Pelagic Triple Crown of Fishing

Tropical Paradise Awaits at The Zancudo Lodge

Capt. Steve Dougherty June 14, 2013

It was a typical Monday morning under the harsh fluorescent lights of my tiny office. Outside in the real world the sun was shining, fish were biting and the ocean was inviting. Yet I couldn’t partake in the bounty so close to me on this glorious Florida day. After spilling a freshly poured cup of piping hot coffee, I thought to myself how the morning could get any worse. Not a minute later and Captain Mike’s commanding voice boomed over my telephone’s intercom. “Steve, please come to my office.”

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Photo: Captain Steve Dougherty]

I took a seat and thought what could possibly be so important so early on a Monday morning. Looking at me with a straight face, Mike spoke first, “You know as much as I absolutely hate to do this…”

…I strolled back to my office dreaming of roosters and sailfish on the ultimate fishing adventure to the tropical paradise of Zancudo, Costa Rica.

I had no reason to be nervous, but anytime your boss starts a conversation with those words you have to think about the worst.

“…Ron from Pelagic Gear invited me to fish in Costa Rica for a week, but with a number of upcoming deadlines I just can’t do it. You want to go and fill in for me?”

And just like that my Monday morning blues were washed away as I strolled back to my office dreaming of roosters and sailfish on the ultimate fishing adventure to the tropical paradise of Zancudo, Costa Rica.

A leader in adventure and eco-tourism, Costa Rica is one of the most biologically diverse destinations on the planet. Not only is it accessible, beautiful and safe, but nearly a quarter of the country’s land has been protected to ensure the preservation of the nation’s abundant natural resources. Having visited Costa Rica in the past I was well aware of the beautiful flora and fauna afforded by the mountains, volcanoes, beaches, rainforests and rich offshore waters.

Ron and the Pelagic Gear crew had just wrapped up a week at Los Sueños where they experienced a record sailfish bite. The week of their stay the 38 boats participating in the Los Sueños Signature Billfish Series recorded an incredible 1,406 releases in three days of fishing. While I would have loved to join the guys at Los Sueños, our looming deadline kept me at the office.

With the magazine finally off to the printer only hours before my departure flight, I was off to the Miami International Airport for a direct flight to San Jose. Upon my arrival the Pelagic gang snatched me up at the airport and we hopped on a 30 minute commuter flight that brought us to the narrow landing strip in the coastal town of Golfito.

During the mid 20th Century, much of southern Costa Rica relied on the growing and exportation of bananas through the port of Golfito, but rising taxes and declining markets all but shut down the industry. Still mostly undeveloped, tourism and fishing support the local economy these days, with the luxurious Zancudo Lodge providing the ultimate sport fishing experience.

Upon our arrival in Golfito we were shuttled to the local docks where two of Zancudo’s captains were waiting to ferry us along the coast to the lodge. Having fished weathered pangas throughout the world’s oceans, it was comforting to see such well equipped and capable platforms. From the moment we stepped foot on the lodge boats there wasn’t a worry in the world and spending our first afternoon relaxing by the oceanfront pool was icing on the cake.

Resting at the end of a peninsula on the Sabalo River, Zancudo Lodge has the best of both worlds—breathtaking views of the stunning Pacific Ocean and a full service marina only a couple hundred steps away. With a dozen twin engine pangas and two 36 foot TwinVees, a full service mechanic shop with multiple backup outboards to make certain the fleet is always ready, and this is a serious destination for anglers looking to battle the ocean’s most formidable predators. In fact, over 70 IGFA world records have been set at the legendary Zancudo Lodge.

However, it’s not only the impressive location on the fertile Pacific Ocean that draws adventurous anglers. Owner Gregg and wife Goldine have added some impressive touches that appeal to the most discriminating international travelers. Natural design elements such as indigenous stone and wood, as well as bamboo and rattan, can be seen throughout the impeccable grounds. The 16 superbly outfitted rooms and suites, pool, hammocks, private sun decks and tournament regulation bocce ball court are all set amidst the lush Costa Rican foliage, with an array of tropical fruits such as mango, pineapple, star fruit, coconut and papaya, which are all served fresh daily.

While I could go on about the amazing lodge, staff, food and poolside cocktails, the real story is about the amazing fishing that takes place just off the dramatic beaches. The 28 foot pangas with reliable Suzuki power enable visiting anglers to strike it big. With experienced local guides, Okuma tackle, Raymarine touchscreens, K-2 Coolers, giant livewells and tuna tubes, and the Zancudo Lodge really is a fisherman’s dream destination. Add in the fact that near-shore and blue water fishing is consistent year-round, and it doesn’t get much better.

