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ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. A sound I love. That is the sound of line peeling off a reel. The screaming noise at the moment was coming from a PENN spinning reel which was making that sweet sound. The PENN spinning reel I was using was part of the excellent collection of rods and reels that were on the boat while I was at Crocodile Bay in Costa Rica. All boats there are equipped with a wide array of updated PENN gear which is some of the best in the business. It always makes me feel more confident when using boat provided gear to have up to date products from a well- respected company.
It was late March and we were trolling for sailfish with live bait when our first mate Alex decided to tie on a green hoochie on a spinning outfit in case dorado were around. The dorado might have been around but for some reason the 70-80 pound sailfish ignored the live offerings for which sailfish normally prefer and attacked the hoochie. Just like a cheetah is the fastest animal in the jungle, most claim that sailfish are the fastest swimmers in the sea. They have been reported to hit speeds up to 68 mph. So, when they have your bait and are trying to get away, they are moving.
Our captain Freddy maneuvered the boat perfectly so I did not have to run around the boat as the sailfish fought. When the fish zigged and zagged so did he. The fighting was always done at the back of the boat. When the fish was finally at the boat, I was handed a pair of gloves to hold the dorsal fin and beak and take a photo. There are huge conservation efforts from FECOP which is the voice of fishing conservation in Costa Rica to ensure that the billfish population is treated with ‘kid’ gloves. These fish are not allowed to be brought out of the water for photos.
Right after fishing I took a quick shower and went into the spa for a massage. The spa is in a separate building on the grounds and has all of the amenities you could want. I asked for the deep tissue massage and told the girl to use as much pressure as possible. Note to self—this was a BAD idea. As she was digging her elbow into my back getting out knots she asked if it was too much pressure. Like a dummy I said no. I lied. Machismo at its finest or worst. I did feel wonderful afterwards though. Having a massage after fishing is a nice treat that not all places offer.
The reason I was back in Costa Rica after going last year? Redemption. I went to Crocodile Bay last May and wrote a story about it. The offshore fishing was off the charts one day. My friend Joe Bahash and I caught around 70 tuna and dorado combined along with a nice marlin. The next day we were supposed to go inshore fishing and after catching a roosterfish each Joe and I talked the captain into going offshore looking for the log we trolled around while catching the tuna and marlin a few days earlier. In hindsight we made a bad decision as it was rougher seas, we could not find the log and pretty much took a boat ride. And Joe and I had no one to blame but ourselves.
Since I screwed up on taking advantage of the inshore fishery in May 2018, I decided to come back and give myself the opportunity to experience the Golfito regions world class inshore fishery. Plus, I wanted to come back and experience the great spa, friendly service and Pura Vida (pure, simple life) lifestyle that Crocodile Bay Resort offers. All the things that make it a perfect choice for our non fishing wives to want to come back to also.
In between my two days of fishing, I went ziplining which was a rush. Sometimes you wonder about doing something like this in another country but it very safe and It was a very professional tour. Dennis the guide who took us spoke excellent English and had a good sense of humor. After the zipline it was a 15- minute jungle walk back to the van and Dennis pointed out numerous animals, birds and bugs that the rest of us never would have saw but were glad we did.
The second day of fishing was when we went inshore. Most the time we were trolling less than 100 yards from the shoreline. We made our own bait which was fun in it self as were using a sabiki rig to bring up four and fish a drop and some of the baits brought up were barely legal calico bass size. After filling up the live bait receiver we took off for the promised land.
We started trolling maybe 20-25 minutes from the Crocodile Bay pier. The water was blue, calm and the scenery on the shore was breath taking. You could tell this area is pretty much uninhabitated. It did not take long for Joe to hook up to a roosterfish. These fish are good fighters and this one pushed 18 to 20 pounds. After a quick photo shoot, it was quickly put back into the water. Soon after that I was hooked up but this one was not a roosterfish. It was a pesky black tip shark. These sharks live in reef areas and were fun to catch even though they were not on our targeted species list. The black tip sharks jumped out of the water almost like a mako. Most were 3-4 feet long and I would guess about 10-12 pounds. My guess is that between Joe and I we caught nearly 10 of these. Since we were catching and releasing, and these were so fun it was fine with us.
