ED­I­TOR’S LET­TER

Marlin - - CONTENTS DEPARTMENTS - Sam White Ed­i­tor-in-Chief

One of the best parts about off­shore fish­ing is watch­ing through the eyes of a new­comer as they catch their first tuna, mahi or bill­fish. It never gets old.

We had the op­por­tu­nity to take the Marlin staff of edi­tors and pub­lish­ers to Panama’s Tropic Star Lodge in July for one of those truly mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ences. While many of us are ex­pe­ri­enced an­glers, this would be the first time off­shore for sev­eral oth­ers, who looked for­ward to the ad­ven­ture.

We flew into Panama City, then de­parted for Tropic Star early the fol­low­ing day, where we planned to spend a day and a half in our ed­i­to­rial plan­ning meet­ings and the next two days fish­ing. I ad­mit it was hard to con­cen­trate on work, as our meet­ing area in the lodge’s main din­ing room over­looked the serene nat­u­ral beauty of Piñas Bay and a fleet of re­stored 31-foot Ber­trams, bob­bing peace­fully on their moor­ings.

The next day, we had a full eight hours of meet­ings planned. At break­fast, the lodge’s fish­ing di­rec­tor, Ritchie White, an­nounced that the tuna had been bit­ing well in the af­ter­noons and that if we could wrap up a lit­tle early, he would have our three boats ready to go with bag lunches al­ready on board. Every­one turned to me at the same time with that look that says, Can we please go fish­ing? So we quickly plowed through our ma­te­rial and headed out a few min­utes af­ter noon. Af­ter all, a hot bite waits for no one.

Sure enough, sev­eral boats al­ready out fish­ing had lo­cated the tuna on por­poise schools about 12 miles from the bay, so we raced in their di­rec­tion. The tac­tic is to po­si­tion the boat ahead of the school, then cast large top­wa­ter pop­pers us­ing spin­ning reels loaded with braid. The strikes were in­cred­i­ble: pop-pop-pop- smash. We played tug of war with 30-pounders all after­noon, bounc­ing from school to school.

The next two days, we spent our time live-bait­ing on the Zane Grey Reef, run­ning and gun­ning for tuna and slow-trolling baits along the rips and trash lines, which pro­duced marlin, sail­fish and some nice do­rado. Our custom au­di­ence man­ager, Jackie Fry, had the fish of the trip — a 154-pound yel­lowfin she caught by her­self on a jumbo live bait in­tended for marlin. She fought the fish for over two hours, thanks in part to some ex­pert coach­ing by our new se­nior ed­i­tor, Capt. Jen Copeland. Fry’s tuna out­weighed her by at least 25 pounds, proof that us­ing good tech­nique is sig­nif­i­cantly more im­por­tant than brute strength in big-game fish­ing.

Copeland’s shot came on our boat the next day, when a blue marlin wolfed down a live bonito as we slow-trolled down a trash-loaded rip line. Af­ter a three-sec­ond drop­back, she eased up the drag lever on the Shi­mano Ti­a­gra 50W and came tight. At one point in the mid­dle of a driv­ing rain­squall, the line went un­der a huge float­ing tree limb — we all feared the worst, but man­aged to free the line and con­tinue the fight, even­tu­ally re­leas­ing a tough blue that we es­ti­mated at 300 pounds af­ter about an hour.

Back ashore, the lodge con­tin­ues to shine, just as it has done for decades. The food is out­stand­ing, the cap­tains and crews are well trained and the en­tire op­er­a­tion runs in­cred­i­bly smooth, in spite of its lo­ca­tion on the edge of the Darien jungle, com­pletely in­ac­ces­si­ble by road.

And while we heartily rec­om­mend Tropic Star as one of the world’s top fish­ing des­ti­na­tions, don’t try to get much work done while you’re there. Trust me on that one.

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