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HAMMER HEADS TO PANAMA- extremely long report


Before I start this story I must give fair warning. It is long. I simply had a target rich environment in which to pick and choose my victims. I could write a story on each individual with no problem, much less 4 of them in another country where all but one didn't speak the language. That being said, this is my longest story so bring your laptop into the bathroom with you and instead of reading a magazine….

I've traveled a lot of places to chase after fish. White Marlin in Venezuela, Blue Marlin in St Thomas, giant Yellowfin tuna in Mexico and Pacific Sailfish in Costa Rica. In all reality, I've had some absolutely great experiences and while I’ve documented them through pictures, I neglected to write about them which I now regret. Writing about a trip that occurred 7 years ago just doesn't cut it so I've made it a point to not only take pics and video's, but to actually write about the whole trip, good and/or bad.

My long time buddy Dunagan told me that he had a group of guys that wanted to go some place in the summer, "the best place in the world" he said. Since I have a pretty good list of connections, I started asking around to find out where the "hot spot" would be in late July. I didn't want to go to a place that kidnapping or decapitation could be a possibility, I could have that right at home in Miami. After doing some homework, It seemed that our destination would be, PANAMA. Home of Noriega, giant black marlin, massive schools of yellowfin tuna and a plethora of other species. I contacted a few magazine editors that I'd fished in the past and each of them agreed that Panama was the place to go.

To make a long story short, Dunagan's buddies all washed out which is typical. These same buddies all backed out right before our last trip to Venice Louisiana so it didn't surprise me when they did it again. Like Dunagan, many of these guys are Allstate agents, it's no wonder they'll never catch State Farm and be no. 1. Luckily, I had plan B, my own group of fish assassins that had their passports in hand. I knew that if left up to Dunagan, the trip would never happen. While he is a hard core fisherman, his leadership skills are a bit on the lacking side.

It didn't take many phone calls to assemble the crew. The first was Olson, a mountain of a man that has A.D.D. His brain is wired differently than most. He never seems to take it easy. I think he puts crack in his eggs every morning but one things for sure, like the energizer bunny, he's always ready to go; So much so that I can only remember one time in the past that he couldn't go fishing with us, his wife was having a baby and he couldn't get the doctor to induce labor to work around our schedule.

Next was Tommy, the country polar opposite of Olson. His house could be burning down and he wouldn't bat an eye. He's a real estate guy up in Georgia. Some of you might remember him from the Mardi Gras story, he was the one that acquired the services of a lady that cost him $400. While Tommy is not new to drinking, he is new to Big Game fishing, he actually looks a little bit like and english bull dog.

Our final guy was Luis; he is the guy we bring to make sure none of us get thrown in jail. He's level headed and actually knows when to stop drinking (unlike the rest of us). It also helps that he speaks spanish in case Tommy can't negotiate a good deal with the hookers, Luis will be there to help. There's nothing worse than a hooker that isn't bilingual, how are you suppose to tell them what you want? Luis grew up very poor back in Cuba, his family literally had to bathe together to conserve water.

I finally decided to use an outfitter that had us stay on the island of Coiba, this way the hookers could get some rest from Tommy. The trip was to be 4 days of fishing, from daylight till dark which is what all the contestants wanted. The island is big, it's 10 miles by 30 miles. We could fish offshore and then come in, and fish up against the rocks for cubera snappers, roosterfish and who knows what else.

Coiba Island is actually a pretty infamous place, it was home to one of the most notorious prisons on the planet, complete with torture, murder and all that fun stuff. It closed down back in 2004 when there were no more lobster poachers to fill it's cells. Now, Coiba Island is a national park. The only thing that they have to contend with now are fish poachers coming in from other countries. hmmm.

We all met at Miami Intl.; all except Luis, he went down a day early like he does on every trip as he likes to be a tourist and see the sights.

Dunagan and Tommy sat up in first class. It wasn't even noon and Dunagan was already toasted. Since there were free drinks up there, he figured the extra cost of the ticket would offset the liquor bill. Olson and I sat back in the cheap seats. The flight was just under 3 hours and basically non eventful. I did hear that another passenger kept giving Dunagan the stare down as he was loud and obnoxious but like I said, that happens on every flight with him.

We were getting ready to land and we could see a bunch of ships lined up to go through the Panama canal. Sometimes it takes them days just to get in the canal.

