June 23, 2024

Hardcore Game Fishing

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Complete Guide to Fishing and Boating in Panama

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Legend has it that Panamá’s name comes from the indigenous word for “An Abundance of Fish.” Whatever the truth in this, it may as well be the country’s unofficial name in modern sportfishing circles. Fishing in Panamá is famous for being more plentiful – and of higher quality – than almost anywhere else in the Americas.

There are currently IGFA records for over 30 different fish from Panamanian waters, including 19 all-tackle records. One of these records is even for a new hybrid Trevally that was discovered here and named for its captor – visiting angler Christian Hampl!

It’s safe to say that Panamá is an exception to the rule that the best fishing is in the least accessible places. Just 3 hours from Miami, Panama City is a vibrant capital that looks out onto one of the busiest fish migration routes in the Pacific. Right next to the capital, the Panama Canal cuts a channel to the Caribbean Sea, via Lake Gatun. So whether you’re looking for variety or an IGFA record on a short trip, you can’t get much better than this.

Top Panamá Fish Species

There are hundreds of fish in the waters around Panamá, but it’s the big game that draws pro anglers here. Whether you’re looking for a record-breaker or a nice afternoon on the water, you’ll find something worth targeting. Here are some of our favorites.

Marlin

A Marlin leaping out of the water trying to wriggle free from the line it's hooked on, with a pink lure dangling above its bill on a clear day
Photo courtesy of Panama GEM Charters – Viking 46′

Panamá Marlin fishing is legendary. Both Blue and Black Marlin pass Panamá’s Pacific coastline in their hundreds every year. These Billfish are some of the biggest fish in the world, with records weighing in at over 1,000 pounds.

Because the resident fish are usually smaller than this, Panamá Marlin fishing is less about “granders” than it is about catching the biggest possible fish on the lightest possible tackle. The country is renowned for its light tackle Marlin fishing, holding a range of records for Blue and Black Marlin on 6–16 lb lines and on the fly.

Whether you’re testing yourself with fragile fishing lines or busting out the heavy gear, you’re most likely to find these epic ocean predators between May and August. Marlin are still around even outside these times, while Pacific Sailfish gives you more Billfish options out of the main Marlin season.

Tuna

Two anglers – one wearing a straw hat – sitting on the side of a boat in Panamá and holding a large Tuna on a cloudy day
Photo courtesy of Sport Fish Panama Island Lodge – Scandalous

Finding yourself in the middle of the frenzy of schooling Tuna is awe-inspiring. And there’s ample opportunity to do this in Panamá in late spring and early summer. This is when the Yellowfin Tuna migration hits the country’s banks and islands in earnest.

Yellowfin Tuna check all the sportfishing boxes. They’re big, fun to catch, delicious, and – at least in Panamá – plentiful. Often swimming together with Mahi Mahi, these sport fish offer up some of the most fun you can have on a boat. And when your crew serves up freshly caught ceviche on the way home, you’ll wonder why you ever spend any time away from the water!

Panamá Tuna fishing usually starts in about February, peaks from April to June, and slows down by August.

Roosterfish

A smiling angler in a yellow shirt and big hat struggles to hold a large Roosterfish with the water behind him on a cloudy day
Photo courtesy of Out Of Control Fishing Tours

Unlike the deep sea predators, Roosterfish swim near Panamá all year round. And you don’t have to travel far to find them. These inshore predators hunt right up to the beaches, meaning you can target them even if you only have a few hours to spare.

Roosterfish are striking in more ways than one. Some of the strangest-looking fish in the sea, their distinctive dorsal fin is behind their unusual name. And boy, do they attack a lure. Sport fish in the true sense of the phrase, Roosterfish are popular because of their strength and aggression rather than their taste.

Even though you can catch these fish any time, Panamá roosterfishing is usually most enjoyable in mid-winter and mid-summer. The waters are usually calmest around these times and the Roosters are at their most active.

