‘BIG FUN’

A HOT BITE ON A SEAMOUNT OFF COSTA RICA IS ONE TO SA­VOR STORY BY WIL­LIAM SIS­SON PHO­TOS BY AUSTIN COIT

Anglers Journal - - CONTENTS - By WIL­LIAM SIS­SON

The bite for three hours was as hot as it gets for three an­glers fishing a seamount 75 miles off Costa Rica.

IIt lasted only a few hours, but they were three of the cra­zi­est hours of fishing I’ve ever ex­pe­ri­enced. When it was over, we’d raised 25 blue mar­lin, had 15 bites and brought nine fish to the boat rang­ing from 150 to nearly 400 pounds. We’d had a cou­ple of dou­ble-head­ers with two other fish on the teasers at the same time. And for a few ex­cit­ing mo­ments, we were hooked up to three blues — and we never fished more than three baits or lures at one time. At one point, we watched dumb­founded as a “school” of 20 or more blue mar­lin crashed the sur­face like yel­lowfin, blow­ing up on small tuna about a quar­ter mile off the port quar­ter. “Now I’ve seen it all,” said Will Drost, our host and owner of the 42-foot Mav­er­ick sport­fish­er­man Sea Fly. “Mar­lin bust­ing on the sur­face like yel­lowfin? I’ve never seen that. That’s rare.”

We were work­ing a seamount about 75 miles from Los Sueños Re­sort & Ma­rina, which is si­t­u­ated on Her­radura Bay along the cen­tral Pa­cific coast of Costa Rica. I was fishing with John Brown­lee, a friend and the host of An­glers Jour­nal TV, who was film­ing a seg­ment to air on the Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel this fall.

The fish came in hot and fast on the teasers and live bri­dled-rigged yel­lowfin and bonito. We had pow­er­ful teaser bites, and we caught fish on lures, live baits and pitch baits us­ing Alutec­nos 50s with 80-pound mono and stand-up rods. The bite started less than a minute af­ter the spread was set. “It was like 45 sec­onds,” Brown­lee re­mem­bers. “I wasn’t ready. I was still drink­ing my cof­fee, and that thing ate. It was like, right now.”

The cof­fee spilled, the reel back­lashed, and the chaotic fun be­gan. Three won­der­ful, crazy hours. “I have been blessed to see some re­ally hot bites off Los Sueños,” said Drost, who, with part­ners, runs a sport­fish­ing char­ter busi­ness out of Los Sueños, “but those were the hottest three hours I have ever wit­nessed.”

Fish Dreams

By 11:30 a.m., the ac­tion had slowed. We took a breath, watched the spread and had a cold drink.

“Ouch,” Drost said, winc­ing. Mate José Fran­cisco Brenes, who goes by “Pon­cho,” had snuck up and pinched Drost’s arm hard enough to leave a blood blis­ter. Drost stands 6-foot-3 and is solidly built; Pon­cho is a good foot shorter.

“Why’d you do that?” Drost asked, a mix of sur­prise and an­noy­ance in his voice.

Pon­cho’s face lit up. “So you’d know this wasn’t a dream.”

The morn­ing had an oth­er­worldly qual­ity about it. The fre­netic bite, the zing­ing ac­ro­bat­ics, the quick, chill crew, the lovely mix of sun and clouds and a light breeze. “What a day. That was pretty epic, boys,” Brown­lee said with­out a hint of hy­per­bole. “It doesn’t get any bet­ter.” “That’s big fun,” Drost said. “That was a hot bite.”

As great as it was, we all won­dered what it would have been like had we been on scene at, say, 5:30 in the morn­ing rather than 8:30. Or if we could have fished all day. “If we were there from dawn to dark, we could have got­ten 20,” Brown­lee said. And if we weren’t film­ing a TV show, we would have bent more rods, too.

It says some­thing about Homo sapi­ens that no mat­ter how good the fishing might be, we al­ways want more. Those few hours gave me a clear picture of why some­one might choose to spend his life chas­ing these re­mark­able pelagic wan­der­ers. Pho­tos don’t do jus­tice to the speed, power or crazy aerial show the mar­lin put on as they leaped, crashed, twisted and grey­hounded across the sur­face. It was a vis­ual feast.

I re­mem­ber one fish that boiled be­hind Drost’s pitch bait, leav­ing a crater large enough to swal­low a Jeep. And I was fast to a streak­ing mar­lin when Brown­lee’s deep voice boomed be­hind me. “It ain’t like catch­ing tommy cod, is it?” he said, chan­nel­ing the griz­zled shark fish­er­man Quint from the movie Jaws.

