San Juan del Sur held its 12th annual Panga Fishing Tournament on October 17th while we happened to be visiting. The tournament brings friends, family and the community all together in one place. It is a great way for the Nicas and the foreigners to get together and enjoy a day on the water. All the proceeds from the tournament go towards keeping the tradition of fishing alive in SJDS. We had the opportunity to meet this year’s chairman. His name is Lewis and he is an expat from North America. We were granted permission to access a few specific areas that not everyone had privilege to go.
We arrived at the port authortity and checked in around noon. The weather was hot, the skies were partly cloudy and the Pacific Ocean was mostly calm. The contestants began their voyages around 6:00 am. The fishermen relied on local panga captains to take them to open waters where the bigger fish hang out. Pangas, small open-bow fishing boats, are powered by an outboard motor (see picture, right). No other fishing vessels are allowed in this tournament. We situated ourselves at the edge of the dock, waiting for the first contestants to arrive. The deadline for getting your catch weighed was 3:30 pm.
At around 2:00 pm the first of the pangas arrived. The dockhands tied off the boat and the captain’s crew unloaded their bounty. Needless to say there were lots of beautiful fish. Some of the bigger ones caught were dorado, rooster and mahi-mahi. The grand prize is awarded to the crew that brings in the most qualifying fish. There are also other categories like the largest fish and most fish caught by a specific age group.
The pictures below will give you an idea how most the crews did.
One by one, each panga and its crew brought their fish to the weigh-in station. By this time the crowds were gathering. Remember when I mentioned we had special prvileges? This was one of them. We positioned ourselves right over the scales and marveled at the sight of all the aquatic species being weighed.
The panga teams were talking smack to each other as the scales told the tale. The judges were scribbling figures and taking notes as the weigh in continued. As the last fish made the final scales, it was time for camaraderie and, of course, the stories about the one that got away began to surface. We followed the judges to their official table and watched as they tallied weights and measurements. As the aficionados pow wowed, the festivities began.
Family and friends of the contestants, as well as the community, celebrated another successful tournament. There were local cuisines, beverages and lots of neighborly chatting. The time came to hand out awards to the panga crews. There were also prizes for the kids who went out with adults and participated in the contest. The whole day was considered a success by not only the fishing teams, but all the people who came out to support the community.
Author: Anthony Scopel
Photographer: Maureen Scopel