December 30, 2019

Costa Rica Surf Fishing

This is part 2 of our Costa Rica adventure. We spent a lot more time at the beach during the second half of our trip, which meant a lot more saltwater fishing. Of course, I still found time to fish some of the local streams :)

We spent our nights at Alex's sister's AirBnB in Playa Matapalo, but made time for some day trips to some of the areas within 3hrs of her place. Her place was beautiful, and was a short 5 minute walk to a beautiful secluded beach. More importantly, there were plenty of critters lurking around to keep me occupied.

The first order of affairs was to head into Quepos, to stock up on groceries and hopefully do a bit of fishing where her sister's husband had seen some White-eye, a cool topminnow I was interested in. Unfortunately, they were uncooperative, but I did see an awesome variety of saltwater species in the estuary. I didn't have any good bait but still cast a jig out and managed to hook this new Jack species on my ultralight: a Green Jack! As you probably know, most Jacks rip drag, and this guy did the same to my 4lb test and size 1000 reel. To add to the commotion, I drew the attention of some locals who began shouting advice... in Spanish. A guy named Luis shouted "Hey bro!" and came down to the rock to offer his aid. After some attempted conversation in Spanish, he took my knife and helped dispatch the fish for bait. That was my plan, but seeing him go for the knife caught me off guard lol.

Before leaving the city, we had time to stop at another part of the estuary just behind our parking lot where I noticed a lot of gobies darting between the rocks. It didn't take long to get one on the tanago hook and soon enough I was holding another lifer: the Estuarine Frillfin. There was also a cool abandoned car in the lot!

Estuarine Frillfin
Abandoned Car

After catching the goby, it was time to head home so we jumped in the car and drove back down the coastal highway. We unpacked our groceries and I was soon impatient and ready to get back to some fishable water. This time, I brought Alex's nephew with me and we headed to the Matapalo estuary to see what my swimming in its tidal waters. There didn't seem to be many fish around other than the typical uncatchable livebearers, but I did manage to catch this snapper by jigging near a fallen log. It turned out to be a Pacific Dog Snapper, another new species!

I eventually got tired of holding her nephew so I brought him home before heading to a small stream in town. I climbed down under a bridge, crossed over the ever-present Leaf-cutter Ants, and began fishing. The Tetras came instantly, but I also noticed some Cichlids and Livebearers in the mix. The Livebearers never took (of course), but I did catch this beautiful T-bar Cichlid after a few failed attempts :)

By the time I caught the cichlid, it was nearly dusk and I had to get back for early dinner so we would have time for our planned evening activities. We wanted to see the sun set over the Pacific and enjoy a campfire on the beach. We barely made it in time for sunset, but the fire and "cervezas" were fun. We ended the night with a quick round of coconut soccer on the wet sand.

The next day, we went on a day trip down the coast to Uvita. The first stop in town was at a great waterfall/swimming hole just a short ways inland. I knew from a friend that there were Pacific Machaca and Mountain Mullet in these waters, and it didn't take long to find them! I tied on my trusty spinner and, soon enough, I caught my first Pacific Machaca! Unfortunately, despite many attempts, the Mountain Mullet were unwilling to bite. I even tried some canned hot dogs I brought along specifically for these fish :p There were many swimmers in the water which may have put them on edge.

Pacific Machaca

We also took the opportunity to go for a quick dip in one of the more secluded pools before heading off to our next destination.

That next destination was the Marino Ballena national park, in the nearby town of Dominical. The plan was to drop Alex off there with her sister's family and I would go explore some fishing spots further north. Unfortunately, it was high tide, and the main attraction of the park, the whale tail-shaped sandbar jutting into the ocean, would be submerged by the incoming water. Instead, Alex and I made the best of the situation and both headed to my fishing spots ;) The point I wanted to fish was difficult to access, so we instead went to a small beach called Playa Dominicalito. It had a super cool surfer vibe and we enjoyed exploring our "secret" beach.

I also had time to cast a line out into the surf, but had low expectations as surf fishing has never been successful for me. Fortunately, I was actually able to get bites here! The first fish that came up appeared to be some sort of Drum species, and the second was another Snapper. The Snapper turned out to be a Yellow Snapper, and the Drum turned out to be nearly impossible to ID, but I settled on it being a Squint-eyed Croaker. Who knew there were so many sciaenids swimming in the eastern central Pacific!?

Squint-eyed Croaker
Yellow Snapper

We spent a couple hours at the beach before heading back to the AirBnB to end the day. I don't quite remember, but I imagine I spent the afternoon at the local creek watching the "Jesus" lizards run across the riffles in addition to more time failing at catching livebearers.

The next day, Alex and I planned to head up into the mountains to explore a cloud forest in Los Quetzales national park. The park entry turned out to be free, possibly because most of the trails were closed, but also rather disappointing for the same reason. We hiked around for about an hour until we had exhausted the small amount of open trail, and didn't really see much.

