Zeroed In On Zancudo

Every now and then it’s really nice to have someone else at the helm, which is exactly what I said to my wife as we raced offshore with our butts buried in a pair of beanbags. Other than the scenic Osa Peninsula fading fast in the background, the 60-minute run was uneventful. We saw little more than the occasional frigate bird scanning the surface for its next victim. But then it happened, just like it does so often across the Pacific. We crossed a magical line and the ocean suddenly erupted in a whirlwind of activity. The fish gods had officially flicked the switch.


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Photo: FSF Mag

Xavier pulled back the throttles and the Yamaha-powered Contender was instantly surrounded. In what seemed like a blink of the eye, serenity turned to mayhem. Bonito and football yellowfin raced just inches below the surface devouring mouthfuls of silvery baitfish as flocks of screaming birds scavenged the remains from above. Massive boils could be seen in the distance indicating the presence of large game fish. It was an impressive sight and now that we were engulfed in a frenzy, the stage was set for something serious to go down.

“With the absence of a fighting chair the routine was straightforward. Stand up, strap in and fight the marlin like a man, which I proceeded to do a total of six times over a two-day span.”

As the confident skipper relayed instructions Leah and I instantly jumped into action. It was just the three of us and we were in for a serious treat. First out were a pair of small feathers, and before we could count to ten we were connected to our first pair of baits. The deal was simple…catch bonito and juvenile yellowfin, bridle the bait and get them back out on a pair of 30-wides as quickly as possible.

The food chain in these nutrient rich waters is insane, with billions of tiny anchovies and sardines hunted by relentless schools of juvenile tuna. The footballs lose their life to hungry dolphin, sailfish, large yellowfin and of course, almighty blue marlin. Ravenous sharks enter the equation next and make short work of the weak and wounded.

With baits in the water and the tuna tubes loaded, we slow-trolled around the perimeter of the submerged volcano some 40 miles off the southern coast of Costa Rica without another boat in sight. How and when a mile of seawater covered the mountainous peak didn’t matter much. Plate tectonics…the Ice Age…a massive volcanic eruption…whatever. What I did know for sure is that it was our first day on the water during an exploratory trip to waters that had yet to experience angling pressure.

Minutes after deploying our baits the skipper shouted as an aggressive 250-pound blue exploded on the port bullet. A short drop back later and the circle-hook found a home. Ten minutes into our first day and I was already tight to a determined marlin greyhounding toward the horizon. It doesn’t always happen this way, but we had timed it right.

With the absence of a fighting chair the routine was straightforward. Stand up, strap in and fight the marlin like a man, which I proceeded to do a total of six times over a two-day span. Successfully releasing half a dozen blue marlin was an extraordinary feat I never expected. Truthfully, I would have been happy with one and thrilled with two. In between billfish bites, giant dolphin did a terrific job of wearing us out and sealed the deal on an awesome blue water adventure. And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, inshore explorations along the region’s rocky shorelines were highlighted by gargantuan amberjack and world-class roosterfish, like Leah’s monster estimated at well over 50-pounds!

When most anglers think of Costa Rica they immediately think of Los Suenos. The mega resort farther up the Pacific Coast is certainly a renowned destination offering visiting anglers anything and everything, but that wasn’t exactly the type of atmosphere we were after. Our goal was to visit a more laid-back destination, with little to no development. We were interested in immersing ourselves in the region’s extraordinary diversity and culture and get a real taste of Costa Rica. After months of anticipation we arrived at the tiny Pacific town of Playa Zancudo on Christmas Day, just a few miles short of the Panamanian border.

From a geography standpoint, Playa Zancudo and the adjacent port town of Golfito, which is part of the larger Golfo Dulce separated from the Pacific Ocean by the iconic Osa Peninsula, are incredibly diverse. Rainforest jungles, coastal lowlands, breathtaking mountain ranges, open meadows, towering cliffs and exotic wildlife and flora fill your senses in every direction. With banana farming and gold prospecting now forgotten industries, recreational sport fishing has become the most important attraction for the entire region.

