This portion of Panama's Pacific Coast has produced more I. G. F. A. records than any other area in the world. Currently, over 150 records are credited to this body of water.
Outdoor Adventures represents the premier lodge on the bay, where 40 of those records are proudly displayed. Michael Pearce left his home in Newton, Kansas and arrived awestruck at a lodge where elegant accommodations and exquisite dining are combined with exceptional fishing.
"Just being there was worth the trip. It's a luxurious lodge set in the midst of a true rain forest," he said.
Zane Gray originally discovered this fishery, where the world's foremost anglers eventually find their way.
The first order of the day is to catch the baitfish, which usually takes only about a half-hour. For marlin, the ideal bait is live bonito. Most captains will give you the choice of how you want them rigged. The choice is a "J-hook" or a "circle hook." Today, most anglers choose the circle hook option just because it is easier on both the fish and the release. The bonito are rigged up with the hook sewn in the bait's mouth with dental floss. With the size of the bait that's used, and the spunky nature of bonito, filling the livewell can be a great way to start the day, but according to Pearce, once you start fishing the process was baffling. "It was strange fishing with 6- to 8-pound fish for bait. Back home I would be happy just to catch a fish the size of the bait we were using," he said.
Pearce had great expectations when he left Newton, but he remarked with a laugh, " I never expected to catch a fish that was bigger than the combined weight of all four people in our family, our 3 dogs and the unidentified creatures that live in our teenager's rooms. It was like hooking onto a parked truck," he said. When Pearce finally got his largest marlin to the boat it was 12 foot from the tip of its bill to the tip of its tail and 3 feet from belly to back.
"It was a total experience; there were dolphin running with the boat every day. While we waited for the marlin there was plenty of sailfish, mahi-mahi, and tuna to keep us tuned up," he said.
For Pearce there was no gradual build-up. On his first day of angling, the first fish out of the chute was a 600-pound behemoth that made several spectacular jumps before submitting. "The battle only took about a half-hour max, but the captain was backing down real hard in an effort to end it quickly. The intent is to minimize the impact on the fish," he explained.
"I was using 50-pound line and he ran all the way out several times. It was spectacular watching a 12-foot fish skying. His speed was unbelievable. He would cover 80 yards in the blink of an eye. One slap of its 4-foot tail and it was gone."
Pearce notes that there are basically two types of fights with marlin. "If you can wind them early, and get them to the boat and released before they get their second wind, it's a fairly easy battle. On the other hand, if they have their wits about them and sound on you it can take 5 or 6 hours," he said.
While Pearce's marlin was an exceptional fish in every sense of the word, it was not the largest fish ever landed at the resort. Last season a lucky angler counted coup on a black marlin that was estimated to be in the 1,200-pound range.
Toto, this isn't Kansas anymore
Leaving the jungle and making the transition to the deep blue waters off Panama is an ethereal experience that soaks the senses. You wake in the morning and walk down to the docks leaving the lush green hues of the Darien Jungle. In a matter of minutes, you are basking in the sun surrounded by vistas that are overwhelmed by blues so deep that they seem to be amplified.
"This trip took fishing to a whole new level for me. I've fished in New Zealand, Alaska, the Yukon, and Costa Rica. All of those places were exceptional, with great fishing, but this experience was several notches above those. We caught several striped marlin up to 200 pounds 2 blues, and a number of sailfish, dorado and tuna. I had one more very large marlin on that we should have gotten in, but we didn't. The line broke," he added.
"Every youngster that has ever picked up a baseball bat has dreamed about facing Nolan Ryan, and every boy that has ever cast a rod has dreamed about facing a giant marlin. I faced a very big fish, and I'll spend the rest of my life trying to figure out who won," he said.
Rated by the Robb Report as the "best of the best" for years, this lodge is without question the "creme de la creme" of fishing destinations. "You wake in the morning to fresh coffee and orange juice, and by the time you get downstairs there is a huge breakfast prepared for you. After several days, you start to back off on the breakfast because the food is so exceptional, and there is so much of it," he said.
"It's not a tough day. You leave in the morning about 7:00 A.M. to go fishing. It's only a 30-minute run to marlin waters, although sometimes you have to go further to find the fish. At 3:30 P.M. you come back to the resort and drop off the fresh fish for dinner. You change and take a dip in the pool, and by the time you are halfway through your first pina colada they are serving the fresh fish. We had mahi-mahi and tuna every day that we wanted it. It was truly a total experience," he said.
The optimum time of the year to pencil in a trip for marlin would be December through March, with Pacific sailfish coming on strong during April through June. Peak times and prime lunar phases tend to be booked well in advance, so early reservations are suggested. You fly into Panama City and overnight in a luxury hotel, and the next morning you catch a 40-minute charter flight to the jungle. Once you're there, hang onto your hat and your seat. The fish in Pinas Bay can jerk you out of both.
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Frank Ross grew up on a lake in Florida, where fishing and hunting were second nature. He has pursued his passion from the jungles of South America to the northern reaches of the Arctic Circle and most points in between. With a background in newspapers, the wire services and magazines that began in 1970, Frank brings a unique perspective to his work with Cabela's. He is an award-winning photographer with a flair for getting to the bottom line of every story.
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