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Costa Rica Fishing

Costa Rica fishing can be described in one way, world-class.

Aside from the quality of fishing, the options are also immense. This page has extensive information on fishing in Costa Rica and will offer some advice as to seasons, regions, fish types etc. Also remember that you need to fork over $30 for a fishing license before partaking in the amazing angling found here.

Oceanic fishing opportunities draw the most anglers, seeking sailfish and black marlin on the Pacific side and tarpon and snook on the Caribbean side. Unbeknownst to most, there is also good fresh water fishing for rainbow trout in Costa Rica’s many rivers as well as guapote (rainbow bass) in Laguna Arenal. The everglades of Cano Negro along the Nicaragua border feature guapote, snook, tarpon and a whole array of other fish, with some monsters getting up to the 90lb/40kg size range.

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Basically if you’re an avid angler, Costa Rica fishing will not disappoint!
My intro to Costa Rica Fishing. Amberjack caught off Playa del Coco
However, depending on your fishing tour operator, your lure selection might not be what you had hoped for (often they’re not included), and buying lures and other fishing gear in Costa Rica is expensive! This is due to import duties, so I advise you to take whatever tackle you feel you can’t live without. Perhaps you might want to invest in a couple of your favorite items, because if you lose something, it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than having to buy it down there – especially from an expensive fishing resort or fishing lodge. Plus they may not even carry what you’re looking for. This is doubly true for fly-fishing gear.

Also, extra equipment makes for an excellent tip or gift for the captain and his crew. Wages in Costa Rica are low, and many boats and their equipment are not owned by the captain, so these items are luxuries for them and they can be put to good use to catch a meal for the family. When I was working in Playas del Coco on a Costa Rica fishing tour our client gave the captain a brand new gaff hook that he had brought along on the trip. I’d never seen our captain Juan Carlos with such a big grin on his face before!

Now let’s start exploring the different fishing options. I’ll start by outlining the different locations in a little more depth, including a little orientation to the area and the fish types and their seasons in the region so you can get the most out of fishing Costa Rica. (Or, for more on Costa Rica fishing vacations.)

Fishing Costa Rica’s Pacific coast offers incredible variety year round and the regions can be broken down into three sections: North, Central, and South

North Pacific Costa Rica Fishing

The North section is from the border of Nicaragua down to the end of the Nicoya Peninsula or Cabo Blanco area. Most fishing charters in this region are run out of Playa Flamingo (also known as Playa Blanca) and Tamarindo. Playa Flamingo has a full service marina and is an upscale resort beach with many luxury resort options including Costa Rica fishing resorts. Tamarindo is a little town with some fun nightlife and that has a great beach for beginning surfers. Further north, you can also charter sportfishing boats out of Playa del Coco (where I lived! And where you can also charter surfing trips out to famous Witch’s Rock or scuba diving excursions), Ocotal, Portrero, and Brasilito. Coco and Ocotal are accessible by international flight into Liberia, which is 30min away by taxi (~$20). Tamarindo, Portrero, and Brasilito are about an hour and a half from this airport. Heading south, you can find fishing charters in Nosara, Garza, Samara, and Carillo/Guanamar. Tamarindo, Nosara, and Carrillo all have local runways and are accessible by local flights out of San Jose. Winds kick up in the far northern areas around the Papagayo Gulf December and March, and some charters will move their operation down around Carrillo during this period, especially if the billfish population begin moving up from the Central Coast region. There are a variety Costa Rica fishing resorts here as well.

Fish types and their seasons for this area are as follows:

Fishable year round, though the very best is from the middle of November to the beginning of March and through August and September. Definitely a memorable Costa Rica fishing experience.

Fishable year round, but May through August are tops. The slow period is normally August to November.

Fishable year round, but by far the Golfo de Papagayo is the best place to fish them, with November to March being the best months. This is where I lived in Costa Rica, and it’s beautiful with a marine topography that attracts this fish. They’re normally caught at a depth of 15 to 18m or 50 to 60ft for you gringos. Catching a giant rooster is an incredible Costa Rica fishing experience.

