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May 27, 2008

Summer in the Osa

The action off the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica only heats up as "the season" ends and summer approaches

"Vela, vela, left, left!" shouted the mate, and we all looked to the left just as two black sails rose simultaneously, one on either side of a hookless teaser. "Two fish!" he said too late; my friend Charlie Von Deck and I had already grabbed the two conventional outfits rigged with naked ballyhoo tied to circle hooks and were throwing the baits over the transom to drop back to the approaching sailfish.

Von Deck's fish stayed locked onto the left teaser, but the second fish dropped beneath the surface, disappearing momentarily. When we next saw it, the fish had come to the right short teaser and swam only a few feet behind the boat. Von Deck hooked his fish before I presented the bait to mine - I had dropped back too far and had to reel the ballyhoo in to a point where the fish could see it, just outside the prop wash.

But as the first fish had done moments earlier, mine eagerly attacked the bait as soon as the mate yanked the teaser from the water. "Double-header!" shouted the crew, not particularly in unison, but with great enthusiasm. Our fish ran off in opposite directions, jumping frantically before sounding and settling in for the brief fight. Once again, the Costa Rican bait-and-switch had worked flawlessly, and soon both sailfish were released, a little tired but none the worse for wear.

Changing Seasons
That double-header occurred several years back on a late-April trip to the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica while fishing with Capt. Mike Hennessy of Cabo Matapalo charters. Many people consider April to be the best overall month for fishing off the Osa Peninsula, out of the Puerto Jimenez-Golfito area. As with most great fishing destinations, different seasons bring different fish, but April has almost everything you could want in terms of Pacific species.

Offshore species include yellowfin tuna, with the biggest concentrations occurring in late fall, but you can find them year 'round following spinner porpoise schools. Large schools of dorado appear around December, but their numbers decline as spring approaches, and even though sailfish can be found year 'round, the spring is considered the prime time for them.

But the more I fish here, the more I hear about great fishing in May and on into the summer months. "It's awesome," says Hennessy.  "The action, especially for marlin, can be insane! But most people don't know it, so very few of them come down and try it." And even though you might not be there during peak season for a particular species, that doesn't mean you won't see one.

Expect the Unexpected
During that same trip, I asked Hennessy about the possibility of catching dorado late in the season. "We don't see many dorado this time of year," he replied, but the words had barely left his lips when a 40-pound bull dorado came streaking in from the left to attack a teaser lure. The whole crew broke into laughter as the fish piled onto a ballyhoo that my wife, Poppy, dropped back. "Good thing he doesn't know he's not supposed to be here," I said.

As I write this, Hennessy is in the process of moving his operation to Hawaii, but there are many good camps in the area that can accommodate your fishing needs. Some of the local camps shut down for the summer, but Parrot Bay Village doesn't - they stay open 365 days a year and will take you fishing any time you want to go.

Parrot Bay General Manager Chad Parker agrees with Hennessy's view on late-season fishing opportunities. "The marlin bite is great in June, July and August," Parker said, "and you still get 10 shots at sailfish every day, on average. We actually have trips booked in all 12 months of the year. It just slows down in the summer in terms of the numbers of fishermen."

That can make finding the fish more challenging since there may only be two or three boats offshore searching for the bite instead of 10 or more, a typical fleet during the high season. Parker says you might have to run around a little more, looking for signs of activity, but once you find it, you'll have it all to yourself. 

Center-Console Options
Parrot Bay fishes a fleet of 29-foot Sea Vees powered by twin Suzuki outboards. These boats provide fast and efficient platforms for all types of fishing, from slow-trolling live baits for blue marlin to casting plugs just outside the surf break for roosterfish. The wide-open center-console design gives you lots of open fishing space, and the outboard speed lets you cover lots of water, so it's easy to hit both inshore and offshore spots in the same day.

We spent a few days at Parrot Bay recently, enjoying outstanding action with a wide variety of species. The first day out, my son Ben hooked a blue marlin on 50-pound stand-up tackle, a fish that we later estimated at around 300 pounds. He and friend Topher Wightman were fishing aboard the Moondancer with Capt. Oliver Martinez and mate Juan Acuña, two of the top Parrot Bay crew members.

We were fishing a couple of miles away on Wavejammer with Capt. Javier Espinoza and had dragged lures past several tailing sailfish without enticing a strike, but we quickly pulled our lines in and ran over to the other boat to watch and photograph the fight.

