Flying into Costa Rica, I was thinking about the highlights from all those years we have fished this truly remarkable sportfishing destination – double-digit days on sailfish, roosterfish, yellowfin tuna, big mahimahi and blue marlin. In 2019 we were treated to a crazy blue marlin bite, during which we released a staggering 27 blues in just two days of fishing!
Excitement levels on our latest trip were high, but I was also anxious about what lay ahead – my three anglers had never caught the fickle roosterfish, and a hurricane was moving in from the Atlantic Ocean. I put a lot of pressure on myself to tick all the boxes for our anglers as these are trips-of-a-lifetime for most!
For the trip, we were going to be based in the breathtaking Los Suenos marina complex, and the trip was made up of a total of seven days of fishing (four days of the coastal fishery mainly targeting roosterfish, and then a three-night offshore trip out to the FAD system some 100nm offshore). Our anglers consisted of Pete, who was following me from Guatemala (as he missed his flight and would be in later that night), and Rob and David. They had left New Zealand a few days earlier and would meet me at the San Jose, Costa Rica airport. Once we met up, we would make the two-hour car trip to the marina and our accommodation on the Pacific Coast.
Our first day was a rest day – a time to get to know the area, get our fishing licenses and then raid the local tackle store, primarily stocked to the roof with gamefishing gear we would never see in New Zealand. The rest day was the perfect way to ease into the trip as we would be fishing for the next seven days.
The first two days were slow, producing only a single roosterfish (Pete was the first to tick a rooster off his list), and a bunch of hard-fighting jack crevalle. The jack is a fun fish to catch and fights a little like the rooster at the start, so you think (and hope) you have a rooster on, and then a jack pops up, leaving you a little disappointed. I was a little unhappy with the crew’s performance on the first two days; livebaits seemed to be trolled way too fast and not with good presentation, meaning we had few opportunities.
A hard-fighting jack crevalle.
The following two days would see us on a new boat with a slick crew and Capt. Dana is well known for putting his anglers onto good roosterfish. We made a call to give the roosters a rest for a day and go offshore fishing and do something a little different. It did not take long on our first day with Capt. Dana before we found spinner dolphins and got into yellowfin tuna action. Then other boats turned up, which shut the bite down, so it was time to push further offshore.
Because it was the start of the wet season, we found a bunch of trees and logs pushed up in a current line with dirty water on one side and inky blue water on the other. It wasn’t long before we got into a great little mahimahi bite. Every time we trolled past a big log, a pack of mahi’ swarmed over our swimming baits. At one stage, we were fighting mahimahi and, at the same time, hooking fish that were swimming around the back of the boat. It was a great fun day on the water, the crew looked after us, and one of the day’s highlights was our lunch of ribs. We agreed we would give the roosterfish one more shot tomorrow!
After getting in that afternoon and checking the forecast for the next few days, I was starting to get a little concerned. There was a hurricane making its way from the Atlantic side and due to hit the Pacific coast at midnight the next day. To make matters worse, I got a phone call from Capt. Bubba from the Tijereta (the vessel we would be making the FAD trip on). They had hit a log on the way in, requiring the replacement of the props and struts on the boat. They had just got to a haul-out 30 miles away and were working on the boat and hoping to be ready!
Some nice sashimi on our coastal day fishing.
Anxiously we turned up to the dock to meet Capt. Dana on the last day of our rooster mission – it was windy and raining, but Dana assured us we would be fishing in a semi-sheltered area of the coast, and the winds should start easing by the afternoon. The first two spots were challenging to fish in the conditions. For roosterfish, you need to slow-troll live bait up close to the reefs, rock, and current edges, and we also had some waves breaking all over the place, making it difficult to get our baits in the right spot. We hooked a sailfish right up against the rocks but pulled the hooks after a couple of quick jumps. I was now starting to think our roosterfish luck may be running out.
