Fly Fishing for Sailfish & Marlin in Costa Rica
By Chris Atkins | Owner & Angler, Central America Fishing
Costa Rica started to gain fame as a saltwater fly fishing destination back in the 80’s and 90’s thanks to it’s incredible billfishery. Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast offers predictable weather, calm sea conditions, and a dense population of sailfish and marlin that few other countries can come close to matching. Catching your first sailfish on the fly may seem like an impossible task, but in Costa Rica’s peak billfish season it is common to see double digit sailfish so most days will give you plenty of chances. If you are dreaming of the ultimate catch, a marlin on the fly, the 2-3 night overnight trips out to the offshore seamounts routinely see boats come back with 20-30 marlin bites so there is no better place on Earth to attempt it.
The Bait & Switch
Nearly every boat that fly fishes for billfish will use the popular ‘bait and switch’ method. Most captains will drag one or two squid teasers on one side of the boat and then keep your casting side completely clear of lines and raise the outrigger. While captains get all the credit and glory, the most important teammate you’ll have on this adventure is actually the mate. Once a sailfish or marlin is spotted behind the teasers, the mate will try to tease them as close to the boat as possible by keeping the teasers just out of reach of their thrashing bill. This not only makes your cast shorter, it gets the fish agitated and frustrated so once it sees your fly it goes after it with extra vigor.
Once the mate finally takes away the teaser for good the angler needs to be ready to unleash a short, but accurate, cast before the frustrated fish loses all interest and swims away. The ideal placement would be to the side and just behind the fish, not directly in front of it, so that it has to turn and eat your fly as it swims away which will make setting the hook easier. Watch which way it takes off, then give a couple hard pulls in the opposite direction and then enjoy the show as the fish starts it’s aerial display.
In Costa Rica, the recommended tackle for sailfish is a 12-14 wt rod as the Pacific sailfish tend to be in the 90-120 lb range. If you are specifically targeting marlin, you’ll want a bigger set up with 14-16 wt rod. Fly fishing rods for billfish are more about the fighting ability and backbone rather than long casts, more often than not you aren’t casting more than 20-30 feet off the transom. You of course will need a large arbor saltwater reel that can hold several hundred yards of 50 lb backing. You may be surprised how much fight a 100 lb sailfish has in it, so a reel with a quality drag to help tire the fish and bring it to the boat quickly is beneficial to both fish and angler alike.
A common leader for sailfish consists of a 10 ft of 80 lb butt section, a class tippet of 16 lbs – 20 lbs, and a shock tippet of 80 lbs. For marlin you can bump the shock tippet up to 100 lbs. In Costa Rica most billfish flies will be a foam popper with feathers, with pink being by far the color of choice.
When to Visit:
Costa Rica fly fishing truly enjoys great billfishing year round, but if you want to maximize your chances at catching one on the fly you should visit when numbers are best. Costa Rica’s summer, or dry season, runs from December through April and this also happens to coincide with the peak billfish season. During these five months you are all but guaranteed perfect 85-90 degree weather, calm seas, and with just a bit of luck a whole bunch of hungry billfish.
Central America FishingToll Free: 1-855-414-FISH ext 13