After two successful trips to Socorro and San Benedicto Islands in the past few months, and a lot of awesome tuna, marlin, and wahoo fishing in our wake, Ben and I were feeling pretty good about the fact that we'd managed to find the right federal connection to open the doors to the Revillagigedo Islands. It certainly hasn't been easy, or cheap, but our efforts have definitely paid off in spades. After ten long years of blanket closures we have succeeded in garnering permits to fish the Islands, and now their validity has been proven without question yet again. Despite our previous back-slapping, we did have one final hurdle to jump before we officially crossed the finish line, and that hurdle had CLARION ISLAND written across it in boldface type. With one dragon left to slay before the kingdom was safe, we aimed our arrows for the deep dirt, and loaded up the GLADIATOR for the long siege. If we had a bumper sticker slapped on the ass of the ship, you know what it would read.
We flew in to Cabo San Lucas from all corners of North and Central America. Ben hopped over the lake from PV, I hurried up from Panama, Jarred, Brian, Chris and Stacey arrived from several points east. We met Capt Danny and the crew from the Gladiator and prepped for departure. If we were the knights of the round table, then we were to be blessed beyond all hope by having Sir Lancelot himself along for at least the first part of the adventure. Capt Frank LoPreste himself had drawn his sword and joined the endeavor. With the Royal Polaris fishing outside the restricted zone, Frank needed a lift to his boat and we were glad to provide it. You don't need to be a physicist to figure out that a chance to ride down to Clarion with the godfather of Long Range fishing is not to be missed.
It took a few short hours to finalize preparations. With high hopes and a lot of celebration we unfastened the lines, cranked up the music, cracked open the Jack Daniels, and started the high-fives. I've never been aboard the Royal Polaris when it's left on a trip to Clarion Island, but i think it's safe to assume that Frank's never had a trip start off richter like this. Long shots of Tennessee whiskey and thumping R&B, yes Frank, we do things a little differently around here.
We're a rowdy bunch of pirates, no doubt. By the time the sun set and we were fifty some-odd miles south of Cabo the boat was overflowing with more than it's fair share of holiday cheer. Capt Danny showed us a local Mexican board game called "Don't Get Mad!" where the toss of the dice dictates a players movement around the board, and with thirty hours of steaming south to Clarion Island to look forward to we quickly embraced the game. By midnight we'd succeeded in manipulating the rules, turning an otherwise innocent board game into a drinking adventure which we championed long into the night.
I stumbled towards my bunk at some point well after midnight, passing Frank and Danny at the helm. "Yeeww guyzzz take err frum heeerrre..." I said, saluting.
Frank and Danny chuckled and bode me goodnight. "It might not be the Royal Polaris" Frank's probably thinking, "but these guys definitely do alright!"
There is a very real and reverberating sense of adventure when one is aboard an eighty foot custom yacht headed south from Cabo towards Clarion Island. It's not everyday that a group of anglers gets to do this sort of thing. A special sense of privilege descends upon the group as the miles pass astern, a quiet acknowledgement of the effort and community it takes to pull off something like this. It's an unsaid feeling of brotherhood, a taste of modern day pirating, adventurous living at it's best.
The next morning we began tackle preparations in earnest, despite a few nasty hangovers that claimed a few of our group. We passed the time rigging rods and reels, jigs, poppers, live bait leaders, and any and everything in between. Frank was a wealth of information, relating tips and advice whenever needed.
"Frank what do you think about this?" or "Frank where do you recommend?" Patiently the Godfather answered all questions. Always ready with a quick smile or a colorful anecdote from past experience.
It was a great day of travel, filled with countless stories and some seriously heated games of "DON'T GET MAD!!!"
As the sun set astern of the Gladiator we enjoyed another incredible meal thanks to the magical talents of Chef Manuel and settled into our bunks, visions of Clarion Island and the mythical fish that swim there fresh in our heads.
The smell of cooking bacon awoke me from my bunk early the next morning. Most of the crew were already at the table, anxiously waiting the next manifestation of Manuel's talents. No one went hungry on this trip, that is for certain. Each and every morning Manuel would lay out a spread of fresh fruit, bacon, eggs, sausages, tortillas, french toast, anything and more you could have wanted. The Four Seasons would have to hurry to keep up with Manuel.
As we gulped down breakfast Capt Danny announced what we'd been anxiously waiting to hear for the past thirty six hours - "LAND HO AMIGOS!!!!"
And with that plates of deliciousness were forgotten. We scrambled to the helm where true to word, Clarion Island loomed in the distance. The level of excitement on board went from excited to feverish real quick. The steep volcanic shoreline of Clarion grew in size, revealing a harsh and hardened island cut from a prehistoric past. You could almost see the violent history play out before your eyes as millions of years of geologic evolution culminated into the present manifestation, an island created in the middle of nowhere by forces beyond comprehension. The gods, perhaps, were fisherman in those days. Creating such anomalies in nature to one day be enjoyed by the believers of such things.
With Capt Danny Alvarez and Frank at the helm we steered towards Clarion Island and deployed the marauders. It wasn't long before the wahoo found us and the 50 Wides were barking in defiance as Jared and the boys scrambled for jig sticks. It was a veritable fire drill as jigs flew in all directions and wahoo hit the deck in rapid succession. We called the Navy and checked in over the radio, as one after another wahoo of various sizes annihilated our jigs.
After some quick fun with the wahoo we opted to head for the Naval base, officially check in, and call the Royal Polaris inside the restricted zone to rendezvous with Frank. The boys in the uniforms were very accommodating once they saw our paperwork and we traded stories with them as we waited for the RP to show.