Dorado / Mahi Mahi / Dolphin Fish (depending where you’re from ;-)
Best months are May to the end of Ocober, during rainy season when the rivers are flooding (remember to have a 4x4 if you’re driving around much in during this season!)

Fishable all year, but your best bet lays between August and October. Both yellow-fin and some big-eye are found in the waters between the Catalina Islands and the coast around Flamingo, Brasilito, and Tamarindo, which is accessible in half an hour or less, depending on your boat. Sizes range from about 10lbs/5kgs up to the occasional monster trophy fish of 400lbs/180kgs.

Wahoo / Ono
They get active around the rainy season like Dorado, which starts around the middle of May and their activity climaxes between July and August. By and large they are caught near rocky marine topography points of land and islands, though once and a while you will encounter one further out, more offshore.

Central Pacific Costa Rica Fishing

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This region stretches from the southernmost point of the Nicoya Peninsula at Cabo Blanco (White Cape) down to Drake Bay, which lies just a few kilometers north of Corcovado National Park. The two main centers of fishing activity in this region are at the Los Suenos Marina just north of Jaco, and at Quepos. Los Suenos marina, located at Herradura Beach, is a world-class facility with myriad services and a luxurious Costa Rica fishing resort is located an hour away from San Jose and its international airport. Quepos, which is right next to the gorgeous Manuel Antonio National Park, can be reached by driving, taking a bus or by domestic flight from San Jose.

Billfish are the main attraction for offshore fishing here, especially Sailfish, and the best season is from December to April though game fish are caught here year round. Marlin, wahoo, dorado, yellowfin tuna, and amberjack are also caught in this region. Inshore fishing is good pretty much year round, with roosterfish, mackerel, and jacks being the most sought after quarry, though dorado, wahoo, and cubera are also possible. Even snook are prevalent and can be found just out from the breaker line along a river mouth, though they are mostly fished from shore. Multi-day fishing trips down to the Drake Bay and Isla Caños area can be arranged on some boats out of Quepos. This spot is especially well known for its roosterfish, large cubera, snapper and wahoo, though tuna, dorado, sailfish, and some marlin can also be found here. There are also many Costa Rica fishing resorts to stay at.

Fish types and their seasons for this area are as follows:

September through November is the best time for marlin fishing, with October being the top month. Blue and blacks can be had year round, though these marlin are normally out farther than the boats targeting sailfish are normally fishing.

When sailfish begin migrating north – from mid-December through April – is the best season. However, large schools show up in this region around October and sometimes stay longer. During other times of the year, from June through September, sailfish can also be found running with other species that are nearer to shore during this period of the year.

Peak season is June to early September. This fish loves areas just outside river mouths and along rocky drop-offs. The best spots for roosters are where the Parrita River meets the Pacific, Palo Seco between Parrita and Damas just outside Damas, around the mouth of the Naranjo River, close to the points at Dominical and throughout the Drake Bay and Canos Island area.

Dorado / Mahi Mahi / Dolphin Fish
These beautiful fish are caught year round, though peak season is from May through October during the wet season when flotsam is carried out from the flooded rivers and creates an enticing environment of fresh weed growth for them to lie in. They are often caught around floating pieces of timber.Fresh tuna! Amazing sashimi courtesy of Costa Rica Fishing...caught off Playa del Coco

Fishable year round up and down the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, fishing is best from June to the end of September. Sizes from 10-30lbs / 5-15kgs are most common, but some tiny ones and the occasional monster (up to 200lbs / 90kgs) are also caught.

Wahoo / Ono
These fish are not often found in the waters around Los Suenos in Herradura or Quepos. Farther south though they can be found in and around Drake Bay, especially from June to early August.

These fish are normally caught along the river mouths up and down this coastal area, including up the Sierpe River and throughout the large Sierpe lagoon. The best season seems to be between July and November when the rains are heaviest. If you want to take a shot at the record, the largest Pacific Black Snook as recognized by the IFGA was caught just outside the mouth of the Naranjo River, by a boat trolling just outside the breaker line. Maybe you can ad your catch to the list of Costa Rica fishing legends.

