Multi-day seamount trips for blue marlin often incorporate a variety of fishing techniques. Crews may start the day pulling lures in order to find productive water before switching to slow-trolled live baits.
Perched on a narrow strip of rugged Pacific coast, snugged between the mountains and the sea, Quepos, Costa Rica, has always produced great fishing, not to mention generations of top-flight Costa Rican captains and mates. And with the world-class Marina Pez Vela fully online, Quepos is poised to take its rightful place among the world’s top destinations.
I got the call from Brent Brauner, the global brand manager for Columbia Sportswear’s PFG line of performance fishing gear. He wanted to field-test some new warm-weather clothing and capture some blue marlin action on camera. The only catch was that the trip had to take place before the end of 2018. Over the next few weeks we narrowed down the choices, finally deciding on Costa Rica.
With the seamounts producing the most reliable blue marlin fishing on the planet, we elected on a sort of combination expedition: two days offshore with a bonus day trip to target tuna on the spinner dolphins, sailfish on baitballs or anything else we could find. With its calm seas and a great transitional bite, we chose Quepos as the place to be in mid-December.
Brauner brought Columbia’s ace cameraman Joshua VanPatter, while I tapped Marlin Senior Editor Jen Copeland to round out our team. We needed a vessel large enough to support not just our crew but a medium-sized mountain of camera gear, so I called up Ken and Amanda Cofer at Tranquilo Charters. Fortunately, their 57-foot Spencer was available. After a recent refit in Florida, the boat was perfect for our needs: The staterooms had been converted to bunks for added sleeping and gear storage, and the addition of a Seakeeper gyro meant a rock-stable platform. The plan was to arrive in Costa Rica, head for Quepos and jump straight aboard, steam all night for the distant seamounts around 100 miles offshore, fish the first day, spend the night, fish most of the next day, return to port, and day-trip out of Marina Pez Vela for our final day.
The first time I fished out of Quepos, there was no marina, or even the thought of one. Charter boats used anchor-ball moorings in the lee of the protected coastline, and fishermen arrived and departed by way of an ancient concrete quay that also served as a commercial dock. Despite the rustic conditions, the fishing has always been outstanding pretty much all year round.
Packs of sailfish arrive to reinforce the local resident fish around Thanksgiving and stay well into April most years. There are also enough blue marlin around that you have a very good shot at raising at least one, especially earlier in the season, and multiple-marlin days are a definite possibility. Blacks and stripes are not considered a common catch but it’s certainly not unusual to add one of either species to the tally, either.
Fast forward roughly two decades and my, how things have changed. Marina Pez Vela now sports a modern cofferdam system that means a safe, calm basin year-round. It has 195 slips in operation with the ability to add an additional 100 slips in the future, all with a safe operating depth of 14 feet for vessels up to 200 feet in length. The fuel dock has high-speed fuel delivery, and each slip has fiber-optic internet and digital cable.
Perhaps one of the most important yet often overlooked features is the boatyard. Before the development of Marina Pez Vela, the options to haul out a sport-fisher in this region usually meant a trip up to Puntarenas and the commercial yard there. Now, Quepos is home to Costa Rica’s first 200-ton Travelift. The full-service facility can handle just about any maintenance needs, from routine service to full refits. There also is a dry stack with a forklift for smaller vessels up to 38 feet in length.
On the upland side, Marina Pez Vela is home to six restaurants including the famed Runaway Grill, as well as a provisioning center and supermarket. There are also numerous retail stores, tour operators, car-rental agencies, Promerica Bank, a medical center and more, plus storage bodegas and even a captain’s lounge with private conference center and work stations. The entire operation is first-class and on par with any high-end marina in the world, yet it feels at-home comfortable
I asked Marina Pez Vela’s sales director, Scott Cutter, for his thoughts on the project.
“We’re seeing continued expansion over the next five or six years,” he says. “We are also committed to the boat owners and anglers as the key to the success of the project, which is why we’ve invested heavily in the conditions of the docks and things like providing high-speed internet to each slip. This is a community marina, and the original vision — amazing fishing, warm-hearted people and a strong connection to the land and the sea — continues.”
The concept of a community marina was an intriguing one. Rather than be walled off in a private enclave, Marina Pez Vela is right on the main road in Quepos and is open and inviting to visitors and locals alike. Friday nights are free movie nights with free popcorn, where everyone gathers to watch movies under the stars on a big-screen projection setup, and the Bright Lights Christmas boat parade was overflowing with people. Marina staffers dress up like Santa Claus and pass out presents to the kids. It’s what Cutter calls “good human friction” — but it also creates a sense of connectivity to the local community that makes it authentic. It’s also a culture that nurtures the next generation of captains and mates.
It is roughly a two-and-a-half-hour ride to Quepos from the Costa Rican capital of San Jose. We stopped about halfway down for lunch and then again to check out the giant saltwater crocodiles hanging out on the banks of the Tarcoles River. We arrived in Quepos in time to meet the Cofers at the Runaway Grill for a cocktail before departure; Capt. Roger Muñoz and first mate Daniel Arrieta secured all the camera gear and we were underway around 8 p.m.
Fishing on the seamounts begins at first light well before dawn, and continues past dusk, basically until you can’t see the baits any longer. We began by trolling a spread of four lures on 50s to scout the area at a faster pace. It wasn’t long before we had our first knockdown — but the hooks failed to find purchase, one of the small frustrations of lure fishing that comes with the territory.