Only six miles long, Playa Zancudo sits at the mouth of the Rio Coto on a long and narrow peninsula along the southeast corner of Golfito Bay. On one side of the peninsula is Zancudo’s beach. Protected from the full force of Pacific swells, the waves are virtually non-existent here, making it a wonderful spot to swim, snorkel or just hang out. The other side of the peninsula is home to a mangrove swamp and tiny coastal community with a single school, several churches, a few local eateries and bars, a general store and one of the most well respected fishing lodges in all of Central America—The Zancudo Lodge.

Honestly, The Zancudo Lodge lives up to its reputation as a first-class operation dedicated to making angling dreams come true, and they do it in first-class style! These people are the real deal and have a crystal clear understanding of what guests expect. We’ll discuss the five-star service and boutique accommodations momentarily, what you need to know now is that The Zancudo Lodge is seriously prepared to keep you connected. With a well-rounded fleet consisting of open pangas, beamy Twin-Vee catamarans and a 50-knot Raymarine-equipped Contender, the staff at Zancudo is serious and regularly accommodates a dozen anglers at a clip. The gear is top notch too, with a full arsenal of matching Okuma tackle loaded with fresh P-Line, Gamakatsu hooks, Yo-Zuri lures and Braid harnesses. They also work closely with Pelagic Gear, Navionics and Fusion.

Anglers are encouraged to fish alone, with only an English-speaking captain. We appreciated the hands-on experience and you will, too. Here’s a tip…book your trip as early as possible and reserve the Contender. It’s by far the fastest charter boat in the entire region and speed makes a huge difference in this broad expanse. While there is plenty of action to be had within 20 miles of the coast, having the option to run twice that distance greatly increases your odds.

At The Zancudo Lodge, guests are treated with the utmost respect in an upscale, yet casual atmosphere. Air-conditioned rooms, bungalows and suites are perfectly appointed and include evening turn down service and daily laundry. Focal points of the recently remodeled lodge include the nautically inspired lounge and open-air dining room. There’s also a gift shop and well-appointed game room with billiards, ping pong, foosball and more. The comfortable reading area overlooking the mountains is also a great place to enjoy a refreshing cocktail while swapping fish tales before a formal dinner with fresh baked breads complimenting chef inspired culinary creations made only with locally sourced produce and seafood.

Days on the water start with a 5:00 a.m. knock on the door followed by a made-to-order breakfast (I thoroughly enjoyed the fresh baked pastries), with a 6:00 a.m. departure to the fishing grounds. Expect to return by late afternoon with sore arms and memories that will last a lifetime.

There’s also plenty to do on dry land, with excursions to a nearby monkey rehabilitation center and botanical garden, rainforest tours, zip lining and beach horseback riding just a few of the options. You should also find some time to visit the town and experience the colorful culture and local cuisine.

While there are many fishing lodges across the Pacific, The Zancudo Lodge is certainly special. Maybe it’s the breathtaking sunsets and five-star service. Maybe it’s the rich fishing grounds yielding a wide array of prized game fish, or maybe you’re more attracted to the casual atmosphere and lack of modern development. Truthfully, it’s a combination of all of these aspects that keeps guests coming back year after year.

Travel Tips

A memorable experience at The Zancudo Lodge is only a phone call away. Regardless of your initial point of departure, once you arrive in the capital city of San Jose you will take a regional flight on Sansa Airlines to the port town of Golfito. From here a short taxi ride whisks you to a private dock where a waiting boat transports you across Golfito Bay to your final destination. Arriving in San Jose before noon ensures you reach the lodge the same afternoon.

Playa Zancudo

Population: 450
Currency: Colon
(509 Colon = 1 USD)
Official Language: Spanish

Contact Info

The Zancudo Lodge