April 6, 2008 - Location: Panama City, Panama
Hola amigos! Greetings from Panama, home of the famous Tropic Star Lodge and the Canal.
My apologizes for the delay in reporting on my recent activities. I really have no excuse this time. Perhaps I need to face the fact that I am a crappy blogger. The good news is that I have a lot to report! And I got a haircut! So without delay.........
As you may recall, I was in Salinas to do some marlin fishing. Again, I had the honor of hosting my partner in fishing crime, Leif Milling. Leif traveled all the way from Sweden on 2 weeks notice to participate in the madness that is fly fishing for marlin. And we weren't looking for just any marlin; we were looking for something in excess of 300 pounds. I am pretty sure a fight with a fish this big would hurt me a lot more than it hurts the fish.
I had arranged a trip through the ever helpful Luis Gomez at www.bluemarlinmanta.com. Although blue water fly fishing has yet to take off in this part of the world (and I don't blame them!), the crew of the "La Choca" was ready to tackle whatever we could find. The problem was...... we didn't find much. In the four days, we had two legitimate shots at big black marlin. The first shot we had was with a 400 pounder. Everything was working perfectly...... the marlin came up to the lure, the marlin chased the teaser, the fly was presented, the marlin disappeared. It would have been preferable if the marlin had attacked the fly with such abandon that it hooked itself and then promptly fainted. Perhaps next time?
The next time came around and was even more promising! Another 400 lber. took the fly, turned and began speeding away. I grabbed the line, which at this point was being extracted from the reel at about 30 mph, and gave it a forceful tug. Unfortunately, the big fella had already spit the fly. The line came slack and my spirits were crushed. So close!!!!!!
We did manage to land a couple dorado which were converted into tasty lunches for us the following day. I'd like to thank Luis Gomez for lining up the fishing. According to the locals, the fishing for billfish peaks in September. Perhaps I will return for another try.
I would also like to thank Leif Milling (www.leifmilling.se) for joining my exploits. Although we failed to land the big one, having someone around to blame the "bad fishing mojo" on was invaluable. However, Leif accurately pointed out that only consistency in my poor fishing results is its consistency. It is good to surround yourself with honest friends, right?
Upon arriving in Panama City, my first order of business was to clear the LandCruiser through customs. The process is always a joy. This time things were complicated by a little holiday known as Good Friday. Good Friday is a pretty big deal in Panama. Since it was a Thursday, I figured I would just squeak in before the whole town packed up and left. I took a cab down to the main customs office to find that it was closed. The strange part was that the employees were actually IN the office, but they were not open for business. This struck me as odd...... why come into the office if it isn't actually open? Is it possible that they just didn't want to work on the day before an extra long weekend???? Noooooooooo....... of course not! They looked at my paper through the locked gate, shook their heads and told me to come back on Monday. To complicate matters considerably, there were no sales of beer for the entire weekend. Huh?? I really don't see the conflict between religion and beer.
Okay, so back to customs..... Bright and early on Monday morning I was sitting in the lobby of the customs office. It was supposed to open at 8am, but due to the long weekend it was 8:30 this time. When the "vehicular permits" window opened I was right there with a big smile on my face. My presence was greeted unenthusiastically by a rotund woman who made it perfectly clear that she'd rather be anywhere than where she was. She looked at my information and promptly told me that I was in the wrong place. Now..... this was about the 3rd time I was greeted in such a manner during my brief interaction with Panama customs officials so it was becoming old hat. I calmly told her want I needed. She called someone else to see what she should do. One hour later I left with a simple, 1 page authorization that should have taken about 10 minutes to complete.
Next up was the Port Balboa authorities. Here is how the next 6 hours went:
- Entered port,
- Went to customs office 1, told to drive to customs office 2,
- At customs office 2, told to return to customs office 1 to attain stamp,
- At customs office 1, told to provide 2 copies of customs form,
- Go to photocopy window, told to go to cashier to pay 50 cents for copies,
- Go to cashier, wait in line, pay 50 cents,
- Return to photocopy window, receive photocopies,
- Return to customs office 1, receive stamp,
- Return to customs office 2, receive another stamp,
- Back to customs office 1, told to provide photocopy of passport,
- Back to cashier to pay 25 cents,
- Back to photocopy window, receive copy,
- Back to customs office 1, told to go to dock where LandCruiser is parked,
- Refused entry because no authorization from customs office 1, security gets on radio,
- After 15 minutes, supervisor arrives, gives okay to enter,
- Arrive at truck, no one is around with keys,
- Told that woman with keys is not around and does not have a radio,
- 45 minutes later, woman arrives and says keys are at customs office 1,
- Finally get keys, drive to customs office 2 for inspection, they are having KFC and will be with us shortly,
- Officer says we need the original form, which was taken back at office 1,
- Return to office 1; retrieve original, return to office 2,
- Customs officer checks VIN on door in 30 seconds, signs documents, returns to KFC lunch,
- Drive out of port and to police station to acquire entry authorization,
- Police have never heard of such an authorization and send us to the Panama DMV office,
- DMV office says I need to apply for temporary plates,
- I say that is ludicrous and we go get lunch,
- Go to "Pio Pio" fast food chain,
- Order a double crispy chicken burger,
- Order comes out as extra crispy chicken nuggets.
