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Costa Rica's Pacific Coast at Crocodile Bay 04-29-2004


Facing the skimming teasers, Mike Segala did a little "twist and shout" dance aft, jumped, spun around to face the Bimini top and shimmied again. Mike's gyrations were designed to bring us luck and so far it was working like a charm. Mike was on his 5th shot at a sailfish on a fly and it wasn't even 10:00 a.m. yet! Mo Flaherty, Martha's Vineyard guide extraordinaire, and I were determined to get Mike his sail. After each opportunity lost, Mo and I coached Mike on what to do with the next raised sailfish. We were cajoling, explaining and inundating Mike with techniques such as strip-strikes, casting windows and retrieval techniques. Here's a brief summary of the past 2 hours:


Shot One:

Mike's first big sail appears at the starboard outrigger's teaser. In two frantic minutes, the fish is hooked and lost.

"Mike, next fish, strip strike, don't raise your rod tip. This is not trout fishing and a bent rod weakens the hookset and doesn't allow the hook to get good penetration." Mo explained.

"Get ready Mike, let's get another one up." I added as first mate Giovanni pushed the port teaser out over the blue and into position.


Shot Two:

After Mike retrieved a leader with no fly attached, we commiserated with him over this lost fish. This time Mike sure as hell strip-striked and he clearly didn't raise his rod tip, but on this fish, we encountered yet another problem.

"Mike, great strip strike, but after you get the hookset, you gotta let the line feed out!" Mo said with a smile as we watched Mike only now, loosen his death grip on the fly line. Mike Segala is a powerfully built fellow and he had snapped the leader in a heartbeat. After the snap, the big sail had continued to jump as if still connected. We could see the gaudy pink popper hanging from his jaw until he finally submerged.

"Mike, if you have him hooked and he runs, let him have line, look down, push your line hand away from the reel so you don't hook the rod butt or reel handle, then clear your line until your fish is on the reel. Then let your drag do the work until he stops his first run." We said as we tried to delineate the steps that translate to a fish at the boat.


Shot Three:

A collection of more minor mistakes including a knuckle busting, finger thumping, pounding that was delivered to Mike's hand by the big Abel's crazily spinning handle. As Mike nursed his fingers, Mo and I beseeched him to hang in there.

"You're getting it, each fish is better. It is just a matter of time." Mo and I said encouragingly.


Shot Four:

Another Segala dance brought up yet another cobalt blue jewel to the teasers. Mike strip-striked and cleared the line like a pro. The fish was quickly on the reel. We were home free now... weren't we? Mike crouched like a wrestler, steeling himself for a long, sweaty struggle. It was then that the 12 wt. exploded like a rifle shot. The jagged edges of the rod, broken between the two cork handles, cut the flyline before we really realized what had just happened. From chaos to silence, Mike was left with an Abel reel and just two inches of carbon fiber above the first cork handle. Mike looked stunned and a bit like a kid who just wrecked the family car.

"Not your fault Mike all we lost was the fish. Grab the Loomis. It's rigged and ready." I said as Mike took the 12 wt. from Mo.

"Don't worry about the broken rod. Thomas and Thomas is a great company. They'll replace the rod. Forget about it and lets get back to work." I said putting my broken 12 wt. away. It was getting personal now. If Mo and I had anything to do with it, Mike would get his sail or pass out trying!


Shot Five:

Yet another big Pacific sail flashes left then probes the teaser with his big dark bill. We can see the bill sweeping at the spread as Giovanni teases the sailfish to within Mike's casting range. Mike gets his fly in the water just as Giovanni expertly pulls the teaser away. The agitated fish flares his big dorsal fin as he turns and spots Mike's fly. Mike waits, strip-strikes once, then again. The fly line disappears from its stack at Mike's feet and rattles through the guides until the line comes tight to the reel. The big sail is tailwalking about 150 yards away and, at this rate, should be in Panama in about 6 minutes. Mr. Segala can barely contain himself. He is whooping and hollering and glancing over his shoulder at Mo and I. Mike crouches and bends forward at the waist. Mo and I immediately recognize that at this rate, Mike will clearly not last as long as the fish.

