Fishing in Costa Rica
Welcome to our fishing guide to Costa Rica! For many, Costa Rica is the dream destination for world-class sportfishing for all the right reasons. Over the years, this tiny country has risen in the ranks as a top destination for fishing and is arguably one of the best destinations in the world for billfish.
Here is the visual overview on everything you need to know about sportfishing in Costa Rica. Below the infographics find more nitty-gritty details on each destination, fish species and/or download our guide in full resolution.
Sportfishing in Costa Rica: Overview
Ideal for: avid fishermen, families, couples, adventure seekers; Novice to expert levels.
Best time of year: year-round, but seasonal in certain areas. See infographic for details.
Most popular destinations: Pacific Coast, north Caribbean, in-land.
With recognition from tournaments like the Los Sueños Triple Crown and the Offshore World Championship, Costa Rica has really etched itself into the history books as a world record fishing destination for sailfish and marlin. For the last three years, both of these tournaments have broken multiple records and the future’s looking bright. Countless sportfishing magazines, adventure shows and even ESPN have come to Costa Rica to witness and partake in the action.
What’s hot in Costa Rica?
There has also been a lot of buzz about marlin fishing in Costa Rica. Over the past three years, many private boats have been traveling to the offshore seamounts here and raising unheard of numbers of blue marlin. We now have some of our elite charter fleet offering these trips to travelers as well, and it has given Costa Rica one more claim to fame in the fishing world.
Rooster and reef fishing are great alternatives for anglers not interested in going offshore. This can really be done any time of year and is known to be more action-packed than offshore fishing. Pound for pound I consider the roosterfish one of the hardest fighting fish in the sea. It’s great fun for kids because the whole family can take a more hands-on approach and catch many fish of different sizes as opposed, to the trophies found offshore.
In addition to the world class bill fishing and reef fishing, Costa Rica also offers much more. The Caribbean coast, from Parismina north to Barro del Colorado, offers some of the finest tarpon fishing in the world and is home to some of the best tarpon lodges anywhere. You can also target freshwater species like Guapote, Machaca, alligator gar and Roncadora in Lake Arenal, Río Savegre, and the famous Caño Negro. These are all great destinations for anglers looking for something different and can easily be combined with any Pacific coast destinations for a well-rounded trip.
So what’s the scoop on fishing here and when is the best time to visit?
Well, the truth be told, fishing in Costa Rica is great year round. The real key to a great fishing trip is making sure you are in the right part of the country at the right time. Also, there are some strategic hot spots to consider that are home to some of the best guides in the country, laid out below.
If you prefer watching videos, here is Justin DeBoom, our fishing expert, explaining when is the best time to come down and enjoy some excellent fishing. Justin also shared his top tips for planning and booking your fishing trip to Costa Rica, just below the Destinations section, check them out!
This area spans from the Nicoya Peninsula to the border of Nicaragua. From December to March, things can be tough here. This area is plagued by the Papagayo winds, which are the trade winds blowing from East to West off of Lake Nicaragua. During these months, the winds can blow 15-20 knots, which makes for very poor fishing conditions offshore. However, this is a great time for inshore fishing and the gulf of Papagayo is home to some of the biggest roosterfish in Costa Rica.
June through October things really begin to heat up here. The winds have died down and the seas are calm. This is the time of year where the sailfish start showing up in numbers, as well as the marlin, tuna, and dorado. During these months, on any given day, you can catch all four in one trip. This is one of the best areas to target all the pelagic species at once.
May and November are transitional months when the seasons are changing. I personally consider these months great in any part of Costa Rica!
Central & South Pacific
This area spans from Jacó and the Los Sueños marina down to Golfito, including the Osa Peninsula where there have been more world records caught than any other part of the country. During the months of December–April, the bit is all about sailfish, the occasional marlin, and some dinner fare. These are the days when boats see double-digit sailfish releases and all the records are broken in the tournaments. You can expect relatively flat, calm seas, great weather and incredible offshore fishing throughout these months.
From June to August this area gets a grab bag of species. This is the time of year when the tuna traditionally show up, and with that, the marlin is here in numbers. There are sailfish still around, as well as plenty of dorado for dinner. Many captains will also spend time targeting snapper, grouper, roosterfish and other reef dwelling species.
