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Vol 43 | Num 7 | Jun 13, 2018

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Fish Stories

Article by Capt. Franky Pettolina

Some of my favorite things about fishing have very little to do with the act of fishing itself. I know. I know. You are thinking that the sun has finally fried my bald head or the Miller Lites have taken the last of my brain cells. But think about it for a minute. Sure the bite and the catch are important, but there is so much more to it than just the fish. Seeing the sun rise on the water. The lights of the ferris wheel and the high rises along the coast when running in the dark. Watching porpoises surf the waves. Eating Pollo A La Miel con mis amigos Venezolanos at the Hong Kong Chef….. Wait, what!?!?
That’s right. For my Spanish impaired friends, I am talking about eating honey chicken with my Venezuelan friends at my favorite Chinese restaurant, the Hong Kong Chef, in downtown Caraballeda, Venezuela. Of course the salt and pepper ribs there are pretty good too, but the honey chicken is my favorite. Or was my favorite I guess, since I haven’t been there since the early 2000s, and with the current political climate there, I doubt I will be going back anytime soon. Who knows if the restaurant is even there anymore?

But back in the fall of 2002 I knew for sure that the Hong Kong Chef was open for business. For that reason alone I found myself helping my buddy Capt. Sluggo deliver a boat from Fort Lauderdale to Venezuela with his brother Wayne and our pal Robby. Alright, maybe the fact that I was also going to get to go fishing for white marlin in one of the best white marlin fisheries on the planet might have also played a part in my decision to help with the delivery. Either way, I ended up island hopping through the Caribbean with nothing but marlins and honey chicken on the brain.

For the uninitiated, the idea of taking a big sportfishing boat through crystal clear waters and getting multiple stamps on your passport while doing so sounds like a blast. Truth be told, some of it is a blast. But there is a lot of it that is wet, salty, rough and boring.

On this particular trip it started out spectacular. The seas were flat calm and we were making great time. At one point, Robby and I were riding in the tuna tower of the 65-foot Sportfisher while making about 30 knots. It was awesome to watch flying fish skitter across the cobalt seas. We were sure we would see some sort of pelagic predator pop-up after them at any moment. We were sure that Capt. Sluggo would see the big ball of polypropylene rope before we ran it over too. Luckily we didn’t see any of those pelagic predators pop-up because Capt. Sluggo didn’t see the rope and a few minutes later, Robby found himself diving under the boat to clear the line from the props.

In hindsight that worked out to be a turning point in the trip. The calm seas soon left. The port engine turbo charger started to hang up. The trip went down the tubes. My only other happy recollection from the transit between Fort Lauderdale and our arrival in Caraballeda was watching a goat chase cats around the docks in Long Island in the Bahamas. Until you have seen a goat run down a feline at ramming speed you haven’t truly laughed. Believe me.
Mechanical problems, foul weather and marauding goats were not enough to stop us though and we ended up tethered to our mooring ball at Marina Portofinos only a day or so behind schedule. I was excited. We were listening to the VHF radio once we got within range of the boats that were fishing that day and the white marlins were chewing pretty good. Most boats were getting 10 to 15 bites per trip. I figured a day to clean up the boat and decompress and then we would fish a few days so Captain Sluggo and Brother Wayne could get dialed in for when their boss flew in the following week. Robby and I had it all worked out. The wet and the rough were all going to be worth it.

That was until the dockmaster brought a message to Sluggo that said his boss would be arriving a week ahead of schedule. I did some quick math and cyphered that to be in two days. Actually, I didn’t need to do much cyphering at all because Sluggo and Wayne went into panic mode trying to figure out how to fit 8 days worth of cleaning and pre-fishing into 48 hours. the first step was to get rid of pre-fishing. Suddenly the wet and rough became less worth it. Sluggo started looking for a vacuum. Wayne was looking for cleaning supplies. Robby and I went looking for a bottle of rum.

