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They enter through Panama at the canal and head in both directions.
Some go south, settling in Colombia and as far south as Ecuador. Others head north to Costa Rica, Nicaragua and as far as Guatemala. They pass in small groups or alone, but when they reach their Pacific-coast destinations, they group up with others that have made the passage. The coastline of southern Costa Rica is exactly what they need to thrive.
We are not talking about people; we are talking about tarpon, an Atlantic species and popular sport fish in the southern United States, the Caribbean, and the west coast of Africa. The Caribbean side of Costa Rica is world famous for its tarpon fishery.
The first tarpon was spotted in the locks of the Panama Canal in the late 1930’s, 25 years after the canal opened. Soon they were spotted in Panama Bay. Over the years, more and more sightings and captures have been recorded in the Eastern Tropical Pacific.
In recent years, the sightings have increased tremendously, but that could be for a variety of reasons. Maybe tarpon are now breeding in the Pacific. Although tarpon in the larvae stage have never been found in the Pacific, the capture of small juveniles suggest that they are breeding there. The chances that these little tarpon passed through the canal and migrated several hundred miles is slim.
The expansion of the canal in recent years has allowed for much bigger ships to pass as well as producing an easier passage for species that can survive the 65 km trek through freshwater lakes Gatun and Miraflores. In fact, more than 90 species of fauna and flora have been documented to have passed from one ocean to the other — either transported by ship or freely swimming across.
Social media and internet may also play a role in the increase of reported sighting of these silver bullets. Many sightings have been in rural or sparsely populated areas where before the communication to the outside word was limited.
In Costa Rica, tarpon captures have been documented in Tamarindo, Golfo Nicoya, Quepos, Sierpe and Golfo Dulce. The majority of these have been in Sierpe and Golfo Dulce, which have an estuary type of environment juvenile tarpon and adults alike use.
I saw my first tarpon in Golfo Dulce in 1995 when I was casting the Rio Esquinas side of the Gulf for small snapper. A fish of nearly 100 lbs rolled and took a gulp of air right next to my boat, and I thought I had lost my mind. This is a fish I knew well from fishing for them in Florida to running Archie Field’s Rio Colorado Tarpon Lodge here in Costa Rica. But this fish was not supposed to be here.
Around 2010, we started hooking eight to 10 a season while fishing for roosterfish when I managed the fishing at Crocodile Bay in Puerto Jimenez. The first one was 37 lbs and was brought to the dock because the captain had no idea what it was. Today, almost all are released. I have seen one as large as 123 lbs. Most captures occur in our Costa Rican summer months with March and April seeming to be peak times for an accidental encounter.
One angler who seems to encounter tarpon more than most is a local fisherman named Saul Porras. By trade, he is a mate on a sportfishing boat. When he is not fishing for work, he goes fishing for fun. He has caught more than a half dozen tarpon in the Pacific, and all of them were casting off the beach while fishing for snook. The little juvenile fish he caught off the beach at Carate adds weight to the theory that tarpon are breeding in the Pacific.
Porras watches for small sardines that school up near the shoreline. When they arrive, pelicans begin to dive on them. A short time later, the predators move in. He has learned by watching how the baitfish reacts to determine what type of fish is feeding on them. Jacks and roosterfish come in full-blown attack mode white water froths in the frenzy. Snook are more polite feeders and sneak in from underneath, causing smaller explosions of water.
A few weeks ago, Porras had set up near Tamales in the Golfo Dulce. The sardines started to go crazy and he saw big silver flashes breaking the water as they chased the baitfish. In short order, he was hooked up and a tarpon went immediately airborne. Catching a tarpon on light gear in a boat is an accomplishment, but off the beach even more so. To catch one in the Pacific Ocean is like winning the lottery. That day he hooked five and landed three of them. (He released them all.) He has caught them in at least two other locations also.
