Sailing Charters in San Blas

Our islands in San Blas, chartering in San Blas, Fishing in San Blas

Our islands in San Blas

Our guests showed up. There were squid and glowsticks with them, that’s a point for the home team.  We went diving and ate and then moved the boat a bit.  They quickly found the best spot in the house, as you can see.

A big Lagoon 380 upgrade

A big Lagoon 380 upgrade, rear seating over the water

Then we went diving again. Then we went and visited our fave Kuna village. Then we went on a scavenger hunt for heavy things – as we needed weights for swordfishing (that weren’t lead or expensive).  We found a couple things, but really – I have to start making weights from concrete. Which is perfect because I have so much time now.  Sigh.

Good people, good conversation

Good people, good conversation

There was a sushi meal, then some smoked ribs, some great conversation, and then we dropped off our guests to sleep on hammocks on their own private island.  I went to work rigging swordfish baits (dude, this is hard, smelly, thankless work).

Swordfishing Baits in Panama

Swordfishing Baits in Panama

Lots of debate on swordfishing.  What I end up doing is using a circle hook as the main hook, ran with 150-250# mono/floro leader, and then a wired stinger (130# wire) with a J hook crimped to the main hook.  I may change this as we keep loosing hooks to sharks (normally, this is the point of using mono over a wire leader – not having to pull up a shark from the depths – they just chew through the leader and move on).  But that’s not sustainable out here where getting quality gear is so damned difficult/expensive.

Anyways I rigged in the sun for a while, then our guests came back and we talked through the rigging.  I’m no expert here, but I’ve done my homework and I’m handy with, hooks, lines, crimps, a rod and reel.  I’ve also, recently, done a ton of swordfish research (scientific papers) about eating habits, depths, and migration patters.  Fun fact:  all larger swords are girls. So when I say I’m out ‘looking for the big girls’ I could be talking about swordfish 🙂

When there is bait involved on the boat, it’s especially nice to have a fish-table a long ways away from everything.

Another major Lagoon 380 upgrade - the fishing table

Another major Lagoon 380 upgrade – the fishing table

Then it was time to get out there and put our work to work.  On the way out I drug the  fishing lines through the dusk light and over the best fishing spots.  We got lucky.  One reel went off (slowly) and Debbie pulled in a smaller Black Jack, which (after releasing it) I realized would have been worth a shot as live bait. Oops.

Not a giant, but a fish

Not a giant, but a fish

So we released our first fish.  I updated our heading and then our other reel started screaming. Screaming.  ‘FISH ON’  The sound of a screaming reel topped by those words makes the hair on my arms stand up.

Back to the story:  there are two fish that run that way – taking off so much line without breaching, large tuna or wahoo.  A large tuna isn’t so likely in this area, and usually they just sound (dive deep) and stay there.  This was a smoking run.  Nothing broke the surface – so not a marlin or a dorado (mahi, dodo).

Wahoo. Had to be.  I was stoked. They’re hard to get around here, specifically at this time of year, on this kind of tackle (we were running a monofilament stinger behind a Sterling Tackle Spreader Bar).  Second time we’ve hooked very toothy creatures on Sterling Tackle with mono stingers.  But look at this picture – it’s what happened to my first Sterling Tackle Spreader Bar when a big wahoo decided he wanted it- one second I had a Spreader Bar full of squid and hooks and ball-bearing snap-swivels.  Then I saw the water break and the wahoo hit the lures and then he destroyed my gear.  It was a cool thing to watch, but it was a major gear-bummer..  Don’t look at Marissa, she’s just a distraction 🙂

One of these is not like the other

One of these is not like the other

Darren vs the 'hoo

Darren vs the ‘hoo

There was the first, smoking run. Then he ran towards us, then when he saw the boat he ran again.  Then we got him up behind the boat, we were doing about 2 knots, and I missed the first gaff shot but got him solidly on the second.  Boom.  Wahoo on deck!  Those are good words to say.  As happy as I was about Darren landing this fish, I was even happier when I saw the pictures – the wahoo was lit up.  Usually in pictures the fish’s color fades. Wahoo are beautiful (and tasty) animals.



This was all on the way out to our swordfishing grounds.

Next up was the actual swordfishing.  We found 1500 feet of water, then I figured our drift.  Then we dropped three lines off the side of the boat (it’s a little easier than the back of the boat when we have the dinghy up). Here’s a picture that shows how we fish, but please excuse me for the lack of photo credit, it’s just the picture I keep on my desktop when I’m thinking about rigging..  I’ll figure out where it’s from and update this (sorry whoever made this picture). The main difference is that we fish off of the side of the boat rather than the back, it makes more sense (our boat is 38 foot long and 20 foot wide – there’s more space, duh). But most folks that fish for swordfish are: a) commercial fisherman with longlines  b) Serious sportfisherman with sportfishing boats.  It’s hard fishing off the side of those.

Our setup

Our setup

There were some smallish (see: large) issues.  One – our glowsticks weren’t working.  Two – the squid were small and old (guessing by the smell).  Three – my weights were mediocre at best.  Four – sharks love me and my baits, whichever is in the water.  Five – I had a smoky, knocking engine (more on this later). It was midway through our adventure that night when I noticed this very important detail.  That said it was a calm sea, nearly a full moon and a wonderful night drifting.

Working up to full moon

Working up to full moon

So we caught a decent shark, 1.5 meters.  It was exciting but it stole my hooks and it made me way more excited than I should have been (I suspected it wasn’t a sword, but it could have been).

Darren playing tug of war with a shark

Darren playing tug of war with a shark

Then we got (what I strongly believe was) a swordfish bite.  The line buzzed for just a second (we leave the reels just above freespool with the clicker on).  Then nothing. Then a tiny buzz again, then nothing.  We waited.  Then we reeled and teased a little, but nothing more from the fish.  When we checked the bait, it was cut, but not eaten – which is a classic swordfish move – whack it, kill it, but leave it.  Swordfish are notoriously vicious.

So we lost one rig to a shark and the other to a passive-aggressive swordfish and I was rigging and keeping the boat on the right drift and trying not to fall asleep.  Oh, and cleaning that wahoo from earlier.  I might have had a glass of rum.  Just one, really.  Then I had a bit of coffee as I was nodding.

No more clean decks...

No more clean decks…

Darren and I chatted, then we pulled the lines and went for another drift.  No dice .  So we moved on.  With the waves and speed and not-quite-right engine our time back in protected waters (where I could finally sleep) was just after dawn.  To that end I asked Darren if he wanted to hang outside the reef for a bit and wait for light, so we could troll over the structure for one last shot at a fish.  He said yes and then took a nap. I putted around marking good bottom structure and then when dawn broke I sighed a sigh of relief and pointed us toward our anchorage and held my breath for one more good fish.  Apparently we burned our fish-luck early with the wahoo.  I’ll take a quality fish on deck over the possibility of a record fish, every day.

Finally (long nights seem longer when you’re listening to the ocean and the rumble of diesels) just after 7 AM, Marissa got up and took her shift – which is cooking and cleaning.  She made everyone breakfast and then I dropped anchor, ate, and took a much-needed nap.  A couple hours later I was up and we were back to full-blown charter mode.

We were among friends at this anchorage, so we loaded all our friends up with wahoo.  This is a not-so-secret pleasure of mine – feeding friends with the best seafood on the planet, which we catch. Then there was island time and fun time and then there was dive time.  I took our friends out to a super-secret dive spot and then we made a drift dive.  After a wonderful drift full of Moray Eels, Cuttlefish, Stingrays, Lobster, Conch, etc.  Darren expressed an interest in spearfishing, so I brought out the gear.  We talked about species and fish identification.  Then we talked basic safety, then we went for a little dive through a channel which is usually productive.

Darren's first spearing-dinner

Darren’s first spearing-dinner

There I watched Darren locate, identify, and stick an Ocean Triggerfish on his FIRST spearfishing attempt ever.   Color me impressed.  We loaded the fish in the dinghy and then took off again.  Darren found a respectable Barracuda, identified it, and then he was in full-blown hunting mode. He took the shot and hit the fish but it was a grazing shot that only irritated the fish.  Missing the Barracuda was a blessing in disguise as they are difficult to deal with.  It’s a very cool thing to watch people locate, identify, and take their own food from the wild (at Whole Foods, they call it ‘Free-Range’).

Then, suddenly it was our last day with our new friends.

We moved the boat the next morning and drug the lures the whole way.  We caught two Spanish Mackerel, but we were full of fresh Wahoo so we released them. They aren’t hard fighters so we don’t slow the boat, reel them in as quickly as possible and release them as quickly as possible – unless they’ve been mortally hooked, in which case we eat them.

We're often a taxi service

We’re often a taxi service

The next morning our friends left and Marissa and I refused to clean for a day. Then we moved and resupplied and then moved again.  Then we confirmed the knocking in one engine that was worrisome.  Then I spent four days in the engine room working on isolating or identifying the issue.  No dice.  Turns out I’m in for an engine overhaul. Not cool, not simple, not cheap. I can’t write the words I say when I think about that engine.

Because I’m through my period of ‘freakout and worry’, I can say that I have a few ideas and if it comes to the absolute worst-case-scenario, I can deal with it. Much of troubleshooting boat-systems is not jumping straight to worst-case scenario. I’ll update when I know more, have connection and have time. Or at least two of the three.  For now, we’re about to receive more guests.

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