“As mist sprays her bow like flakes of snow” – Theodor Fontane
Since several years I've tried to organize together with my friend S a saltwater fishing trip. Every year something made it impossible but this year it was different. We fell in agreement that our little expedition will be somewhere between late March and early April. We set the location a little bit later. To have everybody fun, we decided to have a fly & spin fishing trip. JC, another friend joined us.
I read last year an article about fly fishing big mahi-mahi on Costa Rica’s west coast. The article was written by Rainer Syre, a very skilled fly fisherman who has over 60 days of active saltwater fly fishing yearly. Since the period of leave allocated wasn’t the best for catching mahi-mahi, we decided to try our luck with all kind of jacks, tuna, rooster and maybe sailfish. When we took the final decisions it was late January. Although we still had a few good weeks till departure, there left a lot of preparing work.
We received the greatest help from Rainer Syre who has a lot of fishing experience on Costa Rica’s west coast. He provided us valuable information about fishing, logistics and many more. With this opportunity I want to thank him for all the help he gave us.
There followed weeks of fierce training, we acquired new rods, reels and lines, tied dozens of flies and completed the list of recommended vaccines. For malaria prophylaxis we had with us Malarone but we don’t needed to use it. Insect sprays and sunscreens with an SPF of 30 or higher are not allowed to miss from the baggage.
The flight day arrived. We met in Amsterdam from where we flew to Panama City where we had a stopover of 5 hours. Then followed a short flight to San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. The first major concern we had was the luggage, but it has reached the destination without any problems. When we left the airport gates, warm tropical air greeted us even it was already dark outside. We took a cab to the hotel where we remained until the next day. Early in the morning I was awakened by the first rays of sun and the chirping of many colorful birds. After breakfast ( gallo pinto ), went to the domestic airport from where we flew with a small plane to Tambor. For the last 40 km to destination (Mal Pais) we used a car. Unpaved and dusty roads were difficult to travel without an off road vehicle.
After accommodation, we prepared the fishing tackle and went to inspect the water that was less than 200 meters away from our holiday home. A wild beach with cliffs that rose from the water like fangs, strong waves that hit the shore and trees filled with frigate birds and turkey vultures were waiting for us. At first glance a paradise for surfers, while doubts began to sprout about fly fishing. The water temperature was about 30 ° C and 35 ° C were outside. After dusk we heard the first howlers. Along with cicadas they concerted us for almost 2 weeks mainly at dawn and sunset. We divided fishing into two daily stages, morning and afternoon for about 3-4 hours. The little pool in the courtyard of our cabaña proved to be a real blessing. We used it mostly during the daily break between the fishing stages when the sun was high. No more stories! Let's talk about the fisheries.
Most of the fishing took place from the boat (panga), with a length of 25 feet and engines of 65-70 PS. We had the best guides in the area, Clay and Iti Zamora, who knew their waters like the back of their hand. This kind of fishing ( 3 fishermen plus guide / captain in one boat ) proved to be quite difficult, but we adapted quickly enough to the situation. A fly fisherman in the back near the engine, another one in front and the middle place went to S the spin fisherman of the trip. The place in front was mine being the smallest and lightest. Perhaps the most well positioned but also disadvantaged by the waves that brought me out off balance all the time during casting. Sighting fish is more difficult compared to the flats fishing. We were in a constant search of sardine shoals, predators are always in these areas. Fishing from the shore was at least as hard as from the boat, if not harder. Rarely we cast targeted fish on the surface, instead we done more blind casting to cover large areas of water. Stripping baskets proved to be absolutely necessary for fly fishing from the rocks.
The first contact I had with a blue fin trevally was pretty short, the fish broke my class tippet. Different species of jacks were the main opponents. Fine specimens of jack crevalle between 4 and 18 lbs. were caught with the fly and spin rod. From the first day my attention was captured by the ladyfish, for me a real gamefish. The long castings in the direction of sardine shoals were followed by long and regular strips. At a distance of 30 feet from the boat you could see 2-3 silhouettes following the streamer. Loaded with a dose of adrenaline, I increased the stripping speed, causing attacks on the fly that lead to true water explosions. A very energetic fish that offers many pirouettes during the drill, without to give you the chance to get bored. Specimens caught did not exceed 3-4 lbs. and 7 wt rods being sufficient. We fished from shore in Cabuya, where we had a little less wind than in Mal Pais. The fish we caught there were also ladyfish and jack crevalle.
