White Water Costa Rican Shootout 2018
Few will disagree that the winter of 2017 was one of the most oppressive and despised in recent years. For every glimmer of hope given while counting down the days to its conclusion, a snow storm, cold snap or one of several nor’easters inevitably set us in reverse and dealt a healthy dose of humility. Now that a new winter is upon us and winter destinations are coming into view, its hard to look back at last winter and the misery that we endured. If you had a chance to escape the northeast last winter and soak in some tropical sun, consider yourself lucky. Among those fortunate to enjoy such a reprieve, were a few of the boys at White Water Outfitters and the extended White Water family, consisting of Bryce, Jake and Jeff. After winning last year’s White Water Costa Rican Shootout, the trio returned to Zancudo Lodge last January to defend their crown. Although the guys ultimately fell short of snagging a repeat win, they were able to offer us a stellar account of what those three plus days of intense fishing competition entailed and get some adrenaline flowing in advance of the local offshore season ahead. They are looking forward to regaining the crown in 2019.
Unlike some other international fishing expeditions where the journey becomes a sort of heightened prelude to the destination, flying to Costa Rica’s famed Zancudo Lodge is actually very straight forward and painless. You take a standard commercial airliner to San Jose, transfer to an island hopper for a connecting flight and arrive after a quick 15 min. boat ride to the lodge which is located just north of the Panama boarder. The time change at the lodge or anywhere in Costa Rica, is only one hour behind eastern standard time, so jet lag shouldn’t be an obstacle. If you have a phobia of small aircraft, land transportation is available from San Jose to the lodge but Bryce doesn’t exactly recommend it, as it will extend the last leg of the trip from a 1 hour flight to approximately 6-7 hours of driving time. Though this doesn’t exactly make for a romanticized story it does allow visiting anglers to show up plenty perky and focused on the true task at hand; slaying fish.
While most of the tournament competitors timed their arrival to coincide with the start of the shootout, Bryce and the guys chose to show up a day early and sneak in a little practice session. Given the option to shoot far offshore, the boys commandeered a Contender and ran 80 miles to a fish aggregating device (FAD) on one of the offshore seamounts. What followed was nothing short of an action packed appetizer consisting of a respectable 4 for 7 count on 200-300 lb class blue marlin and a 20 lb mahi (dinner) which ate a live bonito. All fish were caught on light tackle (by blue marlin standards) and perhaps the only limiting factor to their final tally, were the sharks. Marauding swarms of indistinguishable three-foot brown sharks (Presumably a mix of Galapagos and oceanic white tips) eventually covered up the FAD and extinguished the hot bite. Meanwhile, Bryce’s buddy Mike, who accompanied the guys to Zancudo, had a banner day fishing inshore from a kayak. Paddling a stone’s throw from the beach, he wrangled multiple roosterfish, a variety of jacks, and even a stray mahi and yellowfin tuna.
Once everyone else arrived the next day, the tournament festivities kicked off with a welcoming dinner/captains meeting. However, pre-fishing revelry was kept relatively tame in anticipation of the following morning. After some crucial shuteye, competing anglers rose for a 5:30 am breakfast and took to the boats. As part of the tournament/lodge policy, each team was given a choice of how they’d like to allocate their time and efforts. For three days of fishing, teams could elect to go offshore in a Contender for one day and fishing inshore from a panga the other two days. Naturally, Bryce and his White Water Outfitters team jumped at the chance to secure a Contender for day one. Unfortunately for them, the success they enjoyed pre-fishing at the FAD the prior day couldn’t be duplicated. A full day of trolling only yielded one blue marlin release. This was no doubt a painful blow to withstand by its own merit but all the while the boys were privy to a show that burned like salt in an open wound. Just a short distance away and in clear view, two junior anglers and their father went 4 for 7 on blue marlin and gained a generous lead; one which would be sustained for the final win, two days later. Meanwhile, some other boats scored as many as six yellowfin to 100 lbs in a wild bite that earned this year’s tournament theme “The Year of the Tuna.”
Back at the dock, a decadent dinner of short ribs and bread pudding helped quell some disappointment while everyone engaged in the customary exchange of fishing info leading into day two. Hopes for advancement ran high the next morning but as irony would have it, Bryce and the guys all but struck out during their second day at bat. It also didn’t help that Bryce became ill and had a hard time physically functioning let alone fishing. All said and done, day two produced just four short roosterfish and some score-able jacks for a meager points bump to the defending champs. Looking on the bright side though, another extravagant meal of fresh camarones (shrimp) and pasta fra diavalo offered culinary consolation at day’s end.
Evidently the third and final day of tournament fishing proved to be the charm needed to revive the WWO demoralized team. Action took a swift about-face giving way to a kick-ass catching extravaganza on Spanish mackerel, jacks, snapper, hound and bruiser rooster fish. Jeff was especially blessed this particular outing and scored some long awaited redemption after busting off a soul crushing behemoth roosterfish last year. He successfully put the screws to and landed a personal best 40 lb top-water rooster after a spirited battle. Despite savoring and capitalizing on every explosive strike during this hard earned slay fest, it was too little too late for a complete rebound. The White Water Outfitters team was forced to settle for second place, or as Bryce put it, “first place losers.”
Though the tournament officially wrapped, fishing wasn’t entirely over for a portion of the competitors who decided to extend their stay. Just as one would expect, Bryce’s crew chose to linger one more day and log a little bonus time offshore, pressure-free, as they did when first arrived. With strings of recent reports citing epic, ‘National Geographic’ style tuna feeds a short distance away, yellowfin were the obvious target species for this last jaunt. They followed the most promising intel and scanned miles of open ocean, but it was to little avail. As any of us who’ve chased a jig and pop tuna bite are fully aware, yesterday’s biblical blitz can very easily dry up and leave behind the dead sea from one tide and spin of the earth to the next. Fortunately, their hunt wasn’t all for naught and some exploratory trolling raised a sword wielding leviathan. Much to his delight, Jeff was able to get one more blue marlin to “dance for daddy” as the boys jumped off an estimated 600-pounder; decisively among the biggest Costa Rican specimen’s the WWO team has ever seen. The last day also provided several mahi and sails which provided a great closing day of fishing, even if it didn’t occur on one of the tournament days.
As much as the WWO team would have liked a sixth day to invest in the pursuit of ballistic yellowfin, there was only so long the team could escape from the shop and responsibilities back home. This isn’t to say all of their Costa Rican excitement was fully concluded though. A little game of airborne tag with another plane kept the flight from Golfito back to San Jose plenty stimulating…and maybe a tad unnerving at times. January 2019 is now upon us, but will we see the White Water Outfitters team return to Zancudo for a third run at the Shootout crown? Shop loyalists will just have to stay tuned and see. With so many world classing fishing destinations around the globe on the gang’s bucket list, it’s hard to say where they’ll wind up this winter or next week. However, one thing is for certain, if you are an avid saltwater angler and have never been to Costa Rica, a stay at Zancudo Lodge should be among your bucket list. Aside from existing as a portal to some of the finest inshore and offshore fishing opportunities most will ever witness, Zancudo’s many inviting amenities and attractions will amply entertain and delight whatever non-angling friends or family members you wish to bring along. So as summer turns to winter, the days grow short and a chill returns to the air, consider a retreat to Central America and turn a few dreams into reality at Zancudo Lodge.
- White Water Outfitters Admin