Tight Lines in Paradise: The Mystery of the Tico Trout

On a gloomy winter day in 2016, I sat at home dreaming of warmer weather and dry-fly trout fishing. Flakes of snow danced outside my bedroom window as I half-jokingly looked up Costa Rica trout spots on the internet. To my surprise, the first couple of links that popped up described just that—trout fishing in remote regions of Costa Rica. Sadly, the links provided next to no information on where to go, when to go or how to get there. I put the thought in the back of my mind until the thought re-emerged during my trip last November. I went back to these websites and extracted as much information as I could.

The pages spoke of Tico Trout—a hybrid trout born out of Californian, Canadian and Mexican rainbow strains. The trout eggs were brought to Panama in the 1950s to provide sport fishing for Americans who sought refuge in the mountains of Central America. Wishing to escape the heat of the lowlands, the eggs were introduced into freshwater streams in the Panamanian mountains and surprisingly, maintained steady populations. The trout found their way downstream into Costa Rica and started growing wild populations in the Central Valley. The Costa Rican government heard of the success of maintaining the trout populations and provided further stock of trout eggs into the mountain streams of the Central Valley. To this day, the populations hold strong and provide ample fishing opportunities to those who are willing to find them. I tucked this information away into a folder for review in the future.

Three weeks ago, we acquired some free time to explore Costa Rica. As we contemplated where to go, trout fishing came up and I dusted off my collection of vague information for review. We determined that the Central Valley was the place to go, but the area is a large expanse of cloud forest and headwaters. A few internet searches later and we decided that San Gerardo, a small valley close to Parque Nacionale de Quetzales, would be the best place to start. We loaded up our backpacks and set off to Uvita, where we had a rental car waiting. Within three hours of leaving the treehouse, we were on our way to the Central Valley.

We arrived in San Gerardo later that evening after some intense driving through both cities and mountains. As we pulled into our AirBnB, we crossed over Rio Savegre and examined the water for shadows. We indeed saw fish in the river, but weren’t sure if it was the species we were targeting. Regardless, we had our rods, a box of flies and some tangled leaders. We were basically set for any fish that we could find.

Early the next morning, we set up and headed toward the river spot we saw the day before. I tied on a size 14 orange stimulator and flicked it into a shallow pool. While my 9’ 8-weight rod may have been overkill for this stream, it performed great as a fish rose up to greet the fly with an open mouth. Thrilled by the sight of a rising fish, I set the hook too quickly and lost the catch. While I’m almost positive every angler knows this feeling, it didn’t deter me from launching the fly back into the pool to try again. After a few agonizing minutes of cast after cast, another fish rose to serenade the fly into a hook set. This time, I was on the fish. A couple mesmerizing seconds of battle led me to bring in the fish I had been dreaming of—a beautiful Tico Trout. I took some moments to appreciate the fish and its beautiful coloration before releasing it back into the cloud forest stream.

Once we knew we were in the right area, we foraged each eddy for trout in the San Gerardo valley. Each fish brought us joy and memories of trout fishing in Colorado as we meandered along the banks of the Savegre. It also seemed that each trout was more colorful than the last; the parr marks and colorations of the tico trout are undoubtedly unique. Some were small keychain fish while others had a decent size of around 10 inches. There are rumors of large tico trout near our area, but we were satisfied with what came out of the Savegre. We ended the day on ten fish each and returned to our cabina for a celebratory dinner and drink.

As I am primarily a trout angler, it was an honor and delight to find trout in Costa Rica. When fishing is mentioned here, the most common target species are Tuna, Marlin and Rooster. I have yet to unlock the secrets of the salt species, but I do find pleasure in knowing that one of my favorite species can be found high up in the mountains, down an old dirt road, in one of the most peaceful places on Earth. If you wish to find trout in Costa Rica, look to the mountain cloud forests for answers. The cooler temperatures in these regions make for excellent exploring conditions, and the trout here seem to enjoy the same flies they do in other parts of the world. Most of all, enjoy the journey that takes you to these places. Despite our rental car breaking down twice, we had an amazing time visiting the Central Valley of Costa Rica and hope that it remains the same tranquil place we will remember for the rest of time.