Fly Fishing Adventure in Costa Rica

Trip Start Sep 01, 2006
Trip End Sep 06, 2006

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Flag of Costa Rica  ,
Saturday, April 4, 2009

When we got to the river, the sun was just cresting over the hills.  The river looked like most other rivers I had thrown a fly in,  but there were no trout rising.   Here in north central Costa Rica, where the night time temperatures rarely dip below 70 degrees, it is too hot for trout; we were after fish with teeth!  Machaca, similar to the North American shad, are abundant in these rivers and lagoons, and we were about to have a day to remember.
I had picked up Dave at the airport the day before and we had headed north. Dave and I had hooked up on Craigslist and he had hired me for some tropical fly fishing.  We had a long drive, and we needed to get within striking distance of the river for an early morning float.  We drove a few hours before bunking down in some nice cabinas for the night.  Dave had flown in from Calgary, and was about to experience a day far removed from anything he could find around home.  I had promised him adventure, and what  better way to begin than waking up in a foreign country at dark, climbing into my old Trooper and hitting the road.

Arriving at the river we were greeted by Efrain, our boatman for the day.  He had already loaded up the small boat, so with little fan fare, we were off.  The plan was to head up river via motor, then float back down to our entry point.  Since we wanted to be on the river all morning, we motored up river for close to half an hour.  We saw great blue herons, egrets, roseate spoonbills, and other birds I could not identify.  At this hour of the morning, the wildlife were having their breakfast, and although the sound of our motor and boat did tend to annoy them, they quickly returned to their breakfast nooks, once we passed.  Occasionally we saw "rings" on the water surface; an indication of what lie below. 
As we motored up river, Dave and I rigged up our rods.  We were fishing 5 weight rods; light enough to still have fun with the smaller fish, yet large enough to handle the "big ones".  Catching  fish up to 8 kilos on a 5 weight rod may not be the challenge of a lifetime, but it certainly would make the day on the river one to remember.
 Eventually Efrain edged the boat to the bank of the river and made a u-turn.  Our time was now,  and without hesitation, we began day one.  Efrain kept the boat down the center of the river when possible, to afford us the luxury of fishing either bank.  This river is small by most people's standards (just 10 to 15 meters), so one consideration was overhanging tree branches.  Fly fishing requires different methods of casting, and here we often relied on "roll casts", a technique that allows the caster to extend the fly line without a traditional back cast, which would undoubtedly end up in a tree.  And we certainly did catch our share of trees!
Our fly dejour  this particular morning were bass "poppers" .  These bugs were originally developed for  North American bass.  They are designed to "pop" when yanked off the water, hence their name. The idea is to make noise with this popping noise, then get the popper back in the water in the same vicinity for the fish to strike..These bugs are designed to imitate small frogs or other local fauna. We were using green colored bugs, and it did not take long for the first machaca to strike.  "Fish on" was a phrase that became  overplayed like a top ten recording. All morning we couldn't do wrong.  It was non stop action from the time our lines hit the water to (boat) take out.  Dave could not believe how active the fish were, and I am sure his first day on Costa Rican waters was one he will long remember.
  After a full day of machaca fishing behind us, we hit the road again the following morning and continued north to the lagoons of Cano Negro, where the famed huge tarpon hang out.  While most people agree that tarpon return to the sea every year, it has been demonstrated through DNA testing, that close to 15% of the tarpon in this area never vacate the fresh water.  Instead, they hang out and grow large in the San Juan River and its tributaries , the Cano Negro area being one. 
We arrived at Cano Negro after lunch and decided to fish  "the evening rise"; the time of the day when the sun is on the way down and the bugs are on the way up!  We hired a local boatman who knew the area well and soon were rewarded with scenes we only dreamed about.  There were tarpon everywhere. They were rolling, jumping, and doing everything but going for our fly!  We changed flies often and attempted many different techniques; all to no avail.  We still left the water smiling.  How could we not!  Just the sight of these monsters, some easily in the 100 kilo range was enough of a show to be worth twice the price of admission.  And tomorrow was another day!

In the morning we met up with our boat at 6AM;  not exactly the crack of dawn, but well within the reaches of what could be considered acceptable for fisherman. Our first stop was to find coffee, which was found at the Cano Negro Bar, a lakefront establishment which we promptly motored up to.  Although not open yet for business, the ladies there were happy to make us a cup, albeit "instant" .  We thanked them and returned to our boat.  Here we were at one of Costa Rica's jewel "Biological Refuges", alone on the water having coffee (or reasonable facsimile).  The only way the day could get better might be to hear those words again ("fish on") . 
  It did take a little bit of time to find them, but eventually we came upon feeding tarpon.  The first one we saw was kind of just nibbling on the surface under an overhanging branch.  It would not be an easy cast, but after maneuvering the boat into position, Dave laid his streamer just off his nose and it was quickly attacked.  After a couple of good yanks to set the hook, the fight was on.  Tarpon are king in the world of fly fishing and Dave had hooked into a nice 40 kilo fish.  We were fishing 12 weight rods and this fish put it to the test.  After a few aerials, the  fish was soon heading up stream and well into the line backing. A half hour later it was boat side and Dave  hopped overboard for his Kodak moment before releasing the giant to fight another war.  Dave 1, fish 0.
It took another hour before the second tarpon was landed, but again, Dave won out .  This was starting to look like quite the day, but for some reason (maybe word got out), the fish bite turned off almost as quickly as it had begun, and by noon, we were ready for lunch.  Once  again, we exited the boat all smiles.
Costa Rica is blessed with so many fishing opportunities.  Most fisher people think of sport fishing when they think of Costa Rica.   It is unfortunate that the inland fresh waters are not publicized, since the abundance of species and different micro climates traveling around the country make inland fly fishing a gas!   
Of course what fly fishing trip would be complete without going after those infamous "tico trout".  While there are many stories explaining how trout came to inhabit the waters of the central mountains here, from US military guys from Panama to American workers on the canal, the very fact that we can find trout here is what completes a Costa Rican fly fishing experience.  Instead of huge 12 weight "clubs", up here in the central mountains we whittle out rod size to a 2 or 3!  For the uninitiated, this would be like switching from a major league baseball bat to a wiffle ball bat!  This is light action for small fish, with a 10 inch trout being on the larger side, although we have certainly been rewarded with larger ones.
Up in the central mountains it gets cold, which is the reason the trout have done so well.  In fact it gets cold enough that some of the lodges actually provide heaters.  Our lodge offered a stack of woolen blankets, which sufficed quite nicely.  You wake up quickly once out of bed though!   And while the trout are certainly skittish, up here the bite is on all day, so there is no reason to be out of bed at first light.  Instead we head for the cafeteria for some great locally grown coffee.    
After a leisurely taken breakfast we are on the river.  Small dry flies are our first offering, and we find they are to the fish's liking.  In fact, we find that as long as we fish stealthily, we have luck whether tossing out little dry flies or sinking nymphs.  Our bead headed nymphs in the deeper pools do seem to produce slightly larger fish, but the dry fly action is so much fun, we stay with it.  Before long it is lunch time and we return to the lodge for lunch  We take an afternoon siesta before returning to the stream for more of the same great action.  It has been a great few days fishing, and Dave has the memories to get him through another Canadian winter.

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