There are few things in life I cherish more than the opportunity to travel. To explore new places, meet new people, learn new cultures, and create the stereotypical but true “memories that last a lifetime”. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have had many travel experiences both domestically and aboard but sadly, haven’t incorporated much fishing. That is until this year when I decided to make a proactive effort to mix fishing into my travels and seek out new angling destinations. So I invite you to settle in (as this story is a bit lengthy) and share this journey abroad with me.
So far most of my Student of Slay trips have been tacked on to work trips to Florida or spent with some of the local (San Diego) legends. Those experiences and lessons learned have been incredible but November was going to bring a welcome change of pace with my first international trip where fishing was a primary focus. The destination? Costa Rica!
Our adventure kicked off in Santa Teresa. A rad beach town where ATV’s are the customary form of transport. Surfboards and yoga mats are more frequent handhelds than cell phones. And beyond just the lifestyle around but life itself is completely built upon the ocean and surrounding mountain rain forest landscape. In short, I was in heaven and never felt so quickly connected to a spot.
After a few quick days of some incredible hiking, surfing, and way over indulging in food, Chile Guego shots, and micheladas, we made our first move. A quick water taxi took us over to Playa Herradura where we got the first glimpse of our ultimate fishing destination – Los Sueños. But first, we were set to spend a couple of days in neighboring Manuel Antonio.
One of the days happened to be my good buddy Juan’s birthday. So we set out to get our first taste of Costa Rican fishing. Just having the opportunity to be on the water with an absolutely stunning backdrop of lush mountains was plenty enough to keep continuous grins on our faces. Landing 2 yellowfin and 2 nice grade dorado all before 9 AM on our 3-hour morning session, almost felt like a bonus. If this was just the warmup for our full day of fishing, I couldn’t fathom what was to come.
Which brings us to the pièce de résistance. A full day offshore, chasing billfish with the legendary Maverick Sportfishing. We checked in at the Maverick Sportfishing center, which was loaded with branded goodies from partner brands like AFTCO, Yeti, and Costa. The extremely friendly and professional staff introduced us to our captain, Geovanny Leal.
I would be remiss if I shared this story without talking about our ride for the day. The 36 foot, custom hand-built SuperFly Maverick Yachts sled was incomprehensibly badass. After picking my jaw up off the deck, I think I managed to mutter “If we ever hit the lotto, this is legitimately my dreamboat. This thing would be insanely perfect at home.”. The layout and creature comforts, The high-end luxury yacht fit and finish. The fishy heritage and purpose-built killing machine all combine to make this, “The Perfect Boat”. At least in my book.
Maybe it was the pre-voyage Bloody Marys or something in the Costa Rican ocean air but there was a particular aura, level of stoke or borderline odd premonition that our day wasn’t going to be just good or even great. But truly a lifetime dream trip.
With the twin diesels pushing us along at mid-20 knot cruise, we hit our fishing spot within an hour. Our SuperFly team consisted of Captain Geovanny, Firstmate Eduardo, and an additional deckhand. It was immediately evident that not only did they have the billfishing program dialed in but they were true professionals in every sense. The hospitality we were greeted with matched with the facilities, fishing gear, and the boat were all absolutely immaculate.
The level of attention and precision while rigging the baits was unparalleled. The priority they placed on providing us with the very best service and the experience was unmatched. To say I was impressed might be the understatement of the year. And we hadn’t even started fishing yet! Pura Vida had fully set in and the stoke meter was pegged maximum.
As the engines wound down, the team sprung into action setting up the outriggers, teasers, jigs, and rigged ballyhoos. I watched intently as this well-orchestrated team set out our trolling spread. I knew this was FAR from their first time, but I still marveled at how efficiently they worked together to get our spread out. Had I blinked, I would have missed the whole thing. We readied ourselves with a few good luck Imperial beers and a quick toast to the epic day ahead.
No more than 30 minutes into trolling, I looked up to see our captain hand teasing one of the lines behind him in the tower.
The sweet sound of the clicker screamed and we were on our first billfish of the day. The crew quickly and meticulously cleared lines. Juan buckled the fighting belt as I reached up to help hand off the rod we were tight on. Teamwork makes the dreamwork and it was awesome to be part of one of the best for the day.
We got our first glimpse of the very nice striped marlin on the line. I watched the fight through my camera lens as I attempted to snap pictures. The fish was certainly happy to provide plenty of photo ops with some magnificent jumps. Then as we began to steadily back down, the dreaded moment happen. Juan continuously reeled to stay tight but somehow the striper came unbuttoned on its last jump.
“It’s gone.” Eduardo reluctantly relayed to us and the captain as the jig neared the boat.
