Capt. Ron Hamlin, Joan Vernon and Tim Choate each made a substantial case for industrywide circle-hook use, which prompted the rest of the fishing world to follow.
Costa Rica Fishing Guide: Where to Go and What You’ll Find
Published by Todd Staley for the Tico Times
I remember years ago I would see an article about fishing in Costa Rica in a fishing magazine, or a television show about catching tarpon by the boat load in the jungle. It started a series of “bucket list” fishing fantasies in my head. I made my first trip to Costa Rica over 30 years ago, caught and released a ton of fish, and told all my friends when I got back to the States: “I don’t know how yet, but I am going to figure out a way to live down there.”
Twenty-seven years have passed since I moved to Costa Rica, and I have been fortunate enough to run world-renowned fishing operations over the years. Big fish tend to beat me up more these days than vice versa, but the fever for both the sport and the country has never left me.
Costa Rica has so much to offer all types of anglers that it is a shame not to experience it. Here is a rundown of some of the many sport fishing opportunities.
Guapote (rainbow bass) are available in Lake Arenal, along with machaca, a relative of the South American piranha that is quite acrobatic when hooked. The rivers and lagoons in Los Chiles, which is in the Northern Zone, and all along the Caribbean seaboard have those species as well, plus tarpon and snook that also venture deep into the freshwater ecosystems. Several types of other cichlads, known as morjarra are found deep in the jungle and make for great ultra-light fun.
High in the mountains that divide the Pacific coast from Cartago, known as the Cerro de la Muerte, anglers will find wild rainbow trout in almost every creek. In that region, San Gerardo de Dota is a popular area and is also great for birdwatching species like the elusive quetzal. Fishing in a National Park is not permitted, so check that the area you are in is not park property.
If you would like to take the kids, there are trout hatcheries along the Pan American Highway, which runs through the Cerro de la Muerte. You can fish at those hatcheries and they charge you by weight. Stone Mountain Outdoors in Santa Ana has good information on trout fishing.
The Caribbean side is world-famous for tarpon and snook. Tarpon school up outside the mouth of the river in pods that cover several acres. When it is hot, it is red hot and you will pull on big fish all day. As mentioned above, they will also enter the rivers and back lagoons.
The fishing in the ocean is done with lures or sardines on circle hooks. Inside the mouth of the river, it is almost always done with artificial lures. The late Bill Barnes made fly fishing for tarpon popular in the area.
Snook are also taken in the rivers and lagoons as well as the beach. There are four species of snook on the Caribbean side. The fat snook (calva) run that starts in December offers a chance to catch lots of snook on light tackle. It is a smaller species of snook and averages 5 to 8 pounds. The monsters that made Costa Rica famous in the fishing world are usually taken off the beach at the rivermouth. Rarely will you see lots of fish, but you have a chance to tangle with a once-in-a-lifetime fish of 35 pounds or more.
The Pacific side of Costa Rica boasts two fishing seasons, with the central and southern regions most productive November through April. In the north, the good bite is from May through December.
The last few years have seen record numbers of sailfish on the Pacific side of Costa Rica. El Niño slowed the bite last year, but during the two previous years, records were broken for the number of releases in the Los Sueños and Marina Pez Vela tournaments. Last year in the Offshore World Tournament at Marina Pez Vela, the sailfish were noticeably absent, while marlin released records were crushed.
Dorado or dolphinfish have started off as a bang this fishing season, showing what seems to be a recovery of the stocks that migrate through here. Dorado is not only a beautiful fighting fish but also great table fare.
Also in the bluewater are marlin, tuna, and wahoo. Tuna have made a great comeback after the area in which purse seiners are allowed to work was reduced 200,000 square kilometers in 2014, and the reduction of purse sein licenses granted to foreign fleets was reduced from 43 to 13 in 2017. There have been phenomenal catches of marlin around man made marine eco-systems. You probably won’t see a grander (a marlin over 1000 lbs) here in Costa Rica, but the Pacific offers blue, black, and striped marlin.
Roosterfish are the Holy Grail inshore on the Pacific side, and are available there all year, unlike other areas. The average is 10-15 lbs, but 50-lb fish are common. Also available inshore are a large variety of snappers, grouper, jacks, African pompano and others. When the water is clear, wahoo and dorado venture close to shore. Roosters, snook, jacks and snapper can be taken here casting from the beach.
Don’t pass up a chance to fish in Costa Rica. And remember: a Costa Rican fishing license is required for all anglers over 16 years of age.
