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Announcing the release of Sweet Gulf, the ultimate coffee table photography book!

Season 3 Episode 16

Season 4 Episode 20 (Season finale and best “Fish Story” of 2021)

Sea Legs, perseverance, two Back-to-Back Trophies, the most epic Cubera bite of all time and Cory’s equivalent Lottery ticket odds shot.

Chapter 1: Developing Sea Legs…   

One of the most attractive features of fishing inshore off the Osa Peninsula is that the water is “consistently” - remarkably calm, so much so that it is more like a large inland Lake rather than a region of the Southern Pacific Ocean.    

My PT trainer John Zombro once told me (while rehabbing my broken right leg and torn ACL ligament) that the only way to improve and truly develop your balance is to stress the body while constantly being “off balance.” The true test being the ability to keep your balance under extreme conditions with your eyes closed (forcing you to use your inner ear balance gyroscope like a gimbal and natural kinesthetic awareness to remain “on-balance” regardless of the unpredictable movement).   

 Fortunately for me, as a competitive diver and gymnast I was somehow born with a disproportionate amount of kinesthetic ability to always know precisely where my body is relative to the ground and particular axis that I’m currently navigating (simultaneously spinning and twisting to be able to always land on my feet similar to a Cat). 

On this extreme day, I noticed that the refined development of my “Sea Legs” over the past several years while fishing in the Pacific Ocean had reached a level of proficiency that I was actually able to close my eyes while the washing machine was in full agitation mode and maintain my balance on the bow of Cory boat.   

 For some reason that doesn’t make much sense, the fishing under these adverse weather conditions Sunday was really-really good. Over the course of the day, I landed two large African Pompano (one was a new PR), followed by 5 Yellowfin tuna (one taking a fly and two on a popper), two Yellow Snapper, one Cubera Snapper, a longfin Trevally and a couple of Jacks.         

 Chapter 2: Perseverance 

 The downside of being able to absorb these extreme sea conditions for a 64 year old is that the caloric expenditure over the course of 10 hours is extreme to say the least, as my Garmin GPS watch calculated that I essentially made over 30,000 steps for the day while covering the walking distance equivalent of 16.5 miles and burning close to 2,800 calories. In English… I was spent by 4:30.     

 As good as the day was where we were hooking fish all day, I had my heart set on landing a large Rooster fish at the end of the day along my favorite section of shallow water beachfront just off-shore of the Iguana Lodge. The problem was, I was physically and mentally toast from over 8 hours of agitation and spin cycle within the washing machine.   

 As we were arriving at the reef location that runs parallel to the beach, I made the executive decision to consume the only performance enhancing drug on board to inject an immediate booster shot of energy into my bloodstream. I chugged a local Costa Rican Imperial beer – which is exactly what the early riders of the tour de France used to do as they approached the finish line of a difficult race stage.   

 The Imperial “PED” did the trick and while it was difficult to mentally keep casting over and over, I finally made contact when about a 40 pound RoosterZilla emerged behind my popper and took a swipe. It was a Swing and a miss – followed by another swing and a miss and finally – an explosive take.    

 Turns out, there were actually two Roosterfish competing for my popper and about 20 seconds after I was securely hooked up, Cory’s live bait goggle eye training behind the boat was eaten by the second fish. Now we had two trophy Roosters on as we proceeded to “dance to the over -under around and through two step” trying to keep the lines connected to these two fish from crossing, getting tangled and breaking the fish off. After going over Cory’s line twice, under once, followed by around and through circling the boat three times for about 20 minutes, I was able to safely land my fish followed by Cory’s about 2 minutes later. As you can see in the photos, these two-trophy fish were twins in the high 30-pound class. We’ve now managed to have a total of 6 simultaneous Roosterfish battles along this section of beach over the past 3 seasons.     

 I was both exhausted and elated at the same time as I drove back to Osa Eden and proceeded to skip dinner after a shower to be in bed by 7:30. I’m more than aware that both my Dad, Katie (and several fishing buddies) have given me a hard time over the course of my life for wanting to make that “one more last cast” but in this particular case – I’m so glad the I persevered through the pain to do so and ultimately share this epic double hook up with Cory.   

 Chapter 3: Two Back-to-Back Trophies...   

