Anglers of the Caribbean, Part III: The language of fishing

Whether using a plastic bottle or a traditional rod and reel, you can catch some cool fish in Belize.
Whether using a plastic bottle or a traditional rod and reel, you can catch some cool fish in Belize. Special to the Idaho Statesman

As chronicled previously in Parts I and II of this column, my wife and I enjoyed an awesome vacation in Belize this summer. It was an unforgettable week filled with snorkeling, sightseeing, tropical adventures and, of course, fishing!

We spent part of the trip at Blackbird Caye Resort, a quaint establishment on remote Turneffe Atoll. Blackbird is known for scuba diving and snorkeling, and rightfully so. Turneffe Atoll is situated on the world’s second-largest barrier reef, and the underwater views and ecosystems are unbelievable.

The resort didn’t offer a fishing charter, so I brought my own gear and asked around for the inside scoop.

During the 90-minute boat ride to the island, I was able to learn what species hung out near the pier and beach. Bonefish, snapper, barracuda, jack, snook and tarpon were on the list. I couldn’t wait to get a line wet.

As we approached land, one of the dive masters overheard me talking about fishing.

“If you want to catch some fish,” he said, “you need to talk to Rigo.”

Rigo — short for Rigoberto — was one of the resort’s groundskeepers. He stood maybe 5-foot-1, with a weathered face that told the tale of many days under the Caribbean sun.

It didn’t take long to find Rigo after dinner. Just as his colleagues predicted, he was fishing on the pier.

There was only one problem — Rigo spoke zero English.

I approached and introduced myself. He smiled and nodded. I asked what he was fishing for, in English, but he just nodded and said, “Fish.”

I watched as he threaded a sardine onto a large hook, which was attached to a thick length of fishing line wrapped around a coke bottle. He twirled the hook and threw it, lasso-style, into the depths.

Suddenly, there was a big tug on his line. He quickly yanked back with two hands, but the hook came flying back at us, minus the sardine.

“Barracuda!” Rigo yelled, and then a wry grin spread across his wrinkled face. “Mucho grande!”

Yep, telling fish stories transcends both language and culture.

Throughout the week, Rigo and I continued to “talk” fishing. Our phonetics were awkward, but we got by.

Rigo caught sardines for us to use as bait (by throwing a cast net off the pier and softly chanting “sardeeeeeen” as he pulled it up) and showed me how to descale snappers and toss the remains high into the air to be caught by well-trained frigate birds.

In return, I showed him how my rod-and-reel setup worked and gave him a big bar jack for dinner one night.

I can count the number of words Rigo and I knew in common on two hands, but our shared love of “Pescar” (Spanish for fishing) carried the day. No words are necessary to know that a person from an entirely different background and culture gets the same thrill out of a fish on the end of his line that you do — even if that line is attached to an old plastic bottle.

On the day we left, I hugged Rigo goodbye and handed him a tip in an envelope marked, “Muchos Gracias, Pescar!”

My Spanish grammar was terrible, but I could tell by the smile on his face that he knew what I meant.

Líneas apretadas (tight lines)!

Jordan Rodriguez has been fishing Idaho waters since he was a teen. Share your fish stories, adventures, tips and tricks at outdoors

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