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"If you don't mind the half-hour haul down there," Bob Griffin said, "you could head for Jicar�n, try for a sailfish on the way down, then plug the reef."
The name closed a memory circuit. "You want us to tangle with the Red Horde, eh?" Tom asked him dramatically. We were well into the third round of the cocktail hour. "We'll make a movie," I sniggered. "We'll call it The Sea Turns Scarlet."
"No," Tom guffawed, "it's going to be The Plugs of Jicar�n."
Only Griffin's pet howler monkey, tethered outside where he could ambush small iguanas and eat them like Popsicles, reacted appreciatively, with cartwheels and a manic laugh. The others, Griffin in particular, looked at us curiously.
"Down there," he said, "are more cubera snappers, probably, than anywhere else in the world. And when they are really feeding, patches of the sea do change color. You'll see tomorrow."
We were momentarily chastened but after dinner, as we made our way through the warm darkness to our cottage, the somewhat ludicrous notion of the snapper army took over again. Even so, we both had brought heavy casting rods and reels with us. For all the fantasies, for all the jokes, something had got through to us that lunchtime in Manhattan. Clearly there could be no such thing as hundreds of fish of 50 pounds and more making a massed rush for a plug. But there was a certain depth of feeling in the way our guest had talked that afternoon. Probably the cubera fishing would make a pleasant interlude of relief after the serious business of the wahoo and the sails. If there was time, we concluded, we might just try it for an hour.
So we headed south that morning, leaving the penal colony to starboard, roaring by islands humped like camels, low and twisted like sea serpents, all of them lush and green, some alive with frigate birds. We weathered point after point as the ocean swell became more apparent, and then just off a tide rip Rafael slowed down. Time to look for a sail, he said.
Now the idea was, you see, that we would try to take at least one sailfish on fly. But, naturally, we didn't want to rush things. The right course, we reasoned, would be to have at least a couple of sails under our belts before we would be psychologically ready to use up what might be a long spell of fishing time on a problematic venture. So although the large saltwater fly rods were readied and laid out in the bow, we suggested to Rafael that first we would just act like ordinary fishermen and troll. At Club Pacifico, we'd been told, fly-fishing for sails was a kind of specialty of the house and the guides were well versed in the techniques of teasing the fish up. Rafael, though, didn't seem very much put out when we made our suggestion. Indeed, with hindsight, one might well have identified a look of relief in his expression.
So we trolled, and for a long time the trolling turned out to be what trolling is often like, that is to say, the most boring form of fishing yet devised by man. Indeed we were restlessly talking about hauling in the lines in another 10 minutes when two beauties came right up behind the plastic squids and grabbed one apiece in a classic double strike. We got them both, 102 and 109 pounds, and naturally then would have been the moment to take the hooks out of the lures and go ahunting for another sail on the fly rod. But by the time we had landed our brace we had cleared the last, southerly headland before the island that had already passed into our private mythology: Jicar�n.
It was really very similar to the other small islands around Coiba, lush and verdant, a neon-green sea sluicing its rocks and falling white on its beaches. In addition, Jicar�n wore, like an ornament, a rusting tramp steamer that had run aground on its northernmost point. "Trying to get away from the Red Horde," Tom said—predictably, I thought. "He don't see the light," Rafael corrected him.