Dana called to move spots, get more live bait on the way there, and set up for the afternoon session and tide change. Not long after we got baits in at the new spot, Pete hooked up and released his second rooster for the trip. As much as I was stoked for him to catch another, I was concerned that Rob and Dave still needed to catch one. Pete decided to sit it out to give the boys a better chance at catching one. Another couple of hours went by for no more roosters. I was now getting very worried. With about an hour of fishing time to go, Dave hooked up, and we could tell by the direction changes in the line that it may be a rooster. After an anxious fight, he landed a nice 15kg specimen.
Right, I thought, one more angler to go, and we may have a chance! With 30 minutes of fishing time left, Rob hooked up. Everyone was watching, waiting for colour, and the team started cheering – “yes, it’s a rooster!” As soon as we got a bunch of photos of Rob with his rooster, and the release, David put another livebait in the water. It only seemed like seconds, and he was hooked up. The line was peeling off the reel a lot faster this time, and suddenly a massive roosterfish came clean out of the water – “it’s a big one!” was the call from the bridge. When David’s fish came along boatside, we realised what he had just caught. This was a rooster of a lifetime, and we got some great photos of the fish before release. To make the day even better, there was a call from Capt. Bubba – the boat was fixed, and they were returning to Los Suenos marina!
The Costa Rica FAD system is an artificial series of fish-attracting devices placed on seamounts or drop-off areas some 80-120nm off the Costa Rican coast. They usually consist of a massive concrete block dropped to the seafloor some 1000m down, a stainless steel or dyneema line connecting the block to the floats and matting 15-20m below the surface. These floats attract bait which kicks off the whole food chain. It’s common to catch double digits of marlin at the FADs in a single day.
The crew ready to set off for the FADs.
Boarding the boat and looking at the forecast, things had certainly changed from a couple of days ago. The storm rolling up the coast to our north had left a massive calm zone in the area where we would be travelling and fishing. The trip out the FADs is relaxing – the boat chugs along at trolling speed, everyone chills for the 14–16-hour trip, baits are rigged, gear is checked, and spare leaders are made. It has that ‘calm before the storm’ feeling.
Bubba, our captain, runs the maintenance and development of new FADs in this area and has all the updates on how they are fishing, so we knew we were in good hands! We planned to fish a FAD that was away from the other boats on day one, and on arrival on the first day, we set about getting livebait and rigging them into skipping baits. All the fishing is tease-and-switch style; the boat runs two large dredges and two teasers behind the dredges. If a marlin comes up on the teaser, the boat goes into a hard turn on the side the fish was raised, and teasers are then pulled in past your skipping bait that’s been dropped back to a clear area in the wake – then it’s all up to the angler to hook the fish.
Fishing normally starts at first light, and it was not long before we raised, hooked and released our first blue marlin. By 8.30am, the bait had thinned out, and we had not had another bite. Anywhere else in the world, one blue marlin by 8.30am would be good but not here, and not with Capt. Bubba. Bubba then made the call to run 12nm to another FAD. After a couple of passes, we saw no bait or fish. We then decided to troll another 8nm to the next FAD. After about 2nm, we ran past a large tree with many barnacles, showing it had been at sea for a long time. The water was like an oil slick and holding heaps of bait.
There was a fish up on the teaser on our first pass of the tree, which we switched for a hook-up and release. The same thing happened on the second pass. We started wondering how many marlin could be hanging around this tree. By the end of the day, we had caught and released a total of 14 marlin off one floating tree – what a day! We decided that night to tie a long rope to the tree, drift with it, and hope the bait and marlin stuck around.
Visual fishing right by the boat.
At first light the following day, we were greeted with massive schools of baitfish all around the boat! We un-tied from the log and tied a couple of white rubbish bags to it so we could see it clearly from a distance (these rubbish bags were removed at the end of the day), and set the gear. What happened that morning was insane, the marlin just kept coming and coming, and by midday we had released 12 blue marlin before the bite shut down. We got another blue in the afternoon and a fat sailfish late in the day. We ended the FAD trip with a staggering 28 blue marlin and one sailfish. We all slept well on the long steam back to the marina that night, with big smiles and memories of charging blue marlin.
The last few years have reinforced for me that life is short – don’t hold back and go after your dreams.
October 2022 - Tony Orton
New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
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