Over the course of modern history, problems in logistics, economics and government interference have limited participation in the Hannibal Bank fishery. This history began back in 1972, when Bob Griffin’s Club Pacifico – a very successful land-based camp located in a scenic cove on the north end of Coiba Island – was confiscated by a then Noriega-led government. Since then, the region has experienced long periods of inaccessibility, except by yachts in transit.
In November of 1994, the Coral Star mother ship reopened the bank to international anglers and operated on a regular schedule until 1996. Legal problems have since forced the ship to remain docked in the port of Pedregal. The owners hope to resume operations soon.
Hannibal Lodge, located in the quiet waters of Bahia Honda on the mainland about 18 miles northeast of Coiba Island, is not yet in full operation as envisioned by entrepreneur Lee Lukes. Created a few years ago as a thatched-roof cabana stopover for sailboats and yachts in transit, the lodge was not originally planned as a sport-fishing venue. Lukes wants to change that image by constructing new, comfortable rooms to accommodate 20 guests and provide 26- to 30-foot charter boats to fish and overnight at the offshore islands. It currently is the only land-based operation in the Hannibal region, and Lukes can handle up to six anglers.
That leaves, for the current time at least, the Coiba Explorer as the most accessible operation in the region. This project, based on a floating lodge 30 feet wide and 70 feet long, draws on the valuable experiences of owner Paul Sanderson and manager Tom Yust, who ran the Costa Rica-based Phoenix Charters that provided mother-ship access to this region for years.
The Explorer remains anchored in Bahia Hermosa at Coiba Island, scarcely 8 miles from the Hannibal Bank. Resembling a houseboat, its steel bottom is low-profile with a superstructure made of tropical hardwoods and thatched roof, providing a tropical touch. It is a comfortable home base for fishing, with two freshwater showers, flush toilets, rooms with ceiling fans, lounge/dining area with large-screen TV, VCR, compact disc, cassette stereo and telephone communications.
The Explorer fishing fleet includes three new diesel Pursuits fully rigged with fighting chairs, enclosed heads, GPS, VHF radio, color sonar, tuna tubes and tackle lockers. Two Rybo Canyon Runners, one 30-foot Rybovich Rybo Runner, a 16-foot outboard skiff and two inflatables round out the fleet. The Explorer’s 25,000-gallon diesel fuel storage is enough to service its fleet for seven months. Penn tackle, from spinning to International 80-wides, are provided along with lures, terminal tackle and fighting gear. Anglers also have a choice to fish with either local Panamanian or U.S. skippers.