The Real Old Man and the Sea

|A Photo Essay on Sorro|

Sorro is a local fisherman who lives on Jewel Cay, a tiny low island off the coast of Utila (a larger island famous for world class diving and partying foreigners). Jewel Cay is densely populated. About 500 people live there, crammed into closely built stilt homes that perch over the sea. Sorro has been a fisherman his whole life, as many locals are. His style is bare-bones. He only uses trolling hand lines and has never owned a fishing reel or pole. He crafts his own hooks and creates his own lures. His main catch is usually small tuna which he sells to local restaurants on Utila, but he told me stories of pulling in a much mightier beast.

When I met Sorro he had just returned from his daily fishing trip which starts at 4AM and ends around 9AM, when the water gets too warm. He takes his boat out to the far eastern end of Utila, where he claims the most fish are.

I introduced myself as he was filleting his catch—20 small tunas, for which he receives $4 each. The restaurants he sells to easily make %100 profit each time they sell a fillet. This day was a good day. 20 tunas is above average. Unbeknownst to Sorro or myself, the day would only get better.

Sorro’s boat. He says the fiberglass constructed long boat (covered in fading blue paint) has served him for more than 15 years. Much like a tradesman’s pick up truck, Sorro’s boat is a mess, littered with random necessities and old tools and his tattered cooler. There is never a time his two trolling lines are not in the water. Every moment on the water is an opportunity to catch more fish. Sorro even manages to filet his catches onboard while simultaneously steering the boat and manning his fishing lines. He had just finished filleting the pile on his cooler before turning around to pull in another catch.

On our way home, as the sun was setting, Sorro began frantically pulling at his line with both hands. It was obvious that he had more than a small tuna on hook. As he struggled to pull the fish closer it whipped in an out of the water, rebuking in vain, displaying it’s strength until, with all his might and a swift yank as he swayed to his feet, Sorro pulled the beast out of the water and into his boat: a 5+ foot barracuda that easily weighed over 20 lbs. Grinning ear to ear and pumping with adrenaline, Sorro said it was his biggest catch in awhile. 
I asked what the biggest fish he had ever caught was. He told me that he had once fought with a 300 pound Marlin for over three hours and that it had pulled his boat deep out to sea. His hands were bloodied but he managed to get it on board after bludgeoning it in the water. Tall tale or not, I couldn’t help but consider him The Real Old Man and The Sea. Unlike the story he retained the fruits of his labor.

Back at the dock in Utila. He holds the fish up, grinning and showing off to his friends on shore, who hooted and hollered as he stepped off his boat. The size comparison is telling. The barracuda only lacks about 6 inches on Sorro himself—a short man of about 5’6”.

Here Sorro begins to filet the barracuda, which he hopes to sell for 300 Lempira ($13). One entire filet weighs around 5 pounds. Sorro cuts off two of these and tosses the head, spine and tail back into the sea. With two massive fillets he then cuts each in half, making four 2.5 pound fillets—a lot of fish selling for little money.

Sorro weighs one of the two fillets from the barracuda, each about 5 .lbs. This was an easy sell. Rather then having to hawk his catch to a local restaurant, his friends on shore gathered enough money between them to buy both fillets.

Sorro doesn’t own a pair of shoes and he has no intention of buying any. He trots along the alleyways and wet streets of Utila with his plastic bag full of tuna fillets. He’s well known around town. The restaurant cooks and owners know him well, so making a sale is generally uncomplicated. On this evening I followed Sorro off the dock, through the alley to the Main Street. Before we reached the street a man was yelling at Sorro from within a small cafe. With little negotiation and a quick hand off, Sorro had finished a busy and lucrative day. He quickly ran back to his boat to drive home before the last light of day was gone.