In the middle of May this year, my dear friends and regular clients, Heather and Mike Appleton came to town on one of their many visits. I was already booked solid so we didn’t have a chance to fish with each other. That did not stop us from having our regular rounds of beers and dinner after I got back from my trips though. Business was booming for them in Virginia so they invited a long time employee and his wife to come down to fish offshore. The dolphin bite was hot and the deep drops were successful on the charter boat Fishy Business. So we ate, drank and caught up on all that had been happening since we last were together. Mike and Heather epitomize the saying “work hard, play hard!” They are always on the go, and always planning their next travel destination. Next stop, Costa Rica! Then it happens. In his unmistakable tone and Virginia accent Mike says, “Grif, you need to come to Costa Rica with us and fish for a few days.”
“Yes!” Heather adds. “You have to! Make it happen!”
“Give me a minute to think abo..., Hell yes! I’m in!”
A couple of weeks later, I’m landing in San Jose. The airport is the nicest of the Central American ones I’ve been to. Friendly and easy to navigate. A driver is waiting to take me to the Hotel Club Del Mar. A beautiful property on the very south end of Jaco Beach. Close enough to the action of Jaco, and far enough away to be tranquil and relaxed. The owner, Phillip, sat with us between his ocean swims and told stories of the fishing he has done all over the world. Chef Norma served us the legendary shrimp and rice dish. It is so simple and so delicious, we ate it almost every night.
Although it was late in the season, we were hoping to get some shots at sailfish and maybe a marlin. I’ve caught Atlantic sailfish on a fly rod, but never one from the Pacific. So before I left I borrowed the appropriate 14 wt. outfit from my friends Krissy and Dave.
We make our way to Los Sueños resort early the next morning and meet the crew of ‘Hoos Your Daddy, a well maintained and fast Topaz express. Captain Dana is a transplant from my neck of the woods in NE Florida. He has been chasing billfish in Costa Rica for 25 years now, and his confidence shows it.
We start a long run through green water looking for something to fish on. There had been a lot of rain so the blue was about four miles out. The rain will flush debris out and that’s what we were looking for. The gear and rigs are pretty much a scaled up version of what we use for sails and white marlin off the Yucatan in Mexico. Circle hooks and chin weights flossed onto large ballyhoo. 5 or 6 lines in the spread, 2 dredges and 2 teasers. Pitch baits in the cooler, live baits in the well and a big pink and white popper fly all ready to go. All we need are some fish. We find a rip that is full of debris and logs and we all get excited. We drag those baits up, down and all around the area but, nobody is home!
The captain says “it looks TOO good. We are outta here!”
Captain Dana was now running further west focused on the radar. Before we know it, we are approaching hundreds of gannets, shearwaters and frigates. We are also surrounded by an acre of spinner dolphins putting on an acrobatic show. A quick change of baits and teasers and we are looking for a tuna bite.
Soon enough, we get one! Our buddy Kevin woke up from a deep sleep to get to working on this fish.
After about 20 minutes an 80 lb yellowfin hits the deck - followed by the hoots, hollers and high fives. As quickly as that bite happened it shut down. Typical.
We switch gears and go back to searching for billfish. After trolling beautiful floating debris for a few hours with no success we finally find a log with some life on it in the form of little skipjack tunas. After trolling some small spoons we have all four tuna tubes full. These baits are quickly bridled and sent on their way into the deep, hopefully to cross paths with a monster. But as luck would have it, the fish we are looking for would not show.
“We gotta find something to fish on!” The captain says as he instructs the mate that another change in the bait spread was on the way. We run a bit and find what has to be holding some fish. It is a large cargo net intertwined with logs, bamboo and all manner of buoys and jugs.
“Put em out. We gotta get one here!”
We are in the last minutes of the fourth quarter and we need to make it happen. After one pass we hear,
“He’s coming up on the right teaser!”
The shadow, then the back and beak of a nice sailfish come up and swat fiercely at the squid chain. David slides a pitch bait back as the captain yanks the teaser away and it is “fish on!” We land this one and quickly get the baits back out to see if she has any friends. In no time another charges the left long teaser and is fired up! The moment the mate brings the long bait into its sight the fish turns and t-bones it, yanking it off the hook. The fish turned its attention to the left dredge. I grabbed the flat line and stuck the ballyhoo right in his face. After a quick drop back this one was in the air and tail-walking away from us. What a show! We get the fish leader end and grab its bill. They are really good about keeping the fish healthy in Costa Rica. Like our tarpon here, they don’t bring them into the boat as you can see by the pictures.
It took a lot of work and a lot of patience but we ended up with an amazing day on the water in an absolutely beautiful place. The fish didn’t present themselves for a shot with the fly rod. That just means I will have to come back to try again. Thanks to Mike and Heather for inviting me to such a wonderful place. I understand why they return there so often.
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