Diary: Sport fishing in Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica

Proudly displaying our catch of tuna

A sport-fishing cum snorkelling trip is one of the more unlikely activities we found ourselves doing in Costa Rica, but boy was it worth it!! Cue giant fish, leaping dolphins, leaping turtles, breathtaking views, and some fisherwoman’s luck.

“Do you have bananas with you?” were the first words uttered by our skipper Ariel as he helped us onto the boat. We couldn’t tell if he was being serious but felt obliged to disclose the 5 yellow fingers in our food bag. “Bananas are bad luck for fishing” he followed up with. Somewhat uncomfortably we boarded, unwilling to part company with our mid-morning snack just yet.

We’d booked a 5 hour morning fishing and snorkelling trip from Playa Hermosa and had modest hopes of seeing and with a bit of luck catching some dinner. It was a private hire so wasn’t exactly a budget option but at least this way we could direct the trip as we saw fit and get a one-to-one introduction to sea sport fishing. We set sail out of bay and no sooner than it was deep enough was the boat decorated with no fewer than 7 separate fishing rods splaying outwards and upwards like a sea porcupine.

Line trawling approaching the "Gorilla faced rock"
Line trawling approaching the “Gorilla faced rock”

Now fishing is known as a bit of a dull sport so we had planned for a relaxing day, thinking an odd check on the rods might yield a tiddler or two. We wait. An hour passes during which time the bananas come under increasing pressure. Fewer than 60 seconds after the last one’s consumed one of the reels starts buzzing vigorously as it’s unwound by a hooked and escaping fish.

I’m invited to take hold of the line to grapple with the beast on the other end. This involves ramming the unprotected plastic bottom end of an ageing fishing rod into my belly whilst attempting to turn the reel and bring in some line. After 60 futile seconds of straining and a few chuckles from our hosts I was shown the correct fish landing technique – relax, pull the rod up slowly then reel quickly as you drop it down, and repeat. Ten minutes having found a rhythm a large yellow-fin tuna was thrashing about on the end of the line next to the boat.

Reeling in a yellow-fin tuna from the boat
Reeling in a yellow-fin tuna from the boat

Once reeled close to the boat it’s pulled on board by a large hooked stick. This all seems rather cruel and I try to ignore my displeasure, reasoning that it’s good to experience where your food comes from. Right?

Fish onboard it’s duly clubbed over the head before being unhooked and handed to yours truly for a glory shot. Now I feel like a real fisherman, fish proudly held high. This turns out to be one of the trickier parts of the whole affair. Fish don’t have natural handles and being covered in a thin layer of slime are hard to grip, let alone when in their dying throes. Photos over and Mr. Tuna is left to complete his diminishing series of undignified flaps against the deck.

One of our bloodied tuna fish lying dead on the deck
One of our bloodied tuna fish lying dead on the deck

Another circle of the boat and the reels are buzzing again. Petra steps up to receive her baptism in sport fishing.

All starts well and after a short battle another large yellow-fin tuna appears under the water. Hooking commences but as the animal is hauled into the boat it makes one final lunge for freedom. John, the Skipper’s assistant yanks the hook to counter and the fish flies onboard, slamming Petra’s leg and sinking the other hooked end of the lure attached to its jaw into Petra’s calf. John and Ariel the skipper quickly grab the fish and attempt to pacify it.

So we’re now in a bit of a predicament – a large, slippery and powerful fish is flapping for its already doomed life joined by jaw and hook to Petra’s calf, and prevented only from causing more serious injury by the boat crew. The hook has gone both in and out of Petra’s calf threading the skin. The barb makes removal of the hook impossible and the multiple other exposed hooks make any manipulation of the hook assembly a scary prospect.

After what feels like many minutes of contemplation we notice that the lure can be unhooked from the tuna’s mouth if only the fish can be persuaded to hold still long enough. We pin the fish extra tight while Ariel begins the delicate procedure to remove the hook from its jaw whilst maintaining a firm grip. It works and the fish is immediately condemned to join it’s bloody buddy on the deck. We turn our attention to Petra’s leg and its proudly protruding lure.

Removing a large fishhook is tricky. It’s designed not to be removed. The correct procedure is to pierce the hook out of the skin – in this case already done for us – and cut the barb off before reversing the hook out through the entry point. Borrowing some pliers from a nearby boat the barb is carefully cut and hook extracted. The procedure looks sufficiently dangerous requiring both crewmen applying full force to pliers to make the cut. Hook extracted the first aid-box is rapidly emptied and all available ointments and bandages offered.

Plier cutting the barb from the hook lodged in Petra's calf
Plier cutting the barb from the hook lodged in Petra’s calf
Hook entry and exit wounds. Ouch!
Hook entry and exit wounds. Ouch!








Petra, seemingly unfazed by the incident washes the wound down with said ointments and continues the trip, even landing a smaller black-fin tuna later on.

Petra and our skipper Ariel with our second black-fin tuna
Petra and our skipper Ariel with our second black-fin tuna

Ariel, impressed by the toughness of Austrian women later asks her “Are you in the military?”

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