Close up of black marlin at the leader - SFPIL

Fishing in Panama at
Sport Fish Panama Island Lodge

Fishing in Panama at Sport Fish Panama Island Lodge

 

Welcome to the “ground zero” of Panama’s World Class Fishery

Panama’s Gulf of Chiriqui is one of the premier saltwater sport fishing destinations in the world! A remote tropical environment, its home to more than 20 Pelagic and Inshore game fish species. No big industrial commercial fishing operations, and governmental protection of all billfish are a few of the reasons why Panama fishing is so great. Epic Marlin and Tuna action at nearby Hannibal Bank and awesome Inshore fishing right at our doorstep are just a couple of reasons why Sport Fish Panama Island Lodge is the ideal island location.

Why is the Fishing in the Gulf of Chiriqui, Panama So Unique?

The Gulf of Chiriqui’s diverse fishery is remarkable because of it’s unique bathymetry, dominated by undersea structure and currents. These banks and pinnacles around the various island groups, like the fishing grounds at the famed Hannibal Bank and near Isla Montuosa, are fed by the nutrient rich waters of the Humboldt Current. This strong underwater current flows north, along the west side of South America, up into the Gulf of Chiriqui. This drives the cold, nutrient-rich water from the ocean floor up to the surface. These nutrients support abundant microscopic life, which in turn support a chain of ever-larger bait fish which ultimately bring the larger predatory Pelagics here to hunt. It’s the perfect environment for more than 20 game fish species that we catch here. It is common to come across huge schools of boiling Yellowfin Tuna or to see Black Marlin exploding on the surface as they feed on these offshore banks. The scenic inshore fishery presents seemingly endless opportunities as well. Miles and miles of rocky coastline surround our lodge on Isla Paridas and the many island groups that are encompassed within the Gulf of Chiriqui. These spots are the perfect environment for large predators to thrive and are only a short boat ride from our island lodge.

Two anglers fighting fish with birds flocking around the T.O.P CAT as Capt. Shane maneuvers position

Panama Fishing Regulations Promoting Tourism

The fishing regulations in Panama are the strictest of all Central American countries. These laws regulating commercial fishermen insure the future sustainability of our fishery. The Panamanian government realizes that the sport fishing tourist dollars are stronger and more important than the exporting of dead fish. Panama passed into law on August 20, 1997, Executive Decree No.33, protecting all bill fish species in the Republic of Panama. The law prohibits killing of any bill fish including Black Marlin, Blue Marlin, Striped Marlin, White Marlin, Spearfish, Sailfish, and Swordfish. Further it states that these fish are reserved for sport fishing only by catch and release. This Panama fishing law additionally prohibits the commercial export of any bill fish caught in Panamanian waters. The government also banned large industrial long-lining operations, and Yellowfin Tuna purse seiners. Panama’s Executive Decree 486 signed into law on Dec. 28, 2010, prohibits long line vessels of over six tons from operating within our waters. Due to this lack of heavy fishing pressure the offshore fishing action here is legendary! Sport Fish Panama Island Lodge is also committed to the sustainable use and conservation of our fishery and all of the precious natural resources. We’d like it to be enjoyed for our family’s generations to come. We practice catch and release of all Bill fish, Roosterfish and only keep fish we intend to eat. The rest are released to fight another day!

Three smiling anglers holding yellowfin tuna while fishing in Panama at SFPIL

What Areas Do We Fish?

     

    Our private island lodge is located 12 miles off the Pacific coast of Panama on Isla Paridas. Our centralized location, in the heart of the Gulf of Chiriquí,  is one of the greatest advantages we have over the other lodges on the mainland. We are 45 minutes closer to the offshore action at all the hotspots such as Hannibal Bank and Isla Montuosa! Exploring the numerous island groups here in the Gulf of Chiriqui such as Isla Ladrones, Islas Secas, and Isla Coiba is very easy from our Panama fishing lodge. We also have great inshore fishing right at our doorstep here at Isla Paridas!

jumping black marlin hooked while fishing at the Sport Fish Panama Island Lodge

What is the Panama Fishing Season?

