Jungle Kings

Massive tarpon prowl Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast

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Heavy tarpon — most over 100 pounds — take just about any bait live, dead or plastic when they're on the feed near the Rio San Juan and Rio Indio along Nicaragua's east coast. SF Editor Chris Woodward traveled to the Rio Indio Lodge in mid-October with her husband and avid angler Spud Woodward to sample the nearly untapped resources of the region.Chris Woodward
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On approach to the airstrip at Barra del Colorado in Costa Rica near the Nicaraguan border. Until December, U.S. anglers who fly into San Jose, Costa Rica, will pick up a charter flight to Barra and take a boat ride to the lodge. But toward the end of the year, a new airstrip will open a stone’s throw from Rio Indio at the town of San Juan de Nicaragua.Chris Woodward
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The boat ride from Barra to the Rio Indio Lodge runs past lush jungle dotted with primitive river homes built by local families. The ride takes about two hours and includes stops at various checkpoints manned by Costa Rican and Nicaraguan officials.Chris Woodward
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The Rio Indio Lodge, built mostly with native hard woods, is a craftsman’s dream. It sits perched on a point near the river yet remains shrouded with thick green foliage.Chris Woodward
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The run to tarpon grounds takes less than 10 minutes. Guides set up a drift and bait up with jigs or plugs and any live bait they may catch on a sabiki — like this lookdown/moonfish.Chris Woodward
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As a fairly frequent traveling angler, I like to take a selection of lures for each trip. This time, I packed Yo-Zuris, DOAs, assorted swimbaits and a few Hogy lures.Chris Woodward
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Spud rigged a Jiggn’ Hogy to bounce along the bottom in about 50 feet of water.Chris Woodward
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He was rewarded with a fairly quick hookup to a tarpon in the 120-pound range. Here, he fights the fish on a Penn Battle 7000 spooled with 50-pound SpiderWire that we brought to test. We used the lodge’s rods to minimize checked baggage.Chris Woodward
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Palming the spool helped slow the freight-train run of the big fish.Chris Woodward
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Coming up for air, the tarpon has its first look at the boat. And in typical fashion, it peeled of another several hundred feet of line before finally succumbing.Chris Woodward
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Guide Santos Faustino Espinoza “Rito” Perez hoists the tarpon with a lip gaff for a quick photo before release.Chris Woodward
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On the way back to the lodge, a 150-year-old sentinel still stands in the surrounding lagoon. This dredge from the 1850s was left by Cornelius Vanderbilt, who had proposed to build a shipping canal across Nicaragua, instead of Panama.Chris Woodward
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Crikey! A huge croc! This 19-footer, nicknamed Juancho (Big John), comes to the docks at Rio Indio every night to eat the fish carcasses cleaned by the guides that day.Chris Woodward
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On our second afternoon off the Nicaraguan coast, we experienced a bizarre bite. We counted 11 confirmed pickups — verified by at least one jump — and numerous hits-and-spits. Most of the activity occurred in the last hours of daylight as the full moon was rising. With a full moon, the best bite probably occurred after dark.Chris Woodward
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Rito points the rod at a jumping tarpon that picked up a dead star drum pinned with a circle hook and drifted near the bottom.Chris Woodward
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One-jump tarpon. Most of the poons picked up the bait and jumped as soon as they felt the hook, consequently spitting out the whole contraption.Chris Woodward
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On day three, we headed upriver to catch a few snook. Spud, left, was joined by lodge marketing manager Erik Gibbs (right).Chris Woodward
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Rito hooked the first snook on a Yo-Zuri plug, after casting it near a submerged tree limb.Chris Woodward
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Rito hooked the first snook on a Yo-Zuri plug, after casting it near a submerged tree limb.Chris Woodward
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Spud prepares to release a snook back into the Rio Indio river.Chris Woodward
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Locals fishing for food use Rat-L-Traps, primarily, to catch snook with rod-and-reel outfits or hand lines.Chris Woodward
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Rito picks up another snook on a Rat-L-Trap.Chris Woodward
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This river snook swims in fairly tannic water, but appears very clean and silvery once landed.Chris Woodward
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Back offshore in the afternoon, the bite turns on again just before dark. Erik hooks a tarpon weighing close to 140 pounds, and Spud catches his second silver king — a 90-pounder.Chris Woodward
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The big fish catch air early in the fight, then dog deep, laying sideways the current.Chris Woodward
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Rito inserts the lip gaff into Erik’s tarpon after both man and beast fought till dark.Chris Woodward
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A job well-fought and well-won.Chris Woodward
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Both men try to haul the big fish out of the water for a full-length picture.Chris Woodward
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This Paradise Air charter plane flew through low clouds and mountains to pick us up in Barra for the trip to San Jose.Chris Woodward
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Barra is home to a thriving community of people and pets. Here are two tiny puppies that waited with us for the charter flight.
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Heading toward San Jose, the Costa Rican mountains rise lush and green from the jungle.Chris Woodward