Tag: Costa Rica Snook

80 years of Illegal (tarpon) Immigration

The Tico Times

Published for the Tico Times by Todd Staley

Costa Rica Tarpon on the Pacific – 80 years of illegal immigration

Saul Porras lands tarpon near Playa Tamales in Golfo Dulce. (Photo via Todd Staley. )

Tarpon enter through Panama at the canal and head in both directions. Some go south, settling in Colombia and as far south as Ecuador. Others head north to Costa Rica, Nicaragua and as far as Guatemala. They pass in small groups or alone, but when they reach their Pacific-coast destinations, they group up with others that have made the passage. The coastline of southern Costa Rica is exactly what they need to thrive.

We are not talking about people; we are talking about tarpon, an Atlantic species and popular sport fish in the southern United States, the Caribbean, and the west coast of Africa. The Caribbean side of Costa Rica is world famous for its tarpon fishery.

Caught in fisherman’s net near Quepos. Via Todd Staley.

The first tarpon was spotted in the locks of the Panama Canal in the late 1930’s, 25 years after the canal opened. Soon they were spotted in Panama Bay. Over the years, more and more sightings and captures have been recorded in the Eastern Tropical Pacific.

In recent years, the sightings have increased tremendously, but that could be for a variety of reasons. Maybe tarpon are now breeding in the Pacific. Although tarpon in the larvae stage have never been found in the Pacific, the capture of small juveniles suggest that they are breeding there. The chances that these little tarpon passed through the canal and migrated several hundred miles is slim.

The expansion of the canal in recent years has allowed for much bigger ships to pass as well as producing an easier passage for species that can survive the 65 km trek through freshwater lakes Gatun and Miraflores. In fact, more than 90 species of fauna and flora have been documented to have passed from one ocean to the other — either transported by ship or freely swimming across.

Social media and internet may also play a role in the increase of reported sighting of these silver bullets. Many sightings have been in rural or sparsely populated areas where before the communication to the outside word was limited.

In Costa Rica, tarpon captures have been documented in Tamarindo, Golfo Nicoya, Quepos, Sierpe and Golfo Dulce. The majority of these have been in Sierpe and Golfo Dulce, which have an estuary type of environment juvenile tarpon and adults alike use.

I saw my first tarpon in Golfo Dulce in 1995 when I was casting the Rio Esquinas side of the Gulf for small snapper. A fish of nearly 100 lbs rolled and took a gulp of air right next to my boat, and I thought I had lost my mind. This is a fish I knew well from fishing for them in Florida to running Archie Field’s Rio Colorado Tarpon Lodge here in Costa Rica. But this fish was not supposed to be here.

Around 2010, we started hooking eight to 10 a season while fishing for roosterfish when I managed the fishing at Crocodile Bay in Puerto Jimenez. The first one was 37 lbs and was brought to the dock because the captain had no idea what it was. Today, almost all are released. I have seen one as large as 123 lbs. Most captures occur in our Costa Rican summer months with March and April seeming to be peak times for an accidental encounter.

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One angler who seems to encounter tarpon more than most is a local fisherman named Saul Porras. By trade, he is a mate on a sportfishing boat. When he is not fishing for work, he goes Costa Rica fishing for fun. He has caught more than a half dozen tarpon in the Pacific, and all of them were casting off the beach while fishing for snook. The little juvenile fish he caught off the beach at Carate adds weight to the theory that tarpon are breeding in the Pacific.

Porras watches for small sardines that school up near the shoreline. When they arrive, pelicans begin to dive on them. A short time later, the predators move in. He has learned by watching how the baitfish reacts to determine what type of fish is feeding on them. Jacks and roosterfish come in full-blown attack mode white water froths in the frenzy. Snook are more polite feeders and sneak in from underneath, causing smaller explosions of water.

A few weeks ago, Porras had set up near Tamales in the Golfo Dulce. The sardines started to go crazy and he saw big silver flashes breaking the water as they chased the baitfish. In short order, he was hooked up and a tarpon went immediately airborne. Catching a tarpon on light gear in a boat is an accomplishment, but off the beach even more so. To catch one in the Pacific Ocean is like winning the lottery. That day he hooked five and landed three of them. (He released them all.) He has caught them in at least two other locations also.

