It’s just a little shy of two years since I started this blog, and I finally had my first chance since then to bend a rod outside the borders of the United States. It wasn’t a dedicated fishing trip. I piggy-backed myself onto a friend’s vacation, when one of the guys slotted for a room in their Grand Cayman rental house, had to cancel.
Cool, some punk wussed out, and I had a week in the Caymans. I was in for some sun, sand, blue water, rum cocktails, and hopefully some fish-on.
Now, had this been planned as a fishing trip, I probably would have pushed it back until early spring. The odds for good weather are better then, and apparently more billfish & dorado (known as dolphin there) move into the area at that time of year.
Even though it wasn’t the perfect time to be there, I was still in the tropics, with the afore mentioned sun, sand, rum, etc. Plus we were surrounded by clear blue water, teeming with fish. While the relaxing in a lounge chair on our villa’s private beach with a cocktail in my hand, part of the vacation went very well, the fates had determined that getting any fishing done, was going to be a challenge for us. There was a misunderstanding about where the marinas were in comparison to where we were staying. There was a crazy mix up between a couple different charter companies, and which day we were scheduled to be fishing with which boat: long story. And, as luck would have it, we had some pretty strong winds on the last half of our stay, that kept the fishing boats off the water.
I’ll spare you all the gory details, but share with you the good stuff I did learn.
First and foremost, I found a charter company there that I can highly recommend.
Slack’em Charters is a two boat fishing guide service on Grand Cayman Island. The owner/captain, Captain Jon, not only knows his business, but was a genuinely fun, friendly guy. When he found out we were Seattle, he was quick to start talking to us about salmon fishing, and he was fairly knowledgable about it, because he’s been on fishing trips near here and in Alaska.
That may sound like a minor, conversational detail, but it’s actually rather significant. It’s a good thing when you find a guide that also spends their free time fishing. Despite the fact that they fish for a living, they still really love it. And that’s often what separates a good charter captain from a great one.
Fortunately, with the advent of social media, this is something you can usually investigate rather easily. Nicky Kester’s FaceBook profile pic is him holding a dorado, that wasn’t caught here in Puget Sound. Rob Ensley charters 100 days straight in Alaska each summer, then he’s often fishing and hunting for fun during the other 2/3rds of the year. While I was in the Caymans, Mark Coleman was FaceBook posting photos & videos of his fishing vacation to Mexico, and as I write this he’s on yet another fishing trip in Costa Rica.
It just occurred to me that might hate him for that.
Anyway, when checking out charter captains, it might be worth your while to look into how they enjoy their leisure time. I figure if Captain Jon chose to travel away from the sunny Caribbean, to spend some of his free time fishing in Alaska, he must be a big fan of the game.
That was one reason Slackem impressed me. Also, they were on the receiving end of the scheduling mishap I mentioned before, yet both Captain Jon and Stephanie in the office were incredibly pleasant and helpful in not only rolling with that punch, but working with us so we could get on the water with them.
And most importantly, they put us on some fish.
So yeah, if you travel to Grand Cayman, there are a lot of charter companies, and I’m sure many of them are awesome. This one at least, I can give a personal stamp of approval. When I go back, I’m booking multiple trips with them. In fact, at the end of our trip, we were all set to re-book with them for the next day. Unfortunately, that next day was when the winds arrived, and we were stuck on land. Well … “stuck” may not be the right word when describing being in a beautiful, beach front house on Grand Cayman Island, but you get my point.
Anyway, the fishing. There may have been billfish around, and possibly dorado, but as I said before, it was a bit early in the season for them to be plentiful. We were targeting wahoo, one of the fastest and better tasting sport fish out there. I was cool with that.
They had us trolling along the channel, where the ocean current pushes bait up against the far side of the off shore reef. We were running five rods, two of them running shallow off downriggers, and the other three flatlining on, or just below the surface.
Basically we were trolling right in the boat’s prop wash. Mostly we were pulling rigged ballyhoo, a couple just the bait, and the rest with squid skirts over them. The deck hand Jonathan (yeah, it was Captain Jon and Jonathan, just a little confusing) rigged the ballyhoo up with wire leaders and double hooks.
Even with that set-up, the first couple that hit managed to bite the bait in half, but still avoid that back hook. Jonathan was so fast and efficient at re-setting those baits, I didn’t manage to get a photo of any of those bitten off ballyhoo.
I know … bad blogger!
I was standing next to one of the rods when a wahoo struck that line. It sounded like somebody smacked that rod with a baseball bat. Clearly, these fish hit like a freight train. That point got really hammered home a little while later when the next wahoo struck. I happened to have my eye on this particular bait, skipping along the surface, when that fish slammed into the bait from below, and went completely aerial. The wahoo leapt a good four feet out of the water, the line snapped tight, and when it plunged below the surface again, the reel started peeling off line.
Of course, being the seasoned angler I am, I reacted with calm, measured composure by suddenly yelling out “HOLY FUCK!!”
Naturally that little outburst of mine grabbed the attention of the rest of the guys on the boat. I had jumped up off my seat along with that yell, and Jonathan immediately told me to put on a fighting belt, as he grabbed the rod to make sure the fish was hooked. It was just me and my buddy Gray fishing that day, and we never really worked out a sequence of who is up when a fish strikes.
We just relied on ourselves not to be dicks about it. At times that can be tricky though, when that wahoo exploded out of the water, I jumped forward out of reflex/enthusiasm, and right away Jonathan is telling me to suit up. To his credit, Gray’s first reaction was to reach for his camera, so he could get photos of me fighting that fish.
