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It’s an understatement to say that Panama City is well-connected. Thanks to its busy international airport, this is one of the easiest overseas places to access from the US East Coast. It also links the world’s biggest economies. The Panama Canal, which connects the Pacific with the Atlantic Ocean, runs right by the city’s skyscrapers!
This is partly what makes fishing in Panama City, Panamá so exciting. Pacific heavyweights mix with Caribbean visitors and colorful freshwater favorites to make a varied and accessible fishery – all within easy reach of one of the oldest Spanish settlements in the Americas. Let’s take a look at it all.
Types of Fish around Panama City, Panamá
Panamá is famous for its fishing but hardcore anglers often overlook the capital in favor of the Gulf of Chiriquí or Piñas Bay. This is a mistake. After all, where else can you tackle Rainbow Bass and Tarpon one day, and Roosterfish and Marlin the next? Panama City has variety in spades and a list of marine species that no traveling angler should ignore – as we’ll find out…
When you spot Mahi Mahi’s bright golden skin shimmering beneath the surface, you know you’re about to have fun. These fish are the ultimate sportfishing targets. They’re plentiful, put up a fight, and make for fantastic ceviche. And they visit Panama Bay in large numbers, coming right up to Panama City.
Mahi Mahi fill Panamá’s waters from April to November, during the rainy season. At this time of year, even a half day trip out of Panama City can land a cooler full of fish. You can find them out of season, too. Their beautiful coloring and delicious taste make them a real prize, whenever you catch them.
Although they usually stick to deeper waters than Mahi Mahi, you can still find good numbers of Yellowfin Tuna in the Gulf of Panama. Pedasi, on the west of Panama Bay, is one of the most famous places to fish for them in the world. It’s no surprise, then, that plenty of Tuna make their way close to Panama City during high season. Like Mahi Mahi, they’re most common during the rainy season, from April through September.
Yellowfin aren’t the only Tuna to stop by Panama City on their annual migration. Albacore Tuna and Bonito visit the bay during Panamá’s dry season, between December and March. Albacore is also known as “White Tuna” and is famous for its mild, chicken-like flavor – very different from the canned Skipjack or meaty Bluefin Tuna steaks you may be more familiar with!
What makes Mahi Mahi a diehard saltwater favorite applies just as much to Peacock Bass in freshwater. Their bright yellow, red, and green outshine any other fish you can find in a river or lake. And their determination to throw a hook puts even the most experienced of anglers to the test. So leave the ocean behind for a day and take a trip up the canal. Gatun Lake is home to thousands of them.
You can catch these colorful fish all year round – and there are so many of them, you’re unlikely to leave empty-handed. Peacock Bass in Gatun Lake don’t grow super large, but the sheer quantity of them is something to behold.
The very same waters that hold a thriving Bass population also attract some surprising Caribbean visitors. The “Silver King” of Atlantic saltwater fishing has been traveling up and down the Panama Canal since it opened over a hundred years ago. Tarpon seem to like the Pacific just as much as their native waters and Lake Gatun provides a bait-filled stop-off along the way.
Scientists are still learning about Tarpon’s migration patterns through the Panama Canal, but there’s a good chance of finding them here between April and October. Casting poppers to this ancient fish alongside the cargo ships they’re traveling alongside is simply awe-inspiring.
The Pacific’s answer to Tarpon, Roosterfish are among the strongest species you can catch close to land. These shallow-water bullies chase bait around the rocks and beaches of Panama Bay’s islands.
While they don’t come right up to Panama City, a full day trip will take you to the Islas Perlas, where they are abundant. You can find them here all year round, but the best time to catch them is from December to February and May to July.
Panamá’s reputation for Billfish attracts anglers from all over the world. That’s because of the Humboldt Current. This draws bait fish and huge ocean predators up the western coast of South America before pushing them right up against the Panamanian coast. Panama City itself is protected from these deep water currents thanks to Panama Bay, but you don’t have to travel far to experience them.
The southern waters of the Las Perlas archipelago are a mecca for Blue Marlin in August and September. The main fishing grounds are 40–60 miles from Panama City, but the quality of the fishing is more than worth the trip.
If that’s too far for you, come during Sailfish season. These super-speedy Billfish come much closer to town and are relatively common from January through May.
The fastest fish in the sea – Wahoo – put Panama City anglers to the test outside of the main fishing season. Sierra Mackerel and Jacks charge around near the city, while Snappers, Groupers, and Amberjack patrol the rocks and reefs of the nearby islands. Meanwhile, Snook and Ladyfish join Tarpon and introduce a hint of Caribbean inshore fishing to the Panama Canal.
Putting it simply – you can feel many emotions when fishing in Panama City, but we’re sure boredom won’t be one of them.
How to Fish in Panama City, Panamá
With all this variety, it’s easy to feel a bit lost. But Panama City’s fishery is actually very easy to access, thanks to the quality and quantity of locals who make a living out of showing people where and how to fish. Here’s how to get started.
