Text & Photos by Shaun Ruge
Flew to Guayaquil and staying overnight. Nothing fishy to report here other than the koi in the Airport fountain. Given its location, getting to the Galapagos can be a chore if you are a “get-there-fast” type of person. Typical flights go into Quito or Guayaquil on Ecuador’s mainland, followed by a short hop to San Cristobal or Isabella, two of the larger islands. The problem is that the flights are not conveniently timed, so you can expect an overnight stay on the mainland in between. Also, keep in mind that you are not in Kansas anymore, so leave an excessive amount of time for the airport check-in. Two hours may not be enough.
Left Guayaquil at 7 a.m. for 10 a.m. flight to San Cristobal. After arrival and hotel check-in, we went to a restaurant outside of town for lunch. Transport was island-style: pile in the back of a pickup truck. After lunch, most chose to wind down while I headed off to look around town and the waterfront. Perhaps the first thing you notice is that sea lions have run of the town. I am pretty sure they considerably outnumber people. They are generally good-natured, the pups curious and fearless, but the larger males should be kept at a distance — after all, you are after their women.
Most accommodations range from around $100 per person per night on down to $15 per night at a hostel, depending on your preference, so once you swallow the cost of the flights, staying on the island can be as inexpensive as you make it. Meals are equally as affordable and the general quality of food is pretty good by my island standards. Most nationals speak some English, although basic Spanish will help you. San Cristobal is home to many of the animals the islands are known for. You can find tortoises, marine iguanas, sea lions, finches, and, of course, always a crowd pleaser, the blue-footed boobie.
Without a doubt, the wildlife steal the show for most outdoor enthusiasts, but I went for a very different reason — fishing. Fishing within the national park is allowed by permit and only a handful of boats are legally permitted to fish catch-and-release. Fishing anywhere other than these permitted boats is forbidden, so leave your surf rods at home. Given the ratio of environmental police to tourists is about 3:1, I wouldn’t take chances here.
I chose to take the first of two “off” days. I was told that a “must-see” on San Cristobal is a snorkel trip hitting Isla be Lobos, Kicker Rock, and Mangrocita. That became the day’s plan; “it will change your life” was the way the trip was billed. The cost was $50 and took about 6 hours round-trip by boat. First stop is Isla de Lobos — Island of the Sea Lion. Here you can swim with sea lion pups behind a barrier island in clear calm water. If you lie still they seem disinterested, but if you roll around and splash as they do, it’s playtime! Well, whether or not my life has been changed is yet to be determined, but I can tell you from someone who spends a lot of time in the water, this is one the most interesting experiences I have had with a mask on. If you do nothing else when you go, take this excursion. I have spoken.
Next stop was Kicker Rock. A weather-sculpted ash deposit, Kicker sits in about 80 feet of water and is often the photographed symbol of the Galapagos. It has several passages through the main rock that are large enough to swim through. The draw here is mainly sharks. Galapagos, white tip, silky, and hammerhead sharks are common and can number in the thousands. On the day I was there, some recent upwelling had brought cooler water to the surface, which kept the sharks down some 50 to 80 feet in the warmer water. While still visible, if you wanted an “in-your-face” experience you needed to dive to a depth that is often a bit beyond the reach of most snorkelers. Nevertheless, the number of rays, fish, and sea turtles kept things interesting while swimming through the rock. Not one to back down, I swam down as far as I could. Who would have thought that sharks are faster than I am?
Last stop was Mangrocita. “Little Mangrove,” as it is translated, it is one of the few places outside of the town where people are allowed to touch the shoreline. Here we had lunch and could continue to snorkel or hit the beach before heading back to San Cristobal. We have sandy beaches and rice for lunch at home on Cape Cod, so in the water I went. This turned out to be a good choice. It was breeding time for sea turtles, which numbered in the dozens just beyond the surf line waiting for nightfall to climb the beach. This made for some fun snorkeling. Again, who would have thought turtles are faster than me?
Lesson of the day: Equator sun is intense! In New England I will go most of the summer without a drop of SPF. In the Galapagos I wouldn’t go more than two to three hours without another application. The sun even burned through my clothing. Keep this in mind if you are fair-skinned, which I am not. I burned quickly, even in non-peak hours (after 4 p.m.), so plan accordingly. Same for sunglasses. Offshore reflective lenses are a must; amber or all-purpose lenses will cause you to squint all day and result in some nasty headaches. It even affected the photos I was able to take, all but ruling-out midday photos due to an excess of light.
Just after first light we left the dock with tuna, wahoo, and bottom fish on the brain. I had brought my own tackle, and so geared accordingly. A pair of Shimano Stella 20k’s matched with 7-foot, 6-inch Shimano Terez and 7-foot Riptide Big Gun, both with 80# Suffix. Also had 2 lighter 12-25# St Croix rods with 10K Spheros and Saragossa reels with 50# Suffix. Assorted tackle including 100-pound Streamline windon’s, Rapala’s, Ron-Z’s, Williamson poppers, Benthos Jigs and of course Ocean Lures because they are line Amex cards — don’t leave home without them.
