Fishing Costa Rica’s Golfo de Papagayo: A Reel Adventure
Listen to this story:
In the 90’s Costa Rica set out in a serious way to lead its peers in sustainability, reaching a high note in 2019, winning the 2019 Champions of the Earth award, the highest environmental honor of the United Nations.
While Costa Rica has stumbled a bit since then, the Costa Ricans we’ve met are proud of their country and committed to ending de-forestation and maintaining their national parks and other environmental treasures, including the fishing industry.
We saw this firsthand on a January trip to Golfo de Papagayo, on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. The original trip was planned to hunt the world-class marlin and wahoo which feed in these waters in the winter. January is tournament season in Costa Rica and the big pelagics were in the area. Unfortunately, so was the high wind and big surf. Wahoo and Marlin like the clear, blue water while roosterfish like green. So, with conditions the way they were, and winds gusting 30 knots, we compromised on an in-shore trip to go after the roosterfish that can only be caught in these waters, Southern California to the Coast of Ecuador.
We set out into the Golfo de Papagayo from the Papagayo Marina aboard El Jefe, a stunning Out Islander 40 with twin Cummins 450s, tournament grade tackle, top-grade gadgetry and everything you can expect on a luxury charter. We started out in pursuit of live bait – bonita is a favorite of roosterfish.
Almost from the beginning we were intrigued by the high tech aspects of El Jefe. We quickly located and caught the bonita which the crew deposited into tuna tubes. The only way to describe it is, uh, on their noses.
The seas were rocking and rolling with 6-foot breaking waves, it was spectacular. After a successful bait run we changed course, threading past Monkey Head Rock and other outcroppings to get to the favorite haunt of the roosterfish. They prefer the structure of the shoreline in 20-100 foot waters. As always, the captain was a little vague about his specific course and coordinates. We could see Witches Rock – famous with surfers for its regular breaks – and the waters off of Santa Rosa National Park. We steered clear of the protected waters and started to troll a lazy figure 8. We kept an eye on the full bank of high-tech Garmin sounders, radar, maps and GPS that were charting the captains’ path carefully over the rocks and scrabble roosterfish love to hide in.
Gotta say, at this point we are usually so focused on the fishing we miss most of the scenery, but Golfo de Papagayo will beguile even the most focused angler.
Costa Rica lies on the Circle of Fire, the ring of volcanos which sits atop where the Caribbean and Pacific plates meet. The verdant rain forests rest in the distant mist. We were surrounded by the craggy, spectacular islands and out-cropping teeming with frigates and other birds that make fishing in this gulf a spectacular trip.
The water was a balmy 82 degrees and we were locked and loaded with up and down-riggers plying our bait to the hungry roosterfish below. The Blackfin rods and Shimano reels gleamed in the sun. The frigates were diving and we knew our fish were poised for a strike. But where were those elusive roosterfish?
The crew took nothing for granted. Rods were reeled in and reset. Bait was scrutinized and refreshed. The captain was scouring the waves and radio for signs of strikes. Oliver did his never-fails fish dance and Mike sent a little Imperial beer over the side for the fish gods. As the captain slowed a bit and started working and reworking a specific part of the figure eight, the crew was telling us of their recent trip with Jude Law (Marlin!) and their trip the day prior with baseball player James Jones (on his honeymoon – they didn’t fish, just snorkeled swam with turtles and had a private barbeque on a private beach.) Still nothing. Just when the tension was becoming unbearable Oliver jumped in with drinks and some of the best fresh guacamole we have ever had.
But as always happens the minute we stopped watching the surface and reached for those rum drinks – BAM! It was game on and the guac went flying – temporarily forgotten with the screaming of the lines!
Mike jumped on the port rod and was strapped into the rod-harness as the line screamed out 25 yards of 30 lb mono.
The crew was with him guiding him as he played the now seriously- pissed-off roosterfish. Roosterfish are known for their strong jaws and bad tempers when jerked around, so technique is especially important to landing the fish successfully. Mike was gentle as he tipped the rod up. It took about 10 minutes to get it close enough to the boat to have it jump and dance on the surface, then it took off with a sharp heave, back 25 yards. And so it went. Roosterfish are great fighters. They dive down to the rocks and reefs they love and don’t give up easily. The win more often then they are boated.
After 25 minutes Mike reeled in the beauty close enough for the crew to gently net and bring it into the boat. Our roosterfish was a bit above average at about 45 pounds, roughly 42 inches. it was spectacular. Its signature comb gleamed and the sun glistened on its stripes.
On netting the fish the captain dashed down from the flying bridge to supervise bring it on-board. He snapped directions to handle it gently and stepped in to be sure pictures were taken quickly. He then gently put the fish in the water waiving it back and forth to run water through its gills. The fish snapped back to full force. All of the crew focused and worked together to be sure the fish was alive and kicking as it bolted away from us, leaving nothing but wonder and some great photos on-board.
*The views of this article are from an ESG News employee, the employee indemnifies that no compensation or in-kind exchange was given in return for producing this article.