Costa Rica Tarpon Fishing

Packages

Fishing Info

Seasons

Destinations

Available Species

FAQ’s

We offer the best customized Costa Rica Tarpon Fishing Packages so you can experience why Costa Rica is regarded as being home to some of the best tarpon in the world. Costa Rica is home to a large resident population of tarpon that provides a year-round bite from big, mature fish. Tarpon in Costa Rica are typically in the 80-100 lb range, and every year we catch a several in the 150-200 lb range (and lose many more!). Found patrolling along the Caribbean Coast, in river mouths, and up fresh water rivers, the “silver king” can be found in a variety of places and can be fished for a variety of ways. The most common is spinning tackle, but with so many fish around it’s one of the best spots in the world to fly fish for tarpon as well. Trust our local expertise to set you up with one of Costa Rica’s top tarpon guides and see why 40% of our anglers are repeat or referral guests!

Tarpon Fishing in Tortuguero
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Costa Rica Tarpon Fishing Info

The tarpon fishing in Costa Rica is done in and around the large river mouths found along the Northeast Caribbean Coast. The main target zone is from the Rio Parismina just south of the Tortuguero National Park to the Rio Colorado, which is an offshoot of the Rio San Juan that forms the northern border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Depending on which river mouth has the best conditions and where the fish are, run times can be anywhere from ten minutes to one hour if you run all the way north to Rio Colorado.

The boats used for tarpon fishing vary slightly from lodge to lodge and among our local guides, but in general they are all a version of a 25′-26′ center console with a deep vee hull. These are the ideal boats for tarpon fishing in Costa Rica as they can handle waves in the river mouths, can get you from spot to spot quickly, and they allow for multiple anglers to be fishing and fighting tarpon at the same time. Two anglers per boat is ideal, but they can fit three per boat max. All our tarpon fishing charters are private so the boat is 100% yours, we do not set up shared charters with strangers. All Costa Rica tarpon fishing trips include bait, tackle, gas, lunch, snacks, and drinks (beer/water/soda). A quality tip for your crew is generally 15%-20% of the cost of the charter.

 

When is the Best Tarpon Fishing in Costa Rica?

Certainly the most important question anglers ask us is “when is the best tarpon fishing in Costa Rica?” Here in Costa Rica the tarpon population is mostly resident, mature fish. We don’t catch a lot of juvenile tarpon and the tarpon fishing in Costa Rica is not based on migratory seasons like it is throughout much of the rest of the Caribbean and the Southern US. The large river mouths and the abundance of bait keeps the tarpon here year round, so our tarpon seasons are based more on weather and sea conditions rather than migratory patterns. Our Caribbean Coast can receive 250 inches of rain per year, so knowing when to visit is of the utmost importance for an enjoyable and successful trip.

There are two main seasons for tarpon fishing in Costa Rica: spring and fall. The spring tarpon season is from mid-Jan through mid-May and then the fall season is September & October. The spring season mirrors what is traditionally Costa Rica’s high season for travel. During these months it will typically be hot and sunny, though since it’s the Caribbean it can rain at any time. January and February can also see cold fronts from the north blow through the Caribbean, which can make things gray, rainy and blustery for 3-4 days at a time. While still possible, that becomes less common in March and April. When that happens the river mouths are often too treacherous to pass through, so instead of fishing out in the ocean looking for rolling taron, the boats are forced to anchor in the river mouths. We still catch plenty of tarpon in the river mouths as this is where they are feeding, but the fishing usually is not as productive as fishing out in the ocean along the coastline.

On the Pacific Coast the months of September & October are the wettest and slowest time of year, but that is actually the dry season on the Caribbean Coast. During these two months the seas are often glass calm and the weather hot and sunny, which makes spotting rolling tarpon that much easier. It’s also the time of year when the baby sea turtles are hatching, so there is usually no shortage of bait around.

Costa Rica tarpon fishing calendar

Where is the Best Tarpon Fishing in Costa Rica?

The best tarpon fishing in Costa Rica is done along the northeast corner of our Caribbean Coast. For all Costa Rica tarpon fishing packages you will want to fly in and out of the Juan Santamaria Airport in San Jose (SJO). Most tarpon fishing vacations have you spend your first night in the capital of San Jose, but it is possible to come directly from the Arenal Volcano or Pacific Coast as well. We will help you coordinate all logistics, in-country travel, and hotels.

Map of the best tarpon fishing in Costa Rica

There are no roads in this section of Costa Rica so it is one of the most remote and protected regions of the country. It is comprised almost entirely by the Tortuguero Conservation Area, in which you’ll find the Barra de Colorado National Wildlife Refuge (200,600 acres) and Tortuguero National Park (190,100 acres). The fastest way to get here is a short 25-minute flight which allows you to fish the same day, or the scenic route which is a combination of a van ride out of the Central Valley to the Caribbean lowlands and then a 1.5 hr boat ride through the canals of the Tortuguero National Park.

