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September 15, 2009

Tropic Star's Black Marlin

Contributor Jon Schwartz finds monster black marlin in Panama

Sensing it was hooked must have thrown this majestic fish into a rage, for it rocketed straight up as if shot out of a silo, scaring the bejesus out of the anglers and me, and eliciting a shriek of delight from the crew. It dove down deep and then greyhounded away from the boat. The captain threw the boat into reverse and backed down aggressively on the fish, sending the gears into a throaty growl of protest. Water gushed over the transom and buffeted the angler with 10-gallon bursts at a time, his right hand furiously cranking the reel all the while. 

There's something special about seeing a sportsman realize his dream. Watching him apply every bit of vigor and force he could muster to the task of battling the behemoth, I knew that this fellow had reached that golden moment that he'd been dreaming about for months. The suddenness of the strike, the proximity of the action to the boat and the crazy way in which we pursued our massive quarry with water now engulfing the deck all combined to make this an incredibly intense experience. I managed somehow to squeeze off some frames in the midst of all the excitement, but for the most part I was too darn excited to do anything more than hold onto the rails of the boat and scream encouragement. After a 10-minute fight punctuated by incredible aerial displays, the marlin was brought to the transom for a successful release.

In addition to the black marlin that run from December to March and June to September, blues from 300 to 600 pounds can be caught during the same months, and big tuna, like the triple-digit yellowfin that hit Ted Freund's live skipjack on a blind strike the following day, are available from December to August.

In addition, the inshore bite at TSL is as good as it gets anywhere. The angler from France found this out firsthand. Unlike the other guests, he decided to troll big Rapalas and drop down live skipjacks with downriggers just off the rocky shoreline; he was rewarded for his efforts with many big black groupers and cubera snapper that proved to be quite a hit at the dinner table.

A fair number of guests decided to take a break from fishing during their weeklong stay to enjoy the other activities that the resort offers. A masseuse lives at the resort and caters to the whims of clients from 8 a.m. till 11 p.m., while a swimming pool, Internet room and a deluxe gift shop featuring handcrafted gold jewelry that's panned from the Piñas River are sure to keep you busy.

Just around the tip of Piñas Bay lies the tiny village of Piñas, with a population of 600. Many of the staff members who work at TSL reside in the Piñas village, and I found it particularly neat to be welcomed into their homes when I made the short boat ride over there with 12 other clients. Each week TSL brings over a group of clients to visit the Piñas village, where they are treated to a walk through the town and an authentic dance put on by the locals in a oversize thatch hut called a bohio. We mingled with the locals a bit more, were presented with the opportunity to purchase crafts they'd fashioned and then capped off the day with a party at the Palace.

The Palace is a separate residence that overlooks the entire resort; it's appointed with all the luxuries and amenities that you'd find at a five-star private villa, except that it's more than 100 miles away from the nearest road. It's accessed by a trolley that whisks guests up a steep hill to the front of the porch that offers breathtaking views of Piñas Bay. TSL can accommodate up to 36 people, and its top-notch restaurant, bar and swimming pool make you feel right at home.

On the last night of the weeklong stay, the lodge hosted a grand five-course   meal that ended with baked Alaska - a tradition that's been going on for nearly 50 years. The staff put on an awards ceremony highlighting the achievements of the anglers. Guests danced, retired to the bar and spent the last evening swapping tales of their recent angling exploits, a fitting end to a week of world-class fishing, luxury and adventure.