Tight Lines in Paradise: Mountain Mullet and Machaca

Hello fishy friends! It’s been a while since my last write, and for good reason. I finished grad school at the beginning of May, and quickly made a move to Costa Rica. I will be here until August and fishing the entire time alongside my fisherwoman, Skylar. I’m currently living in my treehouse near the Osa Peninsula and will be updating you with my adventures as often as I can.

My treehouse and community are located on the Southern Pacific side of Costa Rica, where fishing is often saltwater and fish are often Tuna, Rooster and Sailfish. While I’m eager to hit the saltwater, I’ve been busy working with my community and my days off are limited. We are fortunate enough to have a river which cuts through our community which provides some great slow water and deep holes. When I arrived, I asked the local crew about fishing the river. They reported that any noteworthy fish would be caught beneath our waterfall and the fish aren’t big in any sense of the word. I’m not sure if they know how tiny trout can be in Colorado, but I wanted to test the waters for myself.

We ventured out on a beautiful, sunny morning to some well-known swimming holes in my community. Walking through the jungle is tough, and even harder when carrying a 9-foot rod. Cautiously, we stepped our way down to the river and snapped photos of dart-frogs and insects along the way. Our river is relatively small and offers great standing room on sand bars and shores. When we arrived, we decided on a hole and got to work.

I sat down to tie on a dropper while Skylar tossed her first lob into the pool. Immediately, she yelled out, “FISH ON!” and I laughed as I doubted the validity of her statement. As I turned, I saw her rod bent and splashes in the pool. Unfortunately, the fish jumped off as quickly as it took the fly. Regardless, we both gained energy and excitement as we prepared to stay for a while. We took turns casting into the pool with both dries and droppers, missing quick takes and trying our hardest to bring in another fish. 20 minutes passed before I saw my thingamabobber disappear and felt the tug of a successful set.

As the fish darted back and forth underneath the surface, my grin grew and my favorite fish dance ensued. I battled the fish for a few minutes before bringing the catch into a net I fashioned from bamboo and an old onion sack. As the fish hit the net, I couldn’t hold back the excitement. The fish was a good size and offered the chance for a quick photo before being released back into the turquoise pool. Shortly after, the noon rains came and we headed back to the treehouse to find out what I had caught.

We returned to basecamp and I asked the ticos what they thought the fish was. They instantly said it was a machin del rio, a freshwater species common in tropical warm waters in Central America. I wanted to know more and googled for what seemed to be hours before finding the common English name- Mountain Mullet. The fish are compared to trout in terms of habitat—slow, deep pools in freshwater mountain streams. They put up a fight similar to a rainbow trout and can be as large as 10 inches.

A few days later, I set out on a sleepy, overcast day to fish the same spot. I hoped that I would either catch the same fish or find a new species. I slipped and slid down the mossy rocks until I emerged at the same hole. I began with another San Juan Worm and didn’t receive a single nibble for the better half of the outing. Discouraged, I swapped for a stonefly nymph and moved around the pool toward the headwater side. After a few swings which lacked pizazz, my indicator shot into the water and another fish was pulling at my line. I excitedly ran to the bank and began to bring in the catch.

This catch was different from the first, from the hookset to the appearance. This fish jumped a few times before diving back into the water, and is completely silver compared to the Mountain Mullet’s yellow-silver coloring. I unhooked the fish and sent it back to its home. After returning to basecamp, I checked in with my local experts and they identified this species as Machaca. If you’re familiar with Machaca, you’ll know that my catch is probably the smallest machaca ever recorded. Machaca are typically caught after 10+ inches and put a nice bend into a standard 5-weight. They are an omnivorous fish, primarily feeding on fruits that fall into the river. When young, they are known to eat anything that floats by. I was lucky to catch a small machaca out of the river.

So far, Costa Rica has given me some wonderful times flinging flies at the river. The cool rains offer great weather and the land is peaceful. There are plenty of fish species to target, and ample places to do so.  I hope you’ll stay tuned as we explore Costa Rica and its fisheries. Pura Vida!


Fish on, my friends.