Todd Staley is a Tico Times columnist and director of communications for FECOP, a sport fishing advocacy federation recently chosen to represent Costa Rica in the Panamerican Sportfishing Delegation, formed by groups from the United States and all Latin America countries. One of the group’s goals is to get sportfishing recognized as a competitive sport and to organize teams from various nations to compete in the Pan-American games. The group also seeks a common front on conservation issues. Costa Rica will host the Federation Assembly in November 2018 followed by a roosterfish tournament with competitors from the different nations. Learn more at www.fishcostarica.org
Costa Rica Fishing Conservation – The Circle Hook Revolution
Published for Marlin Magazine
In 1998, circle hooks exploded on the American sport-fishing scene with Capt. Ron Hamlin’s declaration that he would use nothing but circle hooks when fishing with bait. The announcement came as he was accepting the annual release award for the most Pacific sailfish in a single season (546 sails caught on J hooks in 1997). Tired of seeing gut-hooked billfish gushing blood, that night he denounced the J hooks that had brought him so much success. What the spectators did not realize was that Hamlin had experienced a catch-per-unit effort rate of 65 percent or better for circle hooks on sailfish in Guatemala, compared to 50 percent with J hooks. From his perspective, it was a no-brainer that would tremendously benefit the fishery.
His employer, Tim Choate, had mandated the use of circle hooks by all five of his Artmarina-owned charter boats even before science had proved that billfish survival rates greatly increase with circle hooks. In his speech that night, Hamlin acknowledged Capt. Peter B. Wright and angler Skip Walton for bringing circle hooks to Guatemala after first using them in the giant bluefin tuna fishery off North Carolina.
A charter captain, and owner of Red Drum Tackle in Hatteras, North Carolina, Capt. Bob Eakes had a lot to do with pioneering the area’s bluefin tuna fishery, bringing in Wright and marine scientists such as Dr. Eric Prince
Prince, now retired from his post as head of the NOAA Fisheries Service Southeast Fisheries Science Center in Miami says it all began in 1995, approximately two years before they started tagging bluefin tuna with implantable, archival and pop-up satellite tags. “The big question was how to minimize the damage and stress of capture so the tuna would survive the surgical implantation of the oversize tags, which then cost about $4,500, so survival was essential,” he says.
Wright and his mate, Scott Levin, suggested a plan to bring the fish aboard through the tuna door and insert a saltwater washdown hose in the tuna’s mouth to oxygenate the fish, along with using a cloth to cover the eyes and body.
“This helped eliminate stress from handling,” Prince relates. But it was the circle hook that Eakes first suggested that eliminated gut hooking, ensuring the long-term health of the fish. “On our fishing trips, every tuna caught on circle hooks was hooked in the hinge of the jaw. Looking at it with a little biological insight, I could see the benefits not just for endangered bluefin tunas, but also to reduce gut-hooking sailfish.”
After expressing those insights to Wright, Prince shared them with Choate, who suggested a fishing trip out of Guatemala, where catch rates exceed 40 sailfish per day, to provide a suitable test. The success of that expedition led to a scientific study by Prince in March and May of 1999.
Dead-bait trolling off Iztapa, Guatemala, showed conclusively that circle hooks produce more fish that are released without evidence of bleeding. Out of 461 sailfish bites, they hooked 360. Using an equal number of J hooks and circle hooks, 125 were caught and released on J hooks versus 235 on circle hooks. Out of those 235 releases, only 14 sailfish showed any signs of bleeding, six of which were deemed severe. Of the J-hook-caught fish, 71 had bleeding, 32 of which were deemed severe. The conclusion? Sailfish caught on J hooks are 21 times more likely to suffer hook-related bleeding — and possible death — than fish caught on circle hooks. Furthermore, circle hooks had a higher hookup percentage. Follow-up studies all came to the same conclusion: Significant conservation benefits can be realized in dead- and live-bait fisheries for billfish and tuna by simply changing the terminal tackle from J hooks to circle hooks.
“The simplicity [of one change] really touched a chord,” Prince says.
Central America Leads the Way
Like a messiah spreading the gospel, Hamlin broadcast the success of circle hooks to every influential angler he knew. In Joan Vernon, he found a disciple. Since the year 2000, she has personally caught more than 2,200 billfish — all on circle hooks.
