For years, I've had an image of Panama's Tropic Star Lodge burned into my mind. The picture looks something like this: a fleet of classic, old sport fishers moored in a calm bay and surrounded by gritty sand beaches and walls of lush, mountainous jungle. The bay leads out to the Pacific and is punctuated by three small islands in the mouth. Just beyond sits Zane Grey Reef, where dinosaurs swim.
You may have seen this picture yourself - after all, it's one of the most famous big-game haunts in the world.
I never thought I'd fish Tropic Star, but I find myself writing this having just returned, along with my new colleagues at Sport Fishing magazine. More on that later, but first, a few random thoughts on this part of the world.
It's an amazing place. Only 7 degrees from the equator, the lodge is far enough removed from civilization that you feel like an explorer discovering a new land. The meeting of land and sea here is dramatic. Clear blue water turns white with spray as it crashes into the rocks, while thick grey clouds and fog creep in and out of the tips of the foliage-covered mountains. As the waves pull back into the Pacific, huge holes form in the water, allowing you to see clear down to the base of the rocks. Then the sea pushes in again with a thunderous roar, filling the holes and sending more spray skyward.
We cast big, chugging poppers into these rocks this past week and were rewarded with a gaggle of species on spin gear, including dogtooth snapper, roosterfish, mullet snapper, Sierra mackerel, jacks of all type and quite a few other surprises. (You can see more in this gallery put together by the team.)
Out on the reef and beyond, these same poppers were frequently annihilated by yellowfin tuna up to 90 pounds. We saw no marlin during this trip, though the anticipation of slow-trolling 10-pound bonitos is almost too much to bear at times. A 1,000-pound black or blue could eat that bait any time on Zane Grey Reef.
Visiting Tropic Star was no doubt an incredible experience - and something of a homecoming for me. It marked my return to Sport Fishing, where I began my outdoor writing career a number of years ago. This past season, I'd been working on Boating magazine, but something happened: I realized just how much I missed fishing. It was a strange, lonely experience that's hard to fully explain. I always knew I loved the sport. But it wasn't until I was away from it that I understood the extent of that love. It actually hurt.
I was fortunate enough to land back in the game, however, and part of an incredible team led by longtime editor-in-chief Doug Olander. I learned a valuable lesson in the process, too, that I feel compelled to share - don't ever leave something you love. Be it your best girl, a favorite rod and reel or just fishing in general; stay true to your love and bask in the joy you find there.
From Pinas Bay, Panama, good fishing to you,
Senior Editor, Sport Fishing