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.