A study has just been released on 80 years of tarpon migration through the Panama Canal. Bernald Pacheco from INCOPESCA, the entity in charge of Costa Rica fisheries and CIMAR at the University of Costa Rica, contributed to the study, which was led by Gustavo Castellanos with the Leibiz Center for Tropical Marine Research in Germany. The study is available online here.
I truly believe there a lot more tarpon in the Pacific than most people and scientists believe. Every year, the number of sightings increases, and anytime you catch three of anything that is not native to an area in one day, they have set up camp.
Todd Staley has run fishing sport operations on both coasts of Costa Rica for over 25 years. He worked for Crocodile Bay Resort for around 17 of those 25 years.
He recently decided to take some time off to devote full-time to marine conservation and is the communications director at FECOP. Contact him at email@example.com.
Costa Rica Fishing Report – January 2018 by Captain Allan Smith – December is a fun time of the year at Crocodile Bay Resort, Costa Rica. The kids are on vacation and we get a lot of families down for a fishing holiday in the tropics.
Update 11/22/2017 – 450 lb Blue Marlin Released! Happy Thanksgiving
Update 11/14/2017 – This past Friday three of our boats went 21, 18, and 17 on doardo and one boat released 15 roosterfish!
Costa Rica fishing report By Todd Staley, Fishing Director, Crocodile Bay Resort – August 9, 2016 – I just got back from Florida where I went to the ICAST tackle manufacturers’ trade show and spent time with my family.
I spent almost all my time with mom who will be 93 in September, but did take time to jerk my long time fishing buddy Steve Brown out of the cardiac ward and go fishing with him and my son Jason with another old buddy Captain Dave Zalewski.
Upon returning to the resort and getting back to work it was refreshing to see many family groups here. The fish Gods were good to them also. Bill Putman’s family got an up close and personal look at a 600 pound marlin who ripped the outrigger off the boat during the hook-up. They also went 5 for 14 on sailfish that day. The rest of their trip they pulled on tuna offshore and a mixed bag of roosters and snapper inshore.
Sawyer and Merrick Ellenberger got off to a rocky start but after getting their sea legs they kept mom and dad busy between fishing on the boat and spending time on the pier. David and Jackson Hendrick came back late because they hooked a tuna estimated at 200lbs near the end of the day which they pulled on for over two hours.
Earl and January Schmus stretched lots of string while here catching some really nice roosters as well as joining in on the tuna party.
Louis-David Sansoucy and his new bride Melanie decided to stay inshore and the roosters gave them a great honeymoon experience.
In a nutshell there is enough going on both inshore and offshore to supply some great dinners as well as big grins.
All the above left me some great photos…..enjoy.
Congratulations to Mac McGlamery who took roosterfish off his bucket list and spent some quality time with his sons Beau and Brandon.
November is one of my favorite months at Crocodile Bay Resort. Historically the dorado are running around like rats and of course marlin are behind them looking to munch down a few. Schools of football size tuna appear and are also a favorite snack of marlin. If the spinners or spotted dolphins pass by bigger yellowfin and bigeye tuna will be traveling below them. In short, November is a good month to knock a marlin off the bucket list. Sailfish will start moving into the area in larger numbers but it is still a month to six weeks before the big numbers are cruising the local waters.
Roosters run rampant in November at Crocodile Bay Resort.
Pictured above father and son team Henry and Sean Trimblett from NJ had a great day of kayak fishing releasing two large roosterfish.
Inshore will remain consistent with roosterfish and snapper coming from the reefs in the Golfo Dulce and off the beach outside the gulf as well. Deep water drops will produce grouper, tilefish, congria and an occasional barrelfish (pictured below). In Atlantic waters barrelfish are found in 900 feet of water or deeper. The last few years we have been taking them in 300 feet of water off the Osa Peninsula.
Crocodile Bay Captain Anthony Santos shows off a barrelfish which can be found in 300+ feet of water in the Osa.