We did catch our first blue around midmorning on a lure, then transitioned to live-baiting for a bit, then back to the lures. By the end of the first day we had released four blue marlin and had seen or jumped off a few more. Not red-hot by Costa Rica standards but four blues in a single day is damn good fishing anywhere else in the world. After a hot shower, a few rum drinks and an outstanding steak dinner, not to mention more than a few fish stories, it was time to hit the bunks.
The next day, Muñoz chose to run and gun among several locations looking for the mother lode. We released a blue in the morning but never found a hot spot, so we picked up and ran home in the afternoon, fishing for about two hours on one of Muñoz’ favorite spots 45 miles off Quepos. Right away the conditions looked better: There were bait and birds, and the first bite was a 30-pound dorado. A little while later we raised one blue and then another but unfortunately failed to connect on either fish. As we got ready to pack it in for the day, I asked Muñoz what he wanted to do the following morning. The reply was an easy one: Come right back here!
Our last fishing day was a standard day trip out of Marina Pez Vela. First up: tuna under birds and spinner dolphin. The ocean was alive with these mammals, showing off their wild aerial antics and swimming within a few feet of the boat as we trolled past. It’s one of those National Geographic moments offshore, and for guys like Brauner and VanPatter who had never experienced this before, it is awe-inspiring. Brauner even broke out the fly rod, casting at busting tuna from Tranquilo’s broad Carolina bow.
It wasn’t long before we had a couple nice tuna in the fish box, then one of the lines took a strange angle as it headed for the surface. “That’s no tuna,” I thought. Sure enough, a billfish erupted from the calm surface and put on a blazing display for the cameras, a real Hollywood fish. Upon closer examination, it was a striped marlin, and a nice one at that. Even more amazing, we had hooked the fish on a purple rubber-worm-and-jig combination that would have been more at home on Lake Okeechobee than in 5,000 feet of salt water off Costa Rica. (The mates have found that these rubber jigs work great on yellowfin tuna.) After a few more photos and video, we sent the striped marlin on its way.
We released two blue marlin after the stripe, a couple chunky yellowfins and a half-dozen 30-pound dorado. We missed a couple more marlin as well, all on dead baits, dredges and 30-pound-test tackle. It was a blast, and all of this took place on seas that were as flat as your dining-room table. If there was one tiny disappointment, it was that we did not catch a sailfish for our boat grand slam. Costa Rica in December, and we did not raise a single sailfish the entire trip. Odd, but that’s fishing — and the marlin more than made up for it.
The next time you find yourself seeking a destination where exceptional fishing intersects with beautiful weather in a safe, welcoming country full of truly warm-hearted people, you’ll find it all and more in Quepos.
Lodging: By far the most convenient and luxurious option for lodging are the Marina Pez Vela Villas, located just a short walk from the docks. There are 10 luxury villas available, with two- and three-bedroom options. Amenities include high-speed Wi-Fi, full kitchens and even a rooftop pool for the exclusive use of villa owners and guests. Our group stayed here during our trip. The luxury, decor, proximity to the docks and personalized concierge service make for an unforgettable and easy experience. The Hotel Parador, located on the edge of Manuel Antonio National Park, is another great option. It’s the official host for the Offshore World Championship.
Dining: The Runaway Grill is the unofficial base of operations for anyone fishing out of Marina Pez Vela, with an extensive menu and happy-hour specials at the bar each afternoon. They also have a hook-and-cook policy where guests can bring in their own catch of the day and have it prepared that evening. We had several memorable meals at other restaurants in the marina as well, which run the gamut from fine dining to fast-casual sports pubs.
Fishing: Ken and Amanda Cofer have been chartering Tranquilo in Central America since 2012, relocating from Nicaragua to Costa Rica in 2014. “We wanted to offer a larger and nicer boat for people that wanted to experience a premier-level charter, with a great crew and all the latest equipment,” Amanda Cofer says. “Teams from the U.S. can come to Central America in their offseason to keep their anglers up to speed, and we offer them the same tackle, dredges and other gear they use on their own boats. We’re tournament-grade fishing every day, on every charter.” There are a host of additional charter operations based in Marina Pez Vela to fit nearly every species and budget. If time allows, don’t overlook the outstanding opportunities for roosterfish, cubera snapper, potential world-record snook and other species closer to shore.
Fishing the Offshore World Championship
The Offshore World Championship has been held in Quepos since 2013, thanks in large part to the support the event has received from Marina Pez Vela and the Costa Rica Tourism Board as well as the local community. According to OWC tournament director Dan Jacobs, Quepos is an optimal location for the event thanks to several key factors.
“The first is the weather,” he notes. “In April it’s nearly always flat-calm. And because the participating anglers rotate daily among the boats, the availability of a substantial charter fleet and a host facility large enough to accommodate everyone is also a critical element.” A plethora of hotels and restaurants check another must-have box.
Then there’s the fishing: Quepos has a world-class fishery, as noted in the OWC tournament records. In 2014, 64 teams video-verified 2,735 billfish releases; in 2015, 67 teams released 2,840 billfish, for an average of more than 42 billfish per team over four days of fishing. The OWC celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2019 with this year’s tournament running April 29 through May 3.
Article courtesy MarlinMag.com Marlin Magazine – Please visit our supporters!
Marlin Fishing Tips – Baits or Artificial Lures When Fishing for Marlin
When Bart Miller died in 2018, he left behind a rich legacy as one of the sport’s most well-known fishermen-turned-lure-designers. His line of Black Bart lures has become the gold standard around the world for their ability to raise and catch marlin. Miller’s friends and longtime business partners, Jack Tullius and his brother Gary, continue that legacy as the current owners of Black Bart Lures.
