Off the Jungle Shore E-mail
Written by Matt Whisenhunt   
Monday, 07 April 2014 00:00

We launched from the beach at the crack of down, on the search for an elusive trophy fish before catching our plane around 11 am. The previous 3 ½ days had been spent paddling miles of extremely scenic shoreline that borders one of the most impenetrable jungles in the world: The Darien. 

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The southern coastal region of Panama has no roads, the only way in or out is by boat or plane. It is wonderfully remote, with nary a tourist in sight, other than ourselves of course. There is only one truck in the village. The river is the life-blood of the community, which consists mainly of indigenous peoples and Colombian refugees. The living is simple, with most subsisting on fish they catch and food they grow.  

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Hennie Marais of Paddle Panama runs kayak fishing adventure trips all over Panama. He recommended Jaque, a remote frontier town a stone’s throw from the Colombian border. He is very knowledgeable about the country and designed a trip that is fly in, catering to my wife’s physical limitations that prevent travel by car. After landing it was a short walk to our house on the beach. I cannot say enough about the lengths he went to make sure we had a trip that we both could enjoy, taking special care to design something that accommodated my wife’s limitations as well as my need to spill blood on the yak.

This is a beautiful region of Panama, and the kayaking was excellent. When I needed a break, just grab the mask and snorkel and swim among schools of tropical fish in giant boulder gardens below towering cliffs. The fishing, though slow for us, is world class as is evidenced by the Tropic Star Lodge located one bay up in the only other village in the region. I highly recommend Hennie Marais and Paddle Panama to set up an awesome kayak fishing adventure. 

Normally in February the offshore winds blow, causing an upwelling that brings the fish in. Unfortunately, they were not blowing, and the fishing was slow. We did manage to catch dinner every night, and had shots at a couple Cubera Snapper, which can reach trophy sizes in these waters. 

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I managed to hook into one Cubera while casting a popper in and amongst the wave beaten rocks, and experienced one of the most thrilling fish of my life. There’s nothing quite like a 20+pound beast towing you into the breaking waves of a giant boulder garden. Fifteen minutes of trying to avoid becoming a stain on the reef and not only keep the fish on but out from under the rocks is quite the rush! 

Eventually, the abrasion strength of my line succumbed, but not before providing that “aha” moment. THIS is what kayak fishing is all about! I’ve caught some big fish on the kayak, but I had never experienced anything quite like this.

So, with time running out and armed with the leftover adrenaline from the previous evening’s snapper, we set out to find and land the trophy that had so far eluded us. We managed to get some live bait, rigged with a bridal circle hook rig and set out to slow trolling around one of the larger islands offshore, tossing poppers here and there. After a couple of solid hours we still had zip, so I paddled up to Hennie and let him know that I was heading in. Our plane was leaving in an hour and I still hadn’t packed up. As I departed I said to him, “Maybe I’ll catch a miracle fish on the way in."

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About a mile later I hear the clicker on the lever drag reel screaming. Count to 10, engage the drag, and FISH ON! This was the one I was looking for. After a good long fight and a nice tow the mile back to where I had left Hennie, a 35-pound Roosterfish was in my lap. Performed CPR (catch, picture, release), a few moments of basking in the aftermath, then high tailed it back to the beach. Load the suitcase, walk to the plane, and leave Jaque fully satisfied. 

 

 

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