January 03, 2014

Chronicles Of Adventure: Nicaragua

A story about learning and advnture as told by our good friend Joe Gannon. More of this in 2014..
We drove 20K off the main road that leads to San Juan del Sur. The pavement became cobblestone that lasted another 5K before crossing a river and giving way to muddy red gravel that carried us the rest of the way to our destination. It was a pitch black night in Nicaragua and we only had the energy to lift a few Tona’s before hitting the sack.  
As morning broke, I saw a half mile of beach spread out over my cup of coffee. A half moon, concave and bracketed on both sides by gnarly cliffs descending into the Pacific, this spot wasn’t even on most maps. Not a soul in sight, just chest high rights that seemed to rise from nowhere before crashing on our rocky little parenthesis.  
The Pacific smoothed, tumbled and deposited a steady supply of two to three inch stones onto the beach. The first time I saw the Cowboy was after a morning of spearfishing.  While we took refuge from the sun under the trees, he glided past on a white horse with a skinny dog in tow and empty rice sacks hung from either side of the mount. Without even a glance he went directly to the pile of stones. On hand and knees, Cowboy spent a good part of the afternoon sifting through and collecting. Sort, inspect, bag, repeat. With rice sacks full, he remounted the horse and headed off in the opposite direction.  I asked our host, a native Nicaraguan, what the Cowboy was doing with all the rocks.  “Floors for gringos”, then “...always gringos.”
The next afternoon the same scene was repeated. The cowboy appeared, he collected, he left. This time I noticed he stopped at the far end of the beach.  Letting the horse graze through the bush, he was off the mount and searching through the driftwood, another gift from the ocean. Though a good ways away, I could tell he was casting something into the surf.  I grabbed a rod and ran down to do the same. The horse never looked up. The dog seemed unbothered by my presence. The Cowboy was focused on the water and seemingly shared the horse and dog’s opinion of my intrusion.
It was an older rusty rod with a single rusty top water plug. One treble hook was missing, but it was better than nothing. The sun was setting while the Cowboy tossed a line into an area where a brisk freshwater stream met the Pacific in turbulent upheaval. Small fish were attracted to feed in the nutrient rich stream water and bigger fish came to capitalize on an opportunity to hunt in the funnel. The cowboy and I were there to hunt the funnel as well.  He’d toss his piece of crab on a single little hook attached to a line wrapped around a piece of wood while I was ripping the plug through the whitewater. I was using a rod from the 80’s.  Cowboy was using one of the most primitive fishing techniques I’ve witnessed firsthand. The cowboy would send the crab into the mix with an effortless sweep of his right hand, simultaneously winding the line onto the worn board with his left. Holding the line taught, he would take a fighter’s stance, shuffle backwards a few steps, then rip the hook from the water.  Sometimes the crab was still in place, ready for another go-around.  Sometimes it was gone.  Sometimes there appeared a fish on the hook. I realized I had stopped fishing and was standing knee deep in the water just observing. The cowboy continued to pull fish after fish from the brackish water before looking up to catch me watching. Holding up the board and gesturing in my direction he yelled out, “Try?” The crashing waves made it hard to hear, but his friendly smile let me know his intent.  We traded tools and for the next hour he tossed the plug while I fumbled through learning the technique. The sun slowly descended into the sea.  
Hand fishing, as simple as it sounds, is about keeping the line tight.  When you feel the nibble, you need to let it take the hook before your backpedal/tighten/yank ballet. Taking a break from the rod, the cowboy made sure I was fully stocked in crab bait. While I tossed and wrapped, he chased crabs through the driftwood. He’d return without a word, dropping a few on the beach near me, then hustle back to cast the rod. From afar he’d demonstrate the motion.  The key was the ballet. The key actually seemed to be experience. The key was the same as it always is with fishing, patience and perseverance.
I never did master the board. I probably fed more fish than I caught, but I can’t think of many better fishing days I’ve had this year. This cowboy who spends his morning building houses, his afternoon’s collecting stones from the beach and his evenings collecting enough fish to feed his family, taught a gringo to fish the old way.