Four hours in the back of a loaded down Toyota LC 78 “converted troop carrier” found us on the banks of the Rio Colorado. A small roadside bar, a few stray dogs and a couple of pangas sprawl out in front of us. We’re almost there; only 30 more minutes in the boats.
On our cruise to Kawe Lodge, our home for the night, we couldn’t help but notice that this didn’t look like your average tarpon fishery. The water was muddy, the banks were lined with crocodiles, and cattle as well as the occasional water buffalo could be seen grazing along small islands. “It’s these hard currents and dangerous waters that make these tarpon so tough” our guide tells us. We were told of monster fish and fights that drug out for hours. Naturally, Josh, with a half smoked Swisher and a few Pilsens under his belt, informed our guides that “there isn’t a tarpon in Costa Rica I can't whip within 20 minutes”. He’d easily eat those word before sunset.
The boats pulled up to the dock at Kawe Lodge. It's a beautiful swatch of riverside land cut into the jungle; remote and rustic, but with clean sheets, cold drinks and good food. As tempted as we were to relax for a while and soak it all in, we were light on time and heavy on ambitious goals. Some quick pleasantries with the owner, a few fresh chilled coconuts and a much needed lunch; we were back on the dock ready to fish.
Let's get one thing out of the way: this fishery is not for the purist. If you have hang-ups about dredging with sinking lines, or possibly picking up a spinning rod; this probably isn’t your spot. However, if you like big mean fish in a cool unique setting, this place is for you. They have times when the weather is nice and they fish oceanside school riding up on the surface. They have times of the year where you go way up river and sightcast slow rolling fish back in the jungle. This was neither; this was the "anchor up at the river mouth in heaving, whitecapped waves and cast until your arm falls off" time of year. It didn’t matter; it was when we were there and how we were going to get it done.
If we had any reservations about how good this fishery was going to be, they were put to rest immediately. We weren’t on the hook 5 minutes before Kai put a tarpon in the air. It threw the hook quickly, but we were in 'em. Jumping fish left and right, we were struggling to keep a hook in one. It was in the last hour of sunlight when Josh hooked his first fish and started to choke on his earlier bold statement. This was a pure-bred Costa Rican hammer. And to Josh's defense, the fight sure did end right around the time he said it would... It just didn’t end the way he said it would. “The fish kicked his ass”. Josh fought hard; full drag palming the spool. The fish fought harder; several runs into the backing before finally breaking him off in said backing, right around the “20 minute mark”.
The following morning started off much like the afternoon before. Fish were being hooked but coming unbuttoned almost immediately. When you're dredging with a fly, it's easy to get lulled into thinking you won’t get a bite. Then you do and you're almost always caught off guard, leading to a half-assed hook set. Halfway through the morning, Josh finally got his bite and the hook found purchase. The fish made a series of acrobatic jumps followed by a hard run to the breaking waves that were cutting us off from the ocean. Having learned a thing or two from his beating the day before, Josh went full drag immediately. “Start the timer!” Josh's fish was either coming to hand or breaking off immediately. The fish put up a solid fight, but was eventually bested... right around the twenty minute mark. Redemption; without a moment to spare!
All-in-all over the course of one afternoon and one morning (about 8 hours on the water total) in Barra Del Colorado we jumped to 8 or 9 tarpon and a good sized jack crevalle to boot.
It's best not to forget that it's not all just fishing. Meals at the Kawe Lodge were special. Not like you were being served dinner at a lodge, but like you had been invited to the owner's home. Fresh caught snook, bread, candied plantains, gallo pinto, salad and fruits. Everything so fresh and all homemade. It was enough to bring us close to cutting our coast-to-coast trip and staying in Barra Del Colorado for a few more days.
Alas, with more level heads prevailing and tarpon checked off the list, we gathered our things, said our goodbyes and settled Josh's bar tab. “It’s been great. Wish we could stay longer, but we have a long drive and a float trip to pull off before nightfall.”
Stay tuned for the next installment of Coast To Coast soon.