I have downloaded “I’ve Got You Babe,” on my alarm clock because it seems like I am stuck in Ground Hog Day and that song that woke Bill Murray up every day.
Offshore is a game of patience with those putting in the time getting a shot at a marlin or a sail with a dorado here and there. Inshore continues to be red hot with lots of roosterfish, snapper, jacks, African pompano and the rest of the inshore critters readily available.
Thank you to Joe Hemphill for the following photos from his November fishing trip at Crocodile Bay Resort.
Joe Hemphill with a nice Bluefin Trevally pictured above (released)
Thinking of taking a trip to Crocodile Bay Resort, Costa Rica? This is a true bucket list destination for sport fishing and outdoor enthusiasts looking to experience “the most biologically intense place on Earth” (as quoted by National Geographic) Come find out why every major sport fishing magazine and TV show has already been here and can’t wait to come back. The following video features testimonials from editors from Sport Fishing Magazine, Saltwater Sportsman, Coastal Angler and other media members talking about their experiences at Crocodile Bay Resort.
Note: On any given day it is possible to catch a Costa Rica Sailfish, they are here year-round, but tend to concentrate in greater numbers mid January, February and March. The inshore species such as Roosterfish, Snappers, Jacks and Grouper are also here year-round.
Marlin: The majority of marlin taken here are Pacific blue marlin, though occasionally a black or a striped marlin are taken as well. Blues peak from November to January when the big Dorado run is on. There is also a small peak in April as sailfish numbers drop. July through September there is a better chance at a black or striped marlin mixed in with the blues.
Costa Rica Sailfish: Again there is a year round opportunity for sailfish with the bigger numbers coming from late December/January through April. Read more about catching and releasing Costa Rica sailfish here.
Dorado: Dolphinfish, Dorado, Mahi Mahi (Mahi translates to “Strong” in Hawaiian) – whatever you prefer to call them run really thick from November through January and occasionally in February – averaging 20 to 40 lbs. We take Dorado year round but not in the same numbers as the months listed above.
Tuna: Yellowfin and Big Eye tuna can pass through any day of the year especially if the spinner or spotted dolphins are present. Football size tuna schools seem to appear every December. A new decree in Costa Rica has protected 44% of territorial waters from tuna purse seine activity.
Wahoo: They can surprise you any day of the year and are even sometimes taken inshore when the water is clear. Wahoo is not a prevalent species, but anglers are very happy when they are caught as they are a great fighting fish and make excellent table fare.
There is no real peak time for inshore species as all are year round the residents are in this area.
Roosterfish: Our “bucket list” fish, famous for their unique looks and incredible fighting ability. Everyone should schedule at least one day of inshore fishing to challenge these and other inshore species. They are taken regularly on live bait, poppers, and jigs. Roosterfish are known as one of the most challenging fish on a fly and difficult to fool with fly tackle.
Cubera Snapper: Top dog of our list of nearly a dozen different snapper. Since the Golfo Dulce became the largest Marine Area of Responsible Fishing several years ago – and shrimp boats and gill nets were banned from the gulf, snappers and other inshore species have made a great comeback. A big Pumpkin size Cubera will rush from the depths and smash a fast moving popper.
African pompano, bluefin trevally, a variety of jacks, grouper, mackerel, barracuda, bonitos, and an endless list of surprises including snook, wahoo and sharks make up the list of other fish caught while targeting roosters and snapper.
Our fleet is comprised of 33 and 35 foot Strike Tower boats as well as several 27 foot Rambo inboard diesels. We also have 24 and 25 foot Boston Whaler Outrages. All of boats have the ability to fish either offshore or inshore because of our generally calm sea conditions. In 17 years of operation we have only had two days when the ocean was too rough to go fishing. You will be pleasantly surprised to find an English speaking crew member on your boat as that is not always the case in other fishing operations. Do to an increased demand, we haven also added a fleet of fully outfitted OldTown fishing kayaks to increase the variety of fishing options offered at Crocodile Bay Resort. Book Your Costa Rica Fishing Trip
Our boats are outfitted with Penn International 50’s and 30’s as well as both Penn spinning and conventional gear in 20 and 30 pound outfits. We always try to have live bait on-board before you leave the dock. We use Temple Fork Fly Fishing gear on-site but we welcome anglers to bring their own gear if they prefer.
