“ Nicaragua ’s New Coco Cohiba Cay Resort Offers a Variety of Slam Opportunities”
“Tarpon, snook, permit, bonefish, king mackerel, barracuda, African pompano, jacks…” I was just recounting all of these fish in my mind as we made the short run back to Coco Cohiba Cay Resort after another successful outing. What I was really thinking is that this small island resort, located a few miles offshore of the second largest lagoon system in the world, Laguna Perlas, will be attracting fly, spinning and plug-casting anglers for years to come with its wealth of gamefish living among its pristine reefs, flats and mangrove habitats. In fact, there is so much unfished habitat here that new places are still being discovered. “Part of the excitement around here is that we are just finding out what we have”, says owner Christian Billard. “Every week we seem to discover something new. Whether it’s the ideal permit flat at Little Tungawarra Cay, the giant snook hole at the Rio Grande where locals have caught fish over 70 pounds, or the big tarpon flats at Punta de Perlas. There are so many places to go and gamefish to choose from we even had to set up a remote camp deep in Laguna Perlas for the anglers who want to concentrate on the big snook and tarpon found there”, adds Billard.
During the December to May dry season, fishing is at its best as clear water covers the myriad of cays offshore where sight casting to permit “spikes” is a daily routine combined with other interlopers such as bonefish, tarpon, barracuda,, king mackerel and jack crevalle. The peak season also attracts legions of big tarpon to the reefs but the most reliable concentrations are found within the vast lagoon system where they are spotted rolling in large schools. The water gets so clear you can see a tarpon inhale a fly 20-feet deep. Although this is an ultimate fly-fishing venue, casting an array of poppers, crank baits and plastic tail jigs with spinning or conventional tackle is equally if not more effective. When surface activity slows down, trolling deep-diving swimming lures is a sure way to relocate the schools either in the jungle-lined channels or open lagoon. During my visit in the off-season month of October we still caught plenty of tarpon, snook, reef species such as yellowtail snapper and a few permit. There were many feeding permit on the flats but the rainy weather created off-color water and made stalking this wary prize difficult.
Of all the gamefish found near Coco Cohiba Cay, the permit must be a leading candidate to inspire return trips. They are numerous and can exceed 40 pounds although ten-to 20-pounders are most common. Permit are found among the deep-water reefs but the most exciting sport is to hunt them on the flats by wading. Long Reef, Buttonwood Cay and Tungawarra Cays produce steady action and there is even a good permit flat at Coco Cohiba Cay where John Spencer caught and released his first permit on a fly, a 12-pounder, right in front of my cabin.
Timing is important when stalking permit. Low tide is preferred combined with some water movement either incoming or ebbing. Slack or high water is when your guide breaks out the lunches or you fish for something else. Low water makes it possible to spot the “spikes’ or tail fin of the permit as they forage for crab and other morsels on the bottom with their typical head-down, tail-up posture. Seeing a spike (often a whole school of spikes) at a distance allows for a stealthier approach with a fly, small bucktail, plastic grub or a permit “guarantee” using a live crab or other natural offering easily gathered when requested. Many times the fish were so numerous that simply standing in one spot allowed for many casts to roving permit. Higher water probably attracts even more permit to the flats but you normally see them when they are so close that they will also see you and bolt when you make a casting motion.
The flats found here are relatively small, maybe the size of a football field on average, which, given the healthy population of permit, tends to concentrate them more as they aggressively feed in a competitive environment. This is not a smooth sand habitat that tends to be barren. The “live” bottom here is highly varied between grass, white sand depressions, coral reef remnants, small stones and hard-pack sediments, which produce an abundance of fish-attracting forage. Bring a good pair of reef-walking boots because these flats will produce cuts and bruises to unprotected feet.
This is one area where permit greatly outnumber bonefish so most anglers will prepare their tackle accordingly. Bonefish, in addition to barracuda, small shark, rays and jacks also feed on these flats and it is common for tarpon, African pompano, king mackerel and other species to be found close-by on the reef edge. A “ Florida ” grand slam including tarpon, bonefish and permit may be accomplished on the same flat or by fishing several in the same day. Peak-season conditions allow casting to tarpon from your skiff on the drop-off while wade-fishing will produce the permit and bonefish, with an interesting twist- the bonefish may be more elusive than the permit. If you try some lagoon fishing during the day expect to add some snook to the slam as well as easier shots at big tarpon.
THE BIG LAGOON
The oval-shaped Laguna Perlas (Pearl Lagoon) covers a vast 518-square kilometer area and is fed by many river systems meandering through the dense lowland jungle. It is one of the best tarpon and snook habitats on earth. “When we started exploring the lagoon we found many coves and backwater areas almost completely closed off by the mangroves. Getting into these remote areas we found unbelievable numbers of big tarpon over 150 pounds and snook over 40 pounds. I often see snook taken by the local Garifuna tribesmen that weigh over 70 pounds so I think some records are going to fall here”, proclaims Billard, “And we are still finding better places to fish the more we look”, he adds.