Flying over the city I realized that this city that I thought would be 3rd world was far from anything like that. It had hundreds of fancy buildings.

I later found out that many people use to hide their money in Panama as they basically asked no questions about the origin of said cash. Obviously the big drug lords used the country to launder their money. While on that subject, if any big drug lords have any extra cash, just let me know, I'll help you spend it. We wouldn't want it to sit in some Panamanian bank and get old and nasty now would we?

We exited the aircraft and cleared customs. They took our fingerprints. I was a little worried as maybe they wouldn't let me in the country knowing I have the capability of wiping out entire fish populations in National Parks (at least according to NOAA). Luckily their computers didn't talk to the U. S. Governments computers and I was allowed in. We walked out in the lobby where we were to be greeted by a representative holding a sign with my name on it. I was concerned because none of us spoke or read spanish. As my luck would have it, our contact person never showed so we just took a taxi to our hotel. The Sheraton in Panama City is very nice and even has a casino in it. We checked in and went to where else, the bar. In short order Luis found us and we planned on having a nice dinner before our early flight the next morning. Our cab driver told us that he'd take us to a very nice place on the water. Well, to make a long story short, he did, the only problem was that this snake drove us to a restaurant that was 45 minutes away! I was pissed but not enough to ruin my meal. We ate and went back to our hotel…..oh, almost forgot, the taxi ride was $90. I should've strangled that little bass ****.

As we were walking into the casino, you could see some very attractive ladies, obviously they were there gambling; gambling on finding a boyfriend for an hour if you know what I mean. Dunagan laid on his perfect Spanglish. "Heya chica, you ess looking for American Dinero?" In a short time he'd found his soul mate. I warned him to be a "safe gambler".

Luis found out that you have to pay the house $55 just to let a lady of the night in the elevator. So basically, the Sheraton is a pimp hotel. In short order we were all realizing that we had to get up at 5:30 in the morning and we all headed for our rooms, well all except Tommy. He talked to the maitre de and was given a hot tip that there was a massage parlor down the street where you could get a good rub down for under $100 but you had to buy it through Groupon.

None of us saw Tommy until the next morning but he was one happy chubby dude, even before 6 am. While there were no witness' to his fun, he did have his credit card that was still smoking. I wonder how it will show up on his statement...”Trixie’s House of Pleasure $99.95”

We were driven to a little airport about 10 minutes from the hotel. There, waiting for us was a twin engine airplane. Now I'm gonna admit to it right now, I don't like them little airplanes. You always hear about them crashing due to "pilot error". You never hear about a 747 crashing due to pilot error. It was nice to see that the pilot brought along some extra fuel jugs in case we ran out during the flight.

We loaded up the supplies and we were off. 10 minutes into the flight I could smell gas. Here we were 10,000 feet up in the air and somewhere there's a gas leak. Dunagan was making fun of me and I just laughed it off but I really didn't like being stuck in a flying tin can. After an hour we could see the Island of Coiba. It was beautiful. It looked like that old TV show "Fantasy Island" with its lush green canopy and sheer cliffs. I expected to see a little midget pointing at the sky saying "De Plane, De Plane" We circled and made our approach. The landing strip was mowed grass right next to the prison. Luckily we landed safely and we were greeted by some police officers wearing rubber boots. We grabbed our luggage and started heading down a rock and mud trail that leads to the ocean. Each of us carried our own luggage, except Dunagan, he carried his liquor and paid one of the police to carry his bag.

Along the way you could see a grave yard where all the dead prisoners were buried. Something tells me they didn't die of natural causes.

One of the police gave Olson and I a quick tour of the prison. There are two parts, the new part is where they keep drug smugglers, and it was completely "livable". The old part was not. This place had misery written all over it. They forced the prisoners to work the fields and only fed them once a day.

Enough of that fun, it was time to get to the boat.A panga picked us up from shore and brought us to where our 31' Bertram was anchored. I tipped the panga captain a couple of bucks and gave them some hard candy. We were greeted by our captain "Tom" and his mate "Juan". We stuffed all of our luggage up in the bow and in no time we were running to a spot to catch some rooster fish. 10 minutes later the Captain brought back the throttles and the mate deployed two live blue runners. It didn't take long before one of the runners got crashed and the rod bent over. The fish ended up being a nice roosterfish and Tommy swore he was going to mount it as it was his first. Olson repeated the feat shortly thereafter.

Dunagan caught the largest needlefish that I'd ever seen.

