The excitement of watching a shimmering 5- to 9-foot, 80- to 200-pound tarpon leap in the air at the end of your fishing line never gets old. And that’s precisely why Río Colorado Lodge in Barra del Colorado has been a legendary spot for world-class tarpon and snook fishing on Costa Rica’s northern Caribbean coast since 1972.
In a matter of minutes from the dock of the lodge, you enter the Caribbean Sea via the brown, brackish waters of the northward-flowing Río Colorado, a tributary of the nearby Río San Juan on the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border. With veteran guides at the helm, you troll the waters near the shoreline looking for the shining behemoths to surface one after the other, as they travel in schools. When a tarpon is spotted, a line is cast and the game is on.
Tarpon bite in these brown waters like tropical mosquitoes, particularly in September and October, when the rains are scarce and the days are long and warm on the Caribbean coast. A recent group of four Japanese visitors jumped about 90 tarpon during a five-day trip to the lodge. After their last afternoon of fishing, Takamitsu Takebayashi, his wife and two companions sat and ate dinner in the lodge’s dining room.
“We have caught many, many fish,” Takebayashi said with a grin, in halting English. “We can catch no more. We are exhausted.”
Exhaustion is common after a day of battling the giant, silver, scaly, copper-eyed beasts. Tarpon fishing is a challenge the likes of which a bass or trout fisherman has never known. After you cast, the curious tarpon tug on the lure. When the rod is yanked and the hook is set, the mammoth fish reveals itself, leaping high into the air before plunging back into the water to begin the battle.
This is the essence of sportfishing. It’s like fighting the heavyweight champion of the seas. The battle usually takes 30 minutes to an hour, with each combatant aiming to wear his opponent out.
“We’ve had some of the best fishermen in the world come here throughout the years,” says Dan Wise, owner of Río Colorado Lodge. “It’s a world-renowned spot for tarpon and snook. It’s one of the only places in the world where there is year-round tarpon fishing. It’s a fisherman’s mecca.”
Over the years, people like baseball legend Ted Williams, actor Lee Marvin, former Minnesota Vikings football coach Bud Grant and world-famous anglers have visited the lodge, hoping to get in on the tarpon action. In addition to tarpon and snook, fishermen also haul in tripletail, or tres colas in Spanish, rainbow bass, known as guapote, smaller fish such as mojarra and machaca, and the occasional barracuda. While tarpon are returned to the water after the sport is done, snook and tripletail can serve as that night’s supper.
“It’s always a sign of success when you can make a meal out of your day’s work,” Wise says.
Apart from the world-class fishing, Río Colorado Lodge has also become a legacy for its ambience. It has a vintage, rustic feel, and is a far cry from the amped-up, amenity-driven tourism spots in other parts of the country. A gleaming, revamped lodge wouldn’t fit the scene, and wouldn’t match the ambition of legendary original owner Archie Fields, from whom Wise took over after his passing in 1993.
The lodge is a place built for fishing hard, eating hearty, fishing hard again, and finishing the day with a big, family-style dinner of comfort food. The Southern-U.S. feel of the lodge, established by the Tampa, Florida-born Fields, is carried on by Wise, a Mississippi native with a vibrant, gregarious personality and endless dinnertime stories. At the end of the day, fishermen from all over the world and all walks of life share a delicious Southern-style dinner with some Tico flavor added in, around a family-style table. There, they eat, laugh, rest and trade stories, usually about fishing or their adventures from a day on the seas.
“We can have a banker from Russia, a shrimper from Louisiana, a doctor from Brazil, an oilman from Texas and a travel agent from Japan all sitting around the same table at night, trading stories about fishing,” Wise says. “It’s got to be one of the most eclectic tables known to man. Where else can you have so many different people at the same time sharing fried chicken?”
When the nightly meal is done, weary fishermen make their way to their rooms early to rest up for another day battling the tarpon lurking in the murky Caribbean waters. For at first’s light, the boats head out to sea yet again. Throw a lure out and wait; wait for that distinct tug, a reactionary pull of the hook, and the magnificent sight of one of the greatest fish of the sea, leaping through the air with the morning sun shining on its scales. The excitement begins again, the fishermen sit in awe as the fish soars in the air, and the battle begins anew.
Another legendary battle, at a legendary place.
See map on Page W4. The easiest way to get to Barra del Colorado is by charter planes offered as part of Río Colorado Lodge packages. Alternatively, you can fly domestic airlines Nature Air (www.natureair.com) or Sansa (www.flysansa.com) to nearby Tortuguero, and a boat can be sent to pick you up from there. It also is possible to take a bus from San José to Cariari, another bus to Puerto Lindo, and then a boat from Puerto Lindo to Barra del Colorado.
The lodge’s 18 rooms are comfortable and air-conditioned, with private baths, hot showers, electric fans and daily maid service. Amenities include a recreation room with game tables, a video room with satellite TV and a tackle shop. The fully stocked bar features daily happy hour from 5 to 6:30 p.m., when all rum drinks and soft drinks are free.
Standard package price for nonfishing guests is $120 a day including room and three meals. A fishing package of $475 a day includes room, meals, boat, captain and eight hours of guided fishing with rod, reel and line furnished. Deluxe packages and packages including charter flight to Barra del Colorado are also available; call for details.
Contact the lodge at 2232-4063 or 2232-8610 in Costa Rica or 1-800-243-9777 from the U.S. or Canada, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.riocoloradolodge.com.