From flying through an electrical storm to finding ourselves in the town of Alajuela, Costa Rica during the country’s most significant holiday, our travels to Tarponville fishing lodge were interesting to say the least. After a short flight from San Jose to Puerto Limon and a one hour shuttle, we were graciously met by Tarponville owner Mark Martin and his fishing manager Tim at the entrance to the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge. Due to it’s location a few hundred yards inside the boundary, the lodge is not accessible by motorized vehicle. After a short walk we found ourselves at the southern most fishing lodge in Costa Rica. Tarponville is a rustic yet comfortable and well-kept lodge located in the heart of the Costa Rican jungle.
After a short but informative briefing on the lodge and fishery, we were given some time to get settled our accommodations and rig our 12 weights with intermediate sinking lines. Our room featured a queen and king sized bed along with a private bathroom and air conditioning unit. All rooms are also equipped with a safe for your valuables and filtered water dispenser. Once settled we quickly rigged rods and set out to meet our guide for the day.
Tim escorted us down the path to the creek mouth where we met Hiro, our local guide who we would fish with for the week. Hiro is a very knowledgeable and patient guide who has grown up in the small community of Manzanillo. Tarponville employs only local guides with ample experience on this unique tarpon fishery. The fishing takes place out of tradition boats know as pangas. Most hover around 26 feet in length which provides ample room for both guests to fish simultaneously.
During our first few days of fishing we were met with unfavourable conditions. Due to unusually high seas for this time of year it was difficult to fish inside the grounds with the best chance for jumping the trophy tarpon we have arrived for. During periods of high seas, Tarponville has a lagoon fishery for Snook and juvenile Tarpon, but we were here for one thing and one thing only.
The fishing schedule is broken up into morning and late afternoon sessions each day. This ensures one can take advantage of the best fishing periods of the day while having a chance to escape the mid-day heat. After a hot lunch at the lodge, anglers can opt for a short siesta in their air-conditioned room if needed. There are also triggerfish that frequent the reefs just steps from the lodge. This can provide excellent entertainment for the angler who can never seem to get enough.
As sea levels improved we began to experience the true colors of this tarpon fishery. Our evening commute back to the lodge was interrupted by a fantastic display of Jack Cravelle and large Tarpon feeding aggressively on a bait ball. With the sun setting we managed one brief yet memorable hook up with a large tarpon. We were able to bring dinner to the boat for our guide Hiro in the form of a well condition hard fighting Jack. Spirits were high while we arrived back at the lodge at which point we were met with cold cervezas and a filling meal after a great day on the water.
Like each day previous, we met our guide at 7:00am after a hearty breakfast including a wonderful assortment of local fresh fruit. Upon arriving at the fishing grounds we were met with a sight not soon to be forgotten by anyone present in the boat that morning. Countless Tarpon ranging in size from 50 to 150+ pounds were feeding aggressively on bait fish that occupied an area not much larger than that of a football field.
It is difficult to communicate the true emotion one can experience while witnessing events like this. While we were able to hook and land multiple jacks, the shear number of bait fish proved to be both a blessing and a curse making it difficult to make our flies stand out among the masses of bait. We did manage to hook another tarpon while a fellow guest in a separate boat was able to jump and fight a large tarpon for some time before losing it. Being able to witness the feeding behaviour throughout the morning was truly an incredible sight.
We greeted the following morning with much anticipation and of course, Costa Rican coffee. With high hopes of having a few more interactions with the fish we set off for our day. We were truly growing a deep respect and fascination for these unique fish. We once again headed to Punta Moana where we had witnessed such chaos the day before. It wasn’t long into our first drift for it to become apparent the flood gates were about to open.
Although the hoards of baitfish were not present in numbers such as the day before, the Tarpon surely were and in good numbers. As we began to fish multiple opportunities to cast to rolling, cruising and feeding fish were presented to us. It would not take long to jump and leader our first fish of the day.
With calm sea’s around us we did not struggle the see large Tarpon moving not far from the boat. A large fish moved in the direction of our two toned EP fibre streamers presented on full intermediate lines. We were instructed to begin a swift retrieve by our guide Hiro. A few long seconds followed before time stood still. A big fish took the fly with a level of commitment I’d only ever dreamed of.
Following a wonderful acrobatic display the fish quickly used up the first 100 yards of extra backing Tarpon whisperer Mark Martin had insisted I add to the reel. After leaping from the warm Caribbean water a few more times, a half hour tug of war followed. Eventually the fish was brought along side of the boat for just enough time to get hold of the leader at which time the hook came lose. Our local guide Hiro estimates the fish to have been somewhere between the 80-100 pound mark. An experience that has been branded in my (Dave’s) mind.
Our luck would continue this morning with multiple jacks coming to the boat along with a few more Tarpon jumped. All somehow equally shocking and memorable in terms of strength and power. We had fish take flies just feet from the boat which made for an incredible sight as they tail walked across the water’s surface. We would be able to leader one more fish of approximately 60 pounds that morning. With what seemed like constant action in the morning we headed in for quick lunch. After story’s were shared and relived we eagerly headed back out to once again meet our guide and hero, Hiro.
“Time for a big Tarpon guys!”, this was Hiro’s greeting to us before each session. The afternoon began with a handful of Jacks which we played as quickly as possible in hopes of touching just one more Silver King. While the sun began to drop the belief was still high but time was running out. With literally seconds to spare before the dreaded time arrived to return to lodge one final line would come tight on what proved to be the largest meanest fish of the trip.
I (Jordan) had began to feel that slight feeling of sadness knowing these were the final few minutes I would spend on these hallowed waters for a full year. In between colliding thoughts of positivity and discouragement in my head while desperately stripping my fly back to the boat, my line came to an abrupt halt. The colliding thoughts were silenced, and replaced with the utter chaos of another triple digit fish in the air.
The sound of the gill rakers shaking mixed with the commotion on the water, this is the most addicting form of fly fishing I could ever imagine. This final fish gave me many jumps, big runs and 55 minutes of an arm-burning battle. I jumped this fish in the dying moments of the trip, and part of me was hoping it would’ve been smaller.
Just before landing the fish, a sound like a gunshot went off. My 12 weight exploded about 8 inches above the handle. Hiro dove for the leader and held on tight, preventing the now tired fish from making any more runs. Miraculously we landed the fish and were able to release her after one quick photo. A memory that will never be erased.
The next morning there was a somber feeling as we took the trail we would usually follow to meet Hiro, though today we were going to meet our shuttle driver Renee and begin the long journey home. A smooth travel home and here we are, dreaming about next year’s adventure to Tarponville.
Whether you are a saltwater fly fishing fiend, or have never even given it a try, Tarponville is a fishery for everyone. You do not need to know how to cast 70, 50, even 20 feet. If you’re not comfortable with casting your guide can set up a blind drift and allow the current to move your fly. Those that spend the most time with their fly in the water generally end up tallying the most fish at Tarponville.
Words can not explain the abundance of Tarpon here or how special this place is without experiencing it first hand. It will steal a piece of you indefinitely, which is likely why their repeat clientele is as high as it is. Tarponville is the place of all places for those that want a true trophy Tarpon.
Does this sound like fun? We have six spots remaining for next year’s trip, fill out the form below and let’s make your fly fishing dreams a reality.
Written by Jordan Oelrich & David Page