Our fishing “season” typically runs from November through August. These months typically have the calmest seas since they fall at the height of the “dry” season. This is also when the majority of bait is concentrated at the many fishing grounds in the Gulf of Chiriqui. When there is bait around…the large predators we are hunting will not be far behind! The Black Marlin, although caught here year-round, follow the bait fish and concentrate in larger numbers starting in November. Pacific sailfish that top the 100-pound mark move in to join the feeding frenzy, generally starting in December. Shortly thereafter large pods of Porpoises, with huge schools of Yellowfin Tuna, move in and invade the Gulf of Chiriqui. Tuna are also year round residents, but the peak Tuna bite occurs February through August as they work together with their friends the Porpoises, feeding on spawning baitfish, squid, and crabs. 50 to 80-pound Tunas are the norm while 100 to 200-pound plus cows are common. Dolphin or “Dorado” are encountered any day of the year. The biggest bulls are often encountered November through March, while trolling larger offerings for billfish or near floating debris. Inshore species include Cubera Snapper, Roosterfish, Grouper, Spanish Mackerel, Blue/Black Trevally, African Pompano, Amberjack, and Almaco Jack. Inshore fishing is seasonal like the offshore fishing is, and is a great option for our anglers when the “bite” offshore is slow or when they are looking to specifically target inshore species.

Capt. Juan and angle holding cubera snapper aboard the T.O.P. CAT

What are our Panama Fishing Methods?

Popping,  jigging,  as well as live bait  or dead bait. The species targeted, and what most interests our clients is really what dictates what bait, gear, tackle and method we will fish. Our boats are ready and fully equipped with all top-of-the-line tackle and gear needed for any situation. We want to make our client’s Panama fishing experience the best it can be and get them ‘hooked up’ whatever it takes.

Our preferred, and without a doubt the most productive, method of fishing in Panama at Sport Fish Panama Island Lodge is using live bait. Bridling live Blue Runners (Green Jacks), Bonitos, Skip Jacks, Little Tunnys, Sardines, and small bait sized Tunas, is the ticket to catching big fish. Whether it be Marlin, Yellowfin Tuna, Roosterfish, or Cubera Snapper a bridled live bait is like candy to these guys when fishing in Panama! Blue Runners, sometimes called Green Jacks, are our staple bait. Readily available near the lodge, we generally have Blue Runners caught and ready in our pens to fill the livewell for the next day’s fishing. Sometimes bait is scarce and/or difficult to catch around the island, so we have to go out in search of other types of bait or just go find it in different areas.

Capt. Shane holding bridled live bait aboard the T.O.P. CAT
Bait well with swimming baits on the T.O.P. CAT

The type of fish we are targeting, and the area we are fishing, will determine exactly how we will present our live baits. For example, when targeting inshore species like Cubera Snapper and Almaco Jacks at an underwater seamount, we drift live Blue Runners over the “high spots” by dropping down live bridled Blue Runners with weights, but we will also set out bridled baits without weight to see what is most productive. If we are at Hannibal Bank and fishing for Marlin and/or any other Pelagic species, we will normally fish two bridled Blue Runners on the outriggers and two bridled Bonitos on the flat lines. This combination of different types of live baits gives us a great shot at any of the fish that may be hunting in the area.

Another live bait technique we use is setting baits out in front of a feeding school of Porpoises. More times than not Yellowfin Tuna are following close to these pods of Porpoises and feeding with them. Of all the types of Panama fishing this is by far the most exciting! We run and position the boat in front of a working pod of feeding Porpoises and Tunas to drop a rigged live Blue Runner or Bonito in front of them. It is hard for anyone to hold back their emotions as the frenzied mass of diving birds, busting Tunas, and rolling Porpoises moves toward us. Hooking up on a Tuna in the middle of a feeding frenzy is an exciting experience for any fisherman. Time seems to stand still for just a moment as we wait for a Tuna to inhale one of our baits. Tuna fishing doesn’t occur this way very many places in the world. But every year, like clockwork (between the months of March to June) Tuna frenzies like this happen pretty much on a daily basis in the Gulf of Chiriqui, Panama.

Nothing gets angler’s blood boiling quicker than a top-water attack on a popper! And fishing here in the Gulf of Chiriqui, Panama is without a doubt a popping paradise. We always keep a rod armed and ready with a popper…as many opportunities arise during the day’s fishing where casting a popper can pay big dividends. Throwing poppers while slow trolling live baits along the many rocky shorelines of inshore territory, for species like Roosterfish and Cubera Snapper, can produce vicious strikes. The chance to cast a popper into a boil of frenzied Yellowfin Tunas offshore will surely result in a top water explosion and blistering run. And be sure to keep your eyes open. If we spot any floating logs or debris offshore you may get your chance to sight cast to a big Dorado. And if he hits? Hold on!

panama fisherman