Perfect Amalgam

Friday was one of those days that does not come around often. Many things all blended together forming the most perfect amalgam. A true rarity with sunny blue skies, 5-foot swell prediction, a scarce dash of free time, a boat scheduled to leave for town after lunch (near our favorite surf break) and my son Tres would be finished with school. Holly Mackerel! It was like a message from the gods, not to be taken lightly.

The decision made itself over a cheeseburger and fries lunch, a rarity in itself here at Tranquilo Bay. I was well on my way but still needed to secure maternal consent for the boy. Mom gave us the go ahead (Thanks Mom) and we had only 30-minutes until the boat was to cast off. We were so stoked.

Shades, hat, rash guard, sun screen, wax, before we knew it the boat was speeding away from the dock and heading towards the beautiful glassy lines we knew we would find. Tres choose his 6-foot blue thruster and a 7-foot green fun shape for his buddy Scott, who would be joining us later. I choose an Ocean Kayak Big Yak, great for surfing medium sized clean surf, a real fun ride.

I could see the anticipation on my son’s face as we started across the big channel. As we coasted the boat in and got our first look at the surf it was clean and about one whole foot. I’m not talking Hawaiian style, these were 1-foot on the face. The boat dropped us off and we agreed upon what time to rendezvous.

At least we would have some fun paddling around and could reluctantly check out all the coral heads we routinely surf over. Flat days here are actually kind of creepy because of that. Better to surf in mind-numbing bliss than to actually know what is underneath you I always say.

We had been there about 10-minutes, goofing off on the inside, when all of a sudden we were caught off guard by a monster 3-foot set. The set made me think about checking out the real break on the other side of the point. Just maybe there would be something to ride.

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“Hey Tres” I shouted to my son, “not much going on here, do you want to paddle over to the big point where I surf and try to catch one?” “Yes, yes, yes, I am ready Dad,” he said. As we paddled around the point a few swells moved under us as they began to stack up on the reef. It was open-water and Tres seemed very alert and a just a little bit anxious. I started up with a little small talk while we were paddling to ease his mind. Then a couple waved at us and took our picture from high on the rocky point. Tres noticed the photo and I could tell he felt BIG paddling out to the real spot with his Dad.

Just then a head high set (Tres’ head not mine) rolled in off the point. Tres instantly got a little nervous, “Dad maybe we should go back to wait for Uncle Jay, it looks pretty big Dad.” “Common,” I said, “we paddled all the way up here to take a look, lets at least paddle over and just feel a couple waves.”

We arrived at the take off spot and watched a few roll under us. Tres was ready, tried paddling hard for a few, but couldn’t quite get in. Then I saw some nice pretty lines coming so we paddled out just a bit farther. We let the first wave of the set go, but the second one was to perfect. We both took off on the same wave, at the same time, just a few feet apart. It was his first wave ever at Carenero.

The visual image I shall maintain with clarity. He dropped in the wave to my left, I stayed a high line at the crest of the wave looking down. He looked beautiful sliding down the face of that clean wave; his first of what will be many here, in this home spot. It was so cool; I know we will return often as his skills advance.

After feeling a little “horsepower” at Carenero, Tres was ready to go back and meet his best buddy Scott in more familiar territory. We were back in the lineup at our normal spot, where Tres feels at home. I could see the tension in his body language fade.

Uncle Jay, Scott and Patrick pulled up just at the right time. Scott jumped in without his board and swam over to our line-up. “I just feel like swimming Uncle Jim,” Scott said. He didn’t miss much. As we talked about the day, Tres said, “Hey Scott, my Dad and I went up there and surfed Carenero and it was kinda big.” I only smiled and interjected nothing.

Well, the “Perfect Amalgam” never really generated that beautiful 5-foot surf, but it sure produced one hell of a lifetime memory.

Tarpon in the shallows

Not long ago, Jim was at the beach with some guests. They had expressed an interest in fishing so he had a rod with him. The guests had moved on to other things so Jim decided to cast. And to his surprise he caught a big Tarpon in the shallows. What excitement. He yelled over to Ramon who was able to capture the catch on film. Awesome day at the beach – fish on.

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Arrival of the Bell Birds

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Just a few weeks ago the Three Wattled Bell Birds began arriving to the island of Bastimentos in Bocas del Toro, Panama. Each year they fly down from the high slopes of Talamanca Mountains for their Caribbean vacation, but not until most of the North American Tourists have completed their northern migration.

