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Game Fishes of the Colonies

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

The colonial possessions of this country, especially those of the Pacific, abound in a number of interesting fishes which, when thoroughly investigated, will doubtless add to the list of large American game fishes available to anglers. Very little attention has been paid to angling as a sport either in Hawaii or the Philippines, and as in the present volume I have confined my description of catches to those personally made, I shall pass them with but brief reference, and turn to the game fishes of Puerto Rico, all of which I have brought to gaff or net.

About Honolulu the opah, referred to in a previous chapter, is taken, and I have seen a photograph of a large specimen of this fish claimed to have been taken in these waters with rod and reel. Dr. Jordan, who in 1902 made a visit to Samoa and the islands, wrote me : " Game fishing is almost unknown about the islands, although there are a great many fishes probably two hundred species which take the hook and might come under that head. There are several large species of Caranx, but we are not sure what any of them are." This latter genus includes the jacks or crevalle of our southern waters, which undoubtedly would afford good sport. An eastern angler, whose name I have unfortunately mislaid, showed me a photograph of a large fish which weighed at least one hundred and fifty pounds, taken at one of the Hawaiian Islands with rod and reel, which he claimed was as gamy as the tuna. I recognized in this fish a very rare and interesting species, one specimen of which has been found at Santa Catalina, which weighed about fifty pounds. Dr. Charles H. Gilbert of Stanford University kindly identified this latter specimen for me and wrote regarding it: " I find now that it represents an undoubted specimen of a form hitherto known only from the Mediterranean and neighboring waters (Luvarus imperialis). It is said to be rare in its home waters, and is as yet unreported from our Atlantic coast."

This fish bore a striking resemblance to the "jack," but was very large and powerful, and if available to anglers would doubtless take its place with the tarpon, tuna, and other big game of undoubted standing.

So far as the angler is concerned, our new colony Porto Rico presents a field that can, as regards game, be compared to southern Florida, the environment being more tropical and charming ; but the conditions for fishing are in many respects different and vastly inferior. Puerto Rico is about fifteen hundred miles from New York, or it can be reached by train to Florida and boat to Key West or Havana. It has a coast line of three hundred and sixty miles, faces the north bravely, and while tropical, is really cooler than any other island of the group. Frederic A. Ober has explored its waters and mountains and painted its charms perhaps more vividly than any other American. The island is deficient in good harbors, San Juan being the best one on the north, about which some good fishing is to be had ; to the westward are found Puerto Real de Cabo Rojo, Anasco, Rincon, Aguadilla, and others available for the angler. On the south side are Ponce, Jobos, Guanica, and many bays and inlets in which the angler with North American tackle will find solace and amusement. There is one peculiarity about the island, it is exposed on almost every side to winds and as a result a heavy surf prevails at localities which under other circumstances might afford excellent sport. The angler will find numbers of professional fishermen at San Juan, but no good small boats regularly adapted for sport, sail-boats being used.

Among the fishes the robalo will interest the angler -- a gamy creature three or four feet in length, very common here and referred to in a previous chapter. A good ground for it is the Rio Plato and the various lagoons, the fish affecting shallow and smooth water wherever it can be found. Near San Cristobal the jurel and cherna fishing is excellent. The former, Caranx, is a gamy fish though of small size, rarely exceeding two feet in length, but very gamy, as I can testify, having often taken it in Florida waters where the conditions are more favorable, so far as wind is concerned. The cherna next to the tarpon is perhaps the largest game fish found here and very common, large individuals weighing fifty or more pounds. Equally as large, if not larger, is the black grouper, common at many points and a fine fish, especially when it can be found in shallow water. Here is the familiar hogfish, now known as the perro perro, and often ignominiously caught in pots, and there are a host of bait-eaters, as doncella, a beautiful little parrot fish, chaetodonts, and many more. The Porto Rican waters abound in parrot-fishes, found on the coral reef, the cotoro verde, loro colorado, and vieja colorado being particularly common, some attaining a weight of twenty pounds or more. Among them is found the familiar spadefish, here known as paguala, tipping the scales from eight to twenty pounds. The tarpon is a very common fish about Porto Rico, but I cannot learn that any one has ever taken it there for sport, and as the flesh is very poor there is no incentive for the local fishermen to catch the sabalo, as it is sometimes called. Barton W. Evermann, who is the authority on the fishes of Porto Rico, and who has made an elaborate and valuable report to the government on the subject, entitled General Re-port on the Investigations in Porto Rico of the United States Fish Commission Steamer Fish Hawk, in 1889, made some interesting discoveries at Hucares relating to the young of the tarpon, finding several young fishes ranging from two to seven inches in length at the former place and at Fajardo. I have made many attempts to learn something regarding the breeding habits of this fish, but beyond ascertaining that females taken at Aransas Pass in summer bore spawn, could learn nothing, fishermen at this point never having seen the young. The angler visiting Porto Rico will find another fine game fish, the " ten-pounder," a cousin of the doughty tarpon called here piojo," " matajuelo real," chiro and " lisa francesa," according to Evermann. For rapidity of motion and remarkable acrobatic feats, this fish stands at the head of all game fishes. The leap of the tarpon is stupendous and impressive, but it is deliberation compared to the erratic and rapid rushes of the ten-pounder. I can only compare the leaps of the fish to an animated flashing beam of silvery light. The first one I hooked dashed out of the water in every possible position, fairly dazzling the eye. At Aransas Pass this fish is very common.

