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HomeArchiveFishing in Costa Rica for freight trains: Catching Cubera Snapper

Fishing in Costa Rica for freight trains: Catching Cubera Snapper

In my youth I was a rocker. Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Rolling Stones and the like were at the top of my playlist. As my children entered their teens, they reminded me of how I must have driven my mother absolutely out of her mind with my loud music. Today I still listen to old rock music, but, more often than not, I find myself following my redneck roots, listening to country music. My fishing kind of took the same path.

I used to love to chase big fish. The bigger, the better. Where I’m from, the west coast of Florida, it was tarpon and big sharks. After moving to Costa Rica 20 years ago, I added marlin and big tuna to the list. My biggest tuna here weighed more than 280 pounds. I sweated for just over three hours to land the fish and loved every second of the battle.

I’m not up to multiple-hour endurance tests anymore, and Costa Rica has the perfect fish for this kind of thinking: the cubera snapper. I love this fish for two reasons: It has the power to bring you to your knees, and more than half the time the fish wins.

Costa Rica has cubera snapper on both coasts. Huge fish have been taken out of Parismina, Tortuguero and Barra del Colorado on the Caribbean side, but they are much more prevalent on the Pacific coast. They look like a giant aquatic pumpkin with big canine teeth, and have the strength of a locomotive.

The Pacific side and its volcanic reefs make perfect habitat for how cubera snapper operate. They hang casually above and around the reef and go on attack when hungry, or quickly rush into a cave or under a rock when threatened or when hooked by an angler. Stopping one before it reaches the rock is like winning an arm-wrestling match with the Hulk.

Years ago, the norm was to troll over a reef until you caught a nice-size bonito, then bridle a hook to its nose and send it back down on 80-pound tackle. It takes several seconds for even a huge snapper to gulp down 3- to 5-pound bait, and the whole time this is happening the snapper is racing down toward the reef because other fish have noticed and they want a piece of the action. So timing is everything. You have to give the fish enough time to eat but not too much, or it will be already cozy in its volcanic-reef home before you set the hook, and you won’t have a chance.

Today, with high-gear-ratio reels and braided lines, big snapper can be taken on much lighter gear. Throwing poppers has become a popular way to fish them. Snapper will come up from 100 feet of water to take a popper. Even though the gear is much lighter, zipping a popper across the surface all day is a true test of stamina.

Last time out, I finished my day with snapper winning the game 3-1. I did get a nice 38-pound fish and was singing Toby Keith’s lyrics in my head: “I’m not as good as I once was, but I’m as good once as I ever was.” Later, I walked into my house and heard some sort of weird PlayStation noises coming from the TV and some type of Spanish rap music coming from one of the bedrooms. I quietly slid in a Toby Keith CD, cranked it up and drove my kids absolutely crazy.

Check The Tico Times online at www.tico for an up-to-date fishing report following this article. Skippers, operators and anglers are invited to email fishing reports by Wednesday of each week to To post reports and photos on The Tico Times’ online fishing forum, go to

The Tico Times Fishing Forum: A Fisherman’s Friend

I have been doing this column for a couple of months now, and you may have noticed a few changes. One is that The Tico Times hasn’t been running fishing reports in the print edition, only here on the website. The reason for this is that with the paper’s production cycle and deadlines, fishing reports would be almost a week old by the time they went to print. As anglers, we know fishing can change at any minute, and week-old reports do not help the creditability of myself, the people sending in reports or The Tico Times.

On the other hand, The Tico Times’ online fishing reports are fresh when they get posted on the site. The sportfishing industry is enormous in Costa Rica, making up 14 percent of total tourism and 30 percent of tourism dollars that enter the country, and creating 63,000 jobs for Costa Ricans. Many Tico Times readers are tourists in the country and read The Tico Times online before they visit; many more read the online edition faithfully after they return home, before their next visit.

A great way to get your name out there is to do your own posts in The Tico Times’ online fishing forum. You can post anytime. Companies, fishing clubs and individual anglers are invited to participate. If you are in Costa Rica on vacation and catch a nice fish, you can post it here and email the link to your friends.

