Despite February being one of our busiest months of the year we managed to sneak away to the Arenal Volcano for a day of freshwater fishing on Lake Arenal. Throughout the past year while Tircio fought his battle with cancer he would have his good friend, Alberto, take our guests out fishing when he wasn’t well enough to do it himself. Alberto is also local to the area and actually used to live in the old town of Arenal before the current lake ever existed. In 1979 they built a hydroelectric damn, relocated the town of Arenal, and flooded the area to triple the size of the lake to what it is now, the 33 sq mile Lake Arenal. Alberto is a trained naturalist guide and has been fishing here is entire life and the simple fact that Tircio trusted him enough to take his clients fishing tells you how good of an angler he is.
We started our day early near Alberto’s home town of El Castillo, just 20 minutes from La Fortuna where all the best hotels and hot springs are located. It was a beautiful day from the start – warm, sunny, and the volcano was out in all it’s glory. In the early morning hours we worked the various river mouths and weed patches, Alberto and Alejandro chucked spinner baits while I was working my 5 wt fly rod. By the time I had tried every fly in my box Alejandro had jumped out to a two to nothing lead over me, so I gave it up and switched over to spinning gear as well. As the morning went on it got hotter and hotter which means that fish typically go deeper and surface lures become less effective. When this happens the tried and true way to land the really BIG guapote, or rainbow bass, is slow trolling deep diving bomber lures. I personally never enjoyed doing this because I prefer surface strikes, but more-so I’ve simply never had any luck trolling on Lake Arenal. Fishing this way with Alberto was different however – as we watched his fish finder you could clearly see a 70 ft deep canyon and the fish stacked up like a wall. On our very first pass about 90 seconds in my reel screamed and the 30 lb braid started peeling off. I’ve landed plenty of guapote in my day, but never a trophy, so by the way he was taking line I began to allow myself to think “my guapote moment has finally come.”
It was indeed a trophy guapote, by far the best I’ve ever landed and certainly near the top end of the sizing chart for them. The action didn’t stop there either, Alejandro and I both bagged another good sized guapote so now we had enough fish for all three of us to bring home. The guapote aren’t actually bass, they are cichlids, and they have a delicious white meat like you’d find on a snapper or dorado. Every time we hooked into one the boat would erupt with a cheer of “CEVICHE!!”. To top it all off, the mighty Arenal Volcano stayed out all day for us so we were able to take some classic photos of our catch.
I’ve been fishing Lake Arenal for a decade now and I’ve had so many days where it rains all day, it starts off hot but then it rains late morning so you end the day wet anyway, you can only see the bottom 2/3 of the volcano, and I’ve never caught a trophy guapote. For whatever reason our day with Alberto was as perfect as it gets – hot, sunny, clear views of the volcano all day long, enough fish to go around, and a trophy rainbow bass to remember for a lifetime. Maybe Tircio was looking down on us as his torch was being passed, or perhaps after enough wet days and small fish I earned my stripes and was due for a day like this. Perhaps I’m over thinking it and trying to rationalize something that doesn’t have a concrete answer and it’s easier to just say – that’s fishing for ya.