I got the report and pics from Pope and John – enjoy!!!
It all started with a quick ride to the airport. I had felt my daughter move for the first time the previous evening, which made the departure bittersweet. “I felt her move,” exclaimed Patty as we shared near slumber. “Quick, put your hand here!” I did and my little girl kicked through my Love´s uterus bidding me a tiny heart’s farewell and luck for my adventure to Panama!
Porting rods and jigs from OTI as well as an assortment of lures from Kilsong´s Jigging World, I lumbered through DFW International to the check in counter. “What is in this bag?” asked a less than gracious American Airlines clerk. “Lead!” I replied. She looked at my with a strange expression as if I were lying. “I am fishing in Panama and need mucho tackle,” I explained. “That will be an additional $115 for the 76.5lbs of weight,” she explained as she loaded the bag on the conveyor belt with everything she could muster.
Two hours later I was in the air and headed to paradise. Once I dodged the hurdles at Tocumen International I was greeted by Niko, John De la Cruz´s trusted amigo. “Brandon!” he shouted as I must have been the only gringo in the aeropùerto lumbering around with massive loads of tackle. A quick exchange, rental car sorted out and I was off to explore the extinct volcano of El Valle de Anton before making my way to Boca Chica and Panama Sportfishing Lodge.
A quick note before heading into the fishing adventure…A journey to Panama is not complete without making a jaunt into the mountains and El Valle is truly amazing. Americans and Europeans abound, but not in numbers needed to sway the ambience of the majestic hillsides teeming with wildlife and cool temperatures. At 2,000m the atmosphere in brisk and the food is excellent. I will write more of El Valle in another report and provide a link to a thread within another forum.
View from top of mountain looking back to El Valle
View of creek in jungle
I left El Valle the next evening and traveled to Boca Chica after being stopped by the local tax man in Santiago. The local police ushered me to an abrupt stop and solicited $60. “Es mucho dinero,” I explained. “Okay respecto, $20,” the officer stated with a 40 year old holstered Smith and Wesson 38. “Es bein. A gift,” I responded. “Si, a gift.” He replied and I was off once more, although at a slower pace.
The remainder of the drive I was amazed by Indians walking the Panamerican Highway toting heaving loads as parrots, eagles and toucans danced among the mountain treetops. Soon I neared the turn off to Boca Chica and I began to change the Ipod to the Smashing Pumpkins in order to deliver the necessary mood needed for battling some of the strongest denizens of the Pacific!
As soon as I arrived, John and I discussed the best use of our time and after consulting the altimetry it was decided the first day’s battleground would be a bottom fishing venture inshore. Captain Macho and Sergio seemed to care less; they were just “itching” to go. “Pargo, es okay,” Macho agreed. Sergio seemed to consider the news for a moment and take an internal inventory what was available in the boat. He had already seen the boxes of “goodies” Kilsong and TJ had me mule to Panama. As if he had completed the inventory, he made a beeline for the piles of jigs, sub surface plugs and poppers in the corner of the lodge’s living area. I followed and together we began rigging everything for the next morning.
The morning was slow to come. I slept murmuring to the cubera snapper I knew was waiting for me. The approaching dawn was signaled by the cocks of Boca Chica. Their call was followed by the howls of howler monkeys and my feet hit the icy floor with anticipation. Two minutes later and I was at the bar with a delicious cup of Panamanian coffee in hand. Breakfast was being prepared as soon as the kitchen staff noticed I was waking myself at the bar with my brew. Seconds later and I was sending eggs, fried yucca, bacon and Panamanian style biscuits to join the coffee.
Soon John, Macho and Sergio walked into lodge and grabbed breakfast on the fly. Samuel, John’s longtime friend, also pulled up after being invited the night before and entered the room. A quick introduction from John and Samuel and I were instantly friends. “This will be something special,” declared Samuel.
“Vamos!” cried Macho. “Enough!” We followed captain’s orders and piled in the boat, threw the lines loose and separated ourselves as if cutting our umbilical cord to land. We were leaving civility and entering the primal recesses of our minds. You have to think like a fish to catch the most clever devils and large predatory fish don’t get that way by making poor decisions. They certainly aren’t civil either. Disengaged, we were now plugged into something more instinctual and fulfilling.
