This week’s fishing news can be divided into the good, the bad and the ugly.
The University of Costa Rica’s Ocean Sciences and Limnology Research Center (CIMAR)
has launched a website that could be a handy tool for anglers and surfers alike.
The Oceanographic Information Module site, at www.miocimar.ucr.ac.cr, puts in one
place tools used by many fishermen to plan their trips. A few quick clicks gets you
valuable information on tides, surface temperatures and currents, as well as a weekly
forecast for wave activity along both Pacific and Caribbean coasts. The only suggestion
I would make is for CIMAR to add moon phases, because certain species react differently
according to the moon. The site is in Spanish, but a click will get it translated
Enrique Ramírez, executive director of the Costa Rican Tourist Fishing Federation
(FECOPT), has proposed a study on more sustainable fishing methods involving participation
from various groups.
Many times, different nongovernmental and environmental groups are working on similar
projects, but have no communication among themselves to share information. Ramírez
believes that by working together, groups can work toward common goals more efficiently
and at lower costs.
Groups like FECOPT and conservation organizations MarViva and Pretoma have expressed
interest in working with the Costa Rican commercial longline fleet to test the effectiveness
of “green sticks” as an alternative and more sustainable method of fishing. Green
sticks enable vessels to fish more selectively and have worked well for fishermen
in North Carolina and along the Atlantic coast of the U.S.
Ramírez has tentatively scheduled a workshop for Nov. 29 at the Club Amateur de Pesca
in western San José’s La Sabana neighborhood. Groups interested in participating
or fishermen with prior experience with green sticks are invited to contact Ramírez
by writing him at email@example.com.
The cost of fishing is going up in Costa Rica for the sportfishing sector. According
to the Costa Rican Fisheries Institute (Incopesca), the price hikes are related to
the cost of administrating the fishing license system, and will go into effect Jan.
1 as follows.
Nonresidents will now pay $30 for an annual fishing license. The lower-cost monthly
license will be eliminated, forcing tourists to buy the more expensive annual license.
Fees for nationally registered boats will also increase; boats under 10 meters long
will pay a yearly fee of $360, boats 10-15 meters will pay $580, boats 15-20 meters
$850, and boats over 20 meters $1,100. Foreign-registered boats that come to Costa
Rica to sport-fish will pay a fee of $330 regardless of size for a three-month license.
Also in the news is a proposal to start using the tourist dock in the Pacific port
of Puntarenas to ease the load of the nearby Caldera port, which is not able to handle
the amount of cargo traffic it is receiving. The Puntarenas pier is used by cruise
ships six months of the year, and many Costa Rican families use it as a place to
relax and do a little fishing. Opponents to the proposal claim the dock is already
in poor condition and the excess traffic will further damage the structure, and prohibit
the public from having access to a popular facility.
There doesn’t seem to be any quick fix for the shark-finning controversy here. Meetings
between conservation groups and both President Laura Chinchilla and Environment Minister
René Castro have resulted in only the formation of commissions to look into the problem.
Meanwhile, shark populations are down 90 percent worldwide, according to the international
Shark Research Institute, and the incidental bycatch of shark-finning boats can be
20-30 percent billfish.
Fishing Report, Nov. 24
It couldn’t last forever, could it? After endless reports of fabulous tarpon fishing
on the Caribbean coast, the ocean kicked up, keeping anglers inside the river mouth,
and dirty water from the rains brought tarpon fishing to a screeching halt. According
to Capt. Eddie Brown, some calba (fat snook) are being taken inside. The sun returned
Wednesday, and fishing should return to normal soon.
If you want to fish on the Pacific, just throw a dart at the map to pick your spot.
There is action all along the coast. Richard Chellemi on the Gamefisher II reports
there are still a number of sails and marlin up in the Guanacaste region. Mike Ryals
out of Florida went five for eight on sailfish and added a couple of dorado and yellowfin
tuna to the catch.
Los Sueños, Quepos, Drake Bay and Puerto Jiménez all report the sail and marlin action
has improved, as well as the dorado bite. A trash line just north of Drake Bay produced
lots of dorado, and marlin are coming into the spread daily farther south.
I’m sure Dan Wise of Río Colorado Lodge and the rest of the Caribbean fishing operators
haven’t grown tired of listening to the same old tune about how good the fishing
The bite continues, and Diann Sánchez from the Río Colorado office sent in the following
report: “The weather has been sunny and hot … with the tarpon fishing continuing
to be very good. Thomas Stropoli from West Virginia and Robert Reischi of Houston
jumped 25 tarpon and brought eight to the boat, the largest estimated to be about
150 pounds. They also caught one barracuda. Phillipe Jacques and Fabienne Forestier,
diplomats from France living in Costa Rica for an assignment, visited the Barra del
Colorado area and stayed at Río Colorado Lodge. Neither of these men had ever fished
in their lives, but they decided to give it a try while visiting the lodge. In one
day they jumped six tarpon and each brought one to the boat weighing about 95 pounds.”
Wise added that the calba, a smaller species of snook that invade the area in large
numbers annually between now and February, have started to show. Calba have been
biting at Samay Lagoon, Monkey Creek and Paradise Lagoon.
Reports from up near Coco on the Pacific coast are that the sails, marlin, tuna and
dorado are biting just a few miles off Catalina Island. Arco Pacífico charters had
boats with as many as eight sails and some marlin hookups.
Capt. Richard Chellemi also has been hitting some sails on the Gamefisher II. The
Salazar group out of Abilene, Texas, had the top fish with a 350-pound blue marlin,
but others who fished the following days were rewarded with sails, tuna to 50 pounds,
and dorado in the 30-pound range. Those choosing to fish inshore we pleased with
roosters to 45 pounds, jacks and barracuda.
On the central and southern Pacific coast, billfish have moved in but the fishing
has been hampered by green water. Some boats have been lucky enough to find pockets
of sails and are raising seven or eight fish, but most boats are working hard for
just a couple.
Inshore, the fishing has been excellent, with lots of football tuna, roosterfish
and snapper. Mark Harwood took a nice 44-pound cubera snapper, and lots of roosters
between 20 and 35 pounds are keeping anglers smiling
In a couple of weeks, all this rain we have been experiencing should be all but over
and the showers will begin to fall mostly at night instead of all day long. For the
past few weeks, operators in central and southern Costa Rica have been putting on
fresh bottom paint, tuning engines and making sure fishing tackle is in top condition.
November and December are prime months for marlin from Los Sueños in the Central
Pacific all the way down to the Panama border. These months are historically exceptional
for dorado (mahimahi) also. Although the dorado were mysteriously absent last season,
some boats working out of Quepos are already reporting the appearance of dorado in
the area. Football tuna will be plentiful in schools, and the bigger tuna will be
moving with the spinner and spotted dolphins. Both dorado and tuna are favorite foods
As the rain subsides, the water clarity near shore will begin to improve and the
inshore fishing will return to normal. All the water rushing down from the mountains
these past weeks has been carrying tons of silt with it, making inshore fishing a
washout for the most part. Roosterfish will start biting again, and anglers who enjoy
fishing with poppers will see better action with both roosters and cubera snapper.
Some time around the beginning of December, the Papagayo winds will begin to blow
from the east, across Lake Nicaragua into the Pacific Ocean. This is a yearly event
– except in the presence of the El Niño weather phenomenon – and lasts about four
months. What happens is this wind pushes the surface water offshore and the upwelling
water does not have enough oxygen to support sailfish, forcing them to move south.
You can catch a sailfish or a marlin any day of the year in Costa Rica, but when
the Papagayo wind is blowing, the population is more concentrated in central and
southern Costa Rica.
A couple of satellite tagging studies are planned for this high season in which fish
will be tagged in Quepos and also in the Golfito area to the south, to see where
they actually go when the Papagayo wind stops and oxygen levels return to normal.
We know the fishing improves greatly in northern Costa Rica then. Some studies have
already been done revealing that fish have moved from Mexico down to Guatemala and
from southern Costa Rica to northern Nicaragua. The same population of fish can be
found from Mexico to Ecuador. Sailfish seem to spend the first few years of their
lives off Mexico and then move south. The lifespan of a sailfish is between eight
and 15 years.
Another good sign is that some operators are reporting more reservations for the
upcoming season. A busy season would be a godsend for operators hit hard by the recession
and skyrocketing fuel costs.
Costa Ricans are increasingly aware of the importance of sportfishing to their communities.
More than 100 major supermarkets have removed sailfish and marlin from their stores.
Hilton was the first hotel chain to officially declare its menus billfish-free, and
the Costa Rica Tourism Board’s decision to require sustainably certified hotels to
have billfish-free menus is all good news for the industry.
I myself am looking forward to the wettest time of year being over, and to my fishing
line being the only thing of mine getting wet.
Fishing report, Nov. 3
Tarpon fishing in Barra del Colorado on the Caribbean coast continues to be really
good, with great weather and flat seas, according to Diann Sánchez of the Río Colorado
Between Oct. 21 and 28, with five boats in the water, a total of 127 tarpon were
jumped and 58 were brought to the boat, along with several jacks.
From Japan, repeat angler Takayuki Usui with three others, Hibiki Sakaguchi, Yuichiro
Kato and Iwama Hiroaki, in four days jumped 54 tarpon and brought 16 to the boat.
Guests from the Ukraine Yuriy Shulak and Serhiy Semenenko fished six days and jumped
34 tarpon, bringing to the boat 18 of those, along with eight jacks.
Repeat guests Bruce Bosch and Rob Gagnon of Oregon and Louis Ferreira of Washington,
in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, fished eight days, jumping 40 tarpon and bringing
24 to the boat. These anglers also caught eight jacks.
Guanacaste continues to be the hot spot on the Pacific side, but the action will
soon be moving south as well. Big roosterfish are still feeding off Playa Blanca,
and offshore the water has been a little cleaner than down south, with sails, dorado
and marlin making an appearance.
The Quepos area is still reporting dorado and a few sails. Hopes are up for a good
dorado run, which will mean lots of marlin behind them. Some snapper have been coming
in a little south of town, and roosterfish action has picked up since last week.
Lots of football tuna have been entertaining light-tackle enthusiasts down south,
just outside the Golfo Dulce. Green water is hampering offshore action, but 30- to
40-pound roosterfish are hitting off the beaches. Surf casters willing to put in
the work are being rewarded with snook near Carate on the Osa Peninsula.
Smiles began returning to the faces of operators along the Pacific coast as fishing
and catching is beginning to return to normal. In the far north, it has been banner
roosterfish fishing. Arco Pacífico had a boat working the waters off Playa Blanca,
and big roosterfish were banging trolled live bait. They had 14 bites and ended the
day landing eight roosterfish between 40 and 60 pounds. Offshore boats are picking
up a sailfish here and there, as well as dorado.
At Los Sueños in the Central Pacific, the boats are running a long way to get out
of the green water but are being rewarded for their efforts. Lots of dorado are in
the area, as well as some billfish. Some nice tuna hit the docks this week between
40 and 50 pounds, and the bragging fish of the week was a whopping 200-pound tuna.
Green water has also been a problem down south, as has lack of people fishing. Capt.
Bobby McGuinness on the Cazador took a group fishing inshore. He added three fish
to the number of International Game Fish Association (IGFA) world records he has
guided people to, bringing his total to 232. This week he helped his client gain
three women’s line class records for barracuda. The IGFA named McGuinness the world’s
best captain in 2010 and gave him a lifetime achievement award.
On the Caribbean side, it’s the same old song: The tarpon are still chewing.
The Amateur Fishing Club held the second and final leg of its annual tarpon tournament
out of Barra del Colorado last weekend. While most of the country was getting drenched
in rain, they were blessed with sunny skies, flat seas and hungry fish.
