carpe rouge, aka cubera snapper

Sunday, December 16

A rising tide in the last hour of evening light proved irresistable and I found myself driving out to Terminal beach for an hour of fishing.  The sun was a beautiful pumpkin-orange poking in and out of the clouded horizon.  Not a soul in sight.  The powerful spring tide was ferocious, throwing buckets of salt-spray through the jetty pilings, pounding the trunks of dislodged rainforest trees into eroded sandbanks, and exploding against the laterite boulders supporting Terminal road.  Impossible conditions, I thought as I watched for signs of life in the churning surf several meters below roadway.  All was looking hopeless, until suddenly, from the top of breaking surf, my eye caught an enormous barracuda rocket vertically above a thunder of collapsing wave, like a missile launched from the sea.  The stiletto 1.5-plus meter fish appeared to stall motionless at the apex of its leap, rendered even more surreal in contrast to the deafening roar of charging surf below.  Mottled ocean-blue and amber flanks reflected the rosy hues of evening clouds, the oversize bucket head agape with glistening white, needle-like fangs, a golf-ball eye wide in awe of its momentary glimpse of earth, or more likely searching for its next victim.  Too much to resist.  There must be a way to drop a popper down into the troughs between the breaking surf, and I return to car to assemble tackle.

From my perch above the boiling sea, I am immediately blasted by a rogue wave that sends a bathtub full of saltwater down on my head, knocking me sideways several paces.  Waiting for the sea to clear from my face, I spot a platter of calm water forty meters out and send my popper in the general direction.  The game is on.  With luck, I can draw the popper across the trough as it flows to beach, at the last minute plucking it from the waves before the sea is reduced to a blender-mix of white froth and sand.  After several minutes, I begin to sense a rhythm to the sea, where every 90 seconds I brace for a demolishing pair of wave crests that leave me knocked about and dripping, then a relatively calm sea for a minute before the crescendo builds to another blast of dousing surf.  The fish are moving about in a feeding frenzy.  Schools of bait-fish skitter above the turmoil of waves, followed by the glinting disturbance of predatory fish careening below.

Tony shows up on the beach, having just delivered family to Gamba airport for their holiday flight to Holland.  Tony leaves later in the week, and thought he would relax with a book in the beach sunset before the start of his workweek.  To his surprise, he has a front-row seat to a spectacular showing of high tide, complete with spinning tree trunks, the thunder of a restless sea, and fish leaping from the waves.  Tony didn’t spend much time reading.

a carpe rouge, or cubera snapper, at high tide, shortly before sunset, caught on a popper.

There is a degree of unpredictability as the sea meets land, and I’m not always so lucky with my retrieve. Several waves erupt to engulf my popper, sending it crashing among the laterite boulder rip-rap.  I hook a rock on one occasion, a piece of netting on another, and have to plan my recovery to avoid the thundering swells that could surely become problematic.

Back on my perch, I’m teasing a slow retrieve down the front of a developing wave curl when the popper explodes before an enormous gaping mouth, the silvery-white sides of some behemoth capitaine or sea bass, not sure which, writhes out of the sea in murderous pursuit of popper, falling short as the wave crest collapses and plows into the laterite embankment.  Fueling my adrenaline, I scan the sea for the next platter of calm and shoot popper to the far edge, setting into a jerk and splash retrieve to mimic the retreat of a wounded fish.  Shortly into my retrieve, a boil sucks popper under and line zings from reel as a fish heads for the bottom.  Just as suddenly, all movement stops and I fear line has become wrapped around a boulder or sunken tree limb.  Pulling slowly, carefully, I begin lifting a dead-weight, then the struggle begins anew, fresh line strips from reel, and  I adjust tension to balance the fight.  As the fish heads for deep sea, I make way up the beach, keeping line taut as I negotiate beached tree trunks to a clear expanse of sand, gaining room for a landing.  Not fighting like a carangue, it tires in a few minutes and I have it in the shallows within five, backing and pulling as the surf breaks until it slips out of a retreating wave.  It is a carpe rouge, about 7 kilos.  According to Jim Hansford, resident fishing authority here in Gamba, this is the same as cubera snapper, Lutjanus cyanopterus.

Tony helps me secure the fish, records a picture, and I am back to my perch, but the sea is changing.  It is perhaps past the top of the tide, and white foam is now backing out to sea from the coastal scrum, making it difficult to see my popper.  Besides, the sun has set and chances of losing my popper to a boulder or limb increase greatly.  Time to wrap up and head home.

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