 Wednesday presented the exact opposite water conditions from the previous Sunday with the ocean being extremely calm (actually dead-calm) with no wind and a gentle rolling swell.   After getting our live bait, which included Ballyhoo, Sardines, Goggle-eye, rose snapper, a few Blue runners and Bonita, we drove out to the middle section of the gulf to find some Yellowfin Tuna. The problem was, there were none home – no fish for the first two hours.   

 We then went out to fish near Matapolo rock (at the entrance to the Osa Gulf) and we were presented with the absolute perfect conditions to use a top-water Popper. By perfect, I mean flat-calm water with a ever-gentle surface breeze of maybe 1 to 2 knots that creates a consistent blanket-like riffle texture on the water’s surface.   

 As soon as I started casting, I had a “pack” of Roosterfish emerge behind my popper – slicing back and forth at high speed. A miss, followed by another miss and another as none of the 4 mid-teen sized Roosterfish tracking my lure wanted to commit. Then, out of nowhere there was an explosion on the surface as something really big massacred my popper. I yelled to Cory… “Holy shit!, I’m not sure what that was that just crushed my topwater but the head on that fish is really really wide.   

 In literally less than three seconds, the battle was at full throttle as I shifted into survival mode just trying to hold onto the rod. I could immediately feel the significant weight and power of the fish as it sprinted down - peeling off line as it raced towards the bottom at high speed. There was no way I was going to stop this freight train as it took off but I cranked the drag on the reel down as much as I could in a desperate attempt to turn the fish away from the reef located about 60 feet below.   

 Still unsure of the specific species of beast my line was attached to, it then proceeded to make a high-speed horizontal run south towards Panama. As the line began to disappear from my spool, at this point I thought it was a Roosterfish but it then did an immediate 180 and started swimming at me at such a rate that I could barely keep up reeling line to keep tension on the hooks. Somehow, as I quickly gained control (yeah right), the fish was still connected as it hunkered down under the boat for the third phase of the battle, a vertical tug of war. This went on for several minutes with the fish exhibiting massive head shakes and vertical sprints towards the bottom.   

 This is where an angler needs to intensely focus and concentrate on managing the fish with its most erratic behavior to survive by pulling the hook, breaking the line of getting wrapped around the reef below. As the fight went on, my confidence grew (yeah right again) and eventually the fish came to within about 20 feet of the surface. As I looked down from the bow of the boat into the deep blue water, I saw this massive orange head that was the telltale giveaway of the fish being a huge Cubera Snapper (probably close to 40 pounds and a new PR for me).   

 I was JACKED and the most anxious as Cory took some close up pictures of the fish as it circled the boat because I once had a previous fish in this size class three years ago and it managed to “self-release” right at the boat. Once Cory grabbed the fish and hoisted it into the back of the boat, I ran for my camera because this was potentially going to be a picture of a lifetime.   

 As I strained to hold the fish, Cory took some exceptional photos in the late morning light and one in particular turned out to be the best fish portrait shot I’ve ever had taken of me with a PR fish (usually I’m on the back end of the camera). As you can see below, the body angle of the fish is perfect, the light and brilliant color are ideal, the sky and water are centered and the giant mouth of the fish is wide open to capture the essence of what makes a Cubera Snapper special (the massive Dog-like canine choppers). Looking and comparing the incredible size of this Cubera’s head next to mine, with it’s “silver dollar sized” eye and huge fangs, you can appreciate the worthiness of this animal. What’s even better is that I was able to release the fish with what I always say is a sore lip, a little lactic acid build up and a lasting memory.     

 After this experience, I would have been more than satisfied going home for the day and closing out the season. BUT, the best was yet to come when about 6 casts later, I managed to have another great test – this time with a 40 pound class Roosterfish.   

 The cast was a long one, slightly downwind and after making about 15 “pops” with the topwater, I saw 3 Roosters (all in the 10 pound class) darting back and fourth behind my lure. As the popper came closer to the boat, I began to essentially “run out of real estate” and with none of the fish being willing to commit. I was getting ready to reel up the remaining line and quickly re-cast with another attempt when a monster came out of nowhere and crushed my popper.   

 This fish must have been attracted up from the depths as it watched the smaller fish on the surface compete for the popper. Obviously wanting to show “the juveniles” how to “get-er-done.” it came up like a Titan missile submarine launch with its’ mouth WIDE OPEN to completely engulf my popper.   

 I will forever have this vivid memory of the fish take because instead of coming up on the popper and chasing it from behind, it came up vertically and gave me a “first row seat view” of the fish - looking straight down into it’s wide open gullet as it ate.   