Macho plugged Montrousa into the GPS as we rounded the last marker in the river’s mouth and the open Pacific greeted us with smooth seas. Life teemed inside and outside of the rocks protecting Boca Chica from the open sea. Needlefish and fliers skated across the waves clearing our path to Montrousa’s rocks.
Once there, huge marks reflected on the sounder assuring us we were not the only thing fishing this morning. We quickly made bait and Sergio bridled two fresh bonito. However, trolling was not what would produce this day. 20 minutes and one severely wahoo mutilated bonito later, we broke out the jigs. I went bendo first, then Sam! The OTI 3G jigging rod maxed out and Trinidad struggled under the force of the resident boss. Head shakes and dogged runs to the bottom indicated an AJ was responsible and finally Sam and I won the duels. Two fat 60lb AJs hit the decks.
The remainder of the day was not wasted. We jigged grouper, jacks, snappers of all sorts and even a few hoos hit the deck. The fishing was so good we decided to forego offshore brutes the following day as well and break out the poppers for even more inshore action, which followed in earnest.
The second day Macho wanted us to make some bait. “If they don’t want poppers, the cuberas will not eat jigs,” he declared. Man, did John prove him wrong at the second stop of the day. For whatever reason, the fish did not want to bite despite good marks and then I went bendo like the previous day. Apparently, a school of jack crevalle was holding above the main mark suppressing the bite. I dropped to the appropriate depth and burned a jig through them. When I got hit the flash of the struggling jack must have ignited the predatory response of the remaining mark. John’s rig doubled and his reel burned with a blistering speed straight down. He laid into the fish with enough pressure I was sure his rod, line or fish’s jaw would give way. However, he regained line and a fat cubera eventually rolled onto the surface in defeat. “Won’t chew jigs, huh?” sarcastically exclaimed John. “No,” Macho complained as he lipped gaffed the maw of the gnarling snapper. A quick photo of the fish and he was released to reclaim his rock kingdom.
We decided to troll a few nearby rocks and islands for hoos and we began to get a few when I caught the most surprising fish of the trip. Way inshore and just feet from the beach of a picturesque island, my reel began screaming by something slamming a marauder. A 5lb yellowfin was lost and decided to attack a lure half its size! “Sashimi is on the menu boys,” I explained as I ripped it gills free from its body.
Tiring of hoos, we finally pulled out the poppers. ****ing explosions followed with dynamite loaded cuberas creaming the OTI wombats! The rest of the day we got pargo, mullet snapper and the strongest cuberas I had ever experienced. Sergio even managed two hook two snapper on one lure as the fish competed with one another for our offering. Everyone kept one of the smaller fish for dinner and with sore arms we pointed the bow home to plan the next day, which you will soon see was stellar in the monsoonal rains of Panama’s Pacific!
I went back to El Valle and spent three days exploring after I left Boca Chica. I nearly made it to CR and thought of crossing the border just to get the passport stamped for street credit. Seriously, El Valle was bad ass. I hiked into the cloud forests at night with a head lamp and caught the **** out of snakes and frogs!
Eyelash Viper Bothriechis schlegelii
Fer-de-lance Bothrops asper
Red-eyed treefrog Agalychnis callidryas
Hiking through a ravine
Convent I wasn't expecting to find near the top of a mountain
#5159, "RE: Pope Invades Panama!" In response to Reply # 1
Part 2 as promised!
Before dinner the second day, John told me he had some business in David the next day. “You will go out with Macho and Sergio by yourself tomorrow,” explained John. “Maybe the conditions have changed offshore.” The water inshore was bluer than the previous day and I was ready for whatever was at hand.
Macho and I ate dinner and discussed the plan for tomorrow. “Montousa is good,” he stated while he continued chewing a piece of Panamanian pan fried pargo. “It is the best.” Sergio nodded in agreement and I wasn’t arguing. After all, this was there backyard. I followed dinner with a Balboa and made my way to bed.
The next morning howler monkeys woke me from my slumber. They must have been worried about the storms brewing offshore. They could see them from the other side of Isla Boca Brava, which sits adjacent across the river from the lodge. We couldn’t see the storms, but it didn’t matter…we were going tuna fishing through hail or hell. It just didn’t matter to us. To be honest, I liked the clouds and rain. It kept the tropical sun at bay.
