The January/ February issue of InTheBite includes, “How Costa Rica Became Costa Rica.” With all the glitz, glamour and luxury accommodation available in the country today, it is easy to forget that just 25-years ago Costa Rica was largely lacking in most everything except rain forest, great fishing, and a few intrepid souls who made the journey to fish it.
For perspective on the article, we spoke with some of the pioneers of the fishery. These include Captain Bubba Carter, Captain John LaGrone, Captain John Skubal, Captain Randy Rode and Mr. William Royster, the founder of Los Suenos. You’ll have to wait for the January issue for the full story, but here are a few photos and excerpts from the people who were there at the time.
In the late 1980s, the sportfishing scene in Costa Rica consisted of pockets of four boats here, six boats there, anchoring in natural harbors with floating docks and other relatively simple (in modern terms) infrastructure. Flamingo was a thriving fishing village, home to line class records and daily catch statistics not seen before.
The following photos are courtesy of Mr. James McKee. McKee has been in the middle of the Flamingo fishing scene for the better part of two decades. The Marina Flamingo was a booking agent for all of the Marina Flamingo Sportfishing and Sailing Charter Boats. After the Marina Flamingo was closed in 2003, Jim continued this service thru his company, Oso Viejo, S.A. (Old Bear) and is now recommended by Major International guide books such as Frommers Costa Rica. Website: http://www.flamingobeachcrfishing.com .
Just how does the fishing now compare to the fishing in Costa Rica’s early days? For perspective, we asked Captain Skeet Warren. A veteran with more than 26-years’ experience fishing in the country, Warren currently operates Bushwacker Charters (www.bushwackercr.com) out Flamingo. Warren is one of the true gentleman of the sport of fishing… he is really good at it too. Skeet was generous enough to share his perspective on the fishery and the Costa Rican experience.
ITB– What attracted you to Costa Rica– initially? Then as a permanent home for your operation?
SW— Initially, back in 1990, I was delivering a boat from Florida to California and we were fishing our way around with the owner, flying in to meet us in different locations. I spent a good many years in the Atlantic and Caribbean getting beat up so when I hit the Pacific I really enjoyed the calmer seas and the bigger fish. For many years after that, as captain on different boats, we would spend 3-6 months a year, almost every year, fishing in Costa Rica. By the time I bought my own boat I had made up my mind that Costa Rica is where I wanted to live and charter……because of the calmer seas, nice people and the stable government.
ITB– Can you characterize the change in the country from your first visit until now?
SW— When I first started fishing in Costa Rica, Flamingo was the only marina between Acapulco and Panama. There were very few paved roads coming into the area and it was impossible to buy anything without driving for an hour or more. It was a lot of fun and there was a lot more comradery because of the marina. Now that the marina has been closed, everyone is moored in the bay and we don’t seem to see each other as much. Also, with the popularity of the Los Suenos marina, lots of the tourists have gravitated down that way. We are hoping that the marina here in Flamingo will be back open soon, but we have been hoping for a long time.
ITB– How would you compare the fishery in Flamingo today to the fishing in the 1990s?
SW— As far as tuna, it has definitely decreased. Commercial fishing has really taken its toll on the tuna. We used to NEVER pull 30’s through the dolphin schools because the tuna were big and you would be fighting those big one’s all day on 30-pound. Then after the commercial boats found out, they decimated the tuna stock and we were lucky to catch a 20-pound tuna. Now that Costa Rica has new regulations on the commercial boats the tuna fishery is starting to come back.
As far as billfish, it seems to have gotten worse, except for the groups of fish being found. I don’t remember having many bad days at all back in the ’90’s. I also think that with the newer technology, faster boats and all of the articles written in magazines about the “good days” …. we have all gotten to where our expectations are too high, therefore putting a lot of pressure on the captains and crews and taking a lot of fun out of fishing. I would have to go back and look at my old log books, but maybe we were content with 4-5 sailfish per day and now no one is happy now unless they catch 10 or more.
ITB– Many people described the old days as having excellent black marlin fishing. How is the black marlin bite?
SW— That is a $10,000 question. I believe that a LOT of the marlin that are released here in Costa Rica, and called a black marlin, were actually blue marlin that had one of the characteristics of a black marlin. Numerous times I have been on another boat, or my own boat, and had experienced mates and anglers misidentify a fish. So, I don’t believe that there are near as many black marlin caught here in Costa Rica as what are reported. But to answer the question, 8-10 years ago we would catch 6-8 black marlin a year and now we catch 2-3, although the blue marlin fishery seems to be the same.
For the complete story of how Costa Rica turned into Costa Rica, check out the January/February issue of IntheBite. Subscribe today.