If you build it, they will come. That line is more than just the mantra from a 1980s Kevin Costner baseball flick; it could just as easily apply to the sprawling resort and marina located on Costa Rica’s Central Pacific coast that’s known throughout the sport-fishing community simply as Los Sueños: the dreams.
Prior to the development of the resort, sport fishing in Costa Rica was much more of a rustic proposition. The fishing was always there — terrific numbers of sailfish for most of the year, along with plenty of the three Pacific marlin species — but the travel experience was a bit more involved. Most of the action revolved around Flamingo in the north, with a few charter boats on moorings in Carrillo, Quepos and elsewhere. Just about every seaside village had a sport-fisher of some description at anchor, ready to take a few clients out for the day. Travel usually meant flying in to the capital of San Jose, then taking a small puddle-jumper to a grass strip on the coast. Occasionally, the pilot had to circle low a few times to scare off grazing cattle.
Change in the Wind
In 1991, Bill Royster was taking a break after selling his heavy construction engineering and real estate development company in California. Cruising and fishing along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, he dropped anchor one evening in Herradura Bay, surrounded by the natural beauty of a secluded plain with a backdrop of rugged hills just beyond. The nearby town of Jaco, on the other side of the bay, was a quiet, laid-back surf hangout. Royster fell in love with the unique natural landscape, envisioning a world-class destination resort and marina unlike any other in Central America.
After wrangling the purchase of some 1,100 acres of land, home to about 400 head of grazing cattle and wild-roaming horses, the next challenge would be persuading the Costa Rican government to get behind the project. Six years of feasibility studies followed, all privately funded by Royster and his partners, before the first blade of grass was moved. Los Sueños Resort and Marina was declared a project of national interest, and the country’s first marina law was enacted based on the draft prepared by professionals whom Royster had hired. The law took into account the environmental, construction and operational standards that had been established by Los Sueños Resort, literally paving the way for future projects throughout the country.
Construction officially began in 1997 with a vast drainage network and sewage treatment plant. The team also reclaimed 500 acres of the rainforest that had been destroyed by cattle farming, allowing many native species of plants and animals to return to the area. The resort’s Marriott hotel and La Iguana golf course were dedicated in 2000, and the first residences were also delivered that same year.
A key to the resort’s success is easy accessibility. Direct flights to San Jose are available from most major cities, and with the opening of the new highway a few years ago, the drive from San Jose to Los Sueños is only around 90 minutes or so. It’s entirely possible to leave Miami at lunchtime and enjoy cocktails and a beautiful sunset in Los Sueños that evening.
The Heart of the Resort
Right from the start, Royster and his design team envisioned the marina as the beating heart of the entire project, with 200 slips for vessels up to 180 feet in length. Completed in 2003, Los Sueños Marina was constructed to the highest international standards, and within a very short time frame, some of the world’s top sport-fishers would call Los Sueños home, either year-round or for a good portion of the season. The reason? Outstanding fishing for marlin and sailfish, combined with a relatively short run to the fishing grounds and usually calm Pacific sea conditions.
Throughout Costa Rica’s Central Pacific coast, the season for sailfish generally picks up as the rainy season tapers off in early December. The fish usually stick around through April, although there have been excellent numbers in the so-called green season in June, July and August. Teams usually target packs of sails around well-known bottom structure in spots such as the Corner, the Craters, the Pocket and elsewhere, often finding a hot bite along current rips and edges, and frequently amid massive flocks of boobies, frigates and other seabirds. When the conditions are right, the bite can be unreal: Many boats here have had days of more than 40 sailfish releases, with some topping 75 in a single day. In the past few seasons, the numbers have dipped somewhat back to historical norms, but as with many of the world’s renowned billfish fisheries, it’s a natural cycle of ebb and flow.
And while for many years, the season in Los Sueños wound down as spring faded into summer, the offshore seamount fishery for blue marlin has greatly extended the fishery here. Nowadays, people are putting in serious time exploring these distant fishing grounds, ranging from 75 to 150 miles offshore, that were once little more than an afterthought. These underwater mountains hold enormous amounts of bait, and the blue marlin fishing is some of the best — and most consistent — in the world. Due to the distances required, boats often overnight at sea and fish multiple days, racking up releases that rival those in a full season in other blue marlin hot spots in the world. Most of the Costa Rica blues are less than 300 pounds, perfect for 30-pound-class tackle (just keep a 50 handy in case a larger blue or occasional black shows up on a teaser — a few extra-large fish have been seen in the past few seasons). It’s also a great way to learn bait-and-switch fishing.
