Some of you may have seen the phrase "Never Stop Learning, Never Stop Exploring" at the bottom of the website, on a gift certificate you received, or even hashtagged at the end of an Instagram post. This is a phrase that I decided to use as sort of All Points' motto or mantra. Although I believe it to be a great general life theme, it is extremely applicable specifically within fly fishing. In my opinion there is no ceiling to fly fishing. At no point could a half-reasonable angler ever say "well, I think I've learned it all" or "I've seen everything that fly fishing can show me." If you have said this, I believe you picked the wrong hobby/sport. This phrase is what drives me to constantly keep searching. I love fly fishing because of everything that it encompasses. It teaches people not just about fish, but about life.
Last week I took a trip to Costa Rica. I had read and heard many stories about the incredible year-round tarpon fishery that is hardly available in other places around the world. Large resident and migratory tarpon are available regularly in the 125+ pound range. When a client and friend of mine wanted me to arrange a trip for him to a lodge he had previously attended, my immense curiosity for this fishery took over and I decided to tag along.
Along the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, there are numerous freshwater rivers that flow into the ocean. These rivers hold bait for the various fish in the area, especially the tarpon. The bread + butter of this fishery is to get you outside of the river mouths and fish along them using bait and/or jigs in 40-60ft of water. Lodges in this area about 10 or so years ago gained significant success when they started to use sardines fished deep. So, with a fly rod this would equate to heavy rods in the 12wt range with 500gr (or more) sinking lines. To limit the amount of false casting and to also keep flies fishing deeper out in the ocean, I found it better to cast out and work the fly in the current with a couple occasional arm/elbow pumps of the rod. This proved better, but with the heavier seas while I was there, logistically this was very difficult. The larger more seaworthy boats used to "get out" were not really setup for fly fishing.
(Above you will see one of the areas rivers connecting to the ocean)
The first morning that we arrived, we rigged up our gear and headed out to fish the ocean side of these rivers. If there is one tricky part about this type of fishing it is to actually get out. Weather conditions, larger seas, heavy current and the combination of all of this being forced to a pinch-point at the shallow sand bars along the mouths creates an interesting adventure in the building surf. We just so happened to arrive there with unusually heavy water.
That morning, the lead safety boat was able to negotiate a decent line out of the river along with a couple of the other boats. On our first effort we hit some large almost-breaking waves that shot our boat out of the water landing us essentially perpendicular. The first landing took out the legs of my fishing partner and he ended up fracturing a few ribs upon him landing on the deck. The tough guy that he is, we made effort to fish that morning, but he was eventually air lifted out of our area and back to the hospital in San Jose later that afternoon (currently now resting at home, thankfully!). He was not alone as another guest also suffered leg contusions and a foot injury on their same attempt out of the river. So, with the combination of injury and higher water, we were not allowed to try and attempt to exit the river a majority of my stay. An effort on the last day was made as well, but an almost capsizing boat put a quick end to that. With those logistics including the lack of efficiency in trying to fish the ocean with a fly rod, I stuck mostly to the rivers in a smaller "jon boat" and would also fish the surf occasionally.
My guide and I prowled around for the remaining days. Rolling tarpon were present in the rivers in certain areas. He knew of a few good spots which we would see them regularly. But the fishing was tough, even for those other guests trolling, spin fishing, and using bait in the same zones. I was the only one there targeting tarpon with a fly rod. Mainly using shrimp imitations and larger bushy baitfish flies, I hooked into a large tarpon in one of the smaller channels. I quickly lost the fish, but to see and feel a 100+ pound silver king take my offering gave promise to the possibility of this area on fly. With the size of that fish, it would have been an interesting fight if I had landed it, especially in those close quarters. But that's the fun stuff!
This type of tarpon fishing is very different that any tarpon fishing I had done in the past. It is by no means sight fishing on clear Caribbean flats. This is what is commonly referred to as "dirty water tarpon fishing." Beyond about 6 inches there is no visibility at all. The fly disappears in short order. Repetitive blind casting with heavy lines on heavy rods in an effort to get your fly down deep to where the fish are is the goal. Unless there are multiple tarpon rolling, the ones you would see roll would then immediately dive back down usually to about 15-20ft of water in the rivers. The beast that I hooked into did not roll and took my fly fairly deep in the channel.
I was offered on many occasions by my guide and lodge staff to try and use spin/conventional gear because of the difficulty of the area and current conditions, but I declined. The lodge was well outfitted with fishing gear, none of it fly fishing. My highest interest was to try and tap into these waters on fly. I caught Machaca in the rivers and my guide picked up a Snook in the surf to help round out the fishing. There are clearly large fish there however, but approaching them on fly I do not think has been fully dialed in yet. I do though believe there is great opportunity and I would certainly be curious to return to that fishery.
The trip as a whole was the epitome of a learning experience. From the logistics of simply fly fishing there to the specific issues we experienced with injuries, tough water and tough fishing, I was constantly replaying that phrase "never stop learning, never stop exploring" in my head throughout the week. It's these types of trips and experiences that grow you as an angler and as a person.
Words + Photos By: Josh Thelin