We loaded the boat with fresh sandwiches, fruta and drinks along with the rods as we dialed in the numbers for Montousa once more. We threw the lines and headed for chaos! As we rounded the last point marking the end of the river we could see rollers coming in from the Pacific. Storms were lining up. “Wet,” announced Macho. “No problem.”
We did pound our way to Montousa and it remind me of home, except it was much cooler in Panama. As we neared Montousa I could already see birds working. Boobies and petrels were diving bait being pushed to the surface by our bait, bonito. We threw out the bait rigs and loaded the tubes in minutes. Sergio, the master bridler, had two baits in the water within seconds of loading the tubes. Six baits in the tubes, two deployed and the sounder was solid red.
Nearly 15 minutes passed without much happening. “The tuna must be here,” I thought to myself. “Maybe not in the number during the high season, but damn there is a lot of bait.” Macho pointed out what he thought were wahoo on the sounder just seconds before a reel started to whine. “Mucho wahoo,” stated Macho. “Mucho!” He backed off the throttles and told me to be ready. The reel began to whine. “Suave!” yelled Macho. “Ahora!” I shoved the drag forward and he gunned it! The reel screamed in protest and I pulled it from the gunnel. “Wahoo!” cried Macho. “Wahoo, no aqui,” I complained. “Es atun.” It was a fat yellowfin and the first tuna of the day was brought boat side, smaller than I had wished for at 60lbs, but a tuna nevertheless.
The next two hours were magic. I hooked, fought and landed three more in this timeframe. Nicer fish as well. These coming in at around 90lbs. The last fish struck in pouring rain. Lightening flashed and thunder clapped. This was a ****ing awesome way to catch fish! The last fish slammed a bait the second lightening met our eyes and thunder garnished our ears, all at once. The reel poured line with the slack drag and Sergio was yelping with a laugh at how the scene had come together. I don’t remember how it said it, but it was with the typical latin accentuated fade. I grabbed the rod and used the rail to spell the death circle for this fish. I was the only one fishing and was becoming a little tired by now. Rain poured as the radio jammed Sandra once more. The accordion was quickly becoming my favorite instrument and with them dancing behind me we landed the fish.
I grew tired of using bait and Sergio and I started throwing poppers. It took a few minutes, but a hoo finally decided to prove to us Macho was correct. Unfortunately, the wahoo was hooked on the outside of its mouth and it managed to throw the hooks. Next, a huge rainbow runner entered the fray. This rainy day was shaping up! The last fish was a snapper that must have decided the depths weren’t going to keep him from taking part in the carnage. He slammed my popper in 200 feet of water and peeled line from the Stella before pulling the hooks. Without hookup ratios up, landings down and the skies opening on cue for the ride home, Macho gave the signal. Back to Boca Chica we went!
John had mixed feelings once we saw him at the lodge. One, he had missed a wonderful day, but had dodged the storms. He is spoiled and can fish when he wants. Stellar fishing can happen anytime and he likes the ice cream conditions he is used too. I preferred the rain and constant breeze. Nevertheless, John was waiting to get onboard the next morning with his signature glass of coffee.
We made a beeline to Montousa and immediately got bait. We slow trolled for 15 minutes before Macho, who had been anxiously watching the sounder, throttled down and asked us to pull the baits. “To the banks,” Macho grumbled. “Atun mucho.” Again, I wasn’t arguing. I was excited to fish the fabled Hannibal Bank.
As soon as we pulled up we saw the sounder light up! Fish were stacked up! Additionally, John pointed out a sea snake just off the starboard side. I am not one to believe in luck, but the snake made me feel lucky. We threw a bonita from the tube and it made a straight line into the abyss. However, this bonita started hauling ass and the grind of the clicker migrated to a scream. We threw the reel into gear without even beginning the troll and were in a solid hookup. I grabbed the rod and quickly put a 60lb fish in the boat. I was in a harness as I was prepared for a big fish. The poor fish never had a chance, but it was better to err on the side of safety with a big fish in mind.
