Keith Sutton caught this beautiful 100-pound sailfish during his visit to Crocodile Bay Resort on Costa Rica's Osa Peninsula. (Larry Pozka photo)
March 6 dawns bright and clear in Central America, a perfect fishing day. Seated comfortably on the stern of the Croc-A-Bye Baby, a 35-foot offshore fishing boat, O’Neill Williams and I watch brightly colored teasers skip across the water as we troll for sailfish off the coast of Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula. The beautifully clear water of the Pacific gleams like sapphires.
Friends Jeff Samsel of Clarksville, Ga. and Larry Bozka of Houston, Texas are chatting behind us. Captain Geovanni controls the boat from the tower, while first mate Dainer rigs fresh baits.
“Smart anglers stay focused on the teasers,” says O’Neill, a Georgia native who fishes here often. “When a sailfish rises, you must react quickly or you’ll miss it.”
I try to heed O’Neill’s advice, but distractions abound. I am gazing at the teasers when Dainer shouts, “Look! Manta rays!”
Off the bow, an enormous winged fish flies through the air like a barn door blown by a tornado. Another manta launches behind it, sailing 30 feet before splashing down.
Again, I sit and focus on the teasers. And again, Dainer calls. “Turtles!” he shouts. We pass near an amorous pair of sea turtles the size of truck tires.
Soon, another shout: “Whale!”
We rush to the bow and watch as a humpback the size of a U-boat breaches 50 yards away. It is graceful and magnificent, an incredible sight.
We return to our places, and this time, my concentration is uninterrupted. Then I see it—a flash of purple beneath the surface. The swashbuckler raises her sword.
Dainer reels in the teasers while O’Neill quickly releases a rigged baitfish. And in less than the time it takes to tell, the sailfish strikes, O’Neill sets the hook, and he graciously thrusts the rod into my hands.
“She’s yours,” O’Neill says, smiling.
No fish has ever given me such pleasure. Like a ballerina, the beautiful creature twirls on a cobalt-blue dance floor, performing pirouettes and glissades across the water. Again and again she jumps.
At one point, the sailfish is so far away, I fear I might succumb to her power. But mercifully, she races toward the boat, allowing me to gain line. When next she jumps, 50 feet off the stern, I can see the ebony spots on her beautiful azure sail.
Finally, I bring the sailfish close. Dainer grabs the leader. And all too quickly, the encounter ends. Dainer frees the hook from the fish’s jaw, and Jeff and Larry snap photos before I release the splendid creature. She swims powerfully away.
This is our second day at Crocodile Bay Resort, a renowned fishing and ecotourism lodge in Puerto Jimenez on the Osa Peninsula. The resort sits on the Golfo Dulce (Sweet Gulf) on the east side of the thumb-shaped peninsula, 30 miles west of Panama and 200 miles south of San Jose. The Pacific forms the Osa’s southern and western coasts.
Superlatives often are used when describing the peninsula. “National Geographic” famously portrayed the Osa as “the most biologically intense place on earth.” The ticos who live here claim it is the most picturesque, pristine, perfect spot in Costa Rica. Certainly, it is the most remote, which goes a long way toward explaining why the other adjectives apply.
The peninsula shelters the Golfo Dulce from the Pacific, attracting an incredible variety of fish, whales, dolphins, turtles and other sea life. Among the abundant sportfish are inshore species such as roosterfish, snook, barracudas, bonitos, pompanos, snappers and jacks, and offshore powerhouses like marlins, sailfish, dorados, tunas, goliath groupers and sharks.
It is common to raise more than 20 billfish daily, including sailfish exceeding 100 pounds and marlins tipping the scales at 200-plus. Most dorados top 30 pounds, with tuna always plentiful, including occasional 300-pounders. Many consider Crocodile Bay the world’s number-one roosterfish destination, with 25- to 50-pounders caught daily, and the resort record a whopping 106 pounds.
On our first day at Crocodile Bay, Geovanni and Dainer guided us to a volcanic-reef bonanza of astoundingly colored “pumpkins,” or cubera snappers, plus some bonus jack crevalles. Like most, however, we want to catch billfish, and I am elated after landing the 100-pound sail.
On day three, we explore the Osa’s rainforest with Dennis Valverde, a likeable young naturalist familiar with all the region’s plants and animals. Departing at dawn, we travel a primitive road 10 miles through the jungle, stopping often to photograph an incredible variety of wildlife. Pairs of scarlet macaws seem to be everywhere, plus unfamiliar birds such as bananaquits, antbirds, jacanas, tityras, colorful tanagers and a rare brown jay. In the trees, we photograph spider monkeys, squirrel monkeys and incredibly loud howlers. We see a basilisk, or Jesus Christ lizard, run across a creek’s surface on its hind legs.
More treats are in store as we walk the extensive resort grounds that afternoon. An 8-foot caiman crawls right up on the bank beside us at a jungle lagoon where, on the opposite bank, a 10-foot American crocodile, the resort’s namesake, is sunning. We see iguanas, chachalacas, parakeets, tiger-herons, and, to cap the trip, the bird we’ve all most hoped to see—a beautiful chestnut-mandibled toucan. In all, we tally 80 bird species, 48 of which I have never seen.
From start to finish, our Osa adventure was unforgettable. My next visit to Crocodile Bay cannot come soon enough.
Crocodile Bay Resort
Information you need to plan a Costa Rican adventure at Crocodile Bay Resort can be found at www.crocodilebay.com, or call 800-733-1115.
Fishing: Cordial, experienced, English-speaking crews on top-flight boats work hard to put you on fish, and they’re good at what they do. Everything you need, or could want, is provided.
Resort staff: I’ve never met a friendlier, more accommodating group in all my travels, from the efficient wait staff and managers to shuttle drivers and housekeepers.
Accommodations: Rooms are clean, spacious and air-conditioned with comfortable queen-sized beds and all the amenities.
Food: I stuffed myself with great food every meal, everything from traditional gallo pinto for breakfast to a stupendous dinner buffet nightly with steaks, fresh fish, seafood, soups, salads, side dishes galore and desserts to die for.
Other amenities: Internet service, pool, hot tub, luxury spa, conference center, gift shop, bar and more.
Activities: In addition to fishing, CBR offers zip-line canopy tours, guided rainforest treks, rappelling, mountain biking, horseback riding, surfing, snorkeling, bird watching, kayaking, gold panning and more.