The Lagoon holds an abundance of “baby” tarpon under 50 pounds all year but the big boys move in from January until the rains start in June when 200-pound class tarpon are encountered on a regular basis. It is the lure of world-class tarpon and snook fishing that motivated Billard to build an austere but functional jungle camp on a hillside overlooking the Rio Wawashan, a tributary to the lagoon. Anglers can choose to remain at Coco Cohiba Cay or split time with the jungle venue among bellowing howler monkeys and colorful parrots. It’s about a one hour and 30-minute boat ride to the camp so overnight trips are most practical. The camp is strategically located to enable anglers to fish the productive Laguna Toplock, Tiger Creek and Rio Grande regions
Casting from the bow and stern of the 18-foot Mako and guided by the knowledgeable Billard, Sabrina Williams and I cast a variety of lures to the mangrove and jungle-lined lagoons and caught good numbers of tarpon and some hefty snook on the same lures and presentation. Our most productive lures included Yo-Zuris’ Mag Vibe and Rattl’n Vibe, Tobimaru, Crystal Minnow and Hydro Magnum; Rapala CD 11; Capt. Mikes 4-inch Plastic Jigs; Capt. Hank Browns Hookup Lures 5/8 ounce bucktails; and Creek Chubs new jointed Knuckle Head. The best colors were chartreuse, yellow, red-white and the red-green spectrums.
On the flats, Hookup Lures ¼ ounce bucktails in white-grizzly and tan-brown and a variety of soft grabs on 1/8 and 3/16 ounce leadheads work well on permit and other roving feeders. Bring single # four and # six hooks if you want to use natural bait or you can combine bait to sweeten the artificials. Light six to ten-pound spinning tackle such as the Shimano CH-100 SF and SA 2000 FB help present the lighter lures used on the flats while the Shimano Calcutta 200 and 400 conventional level-winds spooled with 12-to-20-pound mono handled the tough lagoon conditions.
Christian Billard is a fly enthusiast and designed Coco Cohiba to fulfill the dreams of many fly devotees – to catch a permit on a fly as well as accomplish a tarpon, snook, permit and bonefish super grand slam. Billard provides in-depth fly tackle recommendations on the Coco Cohiba website. Whether you are a fly, spinning or conventional angler there are opportunities of a lifetime to be found in the pristine waters surrounding this idyllic island resort.
GOING TO COHIBA
Nicaragua has been rated one of the world’s safest havens and most idyllic retreats (“International Living 2001”). My first trip to this largest Central American country, located between Costa Rica and Honduras , showed that the domestic strife of the 80’s was clearly gone and the diverse population is enjoying their new opportunities and freedoms. Nicaragua is also a new sport fishing frontier and its virgin waters have been exciting traveling anglers as the word spreads. Christian Billard recognized this potential and last year developed a first class lodge at Coco Cohiba Cay (shown as Water Cay on the charts due to its natural fresh water springs) within a few miles of ideal reef and flats habitat. The largely unexplored offshore waters hold marlin, sailfish, wahoo, king mackerel and other pelagics that may be tapped in the near future.
Coco Cohiba Cay Resort has five secluded hardwood cabanas located just above the high-tide mark and under a dense growth of coconut palms. Twin beds, private verandas, hot showers, ceiling fans and 110-volt electricity makes this island living suitable for a family trip or honeymooners. Huge open windows and constant trade-winds replace the need for air conditioning. Insects, such as mosquitoes, are not evident on this small 20-acre island. The main lodge includes the dining area where gourmet meals, such as fresh-caught lobster, are served as well as a bar, game table and dance floor where the Caribbean music comes alive if so motivated. A wood pier provides easy access to the fleet of boats including 18-foot Mako center consoles, flats skiffs and 26-foot pangas. The fishing guides as well as the entire staff are friendly, competent and eager to please. Tackle and lures are the responsibility of the guest except for flies and leader tippets which can be purchased at the lodge. A standard six-night stay, including air transfer from Managua to Bluefields, beachfront cabana, all meals, and maid and laundry services is $2,045 per person (double occupancy). Additional packages are available. For more information or to book a trip, contact the following:
Coco Cohiba Cay resort phone/fax (541) 349-0737; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; or website: www.cococohiba.com
Continental Airlines has daily non-stop flights from Houston to Managua while American, NICA and TACA has flights from Miami . U.S. visitors do not need a visa to enter Nicaragua however a passport valid for at least the next six months and a tourist card (issued upon arrival for $5 U.S.) is necessary. A departure tax of $32 U.S. is imposed. Guests of Coco Cohiba Cay Resort are usually overnighted at the Airport Best Western where they are flown to the coastal town of Bluefields the next day for the one hour and 30-minute boat ride to the island. We opted to stay in sprawling downtown Managua at the new Legends Hotel, (phone 011-505-270-0061) and utilized their free personalized shuttle from the airport. Managua has many fine restaurants, historic cathedrals, traditional market centers and a vibrant nightlife. Although Spanish is the official language, English is widely spoken wherever tourists frequent as well as on the Caribbean coast where a Creole English dialect prevails. U.S. currency is accepted everywhere and the local Cordoba exchange rate is about 14 per one U.S. dollar. Current data from the United Nations rates Nicaragua as one of the safest countries in all of Latin America and Managua as one of the regions safest capitals.
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The Roving Angler