And yet for all the popularity of artificial lures, natural bait remains a top choice in many areas of the fishing world. Mark Pumo grew up fishing off Miami and the Bahamas. He started fishing some of the local billfish tournaments after college, where he noticed a need for high-quality natural baits. His team at Baitmasters of South Florida has become one of the sport’s top bait suppliers. If you’re pulling a ballyhoo, Spanish mackerel, mullet or squid in your spread, there is a pretty good chance it arrived to you in one of those distinctive yellow-and-black Baitmasters packs.
To help better understand the specific benefits inherent to artificial lures and natural baits, we looked at a number of critical parameters. This is a head-to-head comparison: bait versus Bart.
This is perhaps the most important factor to consider. If you’re chasing only blue or black marlin, then a spread of large, active lures fished on heavy tackle is hard to beat.
“Lures give you the ability to cover water at higher speeds, with the size and fish-raising action you need to get the attention of an apex predator like a marlin,” Jack Tullius says. “While elephants do eat peanuts, big fish usually prefer to hunt and consume large prey items that are worth the energy they expend to chase them down.”
However, if the target species include white marlin, sailfish and game fish, then bait may be a better choice. White marlin are especially notorious for their ability to whack even a small lure multiple times without finding the hook. In this case, a spread of chin-weighted ballyhoo fished on circle hooks is a much better option.
From Southern California down to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, teams pull artificial lures for striped marlin, but they almost always have a pitch bait ready, often a live or fresh-dead caballito already bridled and ready to go. If the marlin doesn’t hook up immediately, the bait is introduced to entice the fired-up stripey to switch over. It’s a tactic that allows the boat to cover territory as the crew searches for fish on the surface, while greatly improving their hookup ratio once they do raise a marlin.
Where you fish has almost as much importance as the target species, and the two are certainly related. Specific locations in the world are almost exclusively dead-bait-centric locales, while others are the hallowed halls of lure fishing. In Central America,the dead-bait ballyhoo spread is the bread and butter of the charter-boat and tournament crews, just as it is throughout the Carolinas and Florida. But venture to Bermuda or Hawaii, and the name of the game is lure fishing. This isn’t to say there is not some crossover: The Costa Rica captains will occasionally pull lures at the seamounts for blue marlin, and the smart Bermuda captains will have a pitch bait ready for a white marlin on the Challenger Bank, but in general, the destination will often dictate the tactics on the water.
Release or Kill
It has been said that you pull bait to fly flags and fish lures to cash checks, and there is some truth to that bit of dockside philosophy. If the goal is to pile up billfish releases in a tournament, it’s hard to beat a dead-bait spread. With circle hooks, most fish will be hooked in the corner of the jaw, and it’s much easier to hook and quickly release double- and tripleheaders of sailfish or white marlin on bait. But if only the largest blue or black on the dock wins the Happy Gilmore-size check, a big hunk of skirted resin is almost always a better bet.
While it does take experience and skill to become a really good lure fisherman, it’s also much easier for a relatively inexperienced team to start catching fish with lures (and a spread of five Black Barts fished at 8 knots is a pretty good start). Dead bait requires a higher level of skill, starting with the preparation. “Poor bait prep and sloppy rigging techniques mean that the bait will wash out quickly and not swim correctly,” Pumo says. “It takes dedication and lots of practice to gain proficiency as a dead-bait fisherman, but it’s also a great source of pride for those who achieve that level of ability.” Pumo also notes that Baitmasters offers expertly prepared, pre-rigged natural baits for those who may not have the time or experience to rig their own.
Availability, Storage and Refrigeration
The availability of high-quality natural bait in certain parts of the world is a big issue, often forcing teams to ship large quantities of frozen bait to a destination well ahead of time. Sometimes this isn’t an option, especially when overzealous customs officials become involved. I’ve even seen cases where ballyhoo is considered frozen food, even after we pointed out that it’s clearly labeled as bait on the package. On the other hand, it’s easy to pack a full spread of plugs in a soft-sided lure bag and take them with you anywhere in the world.
“Natural bait also requires storage and refrigeration/freezer space, either on the boat or elsewhere,” Pumo says. “It has to be kept frozen solid until it’s ready to be rigged, and natural bait doesn’t last long once it’s thawed. Once the baits are rigged, they need to be kept cold but not in direct contact with fresh water or ice, which means a separate bait cooler or storage area on the boat.” Lures, of course, require no special treatment.
Do you or your crew have the time to properly rig a full box of natural baits, or do you want to hop on the boat and go fishing? Rigging ballyhoo or mackerel is a process that involves carefully thawing, prepping and rigging dozens of baits, and it requires a host of miscellaneous small items like chin weights, waxed floss, O-rings or swivels, copper wire, rigging needles and more. Meanwhile, the same lures you pulled yesterday are ready to go today. Just check those hooks for sharpness, snap the leaders in the swivels and you’re all set.
J Hook versus Circle Hook
One main disadvantage of lures over bait is in the release ratio. Most lure fishermen will say that if they can maintain a hookup-to-release ratio of 70 percent or so, then that’s doing pretty well. Some boast of much higher percentages, but then again, there are also plenty of stories of rubber-hook days where teams are zero-for-4 on blue marlin, where the fish is hooked and pulling drag but manages to elude capture during the fight for whatever reason.