Panama City Panamá Fishing Charters
Most people who go fishing in Panama City, Panamá, do so on a guided trip. These usually start from either a boat ramp in Diablo, on the Panama Canal, or one of the two harbors at the end of the Amador Causeway.
Regardless of the departure point, fishing charters in Panama City start off with a good view of the city and the container barges crawling past its shorelines. Then, they’ll take you nearshore, offshore, or to the freshwater honey holes. We’ll walk through each option so you can choose your perfect day out.
Nearshore Fishing in Panama City, Panamá
The waters right next to Panama City are very busy and somewhat polluted – which isn’t surprising given the amount of freight traveling through every day. But you only need to travel a few miles south to reach productive fishing spots.
The nearshore islands of Taboga and Taboguilla are the most popular destinations for short trips out of Panama City. These beautiful islands are known for their tropical plants, but the fish that swim around them are just as wild. Troll for Mahi Mahi, Bonito, Jacks, and Sierra Mackerel, or bottom fish for Snappers. However you do it, you’re likely to end up with some nice catches – and hopefully fresh ceviche, too. All within view of Panama City’s iconic skyline!
Deep Sea Fishing Panama City, Panamá
On a full day trip, you can reach deeper waters and islands that attract the most desirable big game fish in the world. Deep sea fishing trips out of Panama City focus on trolling for Marlin and Sailfish as well as large Mahi Mahi and Tuna. Most of these trips are at least 9 hours long and fish the deep waters 40–60 miles away.
Offshore trips are the obvious choice for more experienced anglers, but they also offer something for everyone. Many groups enjoy swimming and cooking up their catch at the iconic Perlas Islands after a long day of battling deep-water monsters.
Freshwater Fishing in Panama City, Panamá
Gatun Lake fishing trips generally start from Gamboa, under an hour away from the center of Panama City. These trips are remarkable not just because of the quality of fish you can catch. They also show you the inner workings of the Panama Canal.
You’ll usually get to pick between baitcasting, spinning, and fly fishing for Peacock Bass, Tarpon, and Snook – all while cruising alongside enormous shipping containers to the soundtrack of local howler monkeys. It doesn’t get much more surreal than this!
Where to Fish around Panama City
The city’s natural and manmade geography combine to create perfect conditions for fishing. The Panama Bay acts as a kind of overflow for all the bait and nutrients that the Humboldt Current pushes over the continental shelf. That’s why you get so many deep sea superstars here, despite the relatively shallow waters. Meanwhile, the canal draws fish and nutrients from an entirely different ocean through to the Pacific.
Here are some of the best places to experience all this variety:
- Taboga Island. Taboga’s secluded beaches and quaint buildings attract all sorts of visitors. But not all of them know that this is close to one of the best fishing spots in Panama Bay. A real Mahi Mahi magnet – the 20 Fathom Trench – runs between Taboga and neighboring Otoque Island. Trolling these waters can also land you Tuna and Mackerel, while jigging close to shore puts you up against Snappers and Jacks.
- Las Perlas. Mention the Las Perlas archipelago and Marlin addicts will start to pay attention. The first “Grander” Blue Marlin ever recorded came from these waters, and the southern reaches continue to produce big game fish. But there’s more to these islands than Marlin. Roosterfish patrol the bays, beaches, and rocks, and Wahoo, Yellowfin Tuna, and Sailfish are common offshore targets. The underwater structure around San José Island is a particular draw for fish and anglers alike.
- Gatun Lake. Home to three different species of monkey, vast shorelines of jungle mangroves, and towering deep sea container barges… you have to see Gatun Lake to believe it. Formed by damming the Chagres River, this incredible waterway came about as part of the construction of the Panama Canal and is now one of the most unusual fisheries on the planet.
Panama City Fishing Regulations
You don’t need a license to fish in Panama City, no matter whether you’re casting a line in the Panama Bay or in freshwater. However, sportfishing boats need a permit to operate, so make sure you’re fishing with a legitimate charter operator to avoid any trouble with the authorities.
It’s Time to Surprise Yourself in Panama City
Panama City is never what you expect it to be. Towering skyscrapers jostle with 16th-century ruins and classical European architecture, making it impossible to stereotype. The huge Parque Natural Metropolitano protects all sorts of indigenous wildlife alongside the canal that splits the continent apart. And the bay’s shallow waters attract bluewater monsters from deep within the Pacific Ocean.
Panama City is so much more than a stopping point on the way to more famous fishing destinations. Take a trip around its waters and find out just how good it can be.
Are you going fishing in Panama City, Panamá? What are you hoping to catch? Whether this is your first time or you have stories to tell about your previous trips, let us know below.
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Title: Fishing in Panama City, Panamá: The Complete Guide
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Published Date: Wed, 11 Oct 2023 14:57:01 +0000