Panama’s Topwater Yellowfins

The yellowfin tuna are in Panama year-round, but the bait really moves in with huge pods of dolphin from April to August. Topwater fishing is the ultimate test.
Capt. Shane Jarvis

“HOLD ON!” yells Capt. Shane Jarvis, and you’d better listen because he’s spotted diving birds and spinner dolphins on his Simrad radar. That means just one thing: surface-busting yellowfin tuna. He points the boat in their direction and guns the twin outboards in search of sashimi.

Jarvis has established an island retreat in Panama’s Gulf of Chiriquí, 30 miles from the Costa Rican border. No purse seiners are allowed in Panamanian waters, so the fishery remains fertile. Anglers can chase billfish, mahi and inshore species, often in the same day, but the marauding tuna are typically the biggest draw. Massive schools thunder around and anglers who can intercept them reap the benefits. His base on Isla Parida, 10 miles offshore, puts him closest to the action.

“The tuna are here year-round, but the bait really moves in with huge pods of dolphin from April to August,” he said. He’ll locate the action with his radar, and attempt to cut it off. “You want to figure out the direction they’re moving. When they’re in super-tight groups, you can do that, but some bait — like flying fish and squid — can’t be herded. They’re more erratic.”

Upon arrival to the action, anglers try to launch a Yo-Zuri Bull Pop or Mag Popper into the midst of the frenzy. At first, some are too awed by the airborne tuna to act. If the fish go down, it’s time to start all over again, searching the radar for action that could have moved miles away in the blink of an eye. All too often, though, one or more anglers hook up.

First, the birds must be located with help from radar. Then, it’s a race to the action. Be ready with a topwater plug for a battle with an oversize yellowfin tuna.
Capt. Shane Jarvis

“The key is to loudly pop the lure one or two times so the fish can hear and see it,” Jarvis explained. “Then move it faster … pop-pop-pop-pop. When you hook up, apply as much pressure as you can from the get-go. It pays to be in good shape.” That’s because while the tuna tend to school up by size, a 200-pounder can suddenly appear in a group of 20- to 60-pounders.

Jarvis, as part of Sport Fish Panama Island Lodge, has outfitted his three World Cats and one Freeman with custom front casting platforms and protective rails. The latter prevent anglers from going in the drink when casting or battling a giant yellowfin. He uses specialized popping rods from Blackfin and Shimano Twin Power 14000 spinning reels spooled with 65-pound test Yo-Zuri Superbraid and a shock leader of 80-pound test Super Fluoro.

At night, anglers return exhausted to the lodge’s compound on Isla Parida, and the biggest decision for the following day is whether to go on another hunt for tuna, or to focus on billfish and inshore species. Fortunately, it’s not a single decision that must be made. In fact, while this may be tuna popping paradise, and there’s nothing wrong with chasing them exclusively, variety is the region’s true calling card. Just don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the other species will give you a rest. Befitting the Jurassic Park-style scenery, everything here is prehistoric, mean, and willing to fight to exhaustion.

Planning a Trip

While Panama is tuna popping paradise, there’s nothing wrong with chasing other species such as roosterfish.
Courtesy Sport Fish Panama Island Lodge

When to Go

The yellowfin are in the Gulf of Chiriquí year-round, and can be caught on surface lures any month, but prime popping takes place from early April through the beginning of August, when the bait is bunched up the best and the seas are calm. The rainy season starts in late summer and runs through the end of October, plus Jarvis closes down the lodge in September and October. The fishing is still good, but it may be uncomfortable to be out there. Opportunities to catch billfish and mahi increase on the edges of the rainy periods. Inshore fishing for species including roosterfish and cubera snapper is good all the time.

Where to Go and How to Get There

Getting to Sport Fish Panama Island Lodge. Anglers fly into Panama City’s Tocumen Airport, the largest in Central America, which is served by numerous major airlines and has direct flights from over a dozen North American cities. From there, the package includes expedited immigration, all transfers, and a night at the Hilton. The next morning, anglers fly to the city of David on a Copa jet, take a five minute ride to the airport, and an hour boat ride through the estuary to Isla Parida.

Panama City is exceptionally cosmopolitan and safe. During the stopover, tours can be arranged of the Panama Canal or Casco Viejo portion of the city. Isla Parida is in a national park, which includes World Heritage Site Isla Coiba, known for its incredible diving and whale watching.

The post Panama’s Topwater Yellowfins appeared first on Salt Water Sportsman.

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