Circle hooks, on the other hand, have a much higher percentage of hookup to release, thanks to their shape, which catches the fish in the corner of the jaw. “For a hard-jumping blue marlin, they can throw that J hook fairly easily, while they have a much harder time shedding a circle hook during the fight,” Pumo says
Interestingly, the mandated shift to circle hooks with natural bait, enforced by the National Marine Fisheries Service, caused a complete shift in North Carolina’s tournament blue marlin fishery. The standard Carolina marlin bait — a horse ballyhoo rigged on a J hook and fished in combination with a blue-and-white Ilander lure — was now illegal in tournament competition. Teams quickly learned to lure fish for big blues, while maintaining their prowess at dead-bait fishing for white marlin, yellowfin tuna and other species.
Action versus Taste
Lures are great at raising fish and getting bites, but it’s hard to beat natural bait in getting a marlin to actually eat the damned thing. Much like a cat chasing a toy, a blue or black will sometimes bat a lure repeatedly in an attempt to catch, kill and eat it, often resulting in some spectacularly unsuccessful bites. If you free-spool the lure, it loses its action and the fish quickly loses interest. With a ballyhoo or mackerel, a short drop-back gives the marlin a chance to grab it, and since it looks and tastes real, they can turn and swallow it easily. And while they don’t chug and splash like lures, it’s hard to beat the realistic swimming action of a well-rigged mackerel, mullet or ballyhoo in the spread. This one’s a draw.
Because of their fish-raising splash, color and shimmy, lures are a terrific option as teasers. Many a marlin has been raised to a Black Bart fished as a teaser before either being switched over to a pitch bait or hooked on a lure in the spread. On the other hand, a squid daisy chain with a ballyhoo chase bait is standard in just about any big-game fishery in the world. Having that natural bait gives the fish a taste of the real thing and keeps it engaged for those crucial few seconds needed to get a pitch bait in the water
More From FECOP
Blue Marlin, unlocking the evolutionary secrets of an apex predator.
Most of us are somewhere between infatuated and obsessed with blue marlin, but unless you’re a billfish scientist, you probably don’t understand how these lightning-fast finely honed eating machines are able to swim thousands of miles, populate the vast tropical and subtropical oceans of the entire world, and detect and chase down the fastest, most elusive prey species — and to have done it successfully for literally millions of years. The short answer is incredibly engineered anatomy and physiology.
While all top-level fish hunters realize that detailed knowledge about one’s quarry is the key to finding it, getting the bites and converting them into captures, most lack exposure to many of the cutting-edge scientific advances that can give them an edge. I recently reviewed these during the course of writing a chapter about blue marlin biology and ecology for Capt. Steve Campbell’s outstanding book, Blue Marlin Magic. I was fortunate to interview and work with a number of the top scientists in the field, and the information they graciously shared blew me away.
The Billfish Evolutionary Tree
Professor John Graves, of Virginia Institute of Marine Science, shared with me results of DNA and morphological analyses he conducted with colleagues. Some of the billfish evolutionary tree we would all have guessed correctly — such as white and striped marlin being closely related, as are the four species of spearfishes. All billfish — marlin, spearfishes and sailfish — belong to the family Istiophoridae, with broadbill swordfish the sole species of the offshoot family Xiphiidae. Now, which billfish species would you guess is the closest genetic relative of blue marlin? I’d have guessed black marlin, but the correct answer is actually sailfish.
My next surprise came in reviewing just how long blues have been around. The branch of the billfish evolutionary tree we know as a blue marlin was sufficiently perfect that they are the most common billfish identified in fossil records dating to the late Miocene epoch. This means they were dominating their environment, worldwide, more than 12 million years ago. Sea levels were much higher than they are today. These fossils have been found scattered in locations as varied as Italy, Virginia, North Carolina, California and Mexico. To put this in perspective, we hadn’t even evolved yet — the closest things to humans roaming the earth were some humanoid apes. So the next time you feel humbled by a lit-up blue crashing your spread, you have every reason to be: They’ve been around for a very long time.
Satellite Tagging and Open-Ocean Behavior
Research scientist Michael Musyl provided a fascinating look at the incredible capabilities we are learning about blue marlin through pop-up satellite archival tags. Everything these creatures do is finely tuned, and the more we understand, the better we can adapt our techniques to encounter them more often. The continuous data produced by tagged individuals tells us their position, depth and ambient water temperature over considerable periods of time. Interestingly, some of this data only serves to confirm what far-flung artisanal fishermen independently figured out a long time ago. By the time Ernest Hemingway wrote The Old Man and the Sea, he was aware that the old Cuban hand-liners would set their baits deep — 300 to 800 feet — and catch blue marlin as well as big yellowfin and bigeye tuna. Meanwhile, Polynesian hand-liners were doing exactly the same thing, using rounded volcanic stones and a special slipknot to sink flying fish and other baits, in which a sharp tug on the line releases the weight. Modern-day swordfish and tuna longliners catch large numbers of blues by fishing dead natural baits much deeper than sport anglers. PSAT results tell us why, and suggest options for thinking outside the box.
We now know that blue marlin spend much of their time easing along at 1 to 3 knots in warm, turbulence-mixed water above the thermocline, within a temperature range of 72 to 88 degrees, preferring a range between 75 and 81 degrees. However, during the daytime, they exhibit what Musyl calls a “W-pattern,” frequently diving to depths between 500 and 650 feet, and sometimes as deep as 2,600 feet. Stomach-content analyses show these fish are feeding on squid and deepwater fishes (“stuffing themselves” might be a better description), then surfacing to repay oxygen debts and warm up their muscles. Are island hand-liners and industrial longliners catching blues that are on their way down or perhaps swimming back up from these dives? Are there times and locations where large numbers of blue marlin are present but mostly feeding down near the thermocline? Would sport-fishing operations be far more effective drifting deep baits or presenting something completely different and yet-to-be-designed in the deep, such as large, scented soft plastics? Sometimes research raises more questions than it answers.