Trolling around the rocks, we caught a whole bunch of different species of fish. Every time we'd catch a fish, someone would yell "new species". We continued our way around the island casting at rocks that were being battered by the sea. We could see whales breaching in the distance.

We switched to trolling diving plugs and hooked up to a couple of fish that burned line out, they each ended up being a pair of 30 lb wahoo's. Each was stuck with a gaff and would be part of that nights dinner.

By the end of the first day, we'd caught giant needlefish, roosterfish, horse eyed jacks, a small yellowfin tuna, wahoo, cubera snapper, mangrove snapper and a couple of white tipped sharks.

We made our way to the lodge, if that's what you want to call it. It was located in a cove. One of the rangers met us with his panga and we unloaded all of our luggage onto his boat as there are 12' tides so you can't just pull up to the dock as there is no dock. He beached the boat and we all grabbed our stuff. I was carrying Dunagans extra liquor so my bag weighed at least 80 lbs. We were greeted by Aaron and Jackie. He was our chef and she was his assistant/girlfriend. Other than Dunagan, she was the only blonde within 500 miles. We'd let the captain know what kind of liquor we all drank and sure enough, there it was, a complete bar out in the middle of no where complete with lime wedges and clean ice. We were escorted by the captain to our villa. When we arrived it was actually more than I expected. Very clean with a bathroom and air conditioning. The a/c was just a little wall banger but when you're in the jungle, you take what you can get. There were also fans to keep the heat circulating just in case the a/c broke.

The place was divided into two sides, each with it's own shower and restroom. I didn't want to sleep in the same room as Dunagan as I know he snores bad and Tommy, being a fat guy, I was sure snored even worse so Luis, Olson and myself took the one room and the two snore buddies took the other.
We were then introduced to a 13 to 14 year old native that was in charge of cleaning our rooms daily and doing our dirty clothes.

Come to find out that she is actually 18 years old and is the captains girlfriend…. not bad for a 53 year old guy!
She just looked young, real young. She didn't speak much english but the captain spoke fluent spanish so they seem to get along just fine.

After unpacking, we noticed a crowd down near the water. One of the rangers was feeding a large crocodile some fish scraps. This croc was the real deal. It was at least 11 ft long and would literally come right up on the grass to eat whatever was being offered.

We snapped some pics and said that the next day we would save a carcass of something to feed it and maybe play a game of tug of war with the giant toothy salt water lizard.

We made our way back down to where dinner would be served. Wild monkeys would come down from the jungle to beg for pieces of bananas. I don't know what kind of monkeys they were but the captain said that in the morning we'd be able to hear the howler monkey's in the distance screaming.

It was just before dark and as we were told, there were some no see ums but not enough that would really bother anyone too much. Aaron brought us out some wahoo sashimi complete with soy sauce and wasabi. Jackie lit some candles and the waves literally lapped at the shore 10' from our feet. Next, we had fish bites that were freshly fried wahoo chunks. For being on an island, it really didn't get much better. The food was excellent.

Day 2

Early in the morning, the generator stopped and so did our a/c and fans. Luckily it was just out of gas and the captain had it going within 15 minutes. Kind of scary thinking that you'd have to maybe sleep without a/c. We all met down for breakfast where Aaron would make you just about anything you wanted. We learned that each morning the captain would walk up the mountain for exercise. He invited us all to join him but I didn't bring my mountain climbing boots so I passed. Olson actually accepted the invitation later that day.

Juan, the mate had been on the boat since before sun up catching live blue runners. I like that!

The captain wanted to run to an area that he thought we'd do well on some big tuna's but shortly into our trip, Dunagan and Tommy each had "that look" that is synonymous with "I'm gonna puke". Each emptied their bellies and we like true loyal friends never made fun of them…… yea right. lol

I found that the only time Dunagans not running his mouth is when he has throw up coming out of it so the heaving noises were actually welcome. Besides, sucks to be them!

We decided to fish the famed Hannibal Bank. When we arrived, there were 3 commercial boats anchored right on top of it. We'd take the blue runners and just drift them between the anchored boats. When I tell you close, we were so close to the anchored boats that we could smell them. If you tried this same stunt in south Florida, you'd be shot! They flat out could cared less about us. Their 40' boats were powered by 90 hp Yamaha's. They had to be incredibly slow but I guess they didn't have anywhere else to be so it didn't matter.