“Hamlin explained he had a new hook he wanted me to try,” she recalls. “At first, I was a little skeptical about using circle hooks with the 8- and 12-pound-test tackle I used for sailfish, but I had no trouble hooking them. Every fish was hooked right where Hamlin predicted: in the hinge of the jaw. I was convinced, but getting everyone else on board would be a challenge.”
Vernon is also the executive director of the Presidential Challenge of Central America tournament series. Founded in 1996, the tournaments were originally held in Panama, Costa Rica, Venezuela and Guatemala (now also in Aruba for the past decade). They are fun events, but at their core they are meant to ensure the continued abundance of healthy billfish populations throughout Central America and the Caribbean through research and education. At the 1998 Sport Fishing Economic Conference of Central America — held for scientists, resort and charter operators and politicians — she floated the idea of circle hooks as a tool in reducing billfish mortality.
Putting her money where her mouth is, Vernon announced the 1999 Presidential Challenge series would become the world’s first all-circle hook release tournament.
“I had no idea if the anglers would go for it, but there was no opposition,” she says. A few years later, Costa Rica and Guatemala declared circle hooks mandatory for recreational billfish caught in their territorial waters.
“By 2005, virtually every tournament in Central America had gone to circle hooks,” she adds. “And in countries with no recreational circle-hook laws, they were mandated by the local resorts and lodges in these fishing destinations.”
Vernon also helped found the Yamaha Contender Miami Sportfish Tournament — previously known as the Miami Billfish Tournament — and was its executive director in 1982.
“The whole premise was to raise funds for conservation and education, but committee members were afraid of losing participation if we went to circle hooks,” explains longtime tournament committee member Capt. Bouncer Smith. Despite Prince’s convincing research that circle hooks produced better hookup rates while substantially reducing mortality, the others on the board were resistant. “Finally it was suggested we ease into circle hooks by creating a separate division.
Vernon refused. “‘It’s a complete rule change, or nothing,’ she said at the time, making it the first tournament in the United States to require the use of circle hooks,” Smith relates.
Bridling and Larger Hooks
Smith first joined the circle-hook revolution after hearing an impassioned talk by Hamlin and Choate at the Miami Rod and Reel Club in 1998. Experimenting first with 5/0 Eagle Claw circle hooks that matched the size of the J hooks he used for sailfishing, he was discouraged.
“I lost two sailfish in a row on them, so I went back to my J hooks,” Smith says. “Months later, I caught a white marlin on a J hook that bled to death. It was then I recalled Hamlin’s speech at the fishing club. So, I upgraded the size of the circle hooks to a wide-gap 7/0 and gave them another try. I started having immediate success. Larger-size hooks were the answer.”
Twenty years later he’s still having success, having gone from using 7/0 Eagle Claws to 6/0 VMC circle hooks for sailfish and other species.
“I’ve found the more exposed the hook is, the better the hookup percentage,” adds Smith, who primarily fishes bridled baits with non-offset circle hooks. Another refinement is using slightly rounder rubber bands when rigging his baits. “They solved the problems I was having with common rubber hair bands that cut into the baits.”
Capt. Bobby Brown first used circle hooks for pitching baits to marlin well before it became the norm. In 1996, he was working for Fonda and Wayne Huizenga of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, teaching them the pitch-bait technique with a favorite blue marlin bait — fresh squid — when he encountered a problem. “The squid was wrapping around the J hooks, so I decided to try circle hooks. On the first cast we caught a blue marlin,” he says.
After a month of marlin success, he tried trolling for sailfish with circle hooks, but the only hooks available at the time were made of heavy wire, and in sizes too large for sailfish. “The fish were coming to the bait and fading away,” he explains. He had all but given up on circle hooks for smaller billfish when Eagle Claw and The Billfish Foundation launched a lighter wire hook that became an instant hit.
East vs. West
In the early 1990s, long-range fishermen out of San Diego began experimenting with circle hooks while chunking for southern bluefin tuna. Using small-diameter fluorocarbon leaders and circle hooks with live sardines, the catch rates skyrocketed. Not only were the hooks stronger for their size, the bait swam more naturally. By using circle hooks that tend to lodge in the hinge of the jaw, they also solved the problems they’d had with fish chafing the light leaders
Since then, circle hooks have become standard equipment, says well-known Southern California angler Ben Secrest. “Circle hooks are like a mousetrap for bluefins; once they latch on, they don’t come off,” he reports. These days, he fishes skipping Yummee flying fish and bridled natural baits with Owner 11/0 circle hooks — straight from the rigger or from a kite stabilized with a helium balloon. “I have had the best results with larger-size hooks, and my hookup ratio is running 20 percent better with circle hooks.”
