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August 16, 2013

Adrenaline Rush!

Yellowfin tuna pandemonium among the porpoise pods off Costa Rica

(Be sure to click through all the images in the gallery above.)

While there might be better ways to hook the really huge yellowfin tuna — as in 300-plus pounds — that patrol the eastern Pacific, I don’t think there could be any more-exciting way to hook any tuna than casting poppers into leaping, blitzing schools and cranking ’em back at high speed. The combination of the visuals (big yellowfin crashing your lure) and the physical (arm-wrenching strikes) definitely makes these “yee-haw!” moments.

That’s why, after a morning of little activity as we trolled, watched and waited 10 to 15 miles offshore of the lower Osa Peninsula off southern Costa Rica, we all jumped when the call came over the VHF. “Get those lines in!” Manfred, the mate aboard the Crocodile Bay Resort’s Strikefisher 33, said. “They’ve got dolphin pods about two miles north!”

He didn’t have to tell us twice.

Finding Flipper

We knew of the well-established association between pods of dolphin (as in porpoise, of course, and not dorado/mahi) and yellowfin. Find big numbers of dolphin, and you might find feeding tuna.

While that “might” loomed large, and there are no ­guarantees when fishing the Pacific, it always pays if dolphin are spotted to see if they are traveling with an escort of yellowfin.

Our skipper pushed the throttles ahead hard, while Manfred tied circle hooks to the end of a couple of outfits. Hunter Cole and I opted to go with large poppers. Cole, senior marketing manager for Pure Fishing, handed me a Penn Spinfisher V with 50-pound braided line and a Sebile Splasher. He armed himself with the same, and we headed up to the bow.

Costa Rica porpoise that swim with yellowfin tuna
Many tourists in areas like Costa Rica are interested in whale watching. For those coming to fish offshore, it’s all about dolphin watching. Skippers sitting up on the bridge while under way are constantly on dolphin recon — particularly the right species of dolphin. Courtesy National Marine Fisheries Service (3)

There was no mistaking the dolphins — the sleek, dark mammals as much out of the water as in it, leaping high into the air — as well as the birds wheeling in the area. At first, I saw no sign of tuna and grew disheartened, until we drew near enough to see the silver bullets exploding from the surface sporadically among the dolphin.

Wanting to avoid the frustration of throwing short, I forced myself to wait, heart pounding, as the boat eased closer. Cole heaved a Splasher into the fray and just after, my own Splasher was on the heels of his. I glimpsed a commotion behind Cole’s lure, and suddenly his rod arced and bounced as he yelled, “I’m on!” Shortly after, a detonation under my lure knocked it high out of the water. With shaking hands, I cranked the popper the rest of the way to the boat — and then grabbed my camera to record Cole’s battle.

In the company of several other resort boats, we spent at least the next couple of hours running and gunning, trying to stay on the dolphin and tuna, until the yellowfin left or perhaps went deep. Most anglers had hooked tuna in that time, and some had brought several fish to the boat.

Best of all is that running and gunning for tuna means nonstop activity: If you’re not actually hooked up, you’re casting into fish or standing on the bow, ready as the skipper gets you into position. There’s never a dull moment.

At least that’s true when the yellowfin are feeding. If the tuna bite among the moving dolphin turns off, it might be only a matter of time until the fish start whacking bait again. “I had an angler out who really wanted a tuna on his popper. We stayed with a load of dolphin for four hours before the tuna went on a feed,” says Todd Staley, the resort’s fishing director. “Just before sunset, he ended up boating the 180-pound yellowfin that slam-dunked his popper.”