It just doesn’t feel right heading out to the seamounts in the morning. Del and Tommy, long time customers who know about numbers, were joining me to their first trip to Costa Rica’s seamounts along with Captains James and Berto and our 2nd mate Aramis.
The details of their fishing report isn’t about and shouldn’t be about the numbers because different numbers mean different things to different people. The number “1” for example is an important one, it is the first one; the first kiss, the first love, the first tarpon, the first blue marlin. Things you just don’t forget, there is only one first, only one number one.
After the first, the next best thing is the 2nd, which proves that you can do it twice. Del and Tommy were kind enough to let me catch the 2nd blue marlin of my life caught on a fly rod with IGFA 20 pound tippet. It only took me 4 tries this time, my first fly caught blue marlin took me about 20 attempts, that is until Capt. Jake Jordan came into our program and showed us how to do it.
After an already great day of marlin fishing before noon, Del and Tommy let me take my shots. The first fly that I cast was refused, so I changed to a larger popper the marlin would hopefully see more easily. The larger fly never found the water and landed half way up the outrigger on my back cast. We pitched a bait and caught that one on conventional.
My third cast got a great going away bite from a hot blue marlin, then immediately started jumping at the boat and the fly dislodged. Finally on my 4th attempt, the 175 pounder tried to eat the teaser all the way to the boat until Berto snatched it away from him, leaving a very frustrated blue marlin between me and my fly that landed in the hole in the water once displaced by the teaser.
Twenty minutes later I was very proud to put into Berto’s hand the bill of the Dragin fly’s 50th fly-caught blue marlin this season, most of them caught using IGFA 20 pound tippet and a leader of less than 12 inches.
I mention the IGFA (International Game Fish Association) because they wrote rules on which many anglers rely to measure their personal success. A fly angler who catches blue marlin or tarpon on 40 pound tippet and 3 feet of leader got a great thrill out of catching that fish on a fly rod, but their catch is not as significant to the angler who abides by IGFA rules.
Don’t get me wrong, catch ‘em how you want to catch ‘em as long as it makes you feel good and it doesn’t hurt anyone else, as my dad used to say. He who would put a bottom rig with a 2 oz. weight and two hooks baited with shrimp and send it to the bottom, on the other end holding on an 8 wt fly rod catching spots two at a time when they were running around Beaufort Inlet.
The IGFA rules are a clear standard adopted in most tournaments, many of those tournaments come with observers who are well dressed in proper protocol. When charter fishing or practicing for a tournament we keep our tackle within IGFA guidelines and practice tournament scenarios, always trying to learn a little more and get better individually and as a team. This trip to the seamounts with Del and Tommy was an excellent opportunity for me to practice pitch baiting dead bonitio to blue marlin on teasers, the way we would do it in tournaments.
One week prior to our departure to the seamounts another group left Los Suenos on the Dragin Fly for the typical overnight chug to the underwater mountains. They arrived just before dawn and in position to take advantage of the first few hours after sunrise, typically the best blue marlin bite time.
This trip was a big deal. It had a lot of firsts. There were first blue marlins and there were first father/daughter blue marlin double header and also a husband/wife blue marlin double header.
On the afternoon out Kandice, her husband Billy, her father Jim and Kathy caught a few tunas then had a lasagna dinner as the Dragin Fly chugged to her destination, 80 miles from the marina. What could have been tight quarters for these two couples on a 42’ Sportfisher turned out to be plenty of space as comradery built through the trip. The first full day at the seamounts was slow. The water was green but a few blue marlins were raised and caught along with a couple of jumbo dorado. Any day that someone catches a first blue marlin is a great day and that was done a couple of times.
Seas were calm and skies were clear with no light that night other than stars, a couple of distant passing freighters and the flash of bonito chasing flying fish and squid as the Dragin Fly drifted on sea anchor
The next morning the blue marlin were more cooperative, with the boat landing 5 of the 5 that came to the teasers along with hooking and landing two striped marlin that made an appearance. With all of this action before noon, Berto and Aramis loaded the tuna tubes with live bait and James put the boat up to cruising speed, scanning the clear skies with the radar, looking for birds which could indicate a school of tuna. Also closer inshore there would be a chance at a sailfish, less common this time of year at the offshore seamounts, but almost always available throughout the year within striking distance of Los Suenos.
They did not find the sails for a grand slam, three species of billfish in one day, but James did dial in on the tunas, with everyone catching a 40-50 pounder before making it back to Los Suenos at about dark.
The next day, Jim, Kandace and Billy went with Carlos Aguedas on an inshore trip. The goal was to catch a trophy roosterfish or cubera snapper, something none of his anglers had accomplished. About mid day Jim got a trophy 50+ inch roosterfish, but no love with the cuberas, maybe on the other side.