The sight of the Royal Polaris coming around the corner of Clarion Island to meet us is a memory that will remain with me forever. Capt Roy pulled the RP astern of the Gladiator and crammed our tanks with sardines before Frank jumped aboard. I'm sure both crews were surprised to see each other way out there. It was one of those moments in life where you just shake your head and wonder aloud about the workings of fate and the intricate calculations that dictate such things.
We shrugged our shoulders, bode our farewell to Frank, and headed off in opposite directions to see what the afternoon would bring.
Danny drove us southeast from the Naval base towards a group of birds working and in no time the rods came crashing down. Wahoo and tunas were working bait over a pinnacle and every pass produced a strike from something.
Paul from JPR Rods gave me a few prototype spinning and jigging rods to try out during this trip and it wasn't long before i was able to give him the veritable "thumbs up!" for performance and dependability. I caught a fat wahoo on an iron on my first cast of the afternoon, popping the new rod's cherry nicely.
Danny said he was marking some bigger fish on the meter just to the south of the pinnacle so we opted to shut down and throw some live bait out for a drift. I flipped a caballito out and it barely made it twenty yards before something hoovered it. Ripping off line and headed for the deep i knew it was a tuna, and a good one.
The boys got me in the harness and i went to work on the fish. It took a full fifteen minutes before the tuna stopped running, and another ten before i could work it into a more predictable rhythm. Switching to low gear i gave the beast everything i had and in another twenty minutes had the fish right where i wanted it before SNAP! the wind-on pulled and what would have been a solid one swam freely away. I was pissed, it was a good one. I spent a full two minutes cursing the manufacturer of the pre-made wind-on. Swearing that i'd never, EVER use a pre-made leader again.
After the somewhat heartbreaking loss Capt Danny moved us towards the north end of the island where Frank had said on the radio that he'd spotted some good action on his way back outside the restricted zone. We pulled up to the area and two good sized bird schools revealed the tunas tearing apart bait schools underneath. First stop produced a solid fish for Brian, who had the misfortune of catching a solid fish on 30# tackle. Don't ask me who or why thought it was a good idea to throw that pea-shooter out there!
Brian is a neophyte saltwater angler, in fact this was his first offshore trip. Who goes to Clarion on their first offshore fishing trip?!?!?! Despite the odds he did a remarkable job on his fish, besting it in under an hour. Not many people can say that they caught their first yellowfin tuna at Clarion Island, but Brian sure as hell did.
Chris was up next with a solid 150 pounder that fought a lot like a two fifty. I don't know if it's the remoteness, the igneous minerals, or the proximity to God, but the fish are downright MEAN out at Clarion. Chris gave it everything he had and then some, managing to steer the fish towards the gaffs as the sun petered out below the horizon.
If you ask me, i'd say that we were off to one hell of a start.
We had a quick meeting during dinner and decided that it would be fun to try and hit every island in the Revillagigedo chain during the week. And despite the great fishing we decided to leave Clarion and steam towards Roca Partida during the night.
I left with mixed feelings, but when you have this kind of an opportunity before you there's not much you can do but take advantage of the possibilities and wing it. Off to Roca we went.
Roca Partida is ridiculously small oasis in the middle of nowhere. Scarcely larger than your average three bedroom house Roca rises from a seemingly endless bottom to a guano covered thumb in the middle of a very lonely ocean. It is a sight to behold i assure you.
We deployed the marauders once again and made one pass, successfully landing a wahoo before the sharks were upon us. From then on it was a veritable effort in futility to try and catch a wahoo, grouper, or tuna without losing it to the endless barrage of critters intent on guarding their lair. We ended up having to circle far and wide from the Roca in order to land any more wahoo, and even then a stop of more than two or three minutes meant that the tax man would find you. Hindsight is twenty twenty, they say. So we put the marlin lures out, circled the Roca outside the thousand curve for a few hours before steering for San Benedicto and calling it a day.
Despite the shark problem, which isn't always the case, Roca remains one of those isolated and distant places that anglers, including myself, continue to dream of fishing one day. Just to be there and see the wahoo sky after a jig or a school of tunas blow up around the rock is something very, very few people get to experience. I now count myself in that small percentage of people who call themselves the "lucky few".
So we steamed for San Benedicto, where past experience tells us we're in for some fun. We arrive at Benedicto around two in the morning and absolutely crush the goggle eyes during the night. Fully tanked up on bait and ready to rock we put the hammer down as the sun comes up and by noon you can just about walk on the wahoo. It's an orgy of chaos in the cockpit as Jared, Brian, Chris, Stacey, Ben and myself nail one hoo after another. With flat calm seas and bright sunshine we spend the entire day circumnavigating the island and hammering all sorts of wahoo and tuna along the way.
By this point in the trip we're spoiled on the carnage. Content to drink beer and watch the crew catch a tuna or two.
I remember sitting up in the tower with Danny at one point. Looking down upon the deck where Jared and the boys are battling fish, having the times of their lives, the music is pumping, succulent aromas wafting up from the kitchen. I look around the boat at the bird schools, one form of critter or another rising up from the deep to crash a bait on the surface in a wild and messy explosion. San Benedicto sits off our port side, Clarion and Roca Partida fresh memories in our wake. I turn to Danny who's consequently smiling, "Hey amigo" i ask him, "what are you doing next week?"
Pics available here:
We're headed back in June for our next trip to Clarion, and I CAN HARDLY WAIT!!!!
Stay tuned for a full report when i get back!!!!