• Published:December 28, 2020
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In the most western region of Panama's Pacific coastline sits some of the wildest, most remote land/seascapes in North America.

The Coiba region of Panama--in the Gulf of Chiriqui-- is dotted by islands and rocky pinnacles and many undersea ledges and banks.

The most famous of these, Hannibal Bank, sits some eight or so miles from the region's largest island--Coiba. The waters surrounding this network of above and below sea structure are infested with big black marlin, giant schools of really trophy yellowfin tuna and more.

Were that not enough to grab your attention, lurking around the rocky shorelines and pinnacles are trophy cubera snapper and big, mean roosterfish. It is the combination of number, size and variety of top shelf game fish that has been attracting intrepid anglers to this part of the world for going on 40 years.
The Sport Fish Panama Island Lodge 
Captain Shane Jarvis owns and operates the Sport Fish Panama Island Lodge (www.FishPanamaToday.com) out of Isla Parides. An American transplant, Jarvis first experienced the region’s incredible fishing variety on a charter. It made quite the impression. 

Jarvis and his father now own not only a private island, but a fleet of four fishing boats (three World Cats and a 25’ inshore boat) and a newly remodeled lodge that accommodates groups of up to 18. It is with a characteristic ease and roll with the punches approach that Jarvis and his crew make the region’s fishing accessible to people from around the world.

When to Come, What to Target: Offshore 
“Fishing here is great because we can generally catch all species year round, but there are seasons that are best,” Shane describes. “For black marlin the best times are from November through February and again from June, July and into August.” 

The average black marlin here runs in the neighborhood of 300 pounds. That said, there are some bruisers here.  The black marlin fishing is commonly a live bait affair—trolling bonitos around bait schools or structure. 

In places like Isla Montuosa or Jicarron, you can catch black marlin and roosterfish on the same spread—with perhaps just a quarter of a mile separating the preferred habitat for each. 

“The best season for blue marlin tends to run from December into January and February. The average blue marlin is in the neighborhood of 250,” says Jarvis. 

Yellowfin tuna are perhaps Captain Shane Jarvis’ bread and butter. The tuna here run big and school in great number. Scrolling through Captain Shane’s YouTube channel, you’ll see plenty of the epic “tuna frenzies” for which Panama is famous. 

Tuna frenzies occur when yellowfin stack up schools of bait on the surface and come crashing through them. They create carnage—sometimes acres of whitewater with big tuna blasting themselves airborne as they consume as much bait as possible. 

When this happens, anglers can sling poppers on spinning rods or toss a live bait into the mayhem. The result is not only the fishing story of a lifetime, but instant hook up. 

According to Captain Shane, the best time to target tuna is from April through August. A good one is 200 pounds, though he occasionally tangles with a 300-pounder.

An Inshore Party
The Gulf of Chiriqui has an incredibly diverse inshore fishery. Bluefin trevally, sierra mackerel, various species of grouper, all manner of jacks, mullet and rock snapper, and even the occasional wahoo are known to come calling.

This menagerie of inshore targets, however, plays second fiddle to the inshore headliners—roosterfish and cubera snapper. The only thing more incredible than seeing the crest of a roosterfish emerge behind a popper might be watching the water’s surface explode when a giant cubera mashes it.

The best seasons for roosterfish roughly mirror those of the black marlin—November through January and June through August.  You can catch them throwing top waters or by live baiting—either bonitos (for the big ones) or blue runners. 

Big cubera snapper are an incredible thing. They fight like monsters and can bite a top water in half.

Jarvis and company catch them up to 70 pounds, with 50-pounders being common. The best season for these bruisers runs from December through March. Like all of the billfish he catches, the lodge releases all of its cubera and roosterfish.

Once the Covid crisis opens up, put Panama on your hit list, you won’t regret it!