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Fish Tales


Twenty Sails and a Barrel of Monkeys


Join Dave Teufel for fun with several of Costa Rica's native species...

"The fishing has been slow, it's just been too hot with El Niño, but they are catching a few," said Raul. Immediately my heart sank. "Man, I just can not catch a break," I remember thinking. This was my third adventure fishing trip in a row where I was basically told "you shoulda been here last week"?

I'm not the type to get too upset over much, especially poor fishing conditions, but this was my honeymoon for crying out loud. What the heck were we gonna do for 12 days in Costa Rica if there were no sailfish or marlin to pursue? I suppose we could do some sightseeing, but I didn't spend a small fortune and lug my fishing gear clear across the continent to tromp around the jungle, in 100-degree heat, taking snapshots of monkeys. I came to accomplish one of my life's goals, to take a billfish on a fly.

We had the first day off, as I had carefully planned, to get settled in and check out the town of Quepos. This is the kind of place where a fisherman can live comfortably. The atmosphere is relaxed, fresh fish graces nearly every menu and there is plenty of ice cold beer. One place in particular, El Gran Escape, always had fresh tuna sashimi and tasty margaritas. As you can see, my standards are high, but this town was quickly deemed inhabitable. But I had really come here to fish andþ..well, you know, honeymoon.

The next morning we were whisked from our hotel by taxi and dropped at the local dock. There we had been told to look for our captain, Ben (pronounced in Spanish: Ben) and our boat, La Silhouetta. With all of the confidence given to me by my two years of high school Spanish, we set out to find our vessel.

By taking the one phrase I know, "where is the bathroom", and substituting "La Silhouetta" for "the bathroom", I was able to get one of the locals to point in a general direction. There, in all its rusting glory, was what we interpreted to be our "luxury sportfisher." It had one outrigger, at least I thought it may be an outrigger, and the boat seemed to be listing severely. My wife, Margie, and I looked at each other, and again our hearts sank. Monkey photography was beginning to sound better, certainly safer, and they say there are parrots and hyrax in the forest as well! What the heck is a hyrax?

About then we heard someone calling, "hey Dave, over here." It was Raul, the fellow who had picked us up at the landing strip two days before. "You two are on La Silhouetta, that is your boat right there, they are ready when you are." Margie and I looked as Raul motioned a beautiful 2-year old 31' Palm Beach over to the dock. I shot a quick glance at the guy who had pointed us toward the broken down barge, he just grinned and shrugged his shoulders. Hmmmm, I think I found my hyrax.

We stepped aboard, shook hands with Capt. Ben and mate, Chepa, asked them where the bathroom was and with the language barrier now broken it was off to the fishing grounds. This was one comfortable boat. All teak decking, a beautiful fighting chair, Penn International light tackle and, best of all, two big Igloos up front loaded with enough beer, sandwiches and fresh local fruit to satisfy a fraternity. The sun was shining, it was 8:00 a.m. and already pushing 90 degrees, yessiree‹fish or no fish, this was alright.

Chepa came down from the tower, and with a friendly wave and a grin, began to rig the day's baits. He had a cooler full of fresh mullet that he rigged first by splitting the tail and de-boning each, then inserting a single hook up through the bait, pushing a needle down through the head and the eye of the hook, then inserting a monofilament leader through the hole. Onto the leader he threaded a barrel sinker, which he tucked up under the chin of the mullet before securing his knot. The whole process took Chepa about 3 minutes per fish and by the time we arrived he had about a dozen ready to deploy.

After fishing the Kona coast of Hawaii the past two years, my wife and I were pretty accustomed to this billfishing gig. We slathered on the lotion and prepared ourselves for the endless hours of nonproductive trolling to come. But about 25 minutes into this trip, something was clearly different. We saw fish!

It was truly an incredible sight as these 100 + pound sailfish fought over the baits being dragged behind the boat. Sails zoomed back and forth within the spread as bills thrashed at the trolled mullet and before we knew it, we were hooked up.

20 minutes and 15 spectacular leaps later (the fish jumped a few times too), Margie brought her first sailfish to the boat. It was a large fish, about 160 lbs., all "lit up" with beautiful neon blue, yellow and copper colors. By 11:00 we had landed and released five sails with several others missed or jumped off. This fishing was not slow, this was incredible‹and they talk about 20-fish days off Quepos!

We came to find out that the reason people were reporting "slow fishing" was because many of the captains were not traveling as far as they needed to catch fish. It was much easier for them to blame the poor fishing on El Niño than it was to spend the large amounts of fuel necessary to reach the fish. Several fishermen staying at our hotel were very discouraged, especially after hearing how well my wife and I had done.

For the next week or so we fished every other day. Each time we had to go further offshore to find the fish (eventually making a two-hour run the last day), but we found plenty each day‹and rarely saw another boat. We released doubles twice and even had triples going for a few minutes. Catching these huge sails on a fly rod was every bit as exciting as I had dreamed. The take is nothing short of heart stopping and the aerial battle that follows is truly awe-inspiring.

It has always been my experience that the key to a great fishing adventure is pre-trip preparation and research. By making the right choices and spending a few hundred dollars more, we were able to turn what would have been a slow fishing trip into the trip of a lifetime. In fact, one of the other fishermen we spoke with bragged how inexpensive his charter was, and even went so far as to imply we "were being cheated." He caught one sailfish in five days, my wife and I landed 20 in four. Now you tell me, who was being cheated?

Drop me a note if you would like more info on fishing Costa Rica. Oh and by the way, there really are a lot of monkeys.

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