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Sport Fishing in Costa Rica

Where else but Costa Rica can you get up in the morning and choose between fishing two oceans that offer the best angling in the world on sailfish, marlin, tarpon, snook and countless other species?

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Fishing in Costa Rica (continue)
enjoy some freshwater sport on a high mountain trout stream, a magnificent lake abounding in rainbow bass, or hundreds of miles of virgin rivers filled with snook and such exotic species as bobo and machaca, all only a one to three hour drive from the capital, San Jose?

Fishermen routinely raise 20 to 30 sailfish a day along with blue, black and striped marlin on the Pacific Coast, and some have scored all four species of billfish in a single day. In recent years, charter boats have caught and released an average or 500 marlin during the peak season from January through August and raised an average of 10 sails per boat each fishing day from April through mid-August.

Costa Rica's four-day International Sailfish Tournament is widely recognized as the most productive of any billfish competition in the world.

But billfish aren't all the Pacific Coast offers. Usually fishing no more than 30 to 40 minutes out, sportsmen score consistently on dorado, big snapper, tuna, jack crevalle, wahoo, rainbow runner, blue runner, amberjack, grouper, mackerel, trevally, bonito, and skipjack. World record for dorado is an 87-pounder caught in Costa Rica in 1976, but challengers are caught every year.

Other International Game Fish Association records caught in Costa Rica include all-tackle and/or line-test and fly fishing marks for Pacific dog snapper, rainbow runner, Pacific sailfish, roosterfish, big-eye tuna, big-eye trevally, cubera snapper, tarpon and snook.

About 120 charter boats are available along the West Coast, ranging from 23 feet to more than 50 feet, all equipped with tournament quality tackle.

The Pacific Coast is divided roughly into three fishing areas: the Guanacaste region to the north, the central coastal area around Quepos, and the Drake Bay-Golfito region to the south. Despite the short distance the peak months for each species vary between these regions.

Fishing is hot somewhere in Costa Rica for several species just about any month of the year. Like any place in the world, fishing varies in each area according to season, wind, weather, water temperature, moon phase, and other variables. But no place on earth offers a better chance of getting on a hot bite than does Costa Rica.

To the north, boats are available at Flamingo Beach, Playa de Coco, Potrero, Playa Hermosa, Tamarindo, Garza, Playa Carrillo, Tambor and Jaco area. ( see the tour section in each location to read more about the local boat).


On Costa Rica's Caribbean Coast, the target of most sportsmen is the acrobatic tarpon, possibly the most dramatic and exciting sport fish in the world. Tarpon are caught year round, but during the peak season, February through June, it's not unusual to raise 20 or more of the Silver Rockets every day, averaging 80 pounds, with plenty hitting the 100 pound mark or better.

Tarpon are caught just outside the river mouths, in coastal lagoons and rivers, and more recently in the lower San Juan River, bordering Nicaragua and reached by boats from Barra Colorado and the Sarapiqui River.

November through January there's a light tackle bonanza as immense schools of a small variety of snook known as calba move into the area. Calba average around four pounds and are taken on jigs and bass plugs worked along the river banks. When the run is on, you will hook a fish on nearly every cast.

Two IGFA record cubera snappers and a jack crevalle world mark have been caught by tarpon anglers working just outside the mouths of rivers flowing into the Caribbean, an area with many barracuda, kingfish, giant groupers, sharks, tripletail, mackerel and other species.

Hottest tarpon action is usually outside the river mouths where leaping schools sometimes spread for acres in every direction. But when wind and surf prevent the boats from getting outside, tarpon can usually be found in the rivers and back lagoons as well. There you fish amidst incredible tropical jungles, with overhead branches draped in wild orchids. You're likely to see monkeys, brilliantly colored parrots, macaws, toucans, herons and egrets, while caimans. and turtles bask along the shore.

Big snook are most often caught by casting jigs and plugs from the beach near river mouths, but are also taken trolling along the shore just inside the rivers.

Freshwater fishermen find plenty of sport in Costa Rica. According to University of Costa Rica ichthyologist William Bussing, there are 127 species of freshwater fish in 33 families in Costa Rican waters, and some provide excellent sport and fine eating.

Rainbow trout averaging 11 inches are found in a dozen high altitude rivers, while the warmer lowland waters offer rainbow bass (guapote), mojarra, machaca, bobo, and vieja.

Lake Arenal, in the San Carlos Valley about a three hour drive from San Jose via good highway, is famous for its rainbow bass, a member of the cichlid family, fished as you would for largemouth bass. The season is from January through September. An informal tournament organized by local enthusiasts is held annually in April or May.

Colored in subtle shades of turquoise, rose and purple with feathered ends to its caudal and dorsal fins and a distinctive hump on the mature male's head, the rainbow bass, or guapote, frequently run five to eight pounds with an 111/2 pounder holding the world record.

Located at the base of a highly active volcano surrounded by tropical jungle rich in wildlife, the beautiful 15 mile-long lake has two fishing lodges that offer overnight accommodations, guides and boat rentals. Hotels in Tilaran and canas are nearby, as are the hot springs at Tabacon.

Rivers feeding to the Caribbean also have plenty of guapote, and visitors to the lodges there often take a day off from tarpon fishing to go after the hard-hitting rainbow bass and other exotics farther up the jungle rivers.

Like all fishing, action will vary with the seasons. Most inland areas are hard to find on your own and may require a 4-wheel drive. Local tackle stores are helpful.

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Facilities are increasing for fishermen, with new lodges, more charter boats, and a large corps of knowledgeable guides on both coasts. For scuba fishermen, equipment and air refills are now available at major resorts on the west coast as well as in San Jose. You will need an ocean fishing license which your lodge can get for you (they need your name, marital status, address, and passport number) or which you can get from the Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganaderia, Calle. 1, Ave. 1, San Jose, Costa Rica. .
Fishing lodges are listed by location.For the East Coast, see Puerto Viejo, Tortuguero, and Barra Colorado. For the West Coast, see Golfito , Osa Peninsula, Quepos, Puntarenas, Playas Naranjo and Tambor on the southern Nicoya Peninsula, and Playas Carrillo, Tamarindo, Flamingo, and Hermosa on the Northwest Coast.

What to Bring !

For tarpon, Ruhlow recommends bringing a 6 1/2 foot medium action rod with a conventional or level wind reel that will take 200 yards of 20 lb. line, such as a Garcia 6500 or 7000. "Hot" lures vary from year to year, and lodges usually have the latest for sale. Ruhlow likes plastic tailed jigs such as Scampi or Sassy Shad, and Rapallas in colors or natural. youcan rent equipment if you don't bring your own.

You should bring a wide-brimmed hat, long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and a good sunscreen. On the Caribbean coast and southern Pacific coast near Golfito, bring light rain wear all year. In San Jose you can buy tide tables and fishing tackle at La Casa del Pescador, Calle 2, Ave. 18/20.

Freshwater fishing is open November 1 to June 1. Permits for freshwater fishing, including river mouths and from the beach even in salt water, are available at the Banco Nacional de Costa Rica, Information Department, Ave. 1, Calle 2/4, behind the main post office, 9-3 p.m. M-F. Several areas offer trout fishing with fish originally planted, including the Chacon farm at San Gerardo de Dota, in the mountains near the Interamerican Highway.

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