Most of our crew members grew up in the area and know the waters well. Our crews will give you as much or as little help as you want. We want this to be a great experience and communication with your crew enhances your visit here.
In “Costa Rica Business Trip” in the October issue of Florida Sportsman, Publisher Blair Wickstrom details his battles with yellowfin tuna on the new Penn Spinfisher V off Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula. Staying at Crocodile Bay Resort in late June of this year, Wickstrom and the other members of the party, many of them Penn Tackle pro staffers, enjoyed impressive Costa Rica fishing, terrific hospitality and a renewed appreciation for Costa Rica’s resources and wildlife through the tours offered. But their mission was really to test the new Penn gear, and in that they and the gear succeeded.
Below is a summary of fishing opportunities available from the Osa Peninsula. Following the fishing calendar is the full interview with Todd Staley, head of fishing operations at Crocodile Bay Resort. Part of that interview appears in Wickstrom’s story in the October issue.
|Blue Marlin||Best match- July, AugstNovember-mid January|
|Striped Marlin||July – September|
|Black Marlin||July – September|
|White marlin||Not available|
|Sailfish||Year-round, peaks January – April|
|Wahoo||Not prevalent, only when blue water close|
|Dolphin||Year-round, peaks November – January|
|Snook||Not many fish of good quality|
Crocodile Bay Resort, Costa Rica
Crocodile Bay Resort, behind the scenes. I’ve known Todd Staley, head of fishing operations at Crocodile Bay Resort (CBR) for nearly 25 years. I regretfully admit that in Todd’s 14 years at CBR this was my first visit. While visiting Todd’s home in downtown Puerto Jimenez, meeting his Costa Rican family, visiting his 13-acre property, which he plans to build on one day, it became clear Todd was in Costa Rica for more than the fishing. But, fishing was why I was ultimately there, so I wanted to take this chance to get his insider views on what a Florida Sportsman reader would want to know about CBR and its fishing.BW: As head of fishing operations of CBR what is your primary function? What does that insure for me as a prospective visitor?TS: I have run the fishing operation here since day one (14 years). I know the area, the captains and what works best. By having such a long term relation with the captains it makes it easy to match captains with guests.
BW: Tell me a little about your captains and crew.
TS: When we first opened I had to bring almost my whole crew from outside because the locals, although good fishermen, did not have any experience as guides. It is a 4- to 5-year process before a new employee works his way up to be a captain. Ninety percent of my crew are English-speaking locals.
BW: Do your boats follow IGFA rules?
TS: Crocodile Bay is not what you might refer to as a “record-seeker destination,” though we have set records in snapper, snook and several other species. We basically want to insure the guest has a fun experience while they are fishing. If a guest wants to fish for a record we will accommodate them.
BW: You mentioned to get the most out of your trip, there’s a need to communicate with your crew and captain.
TS: When fishing here or chartering a boat anywhere the client should do their homework and ask the questions they have in mind before they arrive. No question is a bad question. Once you’re on the boat, again, good communication is key to the overall positive experience.
BW: Tell me about your boats.
TS: We have thirteen Strike inboard diesels ranging from 33 to 35 feet, ten 27-foot Rambo’s and seventeen 24-foot Boston Whalers.
BW: Can people keep their catch? Do you help in shipping fish back to the states?
TS: If someone brings their own cooler they can take fish back with them. We do not ship fish because the local airlines cannot guarantee us space on the plane.
BW: Can you tell me a little about Puerto Jimenez.
