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Trolling LaGuaira Bank on 12 cents a gallon.
Story & Photos By Joe Richard.

Swooping low over the last few miles of the South Caribbean into the Caracas airport in Venezuela is fairly awesome, watching those 12-foot blue whitecaps just below.

That’s where we crossed paths with Papillion, who in the 1930s sailed right past here in a skiff each time he escaped from prison in French Guiana-always pushed west by these same trade winds. After many years of misery and adventures in other countries, suck as Colombia, the Caracas government allowed him to immigrate, where he lived out his days peacefully, part of the melting pot of immigrants that make up this country.

We were here on business and fun, however, to tempt billfish that swarm off this coast. Somebody had to do it, and if fuel was 12 cents a gallon, why we would just spend each and every day trolling up and down LaGuaira Bank with a spread of skirted ballyhoo bouncing in the wake. The bank isn’t far offshore and if it isn’t hazy, you can still see the Mountain range that towers up to 9,600 feet above Mango Marina where we stayed, back on the coast.

Accustomed to long runs offshore, son Ian and I were unprepared when a blue marlin pounced on the port long bait, only minutes after our baits splashed the water. Sharky’s Revenge backed down so hard that water on deck trembled like an earthquake. Karen Rodman from Miami found herself attached to her first blue marlin, a fish of 250 pounds, jumping around in frenzy astern, hooked on only 30-pound line. That’s thin string for an eight foot fish that prefers to jump in six-foot seas. However, with quality tackle, close angler advice from South Fishing’s Henry Riggs-Miller and smart boat handling by Capt. Bubba Carter (who’s had quite a career billfishing); we soon had the mate grabbing a fistful of leader.

Next, it was Viviana’s turn. She is Bubba’s girlfriend from Barinas, in Venezuela’s interior. Quite the trooper, as it turns out. She had never caught a billfish of any kind. At one point she was “honking” over the rail, having forgotten her Dramamine that morning. When the mates chuckled or made jokes about her getting sick, she flipped them off over her shoulder, while busy hugging the gunnels. A reel sang out and she recovered fast, however. They slapped a fighting belt around her waist and she was soon attached to another marlin, this time a large white that tail-walked twice for very jump the blue marlin had made a few minutes before. Somehow she had the strength to subdue this marlin with the 30-pound outfit, while standing up the entire time in choppy swells. Someone kept a hand on her, so she wouldn’t get yanked overboard. When that handsome fish was finally subdued, she was a little slack-jawed from the workout or maybe just plain flabbergasted, but quickly recovered. On top of that, a crewman pulled a remora fish off the marlin, and attached it to her belly. Not a quibble or girlish scream on her part, just curiosity at how a fish can attach itself to bare skin.

A little later we had a sailfish to the boat, and so caught our slam of three different billfish before lunch, a common thing here. Nowhere will you find it easier to catch a slam of billfish, or even a grand slam, than in Venezuela.

Why? The locals here have a talent for catching swordfish during the day, fish that average 125 pounds. In the afternoon we stopped and dropped a tailless bonito down 1,000 feet, with a flashing strobe light, and attached a sack weighted with a smooth river stone. Once on bottom, the crew pops the sack and rock loose, and then the bait drifts near bottom. A float is attached after the first bait hits bottom, and then the boat is backed away about 100 yards. Then, a second bait is dropped deep below the boat. That way, two baits are fished far apart. They say the sword fish aren’t particular, eating almost any kind of bait, including octopus. It makes you wonder why South Florida anglers don’t try the same thing during daylight hours. Who says you have to fish at night?

Generally, action was a bit slow on our strip in early spring, because green (what we call kingfish) water moved onto Laguaira Bank. The wind calmed down, which may have actually hindered the action in a wild place like this. We had to strike out to the northeast about 25 miles, hunting for clean blue water in an open expanse. There was not one scrap of yellow Sargasso weed in that part of the Caribbean, something taken for granted in U.S. waters. We did fight and leader up several more blue marlin, however, and whiffed on a big white that seemed determined to hook itself.

On the last day in puny one-foot seas we had a blind strike, banded a dolphin, and noticed a short, but fat log bobbing nearby. And made another pass. Wham! More dolphin slammed into the ballyhoo, eight of them in all. After a pause nearby, a deckhand rigged up an orange diving plug for fast-trolling past the log and soon we had two wahoo thrashing on deck. These guys can certainly fish. Fish lay in a heap in the box below deck.

Though it was winter and supposed to be rough, we hit a weather window with friendly seas. The calm season here is actually August through October and that fortunately is when billfish action peaks. As Henry explained, each boat can expect 10 to 15 raises daily from white marlin in August, and that number increases to 15 or 20 fish each day in September. About 75 percent of all strikes then are white marlin, with remaining hits split between blue marlin and sailfish. It’s hot weather and hurricane season, but Venezuela is too far south to be affected by passing storms, except in very rare instances.

We didn’t get out on the street to visit with the locals, it’s true, which is what I prefer. Mango Marina is actually a nice lodge on the water with room for three charterboats in the back yard, and a pool. Steaks were constantly on the outdoor grill, sometimes twice a day. There was no way to work off the calories, however, except pulling on fish. Instead of hitting the discos late, we had fisherman’s stories around the pool, with an open bar. Maybe it was just as well: they certainly don’t want visiting anglers running amuck in town in the middle of the night.

You needed you wits about you for that big breakfast and morning sortie offshore-where big fish inhale ballyhoo pulled on only 30-pound line, and then run off like a spotted ape.

Nice weather in LaGuaira harbor, but you can count on an easterly wind offshore.
Captain Bubba Carter has quite the reputation for finding billfish in the Atlantic or Pacific.
On the last day it grew quite calm, unusual for these waters.
First day out we found six-foot whitecaps. That seemed to turn the fish on, however.
Blue marlin grabs a skirted ballyhoo and cavorts astern.
Karen Rodman of Miami hooked up a blue marlin, and that fish had her fired up!
Another blue marlin worked in close for the tagging stick...
White marlin eased aboard for quick photos. Venezuela is the epicenter for these fish.
Viviana Borjas from Barinas landed her first white marlin. When a small remora fish fell to the deck, a playful crew member attached it to her belly.
The remora was soon released however, just like all billfish caught by these guys.
One of a number of dolphin caught near a floating log. This one must have taken the hook deep; after bleeding in the water, it probably tasted better on the grill.
Cleaning up at day’s end with steaks on the grill and happy hour just arrived. In the background is part of LaGuaira harbor.

We found accommodations at Mango Marina with South Fishing Inc. of Miami, who are great at picking up their fishermen at the airport and whisking them off through traffic, to the lodge where the boats are kept. They have multiple day fishing packages and have been fishing Venezuelan waters for a long time, with similar operations in Panama and Guatemala. They can be reached at (800) 882-4665. We fished with the company’s Henry Riggs-Miller at henry@southfishing.com.Their web site is at: www.southfishing.com.