We both start in, "Mike, settle down, relax and pay attention to the fish. It ain't over yet. Lift the rod tip and reel down. If he wants to run, let him work against the drag." We coached Mike for 20 minutes until the sail was leadered, then billed by Giovanni. Then we hoisted the fish into Mike's lap for a quick photo. Once back in the water, Giovanni billed the sailfish as the captain pushed the motors slowly forward. Life-giving oxygen passed over the big bruiser's gills. Giovanni gave the thumb's up and let the bronzed cobalt body slide slowly away from the boat.

We congratulated Mike, but we were all thrilled. What a moment! And what an incredible morning it had been. We had gotten enough shots at sails to take an angler all the way up the learning curve from a headshaking failure to this stunning success.

"OK Mo, let's get one for you." Mike said, fully ready to now rest and enjoy a well-earned beer, but not before we convinced him to shimmy one more time to bring another treasure up for Mo.

Bordered on the north by Nicaragua and on the east by Panama, Costa Rica has coasts on both the Caribbean and the Pacific Oceans. Our group of 20 was headed south to the pristine Osa Peninsula and Golfo Dulce. This "sweet gulf" lies at the extreme southern border of Costa Rica's Pacific shore. When we first started planning for this group, we were looking for a spot that could accommodate a wide variety of angling expectations and angler's skills. We chose Crocodile Bay for its proximity to excellent inshore fishing opportunities and for its great access to the prolific offshore fishery west of the Golfo Dulce. We were not to be disappointed.

In three days of fishing, we caught sailfish, roosterfish, jacks, bonito, amberjacks, African pompano and yellowfin tuna. Everyone in our group (including members whose only previous experience was with walleye) caught a sailfish. This is an incredible statistic! I'm not sure there is another spot we could have chosen anywhere that would produce similar results.

Here's another interesting statistic: In our three days, our 5 boats raised 267 sails. We landed 66 of those. One boat raised 33 and landed 12 in one day! With a total of 267 sails raised, this averages out to 16 sails raised per day, per boat. That translates to over 2 per hour. This is impressive indeed! We returned to San Jose a happy group with many of our trip members expressing what a terrific time they had had. We could only conclude that this trip was a total success from top to bottom. Here's a bit more info on this area:

A typical winter's day in southwestern Costa Rica offers plenty of sunshine and relatively calm seas. You can fish inshore using a variety of fishing techniques from slow trolling a live threadfin herring to casting plugs to throwing flies like deceivers or Clousers. Along the rocky ledges that are west of Golfo Dulce's entry point at Punta Matalpo, live a huge variety of sport species including houndfish, barracuda, jack crevalle, bonito, cubera snapper, African pompano, as well as the area's major draw, the incredible roosterfish. With its bold stripes, gaudy comb and stubborn attitude, the roosterfish is the inshore prize and the goal of many who visit this area. The best and most comfortable place to quickly access this western side of the gulf is from Crocodile Bay Resort. It also may be the most consistent place to catch roosterfish in the world. In addition, from 2 to 20 miles offshore, the "big blue" offers Pacific sailfish, amberjack, yellowfin tuna, wahoo, dolphin and at times, some good shots at marlin.

Crocodile Bay was opened in late 1999 and quickly earned an excellent reputation. Just minutes from the Puerto Jimenez airstrip (which sees daily flights from San Jose), Crocodile Bay Resort enjoys light winds and calm seas during the December to May dry season. The resort's beautifully landscaped grounds are home to four, two-story housing units that offer quiet air-conditioning, large bathrooms and plenty of hot water. The main lodge includes a large bar area, a poolroom, a gift shop and a spacious dining room staffed by the most friendly and accommodating waitresses imaginable. Breakfasts are made to order, lunches are taken onboard the boats and dinners are a superb collection of poultry, steaks and seafood, sometimes served at an outdoor buffet. When you're done fishing, you can cool off in the pool and enjoy a drink in the swim-up bar or perhaps visit the lodge's butterfly lepidoptary and gardens. Non-fishing guests will find plenty to do with many eco-tours available through the lodge's front office.

