COSTA RICA - In a demonstration of its sheer power, the magnificent sailfish broke through the surface of the water and rocketed six feet above the waves, the sun glinting off its sleek body as it sought to shake free of the jagged metal imbedded in its jaw.
Several violent jerks strained the line to its breaking point, and we watched helplessly as the lure came loose just as the sailfish struck the water again, disappearing beneath the emerald spume with a defiant kick of its tail.
Fortunately, it would not be the last time we would engage in this ritual, and by day’s end, we caught two of six game fish that saw fit to challenge us. Enough to contribute to the stories that would be told that evening after dinner — and keep the legend of Costa Rica fishing alive.
Approximately 25 varieties of sport fish inhabit the Pacific waters of Costa Rica year round, and the Gulf of Papagayo is the perfect place to hunt for these saltwater giants. Sailfish ranging from 90-120 pounds, black and blue marlin from 300-500 pounds and roosterfish from 70-200 pounds test the skill of any angler and provide thrills second to none.
The epic struggles can last for hours, punctuated by gill-rattling jumps and line-stripping runs, testing the fishermen’s endurance and determination. In the end, no matter who wins, the battle is touted in words and pictures, and the reputation of Costa Rica’s fishing grounds are heightened.
That is why so many fishermen travel to this renowned area on the Pacific Coast, just an hour’s flight from the capital city of San Jose, even though these game fish can be found in many saltwater areas, including off the coast of Florida. Aircraft from the capital city arrive daily, bringing fishermen from all over the world — but particularly North America — who come to test their skill and strength against these admired foes.
The Ocotal Hotel is an integral part of this ritual, promoting Costa Rica’s fishing excellence for many years. The small, deluxe property with three swimming pools, three restaurants and two bars is noted for its fishing excursions, but guests can scuba dive, surf, go kayaking or play tennis. It’s the ideal place to relax after a glorious day of battling the trophy fish.
In the evenings, fishermen sitting on bar stools and chairs, or standing around in small groups, talk about fish caught — and fish missed — and every man has a story. The stories get better as the night wears on, and legends are born. And there is no other lure here, save the camaraderie most fishermen share.
They delight in the telling of tales about the magnificent power of the marlin or even the rooster fish, whether amid the noise of the bar, or in the relative quiet of their hotel room. A retired doctor from Minnesota proudly shows off his raw hands while describing his first catch; a chemical engineer from Georgia laughs at his failure to “bring a fish to gaff,” after a long, grueling fight; an electrical contractor from Florida complains about his aching muscles after two strenuous battles with sailfish.
The next day, it’s time to do it again, and the anglers eagerly board 32-foot sport fishing boats adequately outfitted for the task.
Each boat is equipped with flying bridge, shaded top, fighting chair, diesel inboard engines, outriggers and downriggers, and carries an array of 20-80-pound Penn International trolling rods and reels. The boats are manned by the country’s most experienced skippers, who share their lifetime of local fishing knowledge as they head for the prime fishing grounds carrying their human cargo on the ultimate quest, hooking and landing the record game fish.