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Costa Rica’s northern Caribbean tarpon scene has been relatively stable for the past 50 years or so. A handful of full-service lodges have emerged there to offer fishing for tarpon, mostly around the mouths of the Rio Colorado and the Rio Parismina. To be sure, the industry was shaken up a while back by the need to focus more attention on open-ocean fishing than river fishing, and that meant everyone had to buy bigger boats to negotiate the often treacherous rivermouths.
In the process of making that transition, some anglers drowned and others had the scare of their lives. The root cause of the shift from rivers to ocean is thought to be the use of insecticides by banana plantations upriver. The insecticides drove most of the tarpon out of the rivers.
All of the above is another story than the one to be told here. The big news is, an independent guide has emerged on the Caribbean coast, and he is shaking the industry to its core by offering fishing at a fraction of the cost of the lodges in the area. Equally important, the new guide is a fly fisherman with first-rate fly tackle and the background and experience to cater to fly anglers. The lodges accept fly fishermen, but most of the fishing along the Caribbean Coast now is decidedly low-tech. Heavy jigs and spin and baitcasting tackle predominate.
The new kid on the block is Daniel Herrera, a Colombian fly fishing guide who moved to Parismina two years ago in hopes of offering an alternative to the usual lodge scene and its hefty price tag. His thought was this: Offer people the same quality guided fishing experience they can find at the lodges, but make the experience more personal. Also, develop the skills and knowledge necessary to cater to fly fishermen. The boat he bought is a 25-foot panga with a 140 horsepower Johnson four-stroke motor. Having fished in it myself I can attest that it is capable of handling the moderate seas and rivermouth ruckus that you find along the Caribbean coast in October.
Herrera is from Bogota, Colombia. He was schooled there, and he is fluent in English and Spanish. Unlike other fluent guides, Herrera’s English is impeccable, and he talks as freely about politics as he does the fine points of the Huffnagle knot (we did both). He once ran a fly and dive shop in Bogota and operated a fly-fishing school, so he knows the sport well. He has been a scuba diving instructor throughout the Caribbean, from Cuba to the island of San Andres, climbed many of the tallest peaks in South America and worked as a mate on a boat in Quepos for years. In short, he’s interesting, capable and knowledgeable, just the kind of guide you’d like to spend a few days with. His enthusiasm is contagious; he is one of the most knowledgeable fly guides I have ever met and a true fanatic.
On the October day I spent with Herrera, the ocean was as flat as a jungle lagoon, with a clear line marking the meeting place of the chocolate-brown river water and the emerald Caribbean. We saw hundreds of large tarpon just outside the river- mouth over the course of two or three hours, often breaking the surface like striped bass or false albacore over schools of spraying sardines.
I had one day, and my goal was simple: I wanted to catch my first tarpon, then have a look around, to get to know the fishing area and the different options. Within an hour of sunrise, Herrera had helped me accomplish my goal. I landed a beautiful 100-pounder. After that, we jumped a few more, but I decided to call it a morning on the ocean, anxious to have a look around elsewhere.
The night before, Herrera had shown me video and dozens of photos of baby tarpon he and clients had caught on light fly rods inside the river. It’s a fishery he’s still developing, he warned, so it’s still unpredictable though best in the fall, August through November, when runs of titi shrimp begin in the river. Tarpon of 15 to 60 pounds run, roll and swirl, actively feeding on the surface of lagoons and river eddies, providing great action on a 7- to 9-weight fly rod. We didn’t find them that day heavy rains in the mountains had muddied the water and likely pushed the shrimp deep or outside, but the stories, photos and videos will keep me coming back.
That afternoon, we snuck out again into the ocean, where the seas remained calm, and fished flies, with heavy sinking lines, hoping to find a tarpon willing to take the fly. We were forced to call it quits early, as an ominous thunderstorm rolled in.
The lodging Herrera arranges for his clients is in a very basic local hotel. Herrera’s wife, Maria, a businesswoman from Colombia, coordinates meals and makes sure everyone stays well fed. On extended trips, fishermen sample a home-cooked meal with the Herreras in their home on the Parismina beachfront a window into the life of a tropical tarpon guide. His simple, three-room house is filled with classic books on saltwater fly fishing from the likes of Kreh, Blanton and Sosin, among others, fly-tying vises, fly rods hanging on the wall and the requisite photos of him and clients with almost every species of tropical game fish.
Herrera charges $350 per person per day, including lodging, three meals and fishing a great deal that allows anglers flexibility to build a day or two (or more) into any trip to Costa Rica family vacations or otherwise. Parismina is just three hours from the country’s international airport in San José. Herrera can make arrangements for either a shuttle by van or a charter flight from San José to Parismina. The van costs $150 each way, and costs can be split by riders. Charter flights vary according to the number of passengers. Costs can range from $600 for one person to $200 per person for a group of six. I was thrilled with the entire operation, and the opportunities to customize the trip exactly as one would like. I’ll be back to sample the baby tarpon fishery again soon.
You can reach Herrera by e-mail. Alternatively, contact his US representatives, Tom and Anna Marie Batt.
(Postscript: At press time, Herrera called to let us know that he is so sure his service is a winner that he is going to invite an Angling Report subscriber down for a free two-day trip when his season reopens in April. We’ll be offering the trip soon to subscribers who have upgraded their subscription to Online Extra. If you don’t know about our FREE Fishing Program you can read all about it on the Home Page of our web site, www. anglingreport.com. FREE trip invitations are sent out only to subscribers who have upgraded their subscription to Online Extra. You can upgrade your subscription on our web site; or by calling us at 800-272-5656.)