Costa Rican craziness

17/02/2017 by James

After my amazing experience on BBC’s The Big Fish last year it was inevitable that I’d catch the travelling bug, especially having never fished abroad previously. The decision was made and a new adventure was on the cards, and after no deliberation at all the destination could only be one place – Costa Rica and the phenomenal fishing resort of Crocodile Bay, to settle an old score with a sailfish among other dream catches!  Of course I couldn’t go alone, so my girlfriend Vic and my fishing partner in crime and Big Fish buddy Phil would be joining me on this adventure.

After what felt like a life time the big day finally arrived and we were on our way to foreign shores and the fish of our dreams.  After a strangely enjoyable 6 hours on the plane, filled mostly with fishing talk and the usual movies & tiny uniform meals, the pilot began talking over the tannoy and by the tone of voice we should’ve known it was going to bad. Low and behold he made the announcement none of us wanted to hear – we’d made a U turn and were on our way back to London Gatwick. 6 hours in to the flight! We were more than half way across the Atlantic & the excitement of landing on Costa Rican shores was very real.  An apparent ash cloud has closed the international airport in San Jose and the decision had been made by British Airways to turn back, as we were told there was no possibility of diverting to any of San Jose’s neighbouring airports.  And so the soul destroying 6 hour journey back to sunny England began – the most heartbreaking part of it was, as I learned from my good mates on the ground in the Costa Rican capital, that had we continued on our journey we’d have been able to land at our scheduled arrival time without a problem.

What unfolded after that was the most extreme string of pure bad luck any of had ever encountered – a painful 3 days of searching & searching for redirection flights, endless queues, missed planes, frantic taxi sprints across London that wiped us right of pocket, unapproved visas, lost baggage & missing passports and a lot of stress & tears, we finally managed to grab a late night flight to Mexico and finally on to Puerto Jiminez where we were met, a dishevelled 72 hours later, by bright blue skies & stunning scenery. 

No sooner had we walked through the doors and met Todd Stanley, the fisheries manager who was also one of our judges from the show, the conversation as always turned immediately to fishing – how’s it been? What’s been caught? And most importantly, when do we start fishing?!

Finally here

The hardest choice on our first day would be between heading offshore to target big game or stay inshore and go in search of roosters and jacks, but we eventually decided on the latter as we were desperate to start fishing (typical anglers!), and we’d leave heading offshore til later.  We hadn’t been fishing 10 minutes when myself and Phil were straight into a double hook up of rooster fish which are an incredibly hard fighting and spectacular looking fish, with vivid black strips and a huge feather like dorsal fin, which they can fold down to make them more stream line or stand up to show their emotions.  As the day went on we encountered some incredible hard fighting fish including jack crevalle, Spanish mackerel, moray eel and the biggest surprise of the day from Phil when he hooked into something colossal which we all thought was a cubera snapper but after an epic battle we were proved wrong as a familiar looking shape appeared from the depths – it was a nurse shark around 6 feet which wasn’t happy at all! We somehow managed to calm it down enough at the side of the boat to release it safely. 

Rooster time

Shark surprise

Our next day started with dark skies and a bad chop on the water but today had to be offshore and in search of Costa Rican big game, which is something I’d already experienced last year with no luck but was something new for Phil, so it would be his go in the hot seat first.  After trolling around for about an hour we spotted the biggest pod of dolphins I’ve ever seen, there had to be hundreds of them and where there’s dolphins there’s usually yellowfin tuna, so we set our sights and headed over. We wouldn’t have to wait long before Phil’s reel lit up with a yellowfin smashing a lure and heading out to sea but after a short but hectic fight he managed to bring it back in & boat our first tuna.  We carried on following the pod of dolphins picking up another 4 yellowfin up to around 20b which was fantastic, but as always the sport fisherman in me wanted to get the light gear out and try some popping, which thinking about it now was a bit risky due to some of the 100lb lumps we saw smashing the surface.  By now the skies had opened and the rain was torrential but we still had time for one more fish, and my popper was hammered right off the surface instantly tearing 100s of yards of line in a split second which I thought was never going to end and thoughts of how the hell I was going to stop it came to mind –  fortunately the fish turned out to be small and only around 6-7lb so i managed to get it in, but what an adrenaline packed 5 minutes it gave me.

Phil getting amongst the Tuna

Our biggest Yellowfin of the trip

As the days passed the weather deteriorated with unusual strong winds and the heaviest rain I’ve ever experienced, resulting in over 2’6” of water falling in 4 days.  After missing 2 days of fishing due to the weather we were down to our last resort and last day so again the decision would be hard to make.  After observing birds hammering the water further out to sea it was like a sign from God so the skipper put the motors into overdrive to get us to the action, but after a while trolling back and forwards we had nothing to show for our efforts.   All was not lost though as in our mad dash we spotted a huge scum line absolutely littered with debris and just on the edge where the water colour changed, as any saltwater angler knows, is not only a perfect ambush location but also sanctuary for bait fish so always a good place to catch.  The heavy gear got put aside and the light spinning gear came out with poppers, and minutes later Phil’s reel went ballistic as a huge bull dorado well over 20lb cart wheeled across the surface like a golden jewel being skimmed across the water, the fight seemed to last for ages with the fish constantly taking line in seconds that had taken Phil minutes to retrieve, but we wouldn’t have to wait long as in the blink of an eye the fish was in the boat showing off his stunning electric colours. This was the first time I’d seen one of these fish up close and they are truly amazing.  The sport carried on totalling another 4 dorado, including another large bull for me around 16lb, with all fish falling to poppers with the subsurface lures having no luck at all.  It was time to head back inshore but not without having an hour fishing around the rocks for a trophy rooster, Phil (the jammy sod) again hooked up first and instantly knew it was a big rooster – they fight totally different to the jacks that inhabit the same waters and when you think they’re beat they go ballistic, but it didn’t take to long for Phil to bully the fish to the boat and again the deckhand did an amazing job bringing the fish onboard. And what a fish it was, the biggest rooster of the trip estimated around 20lb.  No sooner had Phil’s fish been returned my reel started screaming with another big rooster heading for the reef, trying every trick in the book to shake the hook but when a circle hook get’s a good hold they don’t come out.  Minutes later my big finned friend was our’s, not as big as Phil’s but a good 15lb and sadly our last fish of the trip as it was time to wave goodbye to the rich waters of Costa Rica. It was good timing as it turned out, as hurricane Otto was starting to take hold of the country and bring even stronger winds and some how even more rain! This ended up causing absolute havoc, flooding all the roads and closing the local airport so without going into much detail it took us another 2 horrendous days of travelling to get home…

Phil with his prize rooster

Phils big bull dorado (this one ended up on the menu)

This was definitely a dorado day

Although we’d faced the most ridiculous bad luck with the travelling and weather, the fishing in Costa Rica was absolutely off the scale and we literally just scratched the surface with it.  I’d advise anyone looking for a world class fishing experience and a stunning Costa Rican adventure to look no further than Crocodile Bay.