Tackle and Tactics
Mike Ladle


Information Page.

"Fish of a lifetime."

I was just looking through some old articles when I found the following piece. It was written several years ago by my son Richard after his first ever visit to Tobago. As far as I know it was never published but in view of the fact that all my tropical fishing including my recent trip to Belize has stemmed from the incentive provided by this account – I thought that you might like it.

The boat drifted slowly along fifty yards from the glistening white sand of the beach. The sun was blazing down from a cloudless sky and the clear blue waters of the Caribbean sparkled around our hull. Behind the beach coconut palms waved in the light breeze and one or two people limed. Paradise! But I was too preoccupied to look.

The line screamed off against the firmly set clutch of my Shimano 6010 for what seemed like the fiftieth time. It had only been quarter-of-an-hour since the fish took my free-lined, pinfish, live bait but still we hadn’t seen it. We peered over the gunnel of the little fishing boat but even in the clear water we could see no sign of the fish - shades of Ernest Hemingway! My right forearm was already beginning to ache with the sheer effort of supporting the 13 foot, telescopic, spinning rod I had bought for the trip to Tobago. I was suddenly roused from my trance.

“It’s coming up!” Dave exclaimed

He was right. I could see the angle of the line becoming flatter and flatter as the fish approached the surface. Then, forty yards from the boat, the water erupted as a massive silver shape, with metallic burnished scales that seemed almost the size of saucers, fully five-feet long and two-feet deep, emerged like a fishy Polaris missile. It seemed to hang in the air for minutes with water flying everywhere and the huge, open-mouthed head wagging from side to side. As suddenly as it appeared the great fish crashed back into the sea and I realised that the line had gone ominously slack. Like countless seatrout from the chalk streams of my youth the tarpon had shed the hook 'on the jump'.

“Big Tarpon” said Anaconda, our flamboyantly named fishing guide.

Needless to say I was speechless. I was totally shattered from the sheer excitement of the battle with what had been the first bite of the day. Dave, sitting beside me in the little boat, just kept repeating “Fish of a lifetime, fish of a lifetime…!” as if it was some sort of Buddhist mantra. Later on, he told me I had gone white as a sheet when the fish came off and had even stopped talking for ten minutes. He seemed to think that the extended silence was something of a record for me.

Pushing aside my disappointment I grabbed another little pinfish from the live box built into the centre of the boat. I lip hooked the bait on my size 4/0 hook crimped on 20 lb wire, pushed back the bale arm and let out twenty or thirty yards of 14lb “Fireline” braid. When I thought the bait was far enough away from the slowly moving boat I knocked the bale-arm back over and engaged the bait runner. Almost immediately the "'runner" buzzed and line started to pour through the rod rings. Slowly at first and then extremely fast. Flicking off the lever with my thumb I immediately tightened into another fast moving fish. Five, ten, fifteen yards of line were dragged off the spool against maximum pressure. Three times the rod top was plunged into the water as the fish surged away on another run. Suddenly the line was slack and I realised that the fish was rushing towards me. For the first time in twenty five years of fishing I had to wind literally as fast as I could to stay in contact. Now it was under the boat. A couple more powerful lunges and I had it on the surface. Anaconda leaned over and lifted my catch aboard. I had landed my first barracuda. What a fish! A silver-blue, toothy, marine pike of 5lb. Fantastic!

Anaconda removed the double hook rig from the fish's jaw and threw the barracuda to the front of the boat. I thought about asking him if we should return some of our prospective catch to the sea but he is a professional fisherman and, as his name suggests, not someone you would argue with. Besides, Dave and I were planning beach party for our biological research team and grilled barracuda was to be first on the menu.

Two hours later, after some fantastic scraps, we had landed 10 barracuda between us, the best being fifteen pounds. All the fish were taken within 50 yards of the shore. Oh and for good measure Dave had twice been smashed. Presumably by monster Tarpon, neither of which we had seen.

Tobago is one of the smallest and least developed of the Caribbean islands. It nestles just off the eastern coast of Venezuela. We were staying in Castara, a small village on the north coast of the island, for five weeks while studying the large land crabs that thrive in that part of the world. The fishing is, literally, out of this world and unlike the blue water fishing which is given so much publicity, won’t break the bank either. It cost Dave and I twenty pounds for a whole afternoon's unbelievable fishing with Anaconda and his boat (not any more).

Of course one of the most exciting aspects of fishing out of a small boat in an unknown place is that you never know what sort of fish will take your bait next. Kingfish and tuna, which fight like huge supercharged mackerel are common (we caught both) and will take a trolled lure. If you hanker after monsters, a picture on the beach front bar shows a 1300lb black marlin caught by three local fishermen (including Anaconda) on a hand line a couple of years ago.

Our beach party went well and, as usual, most of the village came down and joined in. The opportunity to party is rarely wasted in Tobago. The beer flowed, the barracuda sizzled on the grill and I went to bed late, my head spinning from Carib beer and unsuccessful limbo efforts, to dreams of huge tail-walking tarpon. Next time I’ll be better prepared for the contest with my "fish of a lifetime".

If you have any comments or questions about fish, methods, tactics or 'what have you.'get in touch with me by sending an E-MAIL to - docladle@hotmail.com


Fish of a lifetime.


These are the fishing boats used by fishermen in Tobago.

Another fish of a lifetime.

Richard lands a wonderful jack from the shore.

... and another.

This barracuda took a plug out on the flats.