The classic Guns N’ Roses song was jamming through my head as we flew over the dense rainforest jungle en route to an exotic angling outpost along the banks of the San Juan River. This freshwater effluent flows east from Lake Nicaragua toward the Caribbean Sea, with a portion of the river forming the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. An ecological paradise home to incredible biodiversity, the lush jungle is part of the Rio Maiz National Park, which covers approximately 640,000 acres, making it the largest tropical rainforest north of the Amazon. As my wife Allison and I were gazing out the windows of the small commuter plane a tiny runway became visible through the overgrown forest. It was time to tangle with wild game fish in the background of one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the entire world.
Nicaragua is the largest Country in Central America, bordered by Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south. While a majority of the tourists who visit Central America still travel to Costa Rica, Nicaragua is a safe, accessible and untouched jewel waiting to be discovered. Our trip to the Rio Indrio Lodge had been four years in the making, with the only delay the construction of the new airstrip. As you can imagine, construction in Central America doesn’t happen overnight, especially when you are talking about a region as desolate and undeveloped as southeast Nicaragua. However, this past February I received a call from Dr. Lopez about the completion of the new runway and before I knew it we were packing our bags. Although the lodge was accessible prior to the completion of the new runway, the new airstrip makes it much easier to reach.
The Rio Indrio Lodge is unlike any destination I’ve ever visited, with the entire lodge connected by elevated walkways that wind through the virgin rainforest.
From Miami a short 21/2 hour flight lands you in San Jose, Costa Rica. From there a 45 minute flight to Rio San Juan and a 10 minute boat ride down the river will have your feet firmly planted off the grid in the midst of dense rainforest canopies. The Rio Indrio Lodge is unlike any destination I’ve ever visited, with the entire lodge connected by elevated walkways that wind through the virgin rainforest. Connecting the main lodge, pool, bar, marina, cabins and restaurant, the walkways are alive and the amount of natural wildlife you come across will blow your mind. Everywhere you look you will see creatures flying, walking, hopping and crawling through the lush landscape.
While the surrounding forest is breathtaking, the lodge itself is a thing of beauty. Designed with environmentally conscious developers and investors, the Rio Indrio Lodge was a massive undertaking. Utilizing timber from tree farms and sustainable reforestation programs, it took local artisans three years to complete the lodge. That was only after a 30 month environmental impact study was completed. The resulting lodge is a mixture of rustic elegance that will excite even the most jaded international travelers.
Outfitted with pangas and center consoles, the guides routinely patrol rainforest waters for snook, rainbow bass, tiger bass, drum, mojarra and many other exotic species. They also thoroughly investigate the rivermouth and open expanses of the Caribbean Sea for tarpon, jack, snapper, tuna and wahoo. To help anglers overcome determined predators, the entire fleet was recently outfitted with a wide array of quality Daiwa tackle.
While there are numerous angling opportunities afforded by a trip to the Rio Indrio Lodge, the most popular draw is the incredible tarpon fishing that takes place outside the mouth of the Rio San Juan. These tarpon are giants and intercept forage flushed from the nutrient-rich waters. The main method for tarpon fishing is jigging heavy bucktails in 20 to 30-feet of water. At the same time you will also have the chance of getting throttled by big crevalle and unforgiving cubera snapper.
Although large tarpon test even the most skilled and experienced anglers, fishing deep in the rainforest is a unique experience that cannot be compared to any other on the planet. The Rio San Juan, also know as el Desaguadero, or the drain, is a timeless 120-mile passageway that offers exciting opportunities with many exotic species that have likely never encountered adventurous anglers. Travel back in time miles into the rainforest through winding narrow canopy covered creeks and tributaries, knowing that without a guide you would have no chance of getting home. Casting spinnerbaits at the shorelines, points, and downed trees will get you hooked up with hard fighting rainbow and tiger bass. While you will be focused on the fish, the ever-present wildlife will keep your eyes drifting from the prize at stake. Exotic birds, monkeys, caiman, crocodiles and lizards are only a few of the rainforest inhabitants that will keep your head on a swivel.
Upon arrival our plan was to fish as much as possible and get in as much as we could during our three day adventure. Unfortunately, the weather forecast wasn’t in our favor, with high winds and rain making tarpon fishing difficult at best. A typical case of “should’ve been here yesterday,” a group of anglers were wrapping up a week in the forest with tales of the ones that got away, jumping over 200 tarpon during their stay.
However, over our three day sabbatical Alison and I had the opportunity to experience a little bit of everything. We trolled the shorelines in search of snook with our inshore guide Santos, and managed to subdue a fat linesider while also getting slammed by unstoppable cubera snapper. These fish completely traumatized our plugs and easily straightened the hooks. We also navigated the winding river deep into the rainforest and encountered unique rainbow and tiger bass. While braving the offshore waters through nasty rain squalls in search of hungry tarpon we encountered ravenous crevalle that made us cry mercy.
Although this distant outpost is an angler’s paradise, there’s much more to experience besides the world-class fishing. There are six kilometers of hiking trails on-site that meander through the rainforest, providing ample photo opportunities. They also have kayak tours, and a jungle survival class that is hosted by ex Army Ranger Mike Lilla. One thing you won’t miss is the giant pet crocodile, Little John. Juancho is 19 ½ feet long, estimated to be 120 years old and visits the marina every evening to check out the daily catch. This is one place you definitely don’t want to fall in the water.
While relaxing in the infinity pool we couldn’t help but admire the beauty and remoteness of our immediate surroundings. All in all, our trip was an absolute success and we were sad to leave our new friends that live life uninterrupted in the dense jungle. Although the fish and weather gods weren’t on our side this time around, we have already planned our return trip and can’t wait to get back off the beaten tourist track.