fishing for dinner

It was Sunday, late afternoon, and I had just arrived at the Terminal jetty when Andrew and Kate Benc pulled up and whisked me away to the breakthrough at Berito hut.  It is a long, sandy, rutted track out to Berito hut, about four kilometers, and not something I would tackle on my bike. So, of course I jumped at the offer.  We arrived around 5pm, 90 minutes before sunset, and were fishing on the high tide.  Water was still flushing into the lagoon, creating turbulence where lagoon meets channel.

Beginning at the sea waters, I worked my way along the 100 meter channel to the lagoon, skipping a popper across the channel as I went.  By the time I reached lagoon, the water had begun to change course in a turning tide, exiting the lagoon on the far side of the channel and entering the lagoon at my feet.  The line where the tannin-stained brackish water collided with the bright, clear sea water was well defined, and I was seeing the boils of fish activity following my popper as I pulled through the division of current.  It wasn’t long before I hooked into a three kilo rouge, running first toward the sea, then turning to run with the incoming tide, heading back toward lagoon.  As I landed this rouge, I tried to flag Andy and Kate, who were fishing several hundred meters away in the surf.  Instead, I caught the attention of several local Gabonese fishermen gathered in a bivouac shelter nearby.  Suddenly I had an audience as I hooked into another 4 kilo rouge, landing this one as the sun dropped behind the sea.  Gathering my fish, I returned to Andy’s car, delivering a fish to the Gabonese party along the way, as it appeared they were unsuccessful in scoring their dinner.

A four kilo rouge from the channel at Terminal jetty, Monday afternoon, high tide.

Earlier in the week, Joe and Hermione had graciously volunteered use of their propane grill for the next fish I was willing to share, so arrangements were made for a grilled fish dinner Monday evening, following a decent soak in Phil Lawry’s simple marinade recipe of olive oil and salt.  As dinner invitations go here in Yenzi, by Monday afternoon the reservation had grown to a fiesta, in Hermione’s words, with Phil and Angie Lawry, and Andrew and Mary Baker joining the Harrison’s table for a lively evening.

Now, I thought, one fish might not be enough for eight of us, so Monday afternoon I paid a visit to the Terminal jetty to attempt another catch for dinner that evening.

The incoming tide was rolling enormous billows of transparent sea water into the channel when I arrived.  The slosh and spray of the sea made fishing with a popper not such a good plan, so I consulted my ice cream box for an alternative, and on top of the jumble of lures, a rapala, previously untried, volunteered duty.

17 centimeters long, or 21 on retrieve with the third treble trailing, the light blue and white body shimmies through the water, practically vibrates as I retrieve into the current.  This rapala is outfitted with a heavier set of hooks than another, articulated rapala I had used in the past, one in which my last strike resulted in a straightened hook and fish headed for Brazil.

I was trying this new rapala for the first time on Monday.  My third cast completed, I was lifting the lure from the channel when a rouge leapt from the water’s surface at my feet, grabbing the rapala and running for a minute before I landed it.  This was encouraging, though at less than two kilos, I released it back to fight another day.  Shortly after, three casts again if I remember correctly, a powerful strike zinged the line from spool, cutting across the channel before trying for a break to the sea.  The current from the sea was substantial at this point, and the fish soon tired and turned back, passing my perch to surface among the laterite boulders twenty meters down channel, thrashing among the rocks until I could scramble close enough to lift it from the shallows.  At four-plus kilos, we now had plenty of fish for dinner.

I like to end my fishing with a few clean casts, so I sent the lure back in for a good wash in the saltwater, but managed to hook a laterite boulder in the middle of the channel.  As the high tide was now turning back to sea, wading in was not a good idea.  In the ensuing struggle, I managed to break the line.  I considered returning at low tide, but I could plainly see the rapala, and would likely lose it in the meantime, to another fisherman, or have it work loose and float away.  I found a stick nearby, thinking I could twist leader around the stick or hook it loose.  I finally  managed to free it only to watch as it floated in the turning tide back out to sea.  Hmmm.  I usually have an audience at Terminal jetty, and  today was no different, so I called to a bus driver on break to come over and watch to where my lure was drifting.  Running back to my ice cream box, I hastily tied on a popper, forcing myself to tie a good palomar knot should I attract another fish, then returned to find the lure out at 30 meters and drifting.  I managed to rake the rapala on my first cast, my second cast was off mark, but my third connected the hooks and so was able to pull in both lures.

A perfect dinner that evening, roasted broccoli with green beans, rice, some of the freshest grilled fish available, and not one, but two desserts: trifle, a dessert made from thick custard, fruit, sponge cake, whipped cream; and pavlova, an Australian pudding of meringue, raspberries, and more whipped cream.  A perfect dinner with perfect company.

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