We drifted right by them without a strike. All of a sudden we saw a boil in the water and a small school of trigger fish swam up to our boat for protection. The mate threw a little cast net over them and caught about 6 of them. I asked the captain "Why'd you catch trigger fish?". He said that we'd use them for bait. Now I've fish a lot of places but I've never seen anyone fish with a trigger fish but hey, I'm willing to try anything once, fishing related that is.

We made another drift with no results. Periodically you'd see a tuna blast around us but we never seemed to be in the right position to intercept them. We made yet another drift and this time I asked the mate for a sinker which he obliged. I dropped the bait halfway to the bottom. In short order, that blue trigger was inhaled by something big. I put the reel in gear and it bent over double. Olson was standing right next to me so I passed the rod off to him. The fish was melting the 80 lb mono off the reel like it was nothing. Dunagan, trying to hook up a second fish, left his bait out and of course it got tangled with the hooked fish. This was not a big deal as the fish was now over 200 yards from the boat and heading west away from all the other boats. Well, it was about this time the Dunagan decided to reel his bait in. Our little kingfish champ, while trying to untangle his line, hit Olson's reel causing it to go into free spool. The backlash that occurs when you go from 30 lbs of pressure to 0 pounds is simply not pretty. The whole thing took about 2 seconds and the line broke off at the reel.

It wouldn't have been quite so bad but I'd assured the captain that EVERYONE on the boat was a very good fisherman an that there would be no rookie mistakes. This, was classical rookie error. We licked our wounds and went to set up for another drift. I had to put Dunagan in a time out.

We once again motored up to where the commercial boats were anchored and once again deployed our baits. When you lose a big fish like that you always wonder just how big it really was. Well, luckily for us it didn't matter. I felt the line go tight so I put the reel into gear and started reeling until the rod bent over again. This time, we were prepared and Olson already had his fighting belt on. The fish pulled for it's life and Olson wasn't going to give him a single inch without him paying for it. Ten minutes later Olson's fish was doing its' death spirals under the boat. The mate brought out the gaff and sunk it deep into the shoulder of the tuna. Olson had his first 100 lb plus tuna!

One problem that Olson has is that he's a giant and even a big fish doesn't look that big next to him. I was surprised that the captain allowed us to kill the tuna as he told me that he mainly practiced that horrible thing called catch and release. That tuna was going to be eaten that night and the next few days for sure.

Idling the boat back towards the fleet, the lost fish was long out of our heads. We'd now tasted blood and we wanted more. One thing about Dunagan is that he's not stupid. He too added a weight to his bait and when the boat settled, his bait was headed down. If the fish were feeding at 80', that is where our baits would be. Dunagan had a blue runner, I once again opted for the blue trigger fish. Five minutes later, my lucky trigger once again found a tuna that was hungry. I was the hot hooker! Since everyone in the boat except Tommy had a 100 lb er under their belt, it was time for Tommy to lose his virginity. The mate got him situated in the fighting chair and Luis had wiped the puke off of his chubby chin. The fight was on and a fight it would be. Fighting a tuna in open water isn't really that big of a deal. They aren't going to run you in the bottom and they're not going to jump and throw the hook. Sounds simple enough right?…. WRONG. This tuna was educated. He knew exactly what he had to do to gain his freedom. He had to make it back to the commercial boats to get into their anchor lines. There's not much you can do but hold on and pray he doesn't make it. Well, this fish had luck on it's side, it made it to the anchored boat and of course got tangled in its' anchor line. I just knew it was going to break off any second. The commercial guys were pretty nice, they pulled their boat forward so it would be easier to see which way the line was going and finally, they asked us to hand them the rod so they could untangle it. We did just that and after about 5 minutes they had the fish freed and were attempting to use a fishing rod, something none of them had ever done before. The captain backed the stern up to their boat and they handed us back the rod with the tuna still attached. This was an unbelievable stroke of luck. The tuna had wrapped itself around the anchor line but didn't try and make a run, it just swam in circles. Well, our luck ran out, the tuna decided that it would make a run for the other commercial boat anchored nearby and sure enough, it found their anchor line. There was no way on earth we were going to get that lucky but once again we gave the commercial guys the rod and they came tight on their anchor line and what do you know, the fish swam free. It was at this point that I'd decided that we should play the lottery that week because with this amount of luck going our way, we couldn't lose.