Peacock Bass

A man and woman stand aboard a boat in the inshore or freshwater fishing grounds of Panamá, each holding a Peacock Bass with some trees behind them
Photo courtesy of Panama Fishing Trip

Bass by name, but not by nature, Peacock Bass are actually a species of Cichlid. Panamá’s Lake Gatun is home to a unique strain, which has become the most common fish to catch there since being introduced in the mid-20th century.

Fishing for Peacock Bass in Panamá almost exclusively takes place in the Panama Canal. Most of the fish here are quite small, reaching up to about 4 pounds. You can catch trophies up to about 10 pounds, but you’ll need an experienced guide and a lot of patience.

What else?

Panamá’s nearshore reefs and rocks are home to some great-tasting and highly aggressive sea monsters. Cubera Snapper is the most exciting to catch and makes for some impressive post-catch photos, too. Offshore, Wahoo fishing gives anglers a hit of pure adrenaline, particularly when it peaks in November. And the Panama Canal provides all sorts of weird and wonderful species, including saltwater favorites Tarpon and Snook.

How to Go Fishing in Panamá

From all-inclusive sportfishing lodges to single-guide Bass boat operations, there’s a local fishing adventure to suit every appetite and budget. Here are some of the most popular.

Panamá Fishing Charters

A view across calm waters towards a center console fishing boat in Panamá, geared up for trolling, but with two anglers on the deck fishing with rods on a day with sunny intervals
Photo courtesy of Sport Fish Panama Island Lodge – Scandalous

In terms of numbers of fish and overall experience, you can’t beat fishing with a professional. Panamá has plenty. Catering to an international audience, Panamá fishing charters provide gear, lures, and bait – as well as sought-after local knowledge. Most fishing trips will focus on one or other of these experiences:

  • Deep sea fishing. Panamá’s famous bluewater fishing is accessible on a full day trip from most parts of the country’s Pacific coast. These trips target big game fish like Marlin, Sailfish, Mahi Mahi, and Tuna, usually trolling live bait to encourage a strike. The amount of action on your trip depends on the season, as well as the conditions on the day.
  • Inshore fishing: You don’t need to travel far to catch big fish in Panamá, as you’ll find out on an inshore fishing charter. Even a half day trip could see you catching 80+ lb Roosterfish and Cubera Snapper, as well as Trevallies, Groupers, and aggressive Needlefish. Experienced anglers will have a ball targeting these fish with poppers and jigs, but there’s no shame in bait fishing too.

Panamá Fly Fishing

An angler sits on the front of a fishing boat, holding a Tarpon and a fly fishing rod, with the inshore waters behind him on a cloudy day
Photo courtesy of Gatun Sportfishing

Saltwater fly fishing in Panamá is something special – as the IGFA record book will testify. With multiple tippet class records from Snapper to Sailfish, this is a destination for intrepid anglers with specialist gear.

It’s also home to an under-discovered monster Tarpon fishery. Bocas del Toro is growing a name for itself as the place to fly fish for a Silver King in Panamá’s Caribbean waters. Add to that the Snook, and Peacock Bass in the Panama Canal, and you have enough to keep you busy for weeks.

Panamá Kayak Fishing

Reeling in a monster from a vantage point that’s barely higher than the surface of the ocean gives fishing an entirely new perspective. Panamá kayak fishing offers just that. A relatively new sport, it’s rapidly growing in popularity.

Mostly taking place in protected waters and targeting Snook, Tarpon, and Peacock Bass, some sportfishing lodges also offer bluewater kayak fishing. While the first option is a relaxing way to explore the surroundings, the second is suitable for die-hard sportfishers only!

Panamá Shore Fishing

You don’t always need to hire a guide in order to enjoy Panamá’s extensive coastline. There’s good shore fishing across most of the country, but the Azuero Peninsula and Bocas del Toro are some of the most popular starting points.

Most people recommend fishing between January and May, when the weather is at its most comfortable and winds push bait fish towards the shoreline. Snappers, Snook, Trevallies, Blue Runners, and even Roosterfish are all possible targets. Bring medium-weight spinning tackle to give you a chance against these monsters.

Panamá Fishing Lodges

A view towards a pristine wooden lodge in Panama, surrounded by trees on a sunny day
Photo courtesy of Sport Fish Panama Island Lodge – Scandalous

Panamá is famous for its fishing lodges. This is hardly surprising, seeing as the bulk of the country’s IGFA records come from here.