By the time we got there, the marlin had settled in under the boat and was dogging them hard, but Ben methodically worked the fish with short strokes of the rod, and Capt. Martinez kept the boat positioned so that the fish was always off one transom corner. After about 15 more minutes, the snap swivel cleared the surface, and Acuña grabbed the leader to the cheers of the crews from both boats.

After a series of photographs, they released the marlin, and we all went back to trolling. The Parrot Bay boats typically troll a combination of hookless teaser lures and hook baits, with the teasers fished closest to the boat. Two teasers get pulled right off the stern cleats in the prop wash, and two more teasers are pulled from the short outrigger positions. These teasers are usually Mold Craft lures, often Senior Super Chuggers and Junior or Senior Wide Ranges.

They pull two natural hook baits behind the teasers, often a ballyhoo with an Ilander Hawaiian Eye lure in front of it or a rigged tuna-belly strip bait. A shotgun line with a lure-ballyhoo combination fished far down the middle on heavier tackle completes the spread, in case a large marlin should choose to show up. Two 20-pound-test rods with naked ballyhoo and circle hooks are kept ready to drop back for sailfish, with a 50-pound-test rod rigged with a whole small tuna or strip bait for marlin.

Offshore and Inshore Action
Each morning, we headed offshore in search of billfish, and each morning we found them in respectable numbers and released quite a few sailfish, although Ben's blue marlin on day one would be our only marlin. Each afternoon we headed inshore to try our luck along the miles of deserted, beautiful shoreline that stretches as far as you can see in either direction from the mouth of the Golfo Dulce.

On the southern shore of the opening, off the surfing community of Pavones, we found huge schools of bait and had tremendous action with cubera snappers, large mackerel, jacks and small roosterfish. Most of the boats troll live goggle-eyes, readily available to boats fishing the area from a large bait barge that's permanently anchored just south of Puerto Jimenez.

But our best inshore action came on the other side of the Gulf, fishing along shallow reefs between Cabo Matapalo (the southern tip of the Osa Peninsula) and Puerto Jimenez. We got into a large school of roosterfish that were feeding voraciously on the surface beneath a huge flock of birds. All of the fish were between 25 and 50 pounds, and it was quite a sight: The extended dorsal fins of dozens of these beautiful fish were cutting across the surface at the same time, in pursuit of a school of terrified baitfish. The fish ate anything we threw at them, and we caught and released several before the school submerged and disappeared.

The Pacific off the Osa Peninsula has become one of my favorite places to fish, and now that I know how great the fishing can be in the "off-season," I'm even more determined to return as soon as I can.


Parrot Bay Village
Parrot Bay Village makes a great base for fishing and exploring around the Osa Peninsula. Located at the southern end of the town of Puerto Jimenez, the resort features a central restaurant and a bar situated right on the beach. Several stylish and comfortable wood cabins are spread out around a lushly landscaped property.

Accommodations range from simple cabins with loft bedrooms to a posh rental house with two bedrooms and a full kitchen. Chad Parker and his wife Mary head up an incredibly friendly and attentive staff, and the Parrot Bay bar is a gathering spot where locals and tourists alike cometo relax.

In addition to fishing trips, the staff can arrange eco-tours, surfing trips, jungle hikes - you name it. They even have a small bird rookery in the mangrove swamp adjacent to the resort with a resident population of white ibises, caimans and small crocodiles. Parrot Bay manages to be laid-back yet elegant, and great food, friendly people and afternoon fishing stories make it a destination not to be missed.

Parrot Bay Village
866.551.2003 (U.S.); 506.735.5180 (C.R.)
parrotbayvillage.com


Getting There
These days, Puerto Jimenez is more accessible than ever, with several flights arriving daily from the capital city of San Jose. Many major U.S. airlines fly to San Jose, as does TACA, the airline of Latin America. You can also connect through the Costa Rican city of Liberia, now a port of entry where several American airlines fly daily. Connections from Liberia are fewer than from San Jose.

Once in Costa Rica, you have two choices for connecting flights: Sansa or Nature Air. Both fly into the Puerto Jimenez Airport daily, but only Sansa flies from the Juan Santamaria International Airport in San Jose, the one you'll fly into from the States. If you choose Nature Air, you'll need to take a short cab ride to a smaller, regional airport nearby.

That's not a big deal, and frequent fliers usually decide according to whichever has the most convenient schedule. One note: Pay close attention to weight limitations with these regional carriers. They take weight restrictions seriously, and if you have too much gear, they may not let you board.