Earlier this week I had the opportunity to visit one of the finest fishing lodges in Panama, the Sport Fish Panama Island Lodge. The owner and host here is none other than the renowned Captain Shane Jarvis, without doubt the most popular American captain in the Gulf of Chiriqui. His property isn’t your typical Panama fishing lodge however – as the name implies they are located twelve miles off the coast on the Isla Paridas. This pristine, 3,000 acre island is located in the Gulf of Chiriqui Marine National Park and features white sand beaches, palm trees, primary rainforest, indigenous villages, and a surprising amount of wildlife. Despite it’s exotic locale, at the Sport Fish Panama Island Lodge you are still provided a long list of creature comforts in their 2-bedroom and 3-bedroom beach houses like flat screen TVs, private bathrooms, outdoor rain showers (with hot water), local hard wood furniture, comfortable bedding, pre-stocked mini fridges, and even air conditioning and high speed wifi. When you factor in the paradisiacal location, luxury amenities, the incredible food cooked up by Chef Erick, and the opportunity to fish with a top rate captain like Captain Shane this may very well be the finest fishing lodge in Panama.
As such, we were here to fish and fish we did – Mother Nature be-damned – so here is the latest Panama fishing report. My wife and I arrived to the island lodge on Monday at mid-day and were promptly given a tour of the property and fed a delicious fresh dorado salad for lunch by Chef Erick. Captain Shane meanwhile was out fishing with two clients, and in their outings on Sunday & Monday they finished with several large dorados, a few BIG mullet snapper, one nice cubera snapper, and a few trophy roosterfish despite some rough seas. While I was hoping for a nice Panama marlin, if we could replicate that I would have been quite pleased.
Unfortunately that was never going to happen because the bigger issue at work was the tropical depression that was coming into the Gulf of Chiriqui right behind us. Captain Shane said the weather and sea conditions were getting worse from Sunday to Monday, and looking at windytv.com I could see it was only going to get worse. Regardless, we came a long way to see this place and I’ve waited a long time to fish with Shane so we weren’t going to let a few waves and warm tropical rain keep us from getting on his boat come Tuesday morning. Murphy’s Law in full effect, we awoke Tuesday to dark gray skies and no sunshine, a rarity for Central America. After breakfast we headed down to the beach and boarded his 33′ World Cat, which mate Juan had loaded with a livewell full of blue runners. While our hope had been to run to the famous offshore fishing grounds like the Hannibal Bank and Isla Montuosa, it became clear immediately that it wasn’t going to happen because as soon as we left the protection of Isla Paridas we were faced with 20 mph winds and six foot seas.
Given the weather situation we decided to just inshore fish around Isla Paridas, so we started slow trolling four blue runners and it didn’t take long for our first bite – first two actually. I grabbed the first rod and set the hook, and based on the head shakes I was getting I figured I had a jack crevalle on. The second rod screamed so my wife grabbed it from Juan and began to fight her fish. A few minutes later I got my first glimpse at my fish – tall, flat, skinny and bright silver – this was the largest African pompano I’d ever seen! My wife boated her jack and our double hook up was complete, and Shane was excited that we had pompano to eat for dinner since he said it’s one of his favorites.
After that double we spent the rest of the morning dodging rain storms and trolling one island until the bite slowed down, then we’d dart to the next one. We got into several more jacks and I lost an even bigger African pompano boatside – that one still haunts me! We also landed two small roosters which are always a treat. By 2 PM it was clear that the weather wasn’t going to get any better so Shane suggested we head in early and then sneak out for a few hours the next day to see if it gets any better. In just seven hours of inshore fishing between two islands we finished with two roosterfish, one big African pompano, and seven jacks – not bad!
It turns out heading in at 2 PM was a stroke of genius because that’s when this storm really started to show it’s might. It rained non-stop from 2 PM until we left the island the following day at 10:30 AM – and from what Captain Shane said it didn’t stop raining until Thursday. We did head out Wednesday morning for a few hours as promised, but the weather and seas may have been even worse than the day before. We still manged to boat four sierra mackerel for dinner, a jack and a nice rooster in just three hours of wet fishing. There is no doubt that Panama has some of the best inshore fishing in the entire world!
We made it back to our home in San Jose, Costa Rica late Wednesday night, happy to be dry and back with our dogs. Wednesday morning as we were battling six foot seas and biting rain I made the joke to Shane, “If I know fishing, your clients’ last day on Friday will be sunny and warm with flat seas and a wide open bite.” Turns out I know what I’m talking about. Thursday was still nasty but Captain Shane took his clients inshore fishing and they landed six roosters and missed another four – all right around Isla Paridas! Friday the weather cleared so they went offshore again and, as predicted, boated eight big dorados and a 350 lb black marlin. Two things were very clear to me after this latest Panama fishing trip: 1 – the fishing gods have a sense of humor and 2 – no matter what the weather is doing, you can always catch fish in Panama.