Marlin Expeditions Returns to Panama

Tropic Star Lodge proves the partnership a plus
A large black marlin breaks the surface of the ocean on the leader.
Black marlin are a prime draw for anglers visiting Tropic Star Lodge. Matilda Leijon

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The first time I visited Tropic Star Lodge—an angler’s oasis perched on the edge of the Darien Jungle—I was caught up by not only the remote peacefulness of the place but its history as well. It just feels different here. If I close my eyes, I can easily recall the freshness of the air brought to me by way of the lush canopy of hundreds of different species of trees and tropical flowers. There is a sense of calm and quietness, and the call to the open ocean is almost too much to ignore. It’s no wonder fishermen from all walks of life put Panama on their bucket lists, because even if you’ve been there before, there is always another adventure right around the corner. This is the beauty of this sport we call fishing. And after visiting Tropic Star this past summer, we were left with an urge to return as soon as we could.

Between the views, the fishing, and the welcoming and enthusiastic staff, there wasn’t a single reason not to. The mood there is infectious, and even though it’s a two-day trek to Piñas Bay, we can absolutely say it’s always worth it.

Two men hold a marlin flag while standing in front of the Tropic Star Lodge sign.
John Bielat prepares to walk the plank to commemorate his first black marlin release. Marlin Expeditions (top), Matilda Leijon

Loaded up with 12 anglers from around the United States, we embarked on our second Panama journey in hopes that the black marlin that frequent the grounds of the Zane Grey Reef would be willing to play with us for at least six days, especially for those who needed one to add to their species lists for the coveted IGFA Billfish Royal Slam Club.

The Zane Grey Reef is located just 20 minutes from the lodge, which makes the winter fishery much different from the summer one, and shorter boat rides on the lodge’s fleet of classic 31-foot Bertrams also mean more fishing time. Live bait is on the menu for these reef dwellers, and even though your main target is a big black, the feisty blues, giant sailfish, fat yellowfin tuna and hefty dorados have no problem choking down live baits either.

Day One

Veteran instructor Charles Perry fishing on Miss Panama managed to coach his students to the day’s only black marlin release, plus two sailfish releases. First-time instructor Capt. Craig Fountain was tasked with managing the bite on Miss America and came back to the lodge with two sailfish flags flying, along with one yellowfin tuna and five dorados. Tropic Star veteran Capt. Zane Andrews’ team on Miss Island Star released two sails, and Tim O’Neill, also a first-time Marlin Expeditions instructor, fishing on Miss Hawaii, netted his team a catch of four big dorados.

Day Two

This day proved to be one of firsts on Miss America, where Fountain was able to guide repeat client Ken Owens to his first black marlin release. The team also released two sails, cementing it in the high-hook position for Day Two. Andrews’ Miss Island Star team managed to release three sails and box a nice dorado, Miss Hawaii released two sailfish and brought back one dorado, and Perry’s Miss Panama team released one sail.

Two men holding up a black marlin flag.
Ken Owens memorializes his first black marlin with a release flag signed by Dr. Guy Harvey. Marlin Expeditions

Day Three

The marlin bite had seemed to shut down on the third day, unfortunately, but the sailfish and dorado were still hanging around, with the Marlin Expeditions fleet releasing a total of six sails and racking up the dorados.

Day Four

Andrews punched through with his local knowledge, no doubt, which allowed his Miss Island Star team one black marlin release for John Bielat, his first ever. Perry’s Miss Panama team tallied three sailfish releases, Miss Hawaii released a sail and put two dorados in the fish box, and Miss America landed three massive dorados, one of which was the largest of the week, coming in at 71 pounds and caught by repeat client Steve Lewis.

A man holding up a dorado fish.
Repeat client Steve Lewis landed the heaviest dorado of the week with this 71-pound monster. Marlin Expeditions

Day Five

Miss Hawaii angler Robert Kiss released the man in the blue suit; the team also released one sailfish. Miss America landed two size-large yellowfins—the largest weighing in at 200 pounds by angler Garrett Diehl—and five dorados. The team also released two sails. Miss Panama let go three sailfish, and Miss Island Star released two sails.

Day Six

The meat fish seemed to have evaded the Marlin Expeditions fleet on the last day of fishing, but the sailfish were still around, which was fine for the team on Miss America, which claimed the prize for the most releases with three; Miss Panama and Miss Island Star released two each, and Miss Hawaii released one.

A group of people sitting in a room.
The Panama Marlin Expedition class of 2024. Marlin Expeditions

Overall, our group of 12 students—a mix of repeat clients and new ones—released a total of three blacks, one blue and 42 sails. They also helped feed the lodge, its employees and the families that live in the nearby village with loads of dorado and tuna. While we were hoping for some more marlin bites, everyone knows that’s fishing, and we were just happy to be there. As they say, you can’t catch ’em all.

Read Next: Interested in learning more about Marlin Expeditions?

Many thanks go out to our staff of talented instructors and great clients, and the Tropic Star family for their hospitality and commitment to maintaining the beauty that lures us to Panama over and over again.

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