Carlos and I became friends over a decade ago. He and his team have always taken us on such great trips. Not being a fisherman, their fishing tours just passed by me without a thought.
Suya is short for Carlos’ wife’s name, “Suyapa”. They have been offering tours in San Pedro for over 22 years. According to Carlos, their most popular tour is one they call the Beach BBQ where they take you skin-diving and then cook the lobster and other fish they spear. (I still need to do that one.) Another great tour is one I’ve done many times, the river tour that ends in Lamanai, an ancient site with several pyramids hidden in a jungle. I also love their zip-lining and cave-tubing day. It’s a ½ day of excitement followed by a ½ day of lazy fun. They also do a lot of SCUBA touring through national underwater parks and even an island “day away” trip where you spend a day on a deserted island. Check them out at www.suyatoursbz.com, ask for Carlos, and tell them Jim sent you.
Our first day fishing with Suya started intelligently: they picked us up at the end of our dock at 8 AM sharp. The boat was about 28 feet long and had a large Bimini top to protect us from the sun. Our guide, Gavino was friendly and polite. He explained our plan for the day and asked if we had any special requests. He also told us not to bother bringing any equipment as they were fully rigged with everything we’d need including tons of water, ice and beer. This was looking good already. I saw an embryonic grin forming on my brother’s face.
The weather was beautiful as we headed west toward Caye Caulker, about 30 minutes away. The boat handled the small waves well and Gavino was a very good skipper. I looked up at him; he quickly looked my way and then smiled. I gave him a thumbs up.
Our first goal was to head to some very shallow water on the south side of Caye Caulker to net cast for sardines. I’d never actually seen anyone do this before so it was a great photo op and learning experience. At first, the sardines were elusive. Gavino would only pull in three or four. But then he hit a good area and was pulling out a dozen or more at a time. He put the small fish in to a live holding tank in the rear of the boat. He only had to do this a handful of times before we had over a hundred sardines, more than we’d need for a ½ day of fishing.
We now headed out towards the reef, which was not far away.
“We will fish in a deep channel that runs perpendicular to the reef, splits it for some distance. The water below rushes in and out of this deep channel. The fish move with it.” He explained.
“Are we bottom fishing?” I asked.
“No, the fish will come up near the surface. You will mostly see the fish you hook up as it fights near the surface.” He said as he maneuvered the boat near the reef. He needed a lot of skill here as the reef was either four feet deep, sixty feet deep in the channel area or rocky where the reef poked through the surface. Somehow, Gavino managed to drive the boat, bait our hooks with live bait, teach me to fish and tell jokes and stories all at the same time.
“Gavino, will be have to watch for any flashes?” I asked with a grin.
“What?” He asked.
“Never mind.” I laughed. “Our skipper yesterday had us watching for mermaids in the water.”
“Did you see any?” He asked.
“Two small ones.” I said. He nodded and grinned.
Five minutes after dropping my bait for the first time, I got a big pull on my line. I saw the fish jump out of the water fifty feet behind the boat.
“Spanish Mackerel!” Gavino shouted. “Good catch!” How he spotted that fish from this distance I did not know. But the fish pulled pretty hard. Gavino helped me lift the rod just enough to keep from breaking the line and then reel the line properly. Without words or a panic, he showed me the right amount of tension to maintain as the fish pulled.
When the fish tried to get under the boat, he skillfully guided me to the other side without upsetting the other line we had in the water or getting my line caught in the propeller. I was doing well and my brother was busily snapping photos of my first fish. That huge grin of his was back, thank God. He has the best smile and I count my blessings on them.
Suddenly, the fight in the fish quadrupled.
“Is this normal?” I asked.
“It’s a barracuda trying to take your fish!” My brother said. I looked out and we could see the two fish struggling with the barracuda eating the fish I had on the line.
“What the heck?” I yelled. “He’s gonna kill Kenny! That bastard!” I did my best but the barracuda got the fish. I reeled in what was left of its head and a few inches of body below the head. The mackerel had been cleaved cleanly by the razor sharp teeth of the barracuda. I was shocked and let down.
“That Spanish Mackerel was about two feet long, a good one. Just a minute.” Gavino reached for a big knife and cut most of the meat away from the head of the fish. He then expertly hooked the meat to the end of my line.
“Dat fish is greedy!” He said. “Maybe you can get him.”
We recast the huge piece of fish bait out and let it distance itself a bit before setting the reel and waiting. As we drifted slowly, Gavino said he saw the fish behind us. I did not see the fish yet, but I saw my bait pop up above the surface once or twice.