Recently, I was offshore of Islamorada, Florida Keys, out near the continental shelf drop-off, aboard my 20-foot SeaCraft. The sea was mirror-calm, and I spotted the dorsal and tapered tail lobe of a 250-pound-or-so blue marlin, motionless and flushed nearly black. We eased over and swam a schoolie mahimahi in front of the fish, which slowly sank out of sight in response. We circled, dropped live and dead baits: nothing. I wonder if it had just surfaced from a deep, cold dive, stuffed with prey, muscles oxygen-deprived, chilled to the bone, just trying to soak in some warm sun. I could almost hear the marlin say, “Are you kidding me?”
The Eyes and Ears Have It
Imagine a blue marlin swimming in the cold, inky darkness. How do they effectively sense prey? For one thing, blue marlin have the biggest eyes in the billfish family, comparable to the enormous eyes of broadbill swordfish. Eye size is proportional to the capacity to gather light and other visual information. In addition, blues, like other marlin, swordfish and some sharks, have the ability to heat their brains and eyes using a counter-current exchange method and special warmth-producing cells contained in tissue located at the base of the cranium. The ability to process “frames per second” is proportional to heat, which gives these predators a huge advantage over schools of deeper-dwelling, slower-reacting prey animals that lack this heater organ.
Two other sensory apparatus also aid feeding capabilities: the inner ear and the lateral line system. The inner ear includes tiny otolith bones, which sense linear accelerations like sound waves, gravitational forces and body motion, and a canal system, which responds to angular accelerations of the head. The combination confers the ability to hear and also to orient in space. A marlin’s lateral line system, like the inner ear canals, operates by using sensory hair cells that trigger a nerve signal to the brain. These channels containing them run in networks down the sides of the body, and interestingly, the pattern of the network differs between Atlantic and Indo-Pacific blue marlin populations. They function as hydrodynamic receptors of low-frequency wavelengths from 10 to 200 Hertz being emitted within two body lengths of the marlin, which could come from prey, predators or even inanimate objects such as a fishing lure. It is highly likely that blues use their lateral line system to assist in close-range tracking and attacking of prey or lures. The inner ear system, on the other hand, detects sensations from much greater distances, such as the harmonic patterns in hulls and diesel engines, and sound-making knocks or rattles from a lure.
Long-Range Marlin Migrations
Both PSAT and conventional tags have provided incredible advances in our knowledge of movements and migrations of blue marlin, and anatomy and physiology studies tell us how they do it. Worldwide, cyclic movement patterns occur in sync with migratory food sources or to prime feeding areas, followed by travel to spawning areas in which prey items may be relatively scarce. It’s interesting that some individuals make large-scale movements, while others might hang around a given area for extended periods of time. One blue tagged off of Delaware was recaptured in the Indian Ocean, near Mauritius. Another moved from the Tasman Sea off southeastern Australia to the Indian Ocean off southeastern India. Another individual tagged near Puerto Rico had its PSAT pop up 120 days later, 4,776 miles away, offshore of Angola, Africa. Others swam from Hawaii to Mexico, and to French Polynesia. Some blues circulate around the Western Pacific, and others between the Coral Sea off of northeastern Australia to the South Pacific islands. And then there are the homebodies, PSAT-tagged blue marlin that stayed in limited areas, such as Hawaii, the Gulf of Mexico, the Kuroshio Current system and the Caribbean Basin, for extended time periods.
What are the secrets that enable these incredible fish to accomplish all of this? Biologist Nick Wegner explained to me that seawater is far more viscous and oxygen-poor than air. Blues utilize ram-jet ventilation of seawater entering the mouth and flowing aft through the millions of tiny, leaflike structures called lamellae stacked in rows along each gill filament. Blood pumps counter-current (or forward, opposite to the water flow) through these highly vascularized structures to maximize oxygen extraction. The efficiency of this arrangement is unequaled in the animal kingdom.
Blue marlin anatomy contributes enormously both to efficient distance swimming and to burst speeds as high as 72 mph. Elongated tail lobes reach undisturbed water beyond the turbulence created by the body. The bill may provide a hydrodynamic advantage, and certainly, the grooves and depressions for folding the dorsal, pectoral and pelvic fins against the marlin’s body help significantly. I can remember so many times gazing down from the tuna tower of assorted boats I was captaining and marveling at the effortless swimming motion of that fusiform body, head relatively motionless as the scythe-like tail swept the body forward. Forty miles a day for these fish on a transoceanic journey? No problem. Explosive bursts exceeding highway speed limits? Easy.
Marlin Feeding Behavior
We know from assorted studies that blue marlin are flexible, opportunistic feeders. Stomach analyses from around the world often indicate that blues have been feeding on primarily a single species, whatever they are following, or timing their migrations with which to coincide. Documented examples include chub mackerel off southern Portugal, skipjack tuna off southwestern Japan and bullet tuna off the Pacific coast of Mexico. However, the presence of other species indicates flexibility and opportunism, the marlin equivalent of, “Hey, we might be here to eat skipjack and smaller yellowfin, but if we run into a cloud of something else, we won’t turn it down.” Hence, we often find individuals packed with tiny filefish, puffers or triggerfish, or loaded up with deepwater fishes and squid.
