Que­pos Bounty


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First mate Marco Solano al­lowed the an­glers on Frenzy this op­por­tu­nity, a rar­ity for most char­ter op­er­a­tions. No one passed. I gripped the bill with both hands, breath run­ning short from hang­ing over the gun­wale. The feral strength of the 110-pound Pa­cific sail was pal­pa­ble.

Upon re­lease, the dark blue and gold on its flanks dis­ap­peared first, the sil­ver on its head the last thing vis­i­ble. Then it was over. And then it started all over again.

Yes, there is a high sea­son (Jan­uary through May) and a low sea­son (June through Oc­to­ber), but Que­pos, Costa Rica, of­fers great fish­ing for all the months you’re not carv­ing tur­keys or dec­o­rat­ing trees. Whether off­shore or in­shore, its waters are gen­er­ous. In some cases, it seems as if Que­pos only com­petes with it­self. Con­sider the Lu­cas Oil Off­shore World Cham­pi­onship, which set a record with 2,735 billfish re­leases in 2014, then re­set the bar with 2,840 re­leases a year later. Con­sider the all-tackle world record for Pa­cific black snook, caught along the Que­pos coast­line by Florida fish­ing guide Ward Michaels in 2014. The 60-pound mon­ster bested the 57-pounder caught two decades ear­lier in Que­pos’ Naranjo River.

“Que­pos was the be­gin­ning of sport fish­ing in Costa Rica,” says Dan Ja­cobs, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Lu­cas Oil Off­shore World Cham­pi­onship. Ja­cobs remembers his first trips to Que­pos in the early 1990s, when word was just get­ting out about an un­tapped fish­ery on the coun­try’s Pa­cific side. “There was no ma­rina. You’d walk down the fin­ger pier, climb down a rusty lad­der, hop on a skiff and head out to the sport-fisher.”

Fish­ing in Que­pos pre­dates the 1990s. The seeds were planted 5 mil­lion years ear­lier, when we all looked like Pa­cific black snook. The Co­cos and Rivera plates col­lided, cre­at­ing moun­tain­ous peaks and vol­ca­noes, and a dra­matic off­shore shelf. Forty miles off­shore, you’re in 4,500 feet of wa­ter. Fifty miles off­shore, it drops to 11,000. The up­wellings of cold, nu­tri­ent-rich wa­ter on the shelf at­tract bait­fish, which in turn at­tract all the game species whose sil­hou­ettes adorn the walls, win­dows and pub­lic spa­ces of Ma­rina Pez Vela.

A mixed-used de­vel­op­ment the size of a high­school foot­ball sta­dium, a ma­rina with 195 slips, and a 200-ton Ma­rine Trav­elift, Ma­rina Pez Vela is a Cen­tral Amer­i­can orig­i­nal. The DEEP GAME: An an­gler digs deep with the fly rod as his sail­fish sounds, above.

A RUN FOR IT: A sail­fish takes to the air as pres­sure builds be­hind the boat, op­po­site.

shops and restau­rants are pop­u­lated by grin­gos and Quepeños; high-end vil­las oc­cupy the sec­ond level. Tech­ni­color Adiron­dack chairs are scat­tered about. Fam­ily movie night takes place in the Astro­turfed pavil­ion, the show start­ing af­ter the green par­rots are done roost­ing in the palm trees that line the wa­ter­front. And un­like the very gated Los Sueños on Her­radura Bay, Ma­rina Pez Vela is open to the pub­lic. Mega-yachts and sport-fish­ers neigh­bor metal skiffs and run­abouts.

But vis­i­tors don’t come for the chairs or movies. They come for the same rea­son as Ken Cofer, who re­lo­cated his char­ter op­er­a­tion and 57-foot Spencer Tran­quilo from Nicaragua to Que­pos a few years back. Over three days, the Salt Wa­ter Sports­man team was in­tro­duced to Ma­rina Pez Vela, and Que­pos’ in­shore and off­shore ac­tion.

In­shore: The Rooster Crows

With the sun still ris­ing, Big Eye II, a 32-foot Black Watch, and Carib­sea, a 46-foot Guthrie, de­parted Ma­rina Pez Vela and headed south­east. The ride is head-turn­ing. Black-sand beaches nes­tle into pro­tected coves. Trees jut out di­ag­o­nally from steep cliffs, cre­at­ing a canopy over the wa­ter.

The tar­gets — cu­bera snap­per and roosterfish — pre­fer the coastal shal­lows. Carib­sea was prepped with live bait (moon­fish, to be spe­cific), 30-pound Shi­mano reels and match­ing Conn­ley cus­tom rods.

Big Eye II had the most suc­cess, haul­ing in roost­ers

in the 20-pound range. Their youth was ev­i­dent in their long dor­sal stream­ers, which shorten with age. Capt. Glen Mo­rales of Carib­sea ex­pertly nav­i­gated the rock out­crop­pings and the wa­ter swirling around them. He gen­tly edged up to the rocks, suc­tion and swell rock­ing the boat, the gun­wale an arm’s length from im­pact.

Off­shore: Flash Sails

Marco Solano dropped out of high school at age 14. His fa­ther, a char­ter cap­tain, was quite sur­prised. “My dad said, ‘What are you go­ing to do?’ I said, ‘Come work for you!’” At age 34, Solano has al­ready been mat­ing for two decades. As the first mate on Frenzy, he’s equal parts

an­gler and concierge.

The dredge on the port side con­sisted of a pink squid daisy chain and tuna flap­jacks; to star­board, a dredge of holo­graphic teasers sim­u­lated school­ing bait­fish. Chin-weighted bal­ly­hoo filled out the trolling spread.

The morn­ing bite was on. Sail­fish smashed bait left and right; a dou­ble left an­glers to duck and dive and clear line as they ma­neu­vered around the cock­pit. Art di­rec­tor Milena Garces found her­self hooked up to a 100-pound sail. She reeled down on a Shi­mano TLD two-speed as the fish danced 30 yards be­hind the tran­som. Once the sail was lead­ered to the boat, Garces put on gloves and held it proudly — one hand on the bill, one on the tall dor­sal.

In the early af­ter­noon, a school of dol­phin rolled in, and the fish box started to fill. A 30-pounder was cleaned and packed into bags, but a fat fil­let was re­served for Solano’s sig­na­ture recipe, which he got from his grand­mother: mahi in chile juice, a ceviche-style dish with mahi, chopped red onion, canned jalapeño juice, lime and salt.

Se­nior Ed­i­tor Alex Suescun gave the green­horns on Tran­quilo first crack at ev­ery hookup and waited pa­tiently for his chance to catch a sail on fly, which re­quired the cock­pit be ded­i­cated to this sin­gu­lar pur­pose.

Hook­less teasers were set out on the left outrig­ger; the port side cleared so the right-handed Suescun could cast. Two hook­less baits trailed on flat lines. When the sail rose to the sur­face, first mate Daniel Ar­ri­eta quickly dropped a hook­less bait in front of the fish to lead it within cast­ing range as sec­ond mate Gus­tavo Muñoz and Capt. Roger Muñoz pulled in the teasers.

Ar­ri­eta jerked the teaser bait from the wa­ter as Suescun dropped a 10-inch pink-and-white tube fly 3 feet ahead of the sail. It pounced, grey­hound­ing away from the boat. Suescun kept the pres­sure on as it sounded. Twenty min­utes later, the leader came to hand. Gus­tavo held the ex­hausted sail fast along­side, al­low­ing wa­ter to flow over its gills to re­vi­tal­ize it.

And then it was over. And then, just as quickly, it started all over again.

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