Quepos, a Costa Rica fishing tale
Quepos, on Costa Rica’s Central Pacific coast, was long a small, uneventful port town servicing the United Fruit Company and the immediate area. Until the 1980s, most people who traveled to Quepos from other regions of Costa Rica arrived via ferry from Puntarenas. The coastal road from Jacó was little more than a wide graveled path with several antiquated bridges.
Quepos is also one of the best-known Costa Rica sportfishing destinations. How that came to be is a great story.
FishCostaRica shares this fascinating account by Captain George Sawley, abridged and edited slightly, courtesy of Marlin. It revolves around legendary American sportfishing captain Harry Gray who pioneered Quepos fishing. Everyone will enjoy this wonderful Costa Rica fishing experience.
Quepos fishing: how it all began
My first trip to Quepos, Costa Rica, came from out of the blue. I was working for famed fly-fishing angler Harry Gray in Venezuela. We had just finished up the 1990 fall season at La Guaira Bank.
Our mission had been accomplished. We had just caught Gray his second pending world-record Blue Marlin on 12-pound tippet. So it was time to head home to the Florida Keys. Our bags were mostly packed when Gray suddenly decided he was going to embark on a two-week Sailfish trip to Costa Rica.
Little luck with Marlin, so why not Sailfish?
We had just spent the last seven months on an intense Blue Marlin campaign to break legendary angler Billy Pate’s records. During that time, we had fought more than 50 Marlin to boat only four fish. So I guess Gray wanted to blow off a little steam on the much-easier-to-catch Sailfish.
My contract ended that December, but Gray offered to pay my way. In addition, as much as I needed to get back home to the Keys to find my next job, I had never been to Costa Rica. So I decided to put the job hunt on hold. I’m glad I did.
By noon, we were in the air and heading to the little town of Quepos.
A chance encounter near a beautiful park
Quepos is named after the indigenous Quepo Indians that lived there until the Spanish conquistadors displaced them. For centuries, Quepos barely existed until the United Fruit Company built a banana port, populating the area with workers from other parts of Central America. The town is situated at the mouth of a tropical inlet and bay that skirts a dusty six square blocks, and is surrounded by rain forest.
Gray booked us at a hotel just outside of town next to the beautiful Manuel Antonio National Park. Once unpacked, we headed to the pier to get a fishing report and meet up with our crew. Ironically, it was the same crew that Pate was with when he caught one of his Sailfish records here years earlier.
We ran into Pate on the dock. After a brief discussion, we found out that he’d raised 35 sails that day. I must confess, I didn’t know if he was joking. Furthermore, thirty-five fish in a day was more than I had ever seen. The next day couldn’t come soon enough.
After a restless night, we headed to our boat the next morning. It was a 31ft Bertram called the Marlin Azul. Our crew hailed from Guanacaste to the north. At that time, most of the boats came down to Quepos from January through May to get away from the dreaded Papagayo winds that blew in from the north at that time of year.
A huge Sailfish takes the teaser
Pate indicated that fishing started out slow. However, before long, I heard some chatter coming from the bridge. I caught the Spanish word for ‘sail’. Then I saw a very large fish coming behind one of the teasers. So I decided to grab the rod, telling Gray that this was no Sailfish. It had to have been a Marlin. After all, I’d just spent seven months pursuing them, so I knew what they looked like. Or did I?
We fought the fish for about 15 minutes before billing it and snapping a few photos. I had heard about the size of Pacific sailfish. But experiencing it firsthand was amazing. It was definitely a Jurassic Park moment for me, complete with mountainous jungle in the background.
The crew told us that the fish weighed between 125 and 150 pounds. We went on to catch eleven more of the same size that day. We’d shattered the country record of three fish in a day on fly, the crew told us. So we were quite happy.
Harry Gray makes Quepos his home
Gray had been to Costa Rica before. However, the last seven months fishing Marlin in rough Atlantic waters gave him a real advantage with the flat-water sails of Quepos. I thumbed through the International Game Fish Association record book to discover that there were a few records to be had. We went on to set both the eight- and four-pound Pacific Sail records.
Furthermore, with two new pending records under his belt, Gray decided to put me back on the payroll and extend the trip. The goal this time was to head north to catch the first Pacific blue marlin on the fly. We did this with the help of Captain Bubba Carter (who now fishes out of Los Sueños Marina, by the way – ed.).
We traveled up and down the Pacific coast the next few months. But all the while, Gray told me that he liked Quepos the best, and that he was going back there to live. He said he would build a house, and also bring a boat from Florida to start a charter business.
I knew this man well enough to know he was serious. He offered me the job. But I had to turn him down at the time. Sure enough, Gray went back to Quepos and made it his home.
A new marina is born
Several years later we were fishing the sport-fisher Stalker with boat owners Gary Mabry and Charles Nail in Venezuela. There we met up with fly-angler Enrico Capozzi. Capozzi was record fishing at the time. But he had trouble finding the right boats to charter with fly-fishing experience.
He was hoping to come back to try for a record Blue Marlin in the spring. Also, I was itching to get back to Quepos. So we cut a deal. We would fish him on the Stalker. His crew would fish us in the Gray International Fly Tournament out of Quepos, so named in memory of Harry Gray.
It worked out well. We won first place in the GIFT. Furthmore, we caught Capozzi a 12-pound-tippet record blue that spring in Venezuela.
OFC in the Costa Rica fishing annals
With the tournament bug deeply planted, we put Quepos on the 2010 schedule. I’d heard that ground had been broken on the new Marina Pez Vela. But I figured it would be years before we could get a slip. Harold Lovelady and Capt. Glen Mumford had started the project in 2001. And while things don’t always move fast in Costa Rica, to my surprise there was already a full break wall and floating docks in place as we pulled into the harbor in 2010.
Just three years later, in April 2013, that little marina was now big enough to host the Olympics of sport fishing, the 2013 Offshore World Championship. In its very first year in Costa Rica, the Offshore World Championship hosted a record 67 teams from 31 different countries.
This year, teams from almost 30 countries travelled to Quepos for the fouth event, held in April. The 66 teams with 309 anglers released a total of 1,509 billfish. Over the four days, they released 1,495 Sailfish. In addition, the teams released 12 Blue Marlin. one Striped Marlin and one Black Marlin. This averaged out to just under 23 billfish per boat. Two big Dorado (Mahi-Mahi) and a Wahoo also appeared in the scoring.
So, as Captain Sawley ended his story: Once a sleepy fishing village, Quepos fishing is now a player on the international sport-fishing stage.