I have been working with a group of fisherman that fish off of the coast here in Montrouis, Haiti where we live. They fish for a living and it is usually pretty tough going. One project I have been working on is trying to develop a light that they can use at night in their wooden canoes for catching bait. Currently they put a fuel burning lamp on a paddle over the water and that draws in the fish for them to catch to use as bait. The lamps are not very effective and the smoke they put off burn the eyes of the fisherman and they must buy oil to use them. Many nights they do not catch any bait. That means they can't go fishing for the big fish the next morning.
I have been meeting with the fisherman every week. I have began to develop some relationships but they have just seen me as just a "blanc" - the term for white people in Haiti- that wants to help but not as a fisherman. This past Monday after our meeting, I started talking about how we fished with jugs and trot lines when I was growing up. They started asking questions and testing me on fishing stuff. By the end of the evening- which invlolved me showing them a shark week episode- they were beginning to talk to me more like a fisherman. Then one of the guys invited me fishing to test out the light I have been working on.
I took a little radio that the US Army was giving out that you can turn a handle to charge it or set it in the sun. I attached a wire that leads to three LCD lights sealed inside a small bottle inside a green bottle- attracts more fish- and then weighted to sink the bottle. I have about 20 more of the radios left that we could use for the lights. And I have given one to all of the fisherman right after the earthquake.
So at 8:00 Thursday night I went out fishing to test the light. Roger showed up in a borrowed aluminum boat. He did not want me to have to go out in his wooden canoe. I think he was scared the blanc would tip him over in the middle of the night!
So me and Jeanmoy went with him and spent from 8:00pm until 1:00 am catching bait fish using a line with about 20 hooks on it and pieces of styrofoam for bait. You just let the line sink under the light and shake it up and down and wait for the bait fish to come. The same way we catch bait fish off the coast in Florida. The difference is the line is rolled around a piece of styrofoam block and each time you pull up the 50 to 60 feet of line with a fish on it- it ends up getting tangled up. We shared stories and some potted meat and caught about 2 dozen bait fish. Most of our time was spent bailing water out of the leaky boat.
The light worked but I have several things that I need to redo to make it better. I was more concerned about making it able to be submersed in the water but we need to just make it brighter and using a rechargable power source.
Yesterday Roger went out with the bait and returned around lunch...with nothing. I told him I wanted to go with him to fish for the big fish...wahoo, sail fish, dauphin, etc. He told me he did not want me to go today because he did not see anyone catch any fish and he did not want me to go and not catch anything. I told him that I would be fine with not catching anything that I wanted to see how he did everything. So he called me later and told me he had arranged to borrow the same rickety boat and even a motor if I could buy some gas. So I did and he told me he would see me at 5 am.
So that is where the fun began. Right on time at 5:30 Roger showed up to get me. We took the leaky boat with a load of styrofoam blocks and gallon bleach jugs wrapped with line and hooks along with our little bait fish and headed out. It took us about 40 minutes to get to the spot where we were going to put out the jugs. The same place takes 3 hours to paddle.
We spent about 45 minutes baiting and putting out the jugs. The jugs have about 100 feet of 90 pound test line tied to a steel wire leader and hook. After we placed all the jugs we went and sat to watch them. The waves were getting rough so it was hard to see the jugs but we just sat and waited.
We talked about Roger's childhood and his current family. We have helped him with his 5 kids several times when no fish could be found. He does not talk much but we had some good conversation about his religious beliefs and I got to share with him the love Jesus has for him.
He was very careful to not lose any of the bait fish. Even the dead ones. I knew that the big game fish we were after rarely eat dead fish so I figured he used them for cut bait or something. When I asked he gave me the "dumb blanc" look and told me that his family would be eating those bait fish tonight if we did not catch anything. That is definitely motivation for fishing. I also asked how long he waited before he collected the jugs and went home. He said until he caught a fish or the day was over. I forgot he was not there for sport.
About 9:00 - when I had used up all of my creole and sunscreen- Roger calmly said "pwason" - fish. I looked and a six foot sail fish was walking on his tail across the water about 300 yards away. After that another one leaped about 5 feet out of the water. Roger started the motor and I put down my water bailing bucket. When we reached the first line I plucked the styrofoam block out of the water and handed it to Roger as he passed me in the boat heading towards the bow. He stood and began letting the big fish pull the boat around. I looked and saw that in all we had 4 fish on lines at the same time.
Roger starting pulling in the line slowly and I wrapped it around the styrofoam block as he retrieved it. Then the fish would leap out of the water and make a run and pull the line back off of the block once again. Pull, wrap, unwrap, pull, wrap, unwrap...for almost an hour we let the fish pull us around like a tug boat. Finally he fatigued and after a few precarious trips around the boat I handed Roger the 8 foot mango stick with the rusted harpoon nailed to the end. I took the line and Roger plunged the iron hook into the side of the fish just behind the gills. He then grabbed the fish in the gills and heaved it into my lap! Then, without celebration, or photo ops, Roger started the boat again and we went in search of the other fish. By time we got back to where they were one was already off the hook. We tracked down another one and I told Roger that this one was mine.
I had decided that any fish we caught I would buy from Roger at the normal price since if I was not there he would be able to catch them and sell them. So then I was afraid that if I lost the fish I would be losing Roger's money. So I told him before I grabbed the line that I would pay him either way. Even if I lost it. So I stood up in the unstable little boat that was being rocked by the waves. As soon as I grabbed the line I knew it was going to be a fight. The fish took off before I could even start pulling. Dragging our little boat about as easily as he pulled the jug. Slowly I began to retrieve the line in a hand over fist fashion. I knew not to get my hand or fingers tangled in the line or it could be ugly when the fish went for a run. My fish was less fatigued than Roger's. It constantly took all of the line I retrieved. After a powerful leap out of the water followed by a graceful tail dance, the trophy size sail fish dove deep. I tugged, and pulled, and tugged, and pulled. Once I was knocked onto floor and almost out of the boat into the sea. A usually compassionate Roger could not help but laugh. Back onto my feet I braced myself better and continued the epic battle. After just over an hour the fish was visible as it ascended towards the boat. I told Roger to spear it for me and he helped me get dinner into the boat.
By time I finished my fight the other fish was gone. It had been on a smaller of the pieces of styrofoam and it just left with it. So we ended up with two fish. We spent the next hour collecting all of the other jugs. I could not imagine doing that in a wooden canoe. It blows my mind. The fish pulled us so far away from where we had to go to get the jugs. I would die before being able to paddle that much. Then after all that was done you have to paddle back home three hours. I was so happy to be in a boat with a motor!
So at the end of the day Roger cleaned and weighed the fish. He only let me pay for one. I tried to give him one of the chunks of filet but he refused. He said fisherman always have fish...even if they are just bitesized!