Last weekend I embarked on my second trip out to the hallowed Costa Rica FADs, home to the world’s best marlin fishing. The first time I went marlin fishing at the FADs was four years ago when they were more rumor than reality: an epic fishing tale about double digit marlin bites for anyone who dared to make the long journey. The original FADs that took Costa Rica by storm were off the Osa Peninsula in Southern Costa Rica, over 120 miles from the Los Suenos Resort & Marina. Since then new FADs were constructed on seamounts 80, 90, 100 miles off the coast of Los Suenos and in the past three years have produced an incredible amount of marlin as well. I was headed here, this time accompanied by three-time repeat clients George Lawler & Jerry Pierson. Although we’ve spoken to each other many times over the past couple of years, we had never met in person. When they asked me to join them on their FADs trip this summer I couldn’t say no. My wife asked if I was nervous spending two nights on a boat 100 miles out at sea with two guys I had never met and that were twice my age, I responded ‘They are hardcore anglers AND they are from Pittsburgh, what else do I need to know?”
We were headed out for a two night trip on the esteemed Spanish Fly, the flagship of the famous Maverick Yachts. We made our way to the marina at 4:30 PM on Friday afternoon as we could wait no longer, this boat wasn’t leaving the dock without us! I shook hands with our captain, Simon, and we swore we knew each other from somewhere. Truth is, we’ve both been fishing here for over a decade so we’ve probably both seen a lot of people that look like the other one. In chatting with him I told him how I caught my first marlin on a Maverick (the old Super Fly) way back in 2009 and he erupted “That’s it! I was the mate on that boat, I remember you!” I’ve always said Costa Rica is a small country and the fishing industry is a small world, but as if fishing the FADs on the Spanish Fly wasn’t enough I just learned that I got to do it with the guy who helped me release my first marlin eight years ago. This was going to be a good trip.
It was 5 PM so Captain Simon looked at Captain Carlos on the Sea Fly in the slip next to him and said ‘Vamonos!‘ Both boats were headed out for 2-day trips and would stay together for support and safety. We powered out full steam for about an hour and a half, then as it got dark we slowed to about 8-10 knots and set a relaxed pace that would have us arrive at the fishing grounds early the next morning. If I’m honest I’d say our excitement was only matched by our nervousness as the moment arrived when weeks of daydreaming, checking weather radars, and reading the latest FADs fishing reports meant nothing – we were up, it was our turn, and there was no turning back now. We chatted for a few hours and cautiously ate a sub sandwich for dinner, not knowing what kind of seas awaited us in the dark 100+ miles out to sea no one wanted to be too full and be the first to chum the water. Although nice and cool with the air conditioning blasting, no one wanted to be inside the salon as it rocked back and forth with no horizon visible to steady your inner balance so we bounced between the cockpit, the fly bridge to check the radars with Simon, and the drink cooler. I ended up falling asleep on my back on the cockpit floor for about two hours with my hands behind my head – it was 72 degrees with fresh-as-you-can-find sea breezes, the rocking of the waves, and the monotone drone of the diesels so it was as good a place as any. When I woke up I said aloud ‘Wow’ as the black night was absolutely lit up stars so bright you almost had to squint. I stayed as I was for another thirty minutes admiring the view, counting shooting stars (three) before I went to the back of the boat to relieve myself before bed. Mother Nature supplied another ‘wow moment’ as the white wash of the boat was sparkling green with the agitated bioluminescence. I stood there for a few moments just taking in the scene as the navy blue Pacific dotted with bioluminescence seemed to mirror the black sky and stars above. Working our way 100 miles out to sea it was pitch black, no one was awake (besides Simon), there was no TV, no wifi and yet I didn’t want to go to bed and miss this.
We started to rouse at 5 AM, it was day break and there was chatter on the radio. Simon is one of those guys who always seems like he’s in a good mood and will always look like he’s 28 no matter how old he becomes, but you could hear the excitement in his voice as he said he was marking bait already. We were 115 miles offshore at the Silver FAD and it was go time. While George & Jerry drank their morning coffee mates Carlos & Gato already begun reeling in small bonito and yellow-fin tuna to fill the tuna tubes with marlin candy. It was 5:53 AM, the sun was beginning to shine, the ocean was calm and lines were in the water. If you’re reading this chances are you’ve read plenty of fishing magazines and websites before so instead a detailed account of screaming reels and furious marlin tailwalks here’s a quick look at how our day went:
5:53 AM – Lines in – it’s finally happening!
6:15 AM – George releases our first blue marlin – great start!
6:29 AM – I release our second blue marlin – even better!
7:05 AM – A marlin swims through our spread but doesn’t it – they’re everywhere!
7:13 AM – Two sails swim into our spread, one doesn’t eat but Jerry releases the second after a good fight. Big sailfish, easily topped 100 lbs – We were two-thirds of the way to a grand slam by the time the charter boats leave the dock!
7:50 AM – We had a marlin take the bait but never got hooked well – 2/4 so far!
8:10 AM – George releases his second marlin of the day – 3 marlin and we just got done eating hot gallo pinto for breakfast.
8:50 AM – The bait balls went deeper and the bite slowed so Simon had the mates switch things up. The squid chains went on the outriggers, dredges on the electric reels, and plastic chuggers on the 30W Shimano’s and a Hawaain Eye on the shotgun.
