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January 29, 2010

Trophy Panama Roosterfish

Target Panama's trophy roosterfish for extreme light-tackle fun.

A Record Falls
"While pursuing the IGFA world-record roosterfish on 8-pound-test, which stood at around 42 pounds, we were using goggle-eyes for bait," Werking said. "I like to put two identical baits out on the surface when fishing 8-pound line and drop a 3- to 4-pound live bonito on a downrigger using 16-pound line, looking for a 70-pound-plus fish. We got a bite on a goggle-eye close to the rocks, which immediately turned into quite a dance. In this case, the fish was really hugging the shoreline, going for the rocks. Fortunately, I was able to get the fish out into the open water by pulling at different angles. After a 45-minute battle, which included pushing the drag to over 50 percent at times, the fish came to the leader and weighed 54 pounds, 9 ounces. Catching a world-record roosterfish was a dream come true for me."

Panama's coastline around Piñas Bay features literally hundreds of likely-looking places where roosterfish might be found. Large freestanding rock formations jut upward from the ocean floor just offshore, and the shoreline itself has countless rocky promontories where surf breaks and baitfish might be trapped in the roil, attracting predators like roosterfish and cuberas. But not every likely-looking place holds fish, and that's where local knowledge becomes invaluable.

"Roosterfish can travel long distances in their feeding trek," Werking said. "I was surprised to learn that a satellite-tagged roosterfish traveled over 800 miles. As with many fish, it's all about the food chain and their ability to harvest their prey. The big roosterfish prefer the bigger baits, but that's not to say you can't catch them on smaller baits like goggle-eyes. Rocky areas in deeper water can be very productive and can hold the bigger fish."

Local Knowledge
The TSL captains know the best places, spots which have produced trophy roosterfish consistently over the years, and there are lots to choose from. We worked a great many of them during two different trips to the lodge and caught an incredible variety of species, including many roosters of all sizes.

In addition to the live baits, we also cast topwater plugs at the shoreline almost constantly, providing us with the best of both worlds - the chance to catch a monster roosterfish on a live bait and the chance to catch smaller fish and other species on the plugs with lighter tackle. This system worked very well; we put all three live baits on one side of the boat, leaving the shoreward side open for one of us to cast from the cockpit. The other would climb up to the bow of the Bertram and cast toward shore from there.

With three live baits and two popping plugs at work almost constantly, the bites came in rapid succession, and by the end of the day, both Werking and I knew we had put in a full day of fishing. It's hard work, but work that pays great dividends. Over the course of our fishing trips, we caught cubera snapper, yellowfin tuna, bluefin trevally, Pacific sierra mackerel, African pompano and other jacks, in addition to the roosterfish.

Now Werking has his sights set on that 16-pound record. "I spend a lot of time trying to eclipse the current 16-pound world record," he said. "For this, I try to use only live bonito in the 3- to 4-pound range, one on the downrigger and one on the surface slow-trolling. This method has landed me numerous fish in the 60-pound-plus range, but I'm still looking for the right one."

Werking has had several huge fish on that would have broken the record, but they got away. "That's fishing," he said. We caught a number of roosterfish between 20 and 40 pounds during our trips, all great fun, especially on the plug tackle. All were photographed and released, and we resumed the hunt for the monster rooster.

The TSL record roosterfish tipped the scales at 96 pounds, so Werking's big fish is out there somewhere. In the meantime, it's sure a lot of fun catching and releasing all of those 40-pounders too. And who knows? You could be the first one to catch that elusive 100-pounder at Tropic Star Lodge.