South Pacific Costa Rica Fishing

(Golfito, Puerto Jimenez, Drake Bay) (back to top)

Golfito on the mainland side of Golfo Dulce, across from the Osa Peninsula, along with Puerto Jimenez across from Golfito on the Osa Peninsula and Drake Bay at the top of the peninsula are the main fishing centers of this area. All the regular game fish like sails and marlin and the smaller fish like roosters, wahoo, amberjack, and snapper closer to shore. Inside Golfo Dulce and around its rocky shorelines and rock pinnacle islands are small barracuda, snapper, mackerel, sea bass and sometimes snook, all which can be caught on light tackle. Out from Cabo Matapalo, fishermen will find marlin, sailfish, tuna and other open water varieties of game fish. Inshore waters feature roosterfish tipping the scales at over 30lbs / 14kg, wahoo, jacks, grouper, and large Pacific cubera snapper. Great snook fishing can also be found throughout the waters inside the Zancudo peninsula, as well as the waters around where the Esquinas river meets the sea farther to the north. In Golfito you can find two modern marinas and there are runways in Golfito, Drake, Coto47, and Plamar Sur, making this area easily accessible from San Jose on a domestic flight. Fishing Costa Rica here can be very rewarding and not always as crowded as the Central and Northern sites.

Fish types and their seasons for this area are as follows:

The best time is from August to the end of December, however black, blue and striped can be caught at any time of the year as long as the water is warm. This is why Costa Rica fishing on a bad day is better than most anywhere else in the world.

Fishable year round, though peak season is from December to mid-March when they start moving north. From late May to June it starts to pick up a bit, peaking again in August and September.

Costa Rica fishing along the south Pacific coast is renowned for its large roosterfish, and they can be caught any time of the year on a Costa Rica fishing excursion.

Dorado / Mahi Mahi / Dolphin Fish
The most activity is usually between late May the end of October, when the rains have flooded the rivers and the weed lines are at their thickest.

Marlin and sailfish season are when the big 100lb / 45kg plus yellowfins can be found, but schools of up to 30lb/15kg tunas can almost always be found fishing Costa Rica offshore.

Wahoo / Ono
These fish can be caught almost any time of year when you are trolling for billfish offshore, or around the reef structure off Matapalo Cape, though they are not as common in this area as other Costa Rica fishing locales.

The big ones are most active from March through May and sometimes into July, and then later from September through November.  Otherwise, smaller sizes can be caught any time of the year when you’re fishing Costa Rica.

Caribbean Costa Rica Fishing

(Tortuguero, Barra del Colorado) (back to top)

World-class tarpon and snook fishing can be found in the rivers and canals of the Caribbean coast. Fishing Costa Rica’s beautiful tropical locales on this coast makes it all the more memorable. Tarpon are usually around 80lbs / 36kg in size with some monsters in the 150lb / 68kg range. Snook are quite a bit smaller, but fun to catch none-the-less. There are various fishing lodges in Tortuguero, Barra del Colorado, and Parismina, all situated along the canals. You can even find a houseboat for mobile fishing adventures that also explore rivers and some lakes. Weather does affect fishing from day to day, and during heavy rains ocean fishing is tough. Around the river mouths of the Caribbean there is plenty of Tarpon action and the best season for this game fish is from May through October Tortuguero and Barrra del Colorado, with June and July being the standout months, though on a flat day Tarpon can be abundant any time of the year. Snook fishing is best from October through December, but again good weather makes them a possibility at other times of the year. Some other fish types in this area are goliath grouper, guapote, smaller tuna, and the uncommon Atlantic sailfish for those of you with rabbit’s feet in your pocket. Many of the fishing areas are isolated and require a commercial or chartered flight. Most luxury lodges and Costa Rica fishing resorts will take care of transportation for you.

Fish types and their seasons for this area are as follows:

The most sought after fish of this region is fishable year round, the peak months being from May through October/November (depending on weather) and they can be found offshore when the conditions are nice and the sea is flat, though they are also found around river mouths and in the canals. Fishing Costa Rica for Tarpon is a very rewarding experience.

Big snook peak two times a year, from March through May, then from September through November.

