Editor’s Note: I realized that the previous entry about visiting the old Japanese dock in Leebinaew Village occurred before the Yap Day blog entry, and was posted in its current order incorrectly.
On Saturday, March 10th, Miranda and I were invited by an ex-pat friend of mine to go fishing. I’d been looking forward to it for a couple of weeks, especially since even after two years, I still hadn’t ever been invited to go fishing.
Not knowing what to expect, I figured that we’d be sitting in a little rowboat with a couple of fishing rods and a can of worms. As it turned out, fishing on Yap out beyond the reef is a much different kind of experience.
Miranda and I arrived bright and early at the Manta Ray Bay Hotel dock. We were introduced to Captain Iggy, and invited to board his canopied, dual-engine fishing boat. Shortly before heading out, two other hotel staff hopped in and took seats in the back.
Captain Iggy launched the boat full speed out from the dock, and after picking up some reserve fuel from a Manta Ray diving boat moored out in the harbor, we motored across the water heading northward along the coast of the island.
At one point we slowed as we entered a narrow, jungle bordered channel and passed underneath a short bridge.
The wind whipped through Miranda’s hair, and I held onto my hat, as we passed by village community buildings constructed along the shore.
This hilltop hut seemed like a particularly good spot to just sit back, feel the breeze, and take time to enjoy the view.
On the way out to the reef that surrounds the island, I happened to look behind me and noticed that a storm was pouring down buckets of rain back on the rapidly shrinking mainland.
Looking ahead though showed only clear skies and relatively calm seas.
This changed somewhat after we crossed the border of the reef. Out in the open ocean we set off in search of fish, as the boat rocked and bumped its way through the waves. Captain Iggy seemed un-fazed by the turbulence. He stood confidently at the helm and directed us to various spots that were “good for fish”.
They prepared various lures and hooks, one of which included several palm frond strips which I was told added to the visibility and attractiveness of the lure.
You might be wondering by now if palm fronds are used for everything on Yap.
Clearly, the answer is yes.
Our master fishermen anchored two sturdy fishing poles with oversized brass reels to the boat, as well as several “hand-lines” that were basically a hook and lure attached a thicker variety of fishing line. They explained to us that there was a spring at the boat-end of the line and when the spring stretched out you knew it was time to start reeling in a catch.
They expertly pulled and released these hand-lines at various times, replaced certain lures or hooks based on the kinds of fish years of experience and practice told them were in the area, and deftly tossed them back into the water.
With all this tackle trailing along behind us, and with the wise advice of our seasoned fishermen, catching a boatload of fish seemed to be inevitable. The Captain spotted a flock of birds wheeling above and skimming across the surface of the water, and piloted the boat full-throttle in pursuit.
Even for a novice like myself, I knew that birds mean fish, and fish means dinner.
We circled around the birds, attempting to plunge directly through the center of submerged school of fish. Soon enough we were rewarded with the telltale tightening of the fishing lines and the excited cheers of everyone on board.
My first time reeling in one of the fish was somewhat disappointing. I cranked that fishing reel as fast and hard as I could, battling against what seemed like a gigantic catch. Right before I was able to raise this fish out of the water, one of the fisherman cried out “Shark!”, and immediately the tension on the line slackened. I pulled up on the rod, to discover only the head of a beautiful fish dangling from the hook. The rest of that fellow must have been lunch for a hungry shark.
My proudest moment was hooking and finally reeling in an exceedingly obstinate Wahoo tuna, who turned out to be nearly as tall as I was. I wasn’t able to smile for the camera, with Captain Iggy’s nervous shouts of “Watch your feet!” ringing loud and clear as I maintained a tenuous grip on this very heavy, very slippery fish.
Even with all my precious toes intact, I was relieved when one fisherman snatched up a stout metal baseball bat and soundly whacked the wriggling fish over the head. Now motionless, this fine specimen (Which I’m glad to report was the largest we caught that day) joined the rest of our haul at the bottom of what looked like a body bag draped over the rail at the front of the boat.
Miranda also caught her fair share of fish that day, using the fishing rod and also the hand line. As luck would have it, she wound up reeling in more fish on the hand-line, resulting in some very sore arms and fingers!
Around lunch time, one of the fishermen asked if we wanted some sashimi, holding up one of our recent catches. After several hours of being jostled around by the waves my stomach lurched at the thought.
Nevertheless, I accepted out of politeness, and also to say that I ate “minutes fresh” sashimi-grade tuna caught with my own hands. The fisherman quickly produced a razor sharp knife and proceeded to filet a medium-sized tuna with practiced ease. The tuna was placed in a bowl with a spicy local pepper infused soy sauce, and we took turns choosing morsels of fish with our sea-salty fingers.
After eating, I sat back in the boat and just looked out at the vast expanse of impossibly blue water (shown here without enhancement) and contemplated the unique luxury of being able to enjoy this experience.
After testing out a few other potential fishing grounds, and reeling in more dinner, we headed back to the island.
Here, Miranda shows off the result of a hard fought battle with the hand-line.
Because the tide was coming in we weren’t able to cross the reef where we had exited it, and wound up taking a circuitous route around the reef back to the harbor.
As exciting as it had been to watch the island fade into the horizon earlier that morning, after a long day on the water, I was equally excited to see the familiar buildings of Colonia. Slightly sunburned, and covered in a crust of sea-salt, my immediate thoughts were for a restroom and a shower.
Our fishy body bag was unloaded, and after asking for a few filets to take home with us, the remainder of the fish were “donated” to the hotel restaurant, likely to become a special entree on that evenings’ dinner menu.
We said our goodbyes and gave our thank you’s to the Captain and his crew, and made our way back home, exhausted but thoroughly satisfied by our fishing adventure.
Here’s a final picture of me, relaxing comfortably at the bow.
Many thanks to Bob for inviting Miranda and I out for this incredibly fun day of fishing in the ocean - It was the best!