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Ladies, Let's Go Fishing - Costa Rica Fishing Tour

 
 

Author: Elaine Dickinson.
Publication: BOAT US Magazine.

Fishing off Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast, the experienced anglers of “Ladies Let’s Go Fishing’s” first-ever Central American trip were beginning to get a bit impatient. The lull aboard Moondancer, one of Parrot Bay Resort’s 29-foot sportfishing boats, had lasted nearly an hour, an unusually long time considering how good the fishing had been for the previous few days. Captain Steve Petras and mate Alex were doing all they could to raise the fish but it seemed they just weren’t biting.

While not billfishing off the Pacific Coast of the Osa Peninsula, one of the “Ladies Let’s Go Fishing” anglers, Jenny Laws, cools off during a hike into the rain forest at Matapalo.

As the only greenhorn aboard, I wasn’t too concerned and thought this would be a good time to grab a snack. Opening the hatch below the helm seat, I took out a banana I had packed for the trip. When I did, I noticed the horror in Captain Steve’s eyes and immediately the three “real” lady anglers aboard rose in chorus: “You brought a banana aboard?” Captain Steve was much too polite to chastise a guest but later admitted, “I smelled it the minute you opened the hatch.”

No one had forewarned me of the superstition about bananas being bad luck aboard fishing boats. Not wanting to be responsible for having marred my first trip out, I made a brief plea for forgiveness to the gods of sportfishing and ceremoniously tossed the banana into the sea. Not 10 seconds later, Steve was shouting that a sailfish had hit our teaser and seconds later we were hooked up. The action never stopped the rest of the day, and if you think this is just another fish story, I’ve got it all on videotape.

Everything got better after the banana was gone from our boat, a custom center console Sea Vee. The Parrot Bay Village resort that hosted the 12 of us from “Ladies Let’s Go Fishing” has two such boats, the other one captained by Darren McClave, who also manages the resort with his wife, Katie. All of the women except me had taken founder Betty Bauman’s standard two-day saltwater sportfishing seminar and were raring to get their first sailfish.

A majestic and beautiful fish, sails are a great leaping and fighting fish and it did not take me long to understand the thrill in tracking down and trying to tangle with one of these illusive and colorful creatures. By contrast, U.S. Atlantic Coast anglers might try all day for a sailfish and be thrilled to hook one or two.

Fran Adler from Miami, FL, had come to Costa Rica to catch her first sailfish. She caught eight sailfish her first day out, having never before caught one in South Florida or the Bahamas. There were moments, also captured on video, where we had doubleheaders – two on the lines at once. I had another strike in which a “loose” sailfish decided to swim along for fun and leap over the one I was fighting. I wasn’t sure which one was on my 60-lb. test line.

All told, in four days of fishing in two boats, our group of 12 released a total of 76 Pacific sailfish, from 80 to 110 pounds, and 22 yellowfin tuna from 10 to 15 pounds.

Location, as they say in real estate, is everything and we had obviously come to the right place to fish. Parrot Bay Village is in Puerto Jimenez in the heart of the Osa Peninsula, the southernmost region of Costa Rica. The town, and our resort, is on the Golfo Dulce, a 100-mile-long arm of the Pacific surrounded on all sides by lowland and mountainous rain forests, all protected nature reserves including the 100,000-acre Corcavado National Park. With nine-foot tides, the gulf drops to 800 feet deep before flowing out to the midnight blue Pacific where depths drop off to more than 2,000 feet. On our trips offshore, the Pacific was truly placid; I’ve seen worse chop on the Chesapeake Bay.

For each day of fishing, we headed out to where the Golfo Dulce meets the Pacific, and whether it’s due to the currents at the intersection of the two waters or the lack of overfishing, the abundance of sea life was spectacular. As one person said, “Reality has exceeded fantasy,” in this beautiful area.

We were usually only six miles offshore when we were reeling in the sailfish and tuna (marlin and dorado had not been around lately, according to our guides) and we could see the coast of Panama to the south. Sea turtles frequent the area and one of our boats was surprised by a breeching humpback whale putting on a show at the entrance to the gulf.

Another treat was a visit by hundreds of spinner dolphins that Capt. Steve spotted with his razor-sharp eyes before any of us could see anything. Knowing they swim with the tuna, he headed our boat to them until we were surrounded by churning waters and dolphins swimming alongside, thumping the hull as they played with us and leaping in the air in triple spins.

True to form, the tuna were there and I was able to reel in the first — about a 12- lb. “football” which came back to Parrot Bay as sushi for everyone at the Happy Hour video replays. All of the sailfish were released, as were the roosterfish caught by the other boats.