A study has just been released on 80 years of tarpon migration through the Panama Canal. Bernald Pacheco from INCOPESCA, the entity in charge of Costa Rica fisheries and CIMAR at the University of Costa Rica, contributed to the study, which was led by Gustavo Castellanos with the Leibiz Center for Tropical Marine Research in Germany. The study is available online here.

I truly believe there a lot more tarpon in the Pacific than most people and scientists believe. Every year, the number of sightings increases, and anytime you catch three of anything that is not native to an area in one day, they have set up camp.

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Costa Rica Snook

Snook (Robalo)

Costa Rica Fishing Species – Snook (Robalo)

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.

Learn more about Costa Rica Snook (Robalo ) Fishing Here

 

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Costa Rica Snook

Snook (Robalo)

Costa Rica Fishing Species – Snook (Robalo)

Costa Rica Snook

Costa Rica Snook Facts

  1. There are 6 varieties of Snook in Costa Rica with Black Snook having the genetic predisposition to grow the largest.
  2. The most recent snook world record was a Black Snook out of Costa Rica. Read about the Captain who’s boat landed the world record Snook here.
  3. The common Snook is a voracious predator and an amazing fighter. It’s also white flaky meat is highly prized. Because of this it is highly sought after in areas like Florida and Costa Rica.
  4. Snook spend part of their in fresh and saltwater – they can live in either.
  5. It is illegal to buy or sell snook in the USA….If you want to eat one, you have to go catch one
  6. Costa Rica produces some of the biggest Snook in the world with the both the current and previous world records coming out of Costa Rica – The biggest a Black Snook weighing in at 60lbs
  7. Snook are hermaphrodites and change sex throughout their lives from male to female, the exact reason is unknown but being studied.

Costa Rica Snook Facts

CENTROPOMIDAE FAMILY also Called Robalo
(From the IGFA Fish Database)

IGFA FISH DATABASEThe genus Centropomus is confined to the American tropics and subtropics. Six species occur in the Atlantic and six in the Pacific. None occur in both oceans. They inhabit shallow coastal waters, estuaries and brackish lagoons, often penetrating far inland in fresh water. Their movements between fresh and salt water are seasonal, but they stay close to shore and never stray far from estuaries.

They are very distinctive and it would be difficult to confuse them with any other fishes. The lower jaw protrudes and a highly prominent black lateral line runs from the top of the gill cover along the sides and all the way through the tail. The body is compressed and the snout depressed and pike like. Two dorsal fins are separated by a gap. The second anal spine is conspicuous, spurlike, much thicker than the first and third. The margin of the preopercle is serrate, with 1 5 enlarged denticles at angle.

One of the axioms relating to fish species is that the colors will likely be variable depending on season, habitat, and/or any number of other conditions. The snook is no exception. The back of the snook may be brown, brown gold, olive green, dark gray, greenish silver, or black, depending largely on the areas the fish inhabits. The flanks and belly are silvery.

Its diet consists mainly of fish and crustaceans. Fishing methods include trolling or casting artificial lures or still fishing with live baits like pinfish, mullet, shrimp, crabs, or other small fish. Best fishing is said to be on the changing tide, especially high falling tide around river mouths and coastal shores and night fishing from bridges and in ocean inlets. A flooding or rising tide is more productive at creek heads.

An excellent table fish with delicate, white, flaky meat, it is a member of the Centropomidae family, which also includes the 200 lb (90.72 kg) Nile perch (Lates niloticus) and the barramundi (Lates calcarifer). It usually matures by the third year and has a life span of at least seven years. It is very sensitive to temperature and may not survive at temperatures below about 60oF (15oC)

Multiple species
Snook belong to the family Centropomidae, which contains 12 closely related species that inhabit both the Atlantic and the Pacific. The largest is thought to be the black snook, which is found only on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica and has the largest IGFA record, at 57 pounds, 12 ounces. Florida is home to five of these species: common snook, small-scaled fat snook, large-scaled fat snook,  tarpon snook, and swordspine snook.  It takes a pretty good eye to tell some of the species apart, and location of catch is often the best indicator. The snook on

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