In September and October, things slow down a bit as the weather is typically wet and things are slower offshore. Many captains use this time to do their annual maintenance and get ready for the next season.
May and November are once again transitional months and offer great fishing in any part of Costa Rica.
This type of fishing is really good all year long. The beauty of this fishing style is that anyone can do it and it’s offered in almost any part of Costa Rica, so it can be easily incorporated into any vacation. Lake Arenal is one of the most beautiful man-made bodies of water and it sits right at the base of the Arenal Volcano. This lake offers pristine views, crystal clear water and world class light tackle fishing. It’s famous for the guapote (rainbow bass) which can be caught all year round. You also have many other species you can catch, including the hard fighting machaca, blue tilapia, and mojarra.
Caño Negro is for the real adventurer. This is the closest thing to the Amazon that Costa Rica has to offer. Here you can catch prehistoric alligator gar, freshwater tarpon, rainbow bass, machaca and, during the fall months, even snook. There is a closed season for the alligator gar spawning which spans from April to June. (Note: Exact dates and length of time may vary from year to year.)
Río Savegre is a beautiful river located in the central Pacific right outside the beach town of Manuel Antonio. Río Savegre offers a truly unique fishing opportunity in Costa Rica and is perfect for light tackle fly fisherman. For many years, Costa Rica was all about the trophy fishing, but now with specialized guides, you can enjoy something completely new. The fishing here is best described as a combo white water rafting and fly fishing float trip. You will spend your day with a trained fly fishing guide on a custom white water raft designed for fishing. The species you can target here are machaca, roncadora, and the occasional snook as you get closer to sea level. This activity is something special and gaining popularity very quickly in Costa Rica.
The northern Caribbean coast from Parismina area north to Barra del Colorado is home to some of the best tarpon fishing in the world. Fortunately, here the tarpon don’t migrate too much, so fishing can be good year round. However, due to the weather on the Caribbean, and keeping in mind the ability to get out of the river mouths, there are months which are much better than others. Mid-February to mid-May is a great time to fish here as well as September and October. These two windows offer anglers the best chance of great weather and easy access to the prime fishing grounds, with September and October being the absolute best months of the year.
With all these fishing options, there is much to enjoy. The best part about the great fishing in Costa Rica is that it can be for anyone. In the past, it was thought that big game fishing was just for the avid anglers, but with today’s professional crews and top of the line equipment anyone can enjoy this activity. So if you are looking to try something new or want to plan a world-class fishing vacation, Costa Rica has something for everyone.
Justin’s top tips for your fishing trip:
1. Plan your trip with a local. All too often travelers get lured in by the pretty website of an online company or see fishing as an activity offered through a wholesaler website. However, this activity is best planned with locally based experts and they will help you make the right decisions regarding your plans.
2. Interview your potential captain or travel agent. Finding the right boat is key for a good experience. Ask questions about seasons and what is biting at that time of year. Cross reference that with the fishing calendars and recommendations above. The sad truth is sometimes when dealing with an owner directly, you will get told the fishing is great only to find out that it is not so hot. Granted, there are no guarantees in fishing, but the professional guides and operators will be honest and give you real expectations on what you may catch.
3. Don’t make a decision solely on price. Fishing is one of a more expensive activities you can do anywhere in the world. It’s a costly investment when you factor in fuel, bait, tackle, and maintenance. If you see boats which look to be the same, but prices are substantially different, there is likely a reason why. Not all things are equal and the top boats will never be the cheapest. I always tell clients, if you make your decision just on price, you will likely get a very expensive boat ride instead of a once in a lifetime fishing experience. Any savings has to come from somewhere and it will likely come from shortcutting your trip so the crew can save money. A local expert can help you navigate these pitfalls.
4. Work with a travel agency who specializes in fishing. The beauty of an agency is they don’t own boats or hotels. They are able to offer truly unbiased opinions on where to fish, which boats and captains are best and what areas you should visit based on the time of year you look to travel. Simply put, they will put you where the fish are and give you every opportunity to have a successful fishing adventure.
Hope these tips helped. We’ll look for you out on the water!