Twenty-two anglers landed 110 fish, double what was landed in the first leg of the
tournament in September. Alberto Laurencich, who took first place in the September
tournament, did a repeat performance, taking first again. Addy Schifter took second
prize, and Cynthia Moya took third, fishing on the Bull Shark with Capt. Eddie Brown,
who is also her husband. Brown’s boat landed 31 fish in the tournament.
What can I say? It’s October in Costa Rica. If you were looking for a true rain forest
experience this past week, you surely got it. If you were planning on fishing, though,
it wasn’t nearly as nice.
Rain pounded the entire Pacific coast all week, and not many boats went out. Up north,
high winds and rough water forced most of the fleet from Playas del Coco and Ocotal
to move their boats into Bahía Culebra, and several smaller boats sank on the hook
A little farther south, Capt. Richard Chellemi on the Gamefisher II managed to get
David Raab and friends some nice roosterfish fishing near shore. The top fish weighed
about 40 pounds with a few more in the 20- to 35-pound range.
A few dorado and tuna have been working off Quepos. Jerry Glover reported the billfish
haven’t been cooperating with the rain, but the good eating fish have been keeping
anglers who don’t mind a little rain busy.
The only ray of sunshine has been on the Caribbean. A huge school of tarpon showed
between Barra del Colorado and Tortuguero. Capt. Eddie Brown, fishing with Earl Waters,
landed three and finally left the school for a well-deserved cold drink.
I don’t think Christopher Columbus could have found Costa Rica in the weather we
have had this week. The ocean kicked up enough in northern Guanacaste that a couple
of charters turned back toward shore.
Before the front came in this week, there were still sails and marlin in the area
and catch reports weren’t bad. At Los Sueños on the central Pacific coast, some sails
have been biting and dorado have started to show.
On the Caribbean coast, the rains have been holding off until the afternoon up toward
Tortuguero, and the tarpon bite is still really strong.
Good news is being spread regarding sailfish and marlin. Grupo Empresarial de Supermercados
S.A. (GESSA) has announced it will no longer sell sailfish and marlin in its stores,
which include Perimercados, Jumbo and Super Compro supermarkets. The International
Union for Conservation of Nature has placed both types of billfish on a list of species
overfished toward the point of extinction.
Also, the Costa Rica Tourism Board (ICT) recently changed its Certification for Sustainable
Tourism criteria to include removing species of tourist interest off the menus of
all participating hotels. Sportfishing groups have lobbied the ICT to make the change.
According to Costa Rican law, the species of interest include sailfish, blue marlin,
black marlin, striped marlin and tarpon.
Same old broken record, though a good one, on the Caribbean. The tarpon are chewing
and the seas are flat. A group spent the week at Silver King Lodge and fished out
of kayaks. Joe Lynberg, a kayak guide here in Costa Rica, was along on the trip and
said everyone got towed around the ocean in tarpon-powered kayaks. On the third day,
the fished moved into the river mouth. There they also caught lots of jacks, barracuda
and a 73-pound cubera snapper that ate a ribbonfish used as bait.
Up at Playas del Coco on the northern Pacific coast, “Jimbo” had a good day on sailfish
and reported that a good number of marlin can be found in the area. He also saw a
good-size school of tuna but didn’t have a chance to fish them because a foreign
tuna seiner moved in on the school.
On the central Pacific coast, Los Sueños boats are starting to see sailfish in the
double digits. Several boats have had days of raising 10-12 fish, with the top boat
of the fleet raising 18 one day. Inshore fishing has slowed due to the amount of
silt being pumped out of the rivers by heavy rains.
The fish haven’t moved into the Quepos area in big numbers yet, but anglers there
are taking a few sails and dorado. Dorado are a good sign now. Last year the dorado
fishing was slow; seeing a few now might mean good news when the season starts in
Down south, the offshore action has been quiet, although the roosterfish fishing
has been decent in the cleaner water away from the rivers. The slower tides have
been good for Pacific yellowtail and cubera snapper and some smaller 10- to 15-pound
amberjack have been taking jigs inside the Golfo Dulce.
Multiply the unnerving sound of an aggravated rattlesnake by 1,000 times and you
will know the sound of the rattling gills of a tarpon when it jumps. It is a sound
that vibrates through your body and enters your soul.
The tarpon is a prehistoric fish that has been around for thousands of years. They
have the ability to enter salt or freshwater at will and have been recorded to have
life spans of 60 years or more.
Barra del Colorado, on Costa Rica’s northern Caribbean coast, is one place on the
planet where tarpon gather by the thousands. They school together in groups that
cover several acres, and you can see them roll on the surface all around you. They
also travel up the Río Colorado into the Río San Juan and all the way to Lake Nicaragua,
entering every tributary and lagoon along the way.
Years ago, Barra del Colorado was a small village of mostly loggers, turtle hunters
and fishermen. When a turtle hunter captured a turtle, he would carve his brand in
the turtle’s shell and hold the turtles in pens until a boat from Key West, Florida,
would arrive to carry them alive back to Florida. They were also held in pens until
slaughtered. The 1935 hurricane that destroyed U.S. tycoon Henry Flagler’s railroad
to the Florida Keys washed many of these turtles back into the sea. The next turtle
season, these same branded turtles were captured again between Barra del Colorado
Today, the loggers are long gone, and turtle hunting was outlawed many years ago.
The village of about 900 inhabitants survives on small-scale fishing for snook and
lobster, and on tourism. For the past 40 years, a big part of that tourism has been
Carlos Barrantes, Bill Barnes and Archie Fields built the first lodges in Barra.
All three have passed away but left a legacy of accomplishments in Costa Rica sportfishing.
Barnes catered to fly fishermen. A great fly fisherman himself, and photographer,
he recorded much of the nature of the area on film, including a photo of a jaguar
that got published all over the world.
Early fishing in Barra was done in small johnboats with 25-horsepower motors. A lot
of the fishing was done in the river and back lagoons, because for most of the year
the breaking surf at the river mouth did not allow a small boat to venture out to
the ocean. Lodges now have bigger boats and can get to the larger concentrations
of fish outside with much more frequency.
September and October bring the best weather to the Caribbean side. The sea is almost
always flat as a pancake, making rolling fish easy to spot. The fish generally bite
all day long except right on top of the full moon, when the bite is in the early
morning and late afternoon.
Río Colorado Lodge had four anglers hook 130 tarpon in a four-day period last week.
Capt. Eddie Brown once had his anglers jump 126 tarpon in one day at this time of
year. My personal best was 60.
There is a big difference between what is known as “jumping” a fish and landing one.
Tarpon have hard, bony mouths and are often contortionists when they jump. Keeping
a hook in one is not always easy. Many say the hook-to-land ratio is arguably about
20 percent. If you have a 100-pound-plus fish rip line off your reel and jump two
or three times and escape, it is not the end of the world. One of my most memorable
days of fishing was when I put 19 tarpon in the air and landed a big fat zero. Aggravating
it was, but what an adrenalin rush!
Tarpon in Costa Rica average 60-80 pounds, and over the years the population of big
fish seems to have grown – that or fishermen’s eyes have gotten bigger. In the past
five years, I’ve heard more reports of fish going 160-200 pounds than ever before.
Tarpon have a very poor food value, and all tarpon are released alive.
It is an easy type of fishing. Just drift out the river mouth using a bucktail jig
with a plastic grub tail. Make sure the jig is heavy enough to get to the bottom.
Lightly lift and drop the rod tip. It is usually not long before you launch your
first missile. If the fish aren’t cooperating there, your guide will move out to
the color change where the coffee-with-cream-colored river water meets the Caribbean
The action and flat seas will last through the middle of November. You may not hook
100 fish in a day, but if a tarpon is on your bucket list, now is the best time to
Fishing Report, Sept. 29
Leave it to a fishing writer to screw things up. The moment I start telling the whole
world how great the tarpon fishing is, the bite slows. The Amateur Fishing Club held
the first phase of its National Tarpon Tournament last weekend, and on the first
day the fish had lockjaw. Only nine were landed.
On day two it was game on, and Adrián Goldgewicht took the tournament lead by landing
four tarpon. Orlando Soto took three fish to move into a tie for second place with
Alberto Laurencich, who landed one on the first day and two on the second. Laurencich
added two more on Sunday’s half day of fishing to take top spot, followed by Goldgewicht,
and Rodolfo Carvajal slipped into third place, passing Soto. Rafa Matera had a big
day on the final day of the tourney to tie in points with Carvajal, but Carvajal
took the trophy based on time of catch. A total of 50 fish were landed and released
in the tournament.
A call to Barra del Colorado this morning confirms the bite is on again. It figures.
It is like hearing a song you really like over and over again on the Caribbean
side. The fish are chewing, and those lucky enough to make it over there will really
stretch some string. This bite should continue for another month or so.
Diann Sánchez from Río Colorado checked in and reported everyone is going to bed
early after pulling on fish all day. The pressure is always on when you have a TV
crew fishing. Johnny Hoffman filmed a show for Brazilian television with three other
anglers. The group hooked 130 tarpon between 60 and 180 pounds – a dream trip for
a television angler and a lodge owner as well. Other anglers had similar results;
Phil Hoover from Naples, Florida, who has been fishing Río Colorado since I was there
two decades ago, had already hooked 23 with four more days to fish.
Fishing buddies Bruce Johnson from Monterey, California, and Bob Abernathy from
Orlando, Florida, met up in Guanacaste on the northern Pacific coast to fish with
Capt. Richard Chellemi aboard the Gamefisher II. They proved there are still plenty
of fish up north. Working against changing water conditions as green water moved
in the area, Chellemi showed his years of experience reading local water. The two
anglers had 31 shots at sails in four days, landing and releasing 22. They also hooked
a couple of marlin, having a 400-pound blue shake the hook but releasing a 300-pound
blue on 30-pound gear. They threw a nice dorado in the box for dinner.
Fishing has picked up a lot out of Los Sueños on the Central Pacific, according
to Capt. Rolando Chaves. He has been seeing eight to 10 sails a day and the fish
are cooperating. Jerry Glover, reporting from a little farther south in Quepos, reported
the sail bite slowed the last day or two, but his boats are having lots of fun chasing
Down south, almost everyone is going through their boats getting ready for the
season, but the few that have been out have been getting some tuna. Inside the Golfo
Dulce, snapper and smaller amberjacks have been taking jigs.
I am about to open a can of worms. Can you imagine a fisherman doing that?
Recently, a bill was introduced to allow fishing in national parks (Tico Timesw,
Aug. 19). Thirty-eight organizations have come forward in opposition to the idea.
My guess is that 50 percent of those people have never fished in their lives, and
a large percentage of the rest have no idea how fish are caught to send to market
in this country.
I am in favor of opening the parks to fishing. Before you throw your Tico Times across
the room and call me an idiot – or worse, use it to wrap fish – please read on.
The current system is a dismal failure. Right now the only ones fishing in the parks
are illegal fishermen using unsustainable fishing methods, mainly gill nets. The
government agencies in charge of patrolling the areas are underfunded and understaffed
and do not have the equipment to enforce regulations. Even the nongovernmental organizations
doing patrolling efforts pulled out due to lack of funding.
Conservation equals commerce. Without one, you can’t have the other. Here are two
examples of land-based conservation efforts, one a success and the other a failure.
The Tropical Science Center, a nongovernmental scientific and environmental organization,
manages and protects 4,000 hectares of primary forest in Monteverde, in north-central
Costa Rica. It took 120 hectares of that and put in hiking trails and charged tourists
to visit. Over the years, the project has developed to where 75,000 tourists visit
each year, bringing in $1.5 million to $2 million annually. Lodging for 40 students,
a restaurant and souvenir shops have been built, and the budget allows for patrolling
the rest of the project and developing education and research programs, according
to Enrique Ramírez, who was the director of the center for five years and who is
now director of the Costa Rican Tourist Fishing Federation (FECOPT). Only 12 percent
of the center’s budget is used for administrative expenses. The facility supplies
jobs for 75 local people and the local naturalist guide association.