Some years they show up as early as June and some years not until the beginning of August. But one thing is for sure, you know when they have arrived. The call, before you are accustomed to it, sounds man made. For sure it is out of place, metallic sounds do not normally occur in nature. Our guests here at the lodge have given the Bell Bird many nicknames over the years such as Clank Bird and Electricity Bird.

At Tranquilo Bay there is a tall stand of forest between the main lodge and the cabanas. This morning on my way to the barn, (3) Three Wattled Bell Birds were conducting an impromptu orchestra from the tallest perches in the stand of trees. The volume of these birds at close range is amazing. As always, I stopped what I was doing and listened to the music of the Bell Birds as I watched two Broad Winged Hawks, a pair of Common Black Hawks and a Turkey Vulture glide gracefully overhead.

After a few minutes I decided it was so beautiful that I had to get some sound recorded. I ran to my room to retrieve my IPod and microphone and quickly entered the forest beneath the canopy. After the last call, I counted 10 seconds and then held the microphone as high as I could and hit the record button. As I am sure you know, not another call was muttered. I sure enjoyed it while it lasted, maybe next time.

base camp or temporary office?

Area: Zapatilla Cay, Bocas del Toro, Panama
Activities: Snorkel, kayak, swim
Weather: Sunny and clear and glassy seas

Sunrise this morning was incredible and the Caribbean’s surface was like a mirror. I could see my reflection in the water while driving 30 Mph over its surface, beautiful. The air was crisp and the Talamanca Mountains were crystal clear, backed by white streaks across a blue sky. Neil and Sue arrived in Bocas del Toro on the morning flight at 8:00 AM; their flight must have been beautiful. Their mission was to escape fall in Birmingham, England, and enjoy a week of adventure in Panama. I am sure they were admiring the clear panoramic view of Panama’s mountains and beaches during their flight. I would have been scanning the oceans surface for schools of tuna, or whale sharks.

We arrived to Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge at about 9:45 AM and Neil and Sue were ready to “get on with it”. We had our lunches prepared and packed for the beach, and then loaded the boat with kayaks and snorkel gear. We made it to Zapatilla Cay, a small island in Bastimentos National Marine Park, about 10:30 AM.

We unpacked the boat and set up our temporary office for the day. Three chairs and two igloo coolers, under just about any shade tree, makes a great office. Once base camp was fully operational, we wasted no time getting in the water to snorkel. Neil and Sue instantly fell in love with the water temperature. We chose to snorkel a wall section just off the Eastern tip of the Island. The visibility wasn’t perfect, but the fish were sure cooperating. We saw several big schools of snapper, and one of the biggest yellow tail snapper I have ever seen. There were blue schools of doctor and surgeonfish, neon blue spotted yellow tailed damsels, purple and gold Spanish hogfish, parrot fish, angelfish, butterfly fish, and wrasses. It was a great swim.

Snorkeling for about an hour and a half can work up an appetite, so we returned to the office to eat lunch. On the beach picnic menu today was a roast beef sandwich with mozzarella cheese, lettuce and tomato on fresh baked olive focacia bread followed by homemade peanut butter cookies. From under our carefully chosen shade tree, we ate our lunch while looking across the beach and over the turquoise hued Caribbean, to the Talamanca Mountains in the distance.

Feeling rejuvenated, we decided to circumnavigate Zapatilla Cay by kayak. The leeward side of the island was calm; we paddled through several schools of feeding Bar Jacks, who appeared to have fresh glass minnows on their lunch menu. A few hungry hound fish also decide to jump in on the buffet. We saw brown pelicans, black hawks, kingfishers, magnificent frigates, terns, and humming birds feeding on the blooming sea grapes. The almond trees were also in bloom and attracting birds of all sorts. On the windward side of the Island we paddled further out over the coral reef shelf and watched schools of brilliantly colored tropical fish scurry for the safety of the ledge.

Our return to base camp, to tap the igloo for some ice cold drinks, was just in time. For the next two hours we just sat in the water and watched an electrical storm brew in the mountains far away. The lightning bolts were spectacular and a rainbow aura of the full color spectrum blew off the tops of the highest clouds. What a befitting ending to an incredible day.

bar fight with my father in law

Excursion: Tarpon Fishing
Area: Bocas del Toro, Panama
Weather: Overcast morning, sunny afternoon

Its not often you get to throw your 68-year old father-in-law into a bar fight and then stand around taunting him as he is getting his butt kicked. Today I would have just that chance, and I can’t say that I haven’t been looking forward to the show.

