We have just arrived back from Rio Chico and I am delighted that we made the trip down there. We had very little expectation, but what we found was really lovely. The trip down took us 2 ½ hours by a private transfer in an air conditioned vehicle by our grand hander Jon Jac. Once through the sprawling metropolis of Caracas we moved down into the low lands beyond and passed through small communities and towns reminding me very much of Cuba or Costa Rica. We arrived at the edge of the lagoon and were transferred through to the lodge by small boats which were also to be our fishing boats. They are basic, but functional all with only 9.9 hp outboard motors. Apparently there is a limitation on engine size as the entire lagoon system is a National Park.
La Tortuga turned out to be a pleasant surprise, a beach front property with a lovely palm frond palapa as the central dining area and bar only 30m from one of the most stunning white sand beaches I have seen. It stretched for as long as the eye could see in each direction and I imagine stretched for the entire 40km length of the lagoon. As soon as we arrived the bird life was extraordinary. Some of the birds that attracted our attention were the stunning flocks of Scarlet Ibis, great egrets, little egrets, several heron species, humming birds, ospreys and other raptor.
The fishing was extremely interesting. Essentially it is a baby tarpon fishery, and we had a lot of fun hitting small tarpon on the edge of the mangroves on 7 and 8 weight rods. The fishing days comprised 0600 in the morning until about 1000 when it became incredibly hot. We would then head back, lie under a beach palapa until lunch, and then an afternoon siesta in the cool breeze off the ocean before heading out in the afternoon to fish from 1500 – 1800. Arriving out in the lagoon in the morning we were greeted by huge numbers of rolling tarpon everywhere, similar to a trout rise and quite extraordinary. We could catch a good number, up to 16 a day between us with plenty jumped and lost.
We very quickly realised that in the afternoon and evening sessions there were much larger tarpon moving round, rolling out in the deeper areas. This made us very excited and we switched from fishing against the mangroves to fishing in the main channel. The first afternoon Ian had a fantastic tarpon of 17lbs, and this was beaten by a 26lbs tarpon by Geoff the following day. Ian’s was on a 7 weight, and a great achievement. Geoff had his on a 9 weight and a gummy minnow.
The last evening while fishing with Phil there were large tarpon moving everywhere and almost immediately I hooked a large fish right in the front of the boat. Very difficult to maintain pressure so it fell off rapidly. At this point I thought I would try a popper and bring the fish to us. A large fish rolled and I threw the popper out and began retrieving. There was an almighty explosion in the water as the tarpon nailed the popper and nearly gave me a heart attack! Again, it fell off after jumping. Phil put on a gurgler and again almost at the boat had a savage take covering us in spray. We fished on.
A further 10 minutes later I saw a roll up against the edge of the mangrove and while chatting to Phil threw a cast and began retrieving. Suddenly there was a monumental explosion in the water like someone had thrown a large boulder and the line was being stripped from my fingers. As the line shot out towards my left a huge fish started leaping off to my right away from me coming bodily clean out of the water. My 9 weight was bent double as the fish careered off and I began to apply low pressure in the opposite direction. After some spectacular jumps the fish began to move towards the boat making the angles very difficult.
The guide backed the boat away from the channel so we could fight it in open water and it then proceeded into a game of tug of war around the boat. Every time I thought I had some leeway the fish would come up and breath air and go off again. Richard, the guide, produced a rather small looking net and I was somewhat dubious that it would fit into it. Finally as the fish came towards the boat he managed to scoop it head first into the net which immediately snapped the aluminium frame. Only then did I realise quite how large this fish was!
It took two of us to haul it into the boat, and my 30lbs boga grip bottomed out immediately without even raising its head of the bottom of the boat properly. The guide estimate the fish at 35 kg so we gave it 70lbs. Not quite what we were expecting in a baby tarpon fishery! Awesome! I went back to the lodge covered in slime, but very happy for a few evening drinks.
Rio Chico was a totally unexpected surprise and we all enjoyed it. I would highly recommend it to anyone as a 3 day add on for anyone heading to Los Roques, and the relaxed fishing hours would fit in really well with jet lag on arrival.
We have now returned to Caracas and are going to attempt to get on a flight this evening as apparently many of them have numerous no shows on them.. Hopefully homeward bound!