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February 08, 2010

Six Top Yellowfin Spots

Six top spots to battle behemoth yellowfin tuna - and then some...

Coiba Island/Hannibal Bank, Panama

Travis Peterson / Pesca Panama

Size: Yellowfin into triple digits are pretty easy much of the year, but it's getting tougher beating the 150 mark and beyond. Still, "We probably get a couple dozen over 200 every year and a few that break 300," says Capt. Tom Yust.

Odds: During peak season at least one fish per trip in the 100- to 150-pound class is a good bet, with shots at bigger fish never unlikely.

Season: Pacific Panama's dry season is also its big-tuna time. That stretches from December into June for triple-digit fish, with March and April tops for good-sized yellowfin. But if your heart's set on 200 or more, plan your trip for December, January or February.

Run to the Fish: That depends where you are when you get up in the morning - a function of which of the several resorts that operate in the area you happen to be fishing with. For those who fish with Yust, overnights are right on Coiba Island, so the run is negligible as a rule - often a half-hour or less.

Conditions: Most days are calm with light winds. Some areas farther away, such as Montuosa Island, can be a bear when northeasterlies blow, but in fact, there are always calm places to fish for yellowfin and other pelagics; Coiba is a big island with quite a bit of lee area.

Charters: As noted, several operations promise anglers outstanding fishing here. Some are land-based and involve a bit longer run to the fishing grounds; some are motherships or floating lodges that try to be right where the action is. Yust's is (exclusively) based on Coiba itself; he offers trips from two to six days with four-day/five-night trips running $3,725 to $4,400 (including chartered air flight from Panama City).

Methods: Trolling lures isn't as reliable as it used to be, says Yust, who theorizes that the mosquito fleet of small commercial boats out of David and elsewhere that target these fish have wised them up. Even his old standby of slow trolling liveys on downriggers doesn't always produce as well as it once did. Now he gets most of his bigger tuna by dropping live bonito, small skipjack or even blue runners with no weight over tuna he marks on the sounder, either letting the boat idle or simply turning off the engines. In the spring, when huge pods of porpoise move in, they point the way to tuna - though some of the very biggest are taken over the bank while pulling live baits for marlin in winter when no porpoise pods or birds signal huge, solitary yellowfin lurking below.

Accommodations: Generally, accommodations are part/parcel of a fishing operation's package; there aren't a lot of hotels on the Golfo de Chiriqui coast with good access to Hannibal Bank. How these operations house anglers varies; see "Charters" above.

Other Opportunities: Black marlin are here in reliable numbers pretty much year-round; blues happen to be particularly available during prime months; and you'll find the largest yellowfin in December, January and February. Wahoo, always possible, peak much later - summer and fall. Of course, there are sails, stripes and dorado, plus inshore you'll find some tremendous action for roosterfish, amberjack and cubera snapper.

Travel Costs: From Miami, you can find flights into Panama City in the $300-to-$400 range. From L.A., figure on spending $400 to $600.

Source: When it comes to fishing Hannibal, Coiba and the surrounding Chiriqui islands, Tom Yust is a seasoned pro. He fishes from a Bertram 31, which he maintains in tiptop shape, and a Mako center-console. For more information, visit