On the other hand, a very popular NGO raised millions of dollars to purchase large
areas of rain forest as a means of protecting it. They figured by owning it, they
were protecting it. No one is managing the area, and illegal woodcutters and animal
poachers enter every day.
If I were asked to come up with a plan to allow fishing in national parks, it would
go something like this: I would change them into “responsible fishing areas” and
allow small-scale artisanal handline fishermen and tourist sportfishing. No unsustainable
methods such as gill nets or trawling would be allowed. Everyone entering these areas
would pay a fee on top of the regular fishing license, with all money going toward
management and enforcement.
The areas would need to be governed by the Costa Rican Fisheries Institute (Incopesca),
the Environment Ministry, the Coast Guard and the Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT).
Strict, concrete regulations would have to be established for using these areas –
not regulations with loopholes large enough to drive a truck through, like some of
the present regulations. (Shark-landing regulations in Costa Rica are a perfect example
of loopholes that can be intentionally or unintentionally put into play.) Large fines
and a two-strike system would be put in place. The first time you are caught breaking
the law, you pay a large fine and all gear not authorized for use in these areas
is confiscated and destroyed. The second time, you lose your fishing license.
Artisanal fishermen in these areas mainly target snapper and grouper. They would
be allowed to fish only with handlines or rod and reel with a maximum of three hooks
per line. A slot size limit would be established so all breeding stock is released,
and a daily catch limit would be established. It would be illegal to have onboard
any type of unauthorized fishing gear while inside the responsible fishing area.
Tourist sportfishermen would pay an entrance fee to fish in the parks. This money
would go entirely toward marine management in the park. Of course, fishing would
be done strictly with rod and reel. Almost every tourist who comes to Costa Rica,
whether for fishing or ecotourism, wants to enjoy fresh local seafood, so a one-fish-a-day
limit, again within a slot size limit, would be allowed. Most tourists wouldn’t even
mind the parks being strictly catch-and-release for them. Tourist fishing boats would
not be allowed to have fish caught in other areas onboard while fishing in parks.
The ICT has finally begun to realize that nearly 25 percent of high-season tourists
come here to fish. Its sustainable tourism program is to be applauded. Hotels making
the changes necessary to earn a sustainable tourism certificate from the ICT are
also proud of their achievements. One thing that was overlooked when establishing
the requirements to earn the certificates was the menus in hotel restaurants. Many
of these “sustainable” hotels serve seafood that are on near-endangered lists or
are captured by unsustainable fishing methods.
Opening the parks will encourage artisanal fishermen to fish in more sustainable
ways. Groups like MarViva and product-c restaurants are already working with them
to market their sustainably caught products. If the ICT requires hotels to have “sustainable
menus” and encourages them to purchase products caught using sustainable practices,
the network will grow. Then, when it comes time to expand these areas and create
larger marine parks, there will be less resistance from the commercial fleet.
Fishermen allowed to use the parks legally will be eyes for illegal activity. They
will want to protect the right to use the area sustainably. It will take some time,
but eventually the parks will generate enough income on their own to properly manage
Fishing Report, Sept. 15
The Caribbean is on fire. Diann Sánchez from Río Colorado checked in and reported
that guests Brian Noreski and Gary Mellwig jumped 92 tarpon, landing 47 between 60
and 160 pounds. Man, I used to love September when I lived over on that side. A mixed
bag of tuna, jacks and barracuda are also taking baits. The bite slows right on top
of the full moon, and the action is in the early morning or late afternoon. After
the moon passes, it will be off to the races again.
The full moon seems to have slowed the bite on the central and southern Pacific coasts,
where most of the action has been inshore. Up north, they are still taking some sails
about five miles outside of the Catalina Islands, and tuna have been bending rods
closer to the beach.
If you want a sure bet on catching a tarpon in Costa Rica, now is the time to head
over to the Caribbean side. September and October have always been my favorite months.
I was on that side of the country last week, and although I didn’t get a chance to
fish, the Caribbean breeze and the September flat seas reminded me of the five years
I spent in Barra del Colorado.
Diann Sánchez from Río Colorado Lodge checked in this week to tell me how great the
fishing has been of late. She reported that Robert Stewart, Jared Aurlett, James
Stewart and Bruce Wortham from Andrews, Texas, fished three days and released a total
of 82 tarpon, ranging in size from 80 to 200 pounds. “The guys said they had a fantastic
time and will be back with more friends soon. … The ocean has been flat, with sunshine
all day long, just beautiful!” she wrote.
Eddie Brown, a little ways south of Barra in Tortuguero, said the same thing. Tarpon
are everywhere, biting from Barra del Colorado all the way to Parismina. He is still
finding a few snook, but nothing like the 38-pound whopper he caught a week or so
On the Pacific side, Guanacaste in the north is still the hot spot, which is normal
for this time of year. Out of Quepos on the central Pacific coast, Jerry Glover reported
his boats are getting a few sails and a couple of dorado up to 25 pounds. He also
said the snapper fishing inshore has been good.
Down south, most anglers are opting for inshore where the bite has been better. Some
dinner-plate snapper and some nice roosterfish are cooperating, with the added bonus
of seeing the humpback whales in the Golfo Dulce.
The Caribbean is red hot, with tarpon biting all along the coast. The seas are flat
– all th
at’s lacking is fishermen. Only a few boats are on the water, but those that are
fishing are enjoying the action that made Costa Rica famous.
Capt. Eddie Brown has been fishing between Tortuguero and Barra del Colorado and
hooking double digits every day out. His largest fish this week was a 160-pounder
that tested the angler for three hours before it was released. Brown also reported
good snook action, which is normal for this time of year. Samay Lagoon is still producing
fish; Brown took a 38-pound whopper there.
Dr. Alfredo López at Río Indio reports great guapote fishing in the lagoons off the
Río San Juan, just across the border in Nicaragua. López also reported a good tarpon
bite and some blackfin tuna a mile off the beach.
On the Pacific side, the offshore action is better the farther north you go. Diego
Armando checked in to say his group found a big wad of dorado 24 miles out of Herradura.
Other boats out of Los Sueños and Quepos are reporting days of a half-dozen sailfish
and a few marlin.
They are still knocking them dead up north in Guanacaste, with some double-digit
sailfish days and some marlin. John LaGrone, who usually fishes out of Los Sueños
on the Xta-Sea, fished the Flor de Caña Cup out of Nicaragua and took first place
with 31 sails and a blue marlin.
Casey McCartin took this amberjack as well as several roosterfish on a recent trip
off southwestern Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula. Courtesy of Crocodile Bay Resort
Down south, the inshore action is making up for the lack of billfish offshore. There
are lots of tuna but only a few sails and marlin. Roosterfish and amberjack made
for a lot of the inshore action, and some dinner-size snapper are also cooperating.
Jupp Kerkerinck, head of the Shark Research Institute, took a trip to the Golfo Dulce
after the State of the Oceans Summit in San José. I took him and Jani and Jurgen
Shulz out to maybe see a whale and do some inshore fishing.
Sometimes the sights are better than the fishing. We spent the day watching humpback
whales from a distance, and saw 12 different whales in the course of the day. Humpbacks
arrive in the gulf twice a year to birth and train their calves. August and September
brings them from the Southern Hemisphere, and in January and February they come from
The bite is still best in the Guanacaste area on the northern Pacific coast. Rick
Argudo, who is visiting from Florida this week to work on his project to put skateboard
parks for the less fortunate in various locations in San José, took a day off to
fish on the Scorpion I with Capt. Daniel. Looks like good deeds get rewarded. He
had a bang-up day, going four for 10 on sails, catching 15 yellowfin tuna and raising
two marlin. The sails came on ballyhoo, and the tuna took cedar plugs. He reported
similar action from other boats in the area.
The Central Pacific area is producing a few sails and dorado, although nothing like
the north. The inshore action, however, seems to be steady with lots of roosterfish
Down south, the only thing happening offshore is tuna. The fish caught this week
have run to about 60 pounds. Sailfish are still hanging to the north and will head
this way as the bait migrates. Again, inshore fishing has been really good, with
the added attraction of humpback whales in the area to watch. There have been several
sightings around Drake Bay and in the Golfo Dulce.
Now through November is my favorite time over on the Caribbean coast. The sea is
usually flat, and the tarpon and snook action is very good. Eddie Brown says he landed
eight tarpon yesterday and is averaging about 12 bites a day. He also reported a
good snook bite at Samay Lagoon.
The action on the Caribbean side and off Guanacaste on the northern Pacific coast
continues to be excellent. The tarpon bite is still good from Parismina to Barra
del Colorado on the Caribbean, and billfish are showing in good numbers in Guanacaste.
The Los Sueños area on the Central Pacific was a hot spot this past week. Straight
Up Sportfishing’s Bill McMenemy checked in with a report of three blue marlin and
a sail released in one day working the waters southwest of the marina. Captains from
Quepos report the sailfish bite has improved a great deal and boats have been seeing
a half dozen or more each day. The inshore fishing is also hot in Quepos, with roosterfish
and jacks stretching string for happy anglers.
Will Briegel, María Soto, Cheiry Cedeño, Thomas Fees, Daniel Soto and Escarleth Castillo
with their catch of football-sized tuna. Courtesy of Will Briegel.
Down south, a few sails are coming up in the teasers but the fish are not cooperating
like they are a little farther north. Casey McCartin fished with me this week inshore
and took a 50- and a 70-pound roosterfish and some amberjack to 40 pounds, but struck
out on billfish.
Will Briegel took a day off from Web design for Crocodile Bay Resort to take a few
friends offshore. They were rewarded with enough football-sized tuna to throw a party
for their friends. Will claims to make the best tuna steak in the Southern Zone.
The best bite this week has been north. It doesn’t matter which coast you choose,
Caribbean or Pacific, the bite is on.
Anglers fishing the river mouths at Barra del Colorado and Tortuguero on the Caribbean
are catching good numbers of snook in the surf, casting bucktail and hand-tied jigs.
Capt. Eddie Brown reports that trolling Rapala lures at the Tortuguero river mouth
has also produced some nice snapper, just inside the river.
Reports say the seas are flat and big schools of tarpon are easy to find. They are
hanging just outside the breakers or outside a ways at the color change. The tarpon
biting lately have been averaging 100 pounds, but a couple of fish pushing 150 pounds
have been taken this week.
Over on the Pacific side, Tamarindo has been the hot spot. The Gamefisher II with
Capt. Richard Chellemi found the sails this week, scoring six for 10 one day offshore
and getting Chris Saul a 50-pound dorado. The inshore bite has been strong in the
same area with jacks, amberjacks, wahoo, roosterfish and big snapper making up most
of the action. A 60-pound cubera snapper was the fish everyone was talking about.
Fishing has improved some on the central and southern Pacific coast, with a few sails
showing up offshore. Casey McCartin was looking for more action than size, so he
opted to fish inshore with Capt. Anthony Rhoden. Throwing poppers and jigs, his mixed
bag included snapper, roosterfish, jacks and yellowfin tuna.
Fishing is still strong on the northern Pacific coast. Roy Quirós reports sailfish
and marlin taking baits off northern Guanacaste, not in great numbers but with enough
frequency for tourists to bring home a great fishing memory. He also reports that
anglers looking for inshore action are finding it wide open near Baja Mango.
