“Fish,” the old man said. “Fish, you are going to have to die anyway. Do you have to kill me, too?” ~ Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea
In the wee hours of the morning, the fishermen row their dug out canoes into the sweet sea, where the waters are deep and the fish are plentiful. “Maybe today will be my lucky day,” they pray silently.
“A Tarpon?” I questioned, for I knew very little about Tarpon and especially Tarpon in Lake Cocibolca. The four-foot Megalops, cushioned between the narrow ribs of the dugout canoe, shimmered like the early morning sunbeams beams dancing on the gently rolling waves of our sweet sea. Its enormous eye stared as transparently as the cloudless dawn, while its adipose eyelid glazed over like a frosted donut, signifying that the fight was over. Tarpon generally weigh 80-280 pounds. “How do we get it out of the boat?” they all wondered. “More importantly,” asked the fisherman, “how do I get it into town to sell it?”
“Look at the mouth on that fish!” Julio demonstrated. Its mouth was as broad as the proposed Nicaraguan Canal, with a prominent lower jaw that jutted out farther than its face, sort of like our Moyogalpa dock. “It must be able to eat a lot of smaller fish with a mouth that size,” I said. The fisherman told us that the Tarpon are night hunters and they swallow their prey whole.
Heaving and hefting, they lifted the monstrous, slippery Tarpon onto the paddles. It took several attempts because the fish was as slippery as our neighbor’s sweat beaded forehead after tending to her daily cooking fires.
This fish story has a very happy ending. The fisherman received 5,000 cordobas for the Tarpon, about two months’ wages. His son brought us a huge hunk of Tarpon for Ron’s help. Although they are bony fish and their meat is usually not eaten, we decided to try it anyway. Now, I understand why these magnificent fish are not commercially valuable as food fish, but our three kittens and our neighbor’s dog feasted until their bellies bloated.
I love a happy ending!