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Best months for Caribbean tarpon in Costa Rica

From the print edition

There is a very good reason why the Club Amateur de Pesca holds the first leg of its annual tarpon tournament in September and the second leg in October. These are probably the two most consistent months of the year for good weather and tarpon fishing. While the Pacific side of the country is being washed with rainstorms and a sometimes-bumpy ocean, the Caribbean is experiencing blue skies and flat seas.

Todd Staley

Todd Staley

I spent my first five years in Costa Rica at Archie Fields Río Colorado Lodge, and became absolutely spoiled. The lodge is a 10-minute run from the mouth of the Colorado river, and the tarpon stack up feeding on the small fish and crustaceans that feed on the rich nutrients coming down the river. From the lodge, I would listen to the chatter on the radio and when the bite was on, I’d jump in a boat to the river mouth, catch a couple tarpon and be back at the lodge in less than two hours. My best day I landed 12. I was much younger then.

Tarpon have been around since prehistoric times and have the ability to enter fresh or saltwater at will. Here in Costa Rica, they enter either the Río Colorado from the ocean and travel all the way up into Lake Nicaragua. They can be found along the entire Caribbean coastline. Hot spots along the coast are Barra del Colorado, Tortuguero, Parismina, and Manzanilla.

Tarpon are usually found in singles or small groups inside the inland waterways or in acre-wide schools outside the river in the ocean. Many times during the year, the surf at the sandbars at the river mouths make it impossible to get outside, but passage is possible every day in the months of September and October.

Although their food value is poor, the sporting value of this fish is extraordinary; all tarpon caught by sport fishermen are released. They take to the air when hooked in various assaults, and have the power of a stubborn bull. Their armor-like, silver-colored scales have given them the name “silverking.” Because of their hard boney mouths, they often throw the hook when jumping. On one of my most memorable fishing days, I jumped 19 tarpon and landed a big fat zero.

Up until a few years ago, almost all fishing was done using artificial lures. Diving Rapalas, MirrOlures and lighter jigs are all worked with a slow jigging motion near the river mouth, as boats float with the current towards open ocean. Heavier jigs are used further offshore near the color change, where the coffee-and-cream-colored freshwater meets the clear water of the Caribbean.

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