Calba (Fat Snook)
Active from mid-November through January, but occasionally appearing earlier, these are tasty smaller species of snook.

Though not as prominent as the Pacific coast, you can find the odd Atlantic sailfish or Atlantic marlin at any time of the year if you make it out to the blue water. Peak season is from February through September.

They are abundant offshore from early February to the middle of June.

They are often cruising around river mouths throughout the year, being most active when there is significant runoff from the rivers creating trash lines where they enjoy lying.

They are fishable from January to the end of June.

Other abundant species found fishing Costa Rica in this region. The following are caught close to shore any time the ocean is calm are:
Spanish and Cero Mackerel
Jack Crevalle

Inland / Freshwater Costa Rica Fishing

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The most popular Costa Rica fishing destination for freshwater species is definitely Lake Arenal, under the looming Arenal Volcano. You can reach the lake in about four hours driving from San Jose. The lake is Costa Rica’s largest at 22 mi / 35 km long and is full of guapote, or Rainbow bass, which display the colorations of rainbow trout but behave like largemouth bass. The big ones get up to or over 9 lbs / 4 kgs, but most are around 3 lbs / 1.4 kgs, and five per day is the limit. You can find a variety of lodges and guides around the lake, but note that the season closes from October to December. For all other inland sites, it’s good to check with local fishing tour operators to find out whether there is a closed season.

Lake Coto and the more isolated Lake Hule (also known as Lake Echandi) are other places you can find Rainbow Bass. Coto is located a few kilometers from Lake Arenal and is much smaller. Lake Hule is also much smaller and located near the town of San Miguel. Getting to Hule is a real adventure and not to be attempted without a serious 4x4 vehicle, preferably with another vehicle there to help in case one gets stuck.

The rivers that are tributaries to the San Juan in the north and that flow into the Caribbean on the east coast also home to rainbow bass, though usually smaller than those found in lakes. Mojarra, machaca (sometimes referred to as sabalito or little tarpon for its acrobatic displays that make it especially fun on a fly rod), bobo (a kind of mullet) and the roncador or drum (often found in brackish lagoons around river mouths) also populate the rivers of Costa Rica, adding variety to your fishing experience.

Bobo respond well to large spinning tackle, lures that run just beneath the surface of the water, poppers, and worms – even a piece of banana has worked. For the other species mentioned, light bait casting or spinning tackle works well.

Another good inland Costa Rica fishing site is up the Rio Frio from Los Chiles, fishing up to and in Caño Negro and the San Juan River, which forms a border with Nicaragua. Caño Negro is a National Wildlife Refuge and basically a remote tropical everglade which boasts lots of wildlife – I even saw my first Jesus Christ lizard there, so named for it’s ability to walk (well, sprint) on water. It is also teeming with tarpon, snook, guapote, machaca, drum, and mojarra. Fishing season is from July through March – between April and August fishing is prohibited (dates subject to change, so it’s always best to check with a local operator). Tarpon here can run in the 90lb / 41kg range, with some monsters in the 150 lb / 70kg plus range, proving how good Costa Rica fishing can be. Prices for fishing in Caño Negro on locally guided boats normally don’t include the park entrance fee of $6 or your fishing license which runs around $30 (depending on current dollar valuation and ever changing regulations of course), but packages put together by outfitters often do, so you have to check. Boats and guides are available and there are various fishing lodges in the area.

Fishing Costa Rica for trout is even an option, though many of the best places are difficult to get to and may require a guide and a horse. The Rio Savegre near Gerardo de Dota is well regarded for rainbow trout fishing. Average sizes are from 7-9in / 17.5-22.5cm, though with some luck you might get a 2-4lb / 1-2kg trout on the line. If you don’t care whether or not the rainbows are naturally produced you can find some stocked fish on private ranches and Costa Rica fishing resorts a couple of hours outside San Jose.

As a last word, keep mindful of closed seasons by asking local operators. Things change when you least expect it regarding policy, so better safe than sorry. Also, don’t forget to get your fishing license, as it is required for all freshwater fishing as well as saltwater. Now get started on planning your Costa Rica fishing vacation today!

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