Gulf of Chiriquí, Panama
Local Expert: Nic Zingarelli
Fishery: The Gulf of Chiriquí, located in western Panama along the southern Pacific coast, ranks among the most fertile bodies of water I’ve ever fished. This region encompasses the famed Coiba National Park, which is home to dozens of remote islands and famed fishing grounds such as Hannibal Bank, and many islands, like Montuosa and Jicarón. An incredible variety of game fish (both pelagic species and reef fish) swim in these waters, and the best jigging opportunities generally occur from November through May. But don’t overlook the rainy months of June and July either — the action can be fantastic as well.
Primary Species: Amberjack, wahoo, rainbow runners and multiple species of snappers (notably big cubera), groupers (especially broomtail) and yellowfin tuna.
Favorite Depths: Most jigging is done in fairly shallow water, between 90 and 130 feet, around reef edges, submerged mountains and other structure.
Favorite Jig Design/Type: I haven’t found that any particular style of jig works better than others, but size matters when the fish are finicky. When that happens, go with smaller jigs in the 3- to 4-ounce range — they work much better.
Preferred Rigging: I generally rig metal jigs with single assist hooks, and mono or fluorocarbon leaders of 18 to 24 feet in the 70- to 100-pound-test range. Jig weights generally range from 3 to 8 ounces, depending on depth and current.
Tackle: Spinning or conventional outfits spooled with 65- to 80-pound braid and matched to 5- to 7-foot rods can be used effectively. Unless you’re on a hot tuna bite, you don’t need huge line capacity, but reels must have superstrong drag systems.
Deployment Tricks: It’s important to try changing jigging speeds, styles, actions and retrieves until you figure out what the fish want. In the seven years I’ve been jigging this region, I’ve noticed that these critters have become increasingly wary. You’ve got to fool them.
Extra Nugget: The best fishing operation I’ve encountered is Pesca Panama, because it uses a mothership, which allows anglers to be much closer to the action.
About the Expert: Nic Zingarelli (www.nicolazingarelli.com) is an outdoor writer and photographer who organizes fishing expeditions all over the world. He specializes in jigging and popping for big saltwater species. Photo by Nic Zingarelli.
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