Freshwater Fishing in Central America

Freshwater Fishing in Central America

With all the headline-grabbing saltwater fishing in Central America, the freshwater fishing is often overlooked. Whether it’s hunting a down a bucket list species or trying to catch fresh seafood, many anglers don’t even consider flying to Central America and spending time inland fishing on the jungle rivers and lakes that are chock full of hard-fighting exotic local species. You can dedicate your entire trip to freshwater fishing or simply try it for a day, but it’s a great change of pace from the saltwater, it allows you to see more of the country, and you can add new species to your catch list. Once you inquire with us we’ll work with you personally to customize your package to include some of the best freshwater fishing in Central America. Trust our decades of local expertise and see why nearly 40% of our anglers are repeat & referral guests!

Where is the Best Freshwater Fishing in Central America?

Before we got exposed to big game fishing on the ocean, many of us were first introduced to fishing on a freshwater lake, river or stream wherever it is we call home. It’s a natural evolution to seek new challenges and bigger fish, but too often that means anglers don’t even consider freshwater fishing in Central America. That is a mistake because not only is there some terrific light tackle action to be enjoyed, often times it’s our freshwater fishing trips that take you to places most tourists never visit, much less know of. While trolling offshore for billfish can feel like wandering in a desert some days, freshwater fishing in Central America can have you fish many of the same spots regular tourists pay to visit on their “eco tours”. In Costa Rica we can have you bass fishing at the base of a volcano or float down a jungle river with crocodiles resting on the banks and monkeys swinging overhead in the trees. In Belize you can fish lagoons and mangroves that serve as both hunting grounds and a nursery for all kinds of game fish. We can even have a 1,050 ft long Panamax cargo ship pass by your 23′ bass boat on the Panama Canal itself as it transfers from one ocean to the other.

Panama Canal Fishing

Freshwater fishing in Central America is not mutually exclusive to saltwater fishing either, it’s very easy to incorporate both into the same package so you don’t have to decide which one to exclude. This can be accomplished by having you visit different destinations, fishing and exploring each one for a few days at a time so you can experience more of the region. In certain beach towns it’s also possible to do both saltwater and freshwater fishing as we can have you fish lagoons, mangroves, or even float trips down our jungle rivers. In addition to hard fighting rainbow bass and peacock bass, our freshwater fishery can also offer up some surprisingly big fish like snook, tarpon, and the exotic tropical gar. The inshore and offshore fishing here certainly lives up to the hype, but the freshwater fishing can be the most memorable not only for the exotic fish you catch but also the beautiful places you visit.

Freshwater Fishing in Costa Rica

Of all the countries in Central America, the freshwater fishing in Costa Rica is the most robust and productive. Famous for it’s biodiversity and for protecting 24% of the national territory with national parks, Costa Rica is carved up by pristine jungle rivers, lakes and lagoons. The largest of them all, Lake Arenal, is also the most popular freshwater fishing destination in Costa Rica. This lake was actually man-made in 1979 to create hydroelectric power for the country and today covers a staggering 33 sq miles. Here the main target is the famous rainbow bass. Known locally as “guapote”, or “handsome one”, both the English and Spanish names give you the idea that this is one good looking fish. It’s not just the beautiful array of colors that attract anglers to the lake every morning, it’s aggressive and surprisingly hard fighting so landing one is no guarantee. Other species on the lake include machaca, tilapia, and a variation of the rainbow bass called jaguar bass. The lake offers you the ability to fish the tall grass near the shore, structure like sunken logs, various streams, or even troll deep diving lures to try and entice the biggest fish.
Rainbow bass Lake Arenal
North of Lake Arenal you’ll find the Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge, which is one of the world’s most important wetlands due to the incredible amount of birds, mammals, reptiles and of course fish found here. Spanning over 24,000 acres, this series of rivers of lagoons is thought to be both a breeding site and nursery for game fish like snook, tarpon, and even bullsharks that come in from the Caribbean via the Rio San Juan. Local freshwater species here include guapote, mojarra, and the exotic tropical gar. Many visitors come here on a day trip from the Arenal Volcano area, but for a true backwater jungle experience it doesn’t get much better than this.
Last but not least, from coast to coast Costa Rica is sliced up by pristine jungle rivers that offer fantastic light tackle and fly fishing. The main target on these float trips is the high flying machaca, which is nicknamed “mini tarpon” due to it’s silver scales and acrobatic jumps once hooked. All of these rivers eventually empty into either the Pacific or the Caribbean, so at their lower parts the rainforest gives way to mangroves and you can find snook, snapper, corvina, and even tarpon in these waters.

The Best of Costa Rica

Arenal & Los Sueños

4-in-1 Fishing Trip

Costa Rica Bassmaster

Fly Fishing In The Jungle

Fly Fishing Quepos

Freshwater Fishing in Panama

The best freshwater fishing in Panama is done on a body of water everyone in the world has heard of – the Panama Canal. Technically known as Lake Gatun, this man-made lake was formed in the early 1900’s when engineers damned the Chagres River to create the Panama Canal. At 164 sq miles, at the time of it’s creation it was the largest man-made lake in the world. When the lake was formed, hilltops became islands and local rainforest became an underwater labyrinth creating perfect habitat for ambush predators. Ironically enough, the fish that the Panama Canal is most known for, peacock bass, isn’t even native to these waters. Stories say they escaped from a nearby farm during a flood or that they were purposely introduced by bored US military men who were looking for something to do. Either way, since the 1960’s the population has flourished and it’s an extremely rare day you fish the Panama Canal and don’t catch peacock bass. While not as big as their Amazonian relatives, we still catch several fish in the 5-10 lb range every year. Snook are also a common catch here as they were naturally in this river long before the canal.  While not as common, we certainly see plenty of tarpon in the canal every year as well. More recently we’ve even been seeing jack crevalle hunting in the lake, so sometimes you never know what you’ll catch in here!

freshwater fishing in Panama

The other main freshwater fishery in Panama is the mighty Bayano River. Located 1.5 hrs east of Panama City, this was one of the first places in the world where tarpon where regularly observed on the Pacific Ocean. Native to the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, over time tarpon made their way through the Panama Canal and ended up on the Pacific. The highly adaptable fish were not only able to survive in the new ocean they discovered, evidence of juvenile tarpon suggests they are actually thriving and reproducing. Fishing this river is highly tidal dependent, but in addition to tarpon we can also catch snook, snapper, and corvina near the river mouth.

Fishing Highlights of Panama

The Best of Panama

Panama Canal Grand Slam

Available Species Freshwater Fishing in Central America

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