“I’m sorry we couldn’t get that one. I’m surprised it came off like that as it was hooked good and fought for a while. It’s ok, we know they’re here.” Captain Geovanny reassured us.
You could see a little disappointment in Juan’s eye but between the team’s calm demeanor and our collective happiness to just be living in that very moment, we felt really good about our odds of redemption. There was an unmistakable feeling and ambiance of fishiness on those waters.
Once again we deployed our spread but this time I opted to lend as hand. There is no better way to learn than by actually doing and with an eager to coach crew, we had lines back in with little downtime. Although they weren’t to be in very long as we turned sharp and motored towards something floating in the mystically blue water ahead.
Eduardo rushed to the cabin to grab light spinning rods with ready to go sabiki rigs set up. We slid into a large piece of thick rope floating on the surface. Underneath lurked a massive bait ball that blacked out a spot in the water. 10-15 minutes later, we loaded the aft tuna tube well and the perfectly camoed teak in-deck live well with quality live bait.
As we began to move off of our floating bait barge chunk of rope, we must have stirred a group of dorado that lurked nearby the abundance of bait. Immediately the captain instructed us to throw some live bait lines back to the school of Mahi behind us.
As soon as the baits hit the water, we were instantly doubled up with Juan and Stacey fighting in opposite corners. Our first two of excellent grade dorado hit the deck and before we could even high-five or celebrate, two more baits were doubled up.
Mahi madness had begun!
This time it was mine and my wife Jo Jo’s turn to get in on the fun. Before leaving the dock, Jo Jo mentioned she hoped to catch her first dorado and as fun as it was to fight mine, it dawned on me the moment she was most looking forward to was happening right next to me. I fought mine quickly so that I could take in and share the experience of her first together. As much as I love catching fish, sharing moments like this is what I really live for on the water.
The dorado continued to swarm and we kept piling incredible grade fish on the deck, consistently between 30-40-pounds. Then on our fourth or so double up and as Jo Jo pulled a quality 45-50-pounds. bull over the rail, I noticed all eyes were again on Juan. I happened to glance up to the tower to notice our captain also paying very close attention to the fight down in the corner. He signaled down, “big, big dorado” stretching his arms out fully.
I scanned the horizon and finally got a look at the other end of Juan’s line, a monster bull that was fully lit up, swimming on the surface. Having fished together many times, I can confidently say Juan is one of the better live bait fishermen I know and did an incredible job finessing this fish on the lightweight spinning gear rigged with 25# leader. Eduardo stuck the fish with a perfect gaff shot and with a bit of a second effort, hoisted the massive mahi into the boat.
I looked down in disbelieve at the magnificent coloring and sheer size of the beast 68-pound bull dorado. I felt ecstatic to be able to share that moment (there I go again) and celebrate a lifetime fish for a good friend. After hanging the fish on the digital scale to verify its true weight, we took a quick picture break to commemorate the beautiful catch. Even the captain came down to get his well-deserved picture with.
Smiles all around, good tunes playing, cold beers in hand, and our first round of “snacks” served – fresh homemade guacamole, salsa, and black bean dip with tortilla chips. The day could have ended here and I would have been beyond happy. But it was far from over!
“Do you want to go catch yellowfin tuna or stick around here for marlin?” The captain graciously offered up to us. “It’s about 7-mile run but has been really good tuna fishing if you want.”
For us, it wasn’t a hard decision and the group came to a quick consensus – “We’re going to stick it out here and keep searching for billfish if that’s ok?” I relayed back.
“Yes, that is great. We will find them.” – Geovanny said with a sincere smile and enthusiasm.
We got back to our program of trolling the grounds in search of what we came for, marlin. I’m not sure what we did exactly to earn our good luck or karma, but once again I spotted the captain hand teasing one of the lines up top. This time he had one of the 30# bait setups in hand and was playing a trailing marlin. After a minute, or felt like 20 to me, his calm and cool finesse prevailed as he set the reel to strike, bending the rod to confirm – we’re bit.
I stretched my hand up to take my handoff from the captain while the team again made quick work of clearing lines. I was tight on my first marlin and the adrenaline pumped as I got my first feel for the tenacious fight of this species. The 30# setup raised the fun factor even higher as I felt every jump, blistering run, and aggressive headshake.
This fish provided plenty of excitement right out of the gate with impressive runs and jumps. We backed down steadily and as we closed in, the real show began. I had quickly regained a good amount of line and with the fish now no more than 20-yards from the boat, it charged us, tail-walking on top of the water directly towards the stern. I did my part of staying tight and the captain did his by perfectly timing bumps forward which turned the charging fish. Again, an incredible show of jumps, headshakes, and shockingly athletic runs was displayed just 10 to 15 feet behind us.
