A hot bite on a seamount off Costa Rica is one to savor

Photos by Austin Coit

The acrobatics were a visual feast.

The acrobatics were a visual feast.

It lasted only a few hours, but they were three of the craziest hours of fishing I’ve ever experienced.

When it was over, we’d raised 25 blue marlin, had 15 bites and brought nine fish to the boat ranging from 150 to nearly 400 pounds. We’d had a couple of double-headers with two other fish on the teasers at the same time. And for a few exciting moments, we were hooked up to three blues — and we never fished more than three baits or lures at one time.

At one point, we watched dumbfounded as a “school” of 20 or more blue marlin crashed the surface like yellowfin, blowing up on small tuna about a quarter mile off the port quarter. “Now I’ve seen it all,” said Will Drost, our host and owner of the 42-foot Maverick sportfisherman Sea Fly. “Marlin busting on the surface like yellowfin? I’ve never seen that. That’s rare.”

We were working a seamount about 75 miles from Los Sueños Resort & Marina, which is situated on Herradura Bay along the central Pacific coast of Costa Rica. I was fishing with John Brownlee, a friend and the host of Anglers Journal TV, who was filming a segment to air on the Discovery Channel this fall.

The fish came in hot and fast on the teasers and live bridled-rigged yellowfin and bonito. We had powerful teaser bites, and we caught fish on lures, live baits and pitch baits using Alutecnos 50s with 80-pound mono and stand-up rods. The bite started less than a minute after the spread was set. “It was like 45 seconds,” Brownlee remembers. “I wasn’t ready. I was still drinking my coffee, and that thing ate. It was like, right now.”

The coffee spilled, the reel backlashed, and the chaotic fun began. Three wonderful, crazy hours. “I have been blessed to see some really hot bites off Los Sueños,” said Drost, who, with partners, runs a sportfishing charter business out of Los Sueños, “but those were the hottest three hours I have ever witnessed.”

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Fish Dreams

By 11:30 a.m., the action had slowed. We took a breath, watched the spread and had a cold drink.

“Ouch,” Drost said, wincing. Mate José Francisco Brenes, who goes by “Poncho,” had snuck up and pinched Drost’s arm hard enough to leave a blood blister.

Drost stands 6-foot-3 and is solidly built; Poncho is a good foot shorter.

“Why’d you do that?” Drost asked, a mix of surprise and annoyance in his voice.

Poncho’s face lit up. “So you’d know this wasn’t a dream.”

The morning had an otherworldly quality about it. The frenetic bite, the zinging acrobatics, the quick, chill crew, the lovely mix of sun and clouds and a light breeze. “What a day. That was pretty epic, boys,” Brownlee said without a hint of hyperbole. “It doesn’t get any better.”

“That’s big fun,” Drost said. “That was a hot bite.”

First mate Poncho Brenes.

First mate Poncho Brenes.

As great as it was, we all wondered what it would have been like had we been on scene at, say, 5:30 in the morning rather than 8:30. Or if we could have fished all day. “If we were there from dawn to dark, we could have gotten 20,” Brownlee said. And if we weren’t filming a TV show, we would have bent more rods, too.

It says something about Homo sapiens that no matter how good the fishing might be, we always want more. Those few hours gave me a clear picture of why someone might choose to spend his life chasing these remarkable pelagic wanderers. Photos don’t do justice to the speed, power or crazy aerial show the marlin put on as they leaped, crashed, twisted and greyhounded across the surface. It was a visual feast.

I remember one fish that boiled behind Drost’s pitch bait, leaving a crater large enough to swallow a Jeep. And I was fast to a streaking marlin when Brownlee’s deep voice boomed behind me. “It ain’t like catching tommy cod, is it?” he said, channeling the grizzled shark fisherman Quint from the movie Jaws.

I grew up in New England, fishing for stripers, bluefish, cod and their cohorts. I never spent much time thinking about marlin. But that night when I closed my eyes, I saw those men in the blue suits rushing the teasers as I drifted on currents of sleep. The next morning, Drost said he’d dreamed of marlin, too. At some point during the night, his smartwatch buzzed with a message, and he jumped up, thinking there was a fish on the right teaser.

Will Drost, a Gulf Coast fisherman who has found a second home at Los Sueños.

Will Drost, a Gulf Coast fisherman who has found a second home at Los Sueños.

Fishing Came First

Will Drost is the product of a Gulf Coast fishing upbringing. “I’m a true Louisiana guy,” says Drost, who is 48 and lives in Lake Charles. “I grew up fishing on the Gulf Coast. It set the seed in me, a fishing addiction. I love trout fishing. And I’m a hunter of just about everything, particularly birds. I fish trout in winter and billfish in the summer. I like to fish, and I like to kill stuff in between.”

Drost is a likable guy: smart, well-spoken and passionate about family, fishing and the fishing business. You can hear southwest Louisiana in his voice, and he does a mean goose call when the fishing slows.

He and his wife, Ann, graduated from Louisiana State University, where they met as freshmen. Their daughter, who loves to fish, got married earlier this year at the Los Sueños resort. Their son loves to hunt.

Los Sueños had long been on Drost’s bucket list when he first visited, in 2001, on a private boat out of Louisiana. “When I got here, I didn’t want to leave,” says Drost, who manages the family’s extensive land holdings in Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana, which includes timber, farming, cattle, natural gas and more. “I fell in love with the country and the people. Then I fell in love with Los Sueños. It’s the best fishing in the world.”