Sportfishing is huge in Costa Rica, but sadly we are an apathetic bunch. Our voice has been small because most people who participate are only in the country a short time. But that is changing.

Lately my articles have leaned toward the conservation side; I have a true passion for marine conservation in Costa Rica, but I certainly don’t want to stand only on that soapbox. I must tip my hat, though, to people like Randall Arauz of the Marine Turtle Restoration Program (Pretoma) for their persistence and dedication to stopping shark finning, and finally someone has been convicted in this country for illegal fishing (TT, March 25). We all know what is happening on our oceans. The Tico Times’ fishing forum is a great vehicle to bring this $600 million community together. Then, when the time comes, we can finally stand together and say, “We are tired as hell and we aren’t going to take it anymore.” Archie Fields and Carlos Barrantes would rise from their graves and applaud us all.

I want this column to be fun, and I am open to article ideas from anyone. New operations, locations, unique people, different types of fishing styles and different species of fish all interest readers. I have already been accused of repeatedly posting reports from the same people. Well, as Charlie Sheen would say, “Duh” – those are the people who consistently send me reports. And don’t send me reports only when the fishing is great. Folks respect honesty, and I have actually booked trips over the years because I didn’t always say the fishing was fantastic.

So please use The Tico Times website to post your photos and reports online. It is a great tool to connect, share and even brag a little to the fishing community. Go to and get busy posting. If you don’t, I promise I’ll put a banana on your boat.

(Note to the uninitiated: It is a fishermen’s superstition that having bananas on your boat brings bad luck.)

This Week’s Fishing Report

A couple of tournaments took place this past week, one in Playa Carrillo on the northern Pacific coast and the other in Puerto Jiménez down south.

The 15th annual Presidential Challenge of Costa Rica in Carrillo saw a record 115 billfish – 20 blue marlin, five striped marlin and 90 sailfish – released by 11 participating teams in three days of fishing. They averaged 3.5 fish per boat per day. Not spectacular by Costa Rican standards but plenty to make the tournament interesting. The final results were as follows:


Sea Angel, 3,300 points

Las Ventanas del Mar, 2,100 points

Team OBX, 1,800 points


John Richardson, 1,300 points

Arturo Moreno, 1,100 points

Greg Angel, 1,100 points


Sea Angel, 3,300 points

Permit III, 2,100 points

Gamefisher II, 1,800 points

Also up north, Matt Jorn of Fishing Nosara reports the sails are starting to finally show in Guanacaste. Catherine Chase from Florida took a nice double, Jorn also reports that big cubera snapper and yellowfin tuna have been bending rods as of late. He says his crews are practicing the in-water release photos (TT, March 18) and has had no problems getting them to accept this method.

Wanderer double

Mate Alex Zúñiga releases a double on the boat Wanderer, fishing out of Garza, near Nosara on the northern Pacific coast. Courtesy of Fishing Nosara.

The fish returned to the Southern Zone after disappearing right after the tsunami. The 30th annual Club Amateur de Pesca International Sailfish Tournament was at its halfway point at press time. Ten teams from the United States, South Africa, Mexico, Guatemala, Puerto Rico and Costa Rica are competing in the four-day event.

At the midway point, the Ticos are in fourth place behind Guatemala, Puerto Rico and Mexico. At the time of writing, 90 sails had been released in two days of fishing.

On the central Pacific coast, it is a different story altogether, according to Rolando Chaves. Fishing has been slow around Quepos and Los Sueños the past few days, and only the bigger yachts that are venturing out to 50 miles are producing more than a few fish.

Over on the Caribbean side, tarpon action has been good in Barra del Colorado. Anglers are jumping between six and 15 tarpon a day out of Rio Colorado Lodge.

Skippers, operators and anglers are invited to email fishing reports by Wednesday of each week to To post reports and photos on The Tico Times’ online fishing forum, go to

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