Rigging Techniques Vary
Capt. Kyle Francis of Jensen Beach, Florida, has been fishing circle hooks since he was 15 and has complete confidence in them. Francis — who regularly works the Costa Rica, Florida and Bahamas billfish circuit — says there have been innovations like the rubber O-ring for ease in bridling the hooks to the bait. He prefers a small barrel swivel though. “The O-rings impede the natural movement of the bait,” he explains.
When rigging combination baits such as a chugger or Ilander, he is more open. “With the Ilander, I position the bait with the hook crimped down tight to the lure. With a chugger-and-bait combination, I use one size larger hook. Instead of a 7/0, I’ll go with an 8/0 or 9/0 and add a swivel connected by copper wire with the bill going up into the chugger. It may be simple but it works great,” he explains.
Creating a streamlined circle-hook rig — with the maneuverability of a barrel swivel and ease of rigging with an O-ring — was the concept behind James Turner’s invention of the Ringer Swivel.
Costa Rica’s Famous Roosterfish Finally Gets its’ Own Tournament!
Costa Rica’s 1st International Tournament Set to Kickoff November 16th, 2018 ( Enter Here ) at Crocodile Bay Resort in Costa Rica’s South Pacific.
Costa Rica really hit the jackpot when it comes to sportfishing. From the river mouths to the bluewaters and way inland, the country is bursting with monster gamefish. But of all the fish out there, it’s the Roosterfish Costa Rica anglers are really proud of.
Funny, then, that there’s no Roosterfish tournament in Costa Rica. But now there is. On November 16 this year, Golfo Dulce’s Crocodile Bay Resort will kick off the first International Roosterfish Tournament. Teams will travel from the US, Canada, Mexico, Panama, and of course, Costa Rica itself to take part.
Who is organizing the event? Why Costa Rica? What can we expect in years to come? We got in touch with some of the organizers to find out. From what we heard, it sounds like the teams are in for a treat!
What’s the Big Deal with Roosterfish?
Roosterfish are one of those species that can get you hooked from the first time you see them. They’re unlike anything else out there. Their wild mohawk and blue shimmer scream for a camera. Try catching one, and it’s the reel that starts screaming.
Roosterfish fight hard and don’t give in easy. The way they move is erratic, bordering on berserk. They have enough power to break your line and burn your drag if you’re not careful. They’re made even more interesting by the fact that you can’t catch them in the US. It’s easy to see why some anglers spend their lives chasing Roosters around Central America.
You can catch Roosterfish all the way from the north of Mexico to the south of Peru, but very few fisheries compare to Costa Rica. Sure, Baja might have the world record, but Costa Rica has some real monsters, too. And that’s just part of what makes the area unique.
Why Golfo Dulce?
“We catch Roosters everywhere here” – says tournament organizer Todd Staley – “We catch them on the reefs. We’ve caught them in over 200 feet. We’ve caught them in the middle of the gulf away from the shoreline.”
This will come as a surprise to anyone who has tried Roosterfishing farther north. In Mexico, Roosters are only really caught along the surf line. Most anglers wouldn’t think of targeting them in more than a couple of fathoms of water. Not so in Costa Rica, clearly.
The fish don’t lack for size, either. According to Beau Williams, Crocodile Bay’s General Manager, Roosters can hit 100 pounds or more in Golfo Dulce. Sure, these aren’t your everyday catch, but on any given week they pull in plenty of fish in the 40-60 lb range.
What draws Roosterfish to the gulf? Several things, says Williams. “It generates an abundance of bait fish that Roosters prefer – sardines, mullet, goggle-eyes, blue runners, moonfish, and bonita.” He also points to the mix of sandy beaches and volcanic rock outcroppings. This all adds up to year-round Roosters. Sure sounds like a good place for a Roosterfish tournament.
The PanAmerican Delegation: Big Fish, Big Dreams
So who exactly is organizing the tournament? The people behind the event are the PanAmerican Sportfishing Delegation. They organize tournaments all across the Americas. They have two Bass tournaments, a Snook Tournament, and as of this year, a Roosterfish Tournament.
The Delegation’s aim is to get sportfishing recognized in the Pan American Games. Eventually, they even want to see it in the Olympics. For now, though, they’re happy putting on tournaments and building friendships through fishing. That’s exactly what they’re doing in Costa Rica.
