Fishing in Boquilla’s Mangroves

I spent my last day in Cartagena fishing with Ecotours Boquilla.  Ecotours Boquilla offers a variety of tours, but I thought the fishing tour on a kayak in the mangroves from 7am to 1pm would be the most fun. I have kayaked in the mangroves and I have fished, but I haven’t put the two together.

Eric and Michelle joined me, but we made the reservations separately, so they ended up on a different kayak than me and started slightly later than me.  Eric wrote his email for the reservation in English and Spanish with the help of Google Translate, as such Ecotours Boquilla asked if they wanted an English translator to join them for which they paid an extra amount.

The tour cost was by canoe, not person, so it was a bit more expensive for me, even without the translator, but I loved it!  My fishing guide was named Ivan.  He knew a little English, not much, so he spoke to me in Spanish.  Fortunately, he kindly spoke slowly so I could understand him, and I had fun trying out my Spanish.

Boquilla is a very poor fishing village not far from Cartagena’s airport.  The fishermen here pass on their trade from generation to generation.  About ten fishermen work for Ecotours Boquilla.  Ecotours sent a driver from the village for me who picked me up at the hotel and drove me to Boquilla, across the beach, and to Ecotours Boquilla headquarters, a turquoise and yellow painted shack with some flags.

I was welcomed, handed a bucket with a fishing net and directed to following Ivan, who was carrying all the crab traps, to the canoe.  We walked across the sand to the shallow mangroves a few hundred feet away.  Upon arrival, Ivan climbed in the canoe and bailed water out of its wooden bottom while I snapped photos of the surrounding area and birds looking for their breakfast.

Soon Ivan was pushing us along with a wooden stick while pointing out all the species of birds with their Spanish names.  The only ones I knew were egret, sandpipers, and blue herons, so those were the only ones for which I could learn the translation.

We left the sun and turned into a tunnel of mangroves where oysters clung to the roots.  There were two types of mangroves, red and black, which could be deciphered by their roots either twisted or rather organized and straight, respectively.

We came out of the tunnel into an open area with lots of birds.  This is where Ivan told me to ditch my flip flops and to hop into the knee-deep water with the bucket.  I slowly followed behind him as I watched where I stepped in the somewhat slick, claylike surface below.

Ivan cast the net and captured a small perch and crab in the first toss.  The second toss caught a few large sardines.  We kept sludging through the water and into some deeper areas where I could not see where I was stepping.  Admittedly, I was not thrilled about this as I slowed to a crawl while hoping I didn’t step on anything sharp.

Ivan made several more casts, most successful but a few coming up empty.  He told me that during this season with the water this low, the fishing is not the best, but none-the-less, he caught the fifteen small fish we needed to set the crab traps and some other small fish and crab that we threw back.

Next, Ivan with concern on his face, spent a bunch of time telling me in Spanish that he had to “filet” the fish for the crab traps.  He seemed to think this would upset me.  Finally I assured him in poor Spanish, “Yes, I know.  We used to set crab traps when I was a kid in Texas.”  With expressed relief, he cut up the fish for the traps.

He stuffed the center of the traps with bait and told me the bait needed to be on the bottom when I dropped the traps into the water as he used his long pole to push us through the water.  After we spaced the five crab traps about ten feet apart, it was time for me to practice casting the net.

I had casted a MUCH smaller and lighter net as a kid, so I understood the general gist of it, but this was much harder.  I had to use my whole body to twirl around and throw the net from the left to the right as well as upward like a left-hander’s baseball swing except I had to let go of the net at the correct time.  I surprised Ivan, Eric and Michelle, and their guide Jose with a pretty good throw!  The next one was good too, so I quit while I was ahead, though I didn’t catch any fish.

Eric, Michelle and Jose (who comes from one of the poorest places in Colombia but ironically donned a Dolce and Gabbana T-shirt which made me smile) had just finished up fishing when we set our crab traps, so now it was time for them to drop their traps.  Then Michelle and Eric tried out their skills at casting the net.  Everyone managed to do it decently, but none of us succeeded in catching a fish.  Having said that, we were basically tossing the net into the same place over and over so I’m certain the fish were already spooked, but at the same time, it’s not like we got the net to spread out into a perfect circle either.

After about twenty minutes, it was time to pick up the traps.  I was warned to lift them quickly and to flip them over to dump the crabs into the bucket.  Ivan was pleasantly surprised at my success in my first attempt, but occasionally a crab got loose; back into the saltwater or into the bottom of the canoe.

The crabs we caught weren’t that big.  We tossed many back though kept some for eating.  They were all smaller than what I’ve ever eaten previously and I wondered if these were bait too.  We reset the traps a few times and while we waited, Ivan found a few oysters and conch for us to eat too.

Eventually, all of us went to a local’s house where they cooked the crabs we caught.  Of course, they also prepared the traditional meal of fish, rice, fried plantains, and salad as the tiny crabs were not going to be filling enough.  In fact, we decided these crabs were the new celery.  It took more effort in calories to crack and shell the crab than the calories of meat we ate!  I mistakenly told Ivan they were my favorite, and then I could hardly shell them…haha.

Overall, we had a great time in Boquilla while fishing and meeting the locals!  ETB


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