The fly fishing in Costa Rica is world-class. This is a well-known sport fishery that offers exceptional opportunities for anglers.
From the legendary Tarpon on the East coast, to the majestic Roosterfish in the pacific and the wild rainbows hidden in a small rainforest stream – Costa Rica has it all.
I’ve fished and hosted numerous trips to this jungle paradise and have fallen in love with its natural beauty and people.
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Every time I fly over the dense forests in a small Cessna Caravan and catch that first glimpse of the Bare del Colorado river mouth, I get goosebumps. This is definitely one of those premier fly fishing destinations.
It’s a place of true adventure. And although many people have fished Costa Rica’s waters, its a place where you feel like an explorer. Costa Rica is also a great family destination.
There are many interesting hikes, reserves, and sights – just don’t forget to pack a couple of fly rods.
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Why Go Fly Fishing in Costa Rica?
To me, Costa Rica fly fishing is mostly about the Tarpon. It’s a fish that I dreamt of catching since I was 12 years old. There aren’t many places in the world that you can go to and target trophy-sized specimens on a regular basis. Costa Rica is certainly one of the few.
Costa Rica is also very popular with North American travelers due to the relative ease you can access it. For the serious fly fisherman, not many places can compare to Costa Rica.
What to Pack For a Costa Rica Fly Fishing Trip
You’re going to likely be going after some massive fish in Costa Rica, so you’ll want to bring the fly gear that will be up to the task. Of course, you can rent with pretty much every outfitter and guiding service in the country, but it’s always nice to bring your own fly fishing gear.
- Your Best Fly Rod Overall: Bring your favorite rod
- A 10-14 Weight Fly Rod: For those enormous Tarpon!
- Sunscreen: It’ll be hot and you’ll be under the rays a lot
- A 3 Weight Fly Rod: For Smaller Trout Species
- A 5 Weight Fly Rod: For Medium Sized Fish
- A 7 Weight Fly Rod: Versatile but good for larger fish
- An 8 Weight Fly Rod: Good for most large fish you’ll catch in Costa Rica
- Your Best Fly Reel Overall: A decent matching weight reel and good fly line is important
- A Fly Fishing Pack: Whether it’s a sling or a backpack, these are good for packing even more gear
- Fly Fishing Waders: Ideal to get into those difficult spots in the river, or lake, but not needed at beaches where you can just wet-wade
- A Fly Fishing Vest: Pack your leader, line, nippers, and flies close to your chest
- Wading Boots: Keep the feet on your waders protected from sharp rocks
- Fly Fishing Sunglasses: A good polarized pair of lenses to remove the glare from the water and protect your eyes from UV rays
- Fly Fishing Net: Get a rubber net to protect the fish. Make sure it’s large enough to land good-sized fish
- A Fly Fishing Combo Set: You can pick up a combo kit that comes with all (or most) of the above
- A Fly Box: Bring your best waterproof fly box to keep your flies safe and dry while fishing in Michigan
- Flies: Baitfish Patterns, Poppers, Double-Barrel Poppers, Clouser Minnows, bright (pink, blue, or chartreuse) baitfish or shrimp patterns, Pheasant Tail Nymphs, Gold Ribbed Hair’s Ears, and Brassies
Costa Rica Fly Fishing – Fish Species
Bordered by Nicaragua in the North and Panama in the South, Costa Rica is situated in a narrow section of Central America. On the Eastern side, you’ll find the Caribbean Sea and on the West the Pacific.
I’m not aware of another country in the world where you can catch so many different species of gamefish. Costa Rica is a place where it’s highly probable that you’ll break your personal bests.
Caribbean Inshore Fishing
The Eastern coastline of Costa Rica is sparsely populated and covered in dense rainforests. To the North, the Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge and the Parque National Tortuguero offer some level to of protection to the fisheries along its shore.
Most fishing is done inshore, and the main target species include Tarpon and Jack Crevalle.
Also known as the Silver King, Tarpon in Costa Rica can attain weights in excess of 200 pounds. This is a place to visit when you are looking to catch many trophy-sized fish. Mostly, you’ll be fishing in relatively murky waters of river mouths, so dark flies tied on quality hooks work best.
On trips that I’ve been on, we probably jumped an average of 15 to 20 Tarpon per boat per day. Out of that, we landed between 7 and 12. They are unbelievable fighting fish and mostly shake the fly during one of their numerous jumps.
When on the boat, always keep your eyes open for signs of feeding fish. Spotting a group of frigates circling close to the water with the water erupting below them is a sure sign of tarpon feeding.
Jack Crevalle, the Atlantic relative of the mighty Giant Trevally, occur in abundance in these waters. Although not caught freely, or at will, schools of these fish can be seen targeting bait balls on the surface. In a feeding frenzy like this, any baitfish pattern will result in a take.
Many times, these feeding frenzies like this will include both Jack Crevalle and Tarpon. Therefore, ensure that you make a cast with a rod strong enough to fight a large Tarpon. You never know what you are going to connect.