The attractive yellowtail of Florida is found here plentifully and known as the colirubia, a delight giver with light rod.

A number of grunts, Haemulon, are found in Puerto Rico, ronco, arraydo, corocoro, jallao, being some of the Spanish names under which the sailors' choice, the black grunt, striped grunt, and margate-fish of Florida are known ; but not much can be said for their game qualities, at least in my estimation. They are famous bait-eaters, excellent pan-fishes, and among the loudest of all the grunters, or " talkers," of which there are many among fishes. I well remember the first grunt I ever caught. It was such a good-natured-looking little creature that I unhooked it care-fully, feeling that its large and expressive eyes were watching me with more earnestness than is usual among fishes ; and as I held it, it began to grunt, so loudly that I surrendered at once and tossed it overboard, quite convinced that the extraordinary sounds were pleas for mercy. Nearly all of the grunts are attractive, even beautiful fishes, - the common grunt of Porto Rico, Ronco arara, being one of the most striking in its range and combination of color. In some of the parrot-fishes the singular joined teeth are blue or pink, and this quaint and familiar grunt has the inside of its mouth colored a vivid red ; and when hooked it comes pleasantly up with its mouth wide open, ready to fairly grunt its way to liberty if the angler is sentimental or soft-hearted, as without doubt certain anglers are.

An excellent fish here is the pompon, Anisotremus surinamensis, which attains a length of nearly, if not quite, four feet, and bears a superficial resemblance to the drum. Another species, though small, calls to mind the porgy, the profile being vertical, giving the "catalineta " an appearance of solidity and strength. With it is seen the " pluma," or jolt-head porgy, Calamus kendalli, a lusty twelve or fifteen pound fish, capable of making a vigorous fight. Its large head, prominent eyes, and masklike face make it a conspicuous form among the Porto Rican fishes. Porgies have the faculty of expressing their emotions with their dorsal fins to a certain extent, recognized by those who have kept them in confinement. I watched this fish in an enclosed aquarium on the reef for a year. It became very tame, would eat from my hand, and in swimming invariably kept the sharp spines of the dorsal fin flat upon its back ; but when I approached, up they would go, and if I made a very quick movement, they would stiffen out like quills upon the fretful porcupine, forcibly reminding spectators of the hair on a cat's back, or the tail of a cat or dog.

The gamy white sea-bass and the weak-fish are represented in Porto Rico by the " corvina, Cynoscion jamaicensis. Many striking rays are found about here, the list in all probability being similar to that of Florida. One popularly known as the eagle ray (Aetobatus) is a most graceful and attractive creature, as I recall it, literally flying ahead of my boat over shallow lagoons on the reef, the back dark with vivid light spots a veritable leopard of the sea. Its side fins move up and down with a singularly graceful movement, the fish appearing to fly along. Trailed behind this birdlike creature is a tail like a whip-lash, longer than the extreme width of the fish, a most dangerous and effective weapon. Just above its base are from one to three spines set one above the other, and about six inches in length, a quarter of an inch in width, and closely serrated. One in my possession, a souvenir of the adventure to follow, is a very good saw if soft wood is employed. If this creature could by any means be considered a game fish, no one capturing it would gainsay it, as a more gallant fighter does not sail the shallow seas, and as a ground and lofty tumbler, a leaper of high degree, it holds high rank. The leap is a most graceful movement, and one of these fishes sprang into the air so near my boat at Aransas Pass that I intuitively dodged. Even the big manta, seventeen feet across, leaps, and I have heard the thundering crash of its fall or return, sounding like an explosion on a hot summer night on the Florida reef. One of my boatmen, Paublo by name, a negro prone to the siesta at any and all hours, was very fond of fishing, and frequently when I was fishing for small barracudas from the beach of the Florida Keys, and he had caught my bait, he would fling down his cast-net, take from his pocket a long cotton line, and baited, send it swinging out into the channel ; then lying down, crossing one leg over the other, he would take a turn with the line about his big toe, and forth-with fall asleep. On one occasion I heard his yells, and looking back saw him on his back, one leg in the air, being nearly hauled over-board by a large whip ray. I have referred to the whip as a weapon, and a most effective one it was. In poling my dinghy over the reef a companion, who was sitting in the bow with legs overboard, was suddenly struck by a ray which darted up out of the high weed, not only cutting his naked legs, but lacerating his foot across the instep with three deep cuts to the bone, made by the serrated spines.

In Puerto Rico the kingfish, or " sierra," occurs with the Spanish mackerel and the great picuda, and on the reef the moray, or " morena verde," an ugly creature often six feet in length. One which I inadvertently brought into my boat in Florida charged me so ferociously that I sprang up the mast to avoid it, while my companion went overboard, the water being shallow, leaving the monster in full possession, which finally made its way into the water again.

So far as mere angling is concerned Puerto Rico offers no advantage over Florida, indeed, is not to be compared to it. The fishes are about the same. On the reef of the latter the weather conditions are more favorable, the heavy winds which pile the sea in so continuously at Porto Rico are lacking; yet in both localities in midsummer the angler may expect heat of an intense and monotonous variety.

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