When you board your first leg of a big trip, your fishing expectations are the highest they will ever be and they remain so as you imagine all the possible things you will see and experience on the water while en route. Even though I’d consider myself a veteran angler who knows fishing is unpredictable at its best, I still love to daydream. Fishing with great distances in between point A and point B can put a lot of stress on whether or not the trip was worth it. I’m here to remind you to keep an open mind when traveling and not set too much pressure on fishing by having such high expectations. Also, be open to any form of fishing, if that is your only option. But first, let me set the record straight. This trip’s agenda was not a fishing trip, but to have fun on the beach and in the mountains of Costa Rica with one day of fishing. ONLY ONE DAY! No pressure at all.
There are two major airports into Costa Rica: San Jose and Liberia. We opted for Liberia as both beaches and mountains would be accessible. Fortunately, the dry season was very dry and would continue. Our coastal destination and home base was Playa Del Coco.
... It took weeks of preparation and research to tie up enough flies for anything that might cross my path ...
It took weeks of preparation and research to tie up enough flies for anything that might cross my path. Originally I was going to do a DIY from the local beaches, but an opportunity to get out into the coastal waters was too tempting to pass up for my one day of fishing. The fishing odds would be more in my favor, or so I thought.
Initial communication about guides in the area told me that my guide was knowledgeable about fly fishing and was the go-to for the area. Most of the boats would be charter trolling boats, but if the guides have knowledge of fly fishing or light tackle techniques, they will be able to put you on fish. Fortunately, Costa Rica has a very rich ocean fishery.
It was established that I would not need to bring equipment and all would be supplied. Tempting as that sounded, I still brought one set up, knowing how easy it would be for a trip to go from good to bad without the comfort of my own gear. They don’t have fly shops in Costa Rica. Pay particular attention to that last sentence. I did not follow that advice and ended up paying for it.
Our schedule was: Day one, river boat tour. Day two, rest. Day three, full day action adventure tour in the mountains with volcanic hot springs. Day four, rest. Day five, 8 hour fishing trip. Day 6, leisure departure in the late afternoon. For our non-fishing events, we went with an adventure tour company called El Coco Tours. They were fantastic to work with and spot-on pairing us with the proper adventures and elegant, fully loaded condos. The driver and bus El Coco Tours offers are well worth their weight in gold and a worry-free way to travel in Costa Rica where many of the remote mountain roads don’t even have road signs.
Our river boat tour provided an amazing amount of wildlife and at the end of the day, I received a message saying the fishing trip had to be rescheduled to day two due to weather. That meant no rest until the end of the trip. Thankfully, both my companion and I were willing to roll with it.
Day one, river boat tour ... Day five, 8 hour fishing trip ...
At 6 am the next morning, we found ourselves on the beach ready to head out. We approached the waves and hopped into a 25ft boat. I shook hands with the guide and he seemed excited to start the day. As we made our way out of the cove, the guide asked what we would like to fish for. I said anything that is available, as I like all fish, hoping this would make the guide trip easier for him. He asked if we wanted to do any trolling and we were not interested in this, even if it was for Blue Marlin. We were here to experience the coastal habitat and fly fish in the Pacific Ocean for the first time. The northwest coastline of Costa Rica is loaded with rock ledges and islands that produces excellent cover for fish. To the rocks we went, but we had to keep an eye out for rough water.
I was beyond excited and bouncing with anticipation. I put my fly rod together, strung it up and awaited arrival at our first area before choosing a fly. Upon arrival, we came into a school of busting bonita. At this point, I had trust in my guide that he would steer us right and that he understood the goals. I showed him the flies I brought and asked what they were eating. Anchovies. No sweat, I had that covered.
I popped on a fly and within a short time frame was seeing fish interested and following, but no commitments. I double checked that a floating fly was preferred rather than a deeper presentation. Yes, the guide stated, as if I should not be second guessing him. Even though my gut kept telling me to go deeper, I stuck with the floating fly because the reality was, I didn’t know anything about this water and he did - or so I thought. After some time passed (more than I should have allowed), I switched to a deeper presenting fly and after two casts my rod snapped mid-cast.
I was horrified. It was still the beginning of the trip and in that instant, with the two parts in my hand, I replayed all the time and distance that was put into getting on this boat and the fact that I had made a classic mistake. I did not pack a second rod. Then I remembered the guide was supposed to have equipment. I asked if he had backup rods. He did. Trolling rods. My heart sank. Instantly, I lost all confidence in my guide. Never again will I go so far without a second rod. After a few moments of silence, my companion handed me my first Costa Rican beer of the day. It was a much needed lubricant for decision making and helped put the day’s goals back into perspective.
What to do? End the trip with a guide that wants to do nothing but troll, or find another way to make it happen? I like to think I’m highly adaptable and if there’s a will, there’s a way. I decided to make the best of the situation and use the only rod I now had available to me: a trolling rod, and use it as a casting rod. As I was rigging it up with weight to use this rod with flies, the guide brought me some fresh cut bait. I waved my hand and said NO THANK YOU. I was still only using flies, and I pointed to the bigger flies on my homemade foam roll.
He threw his hands in the air and looked to be saying good luck. I know he thought I would be more willing to troll to save the day, rather than spend hours casting a trolling rod with a fly. He was so wrong. I fumbled the few first casts before my childhood muscle memory kicked in. For the next six hours, I did nothing but cast that trolling rod with flies. I hooked into rooster fish, tuna, bonito, barracuda and Spanish mackerel. I was able to land some bonito and Spanish mackerel. It was great to cast and see what would dart from the deep and what would bolt from the rocks. Tuna in pods were swimming around like bad asses from “Gangs of New York” looking for others to rumble with. I was having a blast and was still a part of the system of cause and reaction, which is the area of fly fishing I love the most.
Now I can hear the words … is it still fly fishing if you don’t use a fly rod?
I’m not here to debate that. I’m an angler who wants to fish waters I will most likely never visit again, so I did what I had to do. I kept an open mind and found a way to make it happen, rather than be disappointed that fate had other plans. For six hours, I fished while pinching myself to remind myself I truly was in Costa Rica fishing for exotic fish.
At the end of the day, the guide came over, took his cap off and lowered his head. I looked at my companion for hints as to what he was doing. To my surprise, he said “I take my hat off to you. I know of no one else who would cast a trolling rod like that for so long and stick with it to make it work. You have much heart.” He even expressed an interest in using flies for his business.
At first, I was still very annoyed with the guide for not representing himself properly. But, after I gave it some thought, I shook his hand at the end of the day with mutual respect. I know it took much for him to say what he did.