A Big Fish Story: How to get a Tarpon into Town

“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.

IMG_1391This morning, Julio urgently called to us. “Run to the beach! The fisherman caught a gigantic fish in his net.” “Holy mackerel!” I shouted. “No,” responded Ron. “It’s a Tarpon.”

IMG_1342“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. IMG_1344Tarpon 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?”

IMG_1350“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.

IMG_1356The fisherman wheeled his bicycle through the deep volcanic sand and docked it close to the canoe.

IMG_1360The fisherman strapped the strong, handmade paddles to his bicycle to brace the Megalops for the long ride into town.

IMG_1364Heaving 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.

IMG_1368Then, It was tightly bound to the bicycle, leaving no room for the fisherman to ride, only to push his prize into town.

IMG_1375“We need to carefully balance this monster,” the fisherman warned. Meanwhile, his son  dug out his prize..the eyeball!

IMG_1381Pushing it through the deep and unwieldy sand, they slowly make their way to the hard-packed road.

IMG_1384“Steady, steady,” warned the fisherman.

IMG_1387To market, to market to sell a fat fish..jiggety jigging along the sandy path.

IMG_1388Look at the size of those scales! These scales will make a beautiful pair of earrings.

IMG_1389This 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!

17 thoughts on “A Big Fish Story: How to get a Tarpon into Town

  1. Growing up watching my dad fish with the tarraya (fishing net), i have never been able to understand why people fish with a pole and why they release a fish after its caught. To me, it’s weird.

  2. What a smile this brought to my face. Great fish story with a great ending. Nothing goes to waste and just like Santiago, where there’s a will, there’s a way. I’m sure if there was a wheelbarrow, donkey, mule, whatever, he would have found a way.

    • This is the first Tarpon I’ve ever seen. When I asked Ron what normally happens when one catches a Tarpon, he said that they are great sport fish because they are real fighters. Then, they release them. Nicaraguans would never catch and release. They eat everything, from the smallest, boniest fish ( more bones than meat) to the giant Tarpon. Apparently they love those big hunks of dark, fishy tasting meat. 🙂

  3. I have started my day with this lovingly told tale! Thank you for giving me such a sweet story to carry with me throughout my workday, I will smile every time I think of that bike loaded down with a whole months wage! That fisherman will likely tell that fish tale himself for years to come! Cheers!

    • Holly, I’m glad I could help start your day with a bit of laughter. It almost sounds like a tall tale, doesn’t it? I don’t think I would have believed it, if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. Ahh..the look in that fisherman’s eyes when he proudly showed us his catch of the day.

  4. Love this post! We would have just tossed it in a truck. It’s good to be reminded that things are more complicated for much of the world, but how good that the fisherman got well compensated for his luck and perseverance. It must have been quite something to even get it IN the canoe to get it back to shore!

  5. What a lovely story! The Old Man & The Sea is one of my favorite stories, so I was hooked from the first line! I have tarpon fished in your lake near the upper end of the San Juan River, and I often fish on the other end at Rio Colorado Lodge on the CR side.
    I especially loved how they strapped the fish to the paddles and wheeled it to town on bicycles. Seeing the pastoral beauty of the trees lining the edge of the lake was nostalgic as well.
    Yes, I loved this post, and I’m glad you confirmed that tarpon are not very tasty!
    Thanks so much!

    • Z..you always write the nicest comments. Thank you for reading my big fish story. Yes, this was incredible and probably one of the most interesting things I’ve seen this year. I think the only thing that tops it is the giant floating island, or gopelote, that floated by our house over a year ago.

      • watching a floating island would have been fun as well!

        as i scrolled down the page of the tarpon story, i laughed to myself, as i saw myself through your lens! i would have been doing the exact same thing, recording all the way until the parade vanished from sight!


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