Guess we know which one of us is the dick, eh?
Fortunately for my guilty conscious (unfortunately for the images in this post) Gray never got a chance to take any of those shots. Just as I got hold of that rod, and Gray was taking the lens cap off his camera, another fish hit. We had a double. WAHOO! Literally.
The next little while was pure fun. Although in the excitement, Captain Jon & Jonathan weren’t able to find their second fighting belt, so Gray had the notched butt of his rod digging into his gut for his fight. Ah, he’s a tough guy, he can take it.
For me, there is very little I would change about that experience. Although we were using rods that can handle billfish, and while those wahoo are crazy fast, both of ours were in the 25-30 pound range. I would love to fight a fish like that on my salmon rod. I’ve been in a tug-o-war against a large sea lion with my FethaStyx rod, I pretty sure it could stand up to one of these silver bullets. And what a fight that would be.
Sometime later, we had two wahoo on the deck, and the boat was a flurry of high fives, and fist bumps. Hey, I make no apologies for how much I love this sport, and I refuse to govern my enthusiasm in moments of success. I swear, Captain Jon & Jonathan were nearly as excited as we were. Fishing had been a little slow around there lately, and they couldn’t resist taking their own photos to text the other captains and bust their chops.
There’s another sign of a good charter captain. The guys that are bantering over the radio, and cell phone with other captains, are the ones that share & receive fishing reports. Being part of an active network of charter boats, means they are getting real time reports, and that means more fish are hitting that deck.
And of course, fish hitting the deck, means fish hitting the dinner plate.
Catch that subtle segue there? See how I snuck that in?
We had been on an afternoon fishing trip, so we were headed back with our catch just in time for dinner. Captain Jon filleted our catch, and as is custom in the islands, we share the catch with our captain & deck hand. That’s standard in many vacation destinations. After all, people are there for a limited stay. Often their plan is to have a certain amount of your meals out. They’re away from the friends and family to whom they would normally give excess catch, and most significantly, many people are staying in hotels, with no kitchen or even refrigeration to store any amount of fish.
In our case, we had a house with a full kitchen and a charcoal grill. Still, just keeping the filets from the smaller of the two fish, gave us enough that the lot of us were able to stuff our faces for the remainder of our stay, and we still had leftover that Gray and I could each pack some to bring home.
Wahoo is a cousin of mackerel. However, while mackerel is a darker, oily fish with a strong flavor, wahoo has surprisingly light and milder tasting flesh. Fish like that, especially when crazy fresh such as what we had on our hands, is perfect for sashimi. In fact, those of you familiar with eating sushi here on the West coast, probably know wahoo by it’s Hawaiian name, Ono.
I had soy sauce waiting at the house, and Captain Jon was nice enough to give us a tube of wasabi paste he had on the boat.
Seriously, I love that guy!
Anyway, we had barely walked in the door of the house before I broke out the knife and was slicing fresh wahoo into a plate of sashimi. And I barely had time to snap a photo before the bunch of us scarfed that fish down.
That was just the appetizer though. I was already prepping our main course, while munching on that sashimi. We had a bunch fresh, local tropical fruit on hand for making frozen cocktai …. I mean, healthy fruit salads. Tropical fruit salsa sounded like a perfectly appropriate compliment to our fresh catch.
Fruit salsas like this got popular to the point of trendy in the late 80’s. And as is want to happen, that kind of popularity led to the backlash of them being considered passe`. My philosophy towards most items that are in the pantheon of dishes that have fallen victim to their own success (roasted garlic mashed potatoes, molten chocolate cake, tuna tartare, etc) is that they became popular for a reason. They’re damned good. To stop enjoying them because it’s not what the cool kids are eating anymore, is pretentious to the point of being sickening.
On the more positive side, this salsa is a simple “chop & mix”, really easy to make. Also, it’s flexible. If you want to add or substitute in other fruits, like pineapple or oranges, go for it. Put in more or less jalapeno depending oh how spicy you like. In short, play with this dish to suit your tastes.
- 1 mango, diced
- 1/2 papaya, diced
- 1 jalapeno, minced
- 1/2 tomato, diced
- 1 Tbs chopped cilantro
- 1 green onion, chopped
- juice of 1/2 lime
- 1 Tbs olive oil
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
Combine all and mix well. Allow to sit for 30 minutes to allow flavors to bloom.
You can cook your fish any way you like to go with this salsa. However the char flavor of grilled fish goes particularly well with the sweetness of the fruit.
For our dinner that night, I set a hefty chunk of the fish on top of some vegetables we had on hand, seasoned it with salt, pepper, and garlic butter, and roasted it all together.
Check that out! Fresh out of the water, roasted until it had a light crust on top and was just done inside, and then topped with that local tropical fruit salsa. We ate like kings that night. And we proceeded to get drunk to celebrate our success. It was vacation after all.
After that day, the afore mentioned winds arrived. We weren’t able to get back out again. Fortunately we had more than enough wahoo to keep us well fed. The next couple days we had it in fish tacos, grilled, seared, and ceviche, which is similar to the fruit salsa if you substitute diced wahoo for the fruit.
- Diced wahoo
- Minced jalapeno
- Minced garlic
- Chopped orange
- Chopped cilantro
- Lime juice
- Olive oil
- A splash of tequila
- Salt & pepper
Serve with tortilla chips
Alas, vacation always goes by so quickly. That’s OK though, home is where the heart is, and it’s where the springer salmon will be arriving soon. I have to get ready for the big Spring Chinook. Stay tuned for more about those.