Fishing zones of Costa Rica
Let’s go fishing!
Fishermen in the capital of Costa Rica, San José, are located just more than half an hour’s flight away from the finest fishing spots on both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, with two local airlines providing daily schedules. Additionally, an FAA-certified charter service can be used if the arrival-departure needs of the angler do not match the schedule times of the local airlines. Don’t like flying in small planes, no problem as the fishing regions are no further than three to six hours using ground travel from San José.
It is certain that Costa Rica’s excellent standing for fishing is with reason, but it is useful to take note that actual successes will vary with Costa Rica’s range of seasons, winds, and currents. The following suggestions will point you in the right direction. Keep in mind that a valid Costa Rican fishing license ($24) is required for all fishing, available at either your resort or the charter operators themselves.
Costa Rica’s Northern Pacific
The fishing locations here are the region between Cabo Blanco to the Gulf of Papagayo and moving south to Flamingo, Potrero, Nosara, and Samara. Watch out for Papagayo winds from the north of Cabo Velas in the Costa Rica summer season, which runs from December-May. They can make for a choppy offshore experience unless you’re in a big boat.
Marlin: November-March and June-September are outstanding months, though a large number are caught all year long.
Sailfish: May-August is an exceptional time, though many are caught during the rest of the year. September-November can be slow.
Tuna: August-October mark the best season, but Tuna fishing is easily accessible all year round, with some 300lb catches.
Dorado: May-October is when the green season rains wash the debris from the rivers creating the famous trash lines that Dorado, or Mahi Mahi love.
Wahoo: May-August will bring out the Wahoo around rock formations as the rains come down.
Roosterfish: All year great fishing with an emphasis on the protected part of the Papagayo Bay area.
Costa Rica’s Central Pacific
The heart of the deep sea sport fishing was started in the Pacific town Quepos. Back in the late 1970 American boat owners and Tico captains developed techniques, and honed their skills to become one of the most productive sportfishing capitals of this hemisphere. It’s not uncommon for the “old-timers” to talk about 24 sail hook-ups a day. The town, kind of a Latin version of Key West, still allows for great fishing and you will find scores of professionally manned boats of 27ft to 45ft – with smaller ones being perfectly suited to the inshore angling that is outstanding in the area.
Most action is found between 12 and 20 mile runs allowing you to fit plenty into each outing. December winds are less severe out of this central part of Costa Rica, which can make for a smoother ride out to the fish.
Marlin: September-November holds the best action, with October being a great month. Find several blues and the rare black all year long.
Sailfish: December-April sees the sailfish come out with Costa Rica’s summer, though June-September also sees them in the catch.
Tuna: June-September is the high season for Tuna, though they are always plentiful throughout the year. Expect 8-12 pounders with a few over 200lbs.
Wahoo: June-August is when wahoo is present in Drake Bay and Caño Island waters, (further south) though otherwise somewhat rare.
Dorado: May, as the rains create flotsam and jetsam that the Dorado will lie underneath.
Roosterfish: June-September where you will find breathtaking catches. Head to the river mouths and also the rocky drop-offs.
Snook: July-November in the strong rains. Fish from the river mouths punctuate the coast.
Costa Rica’s Southern Pacific- Osa
The epicenter of fishing in the Southern Pacific is a matter of some debate. Golfito located in the protected bay of the Golfo Dulce and Playa Zancudo, a little further south is good starting points. Here you will come across sailfish, jacks, runners, and mackerel. Further inland you might come across amberjack, roosterfish, or big snapper. Consider staying in the cabins on Playa Zancudo, where miles of sand stretch along this thin peninsula. Snook trips are also available in the estuary at Zancudo. On the outside of the Osa Peninsula sits Drakes Bay. Not as populated with fishing outfitters as the other parts of Osa, it still produces record catches for the anglers that frequent this area.
Marlin: August-December is the best months, though a black or blue might surface at any time of the year.
Sailfish: December-March and August-September, as in the Central Pacific. A few will be taken at other times of the year.
Tuna: Schools of football will nearly always be found in the down season, with the rest corresponding to marlin and sailfish.
Dorado: May-October will find the best catches.
Wahoo: Head offshore in the search for billfish and wahoo may be found, though they are rare.
Roosterfish: The Southern Pacific is widely known for its roosterfish which can be caught at all times of the year, up to 100lbs.
Snook: January-February and May-July, though very abundant at all times. Consider the Caribbean coast too if snook really catches your attention.
Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast
Weather variation when fishing on the Caribbean Coast is more a day-to-day occurrence than anything seasonal. This is the heart of the Jungle and rain is not uncommon any time of the year. Tarpon, or “Silver Kings” fishing coincides with Costa Rica’s summer, from December until May. September to November sees snook in high numbers. Overall, fishing is possible all year long and is more dependent on daily climate changes. Look out for the rainy season which will start in mid-May, causing catches to slow as runoff dirties the jungle rivers and estuaries.
Good lodging can be found around the Río Colorado, where Río Colorado Lodge is considered to be superior accommodation, and have some excellent guides.
Access to the Caribbean is via a local flight with a carrier such as Nature Air, or down by boat from Tortuguero to Limón. Most Caribbean fishing will be for tarpon, , jacks, kingfish, grouper, cubera, tripletail, and sierra. Outside the rivers, in the ocean, an Atlantic sailfish or the blue marlin can be found. Light-tackle fishing is popular in backwaters and lagoons, in particular, to look for calba (fat snook). Come here for them from September to November. Other light-tackle species are guapote (rainbow bass), catfish and alligator gar.
Inland Fishing on Costa Rica’s Lake Arenal
Lake Arenal, found at the base of majestic, active Arenal Volcano, is certainly the most frequented inland fishing location. Only four hours from San José, it is Costa Rica’s largest lake at 22 miles long. Here you will come across the beautiful guapote, with the colorings of a rainbow trout and yet the inclinations of largemouth bass. Guapote can also be found in smaller-sized Lake Coto, only a few kilometers from Lake Arenal. They are also located in Lake Hule, near San Miguel, where four-wheel-drive transportation will be a necessity.
Consider too the low-elevation rivers that flow into the San Juan in the North, although the guapote here is not as impressive in size. Those same rivers also have, mojarra, machacha (‘little’ tarpon) and roncador (‘drum’). Bring light baitcasting or spinning tackle.
Learn your seasons well and understand how daily weather patterns can affect your chances, and you will certainly discover a world of fishing in Costa Rica that is very different from home.