Sunday, May 23, 2010

Fishing Tales

Considering the location of the subject of this week’s posting, regular readers of this Blog could reasonably wonder if the name should be changed to “Living Punta Nopolo”, because, for the second week in a row, that is where my story takes place.

But this week I am not just climbing up and walking around this landmark of Loreto Bay, this week I am writing about a recent morning I spent fishing off the rocks surrounding it’s base. But before I go any further, let me be clear that I do not consider myself to be any sort of experienced fisherman – far from it! I did do some fishing (but very little catching) on a mountain lake where my family had a cabin when I was growing up. In the intervening years before coming to Loreto, I had only a few opportunities to fish, with about the same results as I had in my youth, but shortly after I took possession of the house here I had a very untypical experience. One of our early visitors was an avid fisherman and so I chartered a boat during his visit and we went out for a day’s fishing with a captain. After spending most of our chartered time without a nibble, the captain finally asked us if we wanted to try for Sailfish? Needless to say, we said Yes!, and so off we headed to a new location several miles away. As the boat started to slow down, signalling our imminent arrival, we could all of a sudden see in the distance silver flashes dancing above the surface of the water. As we drew closer those flashes became jumping fish, man sized or better, we had found our prey!

Since this wasn’t what I was planning to write about I’ll wrap up my fish story in brief – suffice to say that both my buddy and I “hooked up” within five minutes of our baited hooks hitting the water and although the real fisherman wound up losing his catch while trying to board it on the boat, beginner’s luck was with me and after a 20 minute struggle fighting the fish back to the boat, after it ran out several hundred yards, I managed, with lots of help from the captain, to land (boat?) an 8 or 10 foot specimen!

With that spectacular exception, and some outings on a friend’s panga which yielded a few modest catches, most of my fishing experiences have been solitary expeditions to the rocky shelf of Punta Nopolo at low tide where I can cast out into the deeper water. While I enjoy eating fresh fish occasionally I am not motivated by what I might catch, which is a good thing given my very modest results from these outings.

Rather, the attraction for me is spending a few hours on the shore enjoying the water and watching the colourful small fish that live in and around the rocks. It’s a great excuse for doing very little but enjoying some time on my own, close to the water, and feeling justified by the occupation of “fishing” as the excuse for doing that very little.

As I described in last week’s posting, the low tide shelf provides some excellent locations around the base of Punta Nopolo to get access to the deeper water and so co-ordinating with the tide is an important consideration. Years ago, when I was learning to sail, I was introduced to tide tables in the form of phone book sized volumes covering large areas of shoreline with predictions as to the time and variation of the high and low tides for a particular location. Now, through the magic of the internet, that information, specifically for the Loreto area, is just a few clicks away so the night before I checked the data and found that low tide the following morning would be at 8:30 – perfect!

I assembled my equipment, rod and reel, the tackle box with a collection of lures and the other accessories like a knife and pliers (for removing hooks), and a pail to carry the net to keep any catch unlucky enough to become my victim, as well as a “fish bonker”, my ultimate weapon if all else fails. To this I added my cameras and a tripod (so I can include some of these “action shots” of my limited casting technique) and a thermos of coffee and some bottled water – no one has ever accused me of traveling light! Loaded down with all my “necessary” equipment I headed out about 9:00 am for the beach and the familiar 15 minute walk down to the point.

Often when I am walking on the beach I meet other Homeowners and exchange greetings or other small talk, but when I am carrying my fishing equipment, I assume the role of “Fisherman”, and this usually elicits some comments or questions that make the assumption that I have some expertise in this area. Hahhh! On these occasions I usually adopt a suitably modest attitude (one that they may mistakenly take as self-deprecating) and I often make some comment about measuring success by the number of lures I don’t lose, rather than by the number of fish I catch.

As I make my way around the wide shelf of rock exposed by the low tide toward my first casting perch, I recall that I had left out an observation from my last posting which I want to include here. In the conglomerate rock that makes up the base of the point there are dozens and dozens of “potholes” where apparently softer material has been eroded away leaving cavities that range from a few inches across to several feet. Most of these hold water, left behind from the last tide cycle, and almost all of those have some sort of life swimming around in them, sometimes with underwater plants scaled to these micro-environments.