With great coaching from the crew, we had the fish at the leader and wrestled with it 3-4 feet off the side of the boat. This first time at leader was after a relatively quick fight so the marlin came up pretty hot with plenty of energy left in the tank. With the hope of getting the prized alongside the boat pictures, Eduardo wisely opted to let go of the leader as the fish spun away for another long run. This time, going deep and stripping a lot of line.
The bell for round 2 was rung (figuratively of course) and this time it was my turn to get my ass kicked. Turns out, blue marlin can be pretty mean as the sweat started to pour. I applaud the SuperFly team for their ability to coach and read an angler’s wherewithal throughout a fight. I think I had earned a little of their confidence at this point and in an attempt to save me from battling forever, showed me a few tips on how to balance how to apply the heat on these billfish without popping the line or pulling the hook. Unfortunately, as we worked the leader by hand for the second time, we did snap the line, pre-photo shoot. Nonetheless, our first release was counted and the sensation of pure elation set in.
I know I’m going to sound like a cheesy informational salesman, “but wait – there’s more!”.
But wait. There is more. Obviously, the hype and folklore of Costa Rica’s was already validated and far exceeded any pre-trip expectations. But there was more fun in store for us. The crew served an incredible lunch that kept getting interrupted by those “pestering”, seemingly endless dorado. It was to the point that we would roshambo for who was going to put down their delicious lunch to tend to the line. Talk about spoiled right?
Sure enough, to keep the dream trip rolling we got a crack at our first Pacific sailfish of the day. Stacey was up and had earlier called out wanting to catch a sail. The beautiful fish did what they do best and danced around until we had it alongside the boat for its mugshot.
However, we received a surprise that it brought along a friend, another sail following just 5 feet off the corner of the boat. Without hesitation, we grabbed one of the pitch bait setups and with a well placed tossed, sail numero dos was hooked!
Juan ended up registering his first sailfish as well. We had back to back releases and the high we were on at that point was borderline euphoric.
The day was closing but not without one last surprise. Up in the tower, the captain and I simultaneously spotted a marlin racing towards our jigs. A couple of quick teases were all it took before the largest fish of the day crushed our left long bait. Like a freight train, the hooked fish steamed right towards the only other boat fishing in the area. At that moment, it looked as though our line would inevitably get cut off or at least tangled in the neighboring trolling spread.
Thanks to some handy maneuvering by the observant nearby captain, they turned hard left and saved us from disaster. Juan moved to the corner where the soon to come, hard-fought battle began. Even on the heavier setup, line ripped off the spool without the slightest notion of slowing. We backed down to gain ground on the prize billfish, very slowly but surely making progress little by little. Unlike my blue, this one refused to cooperate from the very beginning and had Juan up against the ropes. Nonetheless, he persevered and as Eduardo began to leader the fish, the hook popped out. A clean release but unfortunately again no boat side pictures of what the captain estimated to be over a 400-pound blue marlin.
Non-stop action on fantastic, even lifetime grade dorado. A few marlin raised and hooked, two of which were caught and released. Two for two on sailfish. Calling this an incredible day still feels like it short sells the experience. The reality is that this was truly a lifetime dream trip. When looking at the big picture and factoring in all the unbelievable elements, probably one that won’t be topped. At least anytime soon.
The crew restacked every line, reorganized every bait and jig, and meticulously prepped the deck on the return ride home. I hopped up in the tower to enjoy a great conversation with Captain Geovanny and soak in the stunning landscape backdrop views for the ride in. I can’t thank our SuperFly and the entire Maverick Sportfishing team enough. It’s tough to find the right words to truly show our level of gratitude for putting together such an unbelievable fishing experience.
One that not only taught me numerous billfishing lessons and tricks but really reiterates why I love fishing. Sharing experiences and memories with friends, family, and those share the passion within this sport.
- Extreme Attention to Detail – the major fishing lesson I took away from this trip was how important it is to focus on borderline extreme attention to detail. Nothing was overlooked and no corner cut. The SuperFly team was dialed in and focused on every single aspect of their program. The gear, the rigging, the surroundings – all equally important and if anything wasn’t perfect, then it was fixed or adjusted.
- Count your Blessings – It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day nuances and stresses of life. But for me, time on the water provides the perspective of lucky am I to have these experiences and a level of thankfulness that I have yet to find on land.
- Sharing Memories and Experiences – catching fish is undeniably fun and I would imagine the goal of most anglers. But I find more joy in sharing experiences and making memories on the water than total fish counts.