Budget Costa Rica - a costcutters guide to adventure fishing
It is said that a bad day fishing in Costa Rica is better than a good day fishing anywhere else. This is a bold claim, but one that sees large numbers of satisfied fishermen return to Costa Rica yearly. The realistic chance of a record weight sailfish in the pacific or a truck sized tarpon in the Caribbean has a huge incentive to the would-be trophy fisherman, but at a price. Often exorbitantly overpriced all-inclusive fishing packages see only anglers with the biggest wallet at these venues. Well it looks like it’s going to take a Brit to dispel this myth and introduce you to Budget Costa Rica. While this story is not about fly fishing, I hope you will still enjoy the fishing adventure and understand that there is no reason why the same trip cannot be undertaken with a fly rod too!
It all started about six months ago when my girlfriend and I decided to visit Costa Rica. Apart from the usual tourist sights I had heard a lot about the prolific numbers of sailfish and roosterfish found on the Pacific seaboard, and the infamous Barra Del Colorado for tarpon. Armed with only knowledge, a passion for fishing and a backpacker’s budget I set about trying to arrange a way of realising this fishing dream. After furiously searching the internet and mining through a few books and articles I concluded that the more northern Pacific coast would offer the best opportunity for Sailfish in April. Tamarindo, also known as the ‘Bay of Sails’ seemed like a logical choice.
Only a short forty-minute ride to Bluewater fishing, Tamarindo also hosts a fleet of smaller boats perfectly suited to two or three anglers in search of offshore species. After some negotiation I was able to directly charter a twenty two foot Boston Whaler with guide for four full days, at 360 dollars per day through Steve Curtis of Capullo Sports Fishing*. Although it is possible to fly directly to Tamarindo from San Jose (forty minutes) I had chosen to travel by bus with Empresa Alfaro (258 4716 / 222 2666). This is a lengthy but cheap alternative to air-travel costing only six dollars one-way and a good way to see the country. On arrival in Tamarindo I found an array of reasonable accommodation in the sub fifty-dollar bracket, but was warned to book ahead at weekends or during public holidays. Gerard, our captain for the four days, was truly a man of the sea and the human equivalent of a fishfinder. Before setting out each day he would ask us what species we would like to target and then give us a plan of action.
Apparently the week prior to our arrival the water temperature had raised significantly, which in-turn had slowed the sailfish from feeding and sent many of the larger fish further north in search of cooler water. A fruitless morning's fishing offshore saw us venture closer to land looking for roosters. Roughly three kilometres out from Tamarindo, sitting in sixty foot of water, Gerard located some submerged rock piles. He explained that this area acted as a holding ground for large schools of bonito and bluerunners and below these schools we would find roosters. Using these school fish as live bait we slowly trolled around this reef on a downrigger. Several missed hits and numerous live baits later we eventually landed a large jack of thirty-pounds. The following morning we returned here, and using the same method landed a 50-pound rooster almost immediately. The afternoon of day two was peppered with school yellowfin tuna ranging from 10-25 pounds following a move further offshore to the outer reef. An unexpected hit from a sailfish resulted in a missed hook-up, but was compensated for with a giant 65-pound wahoo on a Muppet Squid using only a 50-pound nylon leader.
Day three saw a big push for the sailfish. As we approached the drop off about 10km out, the sea had become a deep blue indicating the water temperature had fallen. We all felt confident! No sooner had our ballyhoo hit the water than a dark shadow appeared behind the boat. Before we knew what had happened the shadow had smashed the teaser a few times and hoovered up all of the trolled baits with a positive hook-up on the last rod. A beautiful 95-pound sail was joined later that morning by a 60 and a 125-pounder. In total we raised ten sailfish that day along with several larger yellowfin of about 30lb. The final day in Tamarindo we decided to take it easy and fish the reefs again which produced another three large roosters, some good amberjack and a short lived fight with a large bull shark. We sadly said good bye to Tamarindo on the fifth day and set course for Barra Del Colorado, north of Torturguero on the Nicaragua border. This area is remote and potentially pricey, however it is considered home by some truly giant tarpon.
Transport to and from Barra was the first hurdle. Air-travel is the easiest way to get there, with daily flights departing from Tobias Bolanos airport, only a three dollar taxi ride from central San Jose. Nature Air (220 3054) and SANSA (221 9414) are the two domestic carriers who service Barra. The forty five minute flight costs between sixty and seventy five dollars one-way and booking in advance is advisable. The less advertised route is by bus and boat. From San Jose take a bus heading to Puerto Limon and disembark at Guapiles. Here you can catch a bus to Cariari, which has a connecting service to Puerto Lindo. Boats bound for Barra del Colorado leave regularly from this port. This route costs about eight dollars one-way in total and is only a realistic alternative during the dry season. We opted to fly into Barra and then return by local transport. The second challenge was finding an affordable lodge. All the lodges in Barra are expensive, costing thousands of dollars for a few days all inclusive fishing package. However I did manage to find a deal. Tarpon Land Lodge* offer an all inclusive rate for two fishermen at 300-dollars per day, or 275-dollars per day for an individual. This included food, accommodation, boat, guide and fishing licences. This is less than half the price of the other lodges in Barra, and whilst being slightly more basic it offers good value for money. On the minus side I did find the fishing tackle they supplied in need of updating. I would suggest bringing your own equipment. A heavy spinning rod and reel capable of holding 300-yards of thirty pound line is adequate. In addition pack a few Rapalas in chub mackerel and mullet patterns. Owner stingers are very strong sharp trebles and a wise replacement for the standard Rapala trebles. (Of course this does not rule out also taking a 12 weight fly outfit also - Ed.)
We departed San Jose at 6 am and by 7 am we were on the water and motoring upstream to a hotspot. The waves at the estuary mouth were too large to permit safe access to the sea, but we had been told the larger individuals would be found upstream. An hour later we arrived at our destination where the banks funnelled the river into a narrow, fast moving channel. We deployed our lures into the channel and waited. Our guide explained that although we were several kilometres upstream of the sea it was quite possible to catch bull sharks and jack crevalle there. As we waited the clouds moved overhead and the threat of rain became imminent. No sooner had the first drop fallen then my rod bent double and I was locked into a large tarpon charging down stream. Forty minutes later, and after a series of impressive aerial acrobatics we boated a pristine sixty-pound tarpon.
That evening back at the lodge, Memo, the proprietor of Tarpon Land told us about the tarpon competitions of yesteryear. Eight-pound test line was the standard and it would often take all day to bring a fish boat-side. That day every boat had a tarpon, with a 110-pounder weighing in as the biggest. So for all those fishing junkies out there who don’t think they can afford to feed their addiction abroad, pay heed. If you exercise your sense of adventure and organise your trip independently there is no reason why Costa Rica should not be your next fishing destination. Based on two anglers sharing accommodation and a boat, a budget of 200 dollars a day per angler will see you fishing either of the two destinations mentioned above. I welcome you to Budget Costa Rica!
*Capullo Sports Fishing
Tel: 011 (506) 653-0048
*Tarpon Land Lodge
Tel: (506) 818-9921
For mum who is dearly missed
Written by Guy Elson - contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos by Yolande Hanchen