A day in the life fishing offshore

Dancyn was three days into the 19 day trip to Chagos Atoll from the Mentawai Islands off Sumatra. Sitting amidships Dancyn scanning the endless blue horizon for birds and enjoying the solitude I noticed some flotsam. Floating in the glassy water was a bait basket discarded from a fishing boat with several scraggly ropes hanging off the rim as well as other tidbits of debris thrown in by the currents. I pointed out the circling mass of bait size rainbow runners swimming beneath this floating microcosm to Laura Jean my Indian Ocean Sailing partner. Steadily we were motoring in 3 knots of wind so it was flat calm and had been since we first left Alowita,one of the Mentawai Islands. I pulled Dancyn out of gear 50 meters up wind of the basket, junk and lines and pointed up wind to cease our progress.

My Shimano 400, rigged and ready for just this occasion, patiently crosses oceans in a rod holder on the bimini shade over the cockpit. I eagerly snatched it and pitched a fork handle with a treble hook out toward the floating trash. My disposable silverware lures are home made with a grinder and a drill press. I cut the handles off then drill a hole at each end just big enough for a split ring. I tie to one ring and place a treble hook at the other. These are an easy and cheap way to make a good casting and jigging spoon. The sinking shiny metal flutters down like a wounded minnow and grinds along the surface like bait on the run. Amid a pile of fish enthralled by a feeding frenzy it is not impossible to ply a fork handle off as an injured meal ready to eat! After casting I kept my thumb on the spool to reduce any slack in the line as the cold metal flutters down like a free meal. I felt the first bump as something knocked the fork in an investigative flyby followed by a smash! I engage the real and the clicking drag signals that the line is ripping out. FISH ON!! Rod tip up! the smash and initial run is good but the fish turns quickly. Not too disappointed, I sight the gold and green of the little Dorado.

No big surprise to see Dolphinfish around flotsam anywhere circum-tropical on this blue planet of ours. Coryphaena hippurus, common names Dolphinfish in the Atlantic or Mahi Mahi around Hawaii, Samoa, Tonga and the other Pacific Islands and Dorado for their golden iridescence, along the Pacific Coast of California, Mexico and Central America. I could not tell you the local Bahasa Indonesian name for it, as this was the first one I had seen since crossing the Arafura and Timor Seas out to Christmas Island from Darwin, Australia. Working out of Hawaii on tuna long line boats as a biologist I had recorded thousands of them as Dolphinfish, National Marine Fisherie’s official common name, on my deck forms. I first encountered their tireless acrobatics sailing Snuz, my baby blue Cal-27 sloop, when I landed my first vigorous golden jumper on rod and reel sailing off the San Diego coast. Therefore I will always refer them to as “Dorado” out of respect for that first golden treasure!

Male Dorado landed of Brazil

SO… this little fellow was jumping around like a golden blue maniac when a couple of silky sharks “rock up” in a rush of white water. Leaping up and flipping end over end this 2 foot long shank of agile flesh starts jumping towards Dancyn. After 5 or 6 bodily flails and with some help from my rod he leaps to the relative safety of Dancyn’s cockpit. As soon as I released the pressure on the line he spits the hook so I can cast out immediately! Nice to have lunch but now after 3 monotonous days of motoring I want to play!

Greedily I catch and release 3 more like sized Dorado on that rod. Small? Sure, but mighty sporty! Now with Dancyn much closer to the Flotsam I dropped the lure down free spooling out line to see what lies deeper below the surface schools of Dorado. Another less mild smash is followed by peeling line off the reel. Rod tip up, and once the run eases, I pump a little Yellowfin tuna up the surface. Great little 5 pound sushi fish! Exhausted,it goes into the fish sack as well. Laura Jean had patiently watched this entire dance. She was entertained but a little jealous and anxious to give it a try. Once she piped up I excitedly handed her the rod wanting to share the fun. She plucked the lure over the side like I did letting it sink and flutter down deep. We both waited. “How deep?” She questioned. Surprised that there had not been a hit I told her to reel it up and drop again. Two pumps up and the rod tip went to the water. LJ was standing out on the stern platform but now was sitting on the railing leaning way back into the cockpit! She is a small but very strong woman but that rod tip was not coming up! Line peeled out for a minute. Scared to be blamed for loosing all my “fancy” fishing line she handed me back the rod. With a big smile I accepted! LJ had taken the brunt of the run so I got the head to turn then started getting line back on the reel. The fish was deep now and straight down so no way to chase after it to get more line back on the reel. It went like this for half an hour. My shimano 400 is to light and was grossly miss matched for this fight. Given this piscine’s strength, it was just a matter of playing the fish until it was tired enough to get a look at it near the surface. Several long and strong runs later we could make out the silhouette of the elongated tubular body and knew we had bit off more than we could chew! It was clearly the fish like rocket called Wahoo. I had made my way out to the bow to keep the line away from the keel and rudder. Wahoo are a toothy torpedo of a swimming machine known for deep runs and wicked speeds. It is a beautiful fish of deep ocean blue with white vertical bars that liven up when excited. Named by Captain Cook after the Hawaiian Island of O’ahu. In Hawaii it is known as Ono meaning number one, the best!

LJ and I had kept the first Dorado, the first of 3 little tunas and a skinny 3 foot long Wahoo. It was a seafood smorgas board but this fellow was to big to dress and get into the fridge. After some video footage and a photo or 6 we towed him lightly until he had relaxed and was reinvigorated. I reached down and grabbed the fork out of this adversary’s mouth then twisted the hook free. The damage was 3 Dorado, 3 yellowfin tuna, a silky shark and 2 wahoo, Not bad for fishing with dinnerware! I’m not sure about the mortality of released pelagic fish caught on light tackle. I hope it is good because I have harassed some fish offshore! It was great for Laura Jean to have 3 different and unique fish to sample and compare at once. Motoring allowed the excess electricity to be consumed by the fridge now filled with fillets for the next few days feasting. The best cuts were served 20 minutes after we were back underway in a light and easy building afternoon breeze. Tuna, served raw and sliced thin with wasabi, grilled Wahoo with lime and of course butter/tarragon Dorado baked in foil with garlic and onion were all on the menu. We had cocktails at sunset and recognized how wonderful it was to have enjoyed this beautiful day in the life on Dancyn.

After another 2 weeks offshore we arrived mid Indian Ocean at Chagos Atoll. Chagos is one of several ring atolls of coral left behind after millions of years of erosion has worn the volcanic island away. Relieved, tired and wet we thankfully popped a bottle of champagne and slept all night in still waters! We had several friends also anchored inside the lagoon of this uninhabited atoll and we happily made some new ones. Chagos was a fishing paradise that was worth crossing the squally and rolly Indian Ocean, but those are other fishing stories….The Adventure Continues!

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