The other pesky fish was needlefish. One of our highlights was watching two, 5-foot needlefish glide on top of the water to try and get the same bait. It looked like two missles on a collision course. We missed quite a few of these toothy fish and actually we were mad they were going through our bait.
We caught a few more small roosterfish and decided to go try and catch some bottom fish for dinner. We moved from the shoreline to about ½ mile off the beach and put our bait on the bottom in anticipation of some grouper or snapper. I caught a couple of snapper that became one of the most delicious dinners I have ever had. It is always nice to eat fish that fresh.
We also had a whale shark come right up to the boat and hang with us for about 5 minutes. It was pretty cool almost not real. That is a memory that will be with me for a while. Joe took a video of it that will be talked about for a long time. This was a great day.
The one thing that really stuck with me in my two visits was how friendly and attentive the staff is. Cory who is the general manager, Olimpia, Flory, Maria, Dennis, Diego, Joje and Allan were the people we dealt with the most and all made our trip better if that is even humanly possible. Allan is in charge of the fishing and does a wonderful job working with the captains on options where to fish and what boats to put the customers on.
All the great customer service, friendly staff, great food and wide variety of things to do was just a cherry on top of the sundae. I am pretty sure this inshore trip redeemed the last time I was there and made a bad call. And in all honesty, one doesn’t need a reason to come back or go to Crocodile Bay. Just realize that after being there a few days you will be wondering why you have to leave.
Greetings from the Tropics – July 2019 Fishing Report
Capt. Allan Smith
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.
Greetings from the Tropics – June 2019 Fishing Report
Capt. Allan Smith
Greetings from the Tropics – May 2019 Fishing Report
As long as the blue water stays in close, the offshore billfish action should continue to bear fruit. May and June are historically good months to catch yellowfin tuna. Though the big tuna and spinner dolphins have not been as prevalent compared to other years, that may be changing. I heard several reports last week that found the tuna may be moving back into our area.
Capt. Allan Smith
Greetings from the Tropics – April 2019 Fishing Report
Capt. Allan Smith
Greetings from the Tropics – April 2019 Fishing Report
Capt. Allan Smith
Greetings from the Tropics – February 2019 Fishing Report
Great weather continues, with sunny days in the upper eighties and light offshore breezes. The tuna have been around for the last few weeks and there have been some epic feedings with spotted dolphins, tuna, manta rays and sailfish all converging on bait balls. The tuna have been anywhere from ten-pounds all the way up to 200+ lbs. Last week we had an angler, Mr Harris from the UK, that hooked up a big tuna on a Penn 50 International and fought the fish for over three hours in the late afternoon. As it started to get late they pushed the drag up to “sundown” and the tuna made a couple of hard runs that ended the fight by breaking the line. It was a tough way to end such a battle, but after three hours of tug of war with the big fish and no end in sight, I am not sure that Mr Harris was that unhappy to finally put the rod down.
The fishing for sailfish has been an interesting mix with some boats having good days while others struggling to entice the hungry fish. There is plenty of sailfish offshore and our crews have been seeing them free jumping and swimming on the surface. With a lot of bait offshore now, and when the fish do bite, the stage is set for things to really get going.
Inshore has been interesting the past month, as we have been landing some very big strong roosterfish the last two weeks. Some that were over forty-pounds and three this week which were better than fifty-pounds. The snappers have been biting as well with Rock-snappers, Yellowtail-snappers, African pompano, and a 30lb+ Cubera-snapper all landed this week. As we move away from this month’s “Super Moon”, things should continue to evolve for the better regarding inshore fishing.
Historically, March offers some of our best sailfish action of the year, and with plenty of bait offshore, we are anticipating a great month!
