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Costa Rica Sport Fishing

Review from Destination Fish, June 2009

Article and Photos by Jon Schwartz
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Costa Rica Fishing Review

Today’s fishing trip was all about variety. We’d gone five for eight on sails averaging 110 pounds. Tack on a 40-pound rooster released on the ride out, add the plump cubera that we boxed for tonight’s grill, and my fishing partners and I - a father and son team from Montana - were more than content to enjoy a relaxing ride home. Just as we began to fade into that dreamy state of satisfaction that often follows a successful day on the water, Croc of Gibraltar’s veteran captain gunned the engines and swung the 35-foot Strike in a near ninety-degree turn. The bold move signaled impending action, rightly shattering our sense of complacency. As the adrenalin surged, shivers of anticipation lead us into a state of hyper alertness.

Upon hearing the command, “Left outrigger... Now!” the father dropped back a rigged ballyhoo into the spread of lures, and within seconds, a bull dorado zigged across the wake and lunged wildly at the offering. “Reel Line! Reel Line!” advised the mate, and the angler complied dutifully, moving his hands in a mechanized blur of motion. After a brief run, the line went limp, and the angler reeled in the mangled bait with silent resignation. Fortunately, the captain never lost hope. Sensing a second opportunity, he gunned the engines once more, and his quick thinking was rewarded with a loud scream as the bridge’s shotgun lure was slammed. The magnificent fish erupted in protest, flashing iridescent shades of violet, green and yellow as it thrashed wildly in midair. The dorado’s mad leaps, punctuated by violent headshakes that sent plumes of spray arcing across the jet blue water were followed by erratic lunges and dives, all part of a valiant effort to throw the hook. Content to document the action on film, I trained my long lens on the fish as it writhed just under the surface, and each time it exited the water, I jammed the shutter down, forcing my camera to fire in full burst mode. By the time the golden-hued jewel had settled down close to the stern, I had gotten over 50 great jumping shots, but I wanted something more. “You guys mind if I jump in and get some pictures of this fish?” Without hesitation, everyone on board yelled, “Go for it!” With that, the captain cut the engine, I leapt in with my snorkel, fins, and underwater camera, and followed the leader to the quarry. The beauty of these fish above water pales in comparison to the view that I now enjoyed, and I took as many stills as I could, hoping to capture the essence of the fish in their own habitat. All the while, the fish kept his eyes trained on me. Lord knows what he was thinking. Although Costa Rica has pioneered the practice of catch and release and the use of circle hooks, this tasty treat was destined for the dinner table. After I snapped some photos of the father, son, and mate with their trophy, we headed back to the lodge’s dock with the catch, where Fishing Operations Manager Todd Staley greeted us asking how the fishing went and if there was anything else he could do. “Well, yeah,” I muttered. “Can I see the crocs?” With an expecting smile as if he’d been asked this question hundreds of times (which I am sure he has), he told me it wouldn’t be a problem. “Just show up at the ecotourism office tomorrow at 10 in the morning and a guide will take you there and call the crocs over.”


Crocodile Bay FishingTurns out that the crocs are located in a special area of the resort, over the footbridge, and past the butterfly farm. Being a curious and impatient sort, and not wanting to miss out on any fishing the next day, I decided I’d do a little recon to see if I could get in some solo croc time on the sly. I’d recently spent two weeks in the Amazon and never saw anything bigger than a two foot caiman, so there’s no way I was leaving Crocodile Bay Lodge without seeing one of these behemoths.

On my way to get a glimpse of a croc I passed by the spa - a new 5,000 sq. ft. luxury complex designed to pamper the most particular traveler with hot stone massages, tropical fruit treatments, and chocolate body wraps. Just then, the trail dead-ended at a lagoon surrounded by trees. Thousands of lily-white birds perched peacefully on the branches fleeing in unison upon my approach, lighting up the canopy with streaks of muffled white thunder. I have no clue on how to properly call a croc. Being fresh out of raw meat and lacking any better options, I began whistling. Something stirred on the far edge of the pond, and the next thing I knew a big old croc steamed right over to say hello! I was so surprised and thrilled I could barely hold the camera still, and after taking a couple hundred shots, I raced back to my room and downloaded the photos of the dorado, rooster, cubera, and crocodile onto my computer. Then it was off to the well-appointed teak bar, where I shared the shots over a round of cocktails and sashimi, followed by grilled snapper and dorado. All in a day’s work!

The Spice Of Life

Crocodile Bay Lodge’s 44 acres of lush tropical gardens, located on Costa Rica’s nearly untouched Osa Peninsula are home to an astounding variety of flora and fauna, including toucans, macaws, and several species of monkeys. In fact, a significant portion of the guests I met were there to mainly savor the worldclass ecotourism that this four-star resort is well known for. CBR features a full complement of activities, including zip-line canopy tours, guided rainforest treks, water rappelling, mountain biking, surfing, snorkeling, bird watching, and mangrove kayaking. Regrettably, I had only booked a five-day stay, and could tell as soon as I arrived that I’d only be able to scratch the surface of the resorts offerings. Naturally I’m going to have to return, next time with the family, for a more thorough run through.

The variety of activities Crocodile Bay Lodge offers is matched by the large number of fishing species anglers enjoy. Blue marlin to 400 pounds show from November through April, while blacks and the occasional striped marlin arrive mainly in July and August. The boats keep 50 and 80-pound setups rigged with large dead skip baits at the ready in case a big shadow appears in the spread. Sails and dorado are caught year-round usinglive bait, ballyhoo, and lures, and yellowfin tuna to 300 pounds can be found among the porpoise schools.