On the central Pacific, captains are working hard off of Los Sueños to find sailfish,
but tuna have been bending rods regularly. Boats fishing out of Quepos are finding
some sails and catching some nice reef fish, including some big amberjack.
Down south, only a few sails are appearing, and only one marlin was reported last
week. Lots of tuna are being found either at the mouth of Golfo Dulce or just a couple
of miles offshore all the way to Caño Island. Roosterfish have helped keep anglers
busy to make up for the lack of steady action offshore. Jani Schulz of Rainforest
Radio caught and released her first roosterfish.
Over on the Caribbean side, Eddie Brown reports flat seas and lots of tarpon. Fish
have been biting well in Tortuguero and Barra del Colorado, and he said the action
is also good down toward Parismina. In the Tortuguero river mouth, snook have been
cooperative lately; Brown and other local fishermen have been catching them in the
10- to 20-pound range.
Archie Fields, a giant of a man, sat wearing a white guayabera shirt on the veranda
overlooking the Río Colorado. Next to him were myself and two local women who worked
at his hotel, the world-famous Río Colorado Lodge on Costa Rica’s northern Caribbean
coast. The women jabbered away in Spanish and I didn’t understand a word they were
saying. But I kept hearing over and over again the words “don Archie.” I remembered
“The Godfather” movies from the ’70s and thought to myself, Holy crap! I’ve gone
to work for the Mafia. That was my first day of work for the late Archie Fields.
I have since learned to speak Spanish and that the word “don” is the equivalent of
“mister,” a respectful title that has nothing to do with organized crime. Fields
hailed from Tampa, Florida, and arrived in Costa Rica by way of the Bahamas, where
he had set up a thriving tourist business but found it difficult to do business after
the British gave up rule of the islands.
He then set up shop in Costa Rica and founded Swiss Travel, which today is one of
the biggest travel agencies in the country. The landing of the first cruise ship
in Costa Rica at the Caribbean port of Limón was organized by him. His Costa Rican
Tourism Board license was No. 17.
In 1972, he bought a cabin in Barra del Colorado on the Caribbean coast and started
the first boat tour down the Río San Juan and Tortuguero canals.
When he discovered what a great tarpon fishery the area offered, he added sportfishing.
Cabin by cabin, he built the lodge until he had 19 rooms and created what has been
called a “Rube Goldberg designed, Swiss Family Robinson type of fishing lodge.”
A history of celebrity and folklore infuses the lodge. Actor Lee Marvin and Minnesota
Vikings coach Bud Grant used to fish there. Jimmy Buffett, in his book, “A Pirate
Looks at Fifty,” describes Río Colorado as a place where overweight older guys who
do not know much about fishing can get their picture taken with a large tarpon with
relative ease and comfort. Novelist Randy Wayne White titled his “Batfishing in the
Rainforest” after an experience at Río Colorado.
There are rumors that at one time a secret compartment below the lodge’s bar held
a stash of guns that were secretly slipped upriver to Edén Pastora, “Comadante Cero,”
and the Contras during the Nicaraguan Revolution. This was around the same time a
Nicaraguan fighter plane blew up the fish house in Barra del Colorado because the
pilot mistakenly thought he was over Greytown, Nicaragua.
Fields didn’t just come down here and grow wealthy. He gave back. The school system
in Barra del Colorado went only up to the sixth grade in his day, so he sponsored
many children who had to be fostered in Guápiles or San José to continue their education.
Some have gone on to become doctors and business professionals.
He also led a campaign for conservation of Costa Rica’s marine resources. His secret
to success was to “underpromise and overdeliver.” He never put really large fish
in his brochures or advertising materials. He wanted all his guests to catch a bigger
fish than they were expecting.
The current owner of Río Colorado Lodge, Dan Wise, was in Costa Rica celebrating
his 40th birthday when he met Fields at a hotel in San José. Fields convinced him
to go fishing at his lodge. Over the years, Wise became a regular visitor. When Fields
fell ill with cancer, he thought it would be too taxing for his wife, Anita, to run
the remote lodge, so he decided to sell the business.
Wise humorously describes how he ended up owning the famous Archie Fields’ Río Colorado
Lodge: “The name Archie Fields in the tarpon fishing business is equivalent to Colonel
Sanders in the fried chicken business. [Fields] was quite a salesman, as he sold
me a termite-infested wooden hotel in a town with no road access or fire department
and talked me into leaving the country of my birth, abandoning a good law practice
and living in a totally different culture in a tropical paradise. Meeting this silver-headed
old man by chance certainly was a life-changing experience for me to say the least.”
Speaking from experience, I can say that living and working in Barra del Colorado
is the Costa Rican version of Herman Wouk’s “Don’t Stop the Carnival.” Archie Fields
left a lifelong impression on many people. To this day I can’t remember the date
of my own father’s death, but I remember the day the big fisherman in the sky took
Fields: April 8, 1993. A lot of people miss you, don Archie.
Oscar Villalobos was on a mission. The talk around town was that Pejeperro Lagoon,
between Matapalo and Carate on southwestern Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula, had opened
up to the Pacific Ocean because of heavy rains. The week before, locals had caught
lots of snook up to 30 pounds, casting jigs into the surf. Villalobos wanted in on
It is not an easy task to get there. Fishing from a boat is impossible because of
the big surf. The only possible way to catch fish is from shore. The nearest place
to park a vehicle is at the elementary school at Río Oro, and from there it’s a one-hour
walk in soft, hot volcanic sand. If you have any luck fishing, the walk back is worse
with the additional weight of a few nice snook or snapper.
With a pair of rods over his shoulder and a handful of white bucktail jigs, Villalobos
finally arrived to find a couple of locals already making a few casts.
“Any snook around?” he asked.
“Not one,” they replied, “but since yesterday we’ve caught 16 sábalos (tarpon).”
In no time, Villalobos hooked five tarpon and landed two. The size of the tarpon
being landed by the group ranged from just a few pounds up to about 40 pounds.
Tarpon, Megalops atlanticus, is an Atlantic species not indigenous to Pacific waters.
The Caribbean side of Costa Rica is world-famous for its tarpon fishery.
The first time I encountered a tarpon in Pacific waters was in 1995 in the Golfo
Dulce. I was fishing up near Río Esquinas when I saw one roll on the surface near
the boat, then another, and another. I thought I was going crazy. I asked some of
the locals about it, and they suggested I may have seen a school of milkfish. A milkfish
looks strikingly similar to a tarpon; in fact, Ticos call it sábalo falso, “false
tarpon.” They average about 40 inches. The fish I had seen were much bigger.
Several years later, one of my captains here on the southern Pacific coast brought
a 37-pound fish into the dock that caused quite a stir. He had never seen a fish
like it before, and said it jumped like crazy when the customer hooked it. I took
one look at it and laughed. I thought to myself that I hadn’t been crazy after all,
all those years ago; I had indeed seen a tarpon on the Pacific.
My theory was that the tarpon had passed through the Panama Canal and somehow made
their way up to the Pacific side of Costa Rica.
The Panama Canal almost didn’t get built. There was a big controversy as to whether
sea snakes from the Pacific would be able to pass through the canal and set up residence
in Caribbean waters. A study finally showed they couldn’t make the passage through
the canal because they do not enter freshwater, and the canal was constructed. The
same doesn’t hold true for various types of fish. Snapper, snook, certain types of
jack and tarpon enter freshwater at will. Tarpon often travel from the Caribbean
Sea all the way up the Río San Juan and make camp in Lake Nicaragua, on the Pacific
side of Nicaragua.
Over the past few years, my customers have hooked a few tarpon every year and have
caught tarpon over 125 pounds. My captains now know to release them if the angler
is lucky enough to keep a hook in them long enough to get them boatside. But it wasn’t
until recently, when locals started catching small tarpon here, that I realized there
is no way these little guys are swimming all the way up here from the Panama Canal;
tarpon must be breeding in the Pacific as well.
I contacted marine biologist Didiher Chacón, president of Widecast, the Wider Caribbean
Sea Turtle Conservation Network, in Costa Rica. Chacón did an extensive study on
tarpon on the Caribbean side of the country 20 years ago.
There are very few baby tarpon in the most popular fishing areas of the Caribbean
coast. The habitat is not suitable for juveniles. But down near the Panamanian border
in the wetland estuaries, Chacón found tarpon as small as two inches. He said Pejeperro
Lagoon is suitable habitat for juvenile tarpon. Tarpon larvae make their way from
the ocean into the mangrove estuary, where they develop.
“The chance that someone carried those tarpon across the country and placed them
in the lagoon is very slim,” he said. “It is quite possible tarpon are breeding in
the Pacific, but it would take genetic sampling to be absolutely sure where they
originated.” He went on to say the fish could be originally from the Costa Rican,
Panamanian or even Venezuelan tarpon populations.
Wherever they are from, it is exciting news.
Fishing Report July 8
Amberjack like this one taken off Drake Bay by Donald McGuinness have been biting
north and south on the Pacific coast.
Todd Staley Not a lot to talk about this week as far as fishing goes. I didn’t receive
any reports from the Caribbean side, though I’ve heard the weather has improved and
a few boats are fishing.
The best action on the Pacific is still to the north. Roy Quirós reports a good number
of sails are still in the area and have been cooperative to a trolled ballyhoo. Marlin
are also cruising the same waters, and the big news is that one was released at an
estimated at 700 pounds. Quirós adds that the inshore action for snapper and amberjack
has been excellent.
In the central region and to the south, offshore action has been slow except for
a marlin here and there. Jeannette Pérez out of Quepos says only a few tuna are coming
over the rails. She commented that the inshore action has slowed the past couple
of days after a strong roosterfish bite had anglers busy for a couple of weeks.
Pretty much the same down south. Inshore is the only area of late with consistent
action, and offshore is producing only around an ecosystem created by a floating
structure such as a log, tree trunk or trash line. Still, some big roosters mixed
in with the 20-pounders and amberjack have been active on the reefs.
The top spot to look for billfish lately continues to be the northwestern province
of Guanacaste, where the Presidential Papagayo Cup took place last week out of Marina
Papagayo. Sea Angel took top spot with 18 sailfish, edging out team Zara who also
had 18 sails, but Sea Angel took their 18th fish first. Right in the heap was Dragin
Fly with 17 fish.
The family team of Greg and “Mamalu” Angel, fishing with son BC at the helm and son
Austin working the pit, also took firsts in the Presidential Challenge of Costa Rica
and the first leg of the Los Sueños Signature Series earlier this year.
A total of 136 sails were released during the three-day event, with most fish caught
the first two days of the tournament. According to tournament officials, “a natural
phenomenon” slowed fishing on day three, when Zara took four fish and Sea Angel needed
only two to capture the win.
Costa Rica’s own Maverick Boats sponsored the Anglers Division. Hansel Méndez took
first place with 11 sailfish, followed closely by Hugo Angulo with 10. Third place
went to Cliff Mountain with eight sailfish.
We want to welcome Dave Embry from Costa Rica Dreams Sportfishing out of Los Sueños
on the central Pacific coast. Embry reports fishing has been good, with a variety
of fish to choose from. Boats are taking a couple of sails a day and have been finding
tuna, checking in with three to five yellowfin each. Bottom fishing has been decent
for grouper and snapper, and people have been crowing about a good roosterfish bite.
Down south, it looks like the marlin are starting to make their much awaited appearance.
Patrick, Tim, Ted and John Durkin fished out of Golfito on the Typhoon with captains
Darren McClave and Donald McGuinness. Over the course of a few days, they put the
hook in five marlin and spent enough time inshore to catch and release a boatload
of roosterfish and amberjack up to 70 pounds.
Over on the Caribbean coast, Eddie Brown reports that the tropical storm in southern
Mexico has sent some bouncy water down south, but those willing to ride it out are
hooking a fair share of tarpon. It should take only a day or two for the ocean to
settle back down and things will be back to normal.
