Fly Fishing The Jungle For Tarpon

Fly Fishing The Jungle For Tarpon

Bernd Ziesche | Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Sounds wild? It indeed was a WILD trip into the UNKNOWN!

My friend Holger and I are just back from an almost 4 weeks fly fishing trip to Central America, Nicaragua.

First of all I am sorry for not having been able to deliever any front page during our trip. Most of the time we simply were far off anything like an internet connection. In addition I of course wanted to fish every minute all around the clock. ;)

We started our journey by plane in Hamburg, stopped in London and in Houston and finally arrived in Managua, Nicaragua. After a fine night in a hotel we took a 4 hours ride by taxi to San Carlos. San Carlos is where the San Juan river starts it's journey coming out of the lake Nicaragua running down all the way to the Carribean sea on the east side of Nicaragua. The only chance to travel along this river is by boat. There are no roads along most parts of the river. Based on all information we could get before the trip our hopes were to hook up with a Tarpon and a snook. From San Carlos we went on a boat ride straight to El Castillo.

Here we had booked a local fishing guide (Eduin) for about 7 days. So we felt pretty comfortable to have at least someone being able to position us in front of some fine fish. Eduin indeed was able to position his boat drifting down a spot in which we saw 3 or 4 large Tarpon rolling during the first three hours. In summary not that much fish and they were showing up on a large field of water. In that first day we tried just two different spots since Eduin pointed these out to offer the best chance of hooking up a Tarpon. On the second day Eduin suggested to anchor the boat right in front of some rapids where the Tarpon usually would stop and become active. Great idea, Holger and I thought and wanted to choose exactly this option.
To our surprise Eduin then didn't have his anchor on board. Ok, so we went back to the dock (20 minutes ride) and he picked up his anchor and a rope which he called to be the anchor-rope. To me (I grew up on boats) this was more of a peice of shit instead of anything I would have called to be an anchor-rope. Anyway we went back to the hot zone and Eduin threw in the anchor. Again to our surprise the boat didn't stop drifting down the river!?
I went to the front of the boat where the anchor-rope went straight down into the water. After checking I found out that the rope was too short for the anchor to hit the bottom. Jesus! - I asked Eduin how deep the river was here, but all I found out was the reason for the rope being too short: He didn't know! Ok, so we again went back to the dock and Eduin bought another peice of rope. Another 4 meters - fantastic! So I made the knots myself connecting both ropes with each other. We now had 10 meters of line between the anchor and the boat! I felt a bit uncomfortable because in it's first part the rope was pretty weak (too worn out). Anyway finally I found out to be in an 8 meter deep fishing spot having 10 meters of anchor-rope. The anchor first slided over ground based on the too steep angle coming with the still pretty short rope. After some meters the anchor locked in.
We fished the spot for some time while again some Tarpon (5 or 6) were rolling on the surface. Sounds good, I know. But those Tarpon showed up in very different places in between a distance of 150 meters around the boat. So, not much (if any) of a chance to get our fly close to the fish.

After a while we decided to change the spot. Holger tried to pull up the anchor and of course (I saw this coming...) the rope broke and the anchor was gone. Well, it wasn't exactly gone. It just wasn't at the end of the rope anymore. ;) Eduin then wanted to try to pick up the anchor with a spinning rod by hooking his lure into the rope. I tried to explain him that (after Holger pulled 6 of the 10 meters of rope into the boat) having just 4 meters of rope on the anchor now would make it impossible to get the end of the rope to the surface, but I failed in getting this mathematical calculation over.
In the end we went back to the dock and had a fine lunch while Eduin was trying to get the anchor back.

After lunch we started fishing again. This time we didn't see any fish on the surface and I asked to change from targeting Tarpon to some Snook. So we changed rod, lines and flies and fished a while for Snook before we had to accept that there weren't much (I think any) snook left in that river. The reasons were that the locals had fished for them with poison, bombs and ghill nets for about the past 20 years and due to all this succeeding in killing the once great stock of snook on the famous San Juan river!

