Those of you that watched ‘The Big Fish’ show on BBC 2 a few years back will be well aware that during the Costa Rican leg of the competition, myself and the other contestants were set the task of catching a Sailfish. Things didn’t exactly go to plan as the Sailfish hadn’t read the script. Over two days of filming, only one was caught by my fellow contestant Dan. That’s one fish I really would have loved to catch!
The following winter I got the chance to have another crack at them as my wife and I were volunteering in Panama for a couple of months. It made sense to stop off in Costa Rica for a few days on our way down there and see if I could come face to face with one and tick the species off my bucket list. The big game fishing in Costa Rica is truly world class. They have a fantastic fishery with some of the best chances for billfish anywhere on the planet. It was worth a shot!
I wanted to return to the same lodge the BBC took us to but a little digging around revealed it was way out of my price range. After a bit more searching online I discovered ‘Jackpot Sport Fishing’, based on the Central Pacific coast in the town of Quepos. What stood out about these guys was that they are owned and run by a British fella – Benn Gilmour.
Benn and his family sold up everything and moved to Costa Rica back in 2015 to set up their big game fishing business. They bought a 31ft Sportfisher boat named ‘Good Day’ from which to pursue the many species, inshore and offshore, that the country is famous for. Benn’s team on board includes ‘Captain Manuel’ who has 30 years experience fishing out of Pez Vela Marina in Quepos with 12 of those on ‘Good Day’ itself. By his side is Yoxan, his son, who is an extraordinary deck-hand. I really liked the idea of a father and son team working together.
I got in touch with Benn and we bounced a few emails back and forth. He seemed just the man for the job, making everything straightforward, so I booked up two days in mid-December to fish with him. Benn assured me we stood a good chance of catching a sailfish as it was their peak season…..which was just what I wanted to hear!
The more I spoke with Benn the more excited I got, he was passionate and enthusiastic about his fishing. His online catch reports were very impressive too. He and his team were consistently catching some fine fish, I knew I’d picked the right guys. They seemed keen, eager to please their customers and their results spoke for themselves.
When my wife and I arrived in Costa Rica, it was just at the tail end of some particularly out of season rain that hung around after hurricane Otto. It wasn’t looking too clever, but as we made our way down to the coast it fizzled out and some nicer weather moved in, just in time for the fishing. We met with Benn and his family for dinner on our second evening in Quepos and hit it off right away. Plans were made and targets were set. If we could pull it off and get the Sailfish I’d be one very happy chap. The challenge was on!
As my first fishing day dawned, it was grey and overcast. Benn picked me up at 6.30am sharp and we made our way down to the modern and well equipped Pez Vela Marina. I was very impressed with ‘Good Day’, she was immaculately kept. Captain Manuel and Yoxan had been busy preparing everything on board well before I arrived. After introductions and hand shakes, Manuel steered her out of the marina on to the open sea and gunned the engines for our steam out to the fishing grounds, the Furuno Bank.
As we edged ever further offshore, the weather cleared and we soon had the tropical sun beating down on us. We discussed techniques and the drill for if and when we connect with a fish. In a big game fishing situation like this, it’s all about teamwork. Our spread consisted of teasers without hooks and trolled ballyhoo deadbaits with rubber skirts. In the boat, the fly rod was ready to go in case we had the chance to tease a Sailfish close enough for a shot. Anything is possible in this situation and it pays to be well prepared. As much as we hoped for a Sailfish, there was every chance we might find Tuna, Dorado or even a Marlin out there.
The anticipation was intense as we approached the fishing grounds. A nice Sailfish breached nearby which gave me great confidence, they were in the area. Once the lines were set, all eyes were on the spread behind us with Captain Manuel having the best view from up in the tower. To my surprise, not more than 20 minutes after we started fishing, the trolled ballyhoo bait to my left was away. The reel started screaming and Manuel was shouting ‘Sail, Sail, Sail’ from the tower. It was all happening!
The clutch was engaged and with it the circle hook driven home. At this point, a magnificent Sailfish, all lit up in blues and purples, started to leap and tail-walk behind the boat in its bid to shake the hook. It was an incredible sight and the reel was literally fizzing as Benn and Yoxan cleared the other lines and teasers. With these out of the way, I had space to get to work on the fish and the fight began properly.
Once the first run was over, I was able to gain some line back by steadily pumping and winding. It was an immense weight on the end and I was willing it to stay attached. To be honest, I was rather shocked at just how quickly it had all happened after the many months of planning and thinking about it. These guys were on it!
The fish regained some strength after a while and tore off on another blistering run, sounding a little this time. This was to be its last though. It was then a case of solid pressure from me and the drag that proved too much. Slowly but surely, I managed to edge the fish back to the boat.
Yoxan and Benn’s experience shone through in the next couple of minutes as they had the fish unhooked, tagged, measured and got trophy shots for me without the fish ever leaving the water. It’s law in Costa Rica that any billfish caught should never leave the water and there’s a no-kill policy too. They truly value the incredible fishing they have.
I swam the fish by the boat for a short while as it got its strength back and then released it, watching as it swam off strongly to fight another day. What an amazing creature and what an incredible experience. I was over the moon and it wasn’t even 10.30!
I filled in the paperwork that goes with the tagging research program and the lads set the lines once again so we could continue fishing. With a Sailfish in the bag already, I couldn’t quite believe it. There had even been talk of a couple of Marlin being raised on the radio. With this in mind we got the coordinates from one of other captains and headed over to investigate. To catch a Sailfish and a Marlin in one day would be really quite special!
We got a chance too. After a couple of hours of trolling, Manuel started screaming from the tower and sure enough there was a Blue Marlin in the spread. In a flash, it scythed through the lures and baits slashing at them with its bill but failed to connect before sinking out of view. As quickly as it began, it was all over.
Apart from one other dropped run from a Sailfish, that was all the action we had that day. It wasn’t an easy day by Costa Rican standards but what mattered is that we got a Sailfish to the boat and our target was met. As the lines were drawn in and the bow pointed back towards Quepos, I was certainly returning back to port one happy angler. We did it. Another species ticked off the list, and at 198cm, a fine specimen.
Join me next month as we discover the exciting and varied inshore fishing that can be found a short run out of Quepos. Tight lines!