Costa Rica (May 2022): Part 3

Chasing Gold

Now aware that Golden Trevally could be found along the shores of Nicuesa, I was bound and determined to check off this bucket list species over the final two days of our visit. Apparently present throughout the day (per the resort staff), they would be most accessible during the midday low tide as they cruised the surf zone.

With this in mind, I let my wife know I’d be disappearing to the pier for an hour or two on either side of lunch Friday.

Swing and a Miss

No spousal protest registered, I re-rigged with a 12 lbs tippet and a small crab pattern before returning to the pier at 10:30 the following morning. The hour and a half that followed was uneventful with the exception of a single fish.

While a number of fish passed by that morning, only one was feeding and within casting range. Appearing out of no where this lone Trevally had paused near the pier to feed. Flipping my fly 18” beyond his nose, I was in shock as the large fish moved forward, tilted his head down and inhaled my fly without hesitation.

Setting the hook forcefully, the shallow water exploded as the fish rocketed away under the pier.

My rod doubled over as I leaned over the tailing, I momentarily debated making the 8+’ drop into 12” of water below. Thinking better of it, I held strong and weighed my options. But, the fish was already in the backing at that point, and it was clear those options were limited.

Still, I held fast and eventually regained control. Line back on the reel, I was making progress when the fish changed directions again. This time running back through the pier pylons in the opposite direction.

Working slowly I began to gain line and, with it, false confidence. The battle had already been lost, but I wasn’t ready to concede. Still, I can’t say I was surprised when 12 lbs fluoro eventually lost out to the large fish and rusty pylons.

Cursing to myself, I re-rigged once again and checked the time. It was approaching lunch, do I decided it was time for a break.

Strike Two

Back on the water a little after 1pm, I proceeded to pace the pier as I had hours earlier. Tide was now past low and slowly beginning to rise again. Aware my time and shots were limited, I was constantly searching. I would not miss my shot when the time came once again.

When that opportunity did appear, it was in the form of four smaller Trevally cruising in a group. Watching patiently, I waited for the group to pause and feed before making my cast.

Dropping the fly between the four, I gave the fly two or three gentle twitches in hopes of drawing their attention.

My heart raced when the group began to move and my line went taught. But what followed led to momentary confusion. There was no wild run. Just dead weight, and the Trevally were unperturbed as they moved away.

Stripping line, a small, brown shape emerged from between the rocks. Somehow in the midst of four feeding Trevally, I had managed to place my olive hackle & hair crab in front of a Stone Scorpionfish! Though disappointed to have missed another shot at a Trevally, I took the time to photograph my novel catch before calling it a day.

After all, happy hour was fast approaching. And I, in that moment, could absolutely use a drink.

Joining Maedbh and the other couples at the bar, I read a few pages of McGuane and tried not to think of what had gone wrong.

I couldn’t help but appreciate the irony as a rainbow appeared over the gulf.

No Gold for me on this particular afternoon.

The Morning After

Rising early the following morning, I decided to give the end of the pier one last shot. I had only caught two snapper species thus far and was intent on adding to my species tally on this final morning. So with an hour to spare before breakfast, I tied on a Clouser’s minnow and headed for the deep water.

As luck would have it, the conditions were more favorable than they had been all week. The sardines had moved closer, and the water intermittently boiled as fish blitzed bait at the surface.

Within a few casts, I would add my first species: a Big-eyed Trevally.

Less than 15” in length, I was preparing to release the fish when shouting in Spanish caught my attention. Glancing down, I saw that it was one of the resort’s staff shouting to me from a boat departing for puerto Jimenez.

Though it took me a moment, I realized she was asking if she could have the fish. Happy to oblige, I lobbed the fish into the boat as it idled away from the pier. A shout of “Gracias” and wave was the last thing I heard as the boat’s motor kicked into gear.

Good karma now on my side, I decided it was time to try my luck with some of the other species I had observed along the pier. The triggerfish in particular had my attention as they frequently followed my Clouser’s. Though they always refused to commit.

So, swapping out my streamer for a chartreuse Cap Spider, I cast out and allowed the fly to sink out of view.

Stripping slowly, with frequent pauses, I watched my fly reappear with a trail of Sergeant Majors and a single Triggerfish in slow pursuit.

Allowing the fly to hover roughly 10’ below the surface, I watched as the majority of fish dispersed. The trigger held course, however. And after allowing it a moment to examine my offering, a single twitch was all it took to elicit a strike.

Enthused to have succeeded, I decided to downsize further and swapped my cap spider for a beadhead Hare’s Ear.

Intent on targeting the sergeant major or other small fish, plans changed as a blitz broke out at the end of the pier. Throwing the fly into the fray, I was shocked as my line actually went tight. To my surprise, a small Bigeye Trevally had taken the tiny nymph!!

Repeating the process twice more produced a yellow snapper and second Finescale Triggerfish before something larger finally snapped off the hook’s point on the fourth attempt.

Content and a little hungry, I took the broken hook as a sign and headed for breakfast.

One Last Shot

The clock ticking, I returned to the pier once more around 10 AM. Lunch was slated for noon, and our water taxi departed at 1 PM. This was my last chance.

So rigged once again with a small olive crab, I prepared to pace the pier. Two hours would allow perhaps 4 or 5 opportunities, and there was no guarantee they would be quality opportunities.

As it turned out this was exactly the case as three or four fish passed over the following hour, but only at Hail Mary cast distances. And, as expected, each of those attempts resulted in a spook or refusal.

Frustrated, I decided to change tactics for the final 30 minutes. While olive crab patterns had been recommended, it was clear the fish were also feeding on the abundant sardines. After all, Alejandro had landed one such fish two days earlier.

So…with 30 minutes to go, I snipped off my crab and tied on a small bend back minnow.

And when that final opportunity presented itself about 11:50 AM, I made it count. Placing the fly 18” in front of a large cruising fish, I allowed the fly to sink below the surf and slowly began stripping.

The fish responded immediately, and I watched my fly disappear as it’s mouth flared. Frozen for perhaps a second too long, I set the hook. And in that moment was crushed as the fly was spit from the fish’s mouth.

Startled, it disappeared into deeper waters, and I conceded defeat. Fly clipped and rod tubed, I made my way to the lodge for one last five-star lunch.

All Good Things…

Lunch behind us and my rod packed, Maedbh and I made our way to the beach one last time. It had been quite the week from both a fishing perspective and general vacation perspective.

We had covered lots of ground, made some new friends, and I had checked off eight new species including six on CRAFF’s Los 50 mixed bag list!

We were both exhausted, but neither of us was ready to leave. Work was beckoning though. And with 25 on the Fly less than two weeks away, I needed to at least make an appearance before heading off again.

So with that we bid ado to Gulfo Dulce and hopped a small plane back to San Jose. We were already planning our return before it touched down 40 minutes later.

Note: As a final closing remark, I want to express my gratitude to Ed Dobner, Fede Hampl and the rest of the CRAFF-ACPM membership. They are an extremely knowledgeable and welcoming group, and a great deal of my successes on this trip can be credited to the advise they were willing to share as I prepared. If you have any intention of fishing Costa Rica in the coming years (or even a general interest in the region), I highly recommend joining their group. You will not be disappointed.

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