“He will smell it.” He smiled as he slowly pulled the bait behind our boat. I held my rod and was just a little nervous. How would we land the big, ugly fish if I caught him? Barracuda have big, sharp teeth and fought viciously. I remembered seeing a video on YouTube where a fisherman had been stabbed by the bill of a huge sailfish. Steve Irwin had been stabbed by a stingray…a stingray! And it killed him. The last thing I wanted was to lose a hand to some stupid barracuda.
And then, my line jumped again. It was different this time.
“Give it to him, give it to him….now yank!” Gavino instructed. I followed his orders so I could set the hook deeply into the fish’s mouth. Immediately, the fish began fighting for its life. It swam away taking hundreds of feet of line, my spin cast rig was singing a tune I’d never heard before.
“Gotta love this!” My brother yelled. “Listen to that reel scream!” He was laughing and telling me what to do. The reel had spun wildly and then suddenly it stopped. I pulled and rewound, pulled and rewound. Then the fish took off again.
“He’s going for the reef!” Gavino said.
“If he gets to the reef he’ll cut the line on a rock and he’s gone.” My brother said.
“I’m not sure what I can do.” I yelled. I kept pulling and reeling, moving side to side as the fish tried to get under the boat. It was a fight. I was getting a bit tired of the constant pulling and straining. This was harder than it looked on TV! There was no relaxing for me and any second the fish could break the line. I had to perfectly balance his tension and had absolutely no idea if I was doing this right.
“You’re doing great!” Gavino said. “Keep it tight, just like you have. Pull when you can, reel when you can. He get tired in a while.”
I thought of giving the rod to my brother but he wanted me to do this. I wanted him to experience this, then remembered he already had many times. I wanted to show him I could do it. But most of all…hey, I was having fun! This was exciting! In a very primal way, this was very exciting and I was loving it!
I knew the fish would probably cut the line somehow and get away but I kept trying to bring him in. He had taken out a lot of line. I had no way of telling how much because I was so focused on the tension of the line and feeling his sudden jerks and pulls. I didn’t really expect to land the fish but wanted to enjoy the moment as much as I could. I just knew he’d snap the line. It was straining so hard and felt like one more quick turn by the fish and that would be it.
“There he is!” Gavino yelled as the big fish breached the surface about thirty feet from the boat.
“Keep him away from the prop, bro!” My brother yelled.
“I am, I am!” He’s pulling all over the place!” I yelled back.
“Just keep doing what you’re doing!” He yelled and laughed. Gavino appeared to my right with a long pole that had a hook on the end. It was a gaff. I’d forgotten about those. Well, that changed everything!
“Get him close to the side and I’ll hook him.” Gavino explained.
“Then we’ll club him.” My brother added. Now I felt very good. I had hooked him, Gavino would gaff him and then my brother would club him. That monster did not stand a chance. And that was just how it happened. I brought the big fish near the side of the boat; he was almost four feet long, built like a toothy torpedo. Gavino gaffed him and brought him on board. A few good raps on the head later and the fish was in the large ice box on the bow of the boat.
“Darn, that things STINKS!” I yelled. Gavino and my brother laughed out loud.
“Dey do stink.” Gavino agreed.
“How was that, bro?” My brother asked.
“Oh my God! I was so excited. My heart is pumping with adrenalin right now. That was so exciting!” I yelled.
“Now you know.” My brother grinned. “Now you KNOW!”
“Now I know.” I nodded. I was dizzy from the effort and the heart pump. I kept looking back at the ugly fish in the box. He was dead so he could not hurt me now. I was definitely afraid of him. I’d swam with his kind in the past and they are deadly. Seeing him on ice made me grin. I stared at my fish as it lay on its side in the box.
“Gotcha….” I said to him.
“And that was only your first fish!” My brother said.
“Second.” I corrected him.
“Yes, second. We counting dat first one.” Gavino said.
We continued to fish for the next couple of hours. Liking numbers as much as I do, I calculated that a ½ day fishing (four hours) less the 60 minutes we spent driving to and from the fishing area, less the 30 minutes we spent catching our bait left 2.5 hours of actual fishing. We caught a total of 29 fish that day, or almost exactly a fish every five minutes. There were times when my bait would barely be wet and I’d hook up. My brother and I hooked up at the same time several times…an occurrence that made Gavino pull double duty, but he seemed up to the task. We caught Spanish Mackerel, Yellow-Tailed Snapper, Red Snapper, Horse-Eyed Jacks, Needle Fish and of course, the big Barracuda.
We spread out all the fish on our cleaning table at the end of the dock. A few people from the beach came up to take a look at our catch as I took photos. My brother had scurried off to the condo to use the bathroom. I guessed the Imodium was not working as well for him as it had for me. When he came back, we marveled over the fish as Gavino began fileting them. We gave the biggest fish to him and took a few snapper for our fridge. We gave the rest to our groundskeeper thinking he’d feed his family, but he apparently went to sell them to a local restaurant. Whatever…as long as they got used.