On the third day we went down the river for about 40 kilometers in order to watch birds and all the animals living in the jungle on both sides of the river. Eduin was really a great guide for such an animal watching tour. He knew exactly where to find all the animals and saw them well ahead of us. Some impressive LARGE crocodiles among all the monkeys, tons of birds, turtles and snakes we saw. Holger and I enjoyed this ride a lot.

On the fourth day we were finally able to catch our first fish of the trip: 2 Machacas each of us. Well, these fish weren't as strong and big as Tarpon are, but I was pretty happy to have had a fine fight on a small rod as well as having caught a species of fish I never had seen before. One of them was as big as they usually get as our guide told us.

In the evening Holger and I decided to stop fishing the San Juan river based on having seen the great nature but still wanted to hook up with a Tarpon in the first place. Our guide told us that he didn't see much of a chance for this to happen because of so few Tarpon being around since now the past 2 years. In addition he didn't have anything I would call a strategy for catching Tarpon on fly rod either. So I paid him and we went on a boat leaving El Castillo heading back to San Carlos 5 am in the next morning. Our target was to reach Pearl Lagoon located significant north east of us in the evening. Arriving in San Carlos we took a 6 hours ride by bus to El Rama. El Rama is a place I (now) recommend to stay away from - especially after darkness comes in! Why? It's a dangerous place not only for turists. That is why we directly went on the next bus arriving in Pearl Lagoon after another 5 hours. Fair to say this was the toughest bus ride I ever had experienced yet. And I doubt it could have been much harder. The road wasn't a road with some holes in it but holes with nothing you seriously could call to be a road in between them. The bus most of the time felt to be a boat going up and down in some serious waves. Anyway both Holger and I survived!

In Pearl Lagoon we went directly into the closest hotel and after a fine midnight dinner providing some extraoridnary shrimps we felt asleep.

From Pearl Lagoon we went further north by boat fishing again for Tarpon with a local guide (Bradie). This time we made a perfect choice and Bradie turned out to be well experienced in guiding anglers to catch Tarpon. 
In the first evening (we arrived in the afternoon) I caught a nice Jack. The next morning Holger got a first serious take by a Tarpon. Unfortunately the Tarpon pulled the line thru Holger's fingers, which is why Holger couldn't set the hook before the Tarpon was gone after just 3 seconds (or 5 meters of line). Just 2 minutes later the very same happend to me before I managed to hook up my second Tarpon take! For about 50 minutes I was fighting a serious size of Tarpon (90 - 100 lbs.) before something stupid happened. Well, it of course didn't just happen, but instead I did make it happen!
Never I had been fishing with barrel crimps to add the leader to the fly line before. Due to a lack of experience I didn't clip the leader end coming out of the barrel crimp really short. Why not? I don't really know!
When the Tarpon was really close I pulled the beginning of the leader into the tip and as soon as I heard that sound (telling me that this was a one way track)  I had 2 seconds to find a solution. This came to my mind:
A) I let the Tarpon go and pulling my rod, reel and line over board.
B) The Tarpon would pull me overboard and then under water.
C) I would take the rod into two peices allowing the Tarpon to run of again while pulling my tip section behind.
Breaking the leader wasn't an option since it was 130 lbs. strong. ;) Bending the hook wasn't an option either since I was using the Owner AKI in 7/0.
Now I had 0,5 seconds left and went for C)! I was very quick and the Tarpon indeed run off again. You may check the pictures below. After another 20 minutes I pulled the fly off when the Tarpon started a final series of strong head shakes. Of course with half of a 12 wt. rod there isn't too much you can do to fight this fish appropriate, I think.
So he won - well deserved for sure! Thanks a lot for a hell of a fight Mr. Tarpon!!!

