There are some things I find very hard to say no to, one is the chance to go explore somewhere new with good mates and having the chance of getting onto some quality fish. So when Andre Rerukura and the boys at Terra Australis productions contacted me about heading down to do a trip with the crew from spearfishing Panama, the answer didn’t take long to come to mind. Soon enough I was putting my other projects at sails and sandals on hold and heading off to the airport. I was all ready in Miami, so pretty close by, but the other boys flew in from Australia and Also L.A, the mission was on.
The timing of the flights was almost perfect and we all met up just outside of customs, most of the boys I had not met before and others I hadn’t seen in quite a while but we all got along like old mates and were all frothing to get in the water. If it hadn’t been for my bag obviously wandering off on its own again and missing the flight, we would have headed straight out and not hung out at the airport for a few extra hours but soon enough we were on our way. A quick rest at a motel and early next morning we were dropped off at the boat for transfer out to the island. Once there we got all our gear squared away and had a chat to Pete, our spearing guide, about what to expect and how the charter would run. He’s dived down here quite a bit and had some great info and filled us in on all we needed to know. The accommodation itself was basic, but comfortable and the food was great from the first to last meal. Was such a great feeling being out there with surf on your doorstep, the anticipation of encountering world-class fish over the next few days and with no one else really around, we were all grinning from ear to ear. Lying in bed that night listening to the sounds of the rocks rolling up and down the bank like a low rumbling thunder and with lightning lighting up the sky in the distance and a warm wind blowing it was the perfect setting for dreams of the sea, fish and of things to come.
The run out to the bank is pretty long, and if the weather was up in the morning it can be a pretty bumpy ride, though some days we were blessed with glassy perfect conditions giving a couple hours to sit, relax and take it in, perfect start to the day. We were greeted first dive of the trip with visibility around the 20M mark, a slow current and thousands of jellyfish, but these faded out once we moved a bit further along the bank. It didn’t take long to start getting glimpses of what we came for, yellow fin tuna. One by one reports surfaced of sightings of good size tuna and about the giant ball of life that was swirling below us. First to show up as we drifted over would be the Rainbow runner, darting in and out snatching pieces of burley. Below them, flashing large silver sides, were hundreds of horse eye jacks and pargo all lazily spinning in a clockwise mass. It was a pretty amazing sight and I can admit to more than once totally forgetting about tuna or even the desire to breathe.
Not long after I heard a gun go off and saw Travis’s float skip off across the water and after a nice little fight we had our first tuna on board, a good fish at around 35 Kg. He had come across a school all around the same size moving lazily at about 20M and picked one off. After a few pictures, a quick bite to eat and more than a couple laughs we were back in the water and dropping down into warm blue water. Sharing guns and diving one up one down for safety, I lay on the surface watching Sean dive below me when he lined something up, backed off for a second and the extend again and took a shot, I got a glimpse as the fish arced upward before diving deep, it was a good fish. Slowly he worked the fish up to the surface, taking in slack on the bungee as I headed back to the boat quickly to get one of the reel guns for a second shot. Dropping down I saw that his shot was pretty good but put another spear in, just to be sure. The fish still had a good bit of fight left in him though and a few hard runs and two bent spears later Sean had him under control and secured. Yellow fin are certainly great looking fish and this one at about 70Kg had large sickle fins that arched back towards its tail and gave an indication as to the speed and power these fish possess.
Days slowly seemed to all blend into one as we headed out early, dived all day and headed home to relax in hammocks and feast on freshly shot tuna. We continued to come across that huge ball of life and would set up to drift by if and would usually encounter tuna either below or off to the sides. Though we did often come across larger ones either swimming solitary or in smaller schools hanging out in the murky water just on the edge of the visibility away from the ball. Sometimes they would be like ghosts that you could just make out at the end of a dive, shapes that would seem to just dissolve into nothing. We continued to dive, taking turns with the guns and the cameras and drifting down towards the mark with everyone on board getting good shots on fish. You never know what your going to see out here, even just on the way home, one day we were joined by a pod of false killer whales and were able to jump in and film for a bit while they swum past checking us out. This, along with humpback whales, countless turtles, manta rays and birds spotted daily make Panama a pretty special place to explore.
Pete landed a good fish one afternoon and we were able to trade with some of the local commercial fishermen for ice and some extra sardines as well as having a chance to check out their boat. Pretty simple set up with a large reel for long lining up front, a large ice chest mid ships and a wheelhouse down the stern, would have been about fifteen to eighteen meters long, all pushed along by a trusty Yamaha 2 stroke outboard, should be then next ad campaign for Yamaha. We also ran into a few other people out spearing the bank and on one day chasing a few big boils of feeding tuna we saw another boat running hard out to meet us and were joined by Dix Roper, who spears and dives a lot down here in Panama, and some of his friends as they sped alongside us as we both tried to get in front of the boiling tuna. Soon after we left them to it and headed out to the bank to try our luck there.
We also came across a few other good fish out there, I unfortunately lost a wahoo around the 20kg and Travis had a black marlin around the 100kg mark swim past and check him out a couple times, and was also able to land an amberjack around 40kg. Its one of those spots where you just never know what your going to see, you just have to be in the water. Perfect example being the last drift of the last day when I was pretty tired and was pretty tempted to sit it out, but decided against it at the last moment. We all jumped in and in the water there was that quiet feeling where it just seems like you and deep blue water, not even a hint of fish. Shortly after we looked up to see a massive bait ball boil on the surface four hundred odd meters away, we all looked at each other and had the same thought, we missed them. I started swimming in that direction anyways and Sean followed with the camera, I had no bait to chum with as the other boys had the bags and did think I may have been swimming off and away from my chances of fish, but something kept me fining ahead just for that little but further. Suddenly there was movement below and the whole school drifted into view just below me at around 12 meters, I breathed up and took my drop slowly closing in on the school. There must have been around thirty or forty fish, all very similar sized and moving slowly past me. Lining one up I placed a good shot and hit mi body in his spine and I knew he wasn’t going too far. In a few minutes he was secured and I had again reaffirmed my belief in trusting those little gut instincts that sometime guide you along the way.
On the run home that afternoon we were treated to the most amazing sunset as it smeared reds, oranges and purples across the sky and patches of rain washed the mountains on the mainland. The water was glassy, temperature around thirty degrees and the pictures we shot show just how stoked we all were to be here and to have had the opportunity to experience this. There are so many beautiful spots on this planet and this is certainly one of them, the surrounding mountains, the deep blue water, the amazing variety of sea life, the feeling of being somewhere remote, all came together and I don’t think that any of this was lost on any of us. Great mates, great fish, great trip.
(photos by Andre Rerukura, Sean Leippman and myself)
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