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Posted by Dix Roper on 07 November 2007 at 02:00 AM

Why not take advantage of terrorism and fly cheap on your next dive trip? Because some of the airlines lowered the mileage for frequent flyer trips, I suddenly found out I could go back to Panama at no cost. Great deal and great chance to escape the harsh winter weather of Southern Calif.

We landed on our dive buddy Edwin Fabrega again and a couple of days later we had all the pieces put together for our first trip. Ana and I met the panga at 6 AM for the 30-mile run down river to the ocean, and we raced against the falling 15-foot tide as it tried to suck the water out from under the boat. From the breaking waves at the river mouth, we had another two hours across open ocean and as the water changed from brown to blue we were stoked that the conditions were looking good. The panga was loaded with food, water, bedding, three barrels of gas, dive gear and this time, TWO guns. This will be our first opportunity to test out Ana’s Christmas present, a Wong carbon fiber pipe gun with the smaller 9/32 shaft. We have never pulled the trigger on the gun and hope that our Wong decision turns out right. We hope we have the chance to put the gun to the test on this trip.

Later that afternoon after stashing all our stuff in the cabin, we jump in the warm clear water and immediately see some small wahoo but we hold off for something bigger. A nice size amberjack (bohala) comes up from the deep and my itchy trigger finger gets the better of me. I aim for a stone shot two or three inches behind the eye but misjudge the distance and hit a little low. The fish is bigger and stronger than I thought and he manages to tweak the shaft on the bottom before I can get him up. Test Shot Number One; first trigger pull for the new gun is a beautiful 45 lb. Bohala. Fresh fish for the camp tonight!

The next day not only do I wake up with a head cold but then I go outside and get attacked by the psycho resident deer. I am still half-asleep as I hang my towel on the clothesline, when I suddenly feel these sharp hooves pounding on my back. It scares me and cuts up my back and I consider for a moment that test shot #2, should be to spear a deer. It is time to get out of Jurassic Park and get in the ocean where it is safe.

On the way out to Hannibal Bank we jump in on a huge floating tree and it is utterly magnificent. The water is crystal clear and in and around the branches and trunk of this giant natural FAD is an assortment of hundreds of small fish of all types and colors. I float there for ten minutes completely fascinated by the variety of life and color in this 3D, floating city, drifting with the current. A couple of dorado and even one lone tuna that looked like he had been caught in a net, pass by - all out of range.

Heading for the first high spot we are saddened to see the long-lines stretched across the bank. As they are fishing mainly dorado, the lines are just a few inches under the surface and we have to be careful that our outboard does not get tangled. We pass by dorado, turtles and birds hooked in the long-line. An eco-system that is being over-fished like this cannot survive much longer.

On the high spot itself there is a wooden fishing boat anchored and ten guys are fishing with hand lines day and night for fish to sell. We drift with the current a few times over the peak at 140 feet and see no activity except mantas. No bait, no jacks, nothing. Ana is carrying the bigger gun in case we see tuna. I have a bad cold, the Wong gun with a bent shaft from the day before, a small Rob Allen buoy and a 25-foot bungie. Not very likely that I am going to make Test Shot #2 today.

With Ana on my left we both looked down and were surprised to see a big dark shadow coming in leisurely from the left at about 20 feet. With no hesitation Ana dives to investigate and as I watch I can see that even though she is not sure what it is-she is going to try and shoot it. By the time she gets down, the fish is a little past her and she is pumping hard to try to catch up for a shot. I make a max dive to about 8 feet to watch what happens and the fish abruptly turns up and comes directly toward me. It’s size and bill scare me until it turns broadside at about six feet and I switch from prey to predator in a nanosecond. Test Shot #2 coming up. BAM The bend in the shaft does not seem to have much effect at this range or with this size target, so I get a good shot in the head just behind the gill plate. I grab the Rob Allen float as it goes by and rapidly vacate the area. The fish stays steady at about 15 feet deep and I am trying to think what I will do if he makes a U turn. Who would win the swordfight between his bill fiber and my carbon fiber? The problem never comes up and we just cruise steadily for about ten minutes and I watch as group after group of small football size tuna come up and excitedly swim around the fish, which I now realize is a sailfish. As the fish tires and I start to pull myself down the shooting line, I sense it could be very dangerous to do this wrong. Then I remember reading on the list another divers account of this situation and how he came in from behind, got his hand in the gills and pointed the fish’s head for the surface. It worked like a charm. The fish swam me straight up and we broke water like a Polaris missile with the long bill slashing harmlessly back and forth. A magnificent fish and the first sail I have ever seen under water.

At sixty three, I realize this is probably my first and last sailfish but I am in deep gratitude that Mother Ocean has seen fit to provide me with yet another, unique, mystical experience, a wonderful mix of fear, adrenaline, exuberance, joy and wonder. For Test Shot #2 chalk up one sailfish, probably over one hundred pounds and over 9 feet long, tip to tip. Also thanks to Ana for chasing the fish up to me for a nice close shot.

The opportunity for Test Shot #3 of the Wong gun with the bent shaft, came on day three. Ana had missed a nice wahoo with the big gun and came to me to exchange her unloaded gun for her new Wong gun which she had never shot.. She saw a small silhouette on the surface outside and dove without looking at the fish. When she turned up and looked, the fish was above her and on the surface. Out of air she swam aggressively toward the fish and aimed up at 45 degrees for behind the eye. BAM! The bent shaft hits forward of the eye, goes right through the cheeks and toggles perfectly. The fish screams off and using the 25-foot bungy, Ana lands a beautiful fish on her first trigger pull with her new gun. For Test Shot #3 of the Wong gun, score one beautiful 56 lb. Wahoo.

Testing 1-2-3- trigger pulls of the new gun (1) A 45 lb. Amberjack (2) A 100 lb. Sailfish (3) A 56 lb. Wahoo. I would say our Wong carbon fiber pipe gun is a “KEEPER” and from our perspective there is no question that “A WONG DECISION TURNED OUT TO BE RIGHT.”

One image that remained in my mind from this trip was the magnitude of the commercial fishing that is taking place worldwide. I urge all of you water brothers to take the time soon to return to the liquid world and make your connection and appreciate and enjoy the wonderful encounters that are available for us now. Such natural blessings are here for us in our time. Don’t miss out. The communion, the exercise, the brotherhood, the freedom, the thrill, the growth, the hunt, and all the surprises await us when go back to the source- Mother Ocean. Let’s take the time to plan our next adventure to the silent world while there are a few fish left.

May we all be blessed with clear water and big fish.
    Dix and Ana Roper
    February 26,2002

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