Tropic Star lodge in Panama

The venerable Tropic Star Lodge in Panama has a reputation for producing world record fish
By William Sisson ,

Photos By Richard Gibson

Fishing’s Jurassic Park

Travel with us in this photo feature to the Tropic Star lodge in Panama, where the fish run large and the action can be spectacular. 

I visited this iconic lodge in early summer for the fish and also to serve as a guest on an episode of Anglers Journal TV, the brainchild of John Brownlee, a noted south Florida angler, television host and no stranger to Tropic Star.

“You’re going to love it, man,” said Brownlee. “It’s like Jurassic Park. Full-contact fishing.” All true.

The Tropic Star Lodge is on the Pacific about 150 miles southeast of Panama City, on Piñas Bay in the Darién Gap, a dense jungle that runs to the Colombian border. The only way in is by boat or small chartered plane.

Visiting Tropic Star is like traveling back in time. Guests land on a remote airstrip beside the tiny fishing village of Jaqué on a river that bears the same name. From there, a panga goes out the river mouth and around a point, revealing the lodge’s rainbow fleet of more than a dozen vintage Bertram 31s on moorings and at the end of a long pier. Buildings are set unobtrusively into the green hillside. The setting is spectacular, and the fishing is excellent.

The lodge is known for black, blue and striped marlin, roosterfish, Pacific sails, Cubera snapper, yellowfin tuna, dorado, wahoo, amberjack, mackerel and more. Captains and mates are experienced locals who are second to none when it comes to trolling live baits for blue and black marlin. They’re also experts at rigging an effective Panama strip bait, which we used to fool several sails.

“You can catch a black marlin every day of the year,” says Richard White, a former charter skipper from South Africa who is the fishing director and manager at Tropic Star. More than 250 International Game Fish Association world records have been set at the lodge going back to its beginnings in the early 1960s. Dozens are still in place.

During our visit, we caught blue marlin, Pacific sailfish, trophy roosters and more.

“It’s widely considered to be the best saltwater lodge in the world,” says Brownlee, who was visiting for the eighth time. “This is the whole package. There’s no place in the world quite like it.”

We were accompanied by offshore fishing photographer Richard “Gibby” Gibson, who has been shooting big-game photos in the far corners of the world for decades and who took the photos shown here. It was his first trip back in 20 years, and even he was astounded. “This is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever fished, bar none,” says Gibson. “The Great Barrier Reef is great, but this is the jungle.”

He paused to give the word its proper heft.

“The real stuff,” he continues. “Very few places in the world make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. This is one of them.”

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