The PanAm Delegation has partnered with FECOP, a Costa Rican non-profit which focuses on protecting the country’s fisheries. This is where Staley came in. He has worked with FECOP since it was first created in 2008. He also worked at Crocodile Bay for the best part of 20 years. This made him the perfect man to help set up the event.
Staley brought the tournament committee to Golfo Dulce and showed them around several resorts in the area. Crocodile Bay came out the clear winner because of its size and easy access to Puerto Jimenez Airport. It also has a large fleet of well-maintained, near-identical boats. This gives each team the same chance of landing a winner.
The committee found the spot for their tournament. It was time to get the teams together. It didn’t take long for the word to spread. A dozen teams from five countries signed up and will be heading down to Crocodile Bay in search of the biggest Roosterfish Costa Rica has to offer.
Catching Roosterfish Costa Rica-Style
One of the many things that makes Costa Rica great is the country’s dedication to responsible fishing. Billfish and Roosterfish are catch-and-release only and circle hooks are the norm on most boats. Local groups like FECOP work hard to keep the fishing sustainable, especially during tournaments.
In keeping with this, the PanAmerican Roosterfish Tournament is entirely catch-and-release. The fish won’t even be weighed. As Staley explains, “we’re not weighing the fish because they have to be out of the water and it’s too much of a strain on them.” Instead, teams will measure each Rooster they catch and submit their top ten every day. The healthiest fish will also be tagged to help scientific study into their movements.
A Roosterfish ready to swim off and fight another day.
How will the teams be fishing? That’s up to them. Tournament rules say up to 30lb line and no treble-hooks with natural baits, but other than that, anything goes. We asked Staley for some of his top tips for bringing in big Roosters and he gave some sound advice:
“Here’s my analogy of a Roosterfish: They’re dumb as a rock to a live bait. You can fool them with a popper, or a jig, or an artificial. No-one’s found the holy grail yet on the fly. Fish all the columns of water – don’t just concentrate on the surf or the surface. Try it deep, try it on the surface – they’re gonna be someplace.”
A Big Deal Locally?
It sounds like everyone involved is going to have a blast, but what does it mean to the town? Many tournaments pass the local community by, especially when they’re organized from abroad. Williams says that isn’t the case here, though.
“The locals in this area are extremely excited to have an international tournament,” he says, explaining how the tournament trail has largely missed the south of the country. “While many experienced captains in our area have also fished professionally in Quepos for their Billfish tournaments, they are very excited to get Puerto Jimenez on the map.”
Staley also says that Golfo Dulce’s Rooster fishery doesn’t get the attention it deserves. That’s part of the reason for the tournament: “There’s plenty of other Sailfish, Marlin, and Dorado tournaments in the country,” he says, “Nobody’s really doing an all-Roosterfish tournament.”
So how involved is the local community? Not hugely, at least for this year. Staley is sticking to his golden rule of “keep it simple, stupid.” This is the tournament’s first year, after all.
That’s not to say they’re not involved at all. There will be a presentation by the head of the local fish board and a performance put on by the local school. The captains and crews will also be from the area, but the Costa Rican teams won’t – it would be a little unfair if some teams were fishing their own backyard, we guess.
“The Pan-American Delegation was formed less than 2 years ago.” Explains Staley. “It’s in its infancy but hopefully it will take off.” He says that organizations in Europe have had a lot longer to get going and that the PanAm is still catching up. If that’s the case, they’re catching up fast. They already have four tournaments in three countries, fishing both saltwater and freshwater.
This is the first PanAmerican tournament held in Costa Rica, but it won’t be the last. If everything goes well, we could also see a Tarpon tournament sometime next year. The delegation is a long way from their Oolympic dreams, but they’re making a solid start.
November 14-19, almost 50 competitors will comb the Golfo Dulce on a dream Costa Rica Roosterfish adventure. They will put back all the fish and take away prizes for their countries instead. If nothing else, it sounds like great fun. We’re hoping for even more, though: more tournaments, more fishing friendships, and eventually, maybe even angling Olympians.
Have you ever caught a Roosterfish? Ever visited Golfo Dulce? We’d love to hear your experiences, so let us know in the comments below!