Another reason for the success of the resort as a fishing destination is the series of highly competitive tournaments it hosts each year. Those events have now evolved to become the Los Sueños Signature Triple Crown, a three-tournament series from January through March. It’s been called the most competitive tournament series in the world; nearly 50 of the world’s best teams go head-to-head for three days in each event for hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake. More often than not, a single sailfish release over the course of three days can mean the difference between victory and a second- or even third-place finish.
Case in point: In 2016, teams fishing the second leg of the Triple Crown experienced one of those classic white-hot Costa Rican sailfish bites. The 43 participating teams released a total of 2,754 billfish in three days, fishing eight hours per day. That’s an average ratio of 64 billfish per boat for the tournament, with close to two fish released during each minute of the event. Seventy-five sailfish releases didn’t even put you in the top 10. That year, Capt. Jon Duffie’s Agitator team finished in first place with 87 sailfish releases, followed by Marc Stanley’s Pelese in second place, just one release behind at 86 sails. Spanish Fly and Sea Angel also scored 86 sailfish releases, and tied on time of their final release — the tournament committee had to go back to each team’s second-to-last release, which put Spanish Fly in third by just eight minutes. That’s an incredible tournament.
Of course, a beautiful marina is just part of the equation. Los Sueños offers some of the most luxurious residences anywhere, with stunning views of the tropical landscape from nearly every turn. The first phase of the Marina Village commercial center opened in December 2003, and it has now developed into a quaint center of restaurants, shopping and commercial services, such as banking, real estate and yacht brokerage. A dry-stack storage facility manages the resort’s smaller boats, offering easy access to the bountiful inshore fishing for species like roosterfish, snapper and many others.
One other key point to the success of Los Sueños as a sport-fishing destination is easy accessibility to charter operations. A separate area of the marina is designated for charters, and a wide variety of boats are available in varying price ranges. Because of the number of shots at billfish, it’s a great place to learn the art of dead-bait circle-hook fishing too. Just tell the crew that you want to hook your own fish, or ask for a few pointers if you’ve never done it before. It’s a small step into a much larger world of becoming a better angler.
Lodging options abound: The on-property, recently renovated 201-room Marriott hotel is a great choice, while many of the private residences are also available for rent through property management services, perfect for families or larger groups. Most of the operations can also arrange for lodging, airport transfers and activities, such as surfing, waterfall tours, zip-lining, ATV rides and more. It’s incredibly easy to fly to Costa Rica, go fishing and have a great time — hassle free.
The Los Sueños Signature Triple Crown
It’s known as the most competitive tournament series in the world, and for good reason: The caliber of talent fishing in Los Sueños is second to none. So if you want to go against the world’s top dead-bait teams amid one of the best fisheries anywhere, check this one out. Leg 1 is slated for January 16-19; Leg 2 is February 27-March 2; and Leg 3, March 27-30, 2019. Aside from the individual prizes, cash and trophies in each leg, there is also an overall winner-take-all bonus of $100,000 to the top team of the series. New for 2019 is a ladies tournament, which will take place January 15, 2019. This one-day shootout for lady anglers is free to teams already fishing the Signature Triple Crown.
The development of new residences continues to grow with each passing season, thanks in part to strong economies in the United States and Costa Rica that continue to fuel demand. More than 60 percent of the real estate sold in Los Sueños is from direct referrals, and roughly 70 percent of the owners are from the United States.
Part of the resort’s master plan involves being a good community partner. The Los Sueños Foundation for Schools has contributed more than $400,000 to local schools in the Herradura region. Within Los Sueños, 60 percent of the land is set aside as a private rainforest reserve. And the overall economic impact, locally and within the country of Costa Rica, has been tremendous. The resort supports the Association for Sport and Tourism Fisheries, which was formed in response to a growing need to represent the sport-fishing sector in Costa Rica before governmental authorities, by and for industry professionals in both commercial and recreational fishing. The pioneering marina law has allowed additional construction of a string of marinas from Papagayo in the north to Golfito south, near the Panamanian border. Sport fishing is more accessible to all, with tangible benefits that reach far beyond Central America. All thanks to one man’s single, unwavering vision for the future.
New Tagging Program Underway
Gray FishTag Research is an international, fully interactive multispecies fish-tagging program based in Florida and powered by the world’s largest network of fishing professionals, consisting of approximately 10,000 captains and mates. The program deployed its first tagging efforts in Costa Rica, and is now collecting vital information in real time, producing valuable scientific data directly from fishermen in every part of the world. The objective is to ramp up conventional tagging throughout the world and continue to expand tagging for billfish and other species in the Pacific Ocean off Costa Rica.