The fish made his final mistake and tried to head for open ocean. It was tired and so was Tommy. It made its death spirals under the boat. I'd jumped in to film it but every time I swam near the fish, it would bolt away and I didn't want to press our luck any more than we already had. I could see it was a big fish. Shortly thereafter it came close enough that the mate could stick it with a gaff. He had to have Olson help him lift it over the side. The fish looked to be right at 200 lbs.

Tommy was plumb tuckered out but he had a big old country boy smile on his face. We put a rag under it's mouth so to stop it from sliding while we took pictures.

We owed both commercial boats a big thank you. Without them, we would not have caught the fish. The captain mumbled something to the mate and we idled over to the first boat that spent so much time helping us. The mate threw them a dock line attached to the tuna's tail and slid the tuna in the water. He was giving it to them as a thank you.

That fish in the US would be worth over $1000 but it didn't seem to matter to the captain, I realized why they never gave any bad looks our way when we fished so close to them. The captain obviously had a very good relationship with the guys. He then told the mate to throw them two 12 packs of beer. I think the fishermen appreciated the beer more than the fish. We then idled over to the second boat and tossed them a couple of 12 packs as well.

We decided to run in and do some shallow water fishing against the rocks and once again we caught some jacks, africans and some snappers along with a couple of cubera snappers. It's pretty cool to cast plugs up against the rocks and have fish crash on them. You're right arm will be sore from all the jigging but the explosions that happen are well worth the effort.

The day came to an end and Olson and the captain wanted to swim to shore. The rest of us were on vacation and did not see any reason to get out of a perfectly good boat and jump into water that by the captains admission, he'd seen 5 tiger sharks two weeks prior. With my luck the headlines in the Panama Herald would read "American Tourist Eaten By Sharks". I opted for our blonde hostess saying "Is there anything else I can get you sir"? To make matters even worse, Olson and the captain once again went up to the top of the mountain to "find" themselves. Maybe Olson's gay? Hmmm

It was at this time that Luis became "Mr Done Deal", or, in his words "Steven", his alter ego. Remember back in the beginning of the story when I said that Luis was the one that would keep us out of jail. Well, some of Dunagan 1.0 must've rubbed off on him because since he was the only one that spoke spanish, he found himself in need. Well, Luis aka Steve, took it upon himself to invite a whole bunch of college girls over to our table. They were from the University of Panama. As usual, one of the Panamanian girls realized that I was semi famous and took a liking to me.

I tried to explain that I was a happily married man but she didn't seem to care. She wanted me and wanted me bad. Luis was saying "Hammer, I've set it up for you, it's a DONE DEAL". I just couldn't do it, I couldn't break this poor college girls heart knowing that she would never find a man of my caliber after I dumped her so I let her down easy. While she was crying on my shoulder, Dunagan found one that he called his little "Brown Sugar" and he disappeared into the jungle with her. Tommy was dancing salsa with a couple of the girls. I think they thought he was Santa Claus with a southern accent. If there was a massage table on the island, I think Tommy would've thought he'd died and went to heaven.

It was about this time that the Captain and Olson came out of the jungle. Olson had no shirt on and the captain had a certain gleam in his eye. I'm not sure what happened up there but I heard Olson say something about "Broke Back Island". I didn't want to know the details.

Once again we drank like sailors and ate like Kings. Our hostess made the mistake of telling us that her sister was in Chicago posing for Playboy. I told her that I too was a professional photographer and that I would be happy to take some pics of her on our next boys trip. I'm not sure she believed me, go figure. We decided to take the tuna head and feed it to the big croc. We had no idea that once that croc saw food, he was bound and determined to eat it. People scattered like flies. Dunagan set up his GoPro right next to the tuna head and the beast came up onto the grass and grabbed the head. It was an impressive sight to say the least.

Day 3 started much like the previous day. We were to make a long run to Mariposa Island. Our target would be the black marlin. In all fairness the captain did say that there wasn't much bait around and our chances were not good. I said to him, "We've come all this way and we're going to at least try and catch a marlin for Olson or Tommy". He, like a good captain gave it his best but we could only scrounge up 2 live bonito's. After arriving, the mate put out both of them and within a short time a porpoise decided to kill one of them. Now I know it's not a popular thing to say but it wouldn't bother me one bit if some of those japanese dudes came over there and would round up some porpoises in a cove and ginsu them. I don't like them one bit. Tell them to go find their own bait! Democrats with a blow hole I tell you.

