Tarpon, Tortugas & the Tortuguero River System


With the cold winter weather season that descends on Western Pennsylvania after the holidays, Kristene and I generally try to escape for a week with Jeremy and Emily, who by the way is a new member of the Frontiers team. Congratulations Emily! Depending on the location, we always have skis, shotguns, fly rods or cameras in tow.


Costa Rica has always been a favorite destination for me. I have really been looking forward to a return trip. When the rest of the family voted on a warm weather country, we booked our flights to San Jose and made arrangements to explore this wonderful Central America country.



Costa Rica is dedicated to tourism and is well known for its beaches, volcanoes and biodiversity. It really is one of the first countries to fully embrace the concept of active outdoor travel and quintessential “ecotourism.” With two international airports that are well-serviced from a number of US gateways, access to some of the remote regions of the country has never been easier.


We chose to spend time on both coasts, beginning our trip in the Tortuguero National Park. With an early departure from Pittsburgh, we landed in San José, cleared customs and made an easy connection with Sansa Airlines, which provides domestic commuter service to a number of remote towns and villages in Costa Rica. We arrived mid-afternoon, and after a short boat trip across the river, we checked into Tortuga Lodge and Gardens. This property is owned by Costa Rica Expeditions, a company Frontiers uses to design a lot of our customized Elegant Journeys itineraries in Costa Rica. The lodge provides convenient access to the Tortuguero National Park. It is without question, the nicest “eco-lodge” in the region. It received the Tortuga name because this region’s beaches are famous nesting grounds for sea turtles.



While this trip was primarily designed to experience the unique flora and fauna found in Costa Rica, I could not travel to both coasts without bringing my 12 – weight fly rod and a selection of tarpon flies and billfish poppers. Throughout the years, Frontiers has represented a number of tarpon lodges on the east coast of Costa Rica. In looking at the map, I saw that the Tortuguero River drains into the Atlantic between the Rio Colorado and the Rio Parismina systems — both of which are hallowed tarpon waters! One of the most famous tarpon guides in Costa Rica, Captain Eddie Brown bases himself in Tortuguero. After a wonderful day photographing wildlife in the national park, Jeremy and I decided that we needed to chase some tarpon and we booked a day with Captain Eddie.


Eddie has extensive experience — having guided in the Rio Colorado, Parismina and Tortuguero systems. Some refer to him as “Costa Rica’s King of Tarpon Fishing,” a three-time winner of the National Tarpon Tournament. He is very knowledgeable with conventional tackle and with fly fishing — having guided some of the most famous fly icons of our generation dating back to Casa Mar Lodge. Best of all, Eddie has a wonderful, warm personality. He operates two boats. We were on the Bull Shark, which is a very stable center-console with twin Yamaha 115 outboards. It safely navigates the strong currents and waves where the river meets the ocean, and it handles the open blue water comfortably.


We were lucky and had flat, calm conditions, which allowed us to get out of the river and into the ocean. We headed to one of Eddie’s favorite locations and found a large school of tarpon working on the surface. I absolutely love sight fishing in saltwater. A big school of tarpon crashing on bait literally makes my heart pump and my knees weak!




After three quick rod benders, we had our first hook-up after casting into the school. We were super excited to have a fish on! Unfortunately, the fish was not jumping or running like a tarpon and it ended up that we had hooked a nice jack. After that fight, we quickly found the same pod of fish a few hundred meters away and the bite was on! Between fly casting and using conventional tackle, we jumped eight fish and Jeremy was lucky enough to land his first tarpon after a very lengthy fight. It was a nice one… over 80 pounds. What a great way to end the day!




We often get asked about destinations where a family can have a wonderful ecotourism experience, but there are still great fishing opportunities. Certainly, Costa Rica is one of the best locations on the planet for this type of trip. There are so many family activities available, including hiking, photography, sea kayaking, snorkeling, diving, sailing, volcano touring, white water rafting, some of the best bird watching in the world and even zip lining. The east side of the country provides great tarpon and snook fishing, plus some other species. Traveling to the Pacific side, most of the fishing is oriented toward blue water —focusing on sailfish, marlin, dorado and tuna. There is also great fishing along the beaches, rocks and volcanic islands for roosterfish, snapper and other hard-hitting gamefish. Frontiers is uniquely capable of designing trips where all members of the family will have an exceptional outdoor experience – even the ardent anglers.



Our trip was certainly off to an incredible start with many sights to see and a tarpon day to remember. We are heading over to the West Coast. If I survive zip lining and surfing lessons, Jeremy and I are spending another day on the water looking for tuna and sailfish!

By: Mike Fitzgerald