San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

The grenade and the grouper: A fish tale

I am a conservationist. Some people might say I can’t be a conservationist because I fish, I make a living by fishing, and I eat fish.

I love conservation work; I dislike the politics of conservation and I loathe the business of conservation. My conservation work is voluntary, which I see as an advantage. I often sit in meetings with up to a dozen people or more and am the only person not getting a paycheck for being there. It allows me to say what I really think without having to play into anyone’s agenda.

I really think that Costa Rica is coming around on marine conservation issues. The country’s “green” image has finally been tarnished enough by lack of regulations and damage done by foreign fleets that action has begun. A conference involving several nongovernmental organizations, universities, the Environment Ministry and representatives from the Costa Rican longline and sportfishing fleets was held recently to discuss the foreign-fleet shark issue that directly affects both commercial and sportfishing fleets.

Javier Cantón, president of the Pacific Fishermen’s Union, explained how foreign fleets have wreaked havoc among commercial fleets on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica at the State of the Oceans Summit, held Aug. 12 to 14 in the capital (TT, Aug. 19). He went on to show examples of an artificial reef project they have been working on in the Gulf of Nicoya. I was impressed with the well-thought-out, concrete-over-mesh design, but it reminded me of a not-so-successful program once tried in my home state of Florida.

A group of county commissioners came up with an artificial reef program that was either an extremely misguided effort or a well-disguised plan to rid the county’s landfills of their surplus of old cars, tires and concrete culverts. What seemed like an excellent plan turned out to be a disaster. It didn’t take long to discover that the lifespan of an old Chevy rusting in the Gulf of Mexico isn’t very long, and that hurricanes and tropical storms can separate and scatter well-tied-together tires for miles across the sea bottom.

But both fishermen and divers alike began using these reefs regularly. Most anglers would camp right over top of them and have a field day reeling in grunts, but every time they hooked a decent fish like a grouper, they quickly lost it to the jagged terrain below.

We were smarter than that; we fished with grenades. Not literally, of course, but that’s what we called them. We would mix sand with cat food and shape it into balls with a rock in the middle so the grenades would sink fast. Then we would anchor upcurrent of the structure and drop our grenades to the bottom. Our concoction had a sweet enough smell to draw decent-sized fish away from the cover of the reef.

One day our grenade technique was extremely effective. We had a cooler full of 8- to 10-pound grouper and lots of 5-pound mangrove snapper. Then a monster took my bait and nearly yanked my rod out of my hands. It didn’t take off with burning speed; it was more like being on the losing end of a tug-of-war as line slowly peeled off my reel and there was nothing I could do about it. Then it stopped. I knew the fish had taken enough line to bury itself well into the reef, and I could feel every breath it took, as water rushed through its gills, vibrate up my line.

Then I got an idea. Earlier I had noticed a boat with a dive flag up on the other end of the reef. I raised the observer on the radio and explained I had a giant fish on my line, and if they would come over and shoot the thing, I would split it with them. The guy on the radio replied that when the divers surfaced, he would ask them.

Soon a dive boat was tied up alongside us and a diver was preparing to descend with a triple-banded speargun unlike anything I had seen before. He disappeared below the surface, following my line toward the bottom.

Twenty minutes passed and nothing. After 30 minutes he surfaced, and his eyes were as big as saucers.

“You’re not kidding you’ve got a monster,” he exclaimed. “You have a 400-pound goliath grouper.” (Actually they were called jewfish back then, but the name was changed a few years back in the spirit of political correctness.)

“The stupid fish has swum inside the cab of a ’62 Ford pickup,” he went on to explain.

“Well, just plug him between the eyes,” I said, “and we’ll drag him out with the boat.”

“What the heck you think I’ve been trying to do for the last half hour?” he answered. “Every time I get close to him he rolls the window up!”


Fishing Report, Aug. 25

The Caribbean is red hot, with tarpon biting all along the coast. The seas are flat – all that’s lacking is fishermen. Only a few boats are on the water, but those that are fishing are enjoying the action that made Costa Rica famous.

Capt. Eddie Brown has been fishing between Tortuguero and Barra del Colorado and hooking double digits every day out. His largest fish this week was a 160-pounder that tested the angler for three hours before it was released. Brown also reported good snook action, which is normal for this time of year. Samay Lagoon is still producing fish; Brown took a 38-pound whopper there.

Dr. Alfredo López at Río Indio reports great guapote fishing in the lagoons off the Río San Juan, just across the border in Nicaragua. López also reported a good tarpon bite and some blackfin tuna a mile off the beach.

On the Pacific side, the offshore action is better the farther north you go. Diego Armando checked in to say his group found a big wad of dorado 24 miles out of Herradura. Other boats out of Los Sueños and Quepos are reporting days of a half-dozen sailfish and a few marlin.

They are still knocking them dead up north in Guanacaste, with some double-digit sailfish days and some marlin. John LaGrone, who usually fishes out of Los Sueños on the Xta-Sea, fished the Flor de Caña Cup out of Nicaragua and took first place with 31 sails and a blue marlin.


Casey McCartin took this amberjack as well as several roosterfish on a recent trip off southwestern Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula. Courtesy of Crocodile Bay Resort

Down south, the inshore action is making up for the lack of billfish offshore. There are lots of tuna but only a few sails and marlin. Roosterfish and amberjack made for a lot of the inshore action, and some dinner-size snapper are also cooperating. Jupp Kerkerinck, head of the Shark Research Institute, took a trip to the Golfo Dulce after the State of the Oceans Summit in San José. I took him and Jani and Jurgen Shulz out to maybe see a whale and do some inshore fishing.

Sometimes the sights are better than the fishing. We spent the day watching humpback whales from a distance, and saw 12 different whales in the course of the day. Humpbacks arrive in the gulf twice a year to birth and train their calves. August and September brings them from the Southern Hemisphere, and in January and February they come from the north.

Todd Staley is the fishing manager at Crocodile Bay Resort in Puerto Jiménez, on the Osa Peninsula. Skippers, operators and anglers are invited to email fishing reports by Wednesday of each week to To post reports and photos on The Tico Times’ online fishing forum, go to

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