Overhead shot of the freshwater canals of Tortuguero, Costa Rica

Techniques for Tarpon Fishing in Costa Rica

Costa Rican tarpon fishing can be done in various different ways based on sea conditions, what they are feeding on, and the angler’s preference. Natural prey for tarpon in this part of the country includes shrimp, langostinos (prawns), sardines, mullet fish, and even baby turtles as this is one of the world’s most importante sea turtle nesting sites. Outside of the river mouths and along the coast where the tarpon are found the water is usually 40 ft – 100 ft deep, so much of the tarpon fishing is done in deeper, dirty water as opposed to stalking fish in shallow water.

Close up look at a Costa Rican tarpon

Tarpon have large underslung lower jaws and inhale their food in a large slurping or sucking motion. Despite the fact you might have a 100 lb fish eating your bait, it can be easy to miss the subtle tug on your line when they fit. Tarpon don’t have teeth but rather extremely tough, bony jaws that are rock hard and feel like sand paper. This is just one of the many reasons so many tarpon are hooked and lost, if the hook isn’t set hard there’s a good chance it’ll pop out on the first leap. One of the best parts of tarpon fishing is seeing them launch themselves into the air – sometimes over six feet out of the water! They also feature sharp gill plates so as they thrash their heads from side to side trying to throw the hook they have been known to cut through leaders up to 100 lbs. It’s here where “bowing to the king” comes into play – lowering your rod to the water when the tarpon jumps to provide a bit of slack in the line so the hook isn’t ripped out and the line stays out of reach of those gill plates.

All tarpon in Costa Rica are catch and release.

Jigging for Tarpon

One of the most popular and effective methods fishing for tarpon in Costa Rica is jigging. Bucktail jigs with big eyes, often rigged with soft plastics for added movement, are as simple and effective as it gets. Jigs with a 1/0 or 2/0 hook that feature bright colors like red, yellow, and pink seem to work well when mixed in with blacks and purples. These jigs not only mimic their normal shrimp and prawn diets, as you slowly jig you can cover the entire water column guaranteeing that sooner or later you’ll be in the face of a large silver king.

Bait for Tarpon

When available, Costa Rica tarpon guides love to fish sardines – dead or alive. A 7/0 or 8/0 circle hook put through the back of a sardines and floated along with the current is often a question of “when” not “if” most days. Mullet fish are also a favorite, though they are harder to find.

Catch and release of a Costa Rican tarpon
Sardines and bucktails jigs are two of the best ways to catch tarpon in Costa Rica

Hardbaits for Tarpon

If you are lucky enough to have a day when the Caribbean looks like glass, you can often see tarpon rolling at the surface. One days like this you can sight cast to them with poppers, stick baits, or even try artificial baits like crabs or even sea turtles. On the flip side, you may have bad luck and have days where you simply aren’t able to safely cross the river mouth into the ocean. Even when this happens all hope is not lost as another classic Costa Rica tarpon fishing method is to anchor in the river mouth away from the breakers and cast out big rapalas or Yo-Zuris. You’ll simply let the strong tidal currents take your lure back to the desired distance and provide all the movement your swimbait needs. As tarpon pass in and out of the river mouth they will eventually come across your lure and inhale it.

 

Fly Fishing for Tarpon

Fly fishing for tarpon in Costa Rica is also extremely popular. These are mature, adult fish so a 12 wt – 14 wt rod with appropriate large arbor reel is recommended. Since this is deep water fishing as opposed to flats fishing in Belize, much of your day will spent blind casting towards spots where you think tarpon are lurking. If you get a beautiful Caribbean day and can see the tarpon rolling yours odds increase and you can sight cast. For these conditions we recommend a sinking or intermediate sinking fly line so that you can position your fly deeper in the water column where the tarpon can see it. Big streamers and classic tarpon flies like the famous ‘Black Death’ and ‘Cockroach’ are all good choices when tied to a 1/0 or 2/0 hook. Crab and even baby turtle patterns can be used as well.

Fly fishing for tarpon in Costa Rica

Available Species Fishing on Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast

Without any doubt, the main attraction for fishing on Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast are huge tarpon and world-record sized snook. While they will garner anglers’ attention 95% of the time, there are other species available in the vibrant coastal waters like jacks, snapper, mackerel, and occasionally big grouper. You also have the option to fish with light tackle in the freshwater canals and lagoons for exotic local species like rainbow bass (guapote), machaca, mojarra, and the rare tropical gar.

