It was the trip I’d been waiting for the entire year. The countless stories about epic blue marlin numbers and grand slams — even royal slams — that I received from the elite teams and operations that ventured to the offshore waters of Costa Rica over the past year seemed limitless. The mere thought of seeing 20- to 30-plus blue marlin in a single day left me sleepless during the days and weeks leading up to the trip. What I encountered there still flashes vividly in my mind as I reflect back on the incredible experience.
Not So Easy
On the direct flight from Orlando, Florida, to San Jose, Costa Rica, the captain’s voice echoed over the speaker, rousing me from a semi-coherent sleep. Moments before, I was deep in thought, maybe even a dream, about the upcoming two and a half-day trip far off the coast of Costa Rica, with anticipation of aggressive blue marlin bites and nonstop action. “The volcano just erupted near San Jose, and we are currently evaluating our options,” the captain announced over the intercom, in a voice that I soon began to despise.
My mind immediately shifted to the worst-case scenario: The captain was going to turn the flight around and head back to the States (something one of my buddies experienced a few weeks before), and the trip I had anticipated for so long would now be canceled because of an act of God. I was scheduled to rendezvous with Will Drost, owner of the 43-foot Maverick Sea Fly, and a group of his buddies at the airport in San Jose for a quick van ride to Los Sueños before heading 100-plus miles offshore that evening for the multiday trip.
I anxiously awaited the captain’s next announcement as I heard him key the microphone: “We’re heading to the airport in Liberia, where there will be buses waiting to bring you to San Jose.” I thought I had dodged a bullet, knowing Drost’s flight was set to land after me in San Jose, so I expected all of us to end up in Liberia where we’d jointly figure out the next step. At least I couldn’t be left on the dock if we were all together! But when I checked the flight information after my plane touched down in Liberia, I discovered Drost and his compadres had somehow just landed in San Jose.
I was on my own, separated from the group and 120 miles from Los Sueños, where the two-boat fleet — Geaux Fly and Sea Fly — was set to depart later that afternoon for the long trek out to the seamounts. I found a taxi and began the lengthy journey down the coast to Los Sueños. I soon discovered that not only did the taxi have broken air conditioning — which the driver failed to mention when soliciting my business — but also that it was a national holiday in Costa Rica, and most of the two-lane roads were jammed with traffic. Needless to say, the ride was miserable. Even a couple of canned Cuba Libres didn’t help relieve the agony of the trip. I arrived in Los Sueños nearly six hours after leaving the airport in Liberia, hot, sweaty and hungry, but glad to finally be there.
Because of my delay, Sea Fly departed two hours ahead of us with four of Drost’s friends aboard so that they could take advantage of the daylight, run until dark, then slowly chug the rest of the way out. I met up with Drost and Burton Angelle from K2 Coolers before heading to the marina. When we arrived at the boat, the crew aboard Geaux Fly (Drost’s father’s boat and the second of the three-boat Maverick charter fleet) had the engines idling, hot pizzas waiting in the galley and cold beer ready for all of us. We scarfed down the food as we began the slow chug out to the fishing grounds through the darkness of the night. After some quick chatter about the recent fishing reports near what the locals call las bolas — essentially small FADs anchored on the seamounts — we all knocked out for the night with high hopes of what the next morning would bring.
In the Action
The plan was to have the boats split up offshore so that each of us could work a few of the different seamounts and get a feel for what was going on out there. We arrived late to the party due to the fact that we needed to run the last 20 miles at first light to complete the 132-mile trip from the marina. Before we even got the jigs in the water to catch our first live baits, Sea Fly had already released two blue marlin, and the action hardly slowed for the next two days.
Before we even got the jigs in the water to catch our first live baits, Sea Fly had already released two blue marlin, and the action hardly slowed for the next two days.
Soon after catching small tunas for bait and getting them back out in the water bridled to circle hooks, it didn’t take long for Capt. David Mesen to begin shouting from the bridge as the left long bait began to swim erratically. Suddenly, the bait took off to the left, and the mate quickly put the Alutecnos 50 in free-spool the second he felt the added pressure of the blue marlin engulfing the small tuna. After a quick drop-back, he pushed up the drag lever, and the 250-pound blue marlin vaulted into the air — our first blue marlin of the trip was solidly hooked. This was about the only bite on the boat that didn’t end in an elbow to the chest as we competed, friendly of course, for the rods the rest of the trip. How quickly we raised our first blue marlin of the trip amazed us all. We released that fish in under 10 minutes; by noon, we had seen a half-dozen fish and released three. Meanwhile, the boys aboard Sea Fly had released nine blues and had probably seen twice that many in the area where they were fishing. We made the decision to run the 30 miles toward them to get in on the action. They were on a series of two or three different FADs constructed of floats and tarps anchored on top of the seamounts. While we did not have the luck that Sea Fly had on the first day of the trip, as the bite slowed significantly once we arrived, we ended the day with six blues and a sailfish; the boys on Sea Fly finished with 14 blues and a striped marlin, including a blue marlin doubleheader.
An Endless Bait Supply
Making bait was quick and easy, and it was a rare occurrence if we went extended periods of time without having all eight tuna tubes — four on each side of Geaux Fly — filled with either small bonito or yellowfin tuna. To catch bait, we used two Shimano Beastmaster 9000 electric reels with a pair of diamond jigs behind small planers. We let the rig out 30 or so feet behind the boat as the captain made tight turns toward the FADs, and it was generally a matter of seconds before the rod tip began to pop up and down as both the planer and the small tunas began to splash on the surface. A quick flip of the switch on the Beastmaster and you’d have two frisky baits right at the transom, ready to either deploy on a bridle with a circle hook or stash in a tuna tube for later.