 This fish was evidently very ANGRY and it took off like a muscle car. I don’t remember and didn’t keep track of how long the fight was (maybe 20+ minutes) but I do remember my forearms beginning to cramp and how much my lower back was straining trying to keep the fish from spooling me on many of it’s screaming runs. This was a very challenging fish to land and pound for pound was one of the toughest roosterfish fights I’ve ever experienced (even when compared with fish that were over 10 pounds larger). Here are two really good photos of the fish (one with me and then with Cory). The largest dorsal comb of this Rooster is over two feet in length.       Once again, We could have had an incredibly rewarding day if went home but what happened next was even more impressive.   

 Cory wanted to fish another reef along the coast and after about an hour of working the area hard with no takes, we went back to Matapolo rock for another try to see what we might tie into.

Chapter 4: The most epic Cubera Bite   

 What happened over a span of about two hours is hard to explain but there must have been a unique convergence of “things/conditions” (perfect time of year, time of day with the light, ideal tide movement, ideal weather – no wind, ideal temperature, water clarity, gentle swell etc. etc. etc.) that somehow contributed to a once in a lifetime fishing run – all by one species, the mighty Cubera (my favorite fish).   

 Circling around the larger of two submerged rocks at the point of the Osa Peninsula, we used up virtually all the live bait we had remaining in the well and literally got bit on every “drop down” to the bottom at a depth of about 60 Feet. Having several rods rigged up with two oval weights and 60 pound test fluorocarbon leader we hooked at least 30 fish and ended up with about 10 to the boat. For Cubera Snapper, especially big ones this is actually a fairly good landing ratio because these fish are soooo powerful that stopping them from breaking the line off on the rock below is often impossible. All the fish were unique and intense in their coloration and body patterns (stripes) but all had the exact same “attitude” of being Badd-ass. Here are a few of what we landed. All of these are different fish – notice the diversity of brilliant colors and body patterns.                 

 As the famous detective lieutenant Columbo would say… “Just one more thing.” How do you know when you miss hooking a fish that it was a Cubera that took the live bait?  Well, that’s actually an easy question to answer because the “evidence” that comes back up to the boat is what you might say – incriminating. Here is what happens to a large live bait (in this example a 4 pound Mackeral), when a Cubera chomps the bait and somehow misses the hook. The canine teeth just shred the bait.     

 Chapter 5: Cory’s wasted lottery ticket shot.   

 After Cory and I traded multiple hook ups, break offs and landings, what happened next is impossible to believe with odds that even Mr. Spock couldn’t calculate.   

 Cory dropped his goggle-eye bait down with two egg shaped weights and he immediately gets a powerful take. He tried to stop the fish from diving into the rocks below but he couldn’t and the fish broke him off at the bottom of the braided line section.   I decided to do one more drop, hooked and landed another worthy opponent and just when I thought we were done for the day – Cory Says… “Just one more drop.”  I say… “OK – one more because you have to catch that last fish that just broke you off.” Cory says… “yeah right!”     

Here is where the odds to calculate what happened next are impossible to determine.   Cory circles the boat around to be a little closer to the top of the submerged rock.  He then feels something, pulls up on his line and initially thinks that he is caught on the rock.  Then, he says…”No, there’s a fish on but it feels different.” I say… “a Rooster???” he replies – not sure.   He fights the fish for maybe 10 minutes and it eventually comes up. What did he hook? He actually snagged the line connected to one of the two weights from the fish that just broke him off and was able to miraculously land the fish. We looked at each other – both somewhat stunned with what just transpired.   

First: How did Cory manage to reposition the boat anywhere near the fish that broke him off? Second: How did his live bait manage to swim near the weights trailing below and behind the fish he broke off 15 minutes ago? Third: How did his live bait and hook manage to “snag” the tiny loop section of the line below the trailing weights? And Fourth: How did his hook stay connected to the loop in the line that was broken off from the previous fish?   

If you actually tried to make this up, no one would believe you but as always, I compile the evidence (aka pictures). As we concluded the epic day, I had to mention to Cory that with the odds of what just happened, he just wasted his one lifetime Lottery ticket shot. 😊   

 Cory’s line section that he managed to “Snag.”     Cory’s Lottery ticket fish.     Hope you enjoyed the write ups from Season 4. We are now gearing up here in Montana for the late spring – early summer trout season. More to follow and Plan your trips.   T.O.

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