We headed a point or two out to sea, and it was possible to see the reef, even though it was covered at high tide. The swells moved across it, frothing white, and as we came nearer and it became more defined, we could see its extent—a long reef, parallel with the shore, with three pinnacles almost breaking the surface.
We stood off to rig the heavy casting gear and Rafael put us in position 200 feet from the nearest break. Tom's popper went out first, splashing into a smooth hump of water that was building over the rock; then he was working it back, jerking his rod tip violently and reeling fast. "Hey! Hey!" Rafael yelled. A big, sullen swirl broke astern of the popper. Tom reeled faster. Two more swirls and then his rod was hard over and he was frantically trying to tighten the drag. Under no circumstances, our luncheon guest had told us, was any line to be given. If it was, the cubera would be straight into the reef, cutting us off. So to encourage Tom as he sweated and panted to hold his fish, I told him that he had one of the lesser cuberas there. "You have merely encountered one of their outlying pickets," I told him.
Tom lost his fish and we turned to our comedy routine again. Rafael listened silently to our plans for defending the Aquasport against the Horde, then said crushingly, "Is not cubera you have. Is little surface snapper. About 15, 20 pounds. Small cuberas is twice as big. I take you to them now, and maybe to some big cubera." He swung the boat around and headed uptide again. "You cast that way," he said, pointing. Two poppers flew out, started to jerk back on the surface and then, quite suddenly, the sea turned red.
Not an acre of red, but a patch as big as a medium-sized hotel lobby. And not primary red either, more a dull brick color. There were crashing explosions all around the plugs, then both our rods were wrenched down savagely. "Cuberas come," Rafael said nonchalantly.
Silently, Tom and I fought our fish. This time we were in better shape than during Tom's first snapper encounter because now there was a lot more water beneath us and we had some room to maneuver and to contain the repeated crash dives. Even so, and even on heavy gear, it was 15 minutes before both the fish were subdued, coming up dull red, the dog-fanged jaws moving slowly. "Is small cuberas," Rafael announced, lifting them out on the gaff. "Go maybe 35 pounds. Now you cast again."
Tom and I looked at each other. If those were small fish, we were not entirely certain that we wanted to cast again. The Red Horde that was a joke had now turned out to be real. Maybe another of our fantasies was real, too: the Cubera King, deep in his rocky, weed-fronded fastness, might come out and accept our challenge, all 100 pounds of him. Or something similarly nasty. Such a thought, comical thousands of miles north, was easy to entertain when you were riding an ocean swell surrounded by lumps of Central American jungle.
Even so, we cast again, and once again the Red Horde sallied out from its fortress. We dragged the plugs away from it frenetically, in the hope that they wouldn't be hit until they were over deep water, but they were engulfed before they had traveled 50 feet. There was a difference this time, though. Even before the first power dive could materialize, brown shadows appeared in the subsurface and we felt the familiar, sickening deadweight of sharks on the line.
There was no fighting them; they were simply too big. We broke off and cast three or four more times. The same. "When sharks come, they stay," Rafael said. "We shift away from here now."
So we did. We trolled a wahoo channel on the far side of the island and by the time the second fish was aboard the sharks had arrived. Landing wahoo heads is not really fun. We set out for home. "Tomorrow I want to stay away from Blood Island," I told Rafael. "Let's try to take one of those sails on the fly."
The technique of catching sailfish on flies is now well established, since Dr. Webster Robinson's first successful experiments in 1962. You troll hookless teasers until you raise a sail. Then you enrage the fish by snatching the teaser from it until it turns blue and green with fury. Then you haul in the teaser and substitute your fly. More sails have been caught this way out of Club Pacifico than from any other fishing camp in the world—or so it's said. And the guides are naturally very experienced.