stormy monday

Feliz Navidarpon (Christmas tarpon)

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Well after a season where I could not buy a keeper I finished off the year pretty good. My kids were doing another stint of hurricane disaster relief, this time in Puerto Rico. Mom and Dad are currently nursing health issues so we didn’t work this year, but decided to take a trip down to maybe be able to meet up for a day or two after their shift. Our destination was Palmas del Mar, as it was 15 minutes from the All Hands and Hearts Yabucoa base, so gave us easy access. Since I’d heard rumblings of fish I of course brought my rod case, which was packed with 2 nine weights and an old, old beater 11 fitted with a spinning reel in case my son wanted to use it. This was intended to be resting with my wife, so I did not go wild tying any special flies or anything, fishing would be an afterthought.

A bit about conditions down there. We’ve been going down since I was working 2 weeks a month in Aguadilla in the late 80s, so we are very comfortable there. PR as we know got whacked by Irma and Maria, and recovery has been slow. I think most people are opting out of going down there based on what we see in the news. Honestly they really did get smacked hard, but we felt that their recovery at this point is much further along than what we saw in St. Thomas last March. On that island the level of emotional trauma we found in the people we were helping was beyond description, whereas in PR the people we met, though certainly hit hard, had moved on more from the PTSD of the storm. That’s just our observation, but I think it’s partly because there still is industry, etc. there, as opposed to just tourism. I could be wrong. It is not fully operational – for most of the time we couldn’t get any internet connectivity (which I liked but still) and in our unit there was still damage. Plumbing, some leaking, etc. The upside was an Airbnb 30’ off the beach and 5 minute walk to tarpon for $111/night – not bad at all! But I would say if anyone has been spooked off going down there, as long as you’re not a cruise ship/Disney type of traveler it’s not that bad. There are inconveniences but certainly liveable.

I was excited being so close to the water, even though Palmas has constant shore break that right now is full of massive rafts of weed. I went out anyway, despite not having a stripping basket. Unfortunately a series of blunders led to me aggressively picking up for a long backcast not realizing my fly was in one of these weed rafts. Popped just below the first ferrule, ouch. User error so I won’t seek warranty. I avoided the surf after that, I just wasn’t equipped for it. Instead I hit the resort for baby tarpon. I always think of baby tarpon to be 16” long and wild jumpers, and I thought a 9 was overkill. The resort has several ponds on the golf course, most connected by canals. All have tarpon in them and you can fish as long as you’re not impacting golfers. I found plenty of spots where that can be done. It’s tight cover and landing fish, well they’re tarpon. Here’s a shot of one canal;

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This spot is where the canal ended – imagine trying to subdue a 35” tarpon in here;

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I only actually went fishing 3 times, each for maybe an hour and a half. I started out in the one landlocked pond, expecting 3-5 lb fish. On the third cast I saw about well over 32” of silver shoot out of the water and throw the hook, I was shocked! Using a Hoo Fly I tied for stripers I stayed for and hour, jumped 4 tarpon and landed one. Only one fish was under 30” as far as I could tell. This pond was about 200 yards long by 75 – 100 yards wide, so plenty of room to play. Next day I got up early and explored the canals. Instantly hooked into one about 35” in tight cover, which was a blast! I got 3 jumps and it decided to go for the mangroves, and as I was putting as much pressure as possible something suddenly changed and the fish was gone. I tried to recast and it felt like crap, and no wonder;

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Luckily the rod I broke earlier was built on the same blank as this one, so I just grabbed the tip from it and was back in business. I wound up jumping probably 6 more tarpon, no chance of landing them in that dense location but still fun. I then went back to the big pond and quickly hooked into another one. This guy first ran at me, and somehow fit itself between a couple of sunken cables, no idea how it did that, but it didn’t get off and I was able to thread my rod between them and continue the fight. It was a good fight too, tons of jumps, 3 trips into the backing. When I built this rod I embedded a Bahamas dime in it (they have bonefish on them) which I felt was quite stylish. It was much less stylish jammed into my gut trying to keep the fish from getting back to the cables, ouch.

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This is not a great picture but I was trying to get the fish back in the water quickly so I didn’t rinse and pose it. Measured the rod this morning and it was in the 33" range as was the other one I landed. Best fish of the year for me. There is some rubbing on its gill plate and behind it, I think that might have been from going through the cables, but I seemed fine swimming off so hopefully all was good. Called it a day after that.

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We got some torrential rain for a day after that, and when I returned everything was different. I could see plenty of fish rolling but they had no interest in eating. Met one other guy, local fisherman, who said when it rains like that the ponds load up with food and they gorge themselves all night, so lockjaw the next day is common. I was fine with a last day skunk, still got to cast to at least 15 fish. In 3 days I jumped a ton of fish, all pretty decent size, actually better than pretty decent given the size of the waterways. This was a great way to end a fishing season, and I liked injecting money into the local businesses. I'll go back there again for sure, anytime I can get a DIY tarpon trip I'm more than happy. As always the people were great, the rum was fantastic and the fishing – who could complain? Happy New Year guys…!

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Great report sir.   Sounds like you had fun.   Nice.   I spent a week done in that are back in the nineties and had a great time jumping another form of local 'poon. 

 

Looking back I wish I dedicated some time for silver too.

Thanks for sharing.

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8 mins ago, flylikabird said:

Great report sir.   Sounds like you had fun.   Nice.   I spent a week done in that are back in the nineties and had a great time jumping another form of local 'poon. 

 

Looking back I wish I dedicated some time for silver too.

Thanks for sharing.

LOL! Ah youth is wasted on the young eh? 

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We have spent a good bit of our time over on the west coast, near Rincon and Aguadilla, but I have no idea how that fared with the hurricanes. Some of the people my kids volunteered with went over to Vieques, which we also really like - they are still 100% or so dependent on generators. At Palmas there was a lot open and plenty to do, but there were still quite a few places boarded up and under repair and internet was pretty hard to come by (which we saw as a benefit!) Supposedly in the southeast AT&T is the most reliable connection for phones. If I were heading back tomorrow (twist my arm!) I'd probably get an Airbnb in Palmas to use as a home base and head out from there - Luquillo and Farjado are a short ride north, San Juan isn't that far a drive if you wanted to do that scene and I think they are still running some charters out to Culebra. Ponce is also not too far. Patience is required a bit, there is still a massive recovery effort going on, but from what we saw it's not as bad as where we worked on St. Thomas in most places. Our Airbnb had a door to the balcony that no longer closes completely, a little bit of leakage, but we were paying $111 for beachfront. Some of the places we went, like where my kids were working & staying in Yabucoa, might freak some people out if they they're looking for a resort experience, but I tell ya the people took them in, brought them into their homes and to a giant town-wide dance party for Christmas Eve. I'll add that I've done much better with DIY fishing on the east coast from Luquillo through Palmas than I usually do on the west from Guanica to Rincon but maybe that's just luck...

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