The other kind of a great Costa Rican fishing adventure

A.M. Costa Rica/Lee Swidler Rob’s big machaca

If you read any literature on fishing in Costa Rica, you are probably reading about offshore bill fishing, or at the least, ocean fishing. That’s because fishing in Costa Rica is almost synonymous with sport fishing. Of course there are plenty of other fish out there beside the sailfish and marlin to go after, but I get sea sick! So I have found other opportunities for wetting the line. And since I have been fly fishing for most of my adult life, I am catching these new to me types of fish, on a fly.

A few months ago, a very dear old friend with whom I have fished when we lived in Colorado, contacted me about fly fishing in Costa Rica. He was coming down with his brother and wanted me to take them on an adventure. Mike and Rob were staying in Playa Potrero, and I live in Jacó, so we made arrangements to meet in Upala, a small agricultural town on the northern edge of Costa Rica. Upala has many local rivers that eventually flow into Lake Nicaragua. The rivers flow south to north. We would fish the Rio Niño.

A.M. Costa Rica/Lee Swidler The kit to make poppers

They didn’t get lost, and we all linked up around noon at some local cabinas where I had made arrangements. The plan was to eat lunch, relax, catch up on each other’s lives, have dinner and get ready for an early start the next day.

At 4:30 a.m. I was up making coffee to take with us, and by 5, we were on the road. At riverside, we met up with my friend and local boatman Gilberto, who owns a nice 15-foot open panga with a small outboard. It’s a good thing Gilberto knows the river like his backyard, as we were constantly moving from one side to the other to avoid submerged logs and fallen trees. It was not quite sun up, the jungle sounds were overwhelming, and I had two guys from a world away, just soaking it up. And we hadn’t even begun fishing yet! That is one of the extras about fly fishing down here. It gets you out there. We weren’t going to run into any tours.

We motored up river for about an hour, which would equal to around five hours of float time for fishing. Once Gilberto turned us around, he cut the engine and grabbed an oar, which he used to paddle and steer us for the float downstream. Since Mike was an experienced fly fisherman, we set him up quickly, and he was ready to go. Rob, on the other hand, was not a fly fisherman, and had brought a light spinning rod set-up. My plan was to rig him up with a casting bubble, a clear plastic bob that floats, to give his line some weight. Attached to that with about a foot of small clear line was a floating fly. Basically, the set-up allows a spin fisherman to fish with a fly. We were fishing for a local river fish called machaca. And these fish have very sharp teeth, so between the very end of the fly leader and the fly we add some stainless steel braided cable, so the fish do not bite through the line. We were ready to go.

The best fly for these omnivorous fish are bass poppers, floating balsa wood imitations of baby frogs and other attractors. For years I was having friends and clients purchase them to bring down to me until about six months ago I decided I could do it myself. After all, balsa wood grows in my back yard.

I began slowly shaping my first bug. I still had my old fly tying kit from Colorado, which though moldy from lack of use, still had a few boxes of hooks which were the perfect size. I needed enamel paint, but didn’t want to invest in a pint for my first popper. What if it didn’t work? So I bought some inexpensive nail polish and went to work. I cut up some rubber bands for legs and used some super glue. The results were not bad for a first try. Good enough that I had a friend in the States send me a box of plastic model paints, feathers, and rubber strands, to make a real go of it. Mike and Rob would be the first time my creations would be put to the test.
So for the first fly of the day, I tied on the old store-bought poppers! I just really wanted them to catch fish, and I knew what worked for sure, so I went with it. Hey, we had five hours to fish. My bugs would get a chance!

And, yes, they did catch fish! Then I tied on my creation. It was a little bigger bug than what they had been using. I told them, bigger bug, bigger fish. And then the action really got going. My poppers worked. They each caught fish well over seven pounds, a good size on small tackle.

Our day turned into one they will long remember. For the full five-hour float, it was non-stop hits, misses, and many, many catches. Everyone came off the river with a smile, and all the fish lived to be caught another day.

*Mr. Swidler, a Jacó businessman, is a fly fishing guide. He writes about his adventures on a blog HERE!

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