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Panama Big Game Sport Fishing

World class big game sport fishing charters led by expert guides. Saltwater fishing, fly fishing and deep sea fishing on the Pacific side of the Republic of Panama.

Contact Us

Isla Boca Brava, Panama, Central America
(866) 281 1225 USA Freephone
(786) 600 1672 Miami local number
+44 203 287 2672 UK and Europe
or call Capt John's Mobile +507 662 75431

E-mail Us at: john@panamabiggamefishingclub.com

Marlin Magazine January 2005 Issue

Posted on Sun, Jan 02 2005


Central America's Newest
Fishing Lodge

by Gary Kramer
[Marlin Magazine January 2005]

Just 200 miles or so west of Panama City on Central America's Pacific coast lie some of the most famous fishing grounds in the world.  Mention Hannibal Bank or Isla Coiba to any serious big-game fisherman and images of giant black marlin, tackle-busting yellowfin tuna and bulldog cubera snappers immediately fill his head.

Thanks to the area's diverse habitats, warm equatorial sea temperatures, rich upwellings, remoteness and lack of overfishing, the shores of Panama enjoy a longevity rarely seen in sportfishing.  The Panama Big Game Fishing Club aim to add a new twist to this historic fishery.

The now-defunct Club Pacifico de Panama opened this region to traveling fishermen in the 1970s.  A fair share of operations have since come and gone in this area, but few can compare with the Panama Big Game Fishing Club, the newest lodge.  Just an hour by water taxi from the town of David, the lodge was built atop the highest elevation on Isla Boca Brava in 2001, offering a commanding view of the surrounding area.  Four fully equipped guest cottages, gourmet meals and fantastic fishing make the lodge a must-visit.

The fishing options in this region are seemingly endless.  Depending on current conditions and the species targeted, productive inshore fishing is less than 15 minutes from the lodge and blue-water action, less than an hour's steam from the dock.

The operation's manager Capt. Lee Champbell says that although the inshore fishing can be fantastic, most anglers come here to fish for the bounty of billfish and giant yellowfin tuna that prowl the waters surrounding the Isla Coiba area, including Isla Montousa, Isla Ladrones and Hannibal Bank a bit farther offshore.  While grander blue and black marlin certainly reside in these waters, most range from 250 to 500 pounds, making them manageable on 50 pound tackle.

"In my experience the blues here run larger than the blacks," says lodge owner Capt. Bill Beck.  "That's not to say that the black marlin are small.  The biggest we've caught since opening was 750 pounds."

At the Panama Big Game Fishing Club, more black marlin show up in the spread than blues; the average ratio is four blacks to every blue.

Sailfish arrive in mighty number off Panama as well, with most fish in the 80 to 120-pound range.  Add the possibility of landing a giant yellowfin tuna, dorado or wahoo and you have the potential for a world-class offshore smorgasbord.  If the winds keep you inshore, you can chase roosterfish, amberjack and mean cubera snapper all day.

Strictly Business

During a trip in February, we found the best action at Hannibal Bank, a legendary seamount about 50 miles from the lodge and the farthest fishing area their boats regularly visit.  The traditional method used to catch marlin here involves trolling small tunas.

Each morning , the mate and captain kept a sharp eye out for breaking schools of bait.  We'd run through the schools with small plastic jigs, and when we'd hood a skipjack it was brought aboard and immediately transferred to one of four tuna tubes attached to the stern of the boat.  As soon as we had four skipjacks in the tubes and another half-dozen in the fish box for strip baits, we were ready to fish.

After the boat was in position atop the bank, the mate extracted a 3-pound skipjack from the tuna tube, wrapped it in a wet towel and rigged it through the eye sockets with a Dacron bridle and an 18/0 circle hook in two blinks.

Generally, two live skipjack are slow-trolled on flat lines, with two additional strip baits or lures trolled on the outriggers.

After setting the first bait in the water, it wasn't long before one skipjack began to swim nervously.  The change in the live bait's behavior didn't go unnoticed by the mate, and he signaled the captain and my fishing partner.  Ken Mayer, to get ready.  Mayer grabbed the rod from the holder and put the reel in free-spool.  Suddenly, the line raced from the reel, and Mayer did his best to prevent a bird's net with out scorching his thumb.

When the mate gave the call, Mayer put the reel in gear and let the line come tight, allowing the circle hood to find the corner of the fish's jaw.  The fish ran hard and cleared the water--a sailfish not a marlin!  Mayer let out a sigh that was either one of relief or disappointment; I couldn't tell.  But he fought the estimated 100-pound sailfish gallantly and brought it to the boat in under 15 minutes for a photograph and release.

During our trip we didn't land a black marlin, but we did get a knock at the door that felt like one.  A blind hit yanked off a few hundred yards of line but never came tight.  A big black or a big yellowfin.

"We've caught yellowfin up to 300 pounds," Beck says.  "We usually catch the big yellowfin on live bonito set out when we're trolling for black marlin.  But we get yellowfin of all sizes.  If we see a school, we'll troll through them with some lures or get in front of them and toss out live baits."

Yellowfin under 100 are often found feeding with schools of porpoise, while the larger fish usually swim in smaller schools that hang closer to the seamounts. 

Although all the big-game species are available throughout the year, the primary billfish season runs December through May.  January, February and March offer the most ideal conditions --little rainfall and calm seas.  Sailfish tend to be more abundant in April and May, as do the larger tuna.  The best wahoo bite is May through November, with the best action occurring during the peak of the rainy season in August and September.  One thing is for sure--the fish will be there no matter when you plan your trip.

Many thanks to Marlin Magazine for allowing us to reprint this article