Tag: Costa Rica Tarpon Fishing

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 Fishing: King of the Silver Kings

Costa Rica Featured Fishing Captain – Eddie Brown, Tortuguero, Costa Rica

Tarpon schooling on Costa Rica’s Caribbean.

As you approach the river mouth at Barra del Colorado for the first time, it appears as if you are about to enter a washing machine gone berserk. The river current pushing out against the incoming waves breaking on the sandbar makes for an interesting combination of a thrilling boat ride that will challenge any Disney attraction. To cross the sandbar, one needs to position the boat as close to the incoming waves as possible and study the series of breakers.  The sets will come with big waves followed by a few smaller waves. That´s when you take your shot, quartering the waves until you are on the outside.

And there is gold on the other side of those hills – or should I say, silver? Silver Kings, or Tarpon by the tons, swim in acre-sized schools, and once you cross the “bar,” you are usually met with a fairly calm ocean. On the days the waves are just too big to pass, much of the fishing is done in front of the breakers or up the river.

Eduardo Brown has been chasing tarpon and fulfilling anglers’ bucket lists for the last 45 years. Not many people will argue with the claim that he is probably the top tarpon guide in Costa Rica. In the recent Club Amateur de Pesca tournament, he guided his team, which included his wife Cynthia, to 17 tarpon the first day.Tarpon Fishing VideosOnce Brown is on the outside, he will usually head north, sometimes south, along the coast, always on the lookout for rolling fish. When he locates an area that holds fish, he will either have his clients fish with 1- to 3-ounce jigs depending on the speed of their drift, or send a sardine down.For years, fishing was all done with artificial lures, but several years ago anglers started fishing with bait on a circle hook. Various types of sardines are readily available to be jigged up with small gold hooks. No need to worry about a live well, as they work just as well with dead bait.

“The hook-up to catch ratio with lures is about 20 to 30%”, explained Brown. “With bait on a circle hook, we are landing 80 to 90% of our bites.”

A Costa Rican tarpon will average around 80 lbs, and fish as large as 200 lbs have been taken on occasion. Pound for pound, they are one of the most powerful of game fish and put on a spectacular aerial show.
A tarpon takes to the sky.

This species has no trouble traversing from saltwater to freshwater; they congregate in large schools in the ocean and in smaller groups and singles in freshwater lagoons,  rivers, and creeks. They travel the Colorado and San Juan Rivers from the coast all the way to Lake Nicaragua.

Wherever the tarpon might be, Brown will follow them. He fishes the ocean in a 22-foot open fisherman designed particularly for the Caribbean by Pete Magee, who had his boat building operation in Santa Ana, just west of San José. To get into the backcountry, up the narrow creeks in Costa Rica and San Juan del Norte, Nicaragua, he prefers to use a 19-foot Carolina skiff.

There, he also guides light tackle and fly fishermen for snook and freshwater exotics like guapote, a powerful and colorful fish a travel agent or outdoor writer prefers to call rainbow bass for obvious reasons; mojarra, a large bream-like cichlid; and machaca, a distant relative of the piranha that is of poor food quality but very sporting on light tackle. Brown says the backwaters and creeks are still pristine, but fewer tarpon seem to hang out in the main river due

(Courtesy of Eduardo Brown)

Brown is also one of the few who have experimented with Caribbean offshore fishing. Sailfish, yellowfin tuna, dorado, barracuda and kingfish have been taken from his boat. He has a special knack for taking large wahoo. Large Rapala lures trolled behind his boat usually takes wahoo that sometimes tip the scale at 60 lbs. And he does it in 125 feet of green water, something a Pacific-coast angler probably would not even fish in, preferring clean blue water.

Still, tarpon is his favorite, and he loves taking people to catch their first one. When he doesn’t have a charter, you will find him fishing with his family. Ask anyone slightly familiar with Costa Rican tarpon and they will know the name Eddie Brown. He truly is the King of the Silver Kings.

