Narrowing the Gap

My Mossberg Patriot Predator 7mm PRC, mounted with a Trijicon AccuPoint 4-16×50 scope, and sighted-in “dead on” at 50 yards with Hornady’s Precision Hunter 175-grain ELD-X was now ready my upcoming Alberta, Canada black bear hunt.  I shot it several times at ranges out to 200 yards, just in case we spotted that color phase bear I have been looking for in a field and not at a bait, as we planned to hunt.

Over the years I have taken my share of black bear.  All but three had been black as black can be.  The other three were my first taken, as it was approaching a late afternoon waterhole near the Mescalero Apache Reservation in southern New Mexico: a dark chocolate I stalked in central British Columbia, Canada, and a most interesting cinnamon colored bear I shot with a handgun while hunting with Bridger Petrini’s (TriState Outfitters) hounds in northern New Mexico.  While those three had been “good” bears, they were not the monstrous color-phase black bear I have long dreamed of taking.  Maybe finally there will be a chance to take my “dream bear.”

Properly “geared up” for the bear hunt, it was time to shift gears.  Time to head to Isla Mujeres, Mexico just off the coast from Cancun.  The primary occasion was to attend the wedding of my grandson Josh Gonzalez and his fiancé Paloma Soto. But, there would also be at least one day where my son-in-law Lance Trigrett (Josh’s dad), his uncle and my friend Bobby Evans and I could fish offshore for billfish and mahi-mahi. This, while my wife and daughter did “lady and beach things” on the island.

Lance had earlier booked our boat, the Lilly M, through Keen M Sports Fishing & Blue Water Encounters. Little did we know in so doing we were booking with what turned out to be the best fishing “crew” we have ever fished saltwater with.  Interestingly too, I met Keen M’s owner, Anthony Mendillo, Jr. on the ferry headed to the island and learned he not only had fishing boats in Mexico, but also offered numerous other fishing, and even fishing and hunting combinations, in many destinations including tuna trips off of Cape Cod and Canadian Bluefin tuna and bear hunts.

The morning after the wedding, Lance, Bobby and I met Captain Luis “Huicho” Rodriguez, and first-mate Juan Celis, Jr. and his father Juan Celis, Sr. at the local dock.  We were soon aboard the Lilly M headed about 45-minutes offshore.  The trip out to where the water was deep was a pleasant though “a bit bumpy” one.  In route Juan, Jr. and Sr. rigged teasers, baited hooks with ballyhoo, and made certain the tackle would be ready to go once we reached the fishing area. Once there we trolled four baits, including two outriggers, four below surface teasers and one above surface.

After a bit of discussion, we decided Lance would take the first strike.  We had only been trolling for about 30 minutes when Juan, Jr. pointed to a dorsal fin following a bait.  Just as he did, the fish took the bait.  Juan grabbed the rod, did some magic to make sure the billfish was properly hooked, then handed the rod to Lance.  Juan, Sr. put a fighting belt around Lance’s waist.

The fight was on!

Moments after Lance took the rod, the fish jumped high, about a hundred yards behind the Lilly M.  No doubt it was a billfish, but not a sailfish as had been anticipated. “Marlin” said an excited Juan, Jr.

For the next 20 minutes Lance did an admiral job of fighting the marlin.  Bobby and I shouted encouragement, while trying to film the action.  Bobby with a cell phone and me with a Canon camera in hopes of getting footage to create an episode for the weekly “A Sportsman’s Life” digital TV show on, which I co-host with Luke Clayton and Jeff Rice.

Not only was Lance having to fight the marlin, which both jumped high and then disappeared deeply into the blue water, but also deal with the “substantial” rocking of the boat.  Finally, he started seriously gaining line and then soon had the marlin alongside the Lilly M, where Juan Jr. and Sr. expertly brought the near 90-inch long white marlin on board.  Having done so they quickly raised the awesome fish for me to photograph it with Lance, Bobby and the two Juans.  After quick photos Juan, Jr. expertly lowered the marlin overboard.  Moments later we watched it swim safely away.

After congratulations all around, the first mate again had four baits out, ready for another fish. That opportunity came a few minutes later with a 20+-inch long dorado or mahi-mahi, known to be “one of the best eating fish” in the sea.  Juan Jr. handed the rod to me, and after a fun “fight” we brought the absolutely brilliantly and beautifully-colored fish aboard. After a photo we placed it in a cool box, to become part of our evening meal.

Bobby was up next and soon, after a high-jumping fight, had another mahi-mahi on board.

For the next four or so hours, Lance, Bobby and I took turns catching mahi-mahi, some of which we kept and some we released.  The swells got a bit taller and deeper, but we continued trolling.  I was watching one of the baits when I spotted a fin which looked very similar to the one on Lance’s marlin appear.  The fish chased the bait but did not hook up.  It did so twice.  Then it was gone.  From what I could see, and from Juan Jr.’s description, it had been a white marlin near the size as the one Lance had caught.

A few minutes later two baits were taken at the same time.  Rod tips bent low.  Bobby took one and I the other.  Whatever fish we had on were fighting hard.  Of course both of us hoped it might be a billfish.  We fought the fish, giving and taking line, for about ten minutes before we could get them alongside the boat for Juan and Juan to bring them aboard; Bobby’s first. I heard him say, “All that fighting for a bonita?”

Yes…Juan and Juan each grabbed and brought aboard a bonita, considered by many to be sort of a trash fish, not to be eaten but to be used for bait.  Regardless of how they are viewed by others, I can assure you they put up quite a fun fight!  I was fortunate to catch a couple more, each likely weighing about 10 pounds.  But, they fought like they weighed at least twice if not more!

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