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They're Fishing Up a Storm in Tranquil Zihuatanejo

July 31, 1998|PETE THOMAS

ZIHUATANEJO, Mexico — Stan Lushinsky was on the boat when the biggest billfish ever caught in these waters--a 1,100-pound black marlin--took the hook only four miles from the harbor. It towed him and his buddies 25 miles out over the course of so many hours that "we were out of gas, out of beer and out of chicken."

It was midnight before help arrived with gas and, presumably, plenty more beer and chicken.

Lushinsky has seen acres of giant tuna leaping around his boat and has fought these game fish until it felt as though his arms were being pulled from their sockets.

He and his business partner, Susan Richards, once caught two dozen sailfish in a day. More recently, a mere stone's throw from the jungle-lined coast, they found themselves in the middle of so many voracious roosterfish that "you couldn't cast a lure and not catch a roosterfish."

Lushinsky raves about the roosterfish, but he has lots more to crow about.

Once, in the hours immediately after a moderate earthquake, he pulled up a mysterious creature later identified as a pescaraton, or ratfish, which he describes as having "the flippers of a seal and the skin of a seal, the head of a shark and the mouth of a shark, with fins on its tail, four small feet growing out of its rear and poisonous spines growing down his spine."

Equally bizarre was the day he and two friends from the States, with Capt. Miguel Alvarez, had put in six hours of intense fishing with no luck whatsoever--until the sun was blotted out by the moon during a total eclipse and the ocean exploded with life.

Wearing special glasses to view this rare phenomenon, looking like a band of punk rockers, the fishermen, in the eerie dim of the day, boated 27 large tuna and, for an encore, caught and released six sailfish before the sun reappeared and the fish dived for cover.

Lushinsky, 43, considers himself fortunate to have lived past 39. In the summer of 1994, a day after a hurricane had drenched this picturesque little fishing village 160 miles north of Acapulco, temporarily closing the harbor to all boat traffic, Lushinsky and Alvarez went out to try their luck on a tossing sea, but the hurricane reversed course and caught the fishermen by surprise.

"We were about 20 miles out and we literally had to run for our lives," Lushinsky says.

Gale-force winds raked over the ocean. Large swells threatened to capsize the 31-foot cruiser as it limped into the protected waters of Zihuatanejo (zee-wah-tah-NE-ho) Bay--on only one engine and with only one steering cable.

Alvarez finally managed to pilot the vessel past the mouth of the harbor, but then they looked to the west and saw a smaller boat get swept up by a funnel cloud and spun around as if it were a toy, spilling its crew into the raging sea.

"We had to go back out and rescue these guys," Lushinsky says. "We managed to pick them up, one by one, and when we finally got them to the beach it was like the Pope landing in L.A. They bowed down and kissed the ground; they were that glad to be back on solid ground. We all were."

Glad, perhaps. But rarely is Lushinsky on solid ground.

He loves to fish, so he's on the water from dawn to dusk. And to get here, he has to fly across an entire continent.

You see, Zihuatanejo's most ardent angler lives in Pennsylvania. Like the hurricanes, he only blows in from time to time, to wreak havoc on the creatures of the deep and to check on Zihuatanejo's most sophisticated sportfishing fleet--a couple of cruisers and a half-dozen or so pangas.

Lushinsky is the owner of Ixtapa Sportfishing, named after the more popular and recognizable resort destination a few miles north of here. He started the business after discovering this charming little paradise nine years ago.

"I used to fish the Caribbean and Bahamas and really had no interest at all in coming to Mexico," he says. "I heard all the stories . . . you can't drink the water or eat the food. The people are robbing you and there's abject poverty everywhere.

"So I would [book trips] to places like the Cayman Islands, Old Caracas and fish the Bahamas, but it got to be a very expensive deal. . . .

"Finally, I was going to give up on the idea of finding affordable fishing and I bumped into a guy who had been in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo and he said, 'You got to go to this place. They're catching 30 [sailfish] in a day.'

"So I put a trip together in 1989. I hooked five marlin and caught about 30 sailfish in five days. I thought, well, anybody can get lucky, and I came back a little while later and did the same thing, and I came back again a little later and did the same thing again.

"After those three visits I saw that there was an excellent business opportunity here because I know how many people went to the Bahamas and everywhere else and paid a fortune for far less fishing than you have here.

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