Olson had nodded off to sleep and this proved to be a mistake. You see, all of us are pranksters and while Olson was snoozing, a certain someone that will remain nameless (Dunagan) tied a line to a 5 gallon bucket and deployed it 200 yards back, then, that same person put the reel in gear with the clicker on at the same time the captain gunned the engines. Dunagan yelled "THERE HE IS OLSON, GET HIM, GET HIM!!!" Olson jumped up and was in that fighting chair faster than I'd ever seen a human move. He was cranking for all he was worth. He even switched it to low gear. In short order the bucket was ready to be gaffed, Olson had fallen for the oldest fishermen's trick in the book. I must say he took it like a man.

After a couple of hours we gave up and did some bottom dropping. Olson got stomped by something that was probably a big Cubera. I was bottom fishing and caught a couple of banded snapper and a yellow tail snapper that looks like a schoolmaster snapper with a yellow tail. Nothing like our yellowtail.

The captain suggested that we go back towards Coiba, that he thought he could get us a nice rooster in shallow water. Tommy isn't much for water that you can't see the bottom in so he was happier than Rosie O'Donnell at a Krispy Kreme Donut shop. In short order two blue runners were deployed while we were trolling the shore line. Both the mate and myself would cast at the rocks and periodically we'd hook a jack, african or small rooster fish. All of a sudden one of the runners got blasted and the familiar words "fish on" were called out. The fish made a really good run so I of course seeing that we were only in 24' of water figured it was yet another shark. The captain kept backing down and the fish would continue making runs. Luis was on the rod and after about 20 minutes we could see that the shark he was fighting wasn't a shark at all, it was a GIANT rooster fish. Luis worked the fish to the boat and the mate reached over and grabbed it as the captain doesn't kill anything this close to the island. Luis' fish weighed somewhere between 50 and 60 lbs. Even the captain said "I want a picture of that one". We used every camera in the boat to document the fish.

We continued to cast plugs and catch fish on the deep diving lures but nothing compared to that fish. There's a reason that the largest fish is caught at the end of every fishing show and this was no different. You could catch a nice 30 lb rooster but it didn't compare to that beast.

It was cocktail hour and we were within a few miles of the bar so it didn't take long to get in. Michael Phelps, I mean Olson, once again decided to swim in from the boat. Again, we were greeted with our favorite cocktails and appetizers. I could get use to this type of living. Olson and the captain again went up the mountain to fetch a pale of water or whatever they did up there while the rest of us showered up and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the island. I must say that there is now hot water and the water you get is a bit on the brisk side but after a long day on the boat, it really was refreshing. Luis was once again “Steve” and he was hitting on one of the college babes.

Both Tommy and Dunagan had consumed a large amount of alcohol throughout the day. Shortly after dinner, Tommy hit the sack while the rest of us continued to enjoy the food and drink and tell fishing stories. I myself got tired and headed for bead. Before going to bed I checked on Tommy, he was laying on his side sleeping. When Olson came in I noticed that my fan stopped working so, since Tommy was already sleeping I said "Hey, go replace this broken fan with their working fan, make sure you plug it in so they'll think theirs broke during the night". I thought it was pretty clever personally and Olson did as I asked. Fast forward two hours. Dunagan comes into our room and says "Guys, Tommy's missing and he took a pill and it causes people to do some weird things". I'm thinking to myself "Well, if he sleep walks he doesn't have far to walk because the place isn't that big". Then you start to think of things like…… the crocodile which is one of eight that frequent the place and it's only 50 yards from our beds. I could hear Dunagan outside yelling "TOMMY, TOMMY". We all got up and donned our head lights. He was no where to be found. We checked the bathrooms, the kitchen, the area where the croc lived, the beach. No Tommy. There's no way he could've tried walking up the mountain, it's too steep and slippery. After scaring the crap out of all of us, one of the rangers found him passed out on a lawn chair. I yelled for Olson and Dunagan and they came and we got him up. He was out of it and I mean out of it. I said "Tommy, what are we doing here" He said "Fishin". I then said "Tommy, what country are we in?" he replied "Mexico". I don't know what "Ambian" does but I can tell you this, I'm never taking one. Tommy had woken up and was hot so he went outside to get some breeze and passed out. If he would've walked in the wrong direction this story wouldn't have had a happen ending, except for the croc. I felt guilty taking his fan but as long as he was OK, I'd get over it. That night, we had a thunderstorm that literally shook the island. If I wasn't so tired I would've got up to watch it but at 2 am sleep seemed a little more important.

