Category Archives: Salty

The Historical Gravity of the Panga

I once took a bonefishing trip out of Belize City. I was there for other reasons but the concierge said she had a cousin who could take me out. He picked me up at a pier about three blocks from the hotel and we started for the mangrove cayes off the peninsula. He worked the tiller of the old outboard to steady us on the ride; wind catching the high profile of the bow made the boat wobble. This is a common problem with pangas.

Chris Santella’s article on Punta Allen in the New York Times reminded me of this, mostly because of its striking color photo (by Matt Jones) of  anglers on a panga variant. Anyone who has ever engaged in back country travel to a desolate stretch of foreign water has thrown flies from a panga at some point, likely unaware of the significance found in the cheaply laid fiberglass under his feet.

There is debate over who really created the panga*, but Yamaha Motors developed and mass produced the modern version in the 1960s, desiring a low cost work boat with a flat transom that could hold the outboards it was selling. Inspiration came from traditional Japanese fishing boats, as well as from cast netters in Central and South America, Africa and Asia, who launched their long, narrow wooden boats through the surf.

It’s designed to get in and out of the breakers without rolling, with a flattened keel for pulling onto the beach. They original panga was 22 feet long and five and a half feet wide, with that rounded rising bow for extra buoyancy. A Delta pad underneath helped it hop to life with little horsepower and skip like a stone on top of a bay chop.

Here’s how pangas changed the game: They could be quickly molded from fiberglass and with their long, narrow, efficient shape they could run forever on a small tank of gasoline. Seeing their economic value, the World Bank got involved, working to distribute pangas and outboards to net fishermen in Asia, Africa and South and Central America, and to teach their owners how to fix a carburetor.

Over the years they’ve evolved into water taxis, freight haulers, drug runners, dive boats, marlin chasers and flats skiffs, like the dark green one I sat in as we glided over the water between Belize City and the bonefish flats.

My guide picked up his homemade push pole and stood on the back bench. He’d crafted a casting platform from plywood, roughly cut and planked across the bow. From there I had a higher vantage point than he did–he didn’t have sunglasses anyhow–and I saw the shadows moving across the flat first. He staked off and I made ready to cast, another small transaction in the history of a boat that brought waters all around the world within reach.

*(See comment below.)

Things That Matter on the Flats

locked and loaded, despite

 You motherf&*$&*rs got no creep,” -Kima Greggs, “The Wire” Season 2

The bonefish started moving away from me the second I raised my rod to throw and I had no accounting for it. But Ellie, my guide, gave me a look that made it clear this was all my fault.

“What’s in your bag, Pete?” he asked, and I felt embarrassed for overlooking such a small thing that could dampen my prospects.

I get to go flats fishing for bonefish, on average, about once every two years, so I am no authority on the subject. But in my brief travels I’ve picked up things that have stuck. Besides the general obvious ones–false casting sucks, poise counts and so on–it sometimes seems to be the tiniest of details. Such as…

THE SHIT IN YOUR BAG: Sound travels 4.3 times faster through water than air. Ellie, one of the guides from Andros South*, had detected a rattle coming from my pack when I loaded my back cast. The culprit: Those little plastic containers you throw your desired flies into at the fly shop. I’d left one loose in there with three crabs I’d purchased and forgotten about.  And it cost me shots.

THE SHIT ON YOUR LINE: Scene two, I was walking along a shallow flat, floating line stripped and trailing at the ready. Except it kept sinking. Every ten feet or so I’d snag a rock or shell or coral bit and get otherwise hung up. This again, entirely my fault. Despite my known preferences for ditch fishing in sandy, muddy and potentially toxic areas, the number of times I had cleaned my line added up to never. All that grit, and all the times I’d stepped on it added up to FUBAR. Thankfully, I’d left my spare reel sitting safely in my luggage at the lodge.

The guide wound up serving as my personal line caddy for the session, walking side by side and holding my line free from snags until I was ready to throw. Mighty cool of him.

The fish I did catch were, thankfully, blind to my inadequacies.

*(From FIBFest 1)