The idea of possibly catching over 20 species of fish in a week, many of which are great fly rod targets, blew my mind. I was joining Mike Fitzgerald and Joe Codd on their hosted trip aboard Pesca Panama’s newly renovated Hannibal liveaboard for five days of fishing. The whole concept of the liveaboard is to limit the long runs to find fish typical of land-based operations. The focal point of the trip was to fish the mysterious Coiba Island and Hannibal Bank regions, each having a fabled history on par with the amount of fish species they offer to the traveling angler.
We met the Pesca Panama crew and their fleet of 27’ Ocean Masters in the city of David to get transferred down the Chiriqu River to board the Hannibal. After the scenic boat ride we arrived to the floating lodge where we spent the week. The crew was quick to help us get our luggage on board and take it to the desired cabins. There was no need to pack heavy for this trip, as laundry service was available daily. Each of the four cabins had four comfortable beds, air-conditioning and standard outlets. In preparation for a wonderful dinner after a day of fishing, we were quick to shower up and change in one of the two bathrooms with hot water.
The food on the boat was outstanding. Each day started off with a hearty breakfast consisting of fresh fruit, juices, local Panamanian coffee, cereal or eggs to order. After fishing, everyone grabbed a well-deserved cocktail from the fully-stocked cash bar along with appetizers of ceviche or sashimi prior to dinner being served. Out of all the fantastic meals that I had, the one that topped them all was the fresh tuna steak. Each thick steak was marinated and prepared to everyone’s liking, served with mixed garlic vegetables and potatoes. However, the steaks did not come easy. The 160 pound tuna smacked a plug that was rigged on a light spinning rod. Needless to say the nearly two-hour battle with the fish was a challenge for two of the clients. Dinner was followed up by dessert, which was always a treat and a perfect way to end the day.
Following each day of fishing, we discussed what worked well that day, shared bad jokes and determined what the plan was for the next day. Most of the days started by chasing a school of bonito to use for bait depending on the game plan, but the captain would do whatever you wanted to do. A couple of the days started by fishing inshore and throwing flies to structure or submerged rock formations, which was my favorite. It was not out of the ordinary to have four or five snapper all jockeying to eat my fly. Snapper wasn’t the only species to eat a fly. In the week that I was there I knocked eight species off of my bucket list. and that was just on a fly. All together I caught 18 species of fish!
Their five Ocean Master boats were perfect for whatever style of fishing you wanted to do (troll, cast plugs, jig or fly), as each captain and mate were comfortable doing any method. The crew truly wanted to please the fishermen. They consistently asked if we needed anything (water, snacks, cerveza, etc.). The highlight of my trip however came in the middle of the week. As we were trolling along one of the numerous beaches in hopes of roosters, we noticed a flock of frigate birds on the horizon dropping into the water for their next meal. As we approached the commotion, we quickly figured out that a school of jack crevalle was busting baitfish. We pulled up along the beach where the action was happening, hauled a crease fly in the mix of baitfish and instantly hooked a jack. Once I got the fish to the boat and released it, the action moved down the beach near the mouth of a river. As I was false casting to the boiling water of baitfish getting bombed by frigates and jack, I noticed a large object that appeared to be a log. The log turned out to be a crocodile that joined the blitz to snatch whatever he could. Joe Codd and I watched in amazement that neither of us ever thought to pull out our phones to take a picture. To see the food chain work right in front of your eyes was a sight I will never forget. I made my second cast to the blitz and again instantly hooked up. Catching jack on a fly was something I could have done all night but the sun was fading and we still had to make our way back to the floating lodge.
Pesca Panama is ideal for the angler that is looking to catch a large number of saltwater species. We brought 33 species of fish to the boat. Amberjack, crevalle jack, rock snapper, yellow snapper, mutton snapper, cubera snapper, wahoo, dorado, yellowfin tuna, roosterfish, rainbow runner, bluefin trevally, pompano, hound fish, blue runner, barracuda, grouper, mangrove snapper, mullet snapper, horse-eye jack, bobo, triggerfish, bonito, sierra mackerel, lane snapper, moray eel, golden jack, cabrilla grouper, sailfish, oceanic whitetip shark, albacore and ladyfish. The current record is 34, we were just two species shy of setting a new high in the record book.
The inaugural trip with Pesca Panama was a magnificent experience, with world-class saltwater fishing, exotic shoreline and comfortable accommodations. It was a journey that will definitely stand out from others that I have taken in the past. I am sure the clients that joined us felt the same way (based off of the grip and grins) — as many of them crossed species off of their list as well. There were many moments where I had to take a break from casting and look around to take in all the sights. This is truly a trip for someone who has a passion for saltwater along with an angler that wants to catch a plethora of species.
By: Derek Hathazy