FISHING LINES : Cast adrift in the Caribbean

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No turkey for me this Christmas. On Christmas Eve, I hooked, landed and killed a couple of large dolphins. And so I dined on dolphin for my Christmas dinner. Before you rat on me to Greenpeace, let me point out that I'm in Puerto Rico in the Cari bbean, and that dolphin is actually one of the world's great sporting fishes.

A glorious creature with an in-your-face head and trouty spots, dolphin are also called dorado or locally, mahi-mahi (so good they named it twice). To catch them, we searched for surface weed under which they hide, then pulled an artificial fly past a likely-looking clump. This is the best way to catch them up to 30lb, but the really big ones swim alone. Frigate birds hovering over the sea are a clue to their presence. My boatman Mickey Amador, has caught a 71-pounder and reckons a world record is easily possible here. He holds the island record for a catch of dorado, 744lb in a day.

When hooked, dorado jump like salmon. Seeing a 4ft bar of gold and blue leaping is a tremendous sight. They taste better than salmon, as my Christmas lunch confirmed. Dorado are highly sought-after by restaurants. As Mickey docked, his mobile phone rung.It was a local restaurant. "Sorry," said Mickey. "I've got the family coming over tonight." You might well ask what sort of family devours 40lb of dorado, even after giving me a couple of hefty chunks. But the Puerto Ricans are big eaters.

They also love fried food, which explains why most men and women look like the Caribbean equivalent of those human puddings you find in an Austrian bierkeller. Puerto Rico . . . an odd destination for a family Christmas, it's true. I had to check a map to find out where we were going. (It's between the Dominican Republic and the Virgin Islands). The only Brits we have met so far were three Scots working in El Yunquc rain forest studying the habits of tree frogs. (Exclusive: they produce froglets insteadof tadpoles.) Most visitors are American, while the locals, a wonderfully cheery bunch, are more Spanish than Caribbean. But to appreciate the island's beauty, you need to get away from the main roads, where driving is like starring in an arcade drivinggame.

It's a great place to be at Christmas, and not just because of the weather, a steady 80F. Many houses are decorated with coloured lights. Even building sites compete for the Most Elaborate Christmas Decoration award. There are tableauX of reindeer, shepherds, kings and the Nativity; my favourite says "Happy Birthday Jesus" in flashing lights. Who said good taste was dead?

Still, that's not catching us any fish. I can't lure a big-game boat: they are sparse enough anyway, because locals believe it is unlucky to fish during the 12 days of Christmas. They have been very polite and made all sorts of excuses, from boat problems to family visits, but the upshot has been that these terrific dorado, as well as king mackerel and marlin, are waiting to be caught and I can't get out to sea.

You even need a boat to fish the mangrove creeks outside my seafront parador, a sort of historic hotel. Geckos scuttle across the walls, and every evening, a pelican lands in the swimming pool and waits to be fed. Giant snapper and tarpon live in the creeks - but not in front of the hotel.

Suffering these frustration symptoms that every angler knows well, I decided to spend Christmas afternoon catching some of the small fish swimming under the boat dock (just to see what they were, you understand).

Using a tiny hook and gossamer line, baited with a smidgen of bread the size of a pinhead, I laid on my belly and peered over the water. Odd behaviour for a grown man, it's true, but I had this half-assed plan that I might be able to use my catch for bait. With a matchstick as a float, I soon caught a snapper. But that was the last one. My daughters wanted a go, and soon the dock was swarming with kids, all queuing to go fishing. They caught jacks, blue runners, puffer fish, angel fish, snappers. I was demoted to the role of unhooker and baitman.

My suggestion of using one or two for bait was met with horror by the children, who put them all carefully back. And so I spent Christmas afternoon helping children catch beautifully coloured tiddlers.

Still, I'm off tomorrow to Culebra, a small island off the east coast which is said to have the best beaches in the Caribbean, and where you can see turtles and manta rays. It's also home to tarpon and bonefish, rated by many as the greatest of all sportfish. Maybe someone there can be bribed.

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