The planned destination was a bank near a central washed rock (a 4-nautical-miles-wide, 140-foot-deep plateau surrounded by approx 500 feet of depth). All manner of sea life surrounds the rock, from reef fish to pelagics. Before arriving, clouds of birds (mix of frigates and boobies) gave away the location of one species on the list, and before long we were on top of yellowfin aggressively chasing ballyhoo and flying fish. Several bait balls were visible on the surface, but the 30- to 50-pound yellowfin aired-out through the sprays of flying fish. While others tried various poppers, ballyhoo and flying fish are a late season New England style I know well, so on went an Ocean Lure SP Blue over Silver.
Now what I did not mention was the ridicule I got on the ride out for my “technical leader,” “beginner knots (triple surgeon),” and “Easter Egg Barbie Rod (Terez)” that “had no business on a boat because 7 feet is too long to lift.” There were snickers among the group for the use of my “bass tackle.” Did I also forget to mention my plug wouldn’t work because you have to get over the bait balls and jig them? Given the dunce cap, I was relegated to the bow where I couldn’t hurt anyone but myself with my inadequate gear while the real men took to jigging off the stern. To be honest, that’s where I wanted to be, so I didn’t complain nor defend my gear to plead my case. I knew what was coming. I don’t remember how long it took, but I probably could have held my breath longer. “Hey, do you have any more of those plugs?”
With that combo I could reach out and touch someone, but when I swapped to a 6-ounce Ocean Lures Fast swimmer it was just unfair — 75 yards or better a cast. As soon as it hit the water, the plugs were wolf-packed by 30- to 50-pound yellowfin beyond the range of the rest of my crew. Given the fast nature of the bait fish, our boat had some trouble staying on them, but long casts from the Terez and the sheer abundance of tuna in the area kept us busy all morning. So much so that I retired to take photos for much of the morning. Dreams of larger fish were assigned by the crew to most unidentified splashes, however every fish I legitimately saw I would put in the 50-pound range or smaller, albeit a LOT of them. A boat with radar would have done some damage given then numbers of birds in the area, and I’m sure larger fish were there below.
As the morning progressed, we switched to bottom fishing near the shallower rocks in 100 to 200 feet of water. Not what I would call stellar fast action (and to be honest with the abundance of yellowfin in the area I couldn’t care less), but we did manage some nice grouper up to about 30 pounds on successive drifts and one of the largest trigger fish I have ever seen. Vertical jigs were productive, but nothing beat stripped tuna on the bottom. Cheating I know, but when in Rome . . .
Before lunch we took a shot at wahoo and rigged the boat’s Shimano TLDs with yo-zuri bonita. With four rods out, we upped the speed a few knots while the mates took to preparing ceviche con arroz from the mornings tuna casualties. Without fail, Murphy struck as soon as food was out and the first knockdown came. As fast as it hit it was gone. An hour later, a second knockdown with the same result. Prior to packing it up for wahoo, a close inspection of the lures told the story. Wahoo or shark, either way the lures were torn up from teeth. Black over orange was hit twice, the largest of all four lures.
It took no time at all to find the birds and back on the tuna. The afternoon feeds grew more intense and the schools larger and more organized. Setting up on fish was certainly easier and our captain adjusted accordingly. I got to experiment with some new gear, the 10K Spheros and Saragossa were more than enough to stop 50-pound yellowfin routinely. Triple and Quadruple hookups were standard on both top-water or jigs. That made me feel better because I was starting to feel guilt about the a.m. clinic.
After yesterday’s tuna beatdown (and the fact that our buddy boat hooked several stripes and an estimated 500-pound blue), we decided to switch it up to marlin. It was more than a 50-mile run to a distant bank. Our starting spread consisted of two Islander Funnel Jets (naked) run long, and two Black Bart cavitators run short in the wash. The short riggers were used for the two squid chain teasers with hookless Horse Ballyhoo, as well as bowling pin and cone teasers run off the corner cleats. Circle hook Ballyhoo Pitch baits were readied on spin rods for drop back switches. Riptide runs teaser offshore, but here I picked up a couple of tricks. First, off the squid chain teasers the ballyhoo ran beautifully. Also, the corner cleat teasers were run using half-inch rope. We typically run corner teasers on 400-pound mono. The difference is the mono cuts the water and runs the teasers in the wash while the rope provides drag in the water. As a result, the teaser ropes catch the first wave off the engines (these were outboards as well) and caused the teaser to run wider, swimming in and out of the wash to clean water, leaving a distinct bubble trail. The simple difference was one I would have considered sloppy because I don’t like rope in my spread, but it was very effective. Lesson learned.