I grew up in New Eng­land, fishing for stripers, blue­fish, cod and their co­horts. I never spent much time think­ing about mar­lin. But that night when I closed my eyes, I saw those men in the blue suits rush­ing the teasers as I drifted on cur­rents of sleep. The next morn­ing, Drost said he’d dreamed of mar­lin, too. At some point dur­ing the night, his smart­watch buzzed with a mes­sage, and he jumped up, think­ing there was a fish on the right teaser.

Fishing Came First

Will Drost is the prod­uct of a Gulf Coast fishing up­bring­ing. “I’m a true Louisiana guy,” says Drost, who is 48 and lives in Lake Charles. “I grew up fishing on the Gulf Coast. It set the seed in me, a fishing ad­dic­tion. I love trout fishing. And I’m a hunter of just about ev­ery­thing, par­tic­u­larly birds. I fish trout in win­ter and bill­fish in the sum­mer. I like to fish, and I like to kill stuff in be­tween.”

Drost is a lik­able guy: smart, well-spo­ken and pas­sion­ate about fam­ily, fishing and the fishing busi­ness. You can hear south­west Louisiana in his voice, and he does a mean goose call when the fishing slows.

He and his wife, Ann, grad­u­ated from Louisiana State Univer­sity, where they met as fresh­men. Their daugh­ter, who loves to fish, got mar­ried ear­lier this year at the Los Sueños re­sort. Their son loves to hunt.

Los Sueños had long been on Drost’s bucket list when he first vis­ited, in 2001, on a pri­vate boat out of Louisiana. “When I got here, I didn’t want to leave,” says Drost, who man­ages the fam­ily’s ex­ten­sive land hold­ings in Cal­casieu Par­ish, Louisiana, which in­cludes tim­ber, farm­ing, cat­tle, nat­u­ral gas and more. “I fell in love with the coun­try and the peo­ple. Then I fell in love with Los Sueños. It’s the best fishing in the world.”

In ad­di­tion to his busi­ness in­ter­ests in Louisiana, Drost is a part­ner in the Mav­er­ick sport­fish­ing char­ter busi­ness out of Los Sueños, with its fleet of seven Mav­er­ick hulls known as the “fly” boats (Span­ish Fly, Sea

Fly and so on). “I wanted to put to­gether a world-class char­ter busi­ness that caters to peo­ple like me,” he says. “I wanted the best boats,

the best cap­tains and the best mates. A pri­vate boat ex­pe­ri­ence in a char­ter boat.” (Since my visit in July, Mav­er­ick Costa Rica added five boats through the ac­qui­si­tion of a long­time char­ter op­er­a­tor.)

With part­ners, Drost and his wife also op­er­ate the new Mav­er­ick Sport­fish­ing Cen­ter, a high-end greet­ing area and retail shop at the ma­rina. Drost is also in­volved in the Mav­er­ick boat­build­ing op­er­a­tion, which is owned by Larry Drivon and vet­eran Capt. Daniel Espinoza. The shop builds a line of hand­some, Er­win Ger­ards-de­signed, cold-molded sport­fish­ing and sport yachts from 32 to 55 feet. The shop was chock-full with six new builds when I vis­ited this past sum­mer, in­clud­ing Drost’s new 50, which should launch in De­cem­ber.

“The most im­por­tant thing about this area is the amount of fish and the num­ber of calm days,” Drost says. “In six years, we’ve only had to can­cel one trip. It’s a se­ri­ous an­gler’s heaven.”

Drost also speaks of the con­ser­va­tion ethic that’s preva­lent in Costa Rica. “The coun­try pro­tects its fish, and we pro­tect our fish,” he says. “We prac­tice safe catch and re­lease.”

Drost, who grew up catch­ing sea trout and red­fish, was ad­mit­tedly slow to warm up to mar­lin. “My fa­ther al­ways wanted to bill­fish,” he re­calls. “I pre­ferred to be trout fishing. To me, bill­fish­ing was a lot of time at sea for 10 min­utes of ac­tion. Be­cause I wanted to be with my dad, I went with him.”

An epiphany of sorts oc­curred off Louisiana two decades ago. “I was 40 miles off Venice when a 600-pound fish hit the flat line,” Drost says. “It was a life-chang­ing moment. That was the end of my trout ad­dic­tion.”