For inshore buffs, the roosterfish bite is world class; 50-pound fish are fairly common, with the record topping 100 pounds. Snook, snapper, and jacks provide great fun year-round as well. To put you on the fish, the resort boasts a fleet of 40 boats, ranging from 17-foot flats skiffs to 35-foot Strike tower boats.

Costa Rica Travel

Many major airlines fly into San Jose Int. airport. As soon as you get off the plane, you’ll be greeted by reps from the resort that will smooth your transition through the airport and help you with the last leg of your trip - the short commuter flight into Puerto Jimenez. If you arrive early enough, they’ll take you right over to the small airport where your plane will be waiting.

Don’t be disappointed if you have to stay over in San Jose; the Cariari Doubletree by Hilton provides a wonderfully charming stop over spot, only 15 minutes from the airport. CBL’s office staff will help arrange your stay there. The food at the Cariari’s restaurant was exquisite, and the rooms, facilities, and service are equally impressive.

The next morning a CBL rep will drive you to the commuter terminal, and you’ll end up taking a short plane ride to the resort, which will provide you with some spectacular views of the lush countryside. A chauffeur from the Lodge will pick you up in Puerto Jimenez and take you on a five minute ride to the resort. Walking through the double mahogany doors adorned with carved crocodiles, you’ll notice a wall full of awards and plaques from the most well known travel guides. This four-star resort is truly one of the world’s top vacation destinations, even if you aren’t taking advantage of the world-class fishing.

Mas, Por Favor

Crocodile Bay Sport FishingThe next day Todd paired me up with an East Coast angler named Dave who’d recently fished the Azores and the Great Barrier Reef. He graciously offered to share the angling, but I was having too much fun behind the lens.

Once again Captain German (pronounced Herman) whisked us out to a rocky outcropping just offshore, where, like clockwork, another big fish took the live goggle eye bait for a ride. Line peeled off the reel, and after a proper game of give and take, the telltale comb-like dorsal of a roosterfish broke the surface. Moments after the mate removed the hook from the fish’s mouth, a school of sardines frothed at the surface just off our bow, and a dorado gave chase. No more than 50 yards off the coast, we were in the thick of it!

David quickly boated two beauties and decided he was ready to cash in on the red-hotsail action, so we motored 15 miles out and set out the teasers, scouting, and waiting. For 90 minutes, nothing, and then we saw it: a teaming mass of life churning up the sea, replete with dive-bombing birds and predators from below, a veritable cauldron of chaos! The mate handed David a 20-pound setup, and when the first quivering bill appeared off our stern, German signaled it was time to cast, lock, and load.

For the next three hours, David toyed with the sails, landing six of the nine hooked, while I loaded up my camera with classic jump shots. The size and stamina of sailfish make them the perfect subject for underwater photography, and David graciously slowed down the pace of the fishing so that I could get some good ones. By the time the bite petered off, I had logged over 30 solid minutes of face time with his sails, and I wouldn’t have traded places with him for anything in the world!

After a third epic day on the water, once again with the duo from Montana, I decided that I just had to spend some time in the rainforest. For once, I was able to sleep in and take a leisurely breakfast. By this time, I had made good friends with just about every staff member.

Whoever does the hiring there knows what they’re doing, as I have never met a friendlier, more accommodating group in all my travels. My friends at the front desk paired me with a guide that took a small group of guests and I for a half-day rainforest trek. Within an hour, I was once again getting major face time with exotic wildlife - first, a trio of white-faced monkeys, then a group of howlers, and finally, my favorite, the chestnut-mandibled toucan. Not only did the brilliantly colored bird pose for me, he actually opened up his maw as wide as possible in a great yawn.

Costa Rica Ecotours
If you’ve ever thought about upgrading to a nice digital SLR, or getting a crisp telephoto lens if you already have the camera, do yourself a favor and purchase one before your trip to Costa Rica. The Osa Peninsula is one of the world’s top places for flora and fauna photo ops, and the only place you’re more likely to meet up with more animals in one day is the zoo. The ecological variety is so stunning that National Geographic has called it "the most biologically intense place on Earth,"and trips into the surrounding rainforest will give you multiple opportunities to encounter exotic critters. The lodge offers an assortment of different tours that range from half-day trips into the Osa Rainforest, to full day sojourns into Corcovado National Park Rainforest, the crown jewel in Costa Rica’s extensive system of national parks and biological reserves. All of the animals mentioned
in the article as possible species for the half-day tour, I saw in abundance within 90 minutes. When I return, I’m going on the longer guided trips to spot some sloths, tapirs, and big cats! Before you hit the fishing grounds, set your shutter speed to high and make sure your batteries are fully charged; the jumping sails, marlin and dorado won’t wait for your point-and-shoot to boot up. In fact, keep your camera on the ready on the walk down to the dock as even the lush garden grounds are hopping with wildlife. To sample some of the local flavor, ask for a ride into nearby Puerto Jimenez, home to a variety of shops, stores, and public beaches.


I was so busy snapping away that I failed to notice a strawshaped protuberance jutting out of his mouth, but the other guests were fixated on it. Our guide informed us that we’ve witnessed a
rare sighting, an actual toucan’s tongue! By the end of the trip, my yearning for more time on the water, in the rainforest, and at the spa had only grown. I steeled myself for the inevitable departure by trying to convince myself that I had my fill, but I couldn’t forget all I experienced in such a short time. As our small plane gained altitude, Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula faded from view, but it will never leave my memory.

Costa Rica Map

Bluewater Jon Schwartz is a freelance writer and photographer. He’s been featured on National
Geographic TV and is currently moonlighting as a creative consultant with The Discovery Channel. He also teaches elementary school and posts photos, stories, videos, and articles
on his website,


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