Offshore Fishing in Central America
Offshore Fishing in Central America has been considered some of the best in the entire world for decades thanks to its calm waters, warm tropical weather, and unbelievable billfish numbers. We catch marlin and sailfish all twelve months of the year, but in peak season we can produce jaw-dropping numbers. It’s not just billfish that attracts offshore anglers to Central America, the warm tropical waters also offer phenomenal fishing for yellow-fin tuna, dorado (mahi), and wahoo. Combine that with beautiful beaches, luxury hotels and marinas, and friendly local culture and you have the recipe for an unforgettable fishing vacation. Read below to learn more about where the best offshore fishing in Central America happens, then trust our decades of local expertise and see why nearly 40% of our anglers are repeat & referral guests!
Where is the Best Offshore Fishing in Central America?
Central America is the thin isthmus that connects North America to South America. On a global scale, this region of the world is very small at just 1,100 miles long and 300 miles wide at it’s widest point. Despite that, very few, if any, destinations on Earth can offer the combination of trophy pelagic species (including a few IGFA world records), the sheer quantity of fish, and the consistent year-round bite that Central America can. It’s true that political stability, poverty levels, and infrastructure all play a part as to where regional tourism blossoms, but when talking about the multi-million dollar sport fishing industry one must also consider other factors like weather seasons, fish migrations, geography, and even ocean currents. There is a reason why Costa Rica, Panama, and Guatemala have developed into world class sport fishing destinations while neighboring countries like Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Honduras have largely been skipped over.
The best sport fishing in Central America is along the Pacific Coast thanks to two major ocean currents that collide there: the California Current coming from the north and the Humboldt Current, or Peru Current, coming from the south. These two currents bring in much needed cooler water and create a nutrient rich upwelling, which starts the food chain and sustains an incredible amount of marine life from baitfish to pelagic gamefish. The other important natural event that occurs here are the strong seasonal winds from the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean that blow from east to west during the months of December through April, which are a combination of seasonal trade winds and cold fronts sent down from the North American winter. There are three main breaks in the mountain ranges of Central America that allow the wind to push through from the Caribbean into the Pacific, as seen in the red boxes of the map below. These are the Chivela Pass in Southern Mexico which creates the ‘Tehuano Winds’, Lake Nicaragua which creates the ‘Papagayo Winds’ in southern Nicaragua and northern Costa Rica, and the Panama Canal. At these locations, most days from December through April will feature winds of 20-30 mph while other parts of the same country will be completely calm.
That is important because these same winds blow the oxygen and baitfish-rich waters farther offshore, which is then replaced by warmer, low-oxygen water essentially creating uninhabitable zones in the ocean. This leaves the pelagic gamefish with little option but to find better quality, life-sustaining water – which happens to be in southern Guatemala, the far east and west sides of Panama, and Central & Southern Costa Rica. While new catch-and-release laws help keep the billfish populations in Central America healthy, geography and weather patterns play a huge role in congregating fish into certain zones and that a major reason why Costa Rica, Panama, and Guatemala rank among the world’s best sport fishing destinations year after year.
Costa Rica has earned the the nickname “the Billfish Capital of the World” due to the combination of incredible billfish numbers and a bonafide 12-month fishery. In Costa Rica’s peak billfish season, offshore anglers can expect to see double digit sailfish bites most days while some years can produce as many as 30-40 fish (or more). In addition to hordes of sailfish, we see black, blue and striped marlin year round creating realistic opportunities for the Billfish Grand Slam any day you head offshore. Costa Rica is now famous for offering overnight trips to the offshore seamounts, which is arguably the best marlin fishing in the entire world. These multi-day trips usually offer lucky anglers double digit marlin bites, which is hard to replicate anywhere on Earth. Costa Rica mandates the use of circle hooks when billfishing and all sailfish and marlin are strictly catch and release so the populations here are healthy and consistent from year to year.
We don’t just target billfish when offshore fishing in Costa Rica, any day can produce a school of yellow-fin tuna, trophy-sized dorado, or even wahoo. Thanks to new laws in 2017 that limited commercial fishing pressure, Costa Rica’s tuna fishing has been getting better and better each year. Yellow-fin tuna are often spotted swimming with large pods of spinner dolphins and/or birds diving from above, so when we find this type of chaotic scene we will stop trolling for billfish and target the tunas with poppers, jigging cedar plugs, and casting stick baits. Dorado, or mahi, can be found under floating logs, current lines, and often times the trophy adult-sized fish will simply crash the billfish spread from the side and inhale a ballyhoo.
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Costa Rica and Panama Combo
It seems that when anglers dream about deep sea fishing for blue water monsters they have Panama in mind. The famous Tropic Star Lodge had a lot to do with that, putting Panama on the map decades ago by breaking 300 world records from their dock in Piñas Bay. Tropic Star may have made Panama a household name, but today offshore anglers flock to Western Panama to fish the other famous hot spots like the Hannibal Bank, Isla Montuosa, and Coiba Island. When the conditions are right, black and blue marlin will line up at the Hannibal Bank and it can offer some of the most productive marlin fishing in the world. Panama does not typically offer the copious amounts of sailfish like Costa Rica and Guatemala do, but it makes up for with with quality over quantity as most marlin caught in Panama are in the 400-600 lb range.
Unlike the rest of the billfish-crazed Central America, Panama is the one country that attracts just as many (if not more) offshore anglers looking to target yellow-fin tuna over sailfish or marlin. You can fish the entire world and won’t find many places that offer you the calm waters and consistent yellow-fin tuna fishing that you’ll find in Panama. A huge part of the appeal is that the majority of tuna fishing in Panama is done on topwater lures and light tackle spinning outfits, so it’s a very visual and hands-on experience running and gunning after boils of yellow-fin tuna feeding at the surface. Offshore fishing in Panama also offers fantastic opportunities for dorado and wahoo thanks to offshore islands, underwater pinnacles, and plenty of floating debris that gets washed out to sea.
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Since the 1990s, offshore anglers started spreading the word about the incredible billfishing in Guatemala. Today it has been coined as ‘the Sailfish Capital of the World’ because few places on Earth can even dream of challenging the sailfish numbers that Guatemala produces year after year. If you’re not into hyperbole, consider that our top rated lodge averages 15 sailfish raises per day, per boat throughout the entire year. That means any day you head offshore in Guatemala, no matter the time of year, you stand a good chance of seeing double digit sailfish. Guatemala’s geography is similar to Costa Rica’s, but the sailfish are even more concentrated in a huge underwater trench that comes within twelve miles of the coast. This trench and the bait-rich water it circles is the Pacific Ocean’s version of fish-in-a-barrel and that’s why we can see 50+ fish days in Guatemala from time to time.
The sailfishing has made Guatemala a worldwide hot spot, but it isn’t fair to label it as a one trick pony either. While perhaps not on the same level as Costa Rica, offshore fishing in Guatemala produces plenty of blue, black, and striped marlin as well. Meatfish like dorado and yellow-fin tuna are caught on a monthly basis, though the numbers are more plentiful during the green season months.