After settling in, we gathered at the bar to register for the tournament. Anglers from California, Costa Rica, Florida, Maine, Mexico, Nova Scotia and Texas made the trek to Zancudo to compete in the 2nd Annual Pelagic Triple Crown of Fishing. With over $15,000 on the line it was gearing up to be a competitive three days of inshore and offshore fishing. That evening we enjoyed an amazing four course meal while tournament weighmaster Tony Berkowitz—recent winner of the Bisbee’s Black & Blue—discussed the rules and points system. Sailfish and rooster releases count for 100 points, with photo or video evidence required. In the game fish division, teams could weigh one dolphin or tuna per day, worth 150 points plus the weight of the fish. After the three days of competition the team with the most points would be crowned the overall Triple Crown Champion, although all-in daily jackpots were also on the table. With teams receiving stocked Pelagic Gear goodie bags and the bar shutting down early, anglers called it an early night in preparation of a 5 a.m. wake up call.

The lodge’s pangas provide a fair platform for competitors, although a triple outboard powered 33 foot Contender and custom Blackfin express were also entered in the competition. Unlike stressful big game tournaments that sometimes take the fun out of fishing, this event was designed to be a low key, relaxing event. The Triple Crown is about good times with good people in awesome destinations. That isn’t to say that the competition was going to be taken lightly, but it really wasn’t about who finished first.

With points available both inshore and offshore, tournament strategy was important, but after careful consideration and attraction of the area’s impressive offshore opponents, every boat headed straight for the deep blue on the first day. With calm seas and light winds the pangas easily fished miles offshore in total comfort. After the long day in the hot sun, teams convened back at the dock where Berkowitz was keeping tabs on the catches and reviewing release footage. Cow tuna that got away, broken rods and bruised egos were only some of the sob stories from the anglers in paradise. Almost every team was able to put points on the board, with distinct current breaks, schooling porpoises and crashing birds leading the way to impressive catches of sailfish, dolphin and yellowfin. When all was said and done teams were evenly spread across the board, with Blackhawk taking the billfish daily with five releases. Since no teams fished inshore on day one the daily jackpot rolled over. That evening word at the bar was that most teams were going after roosters in the morning along the stunning beaches of Matapalo to capitalize on the $2,000 at stake.

Still anyone’s game, day two was moving day for tournament competitors looking to take home the hardware. In search of big money, most teams stuck it out close to the beach, with Bad Habit releasing eight roosters to take the lead. They also managed to sneak offshore and release a sailfish and 80 pound tuna in the last hour of competition. Bad Habit accrued 1,150 points for the day, giving them a significant lead going into the third and final day of competition. With teams scrambling to catch up, most were excited of the prospect of double digit rooster releases while slow trolling area beaches.

After another long day on the water, it was Blackhawk taking home the victory for the second year in a row. Having posted solid points on the first two days, Gregg Mufson and Bobby Lee decided to solely target roosterfish on the final day. Fortunately for them the gamble paid off with an impressive 24 rooster releases good enough to boost them to 1st Place. Coming in 2nd Place overall in the points race, Bad Habit also posted the tournaments biggest game fish, a 99 pound yellowfin tuna. Coming in 3rd Place and Top Panga, Pelagic’s Colin Sarfeh and I fished hard and put solid points on the board every day.

Costa Rica truly is one of the most amazing sport fishing destinations and nowhere else will you be pampered like the Zancudo Lodge. Situated amongst a lush backdrop with mountains running right to the coast, breathtaking really doesn’t do it justice. Without a shadow of doubt, the Zancudo Lodge is one of the world’s foremost angling destinations you must visit at least once in your lifetime. Visit pelagicgear.com for info on their next great event, the Texas Center Console Shootout July 25-27.

Notes About Costa Rica

Capital: San Jose
Population: 4,726,575
Official Language: Spanish
Government: Constitutional Democracy
Area: 19,730 sq mi
Currency: Costa Rican Colon
(501 Colons = $1.00 US)

Conservation Corner

Although Costa Rica (Rich Coast) is abundant in natural resources, critical species are in danger. Commercial longlining is a serious problem that could lead to the downfall of these fertile waters. While the ban on exportation of sailfish and use of live bait by commercial anglers is applauded, there’s not a whole lot of regulation amongst small-scale commercial vessels. Under current regulations, small-scale longliners are allowed to fish within 40 miles of the coast for dolphin, tuna and bottom species, but it is here where sailfish also flourish. Throughout our trip every single boat reported jumping sailfish hooked on longlines. Panama recently outlawed purse seining within its waters, and other Central American countries are urged to follow suit. When transiting through Golfito we saw a giant purse seine boat waiting for clearance to chase roaming tuna. To protect the incredible biodiversity it’s important government officials take a proactive approach to controlling commercial fishing and conserving the natural resources.

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