For years my wife and I have been wanting to visit Machu Picchu. Specifically, she wanted to hike the Inca trail into Machu Picchu. Most people take a bus to Machu Picchu and explore the ruins in a day. Not us. They have treks where you hike and camp for 4 or 5 days in the Andes mountains all the way into Machu Picchu. The trailhead starts at 9 thousand feet elevation and multiple times you summit passes at 14K elevation! For years we have talked about doing this and this past October we finally made it to Peru, and hiked into Machu Picchu! The trek was amazing. Machu Picchu was awesome. We spent 5 days hiking through the Andes and saw some amazing sites. After 5 days of hiking and sucking air trying to get enough oxygen we headed south and to the coast so I could do some fishing!
Our fishing guide, Fernando, picked us up in Lima at 4:30 am and we headed south. I had heard that the sea bass fishing in the Paracas area of Peru was pretty good and had requested we drive down there. Paracas is located about 4 hours south of Lima so we arrived around 8:30. The last hour of the drive was awesome and scary at the same time. We left the main highway and pulled onto a dirt road that completely disappeared. Seriously, the dirt road disappeared and soon we were just driving across sand. All we could see for miles was sand and some small mountains. After a few miles Fernando pulled over to let out some air from his tires for better traction on the sand and continued to drive west. Absolutely crazy ride!
Once we arrived at the beach we put on waders and went out into the surf. Fernando had me wade about thigh deep in the water and started casting large jerk baits into the waves. About 3 casts in I had a hit and set the hook. At first I didn’t think I had anything but we reeled in all the way to check and I had hooked a small reef fish. It was almost as big as the bait. We casted about 20 more minutes with no hits. Suddenly Fernando yelled shark and pointed off to our left. Trying not to panic, I quickly reeled in my lure and turned to make a bee line for land. Fernando had different ideas…
As soon as he saw my line was in he told me to cast in the direction of the shark. At first I thought I had heard wrong. But no, he wanted me to cast towards the shark. Somewhat nervously, I followed his instructions. As I continued to cast he suddenly pointed in the other direction and yelled shark again. This time he pointed to my right. I assumed the shark had moved but he told me it was a different shark. “Even bigger”, he said. This time I straight up asked him if we should go back to the beach. He laughed and said to keep casting. I continued to cast and sure enough. In a few minutes my line went tight and the drag was zipping away. As soon as I felt the shark on the line my worries about being taken out at the knees by a shark were over powered by the desire to catch my first ever shark. For more than 5 minutes all I did was hold the tip of the rod up while my drag continued to let out line. During this time Fernando told me that this type of shark will usually hit the fish with their tail to stun them and then turn and bite the fish. So it was likely that I had the shark by the tail and it was swimming straight away from me with full power. I asked him what to do and he told me to be patient, and as the shark tired to slowly reel in when I could.
I continued to fight the shark and tried not to think about how many other sharks might be swimming around us. This was made more difficult because every few minutes Fernando would point out another shark nearby.
After about 10 minutes of some reeling with a lot of drag zipping the shark started to tire. As I began to make progress on reeling it in we slowly backed up to shore so the waves could help push the shark to the beach. It took about another 10 minutes from that point to get the shark up on the beach for the photo. But we had done it! I had caught a shark. We quickly took some pictures and got it back in the water. Fernando asked me if I wanted to go out and try to catch one of the bigger sharks. I admit, I did consider it, but after thinking about it I didn’t want to wade almost waist deep again into shark infested waters. I had caught a shark and thought it might be good to try catching something else. Something that might not swim up and bite my legs off!
Fernando suggested we try for Flounder and took us to a place with rocks and holes under the surf. He said Flounder like to lay in the holes waiting for smaller fish to swim over them. The wind was really blowing from behind my right shoulder and I struggled casting in the pocket the guide had outlined for me. The seaweed was thick on the edges of the casting area and each time I missed the open pocket I would hook up with seaweed. Thick heavy seaweed and had to spend several minutes pulling in the seaweed and getting my line ready. We had switched from jerk baits to using a large sardine like fish for bait. Every couple casts I would land one in the right spot and Fernando would encourage me to be patient and bring the bait in slowly. Suddenly wham! I had a strike and set the hook. I pulled in half my sardine. The fish had bit right below the hook. Fernando told me that I need to let the fish take the bait for a few seconds before setting the hook. He also said we aren’t bass fishing and I don’t need to set the hook quite so hard. After another hour of casting into seaweed and whatnot I landed another cast in the right spot. After a minute of slowly retrieving the bait again I had a hit. This time I let the fish eat for a moment and then set the hook. I was rewarded with a good pole shake and worked to bring the fish in. About 8 feet from me I saw the flounder. It flopped a few times and suddenly I had no pressure on my line. I looked at Fernando and he just shrugged. Sometimes the fish just gets away. We spent about 3 more hours fishing that way and I hooked 4 or 5 more flounders but was unable to get any of them all the way in. I was frustrated with myself. But I also know, fishing can be that way sometimes.
The next morning I met Fernando at 5 am and we drove over to a beach in Paracas where we met a friend of his with a boston whaler. Our plan was to go out on the ocean and fish around the islands for Cabrilla a type of rock sea bass. We boated about 5 miles off shore to a group of islands lined with sea caves, arches and steep cliffs. The water was relatively clear and I could see dark rock formations scattered amongst the sand. Fernando put me in the bow of the boat and said to cast towards the rocks, let the jig with a soft bait sink a little and bring it in. Cabrilla, like most bass, are ambush predators and will be down in the rocks waiting for their prey.
It is amazing how much better I cast when the wind isn’t blowing at high speeds and a bad angle. I may struggle on a beach, but put me in the bow of a boat with a soft plastic and I felt right at home. I fist started with a bright red plastic but after 15 minutes of nothing I changed to a firetiger colored(red, yellow and green with black stripes) bait I saw in the bag. In Minnesota I use firetiger quite a bit and thought, why not? First cast-a strike. What a beautiful fish. As I held my first ever salt water caught bass I marveled at the colors. Blue scales to blend with the water and dark vertical stripes to hide in the rocks with bright orange spots on its face. Like smallmouth and largemouth bass that I am used to, the Cabrilla fought pretty well. I was pleased.
As we moved along the coast we saw sea lions and penguinss. Yep, Penguins. Both were usually on the rocks sunning but occasionally they would swim by us. The fish didn’t seem to like when the sea lions would swim by the boat so we’d move down the coast of the island a little further. Unlike the previous day, I continued to get strikes on the soft baits and this time I managed to get a good percentage of the fish into the boat. Most Carbilla are 12-15 inches long, but I did manage to catch two large ones. One was just over 19 inches and the other just over 18 inches.
Fernando and his friend each kept one fish to take home and eat and the others we released. We did take an hour at the end and tried to catch some flounder from the boat. This time we didn’t even get a hit. By 11:30 the sea was getting kinda rough and we decided to head in and call it a day.
All in all I had fun fishing in Peru. I hope to go back someday and fish the highland lakes and streams for trout. While backpacking through the Andes the locals I chatted with told me their streams are full of trout. Next time…