Costa Rica Marlin with Brian Grossenbacher

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The days I spent in pursuit of giant Marlin alongside my friend Brian Grossenbacher was probably my favorite filming trip of the year.  Brian and I had been invited to fish out of Zancudo Lodge in Costa Rica, less than 100 miles from where I have spent 4 years working at Islas Secas, Panama.  This is a fishery that I both love, and am really comfortable with, regardless of whether the target is inshore or offshore.  I couldn’t wait to get back in my groove, and see what the big Costa Rican billfish could offer.

Costa Rica Zancudo Lodge02I have literally traveled around the world with Brian, who is the foremost fishing photographer currently working.  The only problem with Brian on a fishing trip is that he is always behind the lens.  I thought that our Costa Rican shoot would be a great opportunity to get Brian on the rod, so that he could finally experience some of the fishing that he is always forced to watch.  What’s more, I’d been recovering from arm surgery and had been instructed to take it slow, so Brian had agreed to be my designated angler for the trip.

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  • Travel : Fairly easy but did require an over night in San Jose, multiple cabs and a boat ride.
  • Lodging : Zancudo Lodge
  • Food : Great
  • Captain Javier is outstanding.

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We all met in San Jose late in the afternoon, and went out into the city for a few drinks and a bite to eat.  I couldn’t help but chatter excitedly about the prospects, and all the Marlin I hoped to put Brian on.  Brian had never caught a Marlin, or any billfish for that matter.  I had trouble sleeping that night just thinking about the potential fishing we were about to take part in.

We needed to be at the airport for our flight to Golfito by 5:00 AM.  It was critical for our crew to be the first to check in due to all of the gear we’d be carrying.  The charter was a small, ten-seat plane, and though there was decent storage capacity, as with all planes there were weight restrictions.  As it turned out, our early arrival didn’t matter at all; the airline was not going to let us fly with all of our gear on one trip.  We tried to reorganize enough to have at least one camera and some fishing gear along for the first day’s filming, seeing that we would be arriving at the lodge by 10 AM.   About half of our 550 pounds of gear made the first flight.  We left the rest in the hands of an agent, with promises that it would make one of the other two flights that would be departing for Golfito that day.

Costa Rica Zancudo Lodge06After landing in Golfito, it was a short taxi ride to the dock where we met the boats for the ride to Zancudo Lodge.  It felt really good to be back in Central America, and I just knew this was going to be a good trip.

Upon our arrival we were met at the dock by Gregg Mufson, who is the owner of the Lodge.  The staff took our gear to the rooms while Gregg escorted us to the main lodge area to show us around and enjoy something cold to drink.  We then had a great lunch and went to work assembling what gear we had, so that when the afternoon plane showed we could get to work on putting that gear in order.  Just as promised, the rest of our fishing and filming equipment arrived by late afternoon, and as dinner approached I had all my rods rigged, Brian had taken a good stock of photos, and Tim and Wes were done building cameras.

I was up early the next morning.  I had a light breakfast, and arrived at the dock well before our departure.  I was eager to get on the boat, get my rods where I like them, and have all my gear stowed by the time the crew arrived.  Javier was our captain, and I could tell right away that that he was fishy.  While waiting on the crew, we made our plan for the day.  Javier suggested fishing a spot about 50 miles offshore that had been producing lots of Marlin, sailfish, and dolphin.  I wasn’t about to argue with the sound of that plan.  The guys arrived, and we headed out, with very high hopes for a big day.

We decided to start by live-bait fishing close to structure.  We made our bait by fishing some small Shimano butterfly jigs.  In general when making bait, I would rather cast or jig for my bonito than troll.  Once you mark them or see them, I feel that casting of jigging offers a gentler presentation than trolling through the school and spreading the fish out.  Bait fishing didn’t take long.  We put a couple bonito in the tubes and rigged two that I put in the water, one long and one short.  As I was getting the fighting belt and harness fitted to Brian, the short bait started to freak out.  It hadn’t been 5 minutes.  I got the bite and gave it a short drop back because the baits were fairly small.  As I pushed the lever drag up to strike on the Talica 50, the line came tight.  I started to crank like mad, and then the fish went absolutely crazy.  I took the rod from the rod holder to hand it to Brian, who was standing there with a look of absolute shock on his face, as his first Blue Marlin went greyhounding away.  We managed to get Brian all settled in, and he started to fight his first Marlin.

There is something special about fighting a huge fish in a stand-up harness.  The whole world becomes just you and the fish.  Brian is a quick study.  He has done lots of fishing, and has spent a career around great anglers, so he picked up on the technique really fast.  Every time the fish ran and jumped, Brian let slip little giggles of joy.  He had the Marlin at the leader in about 20 minutes, and as I was leadering the fish, Brian managed to grab his camera and, with the rod still in the harness, he got off some great photos of his first bill.  After some high-five’s and cold water, I had two fresh baits back in the water.  We didn’t have to wait 15 minutes to get bit, this time by a big Pacific Sailfish, which made another first for Brian.  We caught a few dolphin by casting Yo-zuri’s to debris as we slow-trolled our baits looking for another Marlin bite.  Within an hour we were on again with another Blue Marlin.  This one was walking on the surface, spending more time aerialized than in the water.  You have to love this: it was just 10:00 in the morning and we had 2 Marlin, a sailfish, and a few dolphin landed already.

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I asked Javier when he had last caught a marlin himself, and he said it had probably been 20 years.  He puts anglers on fish all the time, but rarely gets to do it himself.  I thought it only fitting that the next Marlin be his.  It didn’t take long.  Both baits got really nervous, and I figured that there was a fish swimming back and forth between the two.  Javier’s rod got bit, and a good fish started taking line at blistering speed.  While trying to set the hook, Javier pushed the lever on the drag past strike, all the way to full.  His twenty-year fish took to the air and the line parted.  I could see the disappointment in Javier’s face Just as I got bit.  It had been two fish behind the baits!  I hooked him up and we were on again.   I handed the rod to Javier and I watched a smile spread across his face.  This was another great fish which put on an air show all of its own.  Javier did a great job fighting this fish, throughout the battle you could tell he was having the time of his life.

Prior to leaving for Costa Rica, Bart Miller from Black Bart Lures had given me a couple lure bags with some hand-picked lures.  I love lure fishing for Marlin and after we’d landed a few fish I was ready to change things up a bit.  Once we got the lures properly placed, the spread was looking good.  I watched the lures.  The bite had been so good in the morning that I wasn’t sure the afternoon could possibly hold up, but just as I was starting to doubt, the left short got whacked.  This was a smaller fish, maybe 150 pounds, but it proved itself with speed and agility.  By the end of the day we had gone 5 for 7 on Marlin, and had landed 1 sailfish and a few dolphin.  We’d spent a great first day just feeding the Obsession.

The next couple days we were scheduled to do some inshore fishing, but I had trouble getting the taste of day 1 out of my mouth.  Don’t get me wrong; I love casting poppers and swimming lures for all sorts of inshore species, and I was really hoping that Brian or I might get a few opportunities at Roosterfish or Cubera Snapper.  But Marlin were just offshore, and I knew they would still be eating.

In the end, we managed a bit more of everything.  We got quite a few Roosters inshore, and several more Marlin, among other species.  Brian wore himself out, and finally got to see what a few hundred pounds of billfish feels like at the end of a line.  All in all, it was a tremendous trip to Costa Rica, and a welcome return to my Central American fishing.  As I wrap of this report, I am in the middle of planning my next trip to Costa Rica.  And I bet it won’t take much to tempt Brian along with me.