The last thing I want to hear before we head to our next Marlin University destination is how hot that bite has been for the past several weeks straight. Hot bites never last forever, so before I leave for a trip, I’d much rather hear reports reflecting so-so fishing and picking up each day. Leading up to our trip to Los Sueños, Costa Rica, in late February, the fishing had been off the charts for months. Boats were getting 30 or more sailfish bites a day, and catching 20 or so — and it had stayed hot since late December.
As I expected, we hit town right in the middle of a little slump. My boat, the Bushwacker with Capt. Skeet Warren, still got 16 sail bites the first day, and we caught eight, but we had to run 45 miles to get them. Boats running even farther south could still get the 30-plus bites per day, but it had slowed considerably within a 20-mile run of Herradura Bay, where the resort is based. Bo Jenyns, on the beautiful little Bertram 31 Straight Up with a Twist, also got a good number of bites the first day and had an even better conversion rate, catching 11 of 20 or so bites. Our other two teams didn’t fare as well, catching two or three apiece. These kinds of numbers stayed with us throughout the four days of fishing, with one or two boats hitting them OK, while the others struggled through a slow pick. Seas were glass calm, and the weather and water were hot.
Our trip happened to coincide with the second leg of the Los Sueños Triple Crown (32 boats caught more than 2,000 billfish during the first leg in January), so there were a lot of bigwigs coming to town to fish the event. After a long, slow second day of fishing, I noticed a familiar face climbing out of a golf cart as we were leaving. Pat Healey of Viking Yachts had just returned from a practice trip before the first day of fishing in the tournament with Team Galati, so I said: “Hey there, Pat. What did you do to me man? You came in here and shut my bite down!” Healey didn’t even bat an eye, and I almost fell out of my cart at his retort: “I don’t know Dave … we had more than 30 bites today.”
Healey told me that they had run all the way to the tournament’s boundary — a 50-mile run — to find fish.
The next day Warren bit the fuel -bullet in order to get us into the fish, and we headed to the tournament fleet fishing the hot bite 50 miles away. We got a few more bites — I think we got 12 or so — but managed to catch only eight. It was a long run, but we didn’t do much better than some of our boats that stayed closer to home.
All in all, it turned out to be a great trip; you can’t beat the accommodations in Los Sueños, and we probably averaged around 10 billfish bites a day, which is good-fishing for our Marlin U students.
When we arrived at the lovely Casa Vieja Lodge in the port town of San Jose, none other than the indomitable Tred Barta himself was holding court poolside. Barta was in town with some guests to fish light-tackle gear. He’d been there an entire week, and the fishing was pretty good; Barta even caught one on 6-pound from his wheelchair!
We soon found out that although there were plenty of fish in the area, we once again had to make long runs to get to the fish. I rode along with Capt. David Salazar on the little Whiticar, Finest Kind, and we ran at least 40 miles every day — but usually came away with more than 10 sail bites.
Our first day out, we caught six sails out of 12 bites and added a nice 400-pound blue marlin. The blue tried to eat our left short teaser, leaving a huge hole in the water before peeling off and eating the left long bait. Luckily the fish failed to hook up on the little outfit, and Todd Butler from North Carolina deftly tossed out the big pitch. The blue had faded back a bit, but Butler let out the mackerel to the right spot, and the blue piled on it. As soon as it felt the hook, the marlin began spinning in circles, it’s body half out of the water and throwing spray in every -direction. It really put on a great show.
Unfortunately, after making one last giant greyhounding leap, the fish dove deep. Although Butler hooked the fish on a Shimano 30 Tiagra, the little reel was spooled with 50-pound line, so he could really put some drag on the fish. However, the fighting chair wouldn’t work with our short butt rods, so Butler had to stand up on the fish. After about 15 minutes of grueling up-and-down pressure, the mate finally got his hands on the leader but couldn’t budge the stubborn blue. Two minutes of tug of war later, the hook broke and the still-strong fish slid away.
Two of our other boats also saw blue marlin during the trip, but the steep learning curve reached out and delivered a sanconcho on at least two blue marlin bites. But that’s what Marlin U is all about: getting shots, and learning from successes and failures.
During the last two days, the weather turned a bit snotty, making the 50-mile runs even more of a joy. On the last day — our mini tournament day — I drew a couple of repeat students, Spencer Allen and Bill Rosengarten, who were really fired up about winning. Their -teammates, Matt Jordan and Mike Ramirez, were just as competitive, so I knew we had a chance at winning if we could just get our shots. Rosengarten, the most experienced angler in the bunch, blew our first two flat-line bites after hooking every bite the previous day. His buddy, Jordan, made up for it by catching three suicidal fish in a row that he had no business catching. In the end, we wound up catching five sails out of 11 bites and secured the victory … after thinking all day that we had blown our chance. It’s great when a plan comes together.
We have only two sessions of Marlin University with space available, our Cabo Session running from Sept. 8-13, and the second leg of our Australia Session from Nov. 20-24. Both of these trips offer unforgettable fishing, with Cabo producing large numbers of scrappy striped marlin, and Australia delivering some of the best big black marlin fishing on the planet. Please visit marlinmag.com/ marlinuniversity for more information.