The tarpon bite continues on the Caribbean coast at Tortuguero and Barra del Colorado.
Americana Sportfishing had a group that traveled all the way from Russia to test
the waters out of Tortuguero. They saw lots of tarpon and jack crevalle and everyone
in the group took home a jungle tarpon memory. Eddie Brown echoes the report, saying
anglers have been getting six to eight tarpon bites a day. He worked his way out
toward a spot where he has been taking wahoo lately and hooked a surprise Atlantic
Americana also sent the Dean Anderson family up to Guanacaste on the Pacific side
to fish with Capt. Skeet Warren on the Bushwacker. They released a couple of sails
and spent the better part of the rest of the day pulling on a 500-pound blue marlin.
Other boats fishing in the north report a continued good sailfish bite as well as
marlin action. Boats out of Los Sueños, on the central Pacific coast, have also been
running north and fishing the southern part of the Nicoya Peninsula. They report
good sailfish action, a few marlin and dorado.
Rolando Chaves checked in from the Central Pacific to say the inshore action has
provided lots of roosterfish and mackerel action, and bottom fishing at the Furuno
Bank produced some nice grouper and snapper. Leanne Batton of Quepos Sailfishing
Charters had clients take some nice amberjack inshore, and offshore they are getting
a few sails and marlin. Captains Christian and Esteban have both found black marlin
in the 300-pound-plus range and yellowfin tuna up to 70 pounds for their guests.
John Thompson from Dominical had a great day landing five sails.
Down south, we are still singing the billfish blues and waiting for our annual blast
of marlin that always shows up this time of year. The lack of billfish hasn’t kept
anglers from having a good time. Boats are averaging seven to 10 roosterfish a day,
and they are no little “pollitos” either; some have been running 40 to 60 pounds.
The flat seas couldn’t last forever on the Caribbean side; it finally kicked up a
bit but is still very fishable. The tarpon moved a little offshore but are still
biting well near the water-color change outside the mouth of the river at Barra del
Eddie Brown reports that those willing to venture a few more miles off the beach
will find wahoo at the drop-off in front of the canyon between Tortuguero and Barra.
He had seven bites last trip out, but only landed two because of the fish’s razor-sharp
teeth cutting his monofilament leader. The ones he managed to get to the boat ran
close to 50 pounds apiece.
On the Pacific coast, most of the billfish action has been between Quepos and northern
Guanacaste. Richard Chellemi on the Gamefisher II has been raising between six and
10 sails a trip. He said the inshore bite hasn’t been bad with a mix of small tuna,
dorado and skipjack. John Edmonson and Wesley Pye caught five of 11 sails and stopped
on the way in to take enough grouper for a fresh fish dinner.
Down south, the billfish have been eluding the few boats going out, but there are
still enough tuna around to keep angler’s rods bent. The size of the tuna has dropped,
with most weighing in at 10 to 20 pounds.
Inshore is where the action has been off the Osa Peninsula. Roosterfish have been
really cooperative along the beaches, and deep jiggers have been taking amberjack,
a few small grouper and silky snapper. Anglers fishing the cuts from the beach where
freshwater runs between Matapalo and Carate have been having some great snook action.
Geovanny Leal and a group of friends caught 26 snook between eight and 12 pounds,
casting jigs off the beach.
Most of the offshore action on the Pacific side has been in the northern Guanacaste
region. A good number of sails and dorado are biting. Action is still good off Playas
del Coco, and Richard Chellemi reports the sails are being cooperative. Marlin also
are popping up here and there, so it seems northern Costa Rica is the hot spot for
billfish as of late.
On the central Pacific coast, at both Herradura and Quepos the billfish bite slowed
this last week. In Quepos, boats bottom-fishing have been taking some nice snapper
and grouper. Along the coast, the roosterfish, jack and sierra mackerel continue
to take both live bait and trolled diving lures.
Down south off the Osa Peninsula, the billfish action was slow this week and only
a few boats were out on the water. A few smaller dorado and wahoo have been taken,
but it seems the great tuna bite that lasted almost two weeks is over for now. The
weather is improving and the dirty water inshore is clearing up, so the inshore action
should pick up any day.
Tarpon keep pounding both bait and jigs on the Caribbean side. Yesterday the water
was as flat as a pancake and boats could drift right through the river mouth, where
normally they are dancing with waves to get outside. Boats are getting up to 20 bites
a day and landing four to six tarpon each. The snook action has been slow, but, with
the calm waters, anglers should be able to comfortably fish the areas where they
like to hang out.
Someone must have told the fish this week that the price of fuel is getting outrageous.
All over the country the fish were “fuel-friendly,” with lots of good fishing just
a short ride off the beach.
Roy Quirós reports the fish just off the beach up at Playas del Coco, on the northern
Pacific coast, have been putting smiles on a lot of faces. Anglers are experiencing
another week of very good sailfish bite, and lots of dorado, from little guys up
to 40-pounders, have brought the marlin in. A small dorado is like a Lay’s potato
chip to a marlin, and as long as they hang in the area, anglers can expect good marlin
The bite off Los Sueños on the central Pacific really picked up this week between
eight and 10 miles off the beach. Good numbers of sails were taken and released,
and the marlin are making a good show in the area as well. A little south, down at
Quepos, the sailfish bite has improved but still is not great; however, the inshore
action is still extremely good. Roosterfish, the crown jewel of Costa Rica’s inshore
fishing, continue to provide great action, according to Rolando Chaves.
Way down south, the action is still yellowfin tuna. The tuna continue to hang about
seven miles off the beach, and anglers going out are finding them every day. Most
fish are averaging about 60 pounds. The inshore bite has been really good at Matapalo.
The big swell that has had surfers excited the past few days makes fishing a little
bouncy once the sea breeze starts, but anglers riding it out are being well rewarded.
Over on the Caribbean side, Eddie Brown says the tarpon bite continues to be good
with anglers hooking six to eight fish a day. The ocean has kicked up a little but
is still fishable. He ventured out seven miles and hooked eight wahoo, taking a 25-
and 40-pounder back to the lodge for dinner.
There are a lot of happy fishermen all over the country. The bite is on, whether
you wet a line in the Pacific or the Caribbean.
Old reliables Dan Wise and Eddie Brown both report a great tarpon bite between Tortuguero
and Barra del Colorado on the Caribbean side. Phil Hoover, 82, made his 70th trip
to Rio Colorado Lodge. Hoover was fishing there 20 years ago when I worked there.
He always had a knack for catching tarpon, and entering his eighth decade hasn’t
slowed him down a bit. He fished his usual seven-day trip and hooked 71 tarpon, landing
27. A few snook have been biting in Barra, and Brown has been slipping out after
dark and enjoying some very good snook fishing. He also reports he is catching a
fair share of king mackerel just off the beach.
Over on the Pacific side, the fishing has come to life from the Gulf of Nicoya south.
Rolando Chaves says boats out of Los Sueños have been seeing a good share of sailfish.
The sailfish bite continues up north in Guanacaste, where reports say the ocean has
been good and most boats out are staying busy.
Quepos has seen some fantastic inshore fishing lately, with lots of roosterfish keeping
anglers happy. Boats have reported days of a dozen fish or more, with most running
15 to 20 pounds, but several in the 40-pound-plus range have been taken.
Down south, the sailfish action has been fair at best, but a good run of tuna has
anglers making a lot of noise. The fish are running between 40 and 200 pounds, with
top fish this week weighing 180 pounds. Inshore has been spotty; the best action
has been deep-jigging snapper.
The Caribbean is still the hot spot this week with some phenomenal fishing. The weather
has been good and the ocean flat enough to fish comfortably outside the river mouth.
Dan Wise at Rio Colorado Lodge in Barra del Colorado entertained a group of 10 businessmen
from Russia. An interpreter was not needed because the smiles on their faces said
everything. In six days of fishing, they hooked 348 tarpon and landed 97 of them.
Numbers like that are what made the lodge created by the late Archie Fields famous
On the Pacific side, talking to Bill Kirby out of Los Sueños, Jeanette Pérez out
of Quepos, Greg Mufson out of Zancudo and myself here in Puerto Jiménez was like
hitting the rewind button for each conversation. Green water has really slowed things
down. Those lucky enough to find a floating log that has been around long enough
to develop an ecosystem of various types of bait might get a marlin, but for the
most part not much is happening offshore along the central and southern Pacific coast.
The saving grace has been some inshore action, but even that hasn’t been enough to
An interesting fellow is fishing here at Crocodile Bay. Manuel Salazar took an 87-pound
dorado in 1976 in Papagayo on the northern Pacific coast, giving Costa Rica a world
record that stood for more than 35 years.
The north is seeing the only steady action on the Pacific side. Esmeralda Méndez
of Papagayo Fishing Charters reports that lots of sailfish and marlin have moved
into the area. She says the boat La Chila has been taking good numbers of fish. Other
reports from the area say there are enough dorado around to supply a good dinner
to the traveling angler.
I have to admit that the first time I saw a guy fishing with a handline, my first
thought was, “There’s a guy who doesn’t have the means to buy a fishing outfit.”
Over time, through being both completely amazed and completely humiliated, I have
changed my opinion. Today I consider handline fishing a true art form.
Handline spools come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The very basic is about 50
yards of line wrapped around a 16-ounce water bottle. Others consist of a hand-carved
piece of wood with the spool about the size of a beer can and, below that, a thinner
handle whittled on one end. And then there is the classic “Cuban yo-yo,” which is
a roughly 6-inch plastic ring that can be bought almost anywhere for less than $2
and will hold 100 yards or so of 50-pound test monofilament line.
No matter the personal choice, anyone proficient with a handline can cast as far,
retrieve a lure as fast, and catch a fish as big as someone holding a $500 fishing
outfit in his hand.
My first experience with “handliners” came during the calba run at the delta where
the San Juan and Colorado rivers meet. Calba are a smaller species of snook that
average between 3 and 8 pounds. I was anchored in the middle of the river throwing
a jig with a bait-casting reel I had invested several hundred dollars to own. Out
of a nearby creek came two young boys who appeared to be brothers. They were in a
homemade dugout canoe that their father had probably carved from a tree trunk, and
were struggling against a strong current to move upriver. They finally reached a
spot near where I was fishing and threw out an anchor that was actually an old crankshaft
from some motor.
The boys took out a couple of handlines and started casting homemade jigs as far
as I was doing with my casting rig. And they were catching fish – about four or five
calba each for every one I caught. I will never forget the smiles on their faces
as they made sure I noticed every fish that went in their boat. After a while I was
so humiliated that I pulled anchor, took my expensive toys and went home.
On the same stretch of river, a few years later, one of my guides, Windell, told
a tourist with whom he was fishing that as a kid he used to catch tarpon on a handline.
The customer told him he would pay $100 to see that. Windell quickly took the line
of his reel and wound it around a drink can. To make a long story short, the tourist
went home with a story to tell his fishing buddies for the rest of his life, and
Windell with a crisp Benjamin in his pocket.
I once took the editor of Field and Stream magazine snook fishing in southwestern
Costa Rica’s Golfo Dulce. We worked the most pristine and perfect-looking mangrove
shoreline under a baking sun while the no-see-ums were having a let’s-eat-some-Gringos
party. We didn’t raise a fish all day. As we were returning to the public pier, we
saw a handline spool get jerked off the dock and shoot a rooster tail in the air,
spinning in the water as line screamed off of it. The owner of the spool jumped in
our boat, picked the spool out of the water and landed a 22-pound snook. The editor
and I just looked at each other; finally, I broke the silence and said, “Well at
least we didn’t get skunked.”
