Posts tagged: birds

Tarpon fishing and caiman wrangling at Esquina del Lago

Hanging out at Esquina del Lago lodge on the Rio San Juan

Hanging out at Esquina del Lago lodge on the Rio San Juan

During our week or so in Nicaragua we were based at Esquina del Lago, a river lodge with no hot water but plenty of rickety charm. Lodge owner Phillipe Tisseaux met us at immigration in San Carlos, then whisked us across the water. It was dark when we arrived at the lodge, and the life-sized crocodile on his dock was lifelike enough to make us back away.

After we settled into our modest room, we were fed a delicious meal of river shrimp (as big as crawfish) in a cream sauce that owed not a little to Tisseaux’s origin.

Born in France in 1949 and now a Nicaraguan resident, Tisseaux bought this spit of land at the corner of the Rio San Juan, the Rio Frio, and Lake Nicaragua in 2002 and opened the lodge in 2006.

Caimans on our very first night

After a dinner straight from the river one of Tisseaux’s workers, Minor, a young man of few words, said, “Come. The caiman.”

I thought he meant that there might be one on the wooden walkways jutting out over the water, a companion to the fake croc that had scared us when we arrived.

But he motioned us into a boat (you have to go everywhere by boat; there are no roads and not many paths during the wet season). We puttered out over the dark water to a swampy area a little ways upstream. To our dismay the young man went over the side of the boat and was thigh-deep in water before we knew what was happening. He went thrashing through the swamp, then came back with something in his hands. It was a small caiman, and he showed us how to hold it. It felt so alive in my hands. I wanted to get it back into the water, where it belonged.

Later Tisseaux would tell me “Minor’s crazy. He gets the babies, and how do you think the mamas feel about that?”

But Minor wasn’t satisfied with just showing us a little caiman. We motored over to another swampy area, where he swept a flashlight across the water, soon finding the glow of eyes that he was looking for.

“Es grande,” he said. “Voy por el.” He’s a big one. I’m going after him.

And over the side of the boat he went.

I was relieved when he came back empty-handed.

Tarpon fishing and the Esquina del Lago

Philippe Tisseaux at Esquina del Lago lodge on the Rio San Juan

Philippe Tisseaux at Esquina del Lago lodge on the Rio San Juan

Tisseaux, who has lived everywhere from Florida to St. Martin to Costa Rica, says he’s been ‘retired’ since 1989, but he never seems to not be working. His lodge has 6 rooms and he is building 4 more, he was on his way to a community meeting in San Carlos when we first arrived, and he seems to know everyone within a 100-mile radius and is well-informed about what’s going on in his adopted country.

He also arranges kayaking trips (or you can use his for free to do short paddles on the river or lake), and he can arrange trips to the Solentiname Islands, to local reserves, or downriver to El Castillo, the old Spanish fort built in 1675 to guard against pirates coming up the Rio San Juan from the Caribbean, into Lake Nicaragua, and on to the wealthy colonial city of Granada, which was sacked and pillaged innumerable times during the colonial era.

But his main business is taking people tarpon fishing in the Rio San Juan. He wants to protect that fishery and is adamant that the tarpon his clients catch be released unharmed. Others who fish tarpon in the area are more likely to sell it for less than a dollar a pound. Tisseaux is trying to convince the fishermen in the area that all the magnificent tarpon in the river are worth more to them dead that alive, since sportfisherman can catch the same fish again and again.

Esquina del Lago lodge has been featured in Field & Stream magazine, and CNN came recently to film a fishing show featuring the mythic and prehistoric-looking tarpon, called sabalo in Spanish.

We made friend with the croc after we showed him who was boss.

We made friends with the fake croc after we showed him who was boss.