I’d live-baited for marlin in the Gulf of Mexico several times, but I was amazed when I saw what I thought to be the perfect marlin-size tuna get tossed right back over the side — without a hook. Juan Carlos, the first mate on Geaux Fly and more commonly known as Juanca, explained how he prefers a small to small-medium tuna, typically weighing 1 to 2 pounds, when fishing for blue marlin at the seamounts. And boy was he right!
During our trip, I watched countless blues pick out the slightly smaller bait in the spread. I learned quickly and always tried to stay close to the rod with a tuna that size out in the spread. Oftentimes the baits skipped on the surface when they became worn out, but that didn’t mean they were no longer effective. These skipbaits attracted some of the most ferocious bites I have ever witnessed: I even forgot to the push up the lever drag on one blue marlin because I was frozen in amazement as I watched the fish pile on a bait and then immediately launch itself away from the boat in a series of jumps. I snapped out of it after what seemed to be an abnormally long amount of time and engaged the drag, then fought and subsequently released the fish — that bite will forever be ingrained in my brain, and Drost still gives me a hard time about freezing in the middle of a bite.
An Unexpected Surprise
Our second day started quickly. While I was still choking down my first sip of hot coffee as the sun began to peek over the horizon, the bait on the right rigger shot out to the side. I picked up the rod, fed the fish and saw the blue marlin begin to jump on the horizon. If only I could have that shot of adrenaline from a blue marlin every morning! As I fought the fish, I cursed the volcano for causing us to miss the early-morning bite on our first day offshore. The action didn’t slow down the rest of the morning, and we released three blue marlin during the next 30 minutes.
Mesen began screaming “Marlin negro!” from the bridge, and we all saw the large shoulders on the fish — at that point, we knew it was far different from the cookie-cutter-size blues we had caught so far.
The entire crew was tuned in at this point as we anxiously awaited the next fish in the spread. Suddenly, a giant head exploded out of the water on the left skipbait as Angelle grabbed the rod, fed the fish and began the fight. We all thought it was a really nice blue until the second or third jump when Mesen began screaming “Marlin negro!” from the bridge, and we all saw the large shoulders on the fish — at that point, we knew it was far different from the cookie-cutter-size blues we had caught so far. The black marlin put on a spectacular show, tearing across the surface in a series of high-flying leaps before sounding and really putting the pressure on Angelle. After 20 minutes, the fish was boat-side, and we grabbed a series of amazing photos and video of the release. In a flurry of blue marlin, the black was a fantastic surprise, and a sailfish later that day completed our grand slam.
The bite slowed down around 10 a.m., but the crew aboard Geaux Fly kept us well-fed. Maverick Sportfishing’s charter operation prepackages all of the meals for the two and a half days offshore to make things easier on the mates, who are constantly working to catch live bait and keep fresh baits in the spread. This allows the operation to preplan for clients, but trust me, they don’t skimp on the portions, and we all ate well. So well, in fact, that a couple of us might have been guilty of midafternoon siestas when the bite seemed to come to a screeching halt and our stomachs were full. Some captains took this opportunity to troll away from the seamounts, working the down-current side as the bait moved off the submerged structure. On Location had success with this tactic, as we saw them backing down off in the distance with the sun high overhead.
The bite picked right back up around 3 p.m. on both days and improved all the way until dark. I don’t think we went 30 minutes without a bite once we got the baits back out after fighting a fish. At one point, we had three billfish in our spread, with two fish competing over the right teaser while another one crashed the left skipbait tied to the rod I had in my hand. I am almost certain one of the fish on the teaser was a striped marlin, with its large neon-blue pectoral fins gliding through the water. Had this fish circled back into our spread and eaten, we would have had a super grand slam for the day. I wasn’t complaining though — the blue marlin I was hooked to was number 16 for the day.
During our final night offshore, both boats chugged through the night to a seamount about 80 miles from the marina, and the plan was for us to fish a half-day before heading in. Shortly after daybreak, both Sea Angel and Booby Trap arrived and began working the area around us. They weren’t the only ones to arrive either — the skies opened up and we were greeted with some of the most intense rainstorms I’ve ever experienced offshore. At times I could not see the 52-foot Viking Booby Trap that was a scant 50 yards off our stern, let alone our live baits skipping on the surface. We finished the day wet and soggy, releasing the sole blue marlin we saw that morning before heading back to shore.
What a Trip
The trip lived up to the hype and expectations I had from the countless stories of fishing these distant Costa Rican waters. I still pinch myself at times thinking about releasing 23 blue marlin in just over two days of fishing. The final numbers between the two boats for our two-plus-day trip were 84 blue marlin raised and 41 released, in addition to releasing one black marlin, a striped marlin and two sailfish. Much to my dismay, I had to turn down the second leg of the trip, but Drost took the following day off to let the crew recuperate — even though they were ready to head back out the minute we got back to the dock — and went back offshore for another round of fishing with his father and a second group of friends. During that trip, the two-boat fleet saw 95 billfish and released 47 blue marlin and two sailfish.
The final numbers between the two boats for our two-plus-day trip were 84 blue marlin raised and 41 released, in addition to releasing one black marlin, a striped marlin and two sailfish.
The total for the five days of fishing between the two boats was 88 blue marlin, one black marlin, two striped marlin and four sailfish, raising a remarkable 185 total billfish. Sure, you might see numbers like those during five days of sailfishing out of Los Sueños, but when it comes to blue marlin, I’m not sure there is anywhere else in the world you can do that. The numbers don’t lie: A trip to the seamounts is simply incredible, and it’s something that any blue marlin aficionado needs to experience.