(Courtesy of Eduardo Brown)

Naty Brown poses with a snook taken with her father, Eduardo Brown. (Courtesy of Eduardo Brown)

For more information, contact Eddie at 8834-2221 or 

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

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Costa Rica Fishing Tarpon

Tarpon in Costa Rica’s Pacific Focus of New FECOP Study – Sport Fishing Magazine

FECOP, a Costa Rica sport fishing advocacy and conservation organization, has announced an unprecedented study to unlock secrets of Atlantic tarpon now living in the Pacific.

From SportFishingMag.com

Tarpon in Pacific Costa Rica Focus of New Study

Scientists are trying to determine if tarpon are breeding in the Pacific.

Courtesy FECOP

Twenty-seven years ago, Didiher Chacon was a young biologist from the National University in Costa Rica. Todd Staley, co-creator of 12 Fathom Jigs that forever changed tarpon fishing in Boca Grande, Florida, in the late 1980s, had just moved to Costa Rica to manage Archie Fields’ Rio Colorado Lodge, a world-famous tarpon destination. Chacon stopped by the lodge one day to explain he was collecting tarpon samples for analysis by Dr. Roy Crabtree in Florida. Staley, who was familiar with Crabtree’s work, jumped at the chance to catch a few tarpon and help science at the same time.


Chacon went on to become well respected in marine conservation circles. He is currently the director of the NGO, Latin American Sea Turtles, as well as a professor at the National University in the post-degree program. Staley moved to the Pacific side of Costa Rica after Archie Fields died and for two decades managed famous billfish destinations like Golfito Sailfish Ranch and Crocodile Bay. He began working full time for FECOP, a Costa Rica sport-fishing advocacy and conservation group, last May.

“I first saw a tarpon roll in the Pacific back in 1995,” Staley explains. “For a minute I thought I was losing my mind but then I thought, I have seen tarpon roll my whole life, I know one when I see one.” Eventually one of the charter captains returned to the dock one day with a 40-pound tarpon and had no idea what it was. Since then clients have hooked five to 10 tarpon a year, occasionally landing and releasing a few. The largest tarpon taken was estimated around 130 pounds. It has always been assumed that the tarpon, which are not indigenous to Pacific waters, passed through the Panama Canal and took up residence on the Pacific coast.

The puzzle got even more interesting when Saul Porras caught a baby tarpon while snook fishing at the mouth of a creek on the Osa Peninsula in southern Costa Rica. Chances that little guy passed through the canal and swam that far are extremely slim. So, are tarpon now breeding in the Pacific? They have been caught all along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, especially in the southern zone. An increasing number have been taken in the Sierpe and Coto Rivers. Tarpon have also been have recorded as far south as Colombia and as far north as El Salvador.

Tarpon in Pacific Costa Rica Focus of New Study

Most of the river tarpon are small, but some as large as 100 pounds have also been captured.

Courtesy FECOP

FECOP agreed to sponsor a project to find out more about tarpon in the Pacific. Staley contacted Chacon (the two had remained friends over the years) and he agreed to work on the science part of the project. “The Sierpe Wetlands are per-fect habitat for juvenile tarpon,” Chacon says. “That very well may account for the increase in numbers of tarpon caught there in the last few years.” Most of the river tarpon are small, less than 30 pounds, but some as large as 100 pounds have also been captured.

Tropical Storm Nate delayed the project when massive amounts of rain fell, which not only caused major landslides but also completely flushed everything out many of the coastal rivers.

Phase 1 of the project will concentrate in southern Costa Rica. A DNA comparison will be done between Pacific-caught tarpon and tarpon taken at various locations on the Caribbean side of the country. Biologists will also study what the Pacific tarpon have been feeding on. This can be accomplished with a small tissue sample without sacrificing the fish. All Pacific-caught tarpon will also be tagged.

Chacon notes that there is a possibility tarpon could change the ecology of the rivers over time. So far it is not yet known what these tarpon are feeding on or how they will affect native fish. But the ever-increasing encounters along Costa Rica’s Pacific coast make it worth finding out.

For more information contact: www.fishcostarica.org or info@fecop.org.

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