Cristóbal, our hotel gardener who fished off the beach every day after work, constantly
pressured me to take him fishing in a boat. I finally conceded and gave him a spinning
rod to use. He fumbled with it for a while. Then he mumbled something in Spanish
that I can’t repeat here, put the rod down in disgust and pulled a yo-yo out of his
backpack. A short time later, he was hooked up with line racing off the spool, using
the palm of his hand as a drag system. He would gain line and the fish would take
off again in another lightning run. For 45 minutes I watched this tug of war in pure
amazement, until at last he landed a 55-pound roosterfish.
This column has generated many emails to me from people telling me they are traveling
to a certain part of the country and asking where is the best place to shore-fish.
Here’s my advice: No matter what coastal town you are in, look for handline fishermen.
They are fishing for food for their families more than for sport, so they fish in
places proven to hold fish. Watch them. If they are fishing a lure, note the speed
of retrieve and type of lure. If they are using bait, see what kind.
There are very few secret spots or secret baits in their world. You will find they
will gladly share information, and you don’t have to speak perfect Spanish to communicate;
you just might find out they speak a little English. Show them your tackle box and
they will let you know what works best in that area. If you leave them a couple of
lures when you’re finished, you will probably make their day.
Just remember: The more expensive your fishing outfit is, the more you will be humbled.
The Caribbean is still red-hot with action centered between Barra del Colorado and
Tortuguero. Huge schools of tarpon are working the waters between the two river mouths,
and boats from Barra are headed south and vice versa to get in on the action. The
fish are hitting both jigs and sardines.
Eleven-year-old Guilmer Brown landed and released a monster 180-pound tarpon, much
to the dismay of his mother. She was afraid the fish was too big for him and he might
get sunstroke, but he wouldn’t have any part of giving up – the son of legendary
tarpon fisherman Eddie Brown had something to prove to his father.
Down south on the Pacific side, the green water kept billfishing to a minimum, and
a mysterious oil slick in the ocean didn’t help matters. There was a patch of blue
water just a mile offshore, between Matapalo and Carate, and it yielded some very
nice wahoo up to 60 pounds.
The news is much the same on the central Pacific coast between Quepos and Los Sueños.
The fish have been slow to cooperate.
Up north, the fish seemed to have moved into the Guanacaste area right in time. Mark
Sydney checked in with the following report: “The billfish seem to have moved up
to the North Pacific. Fishing 18 miles due west of the new Papagayo Marina, the 35-foot
Fish Tale II with Capt. Rick Morrow raised 25 sails and released 13. The next day
Capt. Luis Ruiz brought the 42-foot Plautus to the same spot, and his guys came home
well satisfied after a 15-5 day, perhaps not as spectacular as the day before, but
definitely not to be sneezed at.”
Fishing is red-hot and the weather great on the Caribbean side, with anglers hooking
multiple tarpon almost every day, according to Dianne Sánchez at Río Colorado Lodge.
Most boats are seeing as many as 10 a day, and all the fish have been big. The smallest
fish recorded this week was about 80 pounds, with most fish running 120 to 180 pounds.
There are also lots of jacks and sharks.
Eddie Brown, down the coast in Tortuguero, reports that fishing has picked up again
after a short lull, with lots of tarpon outside the river mouth. Seven- to 10-pound
snook have been hitting jigs up at Samay Lagoon, he says.
Dr. Alfredo López at Río Indio Lodge in southern Nicaragua has been getting guapote
up to nine pounds in the lagoons off the Río San Juan. He predicts the action should
last another five weeks before the rain fills the lagoons and the fish move up into
the flooded jungle, where they are hard to access.
On the Pacific side, the action is a little slower. Down south at Crocodile Bay,
there are still plenty of sails around but the last couple of days the fish have
been lazy. Boats are having eight to 12 fish come into the spread, but only a few
are hanging around long enough to take bait.
On the central Pacific coast, it is pretty much the same news with a little more
action up near Los Sueños than out of Quepos. Fishing inshore for roosters, jacks
and snapper has been the best bet lately in those areas.
A few more sails are starting to move into the Guanacaste area, as it is getting
near the beginning of the season for the Northern Zone. As on the rest of Pacific
coast, the inshore action has been good.
George Large, a lure designer for Yo-Zuri, tested a prototype lure near the surf
at Carate and took a few roosterfish and 30 jacks. The lure should be on the market
by the end of the year.
.One of the most exciting days of fishing I ever had was in a lagoon in Nicaragua
accessible only by passing through myriad rivers and creeks on the Caribbean side
of Costa Rica. That day, Mike Holliday and I hooked more than 60 tarpon on casting
plugs. We tired of tarpon and went to the beach to cast for snook. The tarpon wouldn’t
leave us alone. We were hooking them from shore. I watched as Holliday played and
eventually landed a respectable tarpon from the beach with a fly rod. That was nearly
20 years ago.
What did I see that day? Fish, fish and more fish.
I fished that same lagoon many times over the years, and although I never matched
that one fantastic day, I always had good fishing. Then, one day, the tropical rains
had the lagoon all muddied up. I cast furiously for hours with memories of that fantastic
day playing like a movie in my head. I had not one bite. I knew the next cast might
be the one. It wasn’t. My arm tired of casting and I sat down to rest. I looked over
toward the shoreline. Then it jumped out at me. A beautiful, flaming-orange heliconia
growing next to the riverbank. I scanned the shoreline. One after another, they rose
from the jungle.
On the long fishless ride back into Costa Rica, I started to notice things I never
saw before, even though I had traveled this road many times. Wild orchids hanging
over the creeks, some of them humongous and all of them spectacular. There were so
many different kinds. On all my previous trips, I had seen only water and fish. The
normal trip back took one and a half hours; this day, it took me almost four hours.
That was the day I learned it is not always about the fish.
I have had many similar experiences here on the Pacific side. The ocean off the
Pacific coast of Costa Rica drops off fast. A couple of hundred yards off the beach,
you’ll find a couple of hundred feet of water below your boat. By the time you reach
20 miles out, more than a mile of water separates you from the ocean floor. Most
of the big game fishing is rarely done beyond 20 miles, unless green water forces
the fleet farther out. Fishing the Pacific can be like living the Discovery Channel.
The humpback whales come twice a year, from the Northern Hemisphere in January and
February, and in August and September from the Southern Hemisphere. I have been lucky
enough to see a pod of 50 or more migrating offshore to the south. Mothers will bring
their calves into the Golfo Dulce, and, when they are here, sighting them is almost
a daily occurrence as they teach their young how to feed on their own and breach.
On another occasion, I was chatting with the guests below when the captain suddenly
changed course. That is always a surefire sign that he has seen something. He pointed
to the horizon, and there, way off in the distance, were silhouettes of something
large jumping and making tremendous splashes. We were sure it was a huge school of
very big tuna. As we got close enough to see what it was, it turned out to be a mammoth
group of pilot whales. There were literally hundreds of them. As the boat got closer,
they came over to check us out and began to swim alongside the boat the way porpoises
do. We watched them for over an hour with not one tuna in sight.
I’ve seen killer whales here several times, usually about 10 miles off the beach.
But once, three of them were headed up the coast only a few hundred yards off the
coast. Mike Grace of Cummins Motors got the most spectacular shot of one as it charged
in out of nowhere and began surfing the wake only inches off the transom.
Huge pods of spinner dolphins are common offshore. They may travel in groups of 50
or fewer, or as many as a thousand. You can bet there will always be yellowfin tuna
near them. The tuna might not always bite, but they will be there.
March and April are the best months to bump into whale sharks in the gulf. These
gentle giants show up almost yearly and feed on plankton in the calm waters on the
upper end of the gulf. The most I’ve seen at one time is eight. They are not fully
mature and average about 30 feet long.
Turtles are an everyday sight here while fishing. Most are olive ridley and green
turtles, but on a rare occasion you might stumble upon a giant leatherback turtle
roughly the size of a pool table.
This is not to mention the flora and fauna one sees while inshore fishing. The beaches
are pristine, and a wide variety of macaws and seabirds hang close to the beach.
On every one of those Discovery Channel days, I have no recollection of what I caught.
But forever etched in my memory is what I saw.
April 15 Fishing Report
The ocean went flat and the tarpon turned on the Caribbean side. Boats are reporting
good numbers of fish all along the coast, with most anglers fishing Barra del Colorado
and Tortuguero. JoAnne VonGriff from Golfito, on the southern Pacific coast, slid
over to the other side Wednesday and fished with Eddie Brown. She hooked seven tarpon
and landed five, a good day’s work for any angler.
On the Pacific coast, it seems the bite moved north on Tuesday. At least the fishing
slowed in the Southern Zone at Crocodile Bay Resort after two weeks of spectacular
fishing. On Monday, boats were seeing double-digit sails and lots of marlin were
hitting, averaging 200 to 300 pounds apiece. On Tuesday, it was a lot of work to
raise just three or four sails. Greg Mufson of Zancudo Lodge reports that actors
Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones enjoyed some good fishing there.
Reports from the Quepos area on the central Pacific coast say boats are seeing five
to seven sails each, and even a little better up at Los Sueños in Herradura. Rolando
Chaves, my reliable guy from the Central Pacific, says fishing is picking up. I did
not hear from other areas this week, which usually means the fishing is slow, although
the peak season for the northwestern province of Guanacaste is just around the corner.
The Club Amateur de Pesca’s 30th annual International Sailfish Tournament was held
last week at the Crocodile Bay Resort in Puerto Jiménez, on southwestern Costa Rica’s
Osa Peninsula. Ten boats competed, with teams from South Africa, the United States,
Puerto Rico, Mexico, Guatemala and of course Costa Rica. The group landed a total
of 150 fish over four days, with the Guatemala team taking top honors. South Africa
finished second and Puerto Rico third (full results listed at end of report).
At Crocodile Bay and at Zancudo Lodge across the Golfo Dulce, the fishing continues
to be strong. The sail numbers have dropped, but the marlin have been making a show
this week. Richard Schrader, 88, from Denver, Colorado, took his first sail on a
fly and landed a 50-pound dorado.
Rudy Dodero has been running from Dominical on the southern Pacific coast up to the
Furuno Bank to do some deep jigging. His clients have been rewarded with amberjack,
broomtail grouper, jack crevalle and bluefin trevally.
Up in Quepos and Los Sueños on the central Pacific coast, anglers are working hard
for their fish. The good sailfish bite has slowed a bit, and marlin have been really
scarce, according to Rolando Chaves.
Over on the Caribbean coast, Dan Wise of Río Colorado Lodge in Barra del Colorado
reports fish being taken at the river mouth. Rough seas have forced anglers inside,
but both Wise’s boats and Eddie Brown are catching tarpon upriver as well.
Mike Lilla reports the backwaters of the Río San Juan, on the border with Nicaragua,
are coming alive with guapote (rainbow bass). Fishing with Dr. Alfredo López of Río
Indio Lodge, Lilla hooked one close to 10 pounds that ended up breaking his 30-pound
In my youth I was a rocker. Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Rolling Stones and the like
were at the top of my playlist. As my children entered their teens, they reminded
me of how I must have driven my mother absolutely out of her mind with my loud music.
Today I still listen to old rock music, but, more often than not, I find myself following
my redneck roots, listening to country music. My fishing kind of took the same path.
I used to love to chase big fish. The bigger, the better. Where I’m from, the west
coast of Florida, it was tarpon and big sharks. After moving to Costa Rica 20 years
ago, I added marlin and big tuna to the list. My biggest tuna here weighed more than
280 pounds. I sweated for just over three hours to land the fish and loved every
second of the battle.
