Costa Rica is not only world renown for its sportfishing but its small size (similar toWest Virginia) makes it easy to fish both the Pacific and Caribbean Coasts in one trip. The fall is a good period weather-wise as the Atlantic tradewinds have settled down to a whisper, which makes tarpon fishing in theCaribbean safer and more productive. The strong Papagayo winds on the Guanacaste or Northwest Coast have also disappeared which makes it easier to fish for blue and black marlin, sailfish, wahoo, yellowfin tuna, roosterfish and more.
Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast is the magnet for sportfishing in the fall centered between Tamarindo and Ocotal. There are more gamefish species, better infrastructure such as roads and utilities on the Pacific side that support the industry. The Caribbean Coast is dominated by lowland rainforest drained by twisting river systems navigated by a sparse population. Banana plantations and ecotourism are important industries as well as the sportfishing lodges strategically located at the Rio Parismina and RioColorado. The lack of development and fishery exploitation should remain well behind the pace of the Pacific Coast.
During several trips to theTarpon Coast since 1992 I’ve found reliable fishing from the Rio Parismina north to the Rio Colorado. The fish were especially thick off the Colorado. Captain Edwin “Ginder” Clark guided Rick Casparian and myself aboard one of the 23-foot center console deep-vee skiffs from Silver King Lodge to a hot bite five miles up the coast. The sea temperature was a warm 84 degrees with only a slight swell disturbing a calm surface. Tarpon could be seen gulping air in every direction. Although most fish seemed to be milling around randomly, several times we noted large schools of big fish rippling the surface like tuna as they headed in specific directions “en masse.”
Ginder gunned the engine and we set up a drift in the pathway of one school. We soon found that these “surface” schools must have held immense numbers of fish as we hooked up by deep jigging in 80-feet of water as well as on the surface. A solid vertical column of tarpon 80-feet thick is an impressive sight. With a triple hook-up going (Ginder likes to fish) we couldn’t help but notice that almost every boat in the area had bent rods actively working tarpon. The fish just kept marching through the fleet unperturbed by jumping, splashing tarpon and screaming anglers. Many fish were released over the 100-pound threshold. Some weary anglers actually started looking for smaller prey in the rivers by the second or third day to recuperate from sore muscles.
In fact, fishing the rivers and “black water” lagoons should be on every angler’s to-do list when you visit this region. Snook, calba (fat snook), mojarra, machaca, guapote and, of course, tarpon can provide great light tackle sport in this beautiful environment. It’s not unusual to be casting plugs in tranquil waters surrounded by howler monkeys making their characteristic bellowing calls in thick jungle canopy above you.
The Silver King Lodge is a good example of a premier tarpon resort. With large rooms elevated by wooden piers above a grass and tropical floral landscaping and 12 center console outboards capable of fishing safely offshore, the lodge can comfortably accommodate twenty anglers. The lodge, located on the east bank of the Rio Colorado, opened its doors in 1993. Amenities include a large swimming pool, jacuzzi, tackle shop and possibly the best food served in Costa Rica. A high percentage of repeat clientele, up to 50% during the fall peak season, is testimony to a well-run operation and productive fishing. In addition to tarpon, offshore blue water fishing is offered for blue marlin, wahoo and yellowfin tuna. Inshore, the lodge has eight skiffs that can probe the calm river backwaters.
Anglers arrive by plane after a 30 minute flight from San José and are taken on a short river boat ride to the lodge. Effective lures and tackle are provided, however, many anglers bring favorite outfits and test new lures which is also encouraged. Metal jigs such as the Coasthawk and soft plastic tail leadheads that can simulate shrimp by jigging in 40- to 80-feet of water will produce well. Also, trolling swimming plugs can be effective and don’t forget those surface poppers. Poppers get some huge hits from tarpon in these waters.
On the Pacific side, anglers can fish nearshore for 20-to 80-pound roosterfish, cubera snapper, snook, rainbow runner, jack crevalle, amberjack, broomtail grouper, sierra mackerel and wahoo. Offshore these waters hold blue and black marlin, sailfish, yellowfin tuna and other pelagics. Fish “pile-ups”, when blue water predators push bait schools into a tight mass on the surface, can be awesome. Fishing out of Playa Ocotal Resort we found about an acre of sardines foaming the water as they were being attacked by sailfish, dorado and yellowfin tuna. After releasing several sails and tuna by trolling lures and belly baits around the edge of the melee, I asked the skipper to stop the boat and drift near the action. Casting surface poppers attracted ferocious surface explosions from these gamefish (as well as whoops and hollers from the excited crew) during this magic time. These events don’t happen every day so the standard routine is to “blind” troll traditionally productive areas while searching for porpoise, birds and flotsam that may attract gamefish and improve the chances for a hookup.
Inshore the roosterfish is the prized catch. Slow trolling live bait such as bigeye scad and green jack is a productive method so make sure you book with a crew that has a talent for catching choice baits. The Murcielagos (Bat)Islandsand Cabo Santa Elena are prime roosterfish territory. After catching a couple dozen scads, we ran to some of the mixed sandy beach and rock habitat at Elena and began trolling as I cast poppers from the bow. Richard Castaneda of Cass Tours soon hooked a 30-pound rooster for a nice release. Later I got a quick thrill. After hooking a four-foot needlefish I had it near the boat as a huge cubera snapper came up and chased it around for awhile trying to eat it. In a few moments, the needle got off and took the cubera with it. This day we released four roosters between 15 and 60 pounds and several jacks and rainbow runners, which is about par for this piece of paradise.
Costa Ricais often referred to as the Switzerland of Central America due to its friendly people and stable government. It has no military and its teachers outnumber the police officers. Anglers will find that it’s easy to travel within the country, as flights are frequent and inexpensive. Rental cars are readily available. The capital, San José, is located in an upland valley and most anglers will spend at least two nights here while in transit to the two coasts. San José has plenty of museums, an interesting central market, hotels and nightlife.
There are several top charter boat services and gamefish lodges in both the Guanacaste and Tarpon Coast regions. Interested anglers can do a web search for additional information. I also recommend contacting experienced travel outfitters for details such as Richard Castaneda of Cass tours (800-593-6510; www.casstours.com) or Fred Stephens of Adventure sportfishing (800-356-2533; www.adventuresportfishing.com).
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The Roving Angler