Capt. Allan Smith
Greetings from the Tropics – January 2019 Fishing Report
January historically is a transitional month. The marlin and dorado in November and December begin to taper off and the water temperature rises slightly with sailfish numbers increasing. This month has been basically true to form, though we are still waiting for the big push of sails. There have been some very good days with the sailfish so far this season, including a ten fish release day from one boat. As of yesterday, we are still seeing a few marlin, but the main body of sailfish have yet to arrive.
One of the great things about the fishery here is the diversity and as is often the case, when one thing slows, something else usually rises to take its place. In the last two weeks, we have had some excellent yellowfin tuna fishing. Big schools of spinner dolphins have been in the area and are feeding voraciously on small baitfish with hungry tuna mixed in. The action has been relatively close (around ten miles) and has even allowed boats that are fishing inshore to run out and bag a few tuna when the opportunity arrives. Such was the case with the groups of Chris Pott and Roy Marlow and Tom Potts and Tim Watson, both visiting from the UK. They are light tackle enthusiasts who brought much of their own tackle and enjoy jigging and popping. When the call came over the radio, that the tuna were biting, both groups ran out to get in on the action. Roy hooked up on a sixty-pound yellowfin tuna that was a mere twenty feet from the boat before a very big marlin came up and nearly grabbed it. The action was steady and most of the fish were caught on butterfly jigs and poppers. When the day ended both groups had landed thirteen and fourteen tuna, respectively, and almost all on artificials.
I would like to mention a couple highlights from this month. We had a visit from Mark Davis filming an episode of ‘BigWater Adventures’. Mark did a show on inshore fishing and caught multiple fish, including eight different species. He landed a couple of bluefin trevally that he said he had never caught on camera before. Mark, and his cameraman Phil told me they were excited about the show and said it would really showcase some of the fish varieties we have here.
Another person I would like to mention is Mike Walton who was just here for an extended stay. Mike likes to relax on vacation and doesn’t rush from one activity to the next. Some days he is very active battling 15 mile jungle hikes with the staff “for fun” and other days he is in no hurry to do much of anything other than enjoy the coastal “pura vida lifestyle.” I think that is great. One of the things that Mike does like to do while he is here is to fish off the pier and he usually has pretty good luck. This trip was no exception. I ran into Mike one afternoon at the pier while I was waiting for the boats to come back in. He told me he had seen this big roosterfish cruising back and forth at the pier and he was trying to catch him. I got busy with the other guests and then went up to the hotel. A little while later I saw Mike with a huge smile on his face. He said “did you hear what happened? I hooked him and he took off for the moorings. Captain Anthony started up his boat and I jumped in” The fish almost broke off a couple times, but I finally got him. Forty pounds!” Congratulations Mike.
February is usually the month when the sailfish come here in numbers. Judging from all the bait that the dolphins and tuna are feeding on, I believe we are primed to have a great month. The weather has been absolutely fantastic with clear sunny days and light tropical breezes. If you are facing an incoming “Arctic blasts”, you might want to head down and see us. The arctic blast is much more fun to experience from the tropics than they are in person.
Capt. Allan Smith
The fishing around Mato Palo and the rocks have been yielding some snappers, African pompano and a lot of bluefin trevally. The dorado have also been prevalent inshore and depending on how many you’ve already caught offshore, are either a curse or a blessing.
Capt. Allan Smith
Crocodile Bay Resort is where elite anglers come to discover some of the best inshore and offshore sport fishing experiences in the world. But if you don’t fish, don’t worry because it is also here that families can experience an array of eco adventures and expeditions. And in 2019 Crocodile Bay Resort will usher in the new year with a tackle box of new possibilities and experiences.
Another exciting season is upon us and it has started off with a bang! November began with a great Dorado run and the boats were releasing up to thirty Dorado a day. Logs, barrels, tree stumps and current lines were all holding fish. Boats would troll around until finding the structure, then stop and put out live baits. They hooked doubles, triples and even up to five at a time. Continue Reading
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