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The Fish
Day 2 in Nicaragua

I was awake when the rest of my party got to moving around. I had sat huddled in my room with no electricity, shrouded in darkness and the sounds of the jungle. Many thoughts raced through my head. The dreams of the night still had me in a cold sweat. My gear was ready and I was only waiting for the rise of the sun to step outside. Luckily, the sun rises early in the jungles of Central America.

We ate breakfast and Peter questioned my strange attitude that morning. I told him of the dreams that I had experienced and he only gave me a serious look and said something about the spirits there. The sound of a boat motor pulling up to the dock outside brought a quick end to the conversation and to breakfast. We stepped outside and an old friend of Peter’s made his appearance.

Bert Bookout is a little old man who holds one of the peacock bass records. He took one look at me and decided that I was to fish with him that day. I gave Peter a questioning look, he looked back at me with a look that said, “Go ahead, it is ok.” That is how it came to be that I ended up fishing with Bert and his guide Jaime for three days on the waters of Nicaragua. I loaded my gear into the much smaller and more basic boat that Bert was in and off we went.

First order of business was checking in with the military outpost. They want to know where we were going and when we thought we would be back. I thought it a great idea, actually. It was somehow comforting to me. We continued north along the Rio Indio, past the village of the Ramas and further on until we came to a small opening in the bank. We turned and went into it. This was to be the first of many trips down Fish Creek.

As we rounded one corner and went down one stretch of it that ran east and west, the sun was just above the treeline. For some reason, on this stretch and this stretch alone, the creek took on an eerie glow as the orange sunlight of dawn caught the mist that rose in only this section. It was beautiful. The sounds of the birds and other animals in the trees around us resonated through the glowing mist and gave the whole experience an ethereal mood.

Bertie and I went much further into the creek than Peter took Dave. We fished all day at the end we chose and never saw another boat. We had agreed to meet up at noon for a lunch. It would be that long before we saw them again. We had some fishing to do. I had some learning to do.

We started out with small poppers. The fish eagerly took the topwater offerings early in the morning. I had much to learn about catching them, though. The Mojarra are giant bluegills, cursed or blessed as you may see it with an attitude. Their colors are splendid and they fight like bulldogs. They do not get much over two pounds, but one does not go in with anything less than 12 lb tippet and expect to land one. They dwell under logs, under the cover of the hammock and under the other deadfall that lines the banks of the creek. They react to a topwater fly in a way that I had never before seen.

The most effective way to work the poppers is to first be able to cast a tight enough loop that it is able to make it through very small openings in the overhanging hammock and beneath it. Once it lands upon the water, a very small twitch is all that is needed most times. Sometimes a nice loud pop does the trick. Either way, when the Mojarra rises to the fly, it tests you. It sits beneath the fly for a very long time, as if studying it, wondering what it is and if it is worthy of being eaten. The reflex of the angler is to move it again. I know. I did that several times and succeeded only in spooking the fish away from it. The correct thing to do, as I learned after many failed attempts is to just wait. The mojarra will do one of two things. It will rise and slam the fly and take it or it will abort the mission. If the mojarra takes the fly, that is when the next battle begins. The first thing it will do is head for the logs and other cover in the water. It is like fighting a much larger fish. I used a 5 wt and my 12-lb tippet often failed me. The rod was fine, it was the tippet that could not handle the fish.

We landed several of those fish, from small to very large. I landed many of the larger ones. The whole time, Jaime did not say one word, but he kept us always at the proper distance from the treeline so that our casts were easy. I was lucky in that Bertie and I are compatible fishing partners. We stood side by side the whole day and matched each other cast for cast, never tangling our lines though we often laid down our lines only inches from each other. We both are distance casters, and find it difficult to make very close in casts. We both cast fairly well.

Machaca came next. They can get very large, though the ones we caught were usually less than 20 inches long. They are a mix between a mullet and a piranha. They look like a mullet in their own little way and yet have a set of teeth like the piranha. They are in fact a distant relative of the piranha and they DO bite. They also fight well although they are not as infamous for heading for the cover as the other fish that live there are.

Along with the mojarra and machaca, I caught several small viejitos. They are smaller panfish like fish that are brown and black and gold and are really a beautiful fish. They do not fight as well as the other fish there, but are eager to take a fly. If you catch one of them, it is likely that if you cast back into the same spot, you will be able to pull several more out of there. Also caught was one large tuba. It was indeed the epitome of a bluegill on steroids. It even had the markings and colors of the bluegills I was used to seeing in FL, only three times the size and twice as mean.