As I walk across these rocks I see the tiny “tadpoles” (for lack of a more accurate
description) flitting around in their own little universe, with sometimes a dozen or more creatures in these natural aquariums. And I wonder what happens twice a day, as the tide turns and the water level inevitably rises, and then these sheltered little habitats are submerged becoming part of the sea floor again. Somehow these tiny creatures manage to survive the sometimes crashing wave action and the larger predators that come with the rising water until they are once again “stranded” in their safe-again refuge until the cycle repeats itself, day after day, in a cycle as old as these rocks themselves. Now that is a challenging life cycle!

Anyway, I am here for bigger fish, not necessarily to fry, and so I take my position on a favourite outcrop and proceed to begin the ritual of selecting the first lure of the day and starting to cast out into the gentle water surrounding me. Most of the shoreline here in this deeper water is populated with beautifully colourful schools of what I would describe as “tropical” fish, like you can find in home aquariums, most of them a few inches long and exotically coloured in yellows, blues and other fluorescent shades. As I retrieve my lure and it passes through these fish they are immediately attracted and follow the “intruder” until it magically leaps out of the water and disappears, only to return again a few minutes later when the process repeats itself.

I find myself imagining the startling effect this event could be having on the normal routine of these fish. Although they are more spectacular and exotic to my eyes than the lures I am using, I can’t help wondering if, in this homogeneous society of apparently identical creatures who spend day in and day out swimming around, seemingly of one mind, and then, out of the blue (literally!) comes this “Lady Gaga” individual with flashing spinners, sparkly painted finish, not to mention trailing a cluster of hooks in it’s wake! Considering the predictability of their normal routine, I can’t help but imagine this stranger’s visit marks a red letter day for these fish – or maybe I’ve just been standing in the sun too long!

And so it goes, trying different lures, occasionally seeing something bigger than the lure itself following it into shore, watching the water pulse in and out around the rocks I am standing on, and, eventually moving on to the next spot further on, that I have convinced myself is even more likely than where I have been. This trip however, was punctuated by an unusual event – I actually caught something! While so called “Puffer Fish” are generally considered a trash fish by most people, I find them more interesting than most of the fish that are more highly prized for their edibility or sport.

I think the first time I had seen one of these creatures (complete with a coloured light shining inside) it was hanging over the bar in the basement of the home of a girlfriend of mine back in high school. At that time I don’t think I realized that this kitsch souvenir of some trip to Hawaii in the ‘sixties, was in it’s “inflated” state and it didn’t spend it’s whole life in the shape of a balloon studded with dozens of nasty spikes. So when I caught this bug-eyed specimen and landed it to remove my lure, I observed this amazing defence mechanism begin, as it started panting on the rock, (appropriately in much the same rhythm as we would use to blow up a balloon) and then I watched as it “blew itself up” into a half-sized soccer ball causing it’s spiky horns to protrude all over it’s skin. Then, holding it’s breath, it appeared to observe me, somewhat balefully, with it’s now even more “buggy” eyes, as if to say: “Are you scared yet?”. It held this threatening pose for less than a minute, then, through a series of rather moist farting sounds (sorry, you had to be there) my catch gradually deflated and lay there until I did something else to alarm it and cause this exotic strategy to begin all over again.

Before the SPCA shuts down my blogsite I should assure you, my fainthearted readers, that after retrieving my lure (with no more damage to the fish than a cut lip) I returned this specimen to the sea and it swam off, I would like to think, relatively unperturbed to continue doing whatever it had been doing before it had been so rudely interrupted by my apparently irresistible (at least to one Puffer) lure. I couldn’t help respecting the fact that this lowly “trash” fish had developed one of the most bizarre and effective defence mechanisms of any similar sized fish in these waters. Puffer’s may be considered “trash” by sport fishermen, but I am sure that this species is seldom bothered by any of the larger and otherwise threatening denizens of the deep!

I continued my way around the point, trying different spots along the shore, until early afternoon when I decided to head back home, but before I left Punta Nopolo, I climbed up on the elevated tee box of 15th green where I took this picture. I realized, during a recent golf game, when I was teeing off from this spot, that this was a view that should have been included in last week’s piece about my climb - so I have included it here.

Photo assignment completed, I made my way back along the shoreline to my end of the Founder’s Village and returned home after spending a peaceful morning exploring the natural beauty and wonders that exist here, where the land meets the Sea, where the mountains come to swim, and although I have said it before, this really is one of the best parts of “Living Loreto”.

(Editor’s Note: Because I am leaving to return to Canada next weekend I may not have time to write another Blog from here before I hit the road. But please check back, as I will write, if my packing up is under control and I have the time. Regardless, I will post a final instalment when I return to Canada, probably wrapping up my northbound trip.)