I know you're going to think this is a tall fish tale...nope. True story, and one of the classics.
Over the last decade, a small group of us have frequently traveled to Puntarenas, a province located on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, to enjoy world-class fishing, the wonderful locals (who remain our friends), fresh seafood, and a stitch of relaxation. While we have amazing stories of marlin, hammerheads, sails, roosters and so forth... one of the most interesting fishing days (actually nights) we ever had was pig fishing. Yes, pig fishing.
After a full and fantastic day of catching and releasing 46 Pacific Sailfish, we were pretty exhausted. On our return to the marina, Jay (the mate) asked us, "Have you guys ever been pig fishing?" Of course our answer was no, and beckoned the follow-up question: "What the heck is pig fishing?"
So he says, "Well, if you want to give it a shot, you guys can rest during the day tomorrow, and we'll take off before dusk. "
Just then, lots of stuff began coursing through the old noggin... running the boat at night? What about safety? Do we need special gear? And again, what the heck are pig fish?
Gingerly I ask, "Well, what exactly will we be doing?"
With a smile, Jay merrily describes to us the details of the excursion and shows us the boat’s game license. “If we catch one,” he adds, “we can donate it to the local church for their roast and fundraiser this weekend.”
We kick it around and decide to give it a go. Really, think about it… when was the last time you were offered a chance to go pig fishing? Actually, a day off from game fishing in the hot sun would be a welcome departure.
THE NEXT DAY
The weather is balmy but clear. I keep forgetting that it’s the beginning of February, which is easy to do in a region where the average high this time of year can reach 94 degrees. We pull away from the docks as the sun begins to drop in the west, leaving the safe waters of Golfito bay, and set course for Punta Banco. We banked south, easing the boat to the left, and down a ways toward an isolated spot just above the Panama border.
Dusk gave in to night as we neared an uninhabited stretch of land, beaches, and… feral pigs. We eased in about 50-yards from shore, set anchor, and assessed the setting. All good. Let’s go!
Jay appears from the cabin with four bunches of bananas. “These are good and ripe,” he says with a wink. After days of catching big game fish, our rods and lines are already set for a new adventure.
I notice a special apparatus on his large backpack, outfitted with carabineers stitched into the pack’s exterior. He takes each hook from our four rods and secures it to its own respective carabineer on the pack. As we adjust our lines, Jay slowly lowers himself into the water. We open the bales on our reels as we watch our mate paddle to shore... taking out line with each stroke forward. It was quite a sight, to say the least.
Once Jay reaches shore, he takes off his pack and pulls out each banana bunch. He then carefully removes the hooks from their carabineers and baits each one with its own banana bunch. We watch silently as he separates each line with about 20-yards of beach between banana bunches.
We test the line drag and drop the rods into their respective holders. After giving Jay the thumbs-up that our lines are set, he swims back to the boat.
Then, listening quietly, we patiently wait. As the moon rose higher, the night drifted deeper, and a marine layer of clouds masked the sunset and started to shield the moonlight. It was getting more difficult to see the beach and the tree line.
As it approached midnight, we heard the rustling of leaves on the shore. Then, the sound became louder. It was evident that something, or perhaps a group, was heading out of the jungle toward the shoreline… but no voices. Just hard deliberate thrashing.
I’m thinking…heck with this… it’s time to leave. Then, before I could say cut the lines, we saw the outline of three feral pigs burst out of the tree line and sprint toward the bananas. Two jumped on the bunch to the far left, the other on the center left. It all happened in seconds, and it was ferocious. Our two left rods bent, and the pigs started to flee down the beach with their bananas.
Now the secret to pig fishing, as we learned from our trusty mate, is to not let them dig in. If the pig digs in, sticking all four hooves into the sand to become an immovable boulder, it won't budge. Equally, don’t let them reach the tree line. However, get them to the water, and you’ve got the church roast covered. Amen.
My buddies quickly pulled the two other lines in to get them out of the way. A fight ensued and went strong, fast and furious. The left pig went screeching down the beach before we could control the drag to slow him down. Just as he reached the trees, the line snapped, and he was in the bush. Gone.
Right pig followed the same path; however, we were on the reel fast enough to turn his head and control the movement. As the rod bends in half and appears to nearly break, he changes direction, struggling to get to the tree line. Then, for some reason, he zigzags back, and heads toward the water -- creating slack in the line.
In the next moment we are distracted by the running lights of a speedboat in the distance, and also hear voices on shore, far down on the south side of the beach.
Now here’s the situation… it’s midnight and we’ve got the church’s pig on the line, a speed boat is barreling in, people popping up that we can hear but can’t see, and we’re anchored.
Jay yells out, “ Ya gotta keep the pig moving!”
But it’s too late. The distraction of the speedboat and voices causes us to lose focus on the pig. With that… he dug in. Dang it.
Well, what to do now? Send Jay back to reset the lines and bait? Do we even have more bananas?
Just then, three quick flashes emerge from a flashlight on the beach. It’s a signal of some kind. The speedboat shifts direction and starts to head toward the flashes. We suspect drug runners. The pig is still on the line, but it’s a lost cause. We could send Jay back to shore to try and retrieve the pig, but that’s probably not a good idea, being that something else seems to be going down around us.
Now, what happens next in the story I’m afraid stays at sea. But, what I can tell you is that we did make it back to Golfito bay in one piece, and managed to buy the church a pig from the market (we considered it our payback for getting out of there alive.).
So, about learning to pig fish… well, you’d need to find your own “Jay” down in Costa Rica. But if you get the opportunity, do it. It’s worth it.
I know you’re probably wondering what we did with the extra bananas? Well, of course we gave them to the local guy who feeds the monkeys every day!
POST SCRIPT: This journal entry is in fond memory of our dear friend, Jay, who knew more about living a full and adventurous life than anyone we’ve ever met. We miss you man.