The stars of tropical sportfishing like the Marlin, Sailfish,
Tarpon and Snook tend to dominate the interest of fly-fishing
enthusiasts seeking the supposed ultimate in angling adventure,
and that might well be the case. It fits in well with the bustle
of modern life and its corporate drive to dominate, the
manipulating of fast powerful cars and entertaining expensive
pastimes. This enjoyment is fast and furious, rife with
innumerable stress factors and beneficial but to the few.
However, here there are other very good and lesser known
fly-fishing activities that are quite lost to many of our
visitors. When all the lips are suitably chapped, sun burnt
arms or legs lobster red and muscles aching and bruised,
these tired battered anglers can certainly gain benefit
from this strenuous malfunction of the "big fish"
fly-fishing concept by seeking some physical and mental
recovery in compliance with the true essence of fly-fishing
and spend a day on one of our very beautiful cool cloud-forest
trout streams. The change from mega to mini fishing is
sometimes hard for many of these macho anglers to accept,
but once they have made the appropriate mental adjustments,
the enjoyment is of real value and certainly not as physically
demanding. They can then relax and be compatible with Nature
in its more passive tranquil state.
Some sixty years ago our high altitude mountain streams and
rivers on the southern border with Panama were stocked with
rainbow trout, not by any official program designed to
actually introduce a new fish species for aqua-cultural
purposes, but by some able U.S. fly-fishing enthusiasts
in the armed forces stationed in Panama. These officers
desired some sportfishing activity for their military
recreation area situated in northern Chiriqui with its
high elevation and cold water rivers. This alpine region
was ideal for their R & R program to escape the depressing
heat, humidity and insects of the lower tropical climate
in the Canal Zone. The direct flight connection of the USAF
in Panama to California and Washington State made it possible
to bring the fresh eggs or alevin for introduction to these
high mountain streams where they adapted and grew rapidly
into a very healthy and self-sustaining population.
Eventually, these trout soon entered the tributary system
of the Rio Cotón that flows into Costa Rica and supplied
the depressed local population with some fish, something
that was sadly deficient in their protein diet.
The success of this 'accidental' introduction of trout into
Costa Rica encouraged the agricultural department to continue
with a more detailed program and trout were regularly stocked
from U.S., Canadian and Mexican strains in the rivers of the
Cordillera Talamanca during the following decades, without
any particular record made as to what particular strain of
trout was being imported. "Trout is trout" they thought and
we have scant information as to which river or stream received
a particular strain. We do know that the Donaldson strain of
the Kamloops rainbows as well as the McCloud Shasta rainbows
were imported and today, some hybrids of these are thriving
and are known as "Tico trout" that defy classification. But
then again, some of the trout have remained true to their
strain in select rivers and have become wild enough to
demonstrate their ancestral cunning and feistiness. These
are my favorite trout rivers.
The Rio Savegre, Rio Chirripo, Rio Toro and Rio Copey are
the rivers most frequented by trout anglers interested enough
to enjoy this singular sport in the cold misty climate of the
cloud forest. Most local anglers prefer the beach and target
tropical sportfish that more suit their culinary appetites.
One rarely encounters another angler on the trout stream
and if so, they are usually spin or bait fishermen.
Using #2 or #3 fly rods with floating lines and 7X tippets
will outfit the fly-fisher on these small streams and
mountain rivers. No need to wade deep and it is usually
a safe and comfortable hike to many of the productive
pools. Here we do not have poisonous snakes or vicious
wasps to occupy the interest of the angler, just the
challenge of personal casting skill and the ability to
employ stealth to the fishing strategy. Clear water and
the skittish character of these wild trout makes catching
them a real sporting objective.
An angler used to fishing the northern mountain trout
streams of North America will find this an easy challenge,
though I have had many accomplished anglers remain frustrated
with their ability after a day on these rivers. These trout
are survivors and are constantly aware of predators threatening
their accustomed tranquility.
A two hour drive from San José, heading South along the
Pan American highway over the Cerro de La Muerte will get
to the Rio Savegre, a trout stream set in a very picturesque
valley, with tall tropical oaks and other alpine trees
having branches covered with trailing moss and ideal
habitat for many exotic bromeliads, orchids and ferns.
Apart from being a botanical paradise, it is also rich
in bird life and a favorite place to see the magnificent
Quetzal or be surrounded by a myriad of colorful hummingbirds.
The cold spring fed river has many boulders that create
deep pools with crystal clear water, ideally suited for
dry fly fishing.
There is a good trail along the river that leads to various
productive pools and this offers about four miles of ideal
Trout will average about ten inches with some getting to
about eighteen inches in the lower reaches of the river
where there are longer deep pools below small waterfalls.
A stealthy angler can hook an average of about thirty fish
in a day using both dry and wet flies. Not being particularly
selective in what they take, it is still a constant challenge
to know what is their preference and the fly presentation
is of prime importance.
Most of the popular fly patterns of North America will work
here and flies tied on #16 or #18 hooks are a better choice.
Weighted nymphs, beetle, ant and small streamer patterns
work better in the afternoon or immediately after some
rain showers when to water can become discolored and more
terrestrial insects are washed into the stream, triggering
a feeding frenzy.
Comfortable accommodation in small lodges and cabins are
available in the village of San Gerardo and local guides
are willing to accompany anglers to the best fishing
locations even though most of the fishing on the Rio
Savegre is possible on a singular basis that affords a
more intimate relationship with the pastoral scene.
There are other rivers that offer very good trout fishing
and some are located closer to the Central Valley in the
Cordillera Central. These rivers are influenced by the
weather of the Caribbean zone and are subject to torrential
rain and sudden flood that can make the water quality very
uncertain. In the dry season the Rio Orosi and Rio Toro
Amarillo are capable of producing good large trout with
my biggest catch there being 9 lbs. taken on a large size 4
Stonefly nymph. The terrain is very wild with dense growth
and fishing there usually demands more athletic skill and
accurate roll casting ability.
With the success resulting from the trout stocking program,
a number of trout hatchery enterprises have been established
and some even undertaken projects to maintain rivers or ponds
near their hatcheries to offer trout fishing to the general
public. These are very good places to get younger anglers
accustomed to the concept of light tackle fishing and have
the possibility of catching many really large fish. Here
Catch and Release is not enforced and it can be an expensive
undertaking when the weight of the fish kept are tallied
and paid for.
So there is a wider dimension to sportfishing in the tropics
and in Costa Rica we can now claim to have a complete
fly-fishing package and welcome other anglers to share
in our enjoyment. . ."Pura Vida!"
~ Peter Gorinsky