In addition to his business interests in Louisiana, Drost is a partner in the Maverick sportfishing charter business out of Los Sueños, with its fleet of seven Maverick hulls known as the “fly” boats (Spanish Fly, Sea Fly and so on). “I wanted to put together a world-class charter business that caters to people like me,” he says. “I wanted the best boats, the best captains and the best mates. A private boat experience in a charter boat.” (Since my visit in July, Maverick Costa Rica added five boats through the acquisition of a longtime charter operator.)

The bite on the seamounts off Costa Rica can be as hot as anywhere in the world.

The bite on the seamounts off Costa Rica can be as hot as anywhere in the world.

With partners, Drost and his wife also operate the new Maverick Sportfishing Center, a high-end greeting area and retail shop at the marina. Drost is also involved in the Maverick boatbuilding operation, which is owned by Larry Drivon and veteran Capt. Daniel Espinoza. The shop builds a line of handsome, Erwin Gerards-designed, cold-molded sportfishing and sport yachts from 32 to 55 feet. The shop was chock-full with six new builds when I visited this past summer, including Drost’s new 50, which should launch in December.

“The most important thing about this area is the amount of fish and the number of calm days,” Drost says. “In six years, we’ve only had to cancel one trip. It’s a serious angler’s heaven.”

Drost also speaks of the conservation ethic that’s prevalent in Costa Rica. “The country protects its fish, and we protect our fish,” he says. “We practice safe catch and release.”

Drost, who grew up catching sea trout and redfish, was admittedly slow to warm up to marlin. “My father always wanted to billfish,” he recalls. “I preferred to be trout fishing. To me, billfishing was a lot of time at sea for 10 minutes of action. Because I wanted to be with my dad, I went with him.”

An epiphany of sorts occurred off Louisiana two decades ago. “I was 40 miles off Venice when a 600-pound fish hit the flat line,” Drost says. “It was a life-changing moment. That was the end of my trout addiction.”

Pitching baits to blue marlin is what really gets Drost’s motor humming. “I like the bite,” he says. “I like the bait and switch. There’s nothing like it. I think that goes back to my trout days. It’s all about the bite.”

He guided hunting and fishing trips in high school and college, and for a time had his heart set on making that his career. “My first dream was to be a guide,” Drost says.

About 25 years ago, his grandfather asked him to join the family business. Drost was torn. “It was tough,” he recalls. “I quit three times, but I ended up fighting through it. Lot of prayer, but I fought through it.”

In hindsight, he says it was the right decision. “If I’d stayed trout and red fishing in Louisiana, I wouldn’t be here now,” he says, standing outside his Los Sueños condominium. The vista is mesmerizing: rainforest greens, parakeets and macaws, the blue Pacific rolling to the far horizon.

Homeward bound aboad the 42-foot Maverick sportfisherman Sea Fly.

Homeward bound aboad the 42-foot Maverick sportfisherman Sea Fly.

Seamounts

We found our fish on the last day of a three-day trip about 75 miles out. They were congregated on a seamount, one of a series of submerged mountains off the coast. We had initially planned to fish the undersea ridges 120 miles offshore, but we’d arrived in Costa Rica following a storm, and reaching the mounts meant a long, tough slog in big, confused seas. Instead, we fished inshore for two days, and what had been a hot bite cooled some. On our last morning, we left at false dawn, headed for a submarine volcanic range.

“The seamounts are amazing,” Drost says. “It’s gorgeous bottom structure, just these huge mountains 60 to more than 200 miles offshore.”

The peaks climb to within 600 feet of the surface from bottom depths ranging from roughly 3,500 to 10,000 feet. The steep, rugged topography creates strong currents. Enterprising fishermen anchor man-made fish-aggregating devices (FADs) on strategic spots along the watery ridge, attracting scads of small yellowfin, bonito and dolphin, which in turn summon large numbers of marlin. “It’s a serious food chain,” Drost says. “I’ve never seen more yellowfin than on the sea mounts.” Catching plenty of live bait is no problem.

“The key to the whole thing is the amount of biomass sitting over those FADs,” Brownlee says. “It’s astounding. There are acres of little tuna.”

The Costa Rica blue marlin fishery on the seamounts has been sizzling for several years. We got just a taste of it.

Intangibles

Drost runs a buttoned-up fishing operation. The vibe on the boat was great. The captain and mates, Poncho and Steven Fallas, were smart, fast and friendly. The food on board was par excellence.On our last morning, Capt. Carlos Espinoza’s wife sent a great platter of burritos for breakfast and chicken and rice for lunch. “My business model is to create a world-class business,” Drost says. “The profit comes later, not first.”

There are days when you just know things are going to turn out well. It was 6:30 a.m., and we were making the 3½-hour run offshore on our last day. Most everybody was trying to catch a little sleep. I was reading a book of poems in the saloon.

“You like poetry?” asked Poncho, 29.

“I do,” I said.

“Do you know Neruda?” he asked, referring to the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.

“Yes.”

With that, Poncho recited a poem by one of the greatest poets of the 20th century. I responded by reading Ted Kooser’s “At the Bait Stand”:

Part barn, part boxcar, part of a chicken shed,
part leaking water, something partly dead,
part pop machine, part gas pump, part of a chair
leaned back against the wall, and sleeping there,
part-owner Herman Runner, mostly fat,
hip-waders, undershirt, tattoos and hat.

We nodded and smiled. To port, dark anvil clouds released their cargo of rain, pattering the boat and the warm Pacific. There was a hint of the surreal in the air. A sure sign.

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Ted Kooser’s “At the Bait Stand” is reprinted with permission of Copper Canyon Press.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of Anglers Journal magazine.

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