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Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Costa Rica fishing

Just got back from my first Jungle adventure in Costa Rica. My wife and I were planning some sort of celebratory trip for our upcoming 30th wedding anniversary this summer, so when my brother in law called us about a destination Bar Mitzvah he was planning for Costa Rica a while back, we agreed to join them. Both my wife and I have never been to Costa Rica prior to this trip, and most of it was scheduled to be a jungle adventure, split between the regions of Arenal and Santa Teresa beach.

As usual, most of the other 15 or so participants in this trip had various activities planned, while I knew that I wasn't much interested in much outside of fishing. As such, my plan was to bring along a few lures, some terminal tackle, and my telescopic 6 foot rod paired with a 30 series spinning reel.

We landed in Liberia Airport around noon on Sunday. After renting our car, we made our way to the Arenal Volcano region of El Castillo, where my brother in law had rented a villa for a few nights. We arrived to join them by mid afternoon, as sunset in that area is quite early, around 6 pm, due to Costa Rica being near the equator, and not using daylight savings time.

This is the view of the active volcano from our villa:

My nephews and their cousins at the lookout point:

An most importantly, the big reservoir where I planned to spend all of the following day shore fishing:

After spending our first night in the jungle, I was up bright and early, woken by the sounds of birds, mixed in with the occasional roar of howler monkeys and crowing roosters. After my sunrise prayers followed by a big breakfast, I made my way down to the muddy banks of the reservoir.

The reservoir named "Lake Arenal", contains small numbers of a local fish called "Guapote". Nicknamed as "rainbow bass" in English, it isn't actually part of the bass family. From what I had previously read, they will hit lures similar to what we use to catch smallmouth bass, and some locals near the shore confirmed that spinners and topwater lures may be my best bet.

Unfortunately, Lake Arenal is likely the toughest reservoir I have ever fished. I spent nearly 3 hours casting on foot, without sighting any form of life in the reservoir, aside from one tiny minnow. The water level was a good 15 to 20 feet low, and it's basically a structureless mud bowl, aside from some flooded tree stumps in very shallow water.

Eventually, I made my way back to where I accessed the lake, and rented a kayak for a couple hours, hoping I'd have better luck trolling, of fishing slightly deeper. No such luck, and the wind picked up after the first hour or so. The whitecapped waves were coming over the sides of the kayak, and I had a tough time trying to control the kayak while paddling and trying to fish. 

I did get closer shot of the volcano, as I had paddled my way to the shoreline closest to it's base.

After a couple hours, I returned to fish on foot for a couple most hours, again, without even one bite. The locals were not surprised, telling me that they don't catch much on most days, and I'd be lucky if I did so in one day of fishing. Still, I left happy, knowing that I gave it my best shot, given the circumstances.

My wife and I got a nice evening pic together with the volcano as well, after she spent the day ziplining and rappelling in the jungle with the rest of the family.

The following day, we made our way back to Liberia, and then down to the Western tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, to the surfing town of Santa Teresa Beach. It's most located deep in the jungle, with one main road running along the Pacific Coast. While most of our family booked various resorts and Villas, we chose to stay at a luxury resort on the beach named, Nantipa. 

I'll digress from my fishing adventure for a bit, as I have to give them a great review for high quality of their accommodations, their amazing service, and everything they did for us during our stay.

Hands down, Nantipa was by far the best out of any of the spots the rest of the families with us chose to stay at. So much so, that the family came to us for most of their beach days, meals, and family pictures. Between my wife and I, we have never stayed in a better quality resort, nor have ever found friendlier staff. From extremely comfortable beds and very clean rooms, to the beautiful scenery, and convenient beach front location. The owner (Harry) is on site most of the time, and I was surprised and very pleased that they were very well acquainted with our special requests (Shabbat/kosher) as observant Jews. After all, this is remote Costa Rica, not New York or Miami... After leaving, we ran into issues with local rods being closed dur to flooding, and missed our flights home. After turning in circles on horrendous jungle rods for a few hours, we returned to Nantipa, Where Mariana helped us reroute our travel plans to get us home to Canada safely the following day. I can't thank them enough!

Our arrival welcome pic:

Back to fishing... After arriving and unpacking by mid afternoon, I headed straight for the beach, armed with my fishing gear. All beaches in the area are open to the public, but Nanitipa resort has their own private area with a beachside resto bar, hammocks, and tables. Extremely convenient.

The tide was closer to the low end when I arrived. 

Having only fished the Pacific ocean once before while on a trip to Hawaii, I started off with what had been my most successful tactic back then, namely, micro fishing off the rocky reefs. I found a bunch of snails on the rocks, plucked a few, and hooked one for bait after cracking it's shell.

I dropped the bait hook into a deep pool between the rocks, and sure enough, I immediately hooked into a small fish, possibly in the squirrelfish family.

 If any of you can positively identify the species, feel free to contact me.

After catching a few more of the same species, I headed back inside for the night.

The following morning, I was up bright and early, ready to hit the Pacific Ocean by boat for the first time ever. I had booked a  6 hour inshore fishing outing with Jason Tours, launching out of the nearby fishing town of Malpais. None of the family members I invited along seemed to interested into venturing out on the deep blue sea in 4 to 6 foot waves in a small 23 foot bay boat, so I went solo. Just as well, more chances to catch fish myself...

I met up with Captain Erik, who proceeded to launch his boat from a trailer lowered down to the waterfront from his "slip" by a powerful winch.

