FOUR English anglers had their dream fishing trip ruined by the coronavirus pandemic, but are thanking their lucky stars that they made it safely back to the UK in the nick of time.

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The quartet had to urgently abort their Panama fishing trip. It could have been worse… they could have been locked down for months in the poverty-stricken country that links South and North America.

Dicky Fisk told Angler’s Mail all about how this dream became nightmare with his friends – brothers Jim and Sam Smith, and their uncle, Andy Smith.

Worcester-based Dicky said: “We got a lot more excitement than we bargained for on a long-planned trip to celebrate our 30 years of friendship.

“The trip started well, with two vibrant nights in Panama City, drinking margaritas, stocking up on lures and jigs, and soaking in the local culture.

“No pandemic had been announced at this point, and coronavirus seemed very far away as we picked up our hire car.

“We then crossed the mighty Panama Canal and followed the Pan-American Highway to the remote beauty of Playa Morrillo.

Paradise found? The group’s Panama initial fishing experience was awesome, with so much more potential …but hopes were dashed.

“We had booked a luxury fishing lodge overlooking the Pacific Ocean through Airbnb, which came with a very helpful host next door with a wealth of local knowledge.

“More importantly, it came with the exclusive use of a fully equipped fishing boat, and the invaluable fishing skills of skipper Rodger and his mate Cesar.

“With only two favourable tides that week, boat trips were quickly booked.

“I managed to miss the first trip out with a nasty case of a sunburnt head, whilst Andy and Jim enjoyed a good day’s fishing.

“Then events at the villa took an unexpected turn, with Sam receiving a notification from KLM Airlines that our flights home had been cancelled due to the now advancing global pandemic.

“With three days to go until our next boat trip, events became a blur of internet searches as we tried desperately to make alternative arrangements to get home.

“Flights were being cancelled as we tried to book them, and prices were going through the roof.”

‘Panama fishing was amazing’

“Our second boat trip came round and the day was a blur of different marks and different fishing styles.

“The ocean was alive with spotted dolphins, manta rays, pelicans, sea snakes and frigate birds.

“The Panama fishing was amazing, as we jigged, popped and baited our way through a multitude of species, including bonito, yellowfin tuna, cubera snapper, pompano, blue jack and amberjack.

“It was topped off by a huge grouper that I caught on half a bonito over a reef. I’ve fished all over the world, and it was the best day I’ve ever witnessed.

“That special day’s fishing made the surrounding madness feel like a distant memory for a while, but once we were back on dry land, getting home safe became our overwhelming priority.

“Eventually an escape route was successfully booked with a flight via Canada, so we made our way back to Panama City through an endless and bewildering series of Police checkpoints manned by thermometer waving officials in bio-hazard suits.

“Spirits were high when we presented ourselves at the airport for the flight through Canada to the UK, but this soon changed when they discovered there was a problem with Jim’s visa, and he was not allowed to check-in.

“Reluctantly, we chose to split up, Sam and Andy flying home, and I decided to stay with Jim in Panama.

Panama fishing success before a nightmare - Andy (left), Jim (middle), Dicky (right)

Panama fishing success before a nightmare – Andy (left), Jim (middle), Dicky (right).

Scary pace of lockdown

“From then on the lockdown in Panama City proceeded at a scary pace, with curfews getting stricter on a daily basis, until you were only allowed out for a couple of allotted hours per day or you’d be arrested.

“Jim and I had even rented a flat in expectation of being trapped for a considerable time, before an unexpected phone call from the British Embassy led to us rushing across town in violation of the curfew to catch one of the last remaining repatriation flights to Europe.

“That repatriation flight to Frankfurt was organised by the German government, and we will be invoiced for the flight at around £1,000 each. Then we had to pay £600 each from there to Heathrow.

“I reckon between all four of us we lost about £4,000-£5,000, although there are all sorts of insurance claims still to make.

“It hasn’t put me off and I will go back.

“Panama is the most bio-diverse country in the Americas, the people are wonderful, climate amazing, and the fishing is second to none.

“It’s a lot cheaper than Costa Rica or Florida.

“I am hoping to go back, either next year or 2022,” added Dicky, a 48-year-old retail manager.

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