In 1972, I along with two buddies, traveled to Costa Rica in order to go fishing
for tarpon. We went on the cheap, and wound up in the small village of Barra Colorado
Norte, fishing in a 25’ boat made by hollowing out the trunk of a tree, guided by
a skinny eighteen year old kid named Eddie Brown. A couple of year ago I reconnected
with Eddie, who now owns a couple of modern fiberglass skiffs and operates an independent
guiding service out of Tortuguero, on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, and arranged
for my wife and I to spend a couple of days fishing with him.
We left San Jose on Nature Air’s 6:00 am flight and twenty minutes later were
gliding down toward Tortuguero’s beach side landing strip. I was on the sea side
and was glad to see that it was flat calm, with a thin line of breakers coming on
to the sands. Getting out of the plane I was greeted with a big “abrazo” (hug in
Spanish) by Eddie, who is no longer a skinny kid. He has eaten well over the years.
After a couple of minutes of re-getting to know you conversation we were off
to the Tortuga Lodge, a couple of hundred yards across the river, for a quick breakfast
and to drop off our bags. Then we went fishing.
The mouth of the river is a mile or so from the lodge and I anticipated an easy
ride out into the Caribbean. Not! The bar is shallow and with the river going out
against the swells, the waves backed up to four to five feet, and was that way for
about two hundred yards or so. It seemed to me that we would have a lousy ride out,
but it was do-able. Instead Eddie suggested we run down the estuary about fifteen
miles or so and go out the Rio Colorado instead. The bar there was not what it was
back in the seventies, when we never even thought about approaching it. It had been
dredged, and even had buoys, and we cruised right out without even throwing a drop
Once outside it was just a matter of slowly motoring southward in about a hundred
feet of water and look for rolling fish. It took a while before we got to where a
couple of boats out of the Silver King & Rio Colorado Lodge were fishing, and after
a couple of minutes saw a couple of fish roll.
The method used to catch these fish is a strange one. Using an ounce and a half
bucktail. we cast out and put the reel in gear, letting it sink to whatever depth
it happened to reach. Then we would give the rod an short upward sweep and then let
the lure sit there. It wasn’t a constant motion, but we’d do it maybe once every
five seconds or so. Maybe it would work just as well without moving it, since my
wife would only move hers every thirty seconds or so, and seemed to get more hits
that either Eddie or I did.
That first day we jumped about a half dozen fish, all in the sixty to seventy
pound range, but my wife was the only one able to get one to the boat, and it wasn’t
easy. Eddie’s rods were loaded with twenty pound mono, and since the fish were in
deep water, they tended to jump a couple of times when first hooked, but after that
it was a down and dirty fight, taking twenty minutes or more.
We went back to the lodge over the Tortuguero bar and it was a piece of cake.
Just like you would run an inlet with large following seas, Eddie put the boat on
the back of a wave and held it there right into the smooth water.
The next day we decided to go out the short bumpy way. It was a rough ride out,
with a ot of starting an stopping, waiting for just the right set, but we got out.
A five minute ride put us in a hundred feet of water, but instead of looking for
fish, we just stopped and started fishing. Eddies brother was the only other boat
there, and he was hooked up when we arrived, and after two or three minutes we were
What followed was an unbelievable days fishing. Within the first five minutes
I hooked a fish, for a couple of seconds. One jump and it was gone. A couple of more
bumps and my wife hooked up, followed by Eddie. He handed me the rod and we were
fighting a double. Both fish jumped a couple of times an then the struggle started.
After about fifteen minutes of fight, I decided to put a little extra pressure on
to end the fight quicker. Eddie must set his drags with a scale that registers down
to the ounce. On my tackle, there is always a little room to put extra pressure on
the fish by lightly thumbing the reel, so I did just that, which ended the fight
quicker then I wanted to, with a breakoff. My wife, on the other hand did just what
she was supposed to do, and got the fish to the boat after almost a half hour struggle.
But, she had done enough for the day, and decided to watch for the rest of the trip.
That left just me fishing, with my fifteen pound bait casting outfit, and for
the rest of the morning it was constant action. Not always hooking up, but hit after
hit. We were using bucktails that Eddie had asked me to bring him from the states
from Bass Pro Shops. The hooks that they used were lazer sharp, but a touch too light
and tended to open up just enough to make getting a solid hook-up difficult. But
that might have been better than hooking every fish solidly. I’d get a couple of
jumps and the fish would be off. A hooked fish would mean a twenty to thirty minute
max effort fight to get the tarpon to the boat for the release.
I always say that if you don’t know how many fish you hook, you’ve had a great
day. It’s easy to count to two. We got four fish to the boat, but I honestly don’t
know how many hits or jump-offs we got. By around 1:00 pm I was beat, so we headed
in to try for some snook in the river. After about an hour of trolling around just
inside the breakers without a hit, we headed back to the lodge for a couple of Imperials.
The fishing wasn’t what it was back in the seventies, when all the fishing was
in the river, but it can be pretty spectacular. Back then we were catching fish in
thirty feet or so of water, and a lot of the fighting was near the surface. Now,
out in the deep water, there is less jumping and more plain old hard work. But if
you are looking for a great fishing trip, with lots of action in a beautiful setting,
it's not a bad place to go.