With our newfound free time, we decided to try hiking up to one of the peaks we had passed on our drive up. This turned out to be a great decision. Alex almost died from the thin air, but we thoroughly enjoyed our view from above the clouds! We also spotted a Spiny Lizard on the way back down which was pretty neat :)

Cerro la Asuncion

A blur of a Green Spiny Lizard
Driving through the clouds

We hiked back down to the car and began our descent down through the switchbacks and back to sea level. On the way down, we stopped at a local bakery (panaderia) for some fresh bread, which was delicious. I also had fun coasting down the steep curves of the highway and pushing the limits of our car's ability to stay on the road. We made a quick stop back at the local creek where I caught the T-bar Cichlid for Alex to catch her lifer Tetra before going back to the AirBnB for supper and bed.

The next day would be our final day in Matapalo, and the before-last day of our trip. I decided to spend the morning in Quepos trying to catch some of those saltwater fish that evaded me a few days prior. This turned out to be a great decision and I caught an additional 6 lifers with my sabiki rig! The fishing was essentially like sabiki fishing for saltwater fish always is: a lot of rebaiting and dropping the rig around whatever structure I could find. I'll only include a couple pictures, but the new ones were: Pacific Flagfin Mojarra, White-spotted Puffer, Panamic Frillfin, Elongate Grunt, Starry Grouper, and Oval Puffer. The Mojarra quickly became annoying and I also had repeat catches of Yellow Snapper and Estuarine Frillfin, almost incessantly.

Panamic Frillfin
Elongate Grunt

Oval Puffer
Starry Grouper

After a few hours of fishing, I drove back to Matapalo and we spent the evening collecting coconuts and body surfing at the beach. The coconuts did not want to drop so I borrowed a ladder from the neighbours and had to pry them off with a large branch! Also, the coconut water turned out to be under pressure so each one we opened sent the liquid flying everywhere. We collected the sweet water and enjoyed it with our final true Costa Rican dinner of arroz con pollo (chicken with rice).

Our final day was spent driving back to San Jose, exploring yet another waterfall, some more driving, and then eating some Costa Rican McDonald's before flying home on a red-eye. When we arrived at the waterfall, the signs indicated the park was closed, but a nice man and his family allowed us to park on his farm and showed us the way down to the water. There turned out to be two falls, both of which were picturesque but rather hard to get to. The water was cold and something smelled a bit off so we took our pictures and headed back to the car soon after.

That about ends our Costa Rican adventure, the rest of it was spent in McDonalds and airports. It was a beautiful country, with tons of fish, and so much land to explore. We almost always felt safe and I would totally return someday! Thanks to Alex's sister and her husband for hosting us and thanks to all the locals who were so friendly to us!

December 23, 2019

Costa Rica Stream Fishing

I finally graduated university and Alex and I decided to take a celebratory trip to Costa Rica. Of course, it helped that her sister is staying there so we'd have a place to stay for part of our adventures. We started the trip with a mini road trip around the northern part of the country, before spending the second half of our 10-day vacation at her place by the beach in Matapalo. This is a summary of the first half, map below.

Day 1 involved a lot of flying, driving, and sleeping... your basic travel day. It did give us a chance to get used to the steep switchbacks in the CR mountains and find some cool critters at night. I saw my first monkey, tons of leafcutter ants, a giant crab spider, some tree frogs, giant toads, etc. Taking pictures was tough at night but I still managed some decent shots:

Giant Crab Spider
Veined Tree Frog

The next day would be our first full day of the trip! We got up at 5:30, had breakfast, and began heading north. The first stop was actually a fishing stop, which was perfect because seeing all the beautiful rivers and creeks on day 1 but not being able to fish them was driving me crazy. We found a spot at "el Gran Parqueo" and made our way down to the chosen location: Rio Ciruelas. It was a beautiful spot with a nice deep pool just downstream of the highway. Upon arriving, I saw a "Jesus" Lizard (Common Basilisk) run across the river; Alex manage to get a great picture!

Common Basilisk
Rio Ciruelas Microfishing

I tied a #0 Mepps onto my ultralight setup and made a cast. The hits were instant! It took a couple casts before I actually hooked up and caught my first lifer of the trip, some sort of Tetra. I would end up catching these all over the country and later identified them all as being Astyanax orstedii, with no common name. They also made for great bait which I used for the next few days until I found squid.

Astyanax orstedii

A couple casts later and something much larger hit the lure, it put up quite a spirited fight with 4lb test but I finally landed it and saw some sort of Cichlid. This turned out to be the famed Guapote, one of the largest Cichlids in CR. I ended up catching a few more after switching to a jig.


After catching a bunch more Tetras and a few more Guapote, I switched my focus to some Livebearers, Gobies and smaller Cichlids I spotted in the shallows. Unfortunately, I was never able to get any of them to take the tanago hook. As I would later learn, many of the freshwater fish in CR have vegetarian diets and are unlikely to bite. We left the Rio Ciruelas after about a total of 1.5hrs of fishing.

