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Tropical Freshwater Flyfishing

by Tucker Brooks

"Costa Rica is the best place in the world for flyfishing."
Peter Gorinski, tropical flyfishing guide.

Costa Rica's coasts are by no means a new fishing destination. Fishermen have been hauling marlin, sailfish, tarpon, snook and other species out of river mouths and blue water off both coasts for years. However, thousands of miles of inland freshwater rivers, lakes, and streams that wind through this small country have been left practically untouched. And that's just fine with Peter Gorinski, whose service Fly Fish Costa Rica is tapping this undiscovered reservoir of world-class fishing by offering trips into these virgin areas to experience fishing the way it was before graphite and fiberglass. Places where the locals stare, not because you are trespassing, but because you look as strange to them as they would look sliding their dugout canoes into the water at a bass lake boat ramp.

Gorinski grew up fishing the Amazon in Guyana with a bow and arrow. He started flyfishing in 1967, and now with more than 30 years of experience under his belt he is considered by some to be one of the world's leading authorities on tropical flyfishing.

"Even today I feel that Costa Rica is the best place in the world for flyfishing... It offers more year-round fishing for more species in an easily accessed geographical region than any other place that I know of," Gorinski said about his Central American fishing hole. Gorinski and his Fly Fish Costa Rica guides take people all over Costa Rica to catch exotic fish, including guapote, machaca, mojarra, bobo, tarpon, snook, tepe and machín.

In Gorinsky's opinion, the freshwater lagoons of Caño Negro and Río Frío in the northern zone of Costa Rica offer some of the best tarpon fishing in the world. FFCR uses Pac 1200's, small two-man inflatable pontoon boats equipped with 3.5 h.p. outboards, to provide access to almost every nook and cranny of the many lagoons and canals within the area.

Inside these freshwater lagoons are tarpon (up to 200 pounds), snook, machaca, mojara, guapote, alligator gar, drum and other species. Tarpon in these shallow lagoons actively feed on the surface allowing the angler to sight-cast the monsters. Because the lagoons are shallow (20 feet at the deepest point) floating lines are used with a variety of streamers. Yellow, red, black, orange and white seem to work best. When hooked from the 13-foot boats, a tarpon feels more like a submarine than a fish. No less than a #10 rod is recommended and a high-density sinking line should be brought along for days when the fish are being a little fickle.

At Lake Arenal, fishing for guapote and machaca is done in the shadow of the active Arenal Volcano. FFCR uses a fully equipped, 20-foot aluminum bass boat named the "Tropic" when working the lake. Fishing is the same for guapote as for largemouth bass; the only difference is the fish. Guapote, also called rainbow bass, are cousins of the tropical fish found in many aquariums. They lurk in flooded brush and off the many points and drop-offs in the lake—and fight like two largemouths combined.

Flyfishing is most often with floating lines with large poppers (#8-6) or with white, silver, and yellow streamers (#6-4) for guapote, and smaller poppers and streamers for machaca (#12-6). Fishing in Arenal is best after January, when the rains stop and the water level drops. An angler equipped with a #6-8 rod and an extra sinking or sink tip line should be prepared for just about anything the lake has to offer.

Float fishing several of Costa Rica's smaller rivers also provides some excellent sport. Again, the two-man Pac 1200's and smaller one-man Pac 80's are used to fish the rivers, which resemble the rivers of the western United States. Gorinski calls this kind of fishing "tropical trout fishing," although the prey includes machaca, machín, bobo, guapote and other species rather than trout, which are only found in the higher elevations..

Equipment required is the same as for traditional trout fishing: eight- to nine-foot rods (#4-6) loaded with floating line will handle anything in these rivers. Top water poppers (#12-8), small, bright Clouser streamers (#10-8) and Gotcha flies (#10-8) work the best...truly a tropical fly fishing dream. The rivers best suited for this kind of fishing are the northern rivers: Río Sarapiquí, Río Peñas Blancas, Río Arenal, and the Río General.

As if that were not enough, FFCR offers trout fishing as well. Not what Gorinski calls "tropical trout"—these are the real things. Descendants of the rainbow and cutthroat hybrids introduced years ago, these trout have taken well to their new environment. The trout are not huge (the average is around eight inches) but they are always hungry and challenging. Fishing includes wet wading in small streams with fast water and deep pools surrounded by dense cloud forest. Most of the fish are taken using weighted nymphs and terrestrials, but there is some good insect activity in the morning. A small rod (7-8 foot, #3-5) will be adequate, and a variety of small weighted nymphs (#16-12). Many of Costa Rica's most beautiful birds accompany the angler along the streams. It's not uncommon to see quetzals, toucans, and a variety of butterflies and hummingbirds. The best trout fishing rivers have been the Río Providencia, Río Copey, Río General, Río Torro Amarillo and the lower Río Tapantí.

FFCR offers a variety of trips for anglers who want to explore one or a combination of the off-beat freshwater fishing destinations in Costa Rica. Fly rods and reels can be provided, but it is recommended that you bring your own equipment. A vast assortment of tropical flies are also available for sale.

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