I’m not up to multiple-hour endurance tests anymore, and Costa Rica has the perfect
fish for this kind of thinking: the cubera snapper. I love this fish for two reasons:
It has the power to bring you to your knees, and more than half the time the fish
Costa Rica has cubera snapper on both coasts. Huge fish have been taken out of Parismina,
Tortuguero and Barra del Colorado on the Caribbean side, but they are much more prevalent
on the Pacific coast. They look like a giant aquatic pumpkin with big canine teeth,
and have the strength of a locomotive.
The Pacific side and its volcanic reefs make perfect habitat for how cubera snapper
operate. They hang casually above and around the reef and go on attack when hungry,
or quickly rush into a cave or under a rock when threatened or when hooked by an
angler. Stopping one before it reaches the rock is like winning an arm-wrestling
match with the Hulk.
Years ago, the norm was to troll over a reef until you caught a nice-size bonito,
then bridle a hook to its nose and send it back down on 80-pound tackle. It takes
several seconds for even a huge snapper to gulp down 3- to 5-pound bait, and the
whole time this is happening the snapper is racing down toward the reef because other
fish have noticed and they want a piece of the action. So timing is everything. You
have to give the fish enough time to eat but not too much, or it will be already
cozy in its volcanic-reef home before you set the hook, and you won’t have a chance.
Today, with high-gear-ratio reels and braided lines, big snapper can be taken on
much lighter gear. Throwing poppers has become a popular way to fish them. Snapper
will come up from 100 feet of water to take a popper. Even though the gear is much
lighter, zipping a popper across the surface all day is a true test of stamina.
Last time out, I finished my day with snapper winning the game 3-1. I did get a nice
38-pound fish and was singing Toby Keith’s lyrics in my head: “I’m not as good as
I once was, but I’m as good once as I ever was.” Later, I walked into my house and
heard some sort of weird PlayStation noises coming from the TV and some type of Spanish
rap music coming from one of the bedrooms. I quietly slid in a Toby Keith CD, cranked
it up and drove my kids absolutely crazy.
Quepos seems to be the center of the action this week, as Leanne Batten of Quepos
Sailfishing Charters reports. Good eating has finally arrived in the form of dorado
(dolphinfish), which have been scarce most of the year along the Pacific coast. Sailfish
have also made a really good showing. Batten got to escape the office and spend a
day on the water with Capt. Rick Fisher, and landed 11 sails including an exciting
triple-header at the end of the day.
Dan Ross of DR Sportfishing seconds Batten’s report, saying there has been good sail
action around Quepos and fewer sails but good marlin fishing up at Carrillo, where
the 15th Presidential Challenge of Costa Rica Billfish Tournament is taking place
March 25 to 27. Ross also says he slipped down south to fish near Golfito, where
he took a 78-pound dorado.
Fishing was red-hot in the south and then died off completely after the earthquake
and tsunami in Japan. For nearly a week, a sailfish could not be found. They came
back in big numbers two days before the supermoon on March 19, and then dropped down
to a half dozen fish per day following the full moon.
No good news from northern Guanacaste yet, as the wind has been blowing hard. On
Wednesday the wind started to lie down, so fishing should be improving soon.
Over on the Caribbean coast, Dan Wise out of Río Colorado Lodge reports that John
Shari and son fished five days with Edwin Brown and jumped 16 tarpon, boating six.
They also spent some time with good results on light tackle fishing the backwaters.
Anthony Milam, son Hunter and daughter Ashley flew in for a one-day break and change
of pace from the Four Seasons Resort on the northern Pacific coast, and jumped 12
tarpon. Twelve-year-old Hunter boated a 150-pounder at sunset on his first tarpon
At Tortuguero, Eddie Brown says the snook bite has started again and anglers are
averaging six to eight tarpon a day.
The tarpon bite is great along the entire Caribbean coast, with Barra del Colorado
and Tortuguero having most of the action, according to dependable Eddie Brown, who
contacts me weekly whether the fishing is good or bad. Anglers are landing four to
six tarpon per day. Snook fishing has slowed to a standstill.
Alfredo López up on the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border says the water level has dropped
in the San Juan River and back lagoons to bring the guapote (rainbow bass) out of
the jungle. Tarpon fishing has been so-so, but anglers wishing to go toe to toe with
one of the meanest freshwater fish out there are getting their share.
Over on the Pacific side, an excellent sailfish bite is being reported from Los Sueños
southward. Double-digit days are being logged in Quepos as well, as they prepare
for an upcoming tournament. Down south in Puerto Jiménez and Golfito areas, as well
as out of Zancudo, boats are reporting similar results.
The best inshore action has been reported out of Guanacaste in the northwest, where
lots of grouper and big amberjacks are coming over the rail. Capt. Jesús Vallegas
had a nice surprise while he was fishing for amberjack about five miles off the beach,
and a marlin took his bait.
Inshore action has also been good near Dominical, reports Rudy Dodero, who also supplied
this week’s photo. He has been doing quite well trolling Rapalas near shore and taking
jacks, roosterfish, sierra mackerel and some nice snapper like the one pictured,
taken by Rudy’s girlfriend, Luxinia Campos.
The National Fishing Club recently held its 50th anniversary tournament near Upala
in the Northern Zone. The club is made up of shore anglers, and more than 70 participated
in the tournament. Ricardo Hernández took top honors, followed by Sebastián Vega,
who had a nice guapote over 6 pounds in the mix. Third place went to Napoleón Amuy,
and José Aguilar is currently holding top spot in the annual catch-and-release category
Good news for tarpon fishermen on the Caribbean side. Mireya Rodriquez of Río Colorado
Lodge reports a great tarpon bite with anglers averaging eight to 12 tarpon per day.
Eddie Brown in Tortuguero echoes the same news and reports that one group of anglers
hooked 46 fish on a three-day trip.
I didn’t hear from Mike Lilla up on the Río San Juan on the Costa Rica-Nicaragua
border, so I’m assuming the guapote fishing has gotten so good he didn’t have time
to send me a note.
Capt. Jesús Vallegas didn’t have the same good news from the Guanacaste area on the
northern Pacific coast. He said the good dorado bite had slowed and the sailfish
were thin, but the winds are not blowing as hard offshore, which should soon move
more fish into the area. Inshore sierra mackerel and jacks were bending rods mixed
in with a few roosterfish. A large school of roosters and jacks have been busting
bait in the surf behind the Four Seasons Resort.
According to Capt. Rolando Chaves, fishing has improved immensely in the Quepos area
on the central Pacific coast, and boats were seeing double-digit days on sailfish.
Boats from Los Sueños have been traveling south to get in the action. Some days the
fish are a ways out, but it is well worth the ride. A few nice snapper and roosterfish
are being taken in the Herradura area.
Down south, Gregg Mufson at Zancudo Lodge reports boats raising six to 12 sails a
day on a regular basis, with a great snapper bite and schools of hungry roosterfish.
The big news around the lodge this week was a 110-pound yellowfin tuna that was landed
even after the angler broke his fly rod.
The Amateur Fishing Club of Costa Rica recently finished the second and final leg
of its 54th National Sailfish Tournament. At the end of the first leg, Alberto Laurencich
sat in a tie for eighth place, five fish behind leader Sergio Montealegre. In the
second leg, Laurencich landed 11 fish for a total of 14 sails, giving him a first-place
trophy. Montealegre’s performance in the first leg gave him enough points to finish
in second place with 10 sails, followed by Pomo Claudio, who took third with eight.
Laurencich was also on the winning boat Sirena, which released 29 sailfish during
the two-part tournament.
The northwestern province of Guanacaste is still dealing with the Papagayo winds,
which are keeping most of the action near shore. However, anglers there are reporting
the best dorado (dolphinfish) action in the country, with a sailfish mixed in here
and there. Close inshore, a few roosters are biting, as well as small tuna and snapper.
On the central Pacific coast, reports from Los Sueños and Quepos say the fishing
is still off a bit with boats raising four to eight sails a day. Roosterfish and
snapper have been active around the rocks near Herradura. Boats making the run toward
Drake Bay, on the southern Pacific coast, are seeing somewhat better numbers.
Down south, the fish are giving me indigestion. One day we are raising 12 to 15 sails
per boat, and the next day just one or two. Anglers are seeing lots of free-jumping
fish, so they know they are there. There are still some tuna around, and the marlin
have not yet left the area; a 50-pound blue was this week’s top fish. There was a
flurry of roosterfish off the beach at Carate mixed in with Pacific jack crevalle.
On the Caribbean side, both Río Colorado Lodge in Barra del Colorado and Capt. Eddie
Brown report similar action. With the sea somewhat rough, boats get out some days
but not others. Anglers have been hooking four to 10 tarpon a day at the river mouth.
Up in Nicaragua at Río Indio, the calba action has finally slowed, but the water
level has dropped enough to bring the guapote out of the jungle. The “handsome one”
has been taking mostly spinnerbaits, but as the water continues to drop, they will
start hitting topwater baits.
The National Fishing Club celebrated its 50th anniversary with a tournament last
month in Jacó. The club is made up entirely of shore fishermen. Roman Alvarez took
top spot with a 14-pound roosterfish, followed by Rudy Dodero with a 12-pound snapper
and Sebastián Vega with a 10-pound jack. José Aguilar is currently leading the release
division in the club’s annual tournament.
I lived 373 steps away from the first Hooters restaurant, which opened on April Fools’
Day almost three decades ago in Clearwater, Florida. I don’t know what possessed
me to count those steps on the way home one night, and I doubt seriously if I covered
them in a straight line.
I quickly became friends with two of the owners, Lynn Stewart and Ed Droste. The
Hooters chain has since grown to almost 500 restaurants in 27 countries, including
two in the San José area. The only reason I tell you this is because I organized
the first Hooters Costa Rica Fishing Tournament in March 1991, which also happens
to be one of the greatest days of fishing I’ve experienced in my lifetime.
The memory of this trip was brought to the surface again recently as I began reading
articles and watching news clips about the conflict between Costa Rica and Nicaragua
over ownership of Isla Calero. The second day of the Hooters tournament took place
in a lagoon about 10 minutes from that island.
The tournament was based out of Archie Fields’ Río Colorado Lodge in Barra del Colorado
on the northern Caribbean coast, and the participants were Tampa Bay area businessmen,
athletes and magazine writers. I drew Mike Holliday of Florida Sportsman magazine
as a fishing partner.
Fields, who was always known for putting on the dog for guests, told us that about
an hour or so from the lodge was a lagoon in Nicaragua that the locals reported was
full of tarpon. He said the ride up the jungle rivers of Río Colorado and Río San
Juan was spectacular, and if the local gossip was true, we would have a day of tarpon
fishing we would never forget. We planned the trip for early the next morning.
When we left Río Colorado Lodge at daybreak, there was still a morning chill of mountain
air that had blown in overnight. By the time we reached Greytown, Nicaragua, the
sun had risen enough in the sky to make the jungle hot and humid.
Greytown is a place with amazing history. Spanish settlers first landed there on
June 24, 1539, and named it San Juan del Norte after Saint John the Baptist. In the
early 1700s, the village was captured by Miskito Indians, and by 1848 the town was
under British rule and renamed Greytown. Today, the village is still known by both
those names, and by its modern name, San Juan de Nicaragua.
After a quick check by Nicaraguan authorities, we rounded the corner and entered
the lagoon. It was stunning. Dense green jungle and an azure sky reflected on the
smooth surface. As we glided across that mirror, we noticed an old dredge off to
the right, and to the left was a half-submerged steamboat. Both were left over from
the boom days of Greytown in the 1860s, when Cornelius Vanderbilt’s transit company
brought thousands of people each month from New York and New Orleans, passed them
down the San Juan River, through Lake Nicaragua and up to San Francisco for the California
Gold Rush. A small cemetery remains in the jungle at Greytown as a reminder of the
many who did not last the voyage.
