Our Man In Canada
April 15th, 2002

Snowbird Destinations - Tico Trout

Rio Sevegre

By Rory E. Glennie

I ventured Southwest from San Jose, Coasta Rica, for about an hour-and-a-half along the badly potholed Inter-American highway, high into the Sierra de la Muerte - the "Mountains of Death." Adjoining the border with Panama, these promontories are named by the locals for the long history of mysterious deaths and disappearances of people venturing into the jungles there. Here, amongst the specters of lost souls in the mist forest at twelve thousand feet above sea level, but only nine degrees north of the equator; there are some great little trout streams.

Diaspora

In the twilight of the Empire, homesick British fly fishers took brown trout and roses with them around the globe, from Australia to Africa, where, in some cases, the trout thrived and developed into world class fisheries. That Canadians exported native trout is less well-known, but it happened. Back in the thirties, Donaldson strain of Kamloops rainbows were shipped out for stocking in a variety of places. One of these was Costa Rica. Some years later they were augmented with a batch of McLeod River strain shasta rainbows from America. Today, there are naturalised Donaldsons, MacLeods, and hybrids of the two thriving in Costa Rica. "Tico trout," an affectionate nickname Costa Ricans call themselves, would not be an inappropriate name for these expatriates, especially the hybrids.

A Lot Like Home

Trout are not what one would normally associate with going fly-fishing in the tropics, but they thrive in some of the high elevation rain-forest streams of southern Costa Rica. One of these, the Rio Sevegre, drains the Mountains of Death westward, eventually dumping into the Pacific Ocean sixty or so miles away. This stream is steeply graded, bouldery, and spring-fed (reminiscent of Roderick Haig-Brown's favorite summer steelhead stream, the Heber River on Vancouver Island) in October before any fall rains freshen the flow. At this elevation, the Rio Sevegre is a seemingly endless, stair-step series of miniature cascades and waterfalls tumbling into tiny pools. As it is spring fed, the water temperature remains fairly constant, hovering somewhere between 15 adn 20 degrees Celsius year-round. Since it is slightly on the alkaline side, the water grows bugs and the trout that feed on them well.

Shasta Rainbow
The trout I managed to hook on that trip averaged about eleven inches long, with the smallest about six inches and the largest measuring in at a respectable eighteen inches. Even the small fish were strong fighters for their size, and the largest one fought very well indeed. That great fish eventually came to hand dangling a ten-inch length of monofiliment from its mouth. Closer inspection showed a fly fastened well down in the throat area. Apparently, this trout had broken off someone in the past and lived to fight another day. I snipped the mono and gently returned the fish to the stream trailing a shortened tippet.

Kamloops Trout
Almost all the fish were healthy, good looking, colorful specimens of Shasta rainbows - tiny heads with ruby-tinted gill plates, plump bodies sporting a few black spots (mostly above the lateral stripe overlaying a buttery yellow skin. The Canadian Donaldson were more elusive. But there was one fish, more silvery than the others, which I swear winked at me - finally, I had encountered a fellow expatriate from Kamloops.

While I encountered only the one Kamloops trout on that stream, I did meet up with others before I actually began fishing. A teaser to my expectations, these were prime specimens averaging seven pounds, held in a spring-fed pond. They were gorgeous, perfectly formed, and silver-sided. But they were off-limits, as they were kept as brood fish for the stocking program.

Current issue

Since fishing on the Rio Sevegre is regulated as a catch-and-kill trout fishery, the stream-bred fish are harvested regularly and need some assistance in replacement. Operated in conjunction with the restocking hatchery is an enterprise where, for a fee based on the per pound weight of the fish kept, a person can fish an adjoining well-stocked spring fed pond. Folks can hoist out twelve to twenty inch trout until their arms ache, or their bank account gives out. The pond fisher's bounty is quickly killed, weighed, cleaned and bagged by the hatchery operator immediate after it is caught.

This takes a lot of pressure off the stream dwelling trout, and encourages catch and release trout fishing for fun. The money taken in from the pay-to-play fishpond subsidizes the cost of raising trout for stream stocking. ~ Rory E. Glennie

Continued next time!

We thank the Canadian Fly Fisher for re-print permission!

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