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Fishing in Panama

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All kinds of wonderful fishing in Panama.

 Blue marlin in Panama The name "Panama" comes from a local Indian language meaning "abundance of fish”. Today, there is a plethora of different fish all over Panama!

No matter if you enjoy fly, spear, rod, river, freshwater lake fishing for Peacock Bass, deep-sea for wahoo, dolphin (mahi mahi) snapper (all kinds), yellow-fin or big-eye tuna, many grouper including goliath grouper (jewfish), sierra mackerel, or big-game for Sailfish, billfish striped marlin, blue marlin, or black marlin, Panama is the place for the best fish in the world!

Panama’s Geography Makes for Great Fishing!

Fishing in Panama During the Pliocene Epoch, 5-1.8 million years ago the Panamanian land bridge between North and South America formed, creating the Gulf of Panama and separating the two great oceans, which curtailed most migrations and genetic mingling of fish species between the Atlantic and Pacific. The Gulf of Panama is a major area in the Eastern Pacific Ocean whose aquatic ocean environment spawns the very foundation of all oceanic life.

Under the Gulf of Panama is a shallow collective alcove when compared to the offshore depths and neighboring coastlines. Offshore, the second strongest planetary current the ‘humboldt’ or ‘Peru’ Current that starts from the tip of South America pushes its way along the Colombian mainland towards the Azuero Peninsula and the Tuna Coast bringing infinite quantities of sea life.

Several large freshwater networks empty into the Gulf of Panama, such as the Golfo de San Miguel and its hundreds of tributaries, the Bayano River and the Panama Canal. The Archipelago of Las Perlas consisting of more than one hundred beautiful volcanic islands, many of substantial size, and the islands of Bona, Otoque, Taboga, Taboguilla and others contribute to form a wealth of underwater structure praised by sportfishing guides.

These islands provide a varied shoreline of beaches, rocky points, steep drop offs, sea mounts, hundreds of small bays, river mouths, waterfalls and indentations that serve as sea life habitats. On the mainland bordering the center of the Gulf, where the Panama Canal empties to the ocean is found the lowest geographical zone across the Isthmus of Panama.

Big–Game and Deep-Sea Fishing

Fishing in Panama

If you want to go for that 500lb marlin, you won’t be disappointed in these Panamanian waters.

As the ratio goes, it’s 4 times more likely you’ll catch a black marlin then a blue marlin. The waters are also full of striped marlin.

Sailfish arrive in mighty number off Panama, with most fish in the 80 to 120-pound range. Add in the possibility of landing a giant yellowfin tuna, dorado or Wahoo, large grouper, and you have the potential for a world-class offshore smorgasbord. If the winds keep you inshore, you can chase roosterfish, amberjack and cubera snapper all day long.

Gatun Lake and Chagres River

In what used to be a jungle, Gatun Lake was built during the construction of the Panama Canal. Gatun Lake is now the second largest man-made lake in the world (after Lake Mead) that lies in the middle of the Panama Canal. At 85 feet above sea level, the lake is a major highway for ships traveling from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Gatun Lake is the home of the cichla monoculus, aka “peacock bass” or “sargento” as the locals call them. The peacock bass came from a private pond many miles from the Chagres River. This pond was breached during a heavy tropical rain storm causing the walls to collapse and releasing the Peacock Bass into the Gatun basin.

These "bass" were even introduced to Florida in the 1980's and have become extremely popular among traveling anglers and on fishing shows. Using hard plastic baits such as Rapalas is quite common for American anglers when they go after Peacocks.

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200 fish in half a day!

Peacock Bass in Panama Gatun Lake is so overpopulated now; it is not uncommon for a group of 4 to catch 200 fish in a half day trip! The best time to go is a morning trip 8am- noon, which costs around $50. If you want to go to the Chagres River also, I recommend full day (8 hours) with a cost of around $75.

The guides only know a little English, but if you speak slowly with hand gestures, it’s a piece of cake. If you are being charged more money than what I’m quoting here, you’re being ripped off.

There are many types of bait that you can use, but the bait of choice for peacock bass is live minnows that you can get on the entryway to. Pick the larger minnows because they will attract the bigger bass.

Since there are no limits to the number of fish caught or the size, I recommend if they are less than 2 lbs, just throw them back. You will catch some 10 pounders; with most being in the 4-6 lbs range.

If you haven’t caught any of these “Sargentos” in 20 minutes, ask the guide to move. Normally, your minnow hasn’t reached bottom before they are hitting your line.

It’s not a bad idea to bring a gallon of gas along with you, in case you get a lazy guide who wants to park you a few minutes from shore. He knows eventually, the schools of smaller fish will start hitting, but that’s not what you want in this Peacock Bass-rich Lake. There are other types of lake fish there such as the "Oscar" (Astronotus Oscellaris). Yes, the same one in your aquarium. If you catch a decent size one, it’s actually a pretty tasty fish.

Being an aggressive and prolific predator, the peacock bass took over the place displacing the native species. One of the most common of these species is another cichlid called by the natives "vieja" (old lady). It is another fish common with the tropical aquarium fans, and it is unusual to see them in large sizes anymore. I wouldn’t eat it, though. Most anglers treat them with a great deal of care and release them.

Do you want to learn more about Fly Fishing? Through fly-fishing-basics you will learn to see creatures invisible to others, find fish in streams, lakes and saltwater, cast a fly line with authority, select the correct tackle and much more.

No limit on size or quantity of Snook!

Snook fish in Panama While fishing at Gatun Lake or the Chagres River you will hear capuchin and howler monkeys from the Gamboa rainforest that runs alongside the two waters. You will also see of all kinds large ships going through the Isthmus of Panama.

This is the best place to catch large and clever snook of any place this side of Africa. There are lots of huge tarpon in the river, also. There are Snook and tarpon in Gatun Lake, but the larger ones seem to like the flow of the river. It’s not uncommon to catch a 50 lb tarpon in the Chagres River.

There are crocs and alligators (caimans) that have been known to jump out of the water and eat your dog. Note to self….leave dog at home…

It’s not uncommon when on the banks of the river to encounter a few Boa Constrictors and Anacondas, so I would advise using a boat.

If you want a guaranteed great time with lots of action, then Gatun Lake/ Chargres river fishing is a must!