Fishing for large billfish ranks as one of the most exciting endeavors in all of fishing. No offshore fisherman can remain unmoved at the sight of a massive dark shape rising to a trolled bait or lure, or when a live tuna fastened to the end of the leader starts to panic because a large predator has arrived and is moving in for the kill. With any luck, that predator will be a marlin, the magnificent quarry which committed billfish anglers constantly travel the world to seek.
I'm one of those anglers and so found myself in Panama late last summer in search of a large Pacific blue or black marlin. Tropic Star Lodge, located along the remote southeast Pacific coast of Panama in Piñas Bay, has perfected live baiting for marlin over the years, and there's no better place to give it a try. Close to the Colombian border, Tropic Star's remote location enables you to fish waters teeming with marine life, swept here by the convergence of major currents from all over the Pacific. Baitfish school here in abundance, and that attracts large numbers of predators, including black, blue and striped marlin, sailfish and swordfish.
We visited Tropic Star at the invitation of Dr. Guy Harvey, the internationally acclaimed marine artist, scientist and conservationist. Harvey takes a group of friends and colleagues to the resort every year, and my wife Poppy and I eagerly signed on for last year's trip. "I have been going to Tropic Star since the early 1990s, when the lodge was struggling from the effects of Manuel Noriega's regime in Panama," Harvey said. "Since then it rebounded and over the next decade became the most sought-after big-game fishing destination in the eastern Pacific, if not in the world. A number of factors contribute to the unique Tropic Star experience.
"First, it is very remote, so just getting there is like going on a safari into pristine rainforest, set where a 4,000-foot mountain range meets the sea. It's very dramatic," he continued. "And then when sitting down for dinner in a beautiful air-conditioned restaurant with black-tie service after a day of fishing, you must remember where you are: 150 miles from civilization. Second, the fishing is very good. I have been to Tropic Star 35 times in 17 years and have been lucky on most expeditions."
The chance to tangle with a black marlin brings many to Piñas Bay, including Poppy and me. Neither of us had caught a black, and this area holds large numbers of them. "Nowhere else in the eastern Pacific can an angler have such consistent opportunities to catch black marlin," Harvey explained. "The average size is 300 to 400 pounds, and a nice one is 600. There have been some bigger fish caught, and certainly a couple over 1,000 pounds have been released - notably the 1,200-pound fish caught by Neil Patrick in January of 2005 that was featured in one of my Portraits from the Deep TV episodes."