That fish bled and in the ice, we started again. 3 minutes later and it was hookup time once more. “Already,” I thought. I grabbed the rod and shoved the drag forward beyond strike without the harness. “Oh ####, this fish isn’t stopping!” The line peeled quickly, melting into the Pacific. “Grande!” exclaimed Macho. “Si,” I replied. “Harness por favor.” This time I had connected to a big fish and it made sense. Sergio had rigged a 10-12lb bonito and it may have help weed out smaller models. 10 minutes into the fight and the fish began to circle deep and 5 minutes later in started to the surface making a run under the boat. Macho spun the boat around on a dime and the fish was back in front of me. This fish was not coming up quickly went to the bottom of the bank. I sat on the fish and started gaining line when I finally saw the double line. Then the unimaginable happened! The hook pulled!
Exhausted I sat down and watch two dorado skating across the surface with a marlin crashing them. Up again! John had already started jigging and hooked up. At first we thought it was a big snapper, but the line began to fly from the Stella. Tuna! We all started jigging and crushed them! Macho, Sergio, John and I picked off snapper of all sorts along with the tuna. It was a great afternoon and it lasted until we finally scared the hell out of the fish. We all sat down, had a late lunch and decided to go back to Montousa.
Life was everywhere, but not quite to the same extent as the previous day. It was hot, calm and the intense sun was likely keeping things down a bit. We started the routine of trolling again when Macho stood up and pointed off the bow. A spot of water boiled and tuna began erupting from the water. Within a half acre no less than 10 tuna were in the sky at once. As quickly as they were up, they were down and we started scanning the surface again. Seconds later another school of tuna tore through bait 150 yards away! Hair stood on end for us all!
While we watched, John’s bonito, connected to his OTI jigging rod, got nervous. The rod quivered and then jolted with a savage strike. John palmed the reel to gain the hookup and we were into fish again. I cleared the other rod when I got hammered, but no hookup. John’s fish was not giving up easily. These fish were pissed! It made one last run and he buttoned down the reel spelling doom for the yellow edge maniac! The fish was still very green when Sergio placed the gaff in its head and swung it over the gunnel. Blood spurted out with each pulse covering the deck.
Three bonito left and fish everywhere! I was ready for the popper once we got through with the livies. We placed two baits in the water and they went down, then came back up. I hadn’t seen the bait exhibit this behavior yet, which indicated they didn’t like what they saw below. Flashes began peeling through the spread only yards behind the boat as the baits tried to get closer for cover. Two boils were left were the baits were and both rods were on fire. However, only one stayed buttoned and I insisted John take the rod. I wanted to see him suffer after only having minutes to recover from the last fish. He was tough and had the fish nearly whipped by the time we had cleared lines and I started taking photos. He had the Stella buttoned down as before and was pulled to coaming pads. It took a few well timed pulls and Sergio denied the fish a last run with a swift gaff.
Unfortunately, one bait was mauled by the last strike, but we put it out anyway. We started the trolling pattern one last time and the dead bait spun on the surface. It didn’t take long for the live bait to get hit and I was ready to pull the rod from the holder when the dead bait disappeared in a huge boil and the other rod protested under a huge run. “Grande,” espoused Macho.
I rushed to the other rod, leveled the drag to strike and pulled when everyone shouted, “marlin!” I didn’t see the animal, but did see an enormous splash. I was only wearing a light fighting belt and insisted I was okay. 10 minutes later I had the fish within 50 yards of the boat and I guess he finally decided my scrawny ass was playing with him. The marlin grey hounded away and then made a long run away. With the reel dumping line and only yards left we backed up to gain some line. Once he stopped and started jumping 250 yards away, Macho stopped. “You catch the fish, not me.” I was 15 minutes into the fight and asked for two things, I wanted the harness and to reset the drag. Sergio went for the gaff and I threw the reel into free spool to readjust the drag. With the drag reset and the harness on, I pushed the drag to full and settled in for the fight. The rest of the battle was great. When the fish was finally close and bounding back and forth across the stern, I could finally see how magnificent the fish actually was. His bright blue tail, deep body and broad back revealed its strength as its muscles shook with every jump. The fight was almost over and Sergio grabbed leader as I threw the drag back down to a minimal setting. I lunged in for a final farewell, gave the black a “hand shake” and thumbs up. Its raspy, fixed pectoral fin graded my fingers as it pulled away after Macho severed the line. Two kicks of the tail and the marlin was gone.
The remainder of the ride home we celebrated our last day with crisp Balboas and Sandra Sandoval!