We were on the water in no time, and headed to troll his first spot, hoping to hook into some Mahi Mahi or Yellowfin Tuna.

Unfortunately, we didn't have any success trolling that spot. We moved further out, to deeper and clearer water. Set up the troll, and again, no luck, despite running 4 lines along some floating weedbeds, which often attract the smaller baitfish were were hoping the pelagic species would be feeding on.

Erik spent much of the time on the CB radio with some of the other guides, and one of his friend had mentioned getting on to a good bite 10 miles or so further offshore, He asked me if I wanted to try there, and I agreed, as I just wanted to catch fish, inshore or not. On the way, he mentioned to we need to look out for diving birds and bottlenose dolphins, as fishing near them would likely be out best bet to catching fish. As we got close to his friend's hotspot, we encountered the birds and dolphins we'd been looking for. Unfortunately, no bites. I asked if we were going to try some inshore fishing, so we planned to head back closer, to end the day. 

Before doing so, he passed by his friend, and sure enough, his guest was hooked up to a mahi mahi. Even better, were were completely surrounded by pelagic fish species, clearly visible a few feet under the surface in water about 500 feet deep. I cast out a skirted jig, and as soon as it hit the water, I hooked up to a skipjack tuna. Erik planned to keep the skipjack for bait to use later on, so into his livewell it went. 

I took another cast, and again, as soon as he put the boat in gear, I was hooked up to another skipjack tuna. Rinse repeat, over and over. Eventually, he gave me a rod with a slightly bigger jig, and I started doing the same, except that I was landing a mix of mainly Mahi Mahi and yellowfin tuna, with a few skipjacks in the mix.

I managed a couple dozen fish in less than an hour of fishing, basically nonstop action. My jig barely made it longer than 10 seconds of trolling without a bite, truly insane while it lasted. Unfortunately, we had to head back, as to 6 hour outing was nearly over, and we were now 20 miles offshore instead of the inshore outing I had planned. Still, I was more than happy at the crazy success rate, and now had enough fish to feed out family for the rest of the trip!

Took a few pics before the long ride back to shore:

Mahi Mahi:

Yellowfin Tuna:

Skipjack Tuna:

After getting back to shore, I helped Erik fillet the catch, packing the yellowfins and most of the Mahi Mahi on ice before driving back to Santa Teresa  Beach.

When I arrived back at Nantipa, I made myself a fresh plate of delicious sashimi, drizzled with olive oil and lime, seasoned with Himalayan salt and fresh ground pepper. Accompanied by a celebratory double shot of aged tequila of course.

Perfect way to end my successful day.

The following day started off by attending my nephew's bar mitzvah across the road at the local synagogue, Chabad of Santa Teresa. 

After brunch there, I decided to try my cluck at fishing with live bait. I started of by catching another of the small fish in the reef, which I then hooked up under a popping cork style bobber using 40 lbs fluorocarbon as a leader. 

Unfortunately, presenting the rig was very difficult in 6-8 foot waves crashing the reef I was on. The bobber was all over the place, and I had to free it from rocks quite often, until I eventually lost if after a good 20 minutes or so. I gave up on the idea of using bait, and reverted to casting lures.

I decided to attempt casting the surf using a Rapala X rap. Not luck casting, but I did speak to one of the locals I ran into, telling me that the best spot was directly behind the Nantipa resort, which is were the both of us were casting. He didn't do any better that day, but mentioned having hooked snapper, Spanish mackerels, and Jack Crevalles there. 

At some point, I decided to try casting the reef instead. Walking along, I found the bobber rig I had lost earlier on, the baitfish was still on, but dead by now. Sure enough, I turned around to find a huge dog, probably a stray doberman coming straight at me. 

Though it was one the of biggest ones I have ever seen, I wasn't too worried, as most the the stray dogs all over the beach seem more friendly, trying to get some food or company from people passing by.

Sure enough, it came at me licking its lips. 

I figured I would feed it the fish, the dog seem happy to take it.

It then changed it's mind, spitting the fish out after chewing it. Maybe the spiny dorsal fin had something to do with it.

No more luck casting my X-rap, I had to end the fishing early due to  a scheduled family photo shoot on the beach with around 17 or 18 of us.

After the photo shoot, around nightfall, I decided to have a family dinner of Mahi Mahi for those of us on the trip that keep kosher. We were extremely happy that the Nantipa staff allowed us to us our own utensils and ingredients, as well as "kasher" on of their gas burners for us. Was not expecting this great level of service and accommodation in the heart of the Costa Rican jungle, but they were more than happy to do so.

The results were great. Everyone (including my fish hating wife) enjoyed the fresh cooked Mahi Mahi, and even went for double and triple servings.

Another perfect end to another day in paradise.

The following day was my final chance at fishing in Costa Rica. I dedicated the day to casting, starting with a hair jig, and then a Rapala Husky Jerk I normally use for pike and walleye. 

Spent a good 3-4 hours casting the surf both from shore, as well as a deeper dropoff I was able to access from a small cliff on a nearby reef, due to low tide. No bites, no a fish in sight. Oh well, at least I know I gave it all I could, and headed back to enjoy a cold beer near the pool, while reflecting on all the fishing I was able to do.

All in all, Costa Rica was one of the toughest places to shore fish, and until the miraculous last hour of success on the boat, it wasn't much better. That being said, as a lifelong angler, sometimes you are just  happy enough knowing that you gave it your all.


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