Tarpon
Snook
Cubera Snapper
Jack Crevalle
Rainbow Bass
Mojarra
Machaca
Tropical Gar

Costa Rica Tarpon Lodges & Accommodations

The Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica is the least developed region of the country, yet there is still a range of different accommodations to choose from. You won’t find large all inclusive resorts or luxury beach hotels here, unlike the rest of the country Costa Rica’s Northeast Caribbean Coast is not considered a beach destination. Some of the first pioneers in the area where the all inclusive tarpon lodges, which have now been around for over 30 years. Several are found on the Rio Colorado in the northern part of the region and then there is the Rio Parismina Lodge on the southern end.

Besides the tarpon and snook fishing, the main tourism this area attracts is eco tourism for the incredible wildlife, untouched rainforest, and being one of the world’s most important sea turtle nesting sites. If an all inclusive fishing lodge isn’t your style other options include eco-luxury lodges where you’d fish with our legendary local tarpon guides in the area. Many of these hotels offer basic accommodations of rooms with ceiling fans and private bathrooms but no air conditioning or TVs. There is one luxury 4-star hotel in the area that does offer air conditioning, TV, mini-fridge and luxury bedding. Due to this area being so isolated all the hotels here include three meals a day as part of your package.

Costa Rica tarpon lodges

Day Tours & Non-Fishing Activities

Our Costa Rica tarpon fishing packages don’t need to be all fishing, all the time. Whether it’s an off day from fishing or for the non-anglers in your group, there are several great eco and adventure tours available along our lush Caribbean Coast. The list includes:

  • Canopy zip-line tour
  • Guided Tour through the canals of the Tortuguero National Park with trianed naturalist guide
  • Kayaking
  • Sea Turtle Nesting Tour (seasonal)

What Our Guests Love About
Costa Rica Tarpon Fishing

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Tarpon is a bucket list fish for many CAF anglers, so coming to Costa Rica and having a realistic chance at fighting a 100+ lb fish is a dream come true. These are not foolish juvenile fish hiding in a river, these are big, adult tarpon that will give you the fight of a liftime.

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The best tarpon fishing is done on our remote Caribbean Coast, which is one of the least developed regions of Costa Rica. CAF anglers are often surprised and amazed at the beauty and expansiveness of the rainforest they are fishing in.

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There is understandly a lot of trepidation when our guests book a trip to travel 3,000 miles from home, head deep into the Costa Rican jungle, and spend all day fishing with a local guide they don’t know. Week after week, CAF anglers are always pleasantly surprised when they fish with our local tarpon guides and learn that they are native English speakers, welcoming hosts, and expert anglers.

What We Love About
Costa Rica Tarpon Fishing

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Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast gets the majority of the headlines and social media attention, so the Caribbean Coast is often overlooked. One thing we love about fishing isn’t just catching fish, it’s about the places we visit to do that. Tarpon fishing allows us to send our guests to see a corner of Costa Rica that many people would never visit unless they are anglers.

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The average size of the tarpon we catch in Costa Rica is 80-100 lbs. Occassionally we’ll catch smaller 50-60 lb fish, but the trade off for that is that it’s entirely possible that the next bite could be from a 150-200 lb fish. MANY are hooked and lost here every season.

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Our expert tarpon guides are local to the area, have decades of experience fishing these waters, and speak native English. Our guests love spending days on the water with our guides because even if the fishing is slow, you are still going to leave knowing more about tarpon fishing than you did before the trip.

Costa Rica Fishing FAQs

Do I need a fishing license to fish in Costa Rica?

YES. All anglers need a fishing license to fish in Costa Rica. These are sold by the Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Aquacultura, or INCOPESCA as they are known here. Unfortunately their website has functionality and language issues so it’s not easy to use, so you can buy the license in the morning right before you fish for the first time. The cost is $15 for one week or $30 for one month and it must be paid in cash.

How many people will be on my fishing boat?

All fishing charters booked by Central America Fishing are private, so the boat is 100% yours. We do not set up any shared charters.

What is the standard tip for a fishing charter in Costa Rica?

A standard tip for a charter fishing crew in Costa Rica is 10%-20% of the cost of the charter. Most captains are paid a low salary with the idea they’ll earn more tips the more they fish, but many mates rely 100% on tips for their income. Tipping in USD or Costa Rican colones is fine. We recommend giving the entire tip to the captain and let him divide it up with the mate.

Can I bring my own fishing gear?

OF COURSE! Even though our private charters provide all the fishing tackle and bait you’ll need, you are always welcome to bring your own lures, reels, and even rods if you want to catch fish using your own tackle. Fly anglers are always encouraged to bring their own fly gear.