Right about then Sluggo’s local liaison, Angel, showed up. Sluggo gave him a shopping list of things that would be needed for the boss’s arrival. I knew he would know where to find some rum so I decided to go adventuring with him. Much to my surprise, Angel had a very nice SUV. This was not the norm for Venezuela in those days. I was impressed and jokingly asked Angel how he managed to keep his truck from being stolen. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his semi-automatic handgun. His theft deterrent system turned out to be no laughing matter! The gun was put away and we went shopping.

When we returned with the provisions I set about to making sure that the Anniversario Rum we purchased was of a suitable quality for Sluggo’s boss to consume upon his arrival. Robby and Brother Wayne figured that it would be best if they added their expertise to this taste test and to put it mildly, we got tanked! Pie eyed. Polluted. Plastered.

Which brings me back to my favorite thing about Venezuela, besides the white marlin. And the rum. POLLO!!! Honey chicken at the Hong Kong Chef!
I had made my first trip to Venezuela about 5 or 6 years earlier and the boys on the dock turned me on to the Hong Kong Chef, or El Chino as the locals called it. All of the food was great. The waiters spoke English. The menu was in Spanish. I am not quite sure what language the chefs spoke. The restaurant was clean. The cervezas were cold. The salt and pepper ribs obviously came from a very small animal. My Venezuelan mate told me they were monkey ribs. I never asked if he was serious. Would you really want to know if you were eating monkey?

But like I said, the Pollo A La Miel was my favorite. After that afternoon of rum drinking, I made the dinner plans for the group. I told Sluggo to have Angel drive us up to El Chino. Three drunken crew members, a slightly preoccupied captain and a local liaison set off to eat.

A short ride in a snazzy SUV later we were at my favorite Chinese restaurant. The place was everything I remembered it to be and there was a pretty good-sized crowd there chowing down on monkey ribs and assorted other treats. We were seated and the waiter took our order. Pollo A La Miel for me of course, a big plate of ribs for the table and a round of drinks for all of us.

It was then that I noticed the mouse. Walking along the wall on the far side of the dining room was Jerry himself. Or maybe it was Mickey. Come to think of it, given our location, it was most likely Speedy Gonzales. But no matter what his name was, he was an uninvited guest at our dinner. That breech of etiquette could not go unquestioned. I pointed the little brown fellow out to the rest of the table.

Apparently Angel did not feel that the mouse had the right to crash our party either. I am not sure if it is a Venezuelan custom to give the handgun to the man at the head of the table or if he just chose me since I was the drunkest, but seconds later I was standing up with Angel’s gun aimed at Senor Speedy.

“FREEZE MOUSE!!!! I’M GONNA BUST A CAP IN YOUR BUTT!!!”

Now is where things got really interesting. Waiters scattered into the kitchen. Other patrons took cover. Sluggo said something to the effect of a good night turning bad. Robby suggested putting the gun down. Brother Wayne and Angel? I think they were too busy laughing to make any worthwhile suggestions. The mouse did not seem too bothered.

Since I am sitting here typing this story in the comfort of my own home and not serving a life sentence or starring in an episode of “Locked up Abroad”, you can probably guess that I didn’t squeeze the trigger. In my hazy recollection of that evening I think I considered it, but knew that my aim was not too good. And the mouse really wasn’t bothering anybody. I gave Angel back his gun. The waiters brought out a round of drinks on the house (I guess people might really play shooting gallery in there some nights!). People went back to their ribs, and I got my honey chicken.

The following day I flew home. That was the last time I went to Venezuela. I never got to fish on that trip, but it is one of the top stories I tell when people ask me about my time spent down there. Like I said, some of my favorite things about fishing have nothing to do with fishing at all.

Capt Franky Pettolina is Co-Captain of the charter boat, “Last Call”, owner of Pettolina Marine Surveying, Inc. and multi-term President of the Ocean City Marlin Club.


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