Crocodile Bay's multi-million dollar fleet boasts 20 boats including Strike 33's, 27-foot center consoles and 17-foot flats skiffs. There is a boat for every type of fishing from trolling 20 miles offshore to probing deep into the shallowest areas of the gulf. These boats are accessed via a floating dock that is located at the end of a long pier that is needed to accommodate the gulf's big tidal flows. Attached to the floating dock is a floating bait pen that is kept well stocked with threadfin herring and blue runners.

Todd Staley, the fishing director of Crocodile Bay, has trained a crackerjack crew of captains and first mates. These are some of the most hardworking and accomplished crews you'll find anywhere in Central America. The boats are very well maintained and are found sparkling clean each morning. Out past the rocks that guard the "sweet gulf" and into the big blue, anglers will find dorado, marlin, yellowfin tuna and the occasional wahoo. But there is no doubt that the leading character and the primary reason most anglers visit this area, is the powerful Pacific sailfish. These hard-fighting sails are around all year, but prime time is January through March, when huge schools move south and into this area. During this peak season, it is not unusual to raise 12 20 fish a day with most in the 60 100lb. range. It is a testament to the quality of this fishery that we averaged a double-digit number of sails raised each day and we were well past the prime time having arrived in late April. We were successful with pitch bait dropped back and with flies. Twelve wt. rods are the norm with some anglers preferring dry lines for ease of pick up, while others anglers prefer sink tip lines to keep a concave popper heads popping and for ease of loading. Flies are big and gaudy monstrosities usually with noisy popper heads in neon pink, green and red.

The technique for sails on the fly is complicated and requires the thrilling combination of luck and skill. The captain controls the speed, the first mate is on the teaser and the angler waits with a psychedelic hooked chicken pinched between thumb and forefinger. When a sail is spotted on the teaser, the first mate must reel in the teaser just slow enough to keep the fish interested, but not so slow that the sail is able to gets the hookless lure in its mouth. The mate reels until the spread is within the casting distance of the flyrodder. As the captain slows the boat, the angler casts his fly beyond the sailfish just as the mate pulls the teaser out of the water. The sailfish is confused and frantically looking for his vanished meal. He is aggressive and ready to chomp down on anything looking remotely fishy. In theory, the fish turns, spots the fly and engulfs it. For the angler it all happens fast and in reality, is much less analytical. It feels like this:

Teaser out, fly in, pop it once or twice... the sail turns and slams it. If all goes right, you feel like you've just latched on to a refrigerator dropped off a skyscraper. This is the theory and it does often enough work. But a number of things can go wrong and often do. In order to get a good hookset, the sail must turn and take your fly going away. Then you must strip-strike. If you lift your rod tip, execute a weak hookset, hook the bill, wrap the bill, or if the sailfish doesn't turn, you rarely get a solid hookset. The most common posture in this game is rod at side, shoulders slumped, with head shaking as if to say "What did I do wrong?" The great part about this area of Costa Rica is you quickly get over it and immediately look forward to raising another sail.

Our advice to get a good hookset is this: Once the fish has turned, lower your rod tip so there is no bend between the fly line and rod. Strip-strike hard with the line and then begin sweeping the rod back parallel to the water. Throw in as many hard strip-strikes as you can before the fish begins his run. When the fish begins his first run, ignore the fish and put your line hand perpendicular to the rod to make sure no line wraps on the reel handle or rod butt. Look up only after all the line has cleared and you are entirely on the reel. This gives you your best shot, but a million things can go wrong! That's why you need to choose a destination that offers lots of shots... and that's why we chose Crocodile Bay!

Opportunity. That's what you look for in a good fishing destination and Crocodile Bay offers great angling opportunities from the most shallow stretches of the Golfo Dulce to the rocky coast just outside the gulf to the bluewater Cocos ridge that begins just a couple of miles offshore. This is a complex mix of shallow and deep waters that attracts a wide variety of fish. In the winter dry season, the ocean is often sunny and calm making the Oso Peninsula truly a land of opportunity... and you can do it in great comfort with Crocodile Bay Resort.


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