Tarpon fishing combined with the jungle of Costa Rica, I guess I don´t have to highlight that we were all very excited about this trip. The group consisted of tarpon newbies (including myself): Andre, Rene and Stephan were onboard. Beginning of September it was time to leave Germany for a 12 hour flight to San José, Costa Rica (luckily Lufthansa started to offer direct flights to Costa Rica out of Frankfurt). We landed at Juan Santamaria Airport in the evening and took a taxi to our hotel which was about 30 min away from the airport. We chose the Bougainvillea hotel situated a little further out from San Jose downtown - price is also moderate. Very nice hotel with comfortable rooms, beautiful garden, pool, gym and great food. After a couple of beers at the hotel bar and big excitement for the upcoming days everyone fell into a post flight coma until jetlag hit us in the early morning. Our driver was already waiting for us taking us to our target for the week - Jungle Tarpon Reserve. The drive took more or less 5 hours passing tons of coffee plantations, amazing mountain scenery and offered us time to catch up on some sleep. On arrival Tom Enderlin, Location Manager and living in Costa Rica for the last 8 years, welcomed us at camp which is part of a small village (ca. 200 inhabitants) directly on one of the lagoons. The camp consists of small guest houses, you can choose between two single rooms and one double room.
The rooms are simple but comfortable, including a bathroom with toilet and shower, absolutely ok for one week of tarpon fishing. We stored our bags, got the tackle out and hit the water right away for the first evening session. The fishing area is very big consisting of lagoons and a rivers system, some of the river segments are not bigger than your local trout stream. The only difference is that during rainy season tarpons of up to 200 lb swim through these waters. The first hours of fishing were quite, we did see a few fish in the lagoons and had one or two shots at hunting fish. In general you fish the lagoons in a rotation system as you might do it when flats fishing. In the river both people can fish, one in the front and one in the back - 2 people per boat and maximum 4 anglers per week. Tackle consists of 12 weight rods paired with floating and sinking lines.
Conditions were very bad until day 4. The week before saw colder weather during the last days and also a lot of rain. Therefore, the water was quite dirty and high. You could feel that the tarpon were hiding in those deep pools and channels waiting for clear water. Only in the lagoons and during mornings/evenings we could see tarpon rolling and hunting from time to time. Fishing was tough, Andre was it who could eventually hook the first tarpon in the evening of Day 4, a nice fish of around 25 lb. We knew they were here we just needed to be patient trying different things and using the chances that we hopefully would get. We mainly fished big to medium sized flies but then also switched to very small ones as we did see a huge amount of really small baitfish schools and you could watch tarpon crush into these schools on a regular basis.
The last 2 1/2 days you could feel that conditions changed. We saw hunting fish already in the mornings, something that wasn't present on the days before. The water colour improved and so did the behavior of the tarpon. There was one situation that I will never forget: it was 6 am and we fished a promising bend in the lower river system. We could see tarpon hunting and rolling in front of us when suddenly a fish with well over 100 lb came out of the water more or less 25 m in front of me. It jumped, made a front flip in the air, baitfish (machaca) flying left and right out of the water when this monster crashed the water again. From quite to chaos in a second, the whole thing was so loud that I nearly fell overboard. Gigantic! However, this hunting mood always lasted just for 1 1/2 hours and therefore we didn't get a lot of shots over the whole day. During the day we fished mostly sinktip lines and tried to find an active fish near the bottom of the river. In the end it was again the evening session that brought us some action. Rene could hook into a fish of around 20 lb and did land it right away, not bad for the first tarpon at all! Andre hooked into a really good tarpon of around 80 lb at a spot where we could watch 2-3 fish feeding on a regular basis. That particular fish took a streamer you would usually choose for trout fishing - we tried to imitate one of these really small sardines swimming around in huge numbers...and it worked! When Andre could set the hook it didn't take long until the fish jumped straight out of the water, maybe 10 m in front of the boat. Only the bow was missing which led to a broken leader after the fish hit the water again. Andre was standing on the boat with his hands over his head, amazed and couldn't believe what really happened - this was by far the biggest fish he hooked on fly so far!
I could also hook into a decent fish (70-80 lb) on Day 5, last evening session for us. The fish took three different flies! The first two times I messed up but did get a last chance when I finally connected. The fish came out of the water right away and seconds later a second time, still on, yes. We followed and the tarpon just made his way back to the current line where I hooked up. No way to move the fish in any direction but it didn´t take long until the fish got different plans and started for a third jump...and spit the fly. Nevertheless, a great fight and something I will remember for a very long time! Andre was able to jump two more fish that evening, one fish was almost ready for landing. The last morning brought finally some action in one of the lagoons. We immediately saw a group of 8 small to medium sized fish on a weedline. We slowly approached this happy group and were lucky that they stayed in the same place. After three casts one of the smaller guys took the fly and we were able to land this one. An important catch, as we clipped a small piece of the fin for research purposes. Tom and Dr. Andy Danylchuk are currently leading a research project to get some answers around the behaviour and migration of the tarpon. They still don't really know why tarpon are migrating from the ocean into these waters. Just to feed or maybe also for spawning? A very interesting and important project.
Summary: The fishing is very exciting but also not so easy. This is not a place for numbers but you have the chance to hook a 200 lb (we saw them) tarpon in an amazing jungle environment. The setting is beautiful, you fish in the jungle, see all kinds of monkeys, birds (e.g. toucans), caimans, etc. The whole fishery has parallels to trout fishing as you fish similar spots - casting under trees, to cut banks and into deep pools. The lagoon fishery is very cool, here you hunt the fish, you see them coming up and follow them until you get into casting distance. Then you have to be quick and deliver and accurate cast. However, the time in the lagoons is most of the time quite short, only the first hours with low light conditions and no breeze are good. Definately not a destination for everyone but this place gets you, I can say that for myself. Hooking a tarpon within this jungle is something you will never forget.
Thanks a lot to Tom and the guides (Napo, Rasta and Gustavo), organization and service were great!
More photos (Felix Hansvencl, Stephan Kreupl and Tom Enderlin: