On the second of April, the Scott Lake Lodge guide team met in Managua, Nicaragua en route to a remote tarpon camp on the San Juan River near the border with Costa Rica. The Guide Retreat is a grand tradition, spanning a over a dozen years and diverse geography: Ascension Bay in Mexico, the bone fishing meccas of the Bahamas, the backcountry of south Florida, the sailfish infested waters of Golfo Duce in Costa Rica as well as closer to home places like the Frasier River in British Columbia where sturgeon measured in feet not inches are found and caught. This year the group wanted two things–hot weather and tarpon. The trip to the San Juan was planned and a dozen of Scott’s finest showed up in Managua.
After a couple of days of sampling the urban delights of Managua and seriously depleting the beer supply of the capital city, the group, led by General Manager John Gariepy, headed south by van to San Carlos at the bottom of massive Lake Nicaragua, then by boat for two hours down the San Juan River to the Monte Cristo Lodge near the small village of Sabalos. Set high above the river the lodge was a naturalist’s delight with an eco-theme featuring daily 4:00 AM wake up calls by a troop of howler monkeys who were right on time every morning. There were regular sightings of three species of monkeys, sloths, crocodiles, otters and birds beyond descriptions. And the fishing? Well, you can’t have everything. Let’s just say the some of the guides were missing the predictable action of Scott Lake.
The trip started with a bang: fifteen minutes into Day 1 owner Tom Klein hooked and landed a twenty pound snook which provided ample fillets for the first of many great dinners. Many other snook and lots of smaller but meaner fish, like the machaca, followed in decent numbers. But the tarpon quest was tough. They are moody fish and remarkably difficult to both hook and land. Bottom line: three tarpon landed and a dozen jumped (a nice way of saying they got off). A potential tarpon shutout was avoided when on Day 4, to use Scott Lake Lodge lingo, Steve “School Zone” Yanish drove his hooks into a heavy tarpon. For an hour and a half he battled the fish before declaring victory. It was dicey several times but Steve brought it to a shoreline for beaching. He then jumped on the muddy looking shoreline only to sink up to his waist in the mud and fall backwards on his right shoulder. But he held on with his left arm high and with the help of the Nicaraguan guide, Jan Phoenix and Tom Klein he literally wrestled (look at the picture) the well over one hundred pound fish to submission. For Steve it was a moment of profound satisfaction. He had dreamed of catching a tarpon since he was fifteen. Nearly twenty years later he held his prize. For others it will have to be a dream delayed until a future trip, except for Jan Phoenix who was not interested in dreams, but he will be dreaming for years about his experience on the very last day of the trip.
No one in the group had fished harder than Jan. At 5:00 AM on Day 7 Jan was out on the water while everyone else was still in bed. His faith and determination were rewarded. That morning he hooked three tarpon and landed two–the picture tell the rest of the story. They were both 100 pound plus tarpon. One required an hour and twenty minutes to land. This was a storybook ending to an exciting and rewarding trip. While this was not the tarpon bonanza the guys had hoped for it was for all a memorable trip. Fishing after all is fishing and results rarely meet expectations. (Well maybe at some places… maybe Scott Lake.)
But we were fishing for more than something at the end of a line. We were looking to reinforce and enhance the remarkable teamwork that defines the Scott Lake Lodge guide team. On that score it was a remarkably successful trip. John Gariepy summed it up best: “The fishing was tough and it was rewarding to see this group of guys work together to create opportunities to make the best of it. While the tarpon were “off their feed”, other fish were available and our guides knew how to make the best of a tough situation.” Head Guide Cory Craig put the real benefit of the trip into a perfect metaphor: “Being on the ‘other side’ of the boat really helps all of us better understand our jobs. We see what we like and what we don’t like in a guided fishing day. That makes us more aware of what Scott customers expect.” This was a week well spent that will pay dividends for all of Scott Lake Lodge’s customers, this year and many years ahead. Memories of fish, big and small, jungle hikes and kayaking will fade but the bonds built here in the jungles of Nicaragua will endure.