Featured Adventure – Gone Fishing, The worst day fishing beats the best day working.
Fishing is like sex — even when it’s bad it’s good.
And when you’re lazily casting a line while floating down a gorgeous tropical river in a 12-foot inflatable rowboat, it’s great.
Guiselle and I went on a 7-mile float down the Tenorio River, helmed by José Reyes and Fabian Zúñiga of Tenorio Adventures in Cañas, a partner of Desafio Adventures in Arenal.
The day started with an early-morning, on-time pickup in an immaculate SUV by our friendly driver, Isaac. I could get used to this, I thought, after all the hard driving I’ve done in this country in my dusty junker (and all the times I’ve gotten lost).
It turns out Tenorio Adventures is very easy to find — you take Highway 1 south from Liberia to Cañas, and it’s right after the bridge over the Corobicí River. We met our guides and were off to our put-in on the Tenorio River.
The Tenorio has some excellent fishing, they told us, because it’s a natural river, undammed. It originates between the Tenorio and Miravalles volcanoes and eventually joins other rivers and spills into the Gulf of Nicoya.
The fish caught here most, José said, are snook, rainbow bass, machaca, tilapia and catfish.
I was given an elevated seat in front and handed a rod and reel with a colorful Rapala lure on the line. Guiselle, who has never fished except for the time she reeled in half a sailfish off the Osa Peninsula, opted to sit on the side of the boat, amusing our guides with her witty Spanish banter. José, who is 37 years old and has been doing this for 18 years, took the oars, while Fabian, 30, did some fly-fishing in the rear.
I’ve been deep-sea fishing in Costa Rica a few times, but I’ve never fished here in a river or lake. Casting a line from a boat brought back a lot of memories of bass fishing with my grandfather as a kid in Arkansas. “You can’t catch any fish if you don’t get your bait wet,” he would say when my brother and I started goofing off and stopped casting.
I also remember my grandfather calling me “Bait Snarl Karl” because of my seemingly limitless capacity to cast into bushes or tie my line in knots. One of the challenges of fishing in a river is that the fish are usually lurking along the banks or around logs, so you have to cast as close as possible to the inanimate features most likely to eat your lure.
And while I did cast into bushes a few times, I usually got lucky and managed to break free. Only once did we have to row, row, row our boat ashore to liberate my Rapala from a lure-eating tree. Eventually I learned to recognize an overcast and put the brakes on it by grabbing the line.
I got the first strike. No, make that the last strike. OK, it was the only strike. I reeled in a footlong snook (known here as róbalo). The guys got all excited, pulled the boat to shore, helped me unhook it, found a camera and took photos of my mini-trophy and me.
They usually catch and release, but not if the fish is mortally injured. This poor fellow was hooked through the eye.
“This one stays with us,” José said. “If we throw him back, the other fish will just eat him.” He asked Fabian to find a bag to keep the fish’s spines from puncturing our raft. “You know how to swim, don’t you?” he said to Guiselle. (She does not.)
It was our only catch all day. But it didn’t matter — the float was fun, the scenery was beautiful, and we saw lots of wildlife, including several crocodiles and monkeys and dozens of exotic birds. We passed a group on a safari float where the guide was delicately plucking a beautiful green vine snake from a limb.
I asked José what’s the strangest thing he’s seen here and he said, “I saw a river otter eating an iguana that was like a meter and a half long.”
“The second strange thing I’ve seen is a crocodile hunting a monkey,” he said. “The monkey was on a branch, and the crocodile jumped up and caught him. He brought him onto a beach, and there were two — one had him by the head and one had him by the tail — two crocodiles fighting over a howler monkey.”
I asked José if they ever turn the boat over.
“It’s rare, but yes, there have been occasions where you’re distracted and you hit a log or something and turn over,” he said. “It’s flat here, so you just turn the boat back over and put everyone back in it.”
We stopped on a little beach to eat pineapple and grapes, and I taught Guiselle how to use the rod and reel. She was a natural, getting the hang of it instantly and lobbing the lure way out into the water.
“I really want to put a grape on the lure,” she said. So I speared half a grape onto one of the treble hooks. But on her first cast the grape flew clear across the river and landed on the other bank. We had a good laugh.
We enjoyed the rest of the float, keeping our bait wet, but the biggest near-miss was when Guiselle dangled a hook baited with pineapple on the back of Fabian’s neck. “We’re just about home, and you almost caught the biggest fish of all,” he said.
A big lunch was waiting for us at the Tenorio Adventures HQ — casados with rice, beans, squash, sweet plantains, salad and choice of beef, chicken or (of course) fish. This was accompanied by a pitcher of iced tea and topped off by a bowl of ice cream. And there was Isaac, waiting to drive us home in his air-conditioned SUV.
It was a most excellent adventure, even if we didn’t catch a lot of fish. Remember: Fishing is like sex….
And also: The worst day fishing beats the best day working.
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