I experienced the other end of the scale working as a guide for Nomad Sportfishing, a seaplane fly-in mothership operation in northeastern Australia, where we put to good use the scientific fact that blue and black marlin have the jawbone adaptations and stomach elasticity and size to consume prey up to 10 percent of their body weight. We targeted school yellowfin, narrow-barred mackerel, and dogtooth tuna from 8 to 50 pounds for both live- and dead-rigged baits, and did not shy away from baits on the larger end of the scale. We regularly slow-trolled live yellowfin weighing 40 pounds and more, and had them slammed by huge fish. We also did things like drill longitudinal holes through full-size Boone Lu Lu teasers and rig them with 400-pound stainless-steel cable and a 12/0 single Mustad 7692 to form what was in effect a giant fat version of a cedar plug. They got crushed even by smaller blues, particularly around the sunken reefs and atolls out in the Coral Sea, such as Kenn, Wreck and Frederick reefs. And, of course, we all know how much those big Hawaiian blues like shortbill spearfis
How do they do it? One key element is a cap, called the predentary bone, that joins the tips of the two lower jawbones. Unique to billfish, this bone allows the jaws to open much wider than otherwise possible without coming apart. We observed big marlin flashing in and attacking whole live tuna, open-mouthed, like predators without bills. The hits were so hard that the bait would have to be stunned just from contact with the jaws. Nonetheless, there were also instances of marlin firing in and drilling the baits in the head with their bills. Campbell actually has a video of one such incident that occurred in Tonga.
Color Schemes and Vision
Scientist Kerstin Fritsches, a leading authority on vision in billfish, enlightened me about key aspects of the way blue marlin see their world. The ability to detect, track and capture often very fast and elusive prey items contributes heavily to their evolutionary success. Blue marlin have eye muscles essentially identical to those of humans, which allow them to swivel and focus multidirectionally, yet their eyes are located on the sides of their head, so their vision is less binocular. They track items more often one eye at a time, and they possess high flicker fusion frequency, which means they can process a very fast rate of frames per second.
Perception of specific different colors requires the possession of a pigment, housed in a rod or cone, which is stimulated by the specific wavelength of the color, and this signal transmits to the giant optic lobes of the marlin brain. This has all been examined and tested with fresh eyes from specimens brought to the dock. The bottom line is that blue marlin see essentially in black and white with the dorsal portion of the retina (the portion that looks down, into the darkened depths), and they can see as color mostly shades of violet, blue and green with the ventral part of the retina (the part that looks up into the sunlit layers). Other fish, such as freshwater trout, can see the full color spectrum in a manner similar to humans. This means a blue marlin would see red as black, and various other colors as perhaps shades of gray. They still see them as different shades, but not in the way we humans do. Remember that
they are perfection incarnate in their environment, so whatever they see, and however they see it, is the pinnacle of millions of years of evolution.
About the Author: Capt. Scott Bannerot has worked in professional fishing since 1976. He earned his Coast Guard captain’s license in 1982 and a Ph.D. in marine biology from the University of Miami in 1984, and has worked as a charter captain, author and scientist in the Caribbean, Central America, South Pacific and Australia, with home base always in Islamorada in the Florida Keys.
Getting The Most Out of Your Costa Rica Fishing Trip
Thinking about sport fishing in Costa Rica?
Costa Rica is known for some of the best billfishing (sailfish and marlin) in the world. Trolling for sailfish or marlin has a hypnotic effect on one. Staring at six or more brightly colored teasers skipping across an indigo ocean for any period of time almost puts you in a trance. The following tips should help you get the most out of your Costa Rica fishing trip.
That trance is quickly interrupted when a swordsman lit up in a purple hue snaps you back to reality and charges up from the deep, slashing at the teasers. Knowing what to expect before this happens can mean the difference between a missed fish or a date with a ballerina on a cobalt blue dance floor. Be prepared for your fishing trip.
Keys to Success on Your Costa Rica Fishing Trip
If you booked through a travel agent ask for the phone number or e-mail of the operator, or even the captain and talk to them. Ask what kind of boat you will be on, what type of equipment they use, what methods they use and if it is important to you, what level of English do their crews speak.
Once onboard talk with the crew and ask questions. Talk about your own level of experience. Leave your ego in your suitcase. If your home is full of trophies from fishing tournaments, but you have never fished sailfish or marlin, let your crew know. Most crews will give you as much or as little help as you want, but you have to communicate that to them.
Communication during your Costa Rica fishing trip is VERY important
Almost all captains in Costa Rica use a “bait and switch” method of trolling for billfish. The fish pops up in the teasers and the mate reels in the teaser with the fish in hot pursuit. As the fish moves in closer to the boat, the angler pitches a bait in the water and drops it back to the fish. The teaser is than jerked from the water leaving the bait as the only option for the fish to grab a quick meal. The same method applies to fly fisherman – and if you haven’t tried billfish on a fly your literally missing the boat.
You are required by law to use circle hooks in Costa Rica when fishing with live or dead bait. The design allows the hook to set itself without jerking the rod. Actually they are a very effective method of hooking fish while causing the least amount of damage to the fish for a safe release.
Circle hooks are not something new. They have been found made from seashells in the burial grounds of pre Columbian Indians as well as in Pacific coast Native American burial grounds. The Japanese made them long ago out of reindeer horns.
They are really quite easy to use if you plant this in your brain. Crank…Don’t Yank!!! If you are not familiar with circle hooks ask your crew to explain them before fishing.
Communication, both before and during your trip is the key to having a great Costa Rican fishing adventure. It’s your turn on the dance floor.
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Related Costa Rica Fishing Articles
Effective management of offshore fisheries helps pelagic species become hard-fighting machines
Rather than droning on about stock-assessment updates, I’d like to discuss what drives anglers to ensure that pelagic species like tuna, wahoo and billfish are properly managed. Hopefully most folks realize that these creatures need to be conserved because they have a natural role in pelagic ecosystems as top-level predators. Anglers, however, are likely to have their own reasons to make sure there is an ample supply of these critters.
