Carpe Rouge, Mike’s Bay, Atlantic Ocean

Heavy rains the previous day and night have been filling the lagoons along the coast to capacity, and several breakthroughs have spilled the coffee-colored waters out to sea.  The nutrient-rich waters, along with the fish nurseries, turtles, and the occasional crocodile have flushed to sea, sculpting deep pockets of the amber waters along the coast upstream from each breakthrough.

Today was turning into a brilliant day.  Blue skies speckled with white clouds lie before me as I motor along the laterite track, heading for Mike’s Bay with the intention of placing a camera trap at a location discovered last week with Dave Chippendale, whose car was gratefully borrowed to me during Dave and Ruth’s adventure in Ethiopia.  Turning onto the sand track, I engaged the 4WD for traction in the rutted and partly submerged trail across the savanna.  Several kilometers ahead I could see the strip of coastal forest and was soon presented with three sand tracks from which to choose.  Not quite remembering the turn at this point, I chose the middle track which eventually brought me to Jardin des Elephants, a beautiful patch of palm forest diffusing the harsh sun and tempering the breezes from the sea.  Understandable why many of our neighbors spend weekends camping at this secluded location.  A quick walk to the beach to get my bearings: Point Pedras shimmered on the coastline two kilometers down the coast, and Mikes Bay trailhead maybe a kilometer up.

Aubry’s softshell turtle plods along the beach after being flushed out of a lagoon in a breakthrough.

A breakthrough was in progress a few hundred meters this side of Point Pedras, piquing my curiosity for a closer look.  Remembering the option of a third track, I returned to vehicle and entered the coastal forest between Jardin des Elephants and Point Pedras, another beautiful access to beach about 500 meters from the breakthrough.

12 kilos of Carpe Rouge from Mike’s Bay, along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean

There was a smell of methane in the air.  Probably the lagoon waters, thick with leaves and other decaying vegetation churning at thousands of gallons per minute into the sea, were releasing the vapors into the ocean breeze.  I cast a popper into the frothing rapids, but this was hopeless as it traveled too quickly for any fish to recognize.  The pools in the ocean upstream were a much better proposition and I found a constricted underwater pass where I could throw a baited hook with lead-weight across the pool to the sea-side, hoping to entice fish patrolling the edges of the pools.  As it was midday and hot, I didn’t have much hope of action.  I was watching a softshell turtle trudging lazily along the surf when I noticed my line moving with the prevailing current.  Thinking I had hooked into a rolling sunken log, I began retrieving line, then saw the line reverse direction.  With no tension on the line, this mystery left me puzzled.  Deciding to reel in my bait and try again, I continued my retrieve, finally connecting with a surprise tug on the line, then nothing.  Evidently, the fish was approaching into the deep water pool just out from the beach, requiring that I reel in quickly to take in the slack as it approached.  Finally the fish realized there was a problem and began running back out to sea, stripping off 30 meters of line at a run.  This it did four, maybe five times, as I cranked the fish into the surf between runs, only to have it bolt again when it reached sand.  After 15 minutes of back and forth struggles, the fish was finally close enough to the beach that I could pull it into a breaking wave, and as the wave receded, the fish was left in the sand.  It was an enormous carpe rouge, a beautiful orange and green predator fish usually found lurking in the darkwater brackish pools along the coast.  Weighing in at more than 12 kilos, it was indeed large but will grow much larger.  It was an ordeal to schlep this fish back to the car, and I decided to place the camera trap another day, when I didn’t have a cargo of fresh fish.

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