TS: Puerto Jimenez was settled by several large families. My wife has 66 cousins in town so there is always an eye on me. This at one time was a gold rush town, and still is. People mined gold in the hills of what is now Cocovado National Park.
BW: Tell me a little about your location in Costa Rica.
TS: We sit on one of the few tropical fjords in the world, the Golfo Dulce. The northeast side is formed by volcanic activity and the western edge is mangrove estuary. Throughout the Gulf there are volcanic reefs that are haunts for many different types of snapper, roosterfish, amberjack and other reef fish. The river mouths offer an opportunity for a trophy snook to the angler who has the patience to fish them in tropical heat.
BW: What are some of the things a Florida Sportsman would like to do if he wasn’t fishing? Not your typical zip line or spa visit? Anything you can think of from an insider’s view?
TS: We are located on the Osa Peninsula on what National Geographic describes as the most ecologically intense place on the planet. A rainforest jungle hike is a must and can be as easy or strenuous as you like. From a stroll on flat land to scaling a waterfall. Surfers are offered four different breaks within thirty minutes of the resort, including the famous Pavones break which is the second longest left in the world. The jungle can also be done on horseback and many options involving rural tourism like the Chocolate Farm show guests how some of the local people make a living.
BW: As a former Florida angler tell me what fishery in Florida comes closest to matching the fishery you have at CBR?
TS: As a long time west coast Florida resident I would guess that the inshore snapper fishing would be the closest. If someone would have told me 20-some years ago that I would one day be jigging grouper in 400 foot of water and watch people walk on the beach at the same time I would have told them they were crazy. Down here I have learned that a cubera snapper will come up in 100 foot of water and hit a popper. Most east coast Florida anglers like a chop to fish for sails but here a flat ocean is most productive.
BW: Is there anything else the readers of Florida Sportsman, who are planning a trip to fish the Tropics would like to know about CBR…should know about CBR or your region of Costa Rica.
TS: We have the most friendly and service oriented staff I have ever worked with.
I’ve never been one that was afraid or too proud to ask for help. Some things I don’t understand and at 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 even shrinks.
I’ve wondered for some time what makes Costa Rica and 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 fish go at the end of the season? Do they go offshore or do they go south or go north?
A few months ago Dr. Nelson Ehrhardt from the University of Miami and scientific adviser to the Central America Billfish Association (CABA) contacted me and asked if I could share my data collected from operating the largest bill fishing resort in Central America for the last 10 years. I gladly agreed and learned he had been doing an extensive study in Mexico and Central America for the last 2 years.
Each meeting with him in San Jose and at the resort 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 so understandable. Dr. Ehrhardt should write “Sailfish for Dummies.”
It is the same population of sailfish, “pez vela” as it is known south of the border that 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 a hundred miles or so off the beach but spends it’s early years in the estuaries. The largest sailfish and the long standing world record of 222 lbs comes 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 sailfish. Two famous currents bring in healthy water. The Humboldt current that flows north from Chile and Peru collides with the California current flowing south from the United States and Mexico off the coast of Central America and forms a “tongue” of current that that supports sailfish. This still only supports sailfish life to a depth of 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 to 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 Tehuantepel lowlands offshore into the Pacific. Likewise the Papagayo winds from Lake Nicaragua push offshore across Nicaragua at 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 oxygen depleted water to the surface that can not support sailfish. The entire population is forced into pockets of healthy water which happen to 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 void of sailfish. This is the equivalent of taking the entire population of people living on the East Coast of Florida and moving them to Saint Augustine, Vero Beach and Miami 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 there is not a tremendous abundance of fish in these areas but the whole population being forced to share these pockets. In the occurrence of a strong “El Nino,” 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 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 a strong management plan is needed by all Central American countries working together. FECOP (Todd Staley is on the board of FECOP – Federation of Fishing) is working with sport and commercial fishermen and government on management plans within Costa Rica. CABA and The Billfish Foundation, (TBF) as well as 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 a half of 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!
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