We then continued heading north to the town of Bagaces where we looked for our hotel for the night. We found the Hotel el Greco which was clean and only cost about $30 for the night! Sidenote, we were told that many people spoke English in CR but this did not seem to be the case as soon as you left anywhere that wasn't extremely touristy. Luckily, Alex speaks decent Spanish and was able to figure everything out for us :)

Hotel el Greco + our Rental

I forgot to mention our rental car, a Toyota Rush. That thing was sick, small car with great gas mileage, 4WD, and great clearance.. I wish they sold them here! Anyway, after figuring things out at the hotel, we changed into our bathing suits and drove over to our first Costa Rican waterfall: Llanos de Cortez. Entry was $7 each and included a guarded parking lot with close access to the falls. The falls themselves were beautiful and had one of the best swimming areas of the ones we visited throughout the trip.

After a bit of swimming, we hiked up to the top of the waterfall for a better view and to search for a hidden pool I heard of online. We ended up finding not only the pool, but also a bunch of the Livebearers and Cichlids I was unable to catch at Rio Ciruelas. I rushed back to get my gear and try for them again. Of course, the vegetarian Livebearers remained uncatchable but I did manage one of the small Cichlids. Of course, it turned out to be the same Convict Cichlid I had already caught in Florida :p EDIT: Turns out this is a new species, the Honduran Redpoint Cichlid! I also saw a nest of Executioner Wasps in the rainforest, rumoured to have one of the most painful stings in the Insect kingdom.

Honduran Redpoint Cichlid
Executioner Wasps

Alex and I had split up while I was fishing, and I could not find her for about 20min after returning to the fishing hole. Turns out she was only just out of sight, but it sure isn't fun to lose the only person you know in a foreign country where no one understands you! Anyway, after that whole debacle, we returned to Bagaces where we visited the supermarket for some local treats before cleaning up at the hotel and going back out to look for dinner. Costa Rica has these restaurants called "sodas" that are basically your small local restaurants. The main meal is called "cassados" and usually seems to consist of your choice of meat, rice, black beans, a salad, and plantains. We found Soda la Fuente on a slightly sketchy street but the waitress was friendly and the place looked clean. The food costs us less than $5 each and was delicious!

<$10 of Cassados!

Dinner pretty well ended the night as we fell asleep soon after returning to the hotel to be ready for another early day. We rose at 5:30 again and continued heading north, this time to Rio Celeste. There was no fishing allowed in the park, but it was still totally worth the visit! The river has a beautiful blue colour caused by a chemical reaction between two smaller clear streams, and you can even hike to the point where the reaction occurs. There was also tons of wildlife, some small hanging bridges, and a huge waterfall.

The hike along Rio Celeste took us about 2.5hrs and we then drove to a section of the river just outside of the park where we could swim/fish in the blue water. I only caught Tetras and the water was pretty cold but some White-throated Capuchins came right up to us!

After finishing up the river, we began the drive to our next major destination: the town of la Fortuna. Along the way, we were treated to some spectacular views of the Arenal Volcano, better than any we'd see while much closer to the volcano.

Once in la Fortuna, we searched for our next hotel and settled on la Choza Inn. They had small, but clean, rooms, beautiful grounds, and free breakfast! All for $35! We also took a bit of time to explore the town and buy some fried plantain and ice cream.

Kitchen Area
The Grounds

The next activity was a dip in a river naturally heated by the volcano. Resorts all around took advantage of the natural hot springs but the river could be accessed for free at the right spots. We found the right location and enjoyed the hot water and jungle surroundings for a while. We then continued down the road past where the tourists go until we hit a river crossing where the car wouldn't make it across, and stopped at some fishing spots along the way. Unfortunately, nothing of interest came to hand but we still enjoyed our adventure and were treated to some nice views :)

River crossings in CR are pretty intense!

That pretty well ended day 3, and brought us to the final day of our mini road trip. We rose extra early to have this cool swimming hole I had heard of to ourselves, called el Salto. I started by fishing at the spot because it looked so fishy, and was rewarded with one of my top targets for the trip: the Machaca. More specifically, the one I caught was a Machaca del Atlantico. They're a sort of river-dwelling version of a Piranha, but with teeth like a Pacu. After fishing, we also took time to use the rope swing, which was much higher than it looks.

Machaca del Atlantico
el Salto Rope Swing

After our exciting morning, we returned to the hotel for (free) breakfast and then headed to our first set of fishing spots for the day. I had found a promising river on iNat and noticed a few others nearby that also looked like they could be good. As it turns out, all of them were great! Beautiful clear water despite the agriculture in the area and nice deep pools right by the bridges :) I caught more Guapote and Astyanax orstedii at each spot, some bigger Machaca, and a lifer Pastel Cichlid! Just watching the fish in the clear jungle pools was worth it though.

Bigger Machaca
Pastel Cichlid

That bit of fishing rounded off the morning and we started heading south for our last stop before making it back to Matapalo. We wound our way up the steep mountain roads to get to one of CR's tallest and most scenic waterfalls: del Toro! We couldn't swim under this one but the hike down was fun and the waterfall and surroundings were beautiful.

After leaving del Toro, the rest of the day was simply devoted to making our way back to Alex's sister's place, made difficult by the rough mountain roads. Slowly but surely, we made our way back and were treated to epic mountain landscapes and a beautiful sunset along the way.