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Costa Rica Roosterfish Run Rampant

Sportfishing group strikes a deal with commercial fishers for the Golfo Dulce's sake. Writer Joe Richard took a look at a perennial favorite fishery, Costa Rica's Golfo Dulce, and its off-the-charts roosterfishing in the Tropical Roundup.

Anglers and roosterfish in the Golfo Dulce, Costa Rica.

Roosterfish and cubera snapper are making a fast comeback in the Golfo Dulce, Costa Rica, where several fishing camps met with commercial fishermen and a buyout agreement was made. The end result was that five big, local shrimp boats have departed for other waters. And local gillnet fishermen have gone elsewhere. The 15- by 20-mile Gulf is now a “responsible fishing habitat” protected by law. Only artisinal hand-line fishermen and the local fishing lodges, that practice catch-and-release, can fish the bay.

“We met with the guys from Crocodile Bay, talked about conservation, and thanks to an endowment from a wealthy American, came up with this agreement between the sportfishing fleet and local commercial fishermen,” says Gregg Mufson, who runs Zancudo Lodge on the south side of the Gulf. “Our organization is called Federation Costarricense de Pesca Turistica (FECOPT).”

Schools of juvenile roosterfish in the 5- to 6-pound class can now be seen strafing more plentiful baitfish and shrimp. Bigger roosters have returned as well, and the guys have caught triple headers. The favorite technique is plugging with Yo-Zuri surface poppers near rocky outcroppings along the beach, and getting blasted by sizeable roosterfish and cubera snapper. An occasional snapper under 15 pounds is kept for dinner, unless the boats offshore bring in a big mahi that afternoon. The biggest snappers top out at 60 pounds. Try stopping one of those babies with a 20-pound plug outfit!

The biggest roosterfish they've landed, up to 80 pounds, are generally caught with live blue runners and sardines. There's no need to fish too deep, as even the cuberas feed near the surface. Anglers are also catching big roosters from the surf in the mornings, by wading. Kayaks are available too, though few anglers have tried them yet.

With a dozen 28-foot center consoles and two 36-foot offshore boats, and historically calm conditions in that part of the Pacific, it's easy to get offshore, especially during the dry conditions each spring. Daily approach at Zancudo Lodge is for the boats to radio when they've found the color change, which varies from 5 to 20 miles out.

Says Greg: “We troll dead baits and lures without hooks, and when sailfish close in and start slapping with their bills, we reel in and quickly feed out a live bait in front of them…bam! The same technique works for marlin. This year we've averaged 7 sailfish per boat and on some days, the best boat catches 20. It's been wide open and we're very pleased.” FS

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