Coco Fishing Adventure costa rica

Playas de Coco Fishing Adventure, When you’re expecting something small and something big surprises youAfter reeling in three mahi-mahi in a row, I asked fishing guide Rob Gunselman if this is how it usually goes out here in the Gulf of Papagayo, mostly catching these 2-foot green fish.

It was freaky, all of a sudden
your boat does a 180 and
takes off without the motor running.

“Karl, it’s a box of chocolates,” he said. “We could hook a sailfish next.”

We hooked a sailfish next.

I was shocked to see it jump — long, sharp bill, big sail, twisting in midair to try to throw the hook. It was maybe 7 feet long, perhaps 120 pounds.

“That’s a big one!” said captain Gerardo Reyes.

Gerardo son’s Benjamin, the 23-year-old doing the wet work in the back of the boat, handed me the rod, someone strapped a belt on me, and the fight was on.

The fish took off, spinning out my line. “He’s headed for Nicaragua!” I shouted.

Rob told me to lift the rod as far as I could, then reel quickly as I lowered it. “Relax,” he said. “Feel it.”

Relaxing it was not. But after several minutes I pulled it alongside the boat and Benjamin grabbed its bill and quickly removed the hook from its lip.

“Sit down back there,” Rob said. “He’s going to pull it out of the water and put it in your lap.”

I thought he was joking. He had to tell me twice. I sat where he pointed.

And then to my amazement, Benjamin and Gerardo pulled the beast out of the ocean and put it in my lap! The sailfish, exhausted and no doubt shocked out of its mind, somehow lay still. We took some quick pictures.

And then Benjamin returned it to the water, holding it in place for a while to make sure it was upright and breathing, the water flowing over its gills. Then he let it go and it slid back to the depths.

“He’ll survive?” I asked. “Yes,” Rob said.

Coco Fishing Adventure

Rob Gunselman, right, with a monster mahi-mahi and a happy client. Opposite page, Rob with a another happy client and a large roosterfish. Photos courtesy of Robert Gunselman

I pictured the fish going home and telling his wife, “You won’t BELIEVE what happened to me today!”

Marlin and sailfish have to be released under Costa Rican law, although the sailfish is common, ranked of “Least Concern” on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species.

Gerardo told me that lifting the sailfish into the boat is frowned on by some people, but he said a law to prevent this has never been passed. Rob said you never want to bring marlin into the boat because they’re too aggressive, but he said most of the fishing operators here will lift a sailfish into the boat for a photo.

The pez vela was the highlight of a five-hour fishing trip out of Playas del Coco on a 27-foot boat, the Dario II. Gerardo, 52, has been in the sportfishing business for 30 years, and Benjamin has been doing this for five.

Rob, who in his previous life was a health insurance broker in suburban Philadelphia, came to Costa Rica in 2011. He stayed for a week and went fishing every day, trying out different captains, rounding up groups of guys to go out. And he’s been doing this ever since.

Now he works mostly with Gerardo, a licensed, insured, bilingual captain whom he calls “a special guy.”

“What’s cool about the captain is he’s eco-friendly,” Rob said. “He doesn’t want to over-harvest, he wants to leave some for tomorrow. He’s not a fish pig.”

He said the fish they catch here are mostly mahi-mahi, snapper, jacks, roosters, tuna, wahoo, groupers, sailfish, marlin and bonita for bait.

I asked Rob what was the strangest thing that ever happened on a fishing trip here. He said they were anchored off the Catalina Islands a few months ago, fishing a school of yellowfin tuna.

“There was also a big school of 1,000-pound manta rays, giants, as wide as this boat is long,” he said. “One of them got caught in the anchor line, and the boat did a 180, it spun the boat right around and took off.”

The ray somehow got its wing wrapped in the anchor rope and attempted to flee the scene.

“If he had nose-dived, it would have capsized us,” Rob said. “We had to cut the line. It was freaky, all of a sudden your boat does a 180 and takes off without the motor running.”

I’m glad we didn’t catch one of those.