With a name like “Rich Coast” few are surprised to hear that Costa Rica has some of the finest deep sea and coastal sport fishing anywhere. The list of world records encompasses all types of tackle on both shores. The big sailfish in both the Pacific and Caribbean include Black and Blue Marlin and you can also pursue wahoo, roosterfish, corvina, makerel, snapper, and grouper. Barra del Colorado offers tarpon, snook and multitude of light tackle game fish where the river flows into the Caribbean Sea.
While excellent blue water fishing is no surprise, fewer people are aware that inland Costa Rica’s lakes and rivers offer incredible fresh water fishing.
You may never have heard of jaguar guapote, mojarra, and the area representative of the piranha family—the machaca, but experienced local guides know where to find them.
The biggest surprise of all may come when you learn that Costa Rica’s high mountain streams offer excellent fly casting for trout. So, pack your rod and reel and plan to get out on the water sometime during your Costa Rica vacation.
Blue water is close to shore, and the bill fish are world class. Blue, black and striped marlin cruise along with wahoo, yellow fin and blue fin tuna, and dorado. Wahoo, rooster fish, snapper, and grouper are plentiful around the reefs, rocks and islands closer to shore.
Fishing trips are available up and down both coasts. A spot on a charter will run from $250 half-day, $400 full day and up depending on the size of the boat, number of fishermen and location. Full boat charters start at around $800 and go up to over $4,500 a day.
Pangas are the small (15-22 foot) outboard board fiberglass hull boats (some with a center console and canopy) that are available for charter in most fishing villages and at many tourist beaches for between $150 and $350 depending mainly on the tackle, bait and expertise included.
Shore casting is popular and was once productive. Pacific snook, jacks, corvina, and Spanish mackerel are around when you see the locals wetting their lines and I’ve caught a few with nothing more than a piece of line and hook I found and a hunk of driftwood to wrap it on. Unfortunately over fishing has depleted most of the accessible areas.
World class tarpon and snook fishing attract anglers from all over, and other jungle river game fish include bluegill, rainbow bass (guapote), alligator gar and machaca in the rivers of Barra del Colorado.
One of the richest undiscovered fishing grounds in the world, the lakes and rivers of Caño Negro offer unequaled angling for tarpon, garfish, rainbowbass, jaguar guapote, fresh water drum, mojarra, & machacas. Charters with tackle and license included can be had at the Caño Negro fishing club located next to the wildlife refuge entrance in the village.
Lake Arenal is the largest is Costa Rica, and was once renowned for guapote, mojarra, and the area version of the piranha—the machaca. Unfortunately, like many of Costa Rica’s fisheries it’s been devastated by local practices of putting anything bigger than 4″ on the dinner table and anything over 8″ on a restaurant menu. Lago Coter on the northeast end Arenal is protected by a private reserve but Lodge guests can enjoy some of the best tropical lake fishing around.
Most people take some convincing when we tell them there are trout in Costa Rica.
We’ve seen trout in streams near the refugios below the peak of Chirripó Grande, in Tapanti National Park and in the Río Savegre (see photo above) in the valley below San Gerardo de Dota.
- Deep Sea & Inshore – Pesca Deportiva desde embarcación – A sport fishing license (Carné Pesca Deportiva) is required for each person fishing from a boat in Costa Rica.
- Shore, Surf, Dock & Kayak – Pesca Deportiva desde tierra o en kayak – A separate license is required to fish in the ocean from shore or using a a kayak, stand-up paddle board or other non-motorized watercraft.
- Spear Fishing – Pesca subacuática – A third category of license covers SCUBA and snorkel spear fishing.
- Whales & Dolphins – Realizar observación de cetáceos – Finally a fourth type of license is required to pursue whales or dolphins…WHAT?!?…Don’t worry it’s for purposes of observation only and no swimming, harassing or harpooning is allow. It’s not clear what happens if you accidentally observe a cetacean without a license ;-)
Costa Rica fishing license categories and prices for different lengths of time
|Sport fishing from a motor boat , rod & reel (incl. charters)
Pesca Deportiva desde embarcación
|Recreational fishing from a kayak or on land (shore, surf, dock)
Pesca Deportiva desde tierra o en kayak
|1 year||¢5,500 (~$10)|
|SCUBA or snorkel spear fishing from a boat or shore (salt water only)
|Whale & dolphin watching
Realizar observación de cetáceos
All licenses are the same price for every residency status (non-resident/tourist, resident, citizen). According to Edwin Salazar Serrano ESalazar@incopesca.go.cr it is the official stance of INCOPESCA (the enforcement and licensing agency) that minors under 16 years old are not allowed to participate in sport fishing from a boat and therefore the Pesca Deportiva desde embarcación is not available for minors.