Which fish in Costa Rica are catch and release and which ones can I keep to eat?

By law, all billfish in Costa Rica are strictly catch and release. While not a law, we also strongly encourage releasing all roosterfish, tarpon, and cubera snapper as they are such prized inshore species. Other species like tuna, dorado (mahi), wahoo, snappers, groupers, corvina, snook can be kept and enjoyed for a fresh seafood dinner.

Can I bring fish back home with me to my own country?

If you really want to enjoy your catch our best advice is to eat it while it’s fresh here in Costa Rica. We understand many of you love the idea of a Costa Rican seafood dinner in the comforts of your own home, so the good news is there is no law against it and people do it all the time. However – we do not have the final say in this so there are some things you need to keep in mind:

1 – Unlike some other popular fishing destinations, in Costa Rica there is no service that will package and ship fish home for you. If you want to bring fish home with you you’ll have to do it yourself in your own luggage. Our best advice is to bring down a soft sided, leak-proof cooler, have your fish frozen completely solid, wrap them in newspaper, and then check your cooler as part of your luggage since it will stay cooler in the cargo hold of the plane versus in the cabin as a carry-on. If you don’t have a cooler or forget to bring one, you can purchase affordable plastic coolers here in local grocery stores.

2 – While Costa Rica does not prohibit you from bringing fish fillets home with you, your international airline might. We strongly recommend you confirm this with your airline (in writing if possible) or you may have the fish confiscated from you at the airport check-in.

3 – Even if your airline lets you fly the fish home, your local customs may have an issue with you bringing in meat products from a foreign country. In our experience most customs agents don’t seem too interested in you bringing back frozen fish fillets from your fishing vacation to Costa Rica, but it can depend on the agent and depend on the day.

What if there is bad weather on our fishing day?

First of all, it is extremely rare to have a fishing day cancelled due to bad weather. Costa Rica is too far south for hurricanes, and on top of that we custom design every single one of our Costa Rica fishing packages to factor in not only where you’ll have the best fishing but also the best weather & sea conditions for the time of year you visit us.

It does happen every once in a while however, so if the captain, local marina, or government deem the conditions are unsafe the trip will be cancelled.  The first course of action is to try and reschedule you, but if that is not possible you will be refunded in full.

Please note that rain and dark clouds are not considered bad weather. We are in the tropics and rain is a common occurrence here so that is not a cause for cancelling the trip. Many great fishing days happen in the rain – as they say the fish are wet anyway!

Why Fish With CAF?

We have been fishing, living, and traveling around Central America since 2003. Plan your trip with local experts to make sure you are in the right place, at the right time, and on the right boat. We’ll help you fish for what you want, the way you want.

Free vacation planning + the best direct rates. No booking fees!

Personalized service from pre-arrival to 24/7 in-country support.

Hand-picked accommodations, fishing captains, expert guides for the best vacation experience.

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Nearly 40% of our anglers are repeat & referral guests. CAF puts you on the fish!

We are proud to have a global reach and have hosted anglers from 14 different countries here in Central America!

About the Author

I first visited Costa Rica during a semester abroad in 2003 and instantly fell in love with the language, culture, and natural beauty. I caught my first roosterfish on that trip, and ever since then I knew that I wanted to live here. After graduating in 2004, I worked for a year in the corporate world, but I was unhappy and unstimulated, so I returned to live in Costa Rica full time in 2005. Today I can proudly say that I’ve been in Costa Rica for half of my life, I met my wife here, and my two boys were born here so they are “Ticos”.

I’ve been working in the sport fishing industry in Central America for twenty years, I’ve had articles published in fishing magazines, hosted fishing TV shows, fished in several tournaments, and I’m a four-time IGFA trophy club member. I am however most proud to say that 40% of our anglers are repeat and referral guests. I’ve personally visited every destination, hotel, and fishing lodge that we partner with so that your next vacation with us is one of the best you’ve ever had.

Chris Atkins - Angler & Owner of Central America Fishing

All fishing vacations booked with Central America Fishing include the following:
  • Free Vacation Planning (no fees + direct rates)
  • VIP Airport Meet & Greet upon arrival into SJO
  • Private, air-conditioned transfers with English speaking driver.
  • Luxury, private accommodations hand-picked and customized for your group. Choose between private condos & villas, luxury beach resorts, exclusive boutique hotels, and fishing lodges.
  • Private fishing charters
  • All eco / adventure tours you’d like to include
  • All Costa Rican taxes
  • Free quotes on travel insurance
  • Pre-arrival assistance with dinner reservations, tee times, pre-stocking your condo or villa, hiring a private chef, and special requests.
  • 24/7 support once you are here in country
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