Art by Flick Ford

Worth Crowing About

Roosterfish

I’ve never been a fan of the term bucket list, which exploded into instant overuse after the tear-jerker movie of the same name debuted. Suddenly, everyone felt compelled to tell you exactly which things just had to be experienced before he or she caught the big bus.

I suppose this phenomenon reflects an extreme manifestation of the innate human need to rank things. We all do it, and we all seem hell-bent on telling other people about it. Here are my favorite songs, my favorite foods, my favorite movies. As if other people really care one whit about, say, our preferences regarding truck brands.

But since we’re talking about ranking things, let’s talk fish. One particular species doesn’t stand out above all others on my list, but I do have a short list of favorites. Its order changes from time to time, mainly based on availability, and it almost always includes sailfish, tarpon, permit, blue marlin, yellowfin tuna and roosterfish.

The roosterfish, however, holds a special place on my roster, primarily because of its exotic nature and appearance. The name comes from the fish’s striking dorsal fin, which has seven long rays resembling the comb of a rooster. Roosterfish inhabit the warm waters of the eastern Pacific from Baja California to Peru.

Having lived most of my life where roosterfish don’t exist, it always seems extra special when I have the chance to catch one. They will take a wide variety of baits and lures. Many charter boats fish live bait for roosters; it’s exciting to watch a fired-up roosterfish chasing terrified bait, its dorsal fin cutting the surface like the fin of a marlin about to strike.

I much prefer casting artificial lures around the structure that these magnificent fish call home. Large, noisy surface poppers work great, and many hard-core roosterfish fans, myself included, prefer them over other offerings. Roosterfish smash surface poppers with an abandon that thrills most anglers. The sight ranks as one of the most exciting in saltwater fishing, addicting many of us to the pursuit.

One of my favorite trips centered on a week of such endeavors. I’ve been fortunate to have visited Tropic Star Lodge in Panama many times, and my favorite trip came about 10 years back when my good friend Raleigh Werking, then the marketing director of TSL, invited me down. We planned to work the spectacularly rugged shoreline with top-water poppers for roosterfish, Cubera snapper and bluefin trevally.

For seven straight days, we did just that, casting again and again at rocks, ledges and whitewater boils. We never ventured more than 100 yards from shore, working the edge with bait-casting rods spooled with stout braid. Roosterfish smashed our plugs. Some we hooked and landed; others missed the plug or pulled off after a short battle. It didn’t matter; we just kept casting. We had a few gigantic Cuberas crash our plugs, too, giving us a brief thrill before sounding and cutting us off on the rocks below.

At the end of our trip, neither of us could recall how many fish we had landed, much less how many we’d raised and seen. It all settled into a happy blur, and we went home with aching arms and sunburned skin — sure signs of a great time spent pursuing one of the world’s great fish.

John Brownlee is an internationally recognized light-tackle expert who has traveled much of the saltwater world in 30-plus years of fishing. He is currently the general manager of the Maverick Sportfishing fleet, based at Los Sueños Resort and marina in Costa Rica.

Next: Bluefish ▶

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of Anglers Journal magazine.

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