Off the Grid in Costa Rica

All I can say is, WOW! My first trip to Costa Rica did not disappoint. I set out with a group of friends to travel to a destination that was not “all inclusive” as many have become accustomed to with resort destinations. We wanted to experience the culture of Costa Rica, and we wanted to do this in an up-and-coming area that is starting to become more popular with the surf crowd but had plenty of other things to do, namely going offshore! Most people who’ve surfed Costa Rica have traveled to the popular Tamarindo, but we ventured further south to Nosara, choosing to stay in a house located just south of town in Playa Guiones.

We flew into Liberia and traveled about 2 hours south on a well-paved two-lane road that I heard many times called the “main road.” After turning off the main road towards Nosara, we quickly learned, from here on out, that paving was done mainly in patches to keep areas of the road from washing out, and the road from there to Nosara would be rough going. Honestly, if someone is building a house in Costa Rica, I don’t see how they get the glass or furniture to the home site without it falling apart!

We made it. We checked into our house, a VRBO we found just on the outskirts of Nosara. I have to admit, I was a little surprised. When I think of Costa Rica and pictures I’ve seen from magazines, I was thinking lush, tropical rainforest. Well, the region from Liberia south is arid during the “dry season” and has the appearance of something you’d see in coastal southern California. However, as we made the walk to the beach to check out the scenery, the twisted vines and trees along that walk held all sorts of colorful and tropical birds, monkeys, and other wildlife. In fact, we woke up to monkeys in a tree above our house almost every morning.

The break in Nosara has been described as more consistent than Tamarindo. Several miles long, the beach at 5:00 in the afternoon becomes pretty crowded actually, as many shops close so that employees and shop owners can go surfing. We spent the first day in the water and I’m not ashamed to say it, the waves were much bigger than I am used to and I almost died several times trying to get out. By the time you duck dive your way past the breakers, which for me took about 10 minutes, I had to take another 10 minute breather just to have the energy to catch a single wave. I know there are people reading this who can relate, lol, and I’m not even out of shape! I have much respect for the guys who do that everyday. Those guys are serious athletes.

On day two we set out with Fishing Nosara. There’s no marina in this area. The fleet stays anchored in a protected area just south of town, and to get to your boat you take on the breakers head on in a little dinghy. We timed our pass through the breakers just right and made it to our boat, and we set off for what would be one of the most memorable offshore experiences I’ve ever had.

So check this out. They ran teasers on short left, short right, and short middle, all at the same length, about 50feet behind the boat. Between the teasers, same distance, they ran a naked ballyhoo rig short middle off either side of the middle teaser. No skirts or color. Then the captain ran the shotgun way back.   When I say way back, I mean WAY BACK. So this is the setup we ran all day. It never changed really unless they felt the need to put less lines in the water—sometimes we only had two in the water.

Within five minutes of lines out, we hooked a blue marlin off the left teaser. We estimated the fish to be about 300lbs—and that’s not an exaggeration. This fish decided to go down and he never stopped. He pulled like a giant hammerhead just steady pulling line and doing his own thing like he didn’t know he was hooked. Unfortunately this fish pulled the hook and it was a done deal.

We decided to go after some mahi/dorado/dolphin and we LOADED the boat. Every fish we caught was pushing 30lbs and we didn’t hook a single small one. We had about 5 of these in the box when I pointed to the horizon and asked the mate if I was seeing tuna splashing. As we got closer we could see it was spinner dolphins. This was probably the most amazing site I’ve ever witnessed in the open ocean. We came upon a giant superpod of spinners, and I am not exaggerating when I say that there were thousands of them. There were several thousand on top that you could see, and I ran to the bow of the boat and looked down and there were just as many that were twenty and thirty feet down that you couldn’t see. Just really, really cool.

About twenty, thirty yards or so on the outskirts of this pod, we could see tuna jumping. We all got jacked because we really didn’t expect to get on tuna during this trip. We motored up on the outside of the pod and starting casting plugs to the tuna. Within minutes we were hooked up on the front as a 30lb yellowfin just crushed a topwater plug. We also were hooked up on the back when one hit a ballyhoo. We ended up losing the tuna on the plug but caught the one on the ballyhoo. The captain jumped on the radio and told the other boats to come over to our location, and for about an hour the boats circled this pod of dolphins while catching yellowfin. It was just awesome! After several yellowfin in the boat and a few hours left to fish, we asked the captain to take us back over to the area where we were hooking those billfish.

Within about twenty minutes of trolling, my buddy Bill hooked up with a very nice Pacific sailfish. This one went over 100lbs and was the biggest sail I’d seen in person, as I am used to seeing the smaller Atlantic sails we catch off of Charleston or in Miami. This fish was gorgeous.  

Our next billfish hookup was a striped marlin. How he knew this, I have no idea, but he called out “stripe” when the fish was never in the teaser and he actually hit the shotgun and made a jump 300yds behind the boat. I jumped on this rod, as I’d never hooked a striped marlin before and wanted to reel it in. This fish ended up trying my grit and determination, as the fight went about an hour and a half. We got him to the boat after just twenty minutes, but with a few jumps we knew he was still green, and the mate took his gloves off and sat down and smiled. So an hour later, we got a tired fish to the side of the boat and snapped some pics in the water. As I billed the fish it was all I could do to hold onto it in the water after that fight—more forearms were just completely shot. We released the fish and went home to a hearty meal of tuna and soy, and we grilled the mahi over black beans and rice, topped with fresh salsa. Talk about delicious. Man.

The next day we set out to do some four wheeling through the countryside. The altitude changes were unbelievable, as we went from about 82 degrees at sea level to about 70 degrees at the tops of the hills we traversed. It was a very cool trip, as we explored the forest region of Nosara next to some creeks and rivers, saw more monkeys, and hiked down to a really gorgeous waterfall. It was fun jumping from the top of the waterfall into the plunge pool and washing the dust off of us!

Our last two days were spent on the beach surfing, fishing the breakers for roosterfish (I struck out but another guy fishing the breakers near me at low tide got spooled by a large one), and feasting on our fresh mahi and tuna! We did trek over to the mouth of a river north of town to see what the locals were catching. They were handlining for roosterfish and cubera snapper, and we did see one guy catch a pretty nice snapper, but we had no luck on our end. I must say, one of the locals told us that every year one of the handliners gets attacked by a saltwater croc, so we were a little apprehensive to say the least about wading out in the breakers where these guys were fishing! I love fishing, but I love having all my limbs more than that!

The nightlife in Nosara was just laid back and cool. Every bar/restaurant stayed open until about 9 or 10, and most of them had some sort of live music, but every night they closed up shop and everyone would go home at 10PM. For a father of three who is not used to staying out until 2AM, I have to tell you, this alone was enough to make me want to come back! I appreciated their schedule and their respect for sleep!

If anyone is thinking of taking a trip to Costa Rica, I’d highly recommend taking a pit stop in the Nosara region, even if it’s just for a day or two. The locals are friendly and the town accommodating. The beach is amazing, the break is consistent if you surf, and the fishing from our experience is second to none. We thoroughly enjoyed it and will be going back!

 -Michael Sims

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