Sunday, September 18, 2011

Got Wasabi? (A Deep Sea Fishing Adventure in the Marshall Islands)

Published by Action and Fitness Magazine, 2008

It is a day I shall never forget. That fateful day, the sea was as dark as midnight under a mourning sky. The waves were angry and restless, ready to swallow anything that crossed it. It was the day when I conquered the strong creature of the sea. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit. The strong creature was actually just a three feet long mahi-mahi. The weather wasn’t really that dark either, slightly overcast maybe, but writers should be excused for lyrical exaggeration.  This is the reason why we have classics like Moby Dick.

The fish that did not get away.

Although my deep sea fishing adventure is hardly a story of epic proportions, it is still an experience like no other. It’s right up there with scuba diving and dancing with the whirling dervishes (the latter, I have yet to do). Heading out to the Pacific Ocean in a dinghy is an adventure in itself, what with a pack of dolphins following our two-man fishing crew and hundreds of birds hovering low.

Paradise according to Kerry Young.
Surrounded by over 750,000 miles of tropical ocean, the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) in Micronesia is the perfect place for sport fishing. The RMI sits under the pacific sun, north of Nauru and Kiribati. It can only be reached through an island hopper that goes from Manila, to Guam, Pohnpei, Kosrae, Kwajalein and finally to the RMI’s capital, Majuro.  

Made up of 29 low coral atolls, a total of 1,152 islands, the RMI is home to over 1,000 varieties of open-ocean, deep sea and reef fish.  The islands is also an excellent diving destination with clear visibility and an ocean bed that is home to several historically significant dive wrecks from WWII, including the USS Saratoga, the largest diveable wreck and the only diveable aircraft carrier in the world. 

Between May and October are the best times to go fishing when the winds and the sea conditions are most favorable. But that fateful day of April was the perfect day to get some sushi -  fresh ones. Apparently, locals clean their catch, slit them open, slice ‘em, dice ‘em, and gobble ‘em up, without soy sauce or wasabi, right at the marina.

Roi Rats show off their catch.

 I started the day with naive enthusiasm which quickly shifted to sheer fear as soon as the clear friendly waters turned to a menacing dark blue, lapping at our boat’s stern like greedy tongues.  The moment we crossed the pass that led from the lagoon to the open ocean, there was no turning back. A huge bird pile was waiting for us.

A bird pile is a frightening phenomenon to witness: it means sharks are around, and you're part of the food chain.

A bird pile is a phenomenon of hundreds of birds hovering low over the water, preying on a huge mass of fishes below.  Majestic fairy terns and frigate birds would patiently circle the pile, waiting for the right moment to dive in for the kill. These small fishes, thinking strength in numbers, would swim close to the surface and gather in a huge mass against a school of larger fishes preying on them. These big game - blue marlin, sailfish, ahi tuna, ono, mahi-mahi, barracuda, bonefish - abundant in the Marshall Islands – are our target.  The food chain does not end there. Preying on the larger fishes are the sharks.

Roi Namur is a private paradise that only the privileged can enter. (Kerry Young)

Deep sea fishing requires some speed, agility, physical strength, and patience. When I say patience, I don’t mean the ability to wait endlessly for a bite; I mean being patient enough to deal with a volatile fishing mate and a hundred and one things that can go wrong. Fishing the traditional Marshallese way (hand line fishing without the rods), we had a clumsy start as our line, wound in a big wheel, got tangled up. 

Cursing under his breath, my captain tried to loosen the knots. After an eternity of detangling, we attached our lures – custom rigged daisy chains that looked like dancing bulb squids with glittery neon costumes- fastened the lines on the cleats and cast our lines while our boat, a Boston Whaler, idled over choppy waters. It wasn’t the best idea as the carbon line snagged on the boat’s prop and got cut, leaving us to make do with one line left and a $70 lure floating out to the vast ocean. Losing it, my captain screamed out to the open sky, crying out obscenities to any sea creature that would bother to listen. That moment, I was more afraid of him than of the sharks lurking around. Apparently, the right thing to do was to get the boat moving while we cast our lines, so that they don’t get tangled on the prop. Fortunately, our second try was a success.

When the sun sets on Roi Namur (photo by Kerry Young).

Chasing one bird pile after the other, I held on dearly to the only line we had left, while my other hand grasped the boat tightly, afraid I would topple over and be forced off my seat on top of the food chain. 

Before long, I felt a strong tug. My shipmate caught on quick and squawked, “Fish on! Fish on!” Several meters behind the boat, I saw the dolphin fish breaking surface; its  electric green scales gleamed under the sun. 

“Hand over fist! Pull! Don’t let go!” barked the captain as the fish struggled to break free. There was no question that my 95lbs frame was no match against this feisty creature, but I was on my own with my over enthusiastic fishing buddy busy steering the boat away from the perimeter of the bird pile before the sharks caught on and swiped away our catch.

 After several intolerable minutes of pulling while trying to balance myself on the slippery floor, the line burning my skin through the holes of my gloves, I was able to haul the fish in. It didn’t stop fighting as it flopped around the floor, hoping to jump back into the water. It wasn’t named mahi-mahi (“strong-strong” in Hawaiian) for nothing. When we were finally able to hold it down with our hands and feet, it stared back at us with marble eyes, bulging with stubborn willfulness. It shook and struggled under our hands with the frown of a survivor, of one that would fight to the finish. 

Can't we just relax and have a mojito instead? (Kerry Young)

That day, we went home with two dolphin fish still fighting it out in our cooler of ice. We would have gone home with three big game but the second one, an ahi tuna, was swiped away by a shark. Serious anglers would often come home with huge pacific blue marlins, yellow fin tuna, onos, and barracudas.

Come take a ride with me.

 There was a record tournament of 719 lbs of one mean marlin. Someone once caught a 161 pound of tuna, and the biggest mahi-mahi caught on record in the islands is about 44 lbs. My prized catch was only around 20lbs. Not bad at all, I think,  for a cowardly beginner who only had one fishing line to work with and an angry captain as a mentor. It’s nice to know there’s a possible career waiting out there for me in the Pacific Ocean just in case this writing thing doesn’t pan out.


Wow! what an adventure! an exciting read pa. idol talaga! Dapat, sky diving next! Or scuba diving!

Your captions never cease to amaze me! =) Take me fishing one day, right after you teach me how to swim (just in case) :P

Thanks for another great photo essay! It was a pleasure to read and view. When I look at the island..

Christmas Island: Thanks for traveling with me! We love the Pacific Islands! And Kiribati! Have you read The Sex Lives of Cannibals? Hope Christmas in your Island will be merry :)

Cheriecity: captions lang???

Perry Ellis: Will definitely post my scuba diving article soooon!

Nice place to hang out in Dubai. enjoy the trip to fishing in Dubai with your friends and family.

Fishing is absolutely entertaining and a fun loving sport.

Ketchikan Alaska Fishing

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