Bottom fishing is also a hit in Golfo Dulce and one boat of LLGF women spent the day in the gulf rather than offshore and caught bonito, sierra mackerel, African pompano, yellow tails and, after an hour’s fight, a stingray. Bauman’s husband, Chuck Baldwin released his first sailfish caught on a flyfishing rod with 30-lb. test.

BEYOND FISHING

Puerto Jimenez is a small village and its remoteness is what makes a trip to Osa Peninsula unlike any standard vacation. You fly a small plane to get in and out from the Costa Rican capital, San Jose, about an hour’s flight. The town is the ideal jumping off point to visit the surrounding rain forests. Either day trips or longer camping treks are easily arranged by a host of professional guides. You can hike trails into the rain forest or take horseback rides, or even stay overnight at even more remote campsites that offer tent-style cabins up on platforms. Cabo Matapalo, at the tip of the peninsula, draws surfers to its famous right point breaks.

Corcovado National Park takes up most of this peninsula and is the largest expanse left in Central America of virgin lowland rain forest. Scientists, naturalists and eco-tourists come to this region from all over to study the 367 species of birds, 140 species of mammals, 500 different trees, plus scores of reptiles and butterflies that live in the untouched forests — from the giant anteater and tapirs to home to jaguars, ocelots and margays. The area is essentially one big National Geographic special.

On day-treks we saw three different types of monkeys and even heard the elusive howler monkeys roaring from afar. The trees were alive with toucans, scarlet macaws, hawks, a baby boa constrictor sleeping on a branch just off the beach at Matapalo, and a three-toed sloth high in a tree. From Puerto Jimenez, a variety of kayak trips take visitors out to see the dolphins in the gulf or upstream into the mangrove jungles to spot birds and caimans, crocodiles that get no larger than alligators, that reside in the area.

There were caimans in the marshes just behind our cabinas in Parrot Bay and one evening our guide, Carlos, led us through the dark to see them come out to feed. He had a bag of scraps from the kitchen, which quickly drew some four- or five-foot-long crocs to the shoreline where they snapped them up. As we directed our flashlights out into the pond, dozens of eyes were peering back at us from the water, an eerie sight indeed.

For people to whom no activity seems extreme, there is rappelling down one of the rain forest waterfalls and “canopy” tours in which guides sling you up to the treetops on a series of lines and you are swung from tree to tree to get the “bird’s eye” view.

TICO TIMES

Some friends at home raised an eyebrow when I said I was traveling to Costa Rica, but this nation, about the size of Vermont and New Hampshire together, has been a stable democracy for over half a century, has no standing army, and decided in the 1940s to devote its resources to providing national health care and education for its people. It has one of the highest literacy rates in the world and the gracious Ticos (as Costa Ricans refer to themselves) like Americans, and many speak English. Crocodiles notwithstanding, the biggest threat to visitors is sunburn – Osa Peninsula is only 8 degrees above the equator and while pleasantly hot, 80s in the day and 70s at night, sunburn, especially while fishing, requires major doses of high-SPF sunscreen.

Dining is ridiculously cheap and a fine dinner of fresh fish, veggies, salad or soup, and dessert or luscious fresh fruit might cost about $10. The U.S. dollar is strong there, worth about 400 colones, the Costa Rican currency.There is also a lot to be said for a nation that has set aside over 25% of its land as national parks.

A number of U.S. cities now offer direct flights to the inland capital San Jose, a city of about 1 million. The airport is quite modern, nicer than some I’ve been to in the U.S., and there seem to be Americans living in the country just about anywhere, including many retirees.

While those expecting a chain hotel type of experience might not go for an outpost like Puerto Jimenez, not having phones or televisions in our rooms at Parrot Bay was fine with me.

Staying in the jungle was all part of the experience and one night a possum-type creature chewed one of the power lines and we were plunged into darkness during dinner. Fortuitiously, Betty Baumann had asked the staff if we could have a bonfire on the beach that night so the timing of the power outage was perfect. We grabbed our drinks and took the party out to the beach to sit by a roaring fire beneath a pitch black sky and more stars than I could take in at one sitting.

Bauman expects “Ladies Let’s Go Fishing” to make Costa Rica an annual event, especially since this outing sold out almost immediately.

“It was better than I could have imagined,” said Sandy Breda, an accountant from Winston-Salem, NC, who came on this trip on her own. “It was perfect.” — By Elaine Dickinson

For more information, see www.ladiesletsgofishing com, ParrotBayVillage.com or inquire about travel opportunities with BoatU.S Travel and Yacht Charters at 800-477-4427.

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