All of the aforementioned species share similar characteristics that make them endearing to recreational anglers. Most are aesthetically pleasing to the eye, even beautiful, and a few grow to colossal sizes. Some, in the case of tunas and wahoo, make for some of the best table fare that the ocean can offer. But there is one defining feature that really makes anglers love these fish: They are high-performance animals that pull like hell on the end of the line. The thrill of a big tuna, wahoo or marlin effortlessly pulling drag from a reel is one that is hard to beat.
These species’ capacity for speed and stamina is derived from unique adaptations evolved over the millennia that are truly fascinating. Tunas, for example, have a muscular composition that sets them apart from the rest of the pack and makes them masters of both speed and stamina. Virtually all fish possess a combination of fast- and slow-twitch muscle. Fast-twitch, or white muscle, as the name implies, is designed for burst speed. However, its white appearance means that it is not highly vascularized. As a result, white muscle can fatigue quickly and doesn’t afford much in the way of stamina.
Slow-twitch muscle, which tuna have a lot of, is red because it is highly vascularized and well-oxygenated, so it provides the necessary stamina for extended cruising — or in the case of a big tuna, thoroughly beating you up, whether you’re fighting one in the chair or standing up. The unique positioning of red muscle within white muscle, along with an amazing countercurrent vascular system, allows tunas such as bluefin the ability to generate and retain heat, so their body temperatures can be significantly higher than the surrounding ambient water temperatures. Keeping their eyes, brain and muscles warm gives these fish a performance edge in colder waters.
Pelagic species don’t lead sedentary lives; they derive oxygen from the water through ram ventilation, where the act of swimming actively moves water over their gills. As such, gill adaptations are critical for supplying oxygen to brain and muscle. Tunas have the largest gill surface area relative to size, with billfish, wahoo and the rest of the mackerels right behind with more surface area than virtually any other fish. Tuna’s individual gill filaments are also uniquely shaped to allow them to be tightly packed without collapsing during high-speed swimming to maximize surface area and oxygen exchange.
Billfish possess unique spinal adaptations that benefit their energetic lifestyle and acrobatic tendencies. They have highly modified neural and hemal spines that overlap the intervertebral joints and interlock with fibrous connective tissues. This particular vertebral morphology is thought to act like a spring, which transmits force and power to the tail. These spinal adaptations are also thought to guard against shearing and compression of the intervertebral joints during bending, which also might explain how marlin can display such wild acrobatic gyrations without throwing out their backs.
This is just a brief glimpse into what makes these species some of the world’s most supremely engineered fish. The adaptations make them the game fish that they are, but it’s important to note that it can take millions of years of evolution to gain these refinements. That is why it is critical that we do all we can to ensure that these species are properly managed and conserved.
FECOP Costa Rica Fishing Species
Pacific Blue Marlin
WHERE FOUND IN COSTA RICA: Marlin can be found all along Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast. They are a pelagic and migratory species which means they live near the surface in deep, off-shore waters. They typically are found in warmer tropical waters between 70-85 degrees, which Costa Rica has year round.
Marlin Time in Costa Rica: Marlin can be and have been caught year round in Costa Rica. Historically, the best months for blue marlin in the Southern and Central Pacific regions of Costa Rica (Osa Peninsula, Quepos, Jaco) are November through January. Most years there is usually a ‘second run’ of marlin around June and July which may include an increase in black and striped marlin mixed in with the blues. Marlin are also found in the northwestern part of Costa Rica – Guanacaste from May to September when the bite then moves north along the coast with the drier weather and warmer waters.
Marlin Facts – Did You Know:
- Sometimes referred to as “The Lady in Blue”
- Average life span: 27 years (females); 18 years (males)
- It is illegal to take a sailfish or marlin out of the water for photos in Costa Rica
- Marlins are “Catch and Release” ONLY fish – Learn why it is against the law to remove these fish from the water in Costa Rica
- Best time of year to catch a Pacific blue marlin in Costa Rica – Year round peaking in Nov – January and again in April – times vary depending on which part of Costa Rica you are fishing – contact your Costa Rica guide or lodge for details.
- The Blue marlin is very large fish. Females are 3 to 4 times larger than males. Larger specimens can reach 14 feet in length and weight of almost 2000 pounds. On average, blue marlin usually reaches 11 feet in length and between 200 and 400 pounds in weight.
- Dorsal (back) side of blue marlin is dark blue while the belly is silver white in color.Blue marlin has elongated body, long tail, pronounced dorsal fin and sharp, spear-shaped upper jaw.
- Blue marlin uses its spear-shaped jaw to stun, corral and catch food. It feeds on crustaceans, fish (mackerel, tuna), dorado and squids.
- During the hunt, blue marlin will pass through a dense school of fish and inflict injuries with its spear. Dead or injured fish will float around and blue marlin will easily scoop them afterwards.
- Blue marlin relies on the eye sight to find food. It hunts during the day (diurnal animal).
- Blue marlin has 24 vertebrae which allow fast movement through the water. It reaches the speed of 60 miles per hour.
- Because of their large size and sharp spear-shaped jaw, blue marlins have only couple of predators: white sharks, mako sharks and humans.
- Blue marlins are very active and strong animals. They like to leap out of the water. Also, they will show powerful and acrobatic movements while trying to release of the hook.
- Blue marlins are solitary creatures. Sometimes they swim in pairs. Rarely, they will gather in larger groups (schools).
