Tarpon from kayak

Puerto Rico; Take Two

A tarpon finally landed after six full days of fishing on our first trip to PR.

Over the years we have done return trips to some locations where we had our best fishing, pretty easy decision really, great fishing means great shows.
Recently we did a return trip to a destination that was one of our toughest shoots to date, Puerto Rico. We fished hard for six full days on that trip and I finally managed to get a fish with only one hour left in the shoot. I think this was one of the most stressful trips we had ever done.

So why return, why go back to a place that caused us so much tension that more than one of us on the trip had a melt down? The answer is pretty simple really, though that trip was brutal we saw the potential in the location and we believed in our guide Omar Oracca from Caribbean outfitters. He swore to us this trip was an anomaly, just a fluke, caused by a plankton bloom in the estuary. He swore that if we were willing to return we would see what Puerto Rico was really like. Besides being a great guy to hang out and fish with, his passion for his fishery convinced us that we had to give PR a second chance.

Even if the fishing is slow, the area around the Tarpon Nest lodge, where we stayed on this tip, is beautiful and a great place to go paddling.
Even if the fishing is slow, the area around the Tarpon Nest lodge, where we stayed on this tip, is beautiful and a great place to go paddling.
And you never know who may be watching you while out on the water

Joining me on our return trip to Puerto Rico were Luther Cifers from Yakattack kayak accessories and Joe Pulliam from Jackson kayak.

For the trip we sent down three Jackson Kayaks, a Cuda 14, Big Rig and my new signature boat the Kraken. I had several personal goals on this trip, first of course was to do better than we did last time, next was to get a tarpon from the Kraken and lastly to get a tarpon while standing up in the Big Rig. I also really was excited at the opportunity to help Joe and Luther get their first tarpon from a kayak. I am very happy to say all of these goals were accomplished and so much more.

From day one of this trip we were getting more action than all of the last trip. There was a bit of learning curve the first day as most of the tarpon we were getting hits from were pretty small and we kept pulling hooks or just plain missing the bites. The tarpon would be flying out of the water throwing the hook before we even knew they were hitting us.

On day two we started connecting with some of these smaller fish.

Joe hooked up to his first tarpon and The first tarpon from a Kraken

I think he is pretty happy about it.

Getting the monkey off my back with my first Tarpon of the trip, showing the fish a little love

Luther with one of the many fish he got on the trip, getting started with the small guys.

The fishing continued to get better as the days progressed and the fish kept getting bigger.
We caught a lot of tarpon on the trip from four pounds to over one hundred pounds.

To say Omar lived up to his word would be an understatement, he worked hard every day to get us on fish and was a blast to fish with. Always positive and full of energy and passion for fishing. I can’t thank Omar and his lovely bride to be Elvia enough for making our crew feel at home in PR.

Fishing trips are about so much more than the fishing, but good fishing certainly helps. Even with bad fishing I am sure this would have been a great trip. I can’t recall the last time I laughed so much on a trip. Thanks Luther and Joe for being our guests this trip and Will and Kelsey for always getting the shots.

my big fish from the trip, pushing 100 pounds, caught as the sun was setting

My partners in crime on this trip, Joe, (top) and Luther

Cruising the streets of Old San Juan

All of us teaming up on the last fish of the trip, a big one that taped out to 103 pounds.

Our final fish of the trip.

Our final fish of the trip.

The end of an awesome trip

The end of an awesome trip

Thanks again to Omar and Elvia for being our AWESOME hosts.

Thanks again to Omar and Elvia for being our AWESOME hosts.

Thanks Will and Kelsey for always working hard to get the shots.

Kayak Fishing at The Tarpon Nest

Team Work

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.

Rooms compete with Paddle holders

Rooms compete with Paddle holders

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 Tarpon Nest Lodge PR

Gateway to the mangroves

Our spot for nightly libations or a place to wait out a storm

Some of the local delicious street food.

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.

Just like Christmas, just need to be unwrapped

All Stickered up just before the rain storm

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.

Jeff and Snooky

Me with a tiny snook but new species for me a sword spine

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.

Jeff on his short sleigh ride, hard to believe 10 minutes later it was pouring with rain.

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.

Jeff headed across the bay with, if you could see his face, a big grin.

At least I got to help Jeff land his fish

Finally we have one on the board, you think Jeff is happy.

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.

A great shot that Allene got of Omar’s’ fish.

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 my lack of fish we started naming new shows that might work better for us. The Bird watching show with Jim Sammons

The Iguana hunting show with Jim Sammons

The MANNN A TEEEEEE calling show with Jim Sammons

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.

Jeff and the always smiling Jorge

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.

My fish after I redirected away from the manatee buoy

Never jumped but gave me several showers

Working around that hook

Elation and Exhaustion!!! Five, ten to twelve hour, days to get this fish

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.

Last night Celebration. Left to right. Jim S, Allene S., Elvia, Omar Orraca, Jeff H., Will R, Kelsey T.

Omar at the Bar

Nick Cleaning up the gear

Captain Omar and Jim cooling down and getting some laughs at the pool