DIY Fly Fishing Costa Rica

By Joseph Dahut

At the beginning of the semester, my girlfriend Kerenn and I decided to plan a trip to a tropical destination to fish and surf after a tiring semester of work. We set our sights on eight days in Costa Rica and wanted to fund the trip from work we accomplished that semester. Dog walking, babysitting, tutoring, several odd jobs, and intense penny pinching brought us surfing and fishing for eight days in one of the most bio-diverse countries in the world.

Being a novice saltwater fly fisherman, I decided it was time to sit down and do my homework on fishing the ocean from the surf. After doing extensive research on what swims in Costa Rica, it was time to figure out what those fish would eat. As I understood it, in order to catch a roosterfish from the surf (a bucket list fish species), I would need to have the grace of the angling gods on my side, and some larger, more colorful flies than I usually have when prospecting for striped bass and flounder on the Jersey Shore. Because that was really the only saltwater action my 8WT had ever seen, I had an overwhelming amount of hubris. Little did I know, roosters, snook, and sea bass were not too similar to fluke and stripers.

Several flights, bus rides, and steps later, Kerenn and I were on a beach experiencing the vacation we had hoped for. Even minutes into the trip, we were welcomed with Costa Rican hospitality and warm weather, the things we were really seeking. After checking into our hostel and getting out on surfboards all afternoon, we tried to get some information from the locals about fishing. There was a point that we could see from the beach bar, we were told, where the mountains spilled into the sea, were where the roosterfish come close enough to catch at 7:00 AM. So 7:00 AM came around the next day and as I approached the rocks with my 8wt in hand, I got many strange looks from the Ticos using the typical Costa Rican hand fishing method. As they lassoed their lines attached to wooden spools, I tried to dance with the swell, pacing my casts in between the crashing, foamy, waves. I was definitely not on the Jersey Shore anymore casting to fluke. After getting smacked around by the waves for awhile, I saw sardines flying off the surface of the water, completely out of casting range. The men that were handline fishing swam deeper into the ocean, their heads the only visible part of the body. They swam far out to try to cast to the spot of the topwater commotion. They all chirped and screamed like little kids, one man bellowed “Gallero! Gallero! Gallero!” (the Spanish word for roosters). Because I was too far away to cast to this gang of fish, I took a step back and enjoyed watching the incredible crowns poke out of the surface, slamming the fish that tried to evade them. This was amazing, and I had never seen ferocity like that from a school of fish before. None of the men that lined the beach were able to cast to the short lived craze, although one man pulled out a large sea bass that he carried like a trophy right off the beach to his family. In Costa Rica, fishing from the surf is not catch and release. The bigger, more powerful sport fish like billfish are typically released, and mainly fished for sport. However, anything from the surf is fair game to bring back to the table.

Although I found myself being humbled more often than actually getting a solid cast off, I had a ton of fun jumping around with the local fishermen. While I consider myself an aficionado of getting skunked, I am smart enough to know that getting skunked never feels good. However, getting skunked in Costa Rica had its own little charm. The fishing, although slow, was more fun knowing that everyone back home was shoveling snow from their driveways. After getting tossed around by the surf, I walked into town and ate a typical Costa Rican breakfast of white rice, black beans, fried eggs, platanos, toast, and strong black coffee.

With little luck at the rocky point, I figured I would try to get more local knowledge on solid spots to fish. Before the trip, I tied up several clousers, deceivers, and poppers specifically for the trip. I was looking forward to throwing bigger, weighted flies, so that is just what I did. That night, after speaking with some of the surf instructors that parked themselves on the beach everyday, I threw an all white deceiver into the white water in the outgoing tide. This helped, as I hooked up with a few snook, but was unable to bring any to hand. Surprisingly, the snook were in very shallow water, so wading was not dangerous and casting was not difficult. The surf instructors ate me alive for losing two fish, but they loved that I was trying to connect with the fly rod. The next day, I threw a smaller brown and white clouser in a similar spot, and hooked up with a jack. The pull on the little fish was a thrill, and as soon as I brought it to hand, one of the surf instructors named Marvin snatched it out of my hand and brought it back to eat before I could get a photo.

If you are thinking of getting away from the cold, give Costa Rica a try, but make sure you do your homework before you go. If you are a novice saltwater fly fisherman like myself, and you are attempting a DIY trip (no guide) in a country where you do not speak the language, things will be tough for you, as they were for me. I knew what I was getting myself into, so I didn’t pressure myself into catching a huge rooster, or any huge fish for that matter. This was also not a designated “fishing trip” so enjoying my time in warm weather was easier. Kerenn is an avid surfer, so we went to a town that was more for surfing than fishing. Towns like Tamarindo, with better fishing and not as great surfing, will most likely produce more fish on the fly than a place like Jaco, where this all took place. I loved my experience, and I would recommend it for the authentic cuisine, the awesome people, the beautiful beaches, and the opportunity to check some more species off that bucket list!