Set in a remote corner of the east of the country, Tropic Star Lodge is one of the most iconic. This and other local fishing resorts offer luxurious all-inclusive fishing vacations that could see you brushing up against the rich and famous before setting out to try for new line-class records.

Panamá Fishing Spots

Most people focus on the Pacific when they plan where to go fishing in Panamá. There’s sound logic to this – the south coast is absolutely the right choice for deep sea fishing. But don’t overlook the country’s north, either. There’s good fishing across the country, but here are some of the highlights.

The Gulf of Chiriquí

A view along a boardwalk towards the sea in Chiquirí, Panamá, on a clear day, with the turquoise waters of the ocean visible in the distance

The west of Panamá is near one of the most legendary sportfishing locations in the world – Hannibal Bank. Fed by the Humboldt Current, this underwater seamount is rich in bait fish, attracting large schools of Yellowfin Tuna and big Black Marlin. Most anglers access these fishing grounds from the small fishing town of Boca Chica or from one of the islands in the Coiba National Park. Hannibal Bank and nearby Isla Montuosa are about 50 miles from shore, but the world-class fishing makes the boat ride worth it.

Piñas Bay

Home to the Tropic Star Lodge, Piñas Bay is very close to Panamá’s most extreme deep sea drop off. No wonder, then, that it’s responsible for so many IGFA world records. This remote corner of eastern Panamá is a dream destination for Black Marlin hunters and reef fishers alike.

Bocas del Toro

Almost directly north of the Gulf of Chiriquí, the Bocas del Toro archipelago is an idyllic vacation destination in its own right. Its crystal blue seas and palm-dotted beaches offer a piece of paradise on the Caribbean Sea. The 150+ lb Tarpon is even better. Snook, Jack Crevalle, and Mackerel are also common here, as well as occasional Permit and Bonefish.

Gatun Lake

A view across the turquoise waters of Gatun Lake, Panamá to a point where it narrows, with tree-lined shores visible in the distance on a day with sunny intervals

Casting around jungle mangroves with light tackle, to the soundtrack of howler monkeys… alongside an ocean-going container barge? Fishing Gatun Lake is nothing short of bizarre, in a good way.

This huge water body covers over 180 square miles. Formed by damming the Chagres River, it’s a large part of the Panama Canal that links the Caribbean with the Pacific. This makes for a highly unusual collection of fish – and fishing environments. Peacock Bass have all but taken over the freshwater fishery, while ocean-going Tarpon, Snook, and even Sharks pass through on a daily basis.

The strangest thing about this fishery is that it brings you close to real untouched nature on one hand, and the inner workings of global trade on the other. It’s an experience you don’t want to miss when you’re in Panamá City.

Panamá Fishing Regulations

You don’t need a license to fish in Panamá but fishing is still closely regulated. Every sportfishing boat needs a permit, and failing to produce one on demand will lead to a trip being cut short. You can make sure you’re fishing with a legitimate operation by booking with FishingBooker – we manually check every captain’s credentials so you don’t have to.

Panamá Fishing FAQs

Fishing in Panamá: More than a Bluewater Hunting Ground

An aerial view of a sandy, green peninsula in Panamá, surrounded by turquoise water and one lone boat in the foreground on a sunny day

It can be hard to look beyond world records, especially when they’re as plentiful as they are in Panamá. But there’s so much more to the country’s fishery than this. Even the most relaxed angler will enjoy the total melting pot of Panamá, where north meets sound and wild nature meets big cities. So whether you’re looking for a bit of fun during a city break or a real deep sea adventure, come here to set your hook. You won’t forget it.

Have you been fishing in Panamá? What was the highlight of your trip? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

The post Fishing in Panamá: The Complete Guide appeared first on FishingBooker Blog.

By: Cat
Title: Fishing in Panamá: The Complete Guide
Sourced From: fishingbooker.com/blog/fishing-in-panama/
Published Date: Thu, 31 Aug 2023 09:28:27 +0000

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