Day 4
The final morning came early. We ate our breakfast and were getting in the boat when Dunagan says "I'm gonna take it easy and stay here today". I'm thinking to myself "you've got to be kidding". "We're in Panama and you want to take it easy?" Seems Dunagans 10 day trip to Spain, then jumping on a plane to Panama, drinking to the late hours, and puking his guts up TWICE, had worn our little insurance agent out and he was willing to give up a days fishing for some simple relaxation. I personally would rather have been bull **** because wild horses couldn't drag me off that boat but hey, some people are hard core and some are not.

We left without him. Even Tommy had recovered enough to go fish with us but hey, that's one less person on the boat and boy was it quiet without him. We decided to go look for the big tuna's again, at least in the morning. We didn't have any of the blue trigger fish but we did have runners. We made drift after drift but it just wasn't happening. This time, instead of three commercial boats, there were six and none of them were catching anything. Olson and I both were using weighted runners but he decided to drop his all the way to the bottom. In short order he was bent over double fighting an unknown beast. A couple of minutes later up pops a big cubera snapper that probably weighed 50 lbs.

Again, the camera's came out in full force. On the next drift I dropped to the bottom as well hoping to catch one and I hooked up, unfortunately it was an oriental bonito which looks just like our bonito but with larger teeth, "another species" was yelled out. Olson hooked one as well and got tangled with one of the commercial guys lines, our mate took the bonito and put it on the commercial guys line and tossed it back into the water. We could see the fisherman reeling in the line wrapping it around a mazola jug. He had no idea we put the fish on it for him.

Fishing was slow so we decided to go back to the shallow water but first we stopped to back at camp to see if Dunagan was rested up. Juan went running up to his room where he found sleeping beauty laying there in his bed. At least he came fishing with us the last part of the day. When Dunagan got on the boat all the quiet was gone. The constant heckling, whining and overall pure Dunagan 1.0 was back……. ah, just the way we like it. Juan and I continued casting plugs against the shoreline and we continued to catch everything that swims in Panamanian waters. Dunagan was too lazy to cast himself so he accepted a rooster that was hooked by Juan. Dunagan had to actually put down his Red Bull and Vodka to reel the fish in.

It was about this time that Tommy came out of his shell. He wanted everyone to know that he knew what we did and that he wasn't a dumb country boy. Even in his alcohol and sleeping pill induced state, he knew that not only did we replace his fan with a broken one, that we plugged it in to cover our tracks. Never again will I think of him as Gomer Pyle. He flat out busted us. For the record, I stole Luis fan the first night, I slept fanless the second night as he stole it back. The third night was the night in question and the forth night, Dunagan stole the stolen fan back so we stole one from the kitchen. Bunch of fan thieves I tell you.

When the day finally ended and we came ashore, the chef said that he had a special dinner arranged for us. Tuna sliders as appetizers and some type of steak, complete with fresh bread and salad. The previous day I joked that I'd like to have banana pudding and sure enough, that is exactly what we had and it was delicious. On a scale of 1 to 10, the food was right up there at the top. We once again relieved them of the excess liquor on the island. All the college kids were gone and other than a few tourists, we had the place to ourselves.

Our last morning started with yet another fine breakfast. We packed our things and said good bye to the Island of Coiba. Our chef and his girlfriend made us some Pina Colada's and literally served them to us in freshly halved coconuts.

We boarded the little Bertram and headed back to the prison. Our airplane was a little late so we sat and shot the bull until it showed up. When it arrived, the pilot once again refueled it with the spare fuel tanks. We took off and in a little over an hour, we were back in Panama City.

Being hungry we decided to eat at a place within walking distance of the hotel that had been recommended to us. When we walked in we must've looked like we'd just fallen off the turnip truck because the seated us in the very back of the restaurant. In Panama, it is not customary to wear shorts and all of us were wearing shorts. Either way, the food was good and we had our fill.

That night, we had a few drinks at the bar and since most of us had to leave early in the morning, we called it early; well, all but Tommy. He said he had a sore muscle that needed attention and he knew just the place to get it worked on.

All in all it was a great trip. None of us got arrested and hopefully Tommy didn't bring home anything that clorox and penicillin can't cure.

Till Next Time,

(The Reef Bandit)


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