Pacific Inshore Fishing
When visiting Eastern Costa Rica to target tarpon, it’s a good idea to combine the trip with some Pacific Inshore fishing. While you’re here, add a couple of days to your trip and catch Rooster Fish and Cubera Snapper.
Costa Rica offers exceptional Rooster Fishing. From towns like Sierpa you can charter a boat and catch Roosters with surface Poppers and big Clouser Minnows.
Rooster fishing can be extremely exciting, especially when fishing with Poppers. In the clean waters of the Pacific, Roosters can be seen flowing the fly and then taking it.
Cuberas are large, red Snappers that are prolific on the Western coastline of Costa Rica. Fishing over shallow reefs, they will eat large Double Barrel Poppers and Clouser Minnows.
Pacific Offshore Fishing
While out fishing for inshore species, arrange with your skipper beforehand to explore the exciting offshore opportunities. Ensure you have 12 or 14 weight fly rods with at least 350 yards of backing. Species you’ll encounter include Tuna, Mahi-Mahi, and Sailfish.
Large Tuna is arguably the hardest fish you can target with a fly rod. Their immense strength, resilience, and weight make them unbelievably hard fighting fish.
Mostly you’ll encounter the Yellowfin Tuna. These fish can attain weights in excess of 200 pounds. This is not the class of fish that you want to catch on a fly rod, regardless of what weight rod you have. However, if you come across a school of fish below 30 pounds, don’t be scared of throwing a fly to them.
One of the most beautiful fish in the oceans, Mahi-Mahi are a blast to catch. They eat flies readily, give an impressive aerial display, and are clean fighters. The male fish can be distinguished from the females by the shape of their heads.
Male fish have an extremely square and straight head whereas females have a more rounded head. They are also one of the fastest-growing fish in the oceans. Tests show that at five months old Mahi-Mahi can attain weights in excess of 6 pounds.
This high growth rate translates into a big appetite. That’s why they eat flies so easily. Make use of brightly colored (pink, blue, or chartreuse) baitfish or shrimp patterns.
If you have an experienced grew on deck, catching a Sailfish on the fly is tremendous fun. The fish are generally teased in with conventional gear (rigged without hooks). As soon as the fish is close enough to the boat, the teasers are switched with the fly.
Ensure you have a very smooth drag and plenty of backing. Sailfish is the fastest fish in the sea and go through backing quickly. To assist with the protection of this incredible species, the Costa Rican Government has prohibited Sailfish from being removed from the water to take a photograph.
Sailfish isn’t only one of the fastest fish in the sea, it’s also one of the fastest growers. Some experts say that they can grow up to 1.2 meters (that’s just below 4 feet) in the first year of their life.
Overshadowed by the incredible saltwater fishing, many quality freshwater experiences are hidden in the Costa Rican jungle. In the mountainous parts, you will find many crystal-clear small streams holding Rainbow Trout.
Trout was brought to Central America by American soldiers that were stationed in Panama. The resilience of this species soon meant that they spread through the colder, high-altitude, rivers into Costa Rica.
I recommend a 3-weight fly rod with matching floating line. Popular dry flies in sizes 12 – 18 work well. Also, take some small Pheasant Tail Nymphs, Gold Ribbed Hair’s Ears, and Brassies.
Best Fly Fishing Areas in Costa Rica
You can find pretty decent fly fishing in most parts of Costa Rica. Here, I have focused on my favorite three areas as I believe they offer some of the best fly fishing experiences.
Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge
Location: Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge, Costa Rica
This large wildlife sanctuary is situated on the Eastern coastline, on the border with Nicaragua. The Bara del Colorado flows into the ocean, bringing with it incredible life. Most of the fishing will take place in and around the river mouth.
The small town of Barra del Colorado will be your base when fishing in this area. This settlement can only be reached by plane or boat.
I would recommend bringing two 14 weight fly rods and dependable reels. Fast sink tip lines, such as one of Scientific Anglers Sonar Titan will work perfectly. Take at least two spare lines.
Dark baitfish flies in size 4/0 to 8/0 work best. I recommend incredibly strong hooks, such as the Gamakatsu SC15-2H and Owner Aki. Also, ensure you bring a variety of different weights.
Location: Sierpe, Costa Rica
From the capital of San José, you can be transferred to the small town of Sierpe in a couple of hours. This settlement lies on the bank of the Sierpe River a couple of miles upriver from the mouth.
From here, it’s possible to fish further upriver for snapper and jacks, fish for inshore species such as Rooster Fish, or go on exciting offshore adventures.
I would recommend bringing a 10 weight for smaller species and a 12 or 14 weight if you plan on running offshore. Effective flies are Double Barrel Poppers, Clouser Minnows, colorful Sempers, etc.
High Altitude Rivers and Rainforests
Location: Sierpe, Costa Rica
For the die-hard trout fans, Costa Rica’s rainforests contain some hidden gems. Many of the high-altitude rivers hold healthy populations of wild Rainbow Trout. Some of these rivers are quite inaccessible and hard to find, so I recommend going with a reputed guide.
