Panama’s Pearl Islands

A visit to the newest mothership to fish Panama's Pacific Coast

September 11, 2012
A new operation in a new destination off Panama’s Pacific Coast? It didn’t take much arm-twisting for me to plan a visit to the mothership Pacific Provider in the Islas de Perlas, nor for my friend and Sport Fishing contributor Dave Lewis of Wales in the United Kingdom to join me in early September. We fished the rocky habitat in the innumerable islands situated roughly in the middle of the Golfo de Panama, about 60 miles southwest of Panama City, and caught a variety of game fish. The big mullet snapper, like this one hoisted by Lewis, particularly impressed me with their savage strikes and tremendous power. Doug Olander
The plane flight to the Punta Coco airstrip on Isla del Rey, largest of these islands, is just a half hour or so. Upon leaving Panama City, we got a great look at the Panama Canal. Doug Olander
With four anglers and gear, the small twin prop plane was packed full. Here, Randy Welch (left) from Washington State and Dave Lewis get cozy. Doug Olander
Once down on the gravel airstrip, our gear is loaded onto golf carts for the short ride to the bay where the mother ship calls home base.
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Timing is everything when launching the panga from beach to ship. The day we arrived (near a full moon), a big Pacific swell added a bit of challenge, but the panga drivers were fast and we dashed out between sets, staying mostly dry. Dave Lewis
The rear deck of the mothership has more than ample room to load and unload anglers and gear.
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The sweeping upper deck offers an appealing place to chill (when anglers aren’t out on the water). Dave Lewis
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No one’s likely to accuse the _Pacific Provider _of having anything less than a well-stocked bar. For most spirits and wine, there is no additional charge. Dave Lewis
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The ship offers anglers Shimano Tiagras and Stellas for trolling, casting or jigging. We trolled our first day out, then switched to casting poppers. Dave Lewis
We hooked no billfish and saw no tuna, though we did see some nice-sized dorado. Doug Olander
Those dorado had made a log their hood; we saw many other logs and pieces of floating debris, but none held game fish. Doug Olander
Rather than billfish offshore, we saw longliners. This is one of a half-dozen with which we ended up sharing a small piece of the Pacific, just outside the Golfo de Panama, despite Panama’s much lauded laws designed to curb this singularly destructive means of fishing. Doug Olander
The Pearl Islands are chock full of amazing rock formations, offering awesome backdrops for popping enthusiasts like Lewis. Doug Olander
On another day, slow-trolling a live blue runner over a submerged rocky area yielded this handsome barred pargo. Doug Olander
We used a variety of large poppers such as this Halco Roosta Popper and Yo-Zuri’s new Surface Bull Sashimi to call up various predators. Doug Olander
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For scrappy Sierra mackerel, I went with something a bit smaller, in this case Strike Pro’s Tuna Hunter Jr. Dave Lewis
As much fun as throwing poppers can be, it’s hard to beat a lively blue runner on a circle hook for action. This is one of several amberjack that tested Lewis’ back; our mate, Andres, offers the assist, while in the background, Elliott Stark — the ship’s general manager and director of conservation — prepares to snap a few more photos. Doug Olander
Stark proved he was no slouch at catching fish, either. Note the conditions: Most of our days were as calm as this. Doug Olander
Stark prepares to negotiate with local divers to buy some of their catch. Doug Olander
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Conch meat and octopi are among the offerings. Dave Lewis
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Perhaps not surprisingly, the spiny lobster are of particular interest to the gringos on the boat. Dave Lewis
Later that day, the ship’s chef has turned the fish we caught and the shellfish we bought into some fabulous sushi appetizers. Doug Olander
Lewis jigged up a nice spotted cabrilla. Doug Olander
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And I fooled this almaco jack with a gulp worm on a lead-head jig. Dave Lewis
Although not quite into the real rainy season yet, we did encounter a bit of squally weather which, fortunately, didn’t last long. Doug Olander
Lewis prepares to toss his popper toward the rugged coast of Isla San José. Doug Olander
Doing his best to stop a suspected cubera snapper, Starke palms the drag of his Stella. Doug Olander
Lewis is all smiles after scratching roosterfish off his bucket list. The day before, Randy Welch released an estimated 85 pounder. Doug Olander
Surprise catch: This African pompano became the main course for that evening’s dinner. Doug Olander
A butterfly jig in 200-feet produced this Gulf coney grouper. Doug Olander
Another surprise catch, this gorgeous little longtail bass, a deep-water species of grouper, struck a Williamson jig in about 400 feet of water. Doug Olander
While mullet snapper were all about live runners, they also showed an affinity for Stark’s Sebile Magic Swimmer. Dave Lewis
While disappointed at a lack of dorado under a floating pallet, I did capitalize on its one resident large enough to cast to, by flipping out a Sebile Spin Shad which this tripletail rushed out to clobber. Doug Olander
Andres holds a skipjack for a quick photo. It struck a small squid trolled for bonito. Dave Lewis
To my mind, no fish is more elegant than the streamlined little palometas (“darts,” Down Under) that normally frequent sandy surf. I caught this one, surprisingly, far from shore on a small metal jig.
Pacific crevalles may be omnipresent, but we caught only a couple. This bruiser struck Stark’s favorite lure, a Sebile Swim Shad. Doug Olander
Isla Del Rey is pockmarked with lagoons like this one, near the ship’s anchorage. Lewis and I attempted to explore it on our last evening there via kayaks that we dragged over the beach, but just about the time we got there, lightning and thunder sent us packing. Lewis did manage to catch his first Pacific snook (let’s just say it wasn’t a trophy, size-wise) and a couple of small cuberas in the pristine estuary. It definitely needs more exploration! Doug Olander
Ah, the feeling of being safe and secure — and a bit too much wine at dinner — left this editor snoozing serenely in the lobby of the Trump Ocean Club in Panama City (the five-star hotel where West Coast Resorts houses its guests overnight). Doug Olander

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