of a dance back in the 20’s.
The Cottonwick Grunt. It is a small, manly grunt, just like the sound I believe I made when confronted by the Barracuda.
My Sharksucker – sometimes inaccurately referred to as a Remora – and Martini’s trophy lump of crud off the bottom.
Martini and a Tiger Grouper. No, I haven’t caught one, thanks for asking. I think he took a congratulatory phone call from Jaime later that night.
My personal best Horseye Jack. This species was the very first fish I caught in Brazil, in August of 1999, but that’s a story for another blog post.
Marty and Roberta watch for bites. These two – the first couple of fishing in my opinion – are all business. Until I take a nap. See below.
On the way back, I made the mistake of taking a nap. I have made a long career out of taking unflattering photographs of napping comrades, including young Martini, and they paid me back in spades. (See napping Martini at https://1000fish.wordpress.com/2011/05/01/a-glass-of-milk/ or napping Eminem at https://1000fish.wordpress.com/2011/07/03/my-failed-weekend-of-parenthood/ .)
The bottle of rum was an especially nice touch.
This would be so much funnier if it had been done to someone else. The boys should know better, and yes, they will pay for this. Wait a second … if they are in the photo, and Marty was driving the boat, who took this photo?? Roberta, say it isn’t so!
The ride back was still flat calm. I was in such awe over a few days in a totally laid back, tropical location that I was not all that worried that I only had 4 new species. These were great species and I had gotten a vacation I absolutely needed. But Marty had one more trick up his sleeve. We had talked a bit about doing some deep-water fishing off Miami, looking in 700 feet and more for whatever oddities might be down there. The holy grail of these “deep drop” fish is a Golden Tilefish, but Marty warned me these were rare here. I pulled out my Offshore Angler deep drop rigs, of which I am quite proud, and Marty unceremoniously began making alterations, placing the weight at the top of the rig rather than the bottom so that the baits would drag right in the mud. “Tilefish live in burrows and will only come out if the bait is right there.” he explained. I took his word for it, baited up with Barracuda strips, clipped on several pounds of lead, and let it all head for the bottom. Even with a trolling rod and a Tiagra 16, it was heavy and it took forever to reach the seafloor. (And I remember thinking how much longer it would take to reel back up.) Marty skillfully maneuvered the boat to keep the line from scoping out too far.
Moments later, through the miracle of braided line, I felt a small thump. Then another. There was something down there! I started grinding up, then stopped for a moment to put on gloves. The fish dropped off. I lowered the rig again, got more hits, and started grinding on the roughly 1200 feet of line I had released. It was going to be my best workout in a long time – Pilates of the Caribbean.
A Tiagra 16 on low gear takes in about 10 inches of line per crank. It’s a powerful reel, but figuring out that 10 inches goes into 1200 feet of line about a squillion times, it should come as no surprise that the reeling up of the great whatever took a very long time. This is when you find out who your friends are – when you can’t move for a long time and are completely vulnerable from behind. And the group did not disappoint me. They were merciless, and I could not stop reeling and kill them, because I would have lost whatever it was that I had hooked up.
Aren’t you hilarious, Martini. Just wait until you fall asleep in my car the next time. I have a special treat waiting for you. It involves a can of chili and an air horn.
During this entire 30 minutes or so, much fun was had at my expense. All the jokes I am famous for, such as the classic “Reel faster, I have a flight on Tuesday.” came hurtling down on my fragile psyche. I was near the end of my endurance – my arm was almost numb and my inner child was weeping – when there was finally “deep color.” I couldn’t look over the side, because Martini was in the way, but he called out “It’s the right color!” I had no idea what it was, and I had hopeful visions of a Golden Tilefish. But it was not a Golden Tilefish.
It was two Golden Tilefish.
My outfit is the sort of thing that only happens with a color-blind style consultant.
I had hit the proverbial jackpot, and as sore as I was, I did the dance of joy all over the deck while Marty looked on patiently. The 5th species of the trip, and one of those rare, elusive, magazine cover species that I had lusted after for years and never been close to catching – and to top it all off, it was species # 1100 – the first big milestone on the way to 2000. And they did it for me in one drop.