Tricia and I just got back from Panama last night. We had a blast. First, we would like to thank John Graves and Guy Harvey for recommending the Tropic Star Lodge to us. I had asked them where to take Tricia while I was fishing with them in Venezuela during the filming of Guy’s TV show on white marlin (which should be airing tomorrow and Saturday). Fishing was great in Venezuela but it can be a bit rough there and there was not a lot for Tricia to do if she decided not to fish a day. John and Guy said to take her to Tropic Star and it was some very good advice.
The people from Tropic Star met us at the airport gate and took us past all the lines and set us up in a private lounge while they took our passports and cleared us through customs and immigration. It just continued from there until they had us on our flight home. Tricia said, “They take care of me.”
The lodge was beautiful, stuck out in the middle of nowhere with nothing but the jungle, native Indian villages, and the ocean. No roads anywhere, just paths through the jungle. They feed you entirely too well, both on land and on the boat. There was plenty for Tricia to do: beaches, a very nice pool, kayaks, nature walks, and you could visit the Indian Village. She planned on doing a lot of that but she fished everyday.
The week prior to ours saw good catches of marlin but almost no sailfish so we fished for marlin. All the boats ran out to catch bait, a fish that looks like a false albacore to me, that they live-troll for black marlin. There was no bait on the reef. We all ran into the coast looking for bait. Just as we were leaving, a black marlin swam through our wake. Along the coast, we still could not catch the right bait. We caught a couple of jack crevalle and several mackerel that looked like over-sized Spanish mackerel. The jacks and one mackerel were made into belly strips. A couple of other mackerel were rigged whole as skip baits. They had some little jacks (2) in the livewell that looked like blue runners. We went back out to the reef and tried to catch bait again with no luck. There were fish busting on the surface but we couldn’t catch them. They put one of those little jacks down and it was eaten right away. It was a yellowfin tuna, normal Virginia size, not one of those big ones they do catch off of Panama. We continued to troll little feathers for bait and added a cedar plug to the spread. We caught 3 more yellowfins and lost a bigger one on the leader. They made belly strips out of the tunas also. We trolled mackerel, strips, and marlin plugs around on the reef and then tried offshore for blue or striped marlin without any luck. Late in the day, we came back to the reef and tried to catch bait again. We had out one belly strip from a yellowfin. While we were chasing busting bait around, a black marlin came up on the belly strip and knocked it out of the clip but did not eat it. We caught some bullet tuna and put one out and a porpoise bit it off right behind the head. It was time to go in. Out of the fleet, one black marlin was caught on a belly strip. Most boats had yellowfin with a few going over 100 pounds.
Day two was even slower. We caught no bait at all. We ended up spending most of the day trolling marlin plugs offshore. Bait was busting all over but we could not catch any. We came in late and tried to catch bait again without any luck. The captain saw a couple of sailfish. We had more of those little jacks in the livewell. We put one out and hooked up a porpoise. That was our only bite of the day. We broke the leader off after a short fight. One boat had caught 2 sailfish, the same boat which had caught the black.
The third day we talked about going bottom fishing or trying for roosterfish. Some boats did that and caught some though it was not great and the roosters were small. The captain took us out of the bay and ran up the coastline. We ran into all kinds of bait. I thought he may be overdoing it a bit because we caught a bunch of those false albacores. Later, when we were down to our last belly strip, I figured that he knew what he was doing. We ran up to a beach called Playa Muerte which means dead beach. Well, it was not dead. There was a little village there. The captain pointed it out and said that it was his village and he pointed out his hut. There were sailfish every where. We had a blast. I don’t know if the mate thought I knew what I was doing or if he was afraid that I would run over him if he tried to get to a rod (he was a little guy) but he just let us have at it. We were the only boat up there. While trolling around pods of sailfish, we saw another black marlin. We put out a whole false albacore as a skip bait. He came right to it but never hit it. The rest of the fleet came in flying a few sailfish flags. We came in with a full rigger, more than the rest combined.
Day 4, everyone went up there. There were no more problems catching bait or fish. The sailfish bite was on. Everyone came in with good catches. Having caught plenty of sailfish that she was not worried about missing some, Tricia started to get into the drop back game. The captain and mate would yell out instructions in various languages which she did not understand but it was OK. We had so many shots, she got the hang of it. It was pretty cool. I had never fished with a woman who could hook her own billfish. The ones I have fished with, you hook up the fish and then hand them the rod. I know that there are plenty of good lady billfish anglers out there but I just have not fished with any. We met one on this trip, a lady named Carol from Florida. She has fished 2 weeks a year at Tropic Star for the past 16 years. The first 13 were with her husband of 42 years. After he passed away, his ashes were made part of the reef off of Tropic Star Lodge. She has fished everywhere. She has caught grander class marlin off of Africa and she caught 12 blue marlin one day off of Venezuela but it is Panama that she keeps coming back too. We met a lot of really neat people on this trip. Everyone caught sailfish. We trolled a whole false albacore around all day, hoping for that marlin to show back up but we never saw him.
Day 5, the captain asked us what we wanted to do. We said lets give the marlin another try. Back out to the reef and again no bait. After trolling around for a while, we ran back up the coast and caught more sailfish along with everyone else. One boat, had a black marlin come up on their teaser. They pitched a dead albacore to it and hooked-up. They were right next to us so we got to watch the fight. That was the last marlin we saw. Only two were caught for the week. We caught plenty of sailfish.
Day 6, we decided to stay with what was working. We had a great day sailfishing. At one time, I had a sailfish on the right teaser. We only were trolling three lines, a flat line and one off of each rigger. I cranked the flat line up to it and then he was on the left teaser, then right again. I’m bouncing back and forth along the back of the boat. Unknown to me, Tricia picks up one of the rigger rods and pops it out of the clip. She cranks it in and that fish went to her bait, she dropped back and hooked it up. The captain and mate were laughing. Tricia says, “Here honey, it is your turn.” Now I’m not sure how I feel about that, how secure am I with my manhood? I took the rod, well because it was my turn. How many of you can say that your wife has hooked-up a billfish for you? We came in with another rigger full of flags. What started out as a slow week, turned out to be very good. By my count, we were top boat for the week not that I was really counting. Tricia was though.
The weather was great. We did get rained on a couple of days, not all day, just showers. The seas were calm. It got “rough” two days, like 3-4 footers. The rest of the time was just calm. We saw all kinds of life, in the ocean and in the jungle. We came back with over 600 photographs. I literally have a couple hundred photos of jumping sailfish.
We were pampered and caught a lot of fish. Tricia is ready to go back which is fine by me. Now, I just have to talk my parents into watching our kids again and talk my dad into playing less golf and spending more time at our dental office while I’m out playing in Panama.
If you get down there, our captain’s name is Libardo and our mate’s name is Vicente. Both were top-notched.