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Battle with the mysterious fish

By Kelly Kingon, David Portnoy, 11th April 2023

We set off on a small fishing boat called a pirogue to the farthest island, Chacachacare, in the northwest of Trinidad to deploy our first longline in the large channel that separates Trinidad from Venezuela, known as the Grand Boca/Boca Grande. This is one of the four straits or ‘bocas‘ that make up the Dragon’s Mouths or ‘Bocas del Dragon‘ that runs between the chain of islands off the northwestern Chaguaramas Peninsula of Trinidad, locally called Down De Islands or DDI.

Dragon’s Mouths or 'Bocas del Dragon' between Venezuela & Trinidad.

The currents in the Grand Boca are strong and the depths plunge down to 200m. We had set the longline in some of the other bocas without issue, so we decided to give the Grand Boca a try. There were some small waves causing half of the crew to struggle with seasickness in the front of the boat. The rest of us were busy in the back deploying the longline.

I was letting out the line while the others were baiting hooks and clipping on the gangions (baited lines). With about 20-30 hooks in the water, I started to feel strong tugging. I knew we had caught something big. We continued to deploy the longline, and the pull on the line did not ease up. I was hopeful we had caught a monster shark. After throwing the end buoy, we raced to the other end to haul in our catch. Normally this goes pretty quickly, but with this large fish not wanting to be caught, the line very slowly made its way on deck as the three of us rotated, trying to pull and then cleating off the line to let the boat do the fighting for a bit, only to start the process all over again a few minutes later. This went on for a couple of hours until we finally got very close to the hook where the beast was attached but we just couldn’t pull anymore. We decided to cut the line and tie off a large buoy for it to fight with while we pulled in the line from the other end. We thought going to the other end of the line would ease up the strain, but it only did so very slightly. We had to keep the boat in reverse with some pace to make any headway and eventually, after pulling in one or two hooks of the 100 in total, we found that making a circle with the boat eased things up enough to pull in a next hook or two. The process was gruelling and scary as with every bit of line we pulled in, the giant would fight back and all of our feet or hands nearly got tangled in the rope during its strikes.

Several times I thought the hole cleat was going to pull out of the boat. At last, after over 4 hours, four times as long as it usually takes to pull in the longline, we reached close to the other buoy, where we started to see a green shadow down below the water. We finally managed to pull it up to the surface to find a HUGE green moray eel!

Photo © Eugenia Thomas

However, this was not the only monster we had caught, as the line was still taut. Being so close to the giant catch, we were unable to make much progress getting closer. It still had fight in it. We drove it around and around, trying to wear it out with little success. We were contemplating dragging it into a nearby bay where it is shallow to see if that may help. We decided to have one last tug, and it broke off! It snapped the 500lb test monofilament at the hook attachment and was gone. We didn’t even get to see it even though it was only 10s of meters away from us at that point. We surmise it was probably a really huge sting ray as they are quite tough and heavy, probably the only thing that could have undergone such a long, arduous battle, but unfortunately, we will never know its true identity. The snapped line, sore muscles and bruises are all we have to show for the monster that got away.

Photo © Kelly Kingon

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