Panama is widely known for its sport fishing, with boats going out every day to catch big game weighing up to hundreds of pounds. We took a trip out with Panama Sport Fishing Charters, a small Boca-Chica based company headed by a local named Juan and his son, Juan Jr. They showed us what it means to be a true fisherman, and that there’s much more to it if you want to reel in the big stuff.
We left Isla Palenque at 6:30 a.m. for the all-day trip. Juan and Juan took us up about 20 minutes, where we stopped to catch our bait for the day. Having practically zero fishing experience between us, Luke and I observed how you release the ‘bell’ on the fishing rod and let the line drop to the bottom of the water. Jerk the rod up and reel it in a bit, to attract the fish’s attention. Repeat until you feel the line catch. From there, pull up slowly, then lower down and reel in quickly until the tension returns. Repeat. Be patient with the fish; it will fight to swim down, but let it tire itself out rather than lose it or break the rod in the struggle.
We caught a number of small snapper, then I found myself battling for some time over what I thought was a small catch. Once it surfaced, the Juans told me I had caught a sizable bone fish. I have to say, reeling in a catch feels pretty rewarding.
Then they took us to the big game area, about 90 minutes out to sea. This is where we took out the big rods. Juan Jr. geared me up to a harness that attached the rod to my legs, allowing me a stronger base for bringing in large fish. They then hooked one of the snappers we caught earlier to the line and lowered it down. It caught just moments later and the battle was on. Juan Jr. hooked the fishing rod to my harness and we worked to pull in what turned out to be a 60-pound tuna. But just as soon as we saw it surface, it broke the line and swam away. Sad story.
We drove out another hour to a reef where a number of recreational and commercial boats had already arrived, clearly a stomping ground for the big stuff. We saw other boats bringing in huge tuna; there were plenty of fish here, and they were definitely biting. This is also where I proved to be terribly seasick, with a coming storm making the waves rise and fall 10 feet at a time. Nevertheless, we proceeded to partake in several battles against even bigger tuna than before, perhaps weighing as much as 100 lbs. They even took me to a free-standing support on the boat for more stability, but sadly the big fish got away after 30 minutes of back-and-forth.
2-1/2 hours there and back and no catches; Luke and I had proven we were terrible fishermen. A memorable experience, nevertheless, with Juan and Juan providing fun company to boot. Panama is certainly a hot spot for deep-sea fishing. Those venturing from Isla Palenque can earn celebrity status by catching fresh seafood for the whole island in one go.