If there are rocks, there are snapper, and that pretty much describes the entire Pacific coast of Costa Rica
Article from Florida Fishing Weekly by Todd Staley
“Rocks and big poppers equals aggressive cubera snapper in Costa Rica”
This particular reef has a peak that rises an additional 40 feet. Today it was something unusual. In the clear water hovering just a few feet below the surface was one big orange ball after another. It looked like a patch of pumpkins. What it was, though, was a group of big snappers taking advantage of the slow tide to see if a school of sardines, mackerel or maybe bonito might come passing by.
When Colin Belton is not designing landscapes fit for the Queen in his native England, he hops on a plane and heads for Central America. He has big orange pumpkins on his mind. Belton has been chasing
them for nearly a decade and could care less about a pointy nosed fish like a sail or marlin.
He chases snapper. His ammo… poppers, and one of his favorite locations is southern Costa Rica.
Belton likes to fish blue water. The clearer the better. “Snapper will come up from 150 feet to take the
popper off the surface,” says Belton. “Make sure you have the drag up on your reel very tight, because snappers always go back to the hole where they came from.” Water color plays a role in Belton’s success. Green water will produce a few snapper, but his personal best day came when the water was
extremely clean and he caught 32 snapper, with the largest going 62 pounds. The bigger the popper, the better, according to Belton.
He prefers a huge popper made in France by Orion Lures, but will also throw a Yo-Zuri Bull. Lure color doesn’t seem to make much difference. It’s the noise and spray these lures produce that bring the fish up.
Work the popper with long slow pulls making as much splash as possible. When you get a boil, don’t stop. The snapper will come back and hit it. Hooking a big snapper is like tying into a freight train. Something you might think would take a 4/0 reel, spooled with straight 100- pound test and the drag hammered down to tackle attached to a broomstick.
That might be a good bottom fishing set up, but impossible gear to toss poppers all day. Belton prefers the Shimano Stella spinning reels with 80-pound braided line on an 8 1/2-to 9 1/2- foot rod. He claims the Shimano Aspire is a good all-around rod to get the job done. Belton always uses a short piece of 120- to 150-pound mono for leader.
The months of January through July are the most productive according to Belton, although his best day ever came in August. “Look for rock, both above and underwater. If there is rock, there is snapper.” he advised. The entire Pacific coast of Costa Rica fits that description. Finding snapper habitat is only a matter of looking for it.
Roosterfish, and sometimes wahoo also visit these reefs. Catching a big snapper may not always be as easy as pulling up on a pumpkin patch, but make enough commotion around the rocks and it can be Halloween any day of the year.
FECOP Sport Fishing Species – Roosterfish
Experience the thrill of the roosterfish, one the worlds most extreme fighting fish (pound for pound) in Costa Rica’s inshore waters (catch and release species)
Unlike pelagic species, roosterfish are found inshore and can be targeted year round in Costa Rica. Roosterfish average 10-15 lbs but individuals in the 40-60 lb range are not uncommon in Costa Rica’s Pacific waters. These fish are caught inshore cruising reefs and are voracious predators. Roosterfish are considered to be one of the strongest and most exciting fighting fish in Costa Rica. Their meat is dark and not good eating and this is definitely a catch and release fish. These fish can be caught from the shoreline during changing tides near drop-off points on lures including poppers but live bait trolling seems to be the most productive method to experience a fight with these bruisers. Not only are these fish aesthetically pleasing to the eye…but unlike other inshore fighting fish they will take to the air on occasion making the experience that much more exciting for the angler. If you are going to photograph this fish, do it quickly and release as soon as possible. Especially with larger/heavier individuals as being out their buoyant environment is hard on the fishes internal organ structure.
The roosterfish, Nematistius pectoralis, is a game fish found in the warmer waters of the East Pacific from Baja California to Peru. It is the only species in the genus Nematistius and the family Nematistiidae. It is distinguished by its “rooster comb”, seven very long spines of the dorsal fin.
The roosterfish has an unusual arrangement of its ears: the swim bladder penetrates the brain through the large foramina and makes contact with the inner ear. It uses its swim bladder to amplify sounds.
Roosterfish can reach over 1.6 m (5 ft 3 in) in length and over 50 kg (110 lb) in weight. The weight of the average fish hooked is about 20 lb (9.1 kg). The fish is popular as a game fish, but it is not considered a good eating fish. The roosterfish is a catch and release species.
More Roosterfish Information
Costa Rica Roosterfish – One of Costa Rica’s Most Sought After Inshore Fish – Catch and Release only
Written by Todd Staley for the Tico Times
Super Bowl placekicker Adam Vinatieri shows not all roosterfish are monsters.
