On Hannibal Bank you like to imagine you’re Papa Hemingway. An image of the bristly-bearded author flashes in your mind just as a giant marlin yanks your line. You don’t believe it until you glimpse his iridescent fins glinting in the waves; this is really happening. In these same waters you encounter numerous other big game fish such as tuna, sailfish, and dorado. Panama is blessed with rich biodiversity. This bounty extends to the waters just off the country’s Pacific coast. The word “Panama” loosely translates to “abundance of fish.”
Isla Palenque sits at the doorstep of one of the world’s prime sport fishing destinations. About 50 miles off the coast of Panama in the Golfo de Chiriqui, between the island of Coiba and Isla Montuosa, lies the world-famous Hannibal Bank. Hannibal Bank is a large undersea canyon with banks and pinnacles that peak near the surface, sometimes less than 50 feet below your boat. Strong underwater currents of upward-moving cool water provide an influx of feeding fish. These species, referred to as bait fish, attract big game species such as blue and black marlin, sailfish, dorado, wahoo, grouper, and yellowfin tuna. Hannibal Bank comprises just a small portion of a 3000-foot-deep oceanic shelf extending more than 200 miles.
Anglers distinguish between “offshore” and “inshore” fishing. Offshore fishing takes place far enough from shore that the bottom structure doesn’t matter. Tuna and marlin can be found in these conditions, pursuing schools of fish in water thousands of feet deep. These are typical big game fish, but if you ever find yourself struggling with one of these colossal fighters, you certainly won’t think of them as typical.
Inshore fishing requires the angler to seek out fish based on the bottom structure, regardless of whether the actual fishing occurs near the surface or on the bottom. This type of fishing usually takes place within a few miles of shore. Common inshore species found in Panama’s coastal Pacific waters include snapper, roosterfish, amberjack, and snook. As a protected marine park, the Gulf of Chiriqui enjoys an abundance of fish, making it one of the best fishing destinations on the planet. Commercial fishing is banned and the Panamanian defense forces regularly patrol these waters for compliance. The Gulf of Chiriqui provides ample color, excitement, and scenery to create a fishing experience that leaves all others in its wake.
When is the best time to go? It depends on what you want to catch. Marlin and sailfish (also known as billfish) season runs December to April. Throughout January, February and March (often the dreariest three months of the year back home, depending on where you hail from), visiting anglers enjoy prime opportunities to battle marlin and wrestle sailfish topping the 1000-pound threshold. Yellowfin tuna season runs February through May, and if you really want a chance to snag a huge one, book your trip during March or April. While a yellowfin normally weighs between 50 and 80 pounds, the 100-to-200-pound cows come out to play during March and April towards the end of the season. Roosterfish, snapper and the other stars of inshore fishing can be caught year-round.
Never a dull moment in the waters of Panama. Even if the fish take a break from biting, the glittering waters of Panama prevent your fishing adventure from reminding you of those murky lakes in Michigan.
“The amount of habitat in the area boggles the mind – you could literally spend years exploring the rocky shorelines of the islands large and small and never fish it all. This place is a caster’s dream,” says John Brownlee of Salt Water Sportsman Magazine.
Isla Palenque lies very close to all the action, and several sportfishing outfitters provide day trips to Hannibal Bank from Boca Chica. These waters, teeming with diverse species, promise to make you into a great storyteller. Because when you’ve got a 200-pound fish at the end of your line, great stories just happen.