by Thomas Enderlin
The anchor digs into the soft muddy bottom causing the boat to swing into a seam about 50 feet from where the last tarpon rolled. A myriad of rainforest creatures express themselves in the lush habitat around us as we scan the gladiator ring and revise coiled fly line. Nothing is more awe inspiring then the howler monkey troops roaring at one another in unison across the river, and a primordial sense of ‘we are not alone’ creeps over the boat as a giant tarpon crashes behind us in an attempt to eat a foot long tropical gar skipping frantically out of the water. Needless to say, we are in the right place.
Every year thousands of adult tarpon migrate south along the western Caribbean from as far north as Florida. Ancestral memory prompts some of these majestic giants to remain in Costa Rica’s coastal waters while others continue to journey some 300 miles up Nicaragua’s Río San Juan to Northern Costa Rica. At the time of the tarpons’ arrival, seasonal rains flood the immense lagoons to create an inland sea surrounded by volcanoes and rife with other primeval creatures like tropical garfish, sawfish, and freshwater bull sharks. This collection of archaic predators is here to harass the numerous species of baitfish swept into the lagoons by the heavy annual deluge.
We trepidatiously wait for the next strike as every couple of minutes the surface of the river opens as triple digit tarpon slurp the baitfish flushing out of a jungle creek joining the main system. The plan is to hit the fish coming up in singles, doubles, and triples on the nose as they feed, and as yet another aggressive topwater take ensues a large orange fly stripped across the crater disappears into the mouth of a giant tarpon.
Time stands still as the fish discovers his mistake, and with a few powerful hooksets an abrupt realization leads to reaction as 6 feet of tarpon and water spray through the air and down river. Unlike bright ocean fish, the jungle tarpon have gone through a transformation to match the tannic waters, and watching such a golden brown beast gone airborne framed against the verdant foliage is truly an encounter with a creature from another time.
The chase is on. Anchor dropped, we use the boat to corral the beast away from branches and undercut banks as we do what we can to stay connected between jump after catastrophic jump coupled with digging broadside to hold with the rivers mighty current. Finally we reach a stalemate several bends downriver in a slower pool, and a systematic battle of inches brings the yelping and yelling crew to muted tones of pensive tension. While the fly looks to be well positioned the hook seems impossibly small now in comparison to the mighty fish’s head.
An hour passes and with a tiring fish floating boat-side we opt to go for a grab. With the river totally over it’s banks there are no beaches normally used to strand such heavyweights, and when two hands finally connect to the tarpon’s lower mandible both angler and captain go plunging into the neck deep weeds to cradle and release the fish.
All the while, tarpon have been diligently hunting lined up in a chain of flashing gold and silver along the riverbanks. As our caught fish regains strength and pushes back into the turbid water, a distant aquatic explosion indicates only one thing – time to do it again.
For more info about tarpon fishing in Costa Rica, contact Release Fly Travel.
First published in This Is Fly Magazine October/November 2014