Pitch­ing baits to blue mar­lin is what re­ally gets Drost’s mo­tor hum­ming. “I like the bite,” he says. “I like the bait and switch. There’s noth­ing like it. I think that goes back to my trout days. It’s all about the bite.”

He guided hunt­ing and fishing trips in high school and col­lege, and for a time had his heart set on mak­ing that his ca­reer. “My first dream was to be a guide,” Drost says.

About 25 years ago, his grand­fa­ther asked him to join the fam­ily busi­ness. Drost was torn. “It was tough,” he re­calls. “I quit three times, but I ended up fight­ing through it. Lot of prayer, but I fought through it.”

In hind­sight, he says it was the right de­ci­sion. “If I’d stayed trout and red fishing in Louisiana, I wouldn’t be here now,” he says, stand­ing out­side his Los Sueños con­do­minium. The vista is mes­mer­iz­ing: rain­for­est greens, para­keets and macaws, the blue Pa­cific rolling to the far hori­zon.

Seamounts

We found our fish on the last day of a three-day trip about 75 miles out. They were con­gre­gated on a seamount, one of a se­ries of sub­merged moun­tains off the coast. We had ini­tially planned to fish the un­der­sea ridges 120 miles off­shore,

but we’d ar­rived in Costa Rica fol­low­ing a storm, and reach­ing the mounts meant a long, tough slog in big, con­fused seas. In­stead, we fished in­shore for two days, and what had been a hot bite cooled some. On our last morn­ing, we left at false dawn, headed for a sub­ma­rine vol­canic range.

“The seamounts are amaz­ing,” Drost says. “It’s gor­geous bot­tom struc­ture, just these huge moun­tains 60 to more than 200 miles off­shore.”

The peaks climb to within 600 feet of the sur­face from bot­tom depths rang­ing from roughly 3,500 to 10,000 feet. The steep, rugged to­pog­ra­phy cre­ates strong cur­rents. En­ter­pris­ing fish­er­men an­chor man-made fish-ag­gre­gat­ing de­vices (FADS) on strate­gic spots along the wa­tery ridge, at­tract­ing scads of small yel­lowfin, bonito and dol­phin, which in turn sum­mon large numbers of mar­lin. “It’s a se­ri­ous food chain,” Drost says. “I’ve never seen more yel­lowfin than on the sea mounts.” Catch­ing plenty of live bait is no prob­lem.

“The key to the whole thing is the amount of biomass sit­ting over those FADS,” Brown­lee says. “It’s as­tound­ing. There are acres of lit­tle tuna.”

The Costa Rica blue mar­lin fish­ery on the seamounts has been siz­zling for sev­eral years. We got just a taste of it.

In­tan­gi­bles

Drost runs a but­toned-up fishing op­er­a­tion. The vibe on the boat was great. The cap­tain and mates, Pon­cho and Steven Fal­las, were smart, fast and friendly. The food on board was par ex­cel­lence. On our last morn­ing, Capt. Car­los Espinoza’s wife sent a great plat­ter of bur­ri­tos for break­fast and chicken and rice for lunch. “My busi­ness

model is to cre­ate a world-class busi­ness,” Drost says. “The profit comes later, not first.”

There are days when you just know things are go­ing to turn out well. It was 6:30 a.m., and we were mak­ing the 3½-hour run off­shore on our last day. Most ev­ery­body was try­ing to catch a lit­tle sleep. I was read­ing a book of po­ems in the saloon.

“You like po­etry?” asked Pon­cho, 29.

“I do,” I said.

“Do you know Neruda?” he asked, re­fer­ring to the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.

“Yes.”

With that, Pon­cho re­cited a poem by one of the great­est po­ets of the 20th cen­tury. I re­sponded by read­ing Ted Kooser’s “At the Bait Stand”:

Part barn, part box­car, part of a chicken shed, part leak­ing wa­ter, some­thing partly dead, part pop ma­chine, part gas pump, part of a chair leaned back against the wall, and sleep­ing there, part-owner Her­man Run­ner, mostly fat, hip-waders, un­der­shirt, tat­toos and hat.

We nod­ded and smiled. To port, dark anvil clouds re­leased their cargo of rain, pat­ter­ing the boat and the warm Pa­cific. There was a hint of the sur­real in the air. A sure sign. Ted Kooser’s “At the Bait Stand” is reprinted with per­mis­sion of Cop­per Canyon Press.

The bite on the seamounts off Costa Rica can be as hot as any­where in the world.

Home­ward bound aboad the 42-foot Mav­er­ick sport­fish­er­man Sea Fly.

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