Within an hour of setting the spread, we had a striped marlin up thrashing the teaser chains, then the hooked baits. The day would continue like this with two and three marlin up in the spread at times. Even though some of our switches were what I would consider flawless, the lit-up fish routinely ignored pitch baits and skipped ballyhoo and turned for naked islander funnel jets. They were most interested in squid chain teasers hung just beyond the wash with the well-rigged hookless horse ballyhoo. “Horse” ballyhoo are interesting down there. New England “Horse” are 12- to 14-inches long; Galapagos Horse are basically small pike. I started to lose count, but believe we ended the day with 15 to 18 raised fish, multiple hookups and two landed fish. The Riptide crew had recently taken a trip to Magdalena Bay Mexico for Striped marlin. Those stripes didn’t blow my skirt up and put on a pathetic showing for a marlin by barely taking drag. These fish however were a lot of fun taking to the air in true marlin style and a good fight on the 50s. For a guy who doesn’t do much marlin fishing, I’ll take it. We had what was believed to be a blue marlin slash through the spread with a distinct identifiably different attitude, but unfortunately after a short runoff on the left long rigger was never hooked and never returned.
The second of the two “off” days. I took the opportunity to explore as much of San Cristobal island as I could. Some other members of the group chose to take the only other option to fish in the Galapagos — go with a panga for half-day trips. They are readily available and can be arranged on site for about $300. Pangas will bring you to some of the nearby rocks and ledges and is truly DIY fishing. I say DIY because most of the panga operators will not know where to go; keep in mind they typically handline offshore. The good news is that nearby rocks awash and visible from shore are adjacent to deep water, so it is common to catch snapper and yellowfin tuna on back-to-back casts or grouper down on the bottom. Bonita and skipjack are common as are pargo, rainbow runners, and various grouper species. A small assortment of metal jigs and a couple poppers will get the job done. In general fish are abundant, so if you don’t find anything in a couple of casts, move because they are not there.
I spent the day off the beaten track, where I found some lesser-visited beaches as well as a network of hiking trails leading to some pristine coves and high cliff-side overlooks. The beaches are often littered with marine iguana tracks and sea turtle marks from the previous night. Along one of the trails I found a cove that looked great for snorkeling, with a consistent depth and gin clear water. After lunch I went back with two more from the group to visit the cove. That swim didn’t last long. Remember what I said about the male sea lions? Yah, well, I didn’t take my own advice. Shortly after leaving the rocks near a small group of female sea lions we were alerted of a large male who apparently thought I was again after his women (you know what they say about different zip codes). Let’s just say we were promptly escorted out of the water by a less than pleased bull male. Lesson learned, take the male sea lions seriously —they have teeth, lots of them. And wouldn’t you know it: they swim faster than I do!
Our last day of fishing. We decided to hit a rock pile on the far end of the island. An area called Punta Pit. On the way there we stopped on a delectable looking football field-sized school of skipjack. Several casts with small metals and we had enough bait to strip for the day for the bottom-fishing crew. The destination rock sits awashed, surrounded by approximately 250 feet of water and several nearby reefs some 50 to 100 feet deep. We fished this area much the same way as the Tuesday. Two guys on the back of the boat trying to grind up bottom fish while I stuck to blind-casting off the bow at some distant bait balls. Throughout the tide, the situation evolved. Bait types changed, current direction changed, and most of all the predatory fish changed. Earlier in the morning, wahoo terrorized the bait balls, often airing out of the water. As the morning went on and the sun grew higher, the water flooded with rainbow runners, jacks, pargo, and various other members of the trigger and snapper families. Lunchtime wahoo trolling yielded the same result as the previous attempt — a couple knock downs and one hooked-up fish that was dropped after a long run. Again the lures were torn-up from teeth.
Later in the afternoon, much like the other rock location, tuna moved in. Blind casting off the bow was productive, with tuna slashing at the plugs every couple of casts. Visible rip lines set up near the shallow reefs. Much like smaller bluefin and albies at home, the young yellowfin cruised the rip lines looking for food. It didn’t take long to see where the fish were coming from, so setting up the boat was easy. While I played with tuna and the occasional wahoo cut off from the bow, the guys in the back proceeded to catch a mixed bag on the bottom jigs. Pargo, Mexican hogfish, rainbow runners, almaco jacks grouper, triggers, African pompano, as well as some unidentifiable species. Some of the hookups we guessed to be larger pargo because 50-pound tackle and reels couldn’t stop them. Sticking to plugs, I never connected with something I couldn’t stop on the Stella. After a long day and who knows how many fish, we settled in for the hour ride back to the dock, satisfied. A great day to end the trip.
Hit the airport early (check in is a bit unorganized, so get there early). Flew back to Guayaquil, stayed overnight, then headed home the next day.
BoatingLocal: Galapagos Part 1: On the Road, Fishing and Fun
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