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The North Caribbean: Where Tarpon Sometimes Spread for Acres
by Jerry Ruhlow
Tarpon and snook are the target of most fishermen visiting Costa Rica's remote northern Caribbean coast. There was a time when most of the tarpon action in the region was in the riversand backwaters, and the 16-foot outboards could only get outside the river mouth on calm days.
Today, thanks to larger, more seaworthy boats equipped with radios and electronics, anglers frequently are able to get through the river mouths, where tarpon sometimes spread for acres and every cast can result in a strike.
Snook, particularly the big ones, are most often caught fishing from the beach around the river mouths, usually on jigs. If you're not up to wading or combating sand fleas, they are also caught trolling close to shore near the river mouths.
But those high-powered 23-foot center consoles most lodges are running these days have opened a whole new dimension to fishing in the area, with the opportunity to go outside not only for tarpon, but for blue water species that include Atlantic Sailfish, Atlantic blue marlin, wahoo, dorado, tripletail, barracuda, kingfish, cero and Spanish mackerel, jack crevalle, grouper, snapper and more.
The late Archie Fields, who built the Río Colorado Lodge, first recognized potential for the blue water fishing. Archie had Santa Ana boat builder Pete Magee design and build the 23-foot center consoles used in the region and began exploring further afield. One of Archie's boats brought in the first Atlantic Sailfish ever seen in the area about 10 years ago. Magnitude of the event was evident when they even halted the Sunday soccer game so everyone could come to the docks for a close look. Close behind was Ray Barry, who built neighboring Silver King Lodge and got serious about providing customers an alternative to tarpon and snook in the area.
"We found a canyon that drops from 268 feet to 1200 feet, located about 30 minutes run from the Barra mouth on a heading of 120 degrees," Ray told Costa Rica Outdoors a couple of years ago.
"We've hooked up to a half dozen big wahoo in a day, along with lots of dorado, sailfish, marlin and more, and we have also taken a few big cubera, jewfish, grouper and snapper -- even though we don't fish for them," he added.
On the inside, anglers can nearly always find plenty of light tackle sport on rainbow bass (guapote), mojarra, vieja, drum, machaca, gar and especially calba (fat snook), a species of snook that run four to seven pounds or larger, but move into the rivers for about three months every year. When the run is on, catches of 20 or more a day are not unusual.
There are even big sawfish if you're willing to put in the time going after one.
"We had guests here 18 months ago with a young boy who said he wanted to catch one of everything we had," Silver King's Shawn Feliciano said.
"In six days he caught tarpon, jack, mackerel, machaca, tripletail, snook, Spanish and king mackerel, gar and a 200 pound sawfish... not everything, but pretty close!" The sawfish was taken on a live mojarra at Dos Bocas, where the Río Colorado and Caño Negro come together eight miles up the river.
Sportfishing began to develop along the northern Caribbean coast in the 1970's, and there are currently lodges at Parismina, Tortuguero, Samay Lagoon and scattered near the mouth of the Río Colorado, near the two villages that sprawl along the northern and southern shores of the river.
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