Most visiting anglers come to this country with either marlin, sailfish, or tarpon on their bucket list. These are all spectacular fish and great angling challenges, available almost any day of the year – but they are not always around in great numbers, or they at times pass through periods when they are just not going to eat. Another drawback is that some anglers just can’t handle the open ocean, and a day being seasick is not going to be the highlight of your vacation.
Fortunately, there is an inshore fishery here that has quite a plethora of species. One can only be called sexy, like a sleek race car: The roosterfish should be on every visiting angler’s bucket list. They are strong, fast, painted in a brilliant hue, with a spoiler on top. They usually haunt the coastal waters which are generally calm, especially in the morning. They readily devour a live bait, and will take an artificial like a jig, lure, or a popper. They absolutely drive fly fisherman nuts for their reluctance to hit a fly. The angler that figures out the “Holy Grail” – the secret of taking a roosterfish on the fly – will forever be considered a legend in fishing circles.
The Golfo Dulce in southern Costa Rica offers a vast area to fish for roosters. Las Islas Lodge, Zancudo Lodge, Crocodile Bay Resort and private charters in Golfito and Puerto Jiménez all specialize in catching roosterfish among the offshore species they are all famous for. Except when the afternoon sea breeze kicks in, the gulf is generally like a big lake.
While all these places specialize in roosterfish, Oscar Villalobos specializes in trophy roosterfish. Diego Torian, host of Pescando de los Cayos television, who is filming a yearlong series on fishing locations in Costa Rica, had only one day to test the waters in Golfo Dulce after filming an episode with Pablo Chaves from Rio Sierpe. Torian hosts the only Spanish-language fishing show in the United States.
“Your average client doesn’t have the patience to fish big roosters,” said Villalobos. “Sometimes the hardest part is catching the right bait that big roosters like. But once you do, the big ones are usually there.”
He prefers bonitos, skip jacks, and small yellowfin tuna to use as live bait and insists a five-pound bait is not too big. When he gets his bait he places it on the same size circle hook he uses for marlin. He says a roosterfish can swallow a bait up to 20% of its weight. This day was exceptionally slow to get the bait he wanted and after four hours he had only one medium-sized bonito.
As his search went on, he decided to put his lone bait out near a rock outcropping. Within five minutes, the rod tip bounced, then bent downwards and line started flying off the reel. Torian let the fish run, giving it time to turn the bait in his mouth, and the locked the reel in gear. Line continued to scream off the reel but now against the brake of the reel. Like most roosterfish, this one made numerous short runs and took back the line Torian had gained several times. Eventually the fish tired and checked in at just over fifty pounds before being released.
Luckily, getting more bait was not as difficult. In less than a half hour in, he had four more nice baits in his tuna tubes to keep them healthy. Every one of the baits got hit near the same rock and one more roosterfish came to the boat at 65 lbs and was released. The other baits were lost on missed fish or stolen by snapper leaving big teeth marks in the part of the bait that remained. Two big roosterfish on a spinning rod made great film and their mission was complete.
Villalobos is owner of Los Isla Lodge and captains one of their boats. More information at www.lasislaslodge.com.
Todd Staley has run fishing sport operations on both coasts of Costa Rica for over 25 years. He recently decided to take some time off to devote full time to marine conservation. His “Wetline Costa Rica” column appears monthly in The Tico Times.
Interested in more about Costa Rica Roosterfish?
Costa Rica Fish Species
Meet the Yellowfin
One of FECOP’s primary initiatives is to reduce “bycatch” resulting (most often times) from illegal, non-sustainable, tuna fishing operations in Costa Rica’s Pacific ocean. The aftermath of this illegal activity includes the death of non-targeted species such as sailfish, marlin (billfish), dolphins, sea-turtles, and the destruction fragile marine ecosystems. Learn more about our current initiatives Tuna for Ticos, and The Costa Rica Tuna Decree
Tuna Fast Facts
Did you know – The yellowfin can be distinguished from the blackfin by the black margins on its finlets?
Tuna are considered warm blooded because they can regulate their own body temperature . The very few partly or fully warm-blooded fish possess organs near their muscles called retia mirabilia that consist of a series of minute parallel veins and arteries that supply and drain the muscles.