We had scierra macro attacks on both fly and spin tackle. I had a first contact with this fish a few years ago in Cuba. The veracity with which attacks its prey impressed me. This time the attacks on the fly were largely left without completion because of the cut tippet. This fish with teeth like a saw can destroy a shock tippet of hard mono without any problems. Casting with wire tippet was quite uncomfortable so we gave up pretty quickly to use them. Biggest scierra was caught by S with a glider lure, having around 15-16 lbs.. Other real hard mono and fluorocarbon busters proved to be houndfish. After catching these fish it was necessary to change the entire leader.
We had a lot of fun with the yellow fin and macro tuna which proved to be formidable opponents with a great culinary value. Besides the well-known sashimi, we had almost every day tuna steak. JC and S proved to be not only great fishermen but also faultless chefs.
One of the main reasons that led us to travel so far was the roosterfish, a fish as beautiful as hard to catch with the fly. Fly fishing is very difficult and requires extremely patience. Trolling a teaser ( a fish about 3 – 4 lbs. ) about 30 - 40 feet behind the boat and when the fish makes its appearance on the surface, the teaser is recovered quickly and the fly, a 10 – 12 inches big monster is released (or rather thrown by plucking) near the fish. The take can be extremely violent. Unfortunately we didn't had the good fortune to catch this fish with artificial fly. After hours of unsuccessful trolling, we gave up using this method. First rooster ( around 25 lbs.) was caught by JC in the Rio Bongo area, on a windy day when fly fishing was almost impossible. The fish was caught on a big popper lure with the spin rod. Next rooster, a little bit smaller went to S a few days later. I had to wait until the last day when I managed to capture an over 25 lbs. roosterfish. After I captured this beautiful animal I decided that the next one will be on the fly rod even if I have to wait an eternity. The fighting power of this fish is extraordinary.
Another fish worth to mention was a 32 lbs. cubera snapper caught with a popper on the spin rod. My hopes to see the fish on the surface dropped when I realized what a monster was on the other side of the line. Our guide managed on the penultimate day to catch a 35 lbs. amberjack. Unfortunately we did not fish for sailfish, weather conditions were not optimal for a far out offshore fishing. Many fish were captured and many won the fight. Worth mentioning being a mahi-mahi and a black fin tuna in the 10 lbs. category that after a few minutes of fight, won the battle in their favor, both on the fly rod.
During the last days of stay in Costa Rica, my mind began to forge plans for a comeback. This land and especially the west coast together with the people I met there left me a very pleasant impression. A return in winter, if not this year, maybe next year to catch mahi-mahi on the fly is imminent. After I had the opportunity to fish together with Clay and Iti Zamora I could not conceive of going out on the sea with someone else than them in this area. I also want to thank one more time to Rainer Syre for all the provided help, without the whole organization would have been much more difficult. If you are interested into a fishing trip in this region of the globe you can contact Clay Zamora at 005088347981. If you have questions that I have not discussed in the lines above, don’t hesitate to ask me.
Beulah Blue Water rods 10/11 wt and 13 - 15 wt proved to be unbeatable during the fight with the fish, showing a lot of power reserve. Long casts with minimal effort were easily possible. Used reels were a Tibor Billy Pate Tarpon for the 10/11 rod and an Orvis Mirage VI for the 13 - 15 rod. My favorite was the Billy Pate reel. The big disadvantage of this reel is the weight (13 oz.). After nearly four days of casting, I had to take a day off cause of right forearm and hand overwork. For casting on sighted fish it’s a great tool but for a blind casting I’ll look for a lighter reel. The used lines were Rio Tropical Short OutBound intermediate and floating. I preferred fishing the intemediate from the boat while fishing from the shore the floating. I also used Airflo Depthfinder 700 grains which performed very well on 13 - 15 wt rod, making possible casting 12 inches streamers. Leaders with a lengths of 7-9 feet were made of hardmono and fluorocarbon. For the 13 - 15 wt rod, a 1 mm butt connected to the line with a bimini twist loop, 40 lb. class tippet and 60 lb. shock tippet. For the 10/11 wt rod, 0.8 mm butt, 20 lb. class tippet and 50 lb. shock tippet. I used the slim beauty knot for the connections between butt / class tippet and class / shock tippet. Non-slip mono knot to attache the streamer. Used backing was 30 and 50 lb. gel spun. The flies were mostly imitations of sardines ( deceiver, clouser minnow, gurgler ). Chartreuse / white and gray / white made the game.
I hope I made you appetite for some saltwater fly fishing. Have fun and tight lines!