Costa Rica is known for many things: flavorful coffee, a remarkably relaxing pura vida lifestyle, and tropical rainforests. For most, fishing isn’t high on the list of reasons to visit this Central American country—but those in the know can attest that it should be. Why? When it comes to Costa Rican sportfishing, it’s all about variety. Year-round fishing, more than ten species to catch, a rich history of competition, and two completely different coasts make Costa Rica a sportfishing hotspot that you’ll need to visit more than once to truly appreciate.
There’s an important distinction between regular fishing and sportfishing. Regular fisherman typically keep and eat or sell their catch. Sportfishing is done at a higher, sometimes professional level, and is mostly catch-and-release. And certain fish—marlin, swordfish, roosterfish among them—are only meant to be caught for sport and released. Costa Rica is a fishing pro’s paradise for its large variety of fish species to be caught 365 days a year throughout the country. As the country’s legislation is trending towards prohibiting industrial-scale fishing, now is as good a time as ever to get your catch-and-release on in Costa Rica.
It’s Always Fishing Season in Costa RicaWhen planning a fishing vacation, it’s important to study up on your destination’s seasons and to know exactly what you can expect to catch at the time you’re traveling. Costa Rica has two distinct seasons: the dry season and the green (or wet) season. Dry season runs from December to April, and will be your best bet for catching most species. It’s also the high season for Costa Rica vacations. While dry season will get more hype, there’s a lot to love about wet season. The summer months can be the best time to catch billfish; schools of tuna will be easier to spot after a heavy rain; wahoo season heats up when the water cools down around May; and the jungle becomes lush and green as everything begins to bloom again.
But truly, the best time to fish in Costa Rica depends on what you’re looking for. Costa Rica’s vast geography offers up so many different microclimates and currents that affect the fishing season that you can practice different types of sport fishing and catch plenty of totally different species. For example, snapper and roosterfish are catchable all year, while other species like marlin, sailfish, and wahoo virtually disappear during the fall months. In the North Pacific region, marlin can’t be found in January and February, while in the Central and South Pacific, they’re abundant at that same time.
Bottom line: Do your homework, set your goals, and plan accordingly.
A Tale of Two Coasts
What makes Costa Rica a sportfisherman’s dream is its unique location. Close enough to the equator for its fishing season to last all year, Costa Rica benefits from two coastlines, each with strikingly different characteristics.
Pacific CoastCosta Rica’s Pacific Coast enjoys more sunny days than anywhere else. It also boasts plenty of local Tico culture, and is the most popular for tourists. On the Pacific Coast, you’ll hunt marlin, sailfish, dorado, wahoo, roosterfish, and tuna. Los Sueños—a small resort town in Punternas province—is one of the world’s top big game fishing spots for blue, black, and striped marlin, plus has lots of sailfish (which are easier to catch, especially in February!).
The best Pacific fishing spots during the green season are in Papagayo Gulf, Tamarindo, Playa Flamingo, and Playas del Coco. The best catches in dry season are found in Golfo Dulce, Zancudo, Puerto Jimenez and Golfito.
Visit: December – April
Avoid: September – November
Costa Rica’s entire Caribbean coast is occupied by the province of Limón. It’s rich in Caribbean culture and preserves its Indian heritage, while its white sand beaches are uncrowded. It’s also more natural (read: less Americanized) and suited for laid-back travelers. Fishing here is year-round, though it often depends on the weather, which changes day-to-day. The east coast is known more than anything for tarpon, which fish best from December to May. Tarpon are massive—averaging 100-120 pounds and sometimes even cracking 200. What makes them a favorite among fishermen is their fighting ability. One of the toughest fish to catch, the tarpon’s nickname is the “Silver King.” The best fishing spots on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica are Tortuguero and Barra del Colorado, around the rivers, estuaries, and larger lagoons.
Visit: January – May; late August – early November
Avoid: June – July
Hit the Elusive Grand Slam
A grand slam is one of sportfishing’s most honored accomplishments. The impressive feat occurs when one angler has a day so successful that he or she catches three different species of fish in a day. In Costa Rica, three or four grand slams are reported each year. Each family of fish—trout, salmon, bass, and so on—has its own grand slam requirements. For a good shot at a grand slam, we recommend Los Sueños. Its waters offer the opportunity to catch blue, black, and striped marlin, as well as a massive selection of sailfish, giving experienced fisherman a chance at the esteemed billfish grand slam. That particular feat requires catching any three of the following: the Atlantic blue marlin, Pacific blue marlin, black marlin, white marlin, striped marlin, Atlantic sailfish, Pacific Sailfish, swordfish, or spearfish.
Costa Rica Cements its Sportfishing ReputationCosta Rica is home to many of the world’s most recognized tournaments.Los Sueños hosts an annual three-leg billfish tournament in the winter called the Triple Crown, and is the self-proclaimed billfish capital of the world. Quepos, just 45 miles southbound down the coast, is another competitive fishing hotspot. It hosts the largest and most prestigious sport fishing tournament series in the world: the four-day Offshore World Championship.
World Record Catches in Costa Rica
For a country with only 727 miles of coast (612 on the Pacific side, 115 on the Caribbean side), Costa Rica boasts an impressive amount of outstanding sport fishing achievements. Here are six of the country’s best catches, ranked by Sport Fishing magazine:
- A 56-pound, 15-ounce Pacific sailfish, caught in Playa Carrillo in 2008
- A 187-pound, 4-ounce Pacific blue marlin, caught in Playa Carrillo in 2007
- A 161-pound, 7-ounce Pacific blue marlin, caught in Playa Carrillo in 2007
- A 111-pound Pacific sailfish, caught in Flamingo Bay in 1993
- A 102-pound Pacific sailfish, caught in Flamingo Bay in 1992
- A 51-pound Pacific Cubera snapper, caught in Isla de Cano in 1989