My wife’s father, Charlie, has taught me much about business and life over the last 17 years, but today, he was in my world, Tarponville.

Jay and I had previously hatched a plan long in preparation. Little did Charlie know that we were to be the anglers and he was to be the fish. We figured with just the right amount of shame and a dash of sarcasm, we could have him chomping at the bit to catch a Panama Silver King. You see, Charlie hasn’t fished in over 20 years, and he has never caught anything larger than a red snapper. Those who have tangled with a Tarpon over 75 pounds know what old Charlie was in for, but he had no idea.

Prior to his Panama vacation, we chummed the waters a little. Due to his long break from fishing, it was easy to stoke the fire and get him all excited. We told a few outlandish fish tales for the old man and sprinkled in a few photos, which were received with a very sarcastic show me attitude I might add. It is not easy to find these days, but our bait was a new Central American Tarpon discovery all to ourselves. Who could resist?

Poor Charlie, he sucked it down like a hog taking a truffle. After reviewing the Tranquilo Bay tarpon photo galleries on the website, Charlie decided he wanted to catch a world class Central America Tarpon in Panama.

As we pulled up to the area, it couldn’t have been staged better on a movie set. Tarpon were rolling everywhere. Charlie’s eyes got big like a deer in the headlights. He said, “that’s amazing, I had no idea they got that big.” At one point, a pack of at least 30 Tarpon came bulldogging by the boat, clearly agitated about something. A few minutes later we saw the fin and back of about a 5-foot long shark in hot pursuit. The surface action was furious, but the bite had not quite started.

After a short while we had our first chance, I handed Charlie a rod with a screaming drag, then abruptly yelled in his ear to get the blood flowing. “FISH ON!” For the next twenty minutes Jay and I sat there drinking a cold beer while taking turns shouting out sage advice. “Keep that rod tip up”, “keep the pressure on him”, “put your back into it”, what fun.

Charlie’s knees were quivering, and sweat was pouring down his face. This was serious business, because for Charlie, there was more on the line than just another fish. He knew he had to do whatever it would take to pull that Tarpon up out of the water, showing the two young bucks how a “MAN” does it. Well, he would just have to wait, that fish turned out to be a 30 pound Jack Crevalle, not the Trophy Tarpon he was looking for.

About one hour later it happened, the drag started screaming and before we could even get the rod out of the holder, a huge Tarpon went flying 10 feet into the air. Charlie had found what he came to Panama looking for, and so had we. “FISH ON!” Jay looked at me and appropriately said, “Let the games begin.”

For 40 minutes Charlie battled this incredible Tarpon in Bocas del Toro, without another boat in site. Jay and I stood by for the show, knowing that Charlie’s 68 years of experience and wisdom would not help him get that fish to the boat. The instructions were flying, “keep that rod tip up, put your back into it.” As he danced around that boat sweating, praying, and cursing we new exactly how he felt. It’s a bar fight.

After all was said and done, we caught several Jack Crevalle, and four Tarpon. Charlie finally said enough, but he didn’t get his butt kicked. He has a victory picture with his 80-pound Tarpon, proof to the world he showed two young bucks how it is done, but I don’t think he will be stepping back into another Panama Tarpon brawl anytime soon.

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searching for a silver king with Mo

Excursion: Tarpon fishing
Area: Bocas del Toro, Panama
Weather: Light showers sunny and warm

Today David “Mo” Moseley wanted to search for the “Silver King”. We left the dock at 6:15 AM and the conditions were favorable with two-foot seas and little to no wind. As the sun was coming up, it looked like it was going to be overcast. We passed through a few light showers on the way to our first location. There were light showers on and off throughout the morning, and it started to look like it might get heavier. It never did, and by mid morning it just stopped, we even got a little bit of sunshine.

Well, the weather may not have been perfect, but the fishing couldn’t have been better. We jumped ten Tarpon, and two of them were real brutes. The biggest was a solid 150 pounds, and we got a great picture of her at boat side. Everyone on the boat landed a big fish, and Mo had several nice Silver Kings under his belt.

There were large schools of bait getting smashed by what looked like Jack Crevalle and Bonita. Throughout the day we caught several big Jack Crevalle along with the Tarpon, the action was constant without a dull moment.

After we all agreed that enough was enough, we reluctantly started our return to Tranquilo Bay. While leaving with the bite still on, we watched with envy as the Pelicans, Brown Boobies, and Magnificent Frigates dove into patches of nervous bait, wishing we weren’t too tired to battle another Tarpon.

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