Blue marlins are migratory species. They will move from one location to another to escape low water temperatures (they prefer life in warm waters).
- Mating season of blue marlins takes place late in the summer or early in the autumn.
- Females become sexually mature when they gain the weight of 265 pounds. Males reach sexual maturity at the age of three years.
- Females are able to spawn 4 times per single mating season, releasing up to 7 million eggs. Only small percent of released eggs (less than 1%) will survive until the adulthood.
- Majority of eggs will be eaten by other marine creatures.
- Current Pacific World Record:1,376 – Females can reportedly grow to 1,998lbs
- Common Name: Blue Marlin
- Size: Up to 14 ft
On any day of the year it is possible to release (catch and release species by law in Costa Rica) a Pacific blue marlin in Costa Rica (Pacific) but recorded releases are historically highest from November to January when the big dorado run is on. There is also a small peak in April as sailfish numbers drop. July through September there is a better chance at a black or striped marlin mixed in with the blues in Costa Rica
More About the Pacific Blue Marlin
Lacepede, 1802; ISTIOPHORIDAE FAMILY
From IGFA Fish Database
This pelagic and migratory species occurs in tropical and warm temperate oceanic waters. In the Atlantic Ocean it is found from 45°N to 35°S, and in the Pacific Ocean from 48°N to 48°S. It is less abundant in the eastern portions of both oceans. In the Indian Ocean it occurs around Ceylon, Mauritius, and off the east coast of Africa. In the northern Gulf of Mexico its movements seem to be associated with the so called Loop Current, an extension of the Caribbean Current. Seasonal concentrations occur in the southwest Atlantic (5°-30°S) from January to April; in the northwest Atlantic (10°-35°N) from June to October; in the western and central North Pacific (2°-24°N) from May to October; in the equatorial Pacific (10°N-10°S) in April and November; and in the Indian Ocean (0°-13°S) from April to October.
A Japanese report indicates that the blue marlin is the largest of the istiophorid fishes. It apparently grows larger in the Pacific. All giant marlins are females, and male blue marlin rarely exceed 300 lb (136 kg). The pectoral fins of blue marlin are never completely rigid, even after death, and can be folded completely flat against the sides except in the largest specimens. The dorsal fin is high and pointed anteriorly (rather than rounded) and its greatest height is less than the greatest body depth. The anal fin is relatively large and it too is pointed. Juveniles may not share all the characteristics listed above, but the peculiar lateral line system is usually visible in small specimens. In adults it is rarely visible unless the scales or skin are removed. The vent is just in front of the anal fin, as it is in all billfish except the spearfish. The back is cobalt blue and the flanks and belly are silvery white. There may be light blue or lavender vertical stripes on the sides, but these usually fade away soon after death, and they are never as obvious as those of the striped marlin. There are no spots on the fins.
They are known to feed on squid and pelagic fishes, including tuna and mackerel. A powerful, aggressive fighter, they run hard and long, sound deep, and leap high into the air in a seemingly inexhaustible display of strength. Fishing methods include trolling large whole baits such as bonito, dorado, mullet, mackerel, ballyhoo, flying fish and squid as well as various types of artificial lures and sometimes strip baits.
Some taxonomists believe that the Atlantic and Pacific blue marlins are closely related but separate species. They apply the scientific name Makaira nigricans, Lacepede, 1892, to the Atlantic species only and the name Makaira mazara (Jordan & Snyder, 1901) to the Pacific and Indian Ocean species. Others treat the two populations as subspecies, Makaira nigricans nigricans and Makaira nigricans mazara
Black or Blue? – It is hard for most captains and anglers to tell the difference at times unless they are close to the fish. At closer range, one can be quickly and positively identified since it is the only marlin that have rigid pectoral fins that cannot be folded flat up against the body without breaking the joints. It is also set apart by the airfoil shape of the pectoral fins and by its very short ventral fins, which almost never exceed 12 in (30 cm) in length, regardless of the size of the fish. The first dorsal fin is proportionately the lowest of any billfish, usually less than 50 percent of the body depth. The body is laterally compressed, rather than rounded; much more so than in similar sized blue marlin.
Note: It is against the law in most countries to remove billfish from the water for photos – These are catch and release fish ONLY – To learn more read Leave the fish in the water, why your dream photo isn’t worth it – by Todd Staley
On May 31, 1982, angler Jay de Beaubien caught the biggest Pacific blue marlin ever recorded by the International Game Fish Association while he was fishing aboard No Problem, a 43-foot Merritt captained by Bobby Brown. The bite took place at approximately 1 p.m. while they were trolling a silver and blue Kita lure off Kona, Hawaii. According to the angler’s account, “All hell broke loose with that first run.” Within minutes, the fish had nearly emptied the spool. However, despite several strong runs and the immense size of the fish, de Beaubien and the crew had the fish boat-side in just 40 minutes. Not long after, the crew officially weighed the 1,376-pound blue marlin, bringing the All-Tackle record back to Kona where it has remained ever since. This photo is for historical purposes only, it is illegal to remove billfish from the water.
Dr. Larry Crowder to SAT tag 25 marlin and 25 sailfish in Costa Rica this season. Dr Larry Crowder and FECOP will be placing Satellite Tags in 25 marlin and 25 sailfish this upcoming season. Looking for volunteers to either be trained to tag these fish or allow a biologist to ride along and tag. Especially interested to tag some marlin on FADs to see what these fish are doing. Dr. Crowder will be in the country September 23-27 to speak to prospective taggers. Leave message and we will contact you (Marlin Magazine Photo) for more information: