My first day saltwater fly fishing dawned with promise. Efren, my Captain for the day, pointed our bow east into the rising sun. Small pink and blue cloud puffs and a slight choppiness on the water were the only reminders of the storms that had preceded our arrival. As we gained speed, the salty air rippled through my hair and a familiar calm filled my heart. One of the joys of fishing is often simply being on the water in a beautiful place.
We pulled up near a small plastic buoy. Dorado, I learned, love anything floating, (because small fish gather there) and we quickly spotted several shining through the clear water. As luck would have it, after a few awkward casts, I felt my reel sing as I hooked my first Dorado and saw his green and gold, shimmering body leap from the water.
I didn’t land him - he threw the fly. Then a sudden sour taste in my mouth signaled that I was about to throw something else! I rapidly traded places with my fly fishing companion for the day and lurched back to the stern and leaned over, hoping no one would notice. Of course they did, with concern, but I focused on casting to cover my embarrassment.
The sun was climbing in the sky, the breeze was balmy and I was determined to land some fish! At our next stop Captain Efren tossed out a few Sardinas, which are Flatiron Herring and should not be confused with Sardines. I cast my fly several more times, managing to hook my boat bag more than once. Before long my line vibrated again as a Dorado struck the fly. I quickly reeled in a female, called a hen, and this time landed the fish. No gaffs were used, which made landing more challenging.
I released her with a big kiss, feeling wonderful.
Unfortunately my stomach wasn’t. I tried everything, even Gatorade, (like drinking antifreeze). The liquids soon made me desperate to pee, so I reluctantly asked the men if they would mind if I jumped in the water. I was hot and sweaty by then, so the emerald waters felt wonderfully refreshing. Getting back on the boat was another matter. Captain Efren tugged with one arm and my fishing companion with the other. I quickly realized that I needed to get one leg over the side before they pulled so I wouldn’t break their backs, and they finally hauled me in like a human flounder.
The fishing got better, but my stomach got worse. It was tied up like the Bimini knots used to rig my fly rod. Finally I could take no more and I accepted my companions’ offer to drop me off near the hotel beach. I then dragged my soggy, discouraged self across the white sand and collapsed on my bed. Saltwater fly fishing was beginning to feel like diving in the deep end, knowing only how to doggie paddle.
The mood at dinner that evening was buoyant. All seven men, including my husband Tom, had caught and released an amazing variety of fish; dozens of Dorado, Jack Crevalle, a few Rainbow Runners (fresh sushi!), a couple of Roosterfish, Needlefish, Pargo and more. I felt depressed that my own relative success was overshadowed by my seasickness. Then a tall sweet guy named John offered to share his Bonine and a doctor from our group had a patch for me. Someone else suggested that if I minimized liquids until after 10 am, I might avoid needing a bathroom break while fishing. Although mortified, I accepted the men’s gifts and encouragement with gratitude.
Next day we rose again before dawn and downed breakfast. I swallowed my Bonine pills and prayed to the Fish Gods. After a companionable ride bumping over backroads in the moonlight, accompanied by some upbeat reggae music, we rode our boats out over a glassy sea. At my husband’s suggestion, I was to fish with Captain Israel and our host and guide Gary Bulla. He’d had a fantastic day fishing with Gary while I was floundering the day before. Gary and Captain Israel had an easy rapport and their banter helped me relax.
At our first stop I cautiously took the bow and quickly hooked 2 Dorado in a row. Feeling proud of myself, I also noticed with pleasure that I felt great. No nausea! My casting improved under Gary’s tutelage, and he showed me how to strip two-handed with my rod in my armpit, which seems to attract more fish. Just as I was finally getting into the swing of things, I tumbled off the panga with a big splash. Captain Israel and Gary hauled me back in and I apologized. “Hey, at least you hung on to your rod,” they laughed. Ah well, I thought, nothing will humble you like fishing, especially fly fishing in the salt!
Shortly thereafter a Bull Dorado hit my fly like a lightning bolt. He was tough, though not huge, and I was ecstatic when I finally landed him. I went on to catch and release a few more while Gary patiently reminded me to keep my rod down when hooking a fish and to point my rod towards the fish while reeling him in. Later, we drove to a point featuring a lighthouse painted like a barbers’ pole, where they taught me how to work with sinking lines to catch Black Skipjacks, also known as Bonita or Skippies. It was a great day full of fishing, laughter and fun. My confidence rose with the sun.
That evening, sharing drinks and stories with the guys, I began to appreciate the growing camaraderie. Fly fishing isn’t just about catching and releasing fish, it’s also the friendships and fun you share with your companions and the joy of connecting with the natural world.
The next day was our last. We launched from Bahia de los Suenos, (Bay of Dreams), an enchanting place to watch dawn paint the sky. We rotated fishing partners and headed out. Dorado were illusive, though we caught a few, so we headed for the point. I borrowed a sinking line, and we were soon onto some Black Skipjacks – little silver torpedoes – what fun!
Closer to shore we caught some Ladyfish and spotted some stunning Roosterfish, but had no luck attracting them. When not catching fish, there were thick flocks of birds and Dolphins to watch, and the ever changing sea and sky. Just another day in Paradise!
I realized, as we headed back in, that it would be hard to leave. I had come to love the rhythm of those few days: early rising in darkness to enchanting sunrises, the cry of birds, smell of the sea and the anticipation of what each day might bring. This trip had been a welcome respite from our demanding, high pressured life in the US. And, although I hadn’t caught the biggest fish, or the most fish, I was proud of myself for tackling a new and thrilling challenge, and looked forward to learning more about it.
The next morning I stepped onto the beach one last time and filmed a seagull, expecting it to fly away. Instead, it circled around me and landed on the beach nearby. I knew that, like the seagull, I’d be back
Those Roosterfish are waiting.