Pandemonium Among the Porpoise Pods Off Costa Rica
T e x t a n d p h o t o s B y D o u g O l a n d e r
While there might be better ways to hook the really huge yellowfin — as in 300-plus pounds — that patrol the eastern Pacific, I don’t think there could be any more-exciting way to hook any tuna than casting poppers into leaping, blitzing schools and cranking ’em back at high speed. The combination of the visuals (big yellowfin crashing your lure) and the physical (arm-wrenching strikes) definitely makes these “yee-haw!” moments. That’s why, after a morning of little activity as we trolled, watched and waited 10 to 15 miles offshore of the lowerOsa Peninsula off southern Costa Rica, we all jumped when the call came over the VHF. “Get those lines in!” Manfred, themate aboard the Crocodile Bay Resort’s Strikefisher 33, said.“They’ve got dolphin pods about two miles north!”He didn’t have to tell us twice.
We knew of the well-established association between pods of dolphin (as in porpoise, of course, and not dorado/mahi) and yellowfin. Find big numbers of dolphin, and you might find feeding tuna. While that “might” loomed large, and there are no guarantees when fishing the Pacific, it always pays if dolphin are spotted to see if they are traveling with an escort of yellowfin. Our skipper pushed the throttles ahead hard, while Manfred tied circle
hooks to the end of a couple of outfits. Hunter Cole and I opted to go with large poppers. Cole, senior marketing manager for Pure Fishing, handed me a Penn Spinfisher V with 50-pound braided line and a Sebile Splasher. He
armed himself with the same, and we headed up to the bow. There was no mistaking the dolphins— the sleek, dark mammals as much out of the water as in it, leaping high into the air — as well as the birds wheeling in the area. At first, I saw no sign of tuna and grew disheartened, until we drew near enough to see the silver bullets exploding from the surface sporadically among the dolphin. Wanting to avoid the frustration of throwing short, I forced myself to wait, heart pounding, as the boat eased closer. Cole heaved a Splasher into the fray and just after, my own Splasher was on the heels of his. I glimpsed a commotion behind Cole’s lure, and suddenly his rod arced and bounced as he yelled, “I’m on!” Shortly after, a detonation under my lure knocked it high out of the water. With shaking hands, I cranked the popper the rest of the way to the boat — and then grabbed my camera to record Cole’s battle.
In the company of several other resort boats, we spent at least the next couple of hours running and gunning, trying to stay on the dolphin and tuna, until the yellowfin left or perhaps went deep. Most anglers had hooked tuna
in that time, and some had brought several fish to the boat. Best of all is that running and gunning for tuna means nonstop activity: If you’re not actually hooked up, you’re casting into fish or standing on the bow, ready as the skipper gets you into position. There’s never a dull moment. At least that’s true when the yellowfin are feeding. If the tuna bite among the moving dolphin turns off, it might be only a matter of time until the fish start whacking bait again. “I had an angler out who really wanted a tuna on his popper. We stayed with a load of dolphin for four hours before the tuna went on a feed,” says Todd Staley, the resort’s fishing director. “Just
before sunset, he ended up boating the 180-pound yellowfin that slam-dunked his popper.”
Fast Cast w ith a J i g
Southern Costa Rica offers — as we saw — good hunting grounds for tunaon top. In fact, the eastern Pacific fromMexico south into at least Ecuador can mean prime run‑and‑gun tuna activity when the timing is right. For Crocodile Bay boats, that tends to be a crapshoot. “You can catch tuna any day of the year, just not very predictably,” Staley says. “We may find yellowfin out there for weeks at a time but then not see any for just as long.”
While he says there really is no tuna season, run-and-gun fans might have their best shot at finding tuna feeding late spring and late fall, with the fish more numerous then, but also smaller, as school fish dominate. An effective alternative to poppers, metal speed jigs also have the advantage of tremendous long-distance castability, and when breezing fish are moving very fast or happen to be particularly spooky, only out-of-the-ballpark casts will make it to ground zero. I was reminded of this the next day while fishing with Patrick Sebile. The yellowfin were on top but not feedin with quite as much abandon as they had been the day before. Sebile opted to forgo the Splasher and instead tied on one of his Fast Cast metal jigs. He cranked it hard and fast so it skipped along the top, looking indeed like a baitfish trying frantically to escape. His jig was slammed repeatedly, and I became an instant believer in small metal jigs for schooling tuna at the surface.
Sails and Roosters
While fishing offshore of the Osa Peninsula can be a good bet for yellowfin, billfish are always a big bluewater draw. During our June visit, sails were few and far between — not such a surprise, since that’s usually a slow time for sails — but seasonally (January into May), sailfish can be swarming. Anglers after marlin have their best shots at blacks and stripes in July, August and September, and blues November through mid-January. Plus, of course, this peninsula has earned a reputation for producing roosterfish. We tried our hand and weren’t disappointed. The beaches along the open southwestern Osa
coast proved slow, but closer to the resort, around the southern tip of the peninsula, the default live bait — blue runners — found some willing takers. Roosters have a tough time passing up slow-trolled runners near shorelines, though they’re not shy about snatching up other live-bait offerings, such as a moonfish that the mate quickly bridled up and put over the side.
We spent some time jigging, but other than a Pacific red snapper, a bright-red scorpionfish and a small fortune jack, we couldn’t find a lot to show for our efforts. But I have seen photos of excellent jig catches. As outstanding as the waters of southern Costa Rica can be for many species, I’ll take tuna on top any day for sheer adrenalin-pumping action.