I was assisted in this process by my wonderfully patient taxi driver named Jorge. Had Jorge known what was in store for him that day, I am quite sure he would have quit on the spot. Never-the-less, he hung in there and saw that I was back on the road. Many thanks, Jorge!
Tropic Star Lodge
Most fisherman recognize the name. Devout bluewater fishermen (and women) know that the TSL is the world's greatest fishing lodge. Hands down. For this reason, I had to see it for myself. Joining me on the trip was my good friend and professional photographer Andy Geiger. I have known Andy since I was in the 8th grade and he seemed somewhat keen to leave the snow and frigid temps of Kalispell, Montana behind for a week in the tropics.
The short story is that I didn't catch a marlin at the Tropic Star. I did come close on a 150 lb. striped marlin. I did catch a nice sailfish, a few tuna, a Jack Crevalle and a Red Snapper. The service, food and accommodations at the lodge are so extraordinary that it almost makes up for the slow fishing that we experienced. I said ALMOST!!!
I could swear that the idea of catching marlin on the fly seemed like a good one. "Extreme fly fishing" is what it has been called. After trying in Vanuatu , Ecuador and now Panama, my definition includes profanities and is probably slanderous to the marlin. John Maynard Keynes once said about the financial markets: "The market can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent." I'd like to tweak it a bit to apply to the subject at hand. "Fishing can remain improbably bad a lot longer than I can remain sane. Or solvent." I will catch one of these bastards eventually. I sort of feel bad for the marlin when I finally do catch one.
On a positive note, during the countless hours that we spent trying to tease up fish, I managed to pen a few songs about my futile pursuit of marlin. You may recognize a couple of these classics......... "Oh My Marlin, Clementine," "You Picked a Fine Time to Leave Me, Marlin," and "Knockin' on Marlin's Door." The last one contains the poignant lyrics "Mama put my rods in the ground....... I can't use ‘em anymore." I think Andy may have been secretly questioning whether my sanity had already fled.
I am now heading to the island of Guanaja, located on the North coast of Honduras. My research reveals that Guanaja possesses countless miles of flats, a laidback atmosphere and remains somewhat "off the beaten path." Sounds good to me.
A big "thank you" to Andy for joining the gluttony at the Tropic Star. He can be contacted via his website, www.andrewgeiger.com. See everyone soon!
The Sizzlin' Swede! We spent a good deal of the downtime throwing towels soaked in ice water on each other.
The highlight of the trip....... a nice dorado going airborne.
The dorado on the last stop before becoming ceviche.
We talked with this woman on the walk back to the hotel. She managed a smile for Leif although it was obvious that she had a pretty hard life.
Dan with the crew of the "La Choca" in Salinas.
A Jack Crevalle on its way to the boat. Things were really looking up at this juncture.
I tricked you Mister Red Snapper! The crew was especially excited to land this fish for culinary reasons.
A couple of nights Andy and I took the employee panga out to cove across the bay to find some fish and take some photos. The resulting pics were pretty sweet. In this photo Andy said "Go ahead and cast?" At what?? "It doesn't matter...... just cast!" A few minutes later I plunged the size 6 hook into the back of my hand while following his directions. Such is the sacrifice of an artist!
Another cool shot from the panga. Andy has mastered the science of shooting from the hip with his camera in its underwater housing.
After losing the striped marlin and facing a day of getting skunked, I managed to land this monster! More impressive than the fish (it weighed in at around 6 ounces) is the perspective of the photo. But that is just Andy's opinion.
This belongs under the title of "behind the scenes." I am dragging Andy as our panga captain changes location. After sitting in the hot sun all day, he was more than happy to stay in the water.
Some of the locals fishing near the rocks in Pinas Bay. Despite using only handlines and dugout canoes I suspect they caught more fish than I did. Home turf advantage.....
HEY!!! I have something on the line! This is the only sailfish that pitied me enough to stay on the line.
Here I am thanking the sailfish for providing the highlight of my Tropic Star trip.
More Geiger magic! Coming to a motivational poster near you..... Here I am contemplating the meaning of life. AND trying really hard not to fall over as the panga bounced along. AND calculating how long it will take to get back to the lodge and the ice cold beers in the coolers. AND when my marlin curse will end.
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