The other fish that I caught several of was the guapote. It is the rainbow bass. There are two or three kinds of guapote, including the guapote pinto, which has less coloration and does not grow to the same sizes as its cousin the guapote. The rainbow bass can grow to about 15 pounds, sometimes bigger. They fight like crazy and they too head straight for the cover. For the small guapote, 12 lb tippet is sufficient, but for the big boys that swim there, if you do not have 40 lb tippet at the end of your line, you may as well hang it up and forget about it. I was broken off by a mid-sized guapote using 30-lb tippet. They will literally wrap your line around logs and keep going. They are the toughest freshwater fish I have ever fished for. I have never known anything like them before.

Their colors are absolutely marvelous. They have a few teeth in the front of their mouth and the large guapote are loners. I caught most of the large guapote later in the day using a shrimp pattern fished slowly near logs and right up on the bank. I lost most of the large guapote in the same places. Near midday my line was beginning to show signs of wear and tear. Several times a day I had to take a break and clean and dress my line. Tippets were checked after every fish and changed so often that I must have gone through a hundred feet of leader material. Flies were checked, changed and heads shaken over them as hook after hook was straightened out. It was amazing. I would never look at panfishing the same way again. I was a changed woman.

At lunchtime we went down the creek and found Peter and Dave just in time for the short rainsquall that fell upon our heads. We headed to a place along the bank where two boats could slide in and tied up for lunch, naps and story telling. Peter tells the best stories. If we believed him, he caught a Mojarra that ran 12 lbs. Jaime had still not said a word all day. Bertie had talked much about the place, the fishing and he had taught me much. I still had a lot more to learn.

Around 2 pm we headed back out to fish some more. The fishing in the middle of the day is unbelievably slow. It is also unbelievably hot. It is not as humid as many would think it to be. FL is more humid. The sun though will burn a body quickly. The breeze that blows through there often becoming a stout wind to cast against somehow manages to keep it cooled off, so that you do not realize how much sun you are getting.

We did manage to catch several more fish as dusk set in. Just like panfishing in the waters of FL, the best times to do so are mornings and evenings. By the time the sun started to sink low enough for us to be making our way quickly out of there, I was exhausted and ready to go. We began to make our way out of there. The phenomenon of the morning somehow repeated itself on the one stretch, only this time the sun was just above the treeline in the west. It was a great way to end the day.

After checking back in at the military post, it was back to the hotel. Bertie dropped me off and we promised to come visit him on the Rain Goddess after dinner. Dinner for us consisted of rice and beans, chicken and iguana. It was not bad at all. It was not to be the strangest thing I would eat on this trip. Showers were taken after dinner, and the fact that we had no hot water there did not phase me in the least. The cool water coming out of the showerhead was extremely refreshing after a long hard hot day in the tropics.

Once we were all settled down and relaxed, we loaded into the boat and made our way through the river and lagoons by the light of the moon to where the Rain Goddess was anchored. It is a large houseboat. It is a five star mobile fishing lodge complete with gourmet chef. The people who were aboard that week were as diverse as the wildlife that surrounded us. A group from Eagle Claw was there to film the fishing and the area. I will withhold my opinions of those people. There were two ordinary average guys from NJ who were there for some flyfishing. There was a guy from Texas who runs a safari hunting lodge. And then there was Bertie, who is one of the partners in the Rain Goddess.

We sat at the back of the boat under the awning around a table and drank and smoked cigars and talked about the fishing. Friends were made, lines were drawn and stories told. The rich history of the place absolutely astounded me. It was hard to imagine that we were anchored just a hundred or so yards from where the original canal was to be built before it was moved to Panama. The sunken dredge shone in the light of the moon as proof. A graveyard nearby had headstones with only English names on it, and were riddled with bullet holes not by anyone one but by those whose people were buried there. Bloody wars had been fought right where we were sitting. Pirates would come into that lagoon and count their booties. I was fascinated. I had never imagined any of those things.

Finally we left and returned to the hotel. By the light of the moon we made our way to our rooms and fell into our own little slumbers. The dreams would come again that night and haunt my soul like it have never been haunted before. I would wake up later that night in a cold sweat, tears streaming down my face and a scream still on my lips. Again I would not sleep that night, but would wait for the rise of the sun to comfort me, warm my body and soul and get me out of the bed that was too like a prison now at night. I sat alone and listened to the voices in the jungles. I wondered if they were real or not. I prayed for the sun to rise.