One morning I hopped out of bed, threw on my clothes, and hit the Malecon in the hope of finding the location of Fisherman's Beach. Every day in Mazatlan you can look out on the ocean and see local fisherman in 20-foot pangas with outboard motors. I wanted to find where they brought in their catch, and in spite of numerous questions, I never could get a straight answer. So I walked and walked, determined not to stop until I located the site.
Mazatlan has the largest shrimp fishing fleet in the Pacific, and yearly the huge boats bring in 40,000 tons of the succulent crustaceans to the commercial docks. Although it's interesting to watch the unloading and grading process, I was seeking something different--the men who day after day go down to the sea in small boats.
As the light brightened, I strolled past the exquisite monuments which mark the Malecon: the Stag; the Carpe Olivera (my favorite), a mermaid in pike position; La Mazatleca, a tribute to the town's beautiful women; La Clavista, dedicated to the daring high divers; and the statues of a man and woman accompanied by dolphins, a celebration to the Continuity of Life. Rounding Punta Chile with its Maritime College and Punta Tiburon with the March 31st Fort, I looked out to sea and saw I was in time to see the men bring in their morning catch.
The process is as old as fishing the waters and decidedly practical, a lesson in making do with what's available. As the small open boats approach the beach, the crews hop out and run to the seawall where a pile of logs are stacked. Taking the logs to the surf, they place one under the bow and roll the boat unto that support. Everyone on the beach pitches in as the pangas are drawn, one log at a time, up the beach until they are safely out of the tide line. A couple more affluent captains have trailers which are wheeled into the water, but they are in the minority.
When the boats are all safely ashore, local townspeople look over the catch and bargain for the freshest fish. On the day I visited, the pickings were slim, but the men go out again later in the day and hope for better results.
Walking back to Hotel La Siesta for a late breakfast at the Shrimp Bucket, I arrived at the divers' platform in time to witness the feat which rivals that of Acapulco's famed cliff leapers. Acapulco may have a higher platform, but the water is deeper, making the Mazatlan divers' work more dangerous.
I didn't arrive in time to photograph the event, but I did get the opportunity to speak with the diver. His name was Roberto, and he'd been diving for 45 years. His English was excellent and when asked if he ever had been injured, he admitted to a couple scrapes but said he'd never been afraid.
Divers do not go off the platform at regular intervals. Usually tour directors contact them when bringing a bus-load of tourists and a fee is discussed. This amount is augmented by any tips the divers receive. Roberto had a handful of U.S. dollar bills.
After my Numero Uno breakfast at the Shrimp Bucket, I decided to continue on the aquatic theme by visiting the Mazatlan Aquarium. At the time, the large central tank was cordoned off and improvements were in progress. No matter. The many smaller tanks contained everything which swims, crawls, wiggles or burrows in the seas off the coast. I especially enjoyed the octopus ballet.
In addition to the fish tanks, the aquarium had a sea lion show starring a very fat and jovial pinnipod performing all her tricks to the delight of the bevy of schoolchildren. Teachers were smooched, fish were fed to the overweight beast, and in a rousing finale, the sea lion raced down its pool, leaped up, and splashed the squealing and giggling assemblage.
Fishing was on my mind another day as a group set sail from El Cid Marina in the hope of landing a billfish. Mazatlan is noted as being one of the primo places for landing sailfish and marlin, and in 2009 they will host the 18th Big Game Trolling World Sport Fish Championship.
Our boat was the Aries IV with Captain Viktor and First Mate Juan. After powering 25 miles out, Juan prepared the lures and set the lines. Almost immediately three striped marlin hit. Two escaped, but we hooked one. Our valiant friend Alison had quite a fight--30 arm-wrenching minutes of reeling in and playing out. When the marlin finally reached the boat, it was still full of fight, and we almost lost it as it swam under the boat. We were prepared for disappointment, but Juan did not give up. Almost going in the drink, he gaffed the fish and heaved it on board.
We were all a bit giddy with excitement, but when I saw that magnificent creature fighting for breath, I was immediately overcome with regret. Many times the crew will catch and release, but after the long battle and the injury of the gaff, our fish could not be returned to the sea. In cases like this, the captain will donate the meat to a local orphanage or drug rehabilitation house. Knowing this helped me reconcile my conscience a bit.
The remainder of the trip was uneventful until just before we had to reel in the lines and head for home. Byron was in the chair when the mahi-mahi hit. At about 20 pounds, it was less of a challenge than the 120 pound striped marlin. The mahi-mahi are sometimes called dorados or dolphins (not the Flipper variety). What a beautiful fish--shades of aqua and gold, its brilliant colors fading fast as it died.
It was a good trip, the captain knew his stuff, and we proudly flew out dorado and marlin flags as we returned to the marina. However, for someone who has fished all her life starting with drowning worms for sun fish at an old dock in my hometown, I learned a lesson. Never again will I go after those magnificent billfish.