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Sailing with Charlie: Fishing Karma

Graphics by Anouk Sylvestre

I wrote a story not long ago about how we humans could learn a lesson or two from our underwater world. As we dive or snorkel through the clear warm waters of our coral reefs we see no signs of aggression towards our intrusion. Alternatively we humans are continually causing havoc to the undersea environment by pollution, fishing, running aground, anchoring, and the taking of coral, shells and other aquatic souvenirs.

Fishing can be disastrous to our oceanic ecosystem. Commercial overfishing has decimated fish stocks worldwide. Sport fishing has a devastating impact on many species that are caught and ‘released’.

A good friend and underwater photographer once explained that marlin hardly stand a chance when released – after hours being dragged behind a boat, tired and bleeding, the sharks are already circling. The same thing happens on a lesser scale when a casual trolling fisher or casting enthusiast catches a fish; it goes through temporary torture when the hook is pulled from its mouth. If you keep it for a fish meal then all is well and good but it may or may not survive if released.

A Scottish family of two boys with their parents was on a cruise for a week around the BVI. The youngest boy, Glen, never stopped begging his dad to go fishing. He’d been unsuccessful on two previous evenings and on this evening at Muskmelon Bay, at sunset; he tossed out the hand line with a piece of whelk firmly attached to the hook. Dad came up with a bunch of crackers, crumbled them into chum and threw them in. It wasn’t long before a Jack came along, gobbled the bait and gave the boy the thrill of the trip. When it landed on deck Charlie told him it wasn’t edible; it might have ciguatera poisoning. But the hook was firmly embedded deep in the fish’s stomach. We had to cut the line and throw the fish back; another casualty, another fish with a hook inside it, painful and bleeding and unlikely to survive.

Next morning early, dad was summoned to take the boy trolling from the dinghy. Mum went along as well and actually asked to be the helm – they were both taking a sailing course so dinghy operation was part and parcel of the training. The boy paid out the line and after a few minutes they had to turn 180 degrees to come back towards the mother boat. Mum made the turn too tightly and the line fouled the propeller stopping the motor. They grabbed the paddles and started to head back to the boat – but they were going nowhere.

The instructions from Dad grew louder and louder until they were both screaming at each other in high voltage decibels. “The current has got us, paddle harder, paddle harder!” shouted Dad.

Charlie had been watching the episode unfold from the cockpit and thought they must have run out of gas. The stricken fishermen were about a hundred yards away. Charlie jumped in with snorkel and swam over to them.

fishing karma
Graphics by Anouk Sylvestre

Charlie arrived and found the erstwhile fishermen hot, sweaty and exhausted and still trying to paddle against ‘the current’. He managed to unwind the line from the prop and then noticed the other problem; the lure had snagged on a piece of coral and was holding them back – nothing to do with the current. As Charlie dove down to release it he noticed a school of blue tangs and a few sergeant-majors; they didn’t swim away and appeared to be laughing – poetic justice perhaps.


Julian Putley is the author of ‘The Drinking Man’s Guide to the BVI’, ‘Sunfun Calypso’, and ‘Sunfun Gospel’. 


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