One Saturday morning not too long ago, Artemis sailed out at full capacity, with ten excited anglers and two crew on board. The plan for the day was to spend the morning fishing for some tasty food fish, before heading to Lazarus Island to enjoy a barbecue featuring the freshly-caught fish.
The current was expected to be mild throughout most of the day, which boded well for bottom fishing as it would be easier for the anglers to place their baits near the bottom of the water column. Fish like groupers, snapper, and tuskfish tend to lurk close to the seabed since that is where they get access to shelter between rocks and corals, as well as easy pickings in the form of small fish and crustaceans seeking refuge from the current. These species also tend to have sweet white flesh, which makes them highly valued as food fish and extremely sought after for the table.
We sailed for a relatively shallow reef known to hold a wide variety of predators, and upon arrival the sounder lit up with the signatures of schools of fish below. Eagerly, the anglers baited up and quickly lowered their lines to the bottom. There were frequent light nibbles that turned out to be from little butterfly whiptails or various species of hinds, which are dwarf members of the grouper family. These species were no good for the barbecue grill, and were therefore promptly released.
As the minutes wore on, it became apparent that whatever was schooling below was either not hungry at the moment, or we were not employing the correct methods to catch them. Compounding the difficulty, the current was due to shift soon and the wind was blowing erratically, making it extremely difficult to anchor or drift directly over the school. Our only clue as to the identity of the mysterious creatures below was when one angler released his line before our captain switched off the engine, and had a plump yellowtail fusilier take his empty sabiki.
Unable to solve this riddle of nature and under the pressure of time, we decided to hit another reef to try our luck there. Our captain set up for a long drift, and within moments of the baits hitting the water there were a few good takes registered. One of them was converted into a solid hook-up, and resulted in a beautiful bar-cheeked coral trout being landed. One for the bbq!
With that shot in the arm, everyone redoubled their efforts and fished with renewed vigour. It didn't take long before one lucky angler had a good take just as his sinker hit the bottom. He gave a firm strike and the rod bent over under the weight of a good fish. A tense struggle ensued with several short, torque-y runs before this fine Southern Islands grouper was brought to the boat.
It was by now almost time to head to the island to begin the barbecue, but due to popular demand we reset for one last drift to see what we could get. The anglers were not disappointed, with several more groupers brought up, along with a feisty spangled emperor that would later be turned into sashimi.
Once we reached Lazarus Island, the supplies were unloaded and the crew proceeded to fire up the LotusGrill. While the fish were being prepared, cold beers were broken out and the barbecue went ahead with lovely cuts of Japanese beef that someone had brought along.
The fish were soon ready for the barbie; the groupers were a bit too big to cook within a reasonable time, so they were left in the icebox for one of the anglers to take home for his newborn. The star of the show was the coral trout, which tasted tender and succulent like only an extremely fresh, wild-grown fish can.
Remember the spangled emperor caught earlier? The fish was bled while it was still alive, and promptly left on ice. While the barbecue was in progress, the fish was skinned and filleted, and presented it in a manner reminiscent of those Japanese street food videos on youtube. The taste was similar to that of the snapper known as Tai in Japan, and heartily enjoyed by our guests.
Eventually all the appetites were satisfied, and some opted to crack open one more cold one for the ride back. Artemis made good time on her way back sailing with the tide, and returned to port after yet another successful hunt in the waters of the Southern Islands.