Also according to Serrano every person regardless of age fishing from a non-motorized boat, shore or a dock in the ocean is required to have a Pesca Deportiva desde tierra o en kayak. There is no child discount.
According to a MINAE representative “all fishing inside all protected areas is prohibited with the exception of Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge” which has a separate $45 (for 3 days) “license” that can be acquired from the park office near the dock in Caño Negro village or through most local lodges. There’s also a SINAC (park service) $5 entry fee for the Refuge which is payable whether you’re fishing or not.
The closures are ignored and we’ve seen fishermen in nearly every river, stream, lake, beach, and estuary in every park, refuge, and reserve. MINAE representatives stated that there is no budget and no personnel for enforcement and they know people fish in the natural areas every day.
According to both INCOPESCA and MINAE there is no such thing as a freshwater fishing license or regulation in Costa Rica. As long as you stay out of protected areas and don’t trespass you’re allowed to take all the fish you want from rivers and lakes.
Tourist charter operations often include the appropriate license in packages for marlin, tarpon, roosterfish etc. It is also possible to go online at INCOPESCA licenses to purchase a sport license for fishing from a charter or private boat (Carné Pesca Deportiva desde embarcación).
All other licenses must be purchased in person and require a passport or current national id, a passport photo and payment. There are offices across Costa Rica
|Coco/Ocotal||2630-0622||One block east and three quarters block north of the Office Center
Del Office Center 100 metros al este y 75 norte, Playas del Coco Guanacaste
|Cuajiniquil distrito Santa Elena||2630-0621||2 km west of the Super Compro supermarket at the dock
Del Super Compro de Cuajiniquil 2 Km al oeste, muelle Terminal Pesquera de Cuaniquil
|Golfito||2630-0625||Across from the city offices
Diagonal a las oficinas de la Municipalidad de Golfito
|Guápiles||2763-3293||3 blocks east of the El Jardín School
300 metros este de la escuela El Jardín, El Prado de la Rita, Pococí
|Limón||2758-3170||3/4 of a block north of the downtown Palí supermarket
Limón centro, 75 metros norte de Palí
|Herradura (Los Sueños Marina)||2637-6017||Next door to Costa Rica Dreams fishing charter offices in the Los Sueños Resort Marina
Contiguo a Costa Rica Dreams, muelle Pozuelo, Marina los Sueños
|Heredia||2630-0628||In the Heredia Comprehensive Agricultural Marketing Program offices, behind the papaya and watermelon stalls at the National Center for Food Supply and Distribution
Cenada Barreal de Heredia, en las oficinas de mantenimiento del PIMA, detrás de los puestos de Papaya-Sandía-Melón
|Nicoya||2630-0623||Behind the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAG) offices
Detrás de las oficinas del Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería (MAG)
|Puntarenas – MAIN OFFICE||2630-0600||In the Cocal neighborhood across from the National Institute of Learning (INA)
Barrio El Cocal de Puntarenas, diagonal al Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje (INA)
|Quepos (Marina Pez Vela)||2630-0624||1 block south of the dock next door to the Coast Guard Station
100 metros al sur del muelle de Quepos, contiguo a la estación de guardacostas
|San Carlos (Ciudad Quesada)||2630-0630||Half a block south of the Elementary school
50 metros sur del Liceo Ciudad Quesada
|San José||2630-0629||2 block north of Purdy Car lot on Paseo Colón in the corner office on the 2nd floor of the Costa Rican Institute of Pacific Ports (INCOP)
De Purdy Motor de Paseo Colón 200 metros norte, edificio esquinero, segundo piso de las oficinas del Instituto Costarricense de Puertos del Pacifico (INCOP)
|Santa María de Dota||2200-5049||At the mile marker 78 km from the center of San José on Hwy 2 (PanAmerican south) in Ojo de Agua
Ojo de Agua de Dota, Kilómetro 78, carretera Interamericana Sur
Enforcement of the license requirement for surf casting and fishing from shore is lax but if you’re on a boat you better be legit.