The trout in these rivers aren’t huge, but they offer pleasing technical fishing. These clean rivers are enclosed in a forest canopy and make for a very unique experience.
Costa Rica Fishing Season
Seasonal fish migrations, wet and dry seasons all have an impact on fishing quality. Therefore, if you are planning a trip to Costa Rica, it’s good to know what fish are around during which parts of the year.
Depending on the species that you are hoping to target, use the information below as a reference. I would suggest that you contact one of the relevant lodges or operators listed further below to give more accurate advice.
Costa Rica Fly Fishing – October to December
On the North Caribbean coast, excellent Tarpon fishing can be had until the middle to the end of November. Incredibly large specimens can be caught during this time of year.
The fishing on the Pacific side of Costa Rica picks up well from November, after a usual dip throughout September and October.
From mid-November less rainfall will make trout stream fishing more predictable.
Costa Rica Fly Fishing – January to March
After the slow Tarpon fishing in December and middle January, it picks up strongly with large shoals congregating around river mouths. This is also a good time to target a good-sized Snook.
For the central and southern parts of the Pacific side, the inshore and offshore fishing is excellent. With Mahi-Mahi, Sailfish, and Marlin around in good numbers.
Trout fishing remains good during this time of year, as this is Costa Rica’s “dry” season.
Costa Rica Fly Fishing – April to June
Tarpon fishing in the Caribbean remains good until around mid-June. Also, Snook and Jack Crevalle are around in good numbers.
Inshore fishing for Cubera Snapper and Roosterfish in the Pacific is excellent.
As the wet season starts at the beginning of May, chasing wild trout becomes harder as the usual clean rivers get blown out.
Costa Rica Fly Fishing – July to September
Most of the fishing on the North Caribbean coast die down substantially during July and August. As of September, good numbers of large Tarpon start arriving at the river mouths.
Offshore and inshore fishing on the Pacific coast is excellent. Especially in the North Pacific. Good numbers of both Blue and Black Marlin are around. Inshore species such as Rooster Fish and Cubera Snapper can also be caught.
Best Fly Fishing Operators and Lodges in Costa Rica
My experience in Costa Rica is that it isn’t the easiest or cheapest country to get around in. If you venture far off the beaten track you’ll either have to take a charter flight or a long cross-country road trip.
The lodges and operators that I have mentioned here are some of my favorite. They are situated in places where you’ll definitely catch fish.
Rio Colorado Lodge
Silver King Lodge is probably one of the best-known Tarpon lodges in Barra del Colorado. It features some of the best accommodation you’ll find in the small town, with all rooms being air-conditioned.
They have 12 fully kitted boats, all fitted with 150hp Yamaha outboards. They also have great guides form the area who have a wealth of knowledge on finding and catching fish.
Although their prices seem a little higher than their competition, keep in mind that all packages offered by them are “all-inclusive”.
Rio Colorado Lodge
Also situated in the town of Barra del Colorado, The Rio Colorado Lodge is a smaller, cozier lodge.
The guides at Rio Colorado are very friendly and considerate but the lodge itself is very rustic.
If you are looking for great inshore and offshore fishing, Sierpe Fishing is a great operator. With a wealth of knowledge on fishing both the rivers and the sea, they’ll help you catch numerous different species.
If you are looking for accommodation in the town of Sierpe, contact Sierpe Fishing and they’ll arrange something for you. They can also assist with a shuttle from the airport in San José to your accommodation at a pretty reasonable fee.
Also, have a look at their Facebook page for updates and exciting fishing reports.
Backwater Fly Fishing
Jesse Males from Backwater fly fishing operators a unique fly-fishing operation in Costa Rica. Within a couple of hours from San José you could be casting to wild Rainbows and Machaca.
When looking for small hidden rivers holding these treasures, it’s always good to have a local guide that knows his way around.
Backwater also has a really nice YouTube channel that you can check out here.
Savegre Eco Lodge
One of the most popular trout rivers in Costa Rica is the small Savegre. The best place to stay while fishing this river is the Savegre Eco Lodge. They don’t have any guides, so you’ll have to work the river yourself.
Approach the river as a normal trout stream. In tight pocket water, fish will always face stream up, so it’ll be possible to get quite close to them. Always have a look behind you to plan your backcast, the rivers are extremely overgrown.
The trout in the Savegre river are generally quite small. However, they can be caught in such surreal and pristine environments making them well worth the effort.
If you are a hard-core fly fisherman that wants to catch trophy-sized Tarpon, Rooster Fish, or even Sailfish, Costa Rica is the place for you. It’s also a great family holiday destination with a possibility to add a day or two’s good fishing.
I hope that this post shined some light on areas and specific times you need to plan your trips around. Costa Rica is truly one of the world’s best fly fishing destinations.
If you found this article interesting, or have a friend or fellow fly fisherman that’s planning a Costa Rica adventure, please share it. Also, I would love to hear your thoughts and comments, so please feel free to add them below.
Some images in this post are courtesy of Shutterstock.
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