The other side is where the tarpon live and typically a bunch of them. Silver King Lodge, located at the mouth of the Rio Colorado, is one of the world’s most consistent and most luxurious ways to catch tarpon. They have comfortable, safe boats for navigating the river mouth into the ocean where the larger numbers of tarpon frequent the tide lines and feed on sardines.
The week prior to Kandace and company’s arrival at Silver King, one of the lodge guests landed a 70 pound cubera which would have been another check off Jim’s list, however tarpon were the primary target of this trip.
Blue marlin, striped marlin, tunas and dorado one day, giant roosterfish the next and now, after a short drive to San Jose with no traffic and a 30 minute flight across the mountains, breakfast at the lodge and Jim is attached to a 120 pound tarpon by 8 am.
Jim, Kandace and Billy understand tarpon fishing. They know that it’s a big deal to catch one and even a bigger deal to catch one in North Carolina, something each of them has done. Everyone was happy to get what they got, everyone got a tarpon, but all in this crowd could have taken a few more if given the chance. Billy landed 4 tarpon which reignited a flame for catching a fish that had frustrated him so much he had given up on pursuing. Kandace, who gets the most excited and “goes to pieces” when she is around tarpon, she got one but was most happy to see her dad catch a tarpon each of the three days of the trip.
I was thrilled the first morning when a 100+ pounder nearly takes my fly rod out of my hands. I was happy to have caught that fish, but was happier not to have lost the fly rod, reel and line on which I would catch my blue marlin later in the week.
The weather was not the best, a lot of rain, which is actually less common on the Caribbean side this time of year. After 3 days of fishing our 3 boats totaled 14 tarpon releases, something I have seen a single boat do in an afternoon on previous trips.
Silver King Lodge is in excellent shape despite being shuttered through much of the pandemic. The food was fantastic, pool was cool when the sun was out and the hot tub was the perfect temperature in the rain. It was a joyful reunion with old friends, some of who just met.
Good byes to Jim and Kelly, Kandace and Billy at the airport who departed on the plane that arrived with Del and Tommy. The rain seemed to have followed us back across the mountains to Los Suenos, so we decided not to chug out to the seamounts that afternoon, opting for dinner at Lanterna Italian Restaurant and a more gentleman’s departure at 7 am the next morning.
We ran a couple of hours then put out the spread which was untouched until we got within a mile of the seamounts, Del released his first blue marlin of his lifetime. Not long after, Tommy released the first marlin he had ever caught. They later would have another first, catching a double header together, one of 5 double header blue marlin released on the three day trip.
Without giving away the numbers, more needs to be said about numbers. For Kandace and company, they had a great trip, super successful with a lot of firsts. Del and Tommy had an equally good trip, also with a lot of firsts, so it is not about the numbers…..unless you are in a competition. I hope that I never see something as special as the seamounts of Costa Rica turn into a competition.
I had a red drum customer who fished with me for many years and always talked about the day with Capt. Norman Miller out of Ocracoke when they caught 44 big red drum in a single day. That was his record. For years I heard about this record until finally one September nor’easter, me and big Jim caught 48 big drum. That night I called Capt. Norman and told him that after years of hearing about it, I finally broke his record. He replied, “George, you have made a tactical error. How many do you think Jim is going to want to catch tomorrow?”.
Those big numbers of red drum taught me a lesson, not just with Jim, but with any customer who had what we call an “epic” day. The problem was that the following year, their success or failure was too often determined by breaking their record. The more we caught as guides, the harder we made it on ourselves down the road. I’m not saying don’t catch as many as you can if that’s what you want to do, but enjoy every one that you catch along the way.
Things got out of hand when someone who had never caught a big drum would show up and want to break a record of one of their friends who had been on a previous trip. Meanwhile in Costa Rica we had the same thing going on with the sailfish. We were having huge days of sailfish out of Los Suenos and upcoming groups would hear the reports and measure their success against other people’s fishing trips instead of appreciating the one that they were catching at the time.
It had to stop, so we stopped posting and bragging about the numbers. Anytime someone had a “double digit” day, they caught at least 10, which is a helluva good day, period.
Ten big drum was a “double digit day”. Thirty sailfish, still a “double digit” day. Occasionally I will make a note of extraordinary accomplishment, but I did not want to set unreasonable goals or have people measure their success against someone else’s trip, so after ten, we just call it double digits.
All that said about the numbers, the Dragin Fly has just returned from our best conventional fishing trip at Costa Rica’s seamounts, 2 ½ days of marlin fishing and I caught my 2nd blue marlin on the fly and got a heck of a lot of practice hooking and missing many of the 60 blue marlin that crashed our baits out of the more than 70 that came to our teasers.
Tom and Del each caught their first striped marlin, their first blue marlin, their first double header of blue marlin and each of them had double digit blue marlin releases…..a couple of times.