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
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
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
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
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
Chapter 4: The most epic
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
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
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