Although most of the islands share the same species you will find that each island has their own “specialty”, if you want to call it that, perhaps they hold several specialties; That’s the beauty of fishing in the Caribbean. One of the most intriguing aspects of any Caribbean fishing journey is the thrill of the unknown, what am I going hook once I cast out? Of course most seasoned fisherman can look at an environment and make an educated guess, based on past experiences, as to what species that environment is hosting but until you have extensively fished an area you will never discover its “specialty”.
I am going to tell you a little bit about my journey into the unknown on the island of Bonaire. I started visiting Bonaire 7 years ago and I have been bringing copious amounts of gear with me ever since that first faithful trip (Insel Air has made a small fortune off of my overweight and extra baggage fees). I can still remember the excitement of fishing a spot that was completely alien to me. For those of you who don’t know, Bonaire is located in very close proximity to Venezuela and the waters around Bonaire are deep…. I mean very deep. This opens up a whole new can of worms; it’s a total different element than what I am used to with fishing from the shore in St. Martin. With the deep blue water so close, the opportunity to catch a truly big fish from shore is very real. And I can say that I have heard my fair share of Bonairean shore based monster fish tales and I have contributed several myself.
For the first couple trips it was quite a bit of touch and go. I would jump in the truck and pick a direction along the coast and drive until I found a spot that I felt looked fishy. I always caught fish but I felt that I was missing the full potential of the shore based fishery. Also I would carry a whole plethora of lures and tackle with me because I didn’t know what situation I was going to find myself in. As I said, this was my M.O. for my first few trips, then I started thinking about how I could waste less time and catch better quality fish. That’s when I discovered Google Earth!
While most people use Google Earth to check out popular buildings and landmarks, as well as spying on their neighbor’s house, I have discovered that you can see the majority of coastal areas with impressive clarity. Once I started using Google Earth to survey Bonaire’s coastal areas, my success rate saw an immediate improvement. In fact it encouraged me to do allot more exploring and on top of finding great fishing spots it actually led me to some of the most stunning landscapes I have ever seen.
Bonaire is known primarily as a diver’s paradise and she is in fact rated as the #1 dive spot in the world for shore diving. This means that there is a ton of information online about Bonaire’s diving industry such as dive reports, photos, and videos. These really helped me to get a great idea of what the resident species were and they as well gave me a good indication of the size of these populations.
One fish that I kept seeing in picture and videos in both great numbers and great size is the mighty Megalops Atlanticus, also known as The Silver King and best known as the Tarpon. These tackle testing terrors make for terrible table fare but they are both famous and infamous for their amazing fighting skills. They have the ability to take to the air in a silver blurred fury and they can also stay down deep and make you suffer to regain each inch of line….and I love them for it!
While I have developed my own technique for catching them in St.Martin with very decent success, I have had a much more difficult time with Bonaire’s resident tarpon. I am certain that the areas where I have been targeting them hold them in healthy numbers due to the fact that I have caught a few small ones on lures and the fact that the habitat is absolutely perfect for them. But up to now I haven’t been able to specifically target them with any notable success, I guess I haven’t figure out what makes them tick yet. But I’m sure eventually I will!
One fish that, or rather one family of fish, I have managed to figure out are the snappers. Snappers are great eating fish and the big boys can put on a great fight! Up until my last trip the snappers I managed to catch are Mangrove, Yellow Tail, Dog Tooth and Mutton. Mutton being my favorite of this group due to their excellent food qualities, and the fact that they get big and fight hard, also they are a very beautiful fish. I thought that big muttons would be my main surf casting quarry in Bonaire, but that all changed towards the end of my last trip to the island.
That is when I met the real bad boy of the snapper family. This mean machine is known as the Cubera Snapper. They are the largest of the snappers and they truly grow to colossal sizes. The current IGFA all-tackle world record stands at a ridiculous 124 lb 12oz, so we are talking about one serious snapper!
On my second to last outing to my favorite snapper spot I realized that I never gave live bait a chance in this spot. I thus brought along some ultra-light tackle to catch me a few live baits. Well, on this night the livies were not obliging and I only managed to snag one. Little did I know that this solitary bait was going to completely change the game for me. Since I only had the one bait, I waited patiently till what I felt was the “golden hour”. I gingerly attached him to my circle hook and carefully cast him out; making sure my lead and hook didn’t head north while my little friend headed west. I placed the rod in my home made rack, turned around, grabbed a cold Polar beer and I didn’t have time to finish cracking it open when my friend noticed that something was chasing my buddy. I quickly grabbed the rod, making sure I didn’t alert my hungry adversary, after a few seconds the trembling stopped and the line started going out. I knew it was a good fish since the line was paying out at a steady and determined pace. I let him eat for what felt like an eternity. When I was satisfied I gradually increased the drag until I was struggling to hold on to the 12 foot surf rod; the fight was on!
If you’ve ever played tug of war with a pit bull you can have an idea of the fight. Thanks to my adrenaline rush I have no idea how long the fight lasted. I had no idea what I was hooked to until I finally managed to wrestle him into the shallows and I saw the beautiful copper color of his back and the mean set of fangs protruding from his mouth. CUBERA! What an awesome fish, everything amazed me about him. I had caught several smaller ones before this one but the big ones always eluded me. Just the shear mass of this fish was impressive! Every part of him was big and meant for power, the coloration was stunning, and the fangs told me that this fish didn’t have many enemies! While my Cubera was by no means a monster as far as this species is concerned, he weighed in at a very respectable 20.28lbs and is my personal best shore based snapper.
I was confident that my choice in bait was crucial; I was sure that it was unlikely that this fish would have taken one of my regular dead baits. And when my cousin dared me to do it again I jumped at the opportunity to confirm my hypothesis. So 2 days later I was out there in the same spot, same bait and guess what! Another Cubera! Nowhere near as big as the first one but still a fish that would get me excited any night of the week! This confirmed to me that I had unlocked a vital secret of the Cubera!
Before I close up this session, I have to mention that the Jacks on Bonaire have also been very good to me and I have caught some truly large horse eye jacks and man they can fight! They are always welcome to my baits!
In closing, research can be a fisherman’s best friend, especially when you’re learning a new area. Think outside the box to find the info that will give you an edge. Experiment! What works at home might not work as well in the new grounds. Explore! You won’t know for sure if you don’t actually go and take a look for yourself. Welcome any and all info the local fishermen are willing to dish out. And finally, as the US marines say “adapt and overcome”, improvisation is key to unlocking the secrets of the unknown!
Tight lines my friends!