The only thing that moved the slick surface that day was rolling tarpon. I had never
fished for tarpon in freshwater before, and it was amazing to see 100-pound fish
in an area that appeared to be home to something in the line of a largemouth bass.
One after another, tarpon knifed through the surface.
Holliday hooked a fish on his first cast. The tarpon inhaled his red-and-white Mirr-Olure
almost as soon as it hit the water. When the fish took to the sky, its rattling gills
echoed through the jungle bush. If you have never heard the gills of a jumping tarpon,
it will send a chill down your spine and a signal to the memory part of your brain
that is never forgotten.
We ended up hooking 60 tarpon that day in the lagoon, landing and releasing 12. At
one point I had an 80-pound fish on the line that had jumped four times. On the fifth
jump, the fish was only 50 pounds. The bigger fish had spit the hook, and a smaller
one swallowed the lure so fast I never realized I had lost the first fish. Even with
all those tarpon, we did not win the tournament.
In 2003, Costa Rican doctor Alfredo López opened the doors of Río Indio Lodge on
the same lagoon, after two and a half years of construction (TT, Nov. 19, 2010).
The first time I visited it, I could not imagine how he could build such a beautiful
place in such a remote location. Anglers are still catching tarpon right in front
of his lodge.
Even with the dispute between the two countries over Isla Calero, Río Indio is passing
lots of tourists through its door. Most ecotourists are entering through Managua,
but the fishing crowd is still entering by boat through Costa Rica, which is much
faster, until the airport under construction at Greytown is finished.
As I replay that day over and over again in my memory, I think of all the political
chess being played these days over that area. I remember the only conflict we had
that day was in choosing a lure: Should it be red and white or chartreuse?
Marlin was the main attraction this week as the lady in the blue dress entertained
anglers along the entire Pacific coast. Most were blue marlin in the 200-to-500-pound
range, but Matty Jorn of Fishing Nosara checked in with a 300-pound black marlin
and some very good inshore action. He reported that Roy and Cathy Cox from St. Augustine,
Florida, fished off Garza, on the Nicoya Peninsula, for three days last weekend and
had great action on cubera snapper, amberjack and yellowfin tuna; however their biggest
moment was a catch and release of a gorgeous black marlin, estimated at over 300
pounds and taken fishing with Capt. William Mendoza on the Wanderer.
Reports of good marlin action also came out of the Quepos and Los Sueños areas on
the central Pacific coast. Both Jesús Vallegas and Leanne Batten of Quepos Sailfishing
Charters reported multiple hookups on marlin with just a fair sailfish bite.
Batten said there have been some marlin out there, but the numbers on sails have
not been that stellar. She also reported that the 2011 Harry Gray Fly-Fishing Tournament
was held in Quepos this week, and that client Cindi Nelson, who has waited 15 years
for her chance at offshore fishing in Costa Rica, had her “Wheel of Fortune wish
granted,” releasing two sailfish and catching a nice dorado.
Down south, Greg Mufson out of Zancudo Lodge and my boats out of Crocodile Bay Resort
in Puerto Jiménez saw similar action. The marlin bite has continued and the sails
have been hit-and-miss with some very good days and some not so good. It seems the
fish have moved into the area with some boats reporting double-digit sailfish raises
on Tuesday, but an unusual north wind temporarily stopped the action on Wednesday.
Several boats in the area have had the rare pleasure of seeing orcas this week, and
a couple even came into the spread and played with the teasers.
On the Caribbean side, Eddie Brown said the tarpon action is great between Barra
del Colorado and Tortuguero. The snook bite has really slowed, but the tarpon action
is keeping anglers happy.
Mike Lilla sent in a note to say the calba (fat snook) action has been spectacular
up on the backwaters of the Río San Juan out of Río Indio Lodge. As the water level
continues to drop, the guapote will move out of their hiding spots deep in the jungle
and into areas accessible to anglers.
I will soon be giving a complete update of these Nicaraguan waters that many anglers
have loved to fish for years, entering from the Río Colorado in Costa Rica.
Both Dianne Sánchez of Río Colorado Lodge and Capt. Eddie Brown from Tortuguero report
the tarpon activity on the Caribbean side has heated up. Anglers are hooking eight
or more tarpon a day outside the river mouths. Snook fishing slowed a little this
week, but anglers are making up for the slow snook bite by stretching string fighting
Steve Vech and David Troester fishing out of Río Colorado hooked eight tarpon, along
with eight jacks and a barracuda, and managed one snook for the dinner table.
On the Pacific coast, reliable reporter Jesús Vallegas says the fishing in northern
Guanacaste has improved dramatically. Offshore the winds are still hampering boaters,
but closer to the beach anglers are having a heyday catching dorado (mahimahi) in
the 20- to 30-pound range and yellowfin tuna of 15 to 20 pounds.
The action in the Quepos area is also improved with more sails showing up and better
inshore action. I received confirmation of this from both Leanne Batten of Quepos
Sailfishing Charters and Richard Krug of Americana Sportfishing.
Batten reports that anglers continue to be delighted with the marlin bite out of
Quepos. David Kennedy and his wife spent two days offshore and released a marlin
both days and four sailfish total, and caught two nice dorado. Wesley Wilson had
a nice striped marlin on that spit the hook, but he released three sails and a nice
Krug reports that Richard Boesel and son Jonathan of Charlotte, North Carolina, had
a great three days on the Blue Water III with Capt. Dale Weir, releasing nine sailfish
in two days offshore and six roosters on an inshore day.
Down south, Greg Mumford at Zancudo Lodge reports the sailfish bite is improved,
with boats raising eight or more sails a day about 10 miles off the beach. Dorado,
which have been elusive recently, also are starting to show in the 20- to 30-pound
range. Inshore, the roosterfish have finally turned on. Most have been running about
15 pounds, but a few in the 30- to 40-pound range are taking sardines and goggle-eyes.
Snapper fishing has been fair, with some Pacific yellowtail up to 9 pounds biting
Last word I heard from the Caribbean side is that tarpon fishing is fair and snook
fishing good. Several snook have been landed near the river mouths, most in the 15-
to 20-pound range. The increased presence of the Coast Guard in the area has put
all illegal netting to a halt, and this year’s calba (fat snook) run has been better
than it has been in years. Calba is a smaller species of snook that average 2 to
5 pounds and can reach up to 10 pounds.
Over on the Pacific coast, in northern Guanacaste, Capt. Jesús Vallegas didn’t have
very good news. He said a combination of high winds and cold and dark water has kept
the fish from being active. Anglers are catching a few inshore species, but most
boats have stayed in port because of rough water offshore.Carlos Rojas of JP Tours
in Quepos and Rudy Dodero both reported that on the central Pacific coast the water
is much calmer, and a few sails and a marlin here and there are being caught and
released. A few tuna are being taken, but the ocean seems to be devoid of dorado
Inshore anglers are taking snapper, roosterfish and mackerel.
It was better news down south off the Osa Peninsula, where marlin and tuna made a
very good show this week. The tuna were running with schools of spinner and spotted
dolphins, and several fish over 100 pounds were taken. Lots of marlin were popping
up in the teasers, mostly in the 150- to 300-pound range. Ann Pizzi from the U.S.
state of New York managed two in one day, weighing in at 250 and 350 pounds.
Inshore has been a little slower as the roosterfish and snapper seemed to take a
vacation during the holiday week. Mike Bailey from Toronto, Canada, did manage to
fool a 35-pound cubera on a popping lure.
I’ve never been one to be afraid or too proud to ask for help. Some things I don’t
understand, and with others I’m all thumbs. That’s why I’ve always kept close friendships
with boat mechanics, fishing guides, reel repair people, doctors, scientists and
I’ve wondered for some time what makes Central America so special when it comes to
sailfish. Why does the season peak from December through April? Why are the fish
so big in Costa Rica, and why don’t we catch juvenile fish? Where do the fish go
at the end of the season? Do they go offshore or do they go south or north?
A few months ago, Dr. Nelson Ehrhardt from the University of Miami and scientific
adviser to the Central American Billfish Association (CABA) contacted me and asked
if I could share my data collected from operating the largest billfishing resort
in Central America for the past 10 years. I gladly agreed, and learned he had been
doing an extensive study in Mexico and Central America for the last two years.
Each meeting with him in San José and at the resort in Puerto Jiménez, I learned
a little more about blue-water ballerinas. It’s amazing how professionals can put
all kinds of stuff in perspective and make it understandable. Dr. Ehrhardt should
write “Sailfish for Dummies.”
The same population of sailfish – pez vela in Spanish – traverses the eastern tropical
Pacific from southern Mexico to Ecuador. It is one of the most condensed sailfish
populations in the world. The lifetime of a sail is 10 to 15 years. Most of the juveniles
spend their first few years off the coast of Mexico. That doesn’t necessarily mean
they were born there. For example, a west coast Florida tarpon starts its life 100
miles or so off the beach, but spends its early years in the estuaries. The largest
sailfish and the long-standing world record of 222 pounds came from their farthest
range to the south in Ecuador.
The tropical Pacific is really not a very inviting place for sailfish. The low oxygen
content in the water will not support them, but two famous currents bring in healthy
water. The Humboldt Current flows north from Chile and Peru and collides with the
California Current flowing south from the U.S. and Mexico off the coast of Central
America, forming a “tongue” of current that supports sailfish, though to a depth
of only 100 meters or less. Unlike the striped marlin that is caught off Mexico but
might spawn off Australia, the eastern tropical sailfish’s range is limited to the
coastal waters of the two currents and the tongue formed off Central America.
Another phenomenon happens each year: Three distinct and powerful winds blow from
land offshore. They start in December or January and blow until March or April. In
Mexico, winds that start in the Gulf of Mexico push across the Tehuantepec lowlands
offshore into the Pacific. Likewise, the Papagayo winds from Lake Nicaragua push
offshore across Nicaragua near the Costa Rican border. Also, a Caribbean wind current
crosses Panama heading into the Pacific near the Panama Canal.
As the Pacific surface water is pushed offshore, the upwelling sends to the surface
oxygen-depleted water that cannot support sailfish. The entire population is forced
into pockets of healthy water, which happen to lie in front of windless parts of
southern Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica and parts of Panama. During this period, El
Salvador, Nicaragua and other parts of Panama are nearly devoid of sailfish. This
is the equivalent of taking the entire population of San José and moving everybody
to the Pacific coast for four months out of the year, with no one living in between.
Fortunately for the sailfish, their main food source, squid and sardines, follow
the same pattern.
The reality is that these areas do not have a tremendous abundance of fish, but the
whole population is forced to share these pockets. When there is a strong El Niño,
the winds do not blow, so the population is not condensed into oxygen-healthy pockets
caused by the normal upwelling. The surface waters also warm, and peak-season fishing
results in Guatemala and Costa Rica drop dramatically.
Costa Rica has the benefit of two peak sailfish seasons. From the Gulf of Nicoya
south, the peak is January through April. The Guanacaste region to the north begins
to peak in May after the winds die and the fish begin to move freely out of prisons
formed in Guatemala and southern Costa Rica.
Dr. Ehrhardt’s studies have shown that a strong management plan is needed with all
Central American countries working together. The Costa Rican Tourist Fishing Federation
(FECOPT) is working with sport and commercial fishermen and the government on management
plans within Costa Rica. In addition, CABA, The Billfish Foundation and local groups
are working with Central American governments to form a united effort to conserve
the region’s sailfish populations.
So now I’m standing on the stern of this boat with half a chicken’s worth of pink-dyed
feathers and a fly rod in my hand, waiting for a ballerina to pop up, mulling over
everything I learned about sailfish. If anyone has any advice on how to make a sailfish
a dummy, I’m all ears!