9:25 AM – It worked! I landed my first sailfish of the trip caught on the shotgun – 4th billfish released.
10:00 AM – Jerry lands his second sailfish – ‘Sailfish Jerry’ came out here for marlin, not pesky sailfish!
11 AM-2 PM – The mid-day lull. The billfish stopped eating so the only thing we were feeding with our live baits were the pesky sharks. The Sea Fly had already moved over to the Imperial FAD 15 miles away and said they had a bite, so Simon decided to pick up the gear and run there.
2:45 PM – We arrived at the new FAD to the welcome site of baitfish everywhere and proceeded to refill the tuna tubes.
2:55 PM – It took ten entire minutes to land our first marlin at the new FAD, George completes the hat trick!
3:52 PM – I finally get a spirited few jumps from a 300 lb blue and release him in no time – 5 marlin with two hours to go!
4:39 PM – A hungry marlin had everyone tripping over each other in the cockpit as he started on the shotgun bait, then ate the right long and jumped across the spread to the baits on the left side. No one could get a hook in him, looked like a beauty too.
5:01 PM – This is why we came all the way out here – George & Jerry are hooked up on a double marlin bite! Unfortunately George’s didn’t stay on for more than 20-30 seconds, he may never have had swallowed the bait. Jerry tried taking in the hundreds of yards of line his marlin ran out with but in the end there was too much slack and the hook dislodged. Exciting, but deflating, we just missed a great double hook up.
5:35 PM – We end the day on a high note with one last blue marlin reeled in by George – his fourth!
Day One was better than advertised as we fished over 12 hours and finished 6/10 on marlin and 3/4 on sailfish. We were tired, but content as we had action all day long apart from a couple hours during the mid-day lull. Simon said we were going to run to a new FAD 80 miles off the coast and then put out the sea anchor, so we cracked a beer, had a hamburger, and replayed the day’s highlights to each other. Having now spent 24 hours on the boat, half of them fishing, all of us decided to go to bed early and get as much rest as possible because we had to do this all over again soon. Day 2 started much the same, but this time instead of feeling in awe of the early morning routine we felt like seasoned pros, battle tested and ready for more. It didn’t take long…
5:50 AM – Lines in!
6:15 AM – As George succinctly put it – “Coffee and a marlin for breakfast!” In a show of complete and total redemption, George and Jerry start off the day by completing a double on two beautiful marlin. George’s tailwalked his way to about 400 yds behind the boat while Jerry’s blue was making a beeline for the Nicaraguan border. Simon expertly backed the boat down and managed to keep both marlin behind us while they worked on George’s first – Jerry’s wasn’t coming in anytime soon anyway! While we leadered George’s marlin Simon asked how much line was left on Jerry’s reel – this was the first time I’ve seen a marlin come close to spooling a 50W Penn International. About 15 mins later we had it to the boat and the double was in the books. Great start!
8:33 AM – It took a while for our next bite, but when it came I was ready. A furious blue gave me the best fight I had all weekend, but after 20 mins I had it at the back of the boat and we could see color. The leader was about five feet from the end of the rod tip when I started to feel it bang on the leader and I knew it wasn’t a good sign, but nothing I could at this point other than keep my fingers crossed and hope he’d stop it immediately. He didn’t. Four big bangs on the leader and it went slack – my toughest, biggest marlin of the weekend spit his hook about five feet before it was an official catch. All that work for nothing…
8:30 AM-11:30 AM – We finally had some rainy weather catch up to us after a beautiful day Saturday and the seas started to grow. We had one more marlin swat at a bait, but the billfish bite had died and the only thing interested in our baits were the sharks. Simon gave us the option to keep trolling or head back toward Los Suenos now and try for tuna near a pod of spinner dolphins his friend found on another boat. At this point we already boated eight marlin in a day and a half, what would one or two more do for us? We decided to try and catch dinner so we picked up and started running in.
1:30 PM – We were all awoken from our naps by the sounds of the engines throttling back, so we went out to the cockpit to a glorious site – sunshine, an acre-wide patch of splashing dolphins, and the site every angler loves to see – birds diving into bait balls at the surface!
1:30 PM-3:00 PM – We came here for marlin, but this last hour and a half may have been the most visually exciting part of our FADs fishing trip. The dolphin were jumping and splashing all around us and everywhere we looked we saw 40-80 lb tuna torpedoing out of the water after baitfish. We jigged a cedar plug with some success, but without a doubt the method we enjoyed the most was running a line to the top of the outriggers and then jigging a rubber squid on one side of the boat with a flying fish on the other. Seeing a yellow-fin tuna destroy your bait at the surface and leaving a huge hole in the water behind it had us all screaming with excitement. We put six YFTs in the fish coffin and then headed for home – what a way to end a marlin trip!
We returned to Los Suenos at 5:00 PM, happy to be back on terra firme again. We divided up our tuna, expertly filleted by Carlos on the run back in, said our good-byes to the crew, and then made our way to a clean shower and a non-moving bed. We finished our trip going 8 for 14 on blue marlin, 3 for 4 on sailfish, and boated 6 yellow-fin tunas for dinner. If there is better marlin fishing on Earth, I’d love to see it. Did I mention this was the off season?