Most large yellowfins have overextended second dorsal and anal fins that may reach more than halfway back to the tail base in some large specimens. In smaller specimens under about 60 lb (27 kg) and in some very large specimens as well, this may not be an accurate distinguishing factor since the fins do not appear to be as long in all specimens. The pectoral fins in adults reach to the origin of the second dorsal fin, but never beyond the second dorsal fin to the finlets as in the albacore. The bigeye tuna (T. obesus) and the blackfin tuna (T. atlanticus) may have pectoral fins similar in length to those of the yellowfin. The yellowfin can be distinguished from the blackfin by the black margins on its finlets. Blackfin tuna, like albacore, have white margins on the finlets. It can be distinguished from the bigeye tuna by the lack of striations on the ventral surface of the liver.
This is probably the most colorful of all the tunas. The back is blue black, fading to silver on the lower flanks and belly. A golden yellow or iridescent blue stripe runs from the eye to the tail, though this is not always prominent. All the fins and finlets are golden yellow though in some very large specimens the elongated dorsal and anal fins may be silver edged with yellow. The finlets have black edges. The belly frequently shows as many as 20 vertical rows of whitish spots.
The diet depends largely on local abundance, and includes flying fish, other small fish, squid and crustaceans. Fishing methods include trolling with small fish, squid, or other trolled baits including strip baits and artificial lures as well as chumming with live bait fishing.
It is highly esteemed both as a sport fish and as table fare. Its flesh is very light compared to that of other tunas, with the exception of the albacore, which has white meat.
If you would like to make an impact and help FECOP stop illegal fishing in Costa Rica, please sign the petition below
Presidency of the Republic,
Legislative Assembly Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock,
National Institute of Fisheries and Aquaculture,
Ministry of Environment and Energy,
Vice Ministry of Water and Seas,
National Coast Guard Service,
The situation of illegal fishing that is happening in our country is a serious problem that affects our marine resources, the national economy and that of our communities.
It is for this reason that through this petition we request better controls and effective surveillance for foreign tuna fleets.
Better penalization mechanisms for those who break the law of our country and exploit our resources indiscriminately.
As well as support and prioritization for national fleets in the consolidation of sustainable tuna fishing in our territorial waters.
I hereby support this cause by registering my information on the following petition.
More Costa Rica Fishing Species
Costa Rica Fishing Species – Dorado
When to Catch Dorado in Costa Rica – November through January and occasionally in February – averaging 20 to 40 lbs. Dorado can be taken year round but not in the same numbers as the months listed above.
Linnaeus, 1758; CORYPHAENIDAE FAMILY; also called dolphin, mahi mahi, dorado, goldmakrele, shiira.
Found worldwide in tropical and warm temperate seas, the dolphinfish is pelagic, schooling, and migratory. Though occasionally caught from an ocean pier, it is basically a deep-water species, inhabiting the surface of the open ocean. The dolphinfish is a distinctive fish, both for its shape and its colors. Though it is among the most colorful fish in the sea, the colors are quite variable and defy an accurate, simple description. Generally, when the fish is alive in the water, the dolphin is rich iridescent blue or blue green dorsally; gold, bluish gold, or silvery gold on the lower flanks; and silvery white or yellow on the belly. The sides are sprinkled with a mixture of dark and light spots, ranging from black or blue to golden. The dorsal fin is rich blue, and the anal fin is golden or silvery. The other fins are generally golden-yellow, edged with blue. When removed from the water, the colors fluctuate between blue, green, and yellow. After death the fish usually turns uniformly yellow or silvery gray.
Dorado are voracious predators – This is one of our all time favorite videos of a dorado pursuing flying fish
Large males (Bulls) have high, vertical foreheads, while the female’s (Cows) forehead is rounded. Males grow larger than females and are referred to as bulls, females as cows.
They are extremely fast swimmers ( #9 in the Top 10 fish of the world’s oceans) and feed extensively on flying fish (see video above) and squid as well as on other small fish. They have a particular affinity for swimming beneath buoys, seaweed, logs, and floating objects of almost any kind.
Hooked dolphin may leap or tailwalk, darting first in one direction, then another. It is believed that they can reach speeds up to 50 mph (80.5 kph) in short bursts. Successful fishing methods include trolling surface baits (flying fish, mullet, balao, squid, strip baits) or artificial lures; also live bait fishing or casting. If the first dolphin caught is kept in the water, it will usually hold the school, and often others will come near enough to be caught by casting.
In addition to being a highly rated game fish, the dolphin is a delicious food fish. It is referred to as the “dolphinfish” to distinguish it from the dolphin of the porpoise family, which is a mammal and in no way related.
Dorado – The Fastest Growing Fish in the Ocean?
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