The next morning I again hooked up with another fine Tarpon about I think 80 - 90 lbs.. After fighting it for about 45 minutes he was close when I realized the hook to be next to the eye and not inside the mouth. That explained why it was pretty difficult to then finally get the fish in. I started to pull very strong and the hook came out after another 15 minutes. Of course I wasn't after landing a fail hooked fish anyway.

After that we had to leave since Holger and I had a date on Calala island - one of the famous Pearl keys to fish the Carribean water.
We went back to Pearl Lagoon and started the next morning to Calala. Calala is a great island when you are looking for a place for honey moon offering some serious fishing for large Permit especially early in the morning (before your wife wakes up) and (if you like) all day long. The service and food on Calala is outstanding. Both Holger and I never had a better quality in breakfast, lunch and dinner! Simply perfect. And so was our house on Calala. It was just a few steps away from the water right on the beach. A place in heaven it was to me! In order to keep this short (I am going to write another front page just about Calala island soon) we didn't find very much fish around Calala. But it's fair to say beside having caught Snapper, Jacks, Barracuda and Spanish Mackrel we were casting to Permit every day. I had a Permit of around 16 - 20 Kg following my fly before finally refusing. Maybe we were just unlucky, but probably had a lack of experience in fly fishing for Permit!?
All in all our week on Cala was an outstanding experince! Thanks a lot to Tim for making this possible. Whenever you are looking for a great place for tropical fly fishing being combineable with a family trip Calala is a great place for sure! There are at least some very serious fish around. Holger though lost a large Barracuda after a long and fast run into the deep blue!

Holger had to leave home after we came back from Calala, while I did hang on another three days fishing for Tarpon, again with Capt. Bradie. I just couldn't let go yet! ;) On the first morning I hooked up with a small Tarpon (40 - 50 lbs.), which after 10 jumps within maybe 3 minutes managed to spit the hook out. Happens of course. Fair fight, he well deserved to come free.
Then for a while I didn't get a hook up, but also didn't stop casting. After 6 hours of non stop casting I got a second hook up. It again was a serious Tarpon of about 90 - 100lbs.! After 70 minutes he was almost ready to give up when suddenly the hook came out. Damned - yes, this happens and maybe I should, but sure I don't like when it does! ;)

On the second day the fishing was relatively slow. That was during sun light because the Tarpon were eating under the full moon during the night. So on my last day - better night, (thanks a lot to Bradie for giving me this fine opportunity!) we started fishing at 3 am. About 3:30 am I managed to set the hook again into a (very) serious Tarpon. Within the next almost 3 hours this Tarpon was running and running and running. We followed this fish about several kilometers down the river. I was almost sure to not make any mistake this time! Almost? Yes almost, of course you never fully know!?
Indeed I made a mistake the evening before. I renewed the loop at the end of my fly line. I made the strongest loop I ever made. Over more than 2 inch I doubled my fly line and tight it up with thread before adding a) partially some second glue and b) lots of Polyurethan. I have done these loops (but much smaller) for about 25 years and not once did one break. Could this loop break? Fair to say I was sure that this was impossible. But the Tarpon proved me to be WRONG!!! :(
What happened?
The water temperature of around 28 degrees Celsius weakened the Polyurethan to some degree. Based on this the loop simply could be pulled off due to some very final strong head shakes. Man, that Tarpon was already laying sided on the surface for 2 seconds. Just 2 rod length off the boat. Ok, it was a hell of a fight and that fish very well deserved to win!
I learnt another great lesson! One better should check every small detail in exactly the conditions one will be fishing in. And yet serious experience on whatever species of fish can't be offset by the best possible (theoretical) preparation for any fishing trip.

Decision is made: I will come back for another FIGHT next year! Can't wait!!!

It's a pitty that huge parts of Nicaragua are significant overfished by using too many ghill nets. But the nature is outstanding and there are still some serious fish to be released!?

Great week and a fine adventure to all of you!

All my best

Some pictures as ususal...

fly fishing tarpon
fly fishing nicaragua