Several months ago we were invited to visit Puerto Rico by Captain Omar Orraca of Caribbean Outfitters and the Tarpon Nest Lodge. I had many conversations with Omar about the best time to come for our target species of Tarpon and hopefully some offshore fishing as well.
I was very pleased to have my wife Allene along on this trip, she has wanted to visit Puerto Rico for some time, and my good fishing buddy Jeff Birdsnest Herman. Because of the twelve hours of travel involved with getting to PR from San Diego my wife and I decided to arrive a day early so that I could have a full day to get the kayaks and fishing gear all rigged up in a more leisurely pace. Though only ten minutes from the airport, finding the Tarpon Nest at 10:30 pm was not easy, the directions on Google maps were vague to say the least, add in the rain and the ever fogged windshield of the rental car and we had a challenge.
Arriving at the lodge at 11:30 at night we were greeted by Nick, Omars deck hand, who grabbed an arm load of gear and showed us to our room. The room was spacious and very nicely decorated, and even had rod/paddle holders on the wall.
The Tarpon Nest lodge is located just outside San Juan and as mentioned is only ten minutes from the airport, once you know where you are going. A short walk through the neighborhood brings you to a small town with anything from street food to nice restaurants. The Lodge has a private dock and you can be fishing within minutes of pulling away. They also have a large fleet of kayaks for anyone that visits.
The kayaks arrived nicely packaged and in great shape, one of the many great things about the Jackson Kayaks is that they arrive ready to fish, no real rigging is required other than some personal touches and a lot of stickers.
Though we had planned this trip around the perfect tides to make for the best fishing, what we couldn’t plan on was an algae bloom occurring just before we arrived which had killed off much of the bait in the area. Though we worked our tails off we had a long tough week of fishing. We saw lots of fish but they always seemed to be on the move with a major case of lock jaw. Our backup plan to fish offshore was also thwarted by strong winds and a swell that wouldn’t allowed boats out of the harbor.
Getting a bit frustrated with the lack of bites, Jeff and I downsized our gear and had some fun with the plentiful though mostly small Snook. I was also able to add a couple new fish to my species list which now sits at 118.
By the fourth day of fishing you could say frustrations were HIGH as we had still not had a single bite from our target species. We tried everything, live bait, dead bait and all variety of lures, it just was not happening for us. We were all getting pretty upset as we knew we only had two days left to shoot and at this point still didn’t have enough footage for an episode. You might say tempers were very near the surface for all of us just from the stress of it. Omar is so confident in his fishery that he has a guarantee of fish so this many days without a bite has him on edge along with the rest of us, which never really helps you fish better. Thankfully things were about the change.
Omar left us fishing in an area and ran around in his boat trying to scout out some fish. He gave us a shout that an area looked promising and we headed over to give it a shot. Of course we got there and it looked like the dead sea which made for a rather comical emotional outburst. I think the fish heard our desperation and decided to give us a little taste of what was there. We had picked up a few live baits and decided to troll them around the bay, I was the first one hit but that is all it was a hit and miss that stole my bait. I then put on another very large mullet that I got to watch the Tarpon kick the crap out of but never eat, but at least we were finally on fish that were being active. A few minutes later I look across the bay and see Jeff getting towed across the water with a leaping Tarpon off his bow. Unfortunately our luck was staying about the same as his fish also came unbuttoned. Not long after this the skies opened up on us and we were in a torrential downpour. We decided it was a good time to go in for lunch.
At least we had finally had a few bites and were fired up to get back on the water for an evening session. We saw a lot more fish rolling this afternoon but again they seemed to be lock jawed. Omar decided that our best bet was to fish the dead bait, which meant anchoring up in position and waiting for a bite, not something I am very good at. With one hour left our patience paid off, at least for Jeff any way. He hooked up and this time it stuck and he was off to the races.
The last day of the trip started much like the rest, up at 5:30 and on the water by 6:00. We went to the same spot that Jeff caught his fish the day before and set up with anchors and dead bait. The camera boat also had lines in the water and as fate would have it, they get a double hookup. ARE YOU FN KIDDING ME, I am only about a hundred feet away from them and they have to get a double and I am still waiting for my first hookup of the trip. I just sat in my kayak and enjoyed watching Omar fight the big fish, refusing the offer of the rod. I just can’t take a hand off fish. The fish did make some great jumps and I am sure the guys got some wonderful video of it. Both fish eventually came unhooked.
Although at this point I have not landed a fish and my frustration level is through the roof I try to just relax and if nothing else enjoy the awesome scenery. I mean it is not every day I get to paddle in the mangroves, see manatees, huge iguanas, and amazing bird life.
With the standard afternoon rain coming through it was time to head in for the always delicious lunch made by Jorge back at the Tarpon Nest.
Back on the water for our last session of the trip and I must admit my hopes were as low as can be. I just had the feeling that this was just not my trip. We worked a couple areas with no luck and still not a bit for me. With maybe an hour left to fish, Jeff paddled over to me and we just sat side by side soaking our baits and chatted about the trip and how the clock was winding down and it just wasn’t going to happen for me this time. We talked about what a great place this is and we have to come back for redemption because we know the fish are there. We talked about how nice the Tarpon nest and how nice our host Omar II at the hotel has been. We talked about how hard Omar and Nick had worked all week to get us on fish and it just wasn’t meant to be this time but that we had made new lifelong friends. And we talked about all the bugs that were starting to eat us alive as the sun was starting to go down and perhaps it was time to pull the plug.
And that is when it happened. My line started to peel off my reel at blazing speed. I tossed the reel in gear and the rod loaded up.
Now I have caught thousands of fish in my life and plenty of big ones but this one seriously had me shaking. I was so excited, relieved, amazed and scared to death it would come off. Of course I get the only tarpon that doesn’t do a single jump so not so good for the video or still shots but it also gave me a better chance of landing the fish. I did get another scare when the fish headed right for a manatee buoy and threaten to wrap me around it. Once I had the fish close I was setting up to land it I also had to deal with the hook in the middle of the lower jaw, right where I would need to grab it. Even with these problems I was able to solo land the fish and get the monkey off my back. A fish that because we had to work so hard for it will make an even better memory.
Our last night celebration was so much better because of that fish. A tough trip was made so much better by the great group we had with us. Huge thanks to Omar at Caribbean Outfitters for setting it all up and being such a great guide and working so hard.
Our crew, including my wife Allene, Will Richardson, Kelsey Thompson and Jeff Herman worked our tails off and did our best to stay positive and have fun on a tough trip. Thanks Nick for all your work on the boat and thanks to OmarII the manager of the Tarpon nest for being such a great host at the hotel.