Fishing in Costa Rica is more than a sport. It’s instead an experience.
Making sure that experience is a positive one, however, requires more than the proper poles or casting techniques. Instead you must know the types of fish you wish to catch and where to find them. Master seasonal changes and regional currents to discover the best fresh and salt water opportunities.
Description: The Alligator Gar is an imposing fish, with an elongated snout and dual rows of teeth. Hard scales cover its body and a ray-fin shape offers both speed and strength. This freshwater creature often measures between 6 and 10 feet. It can exceed weights of 200 pounds, making it the largest of the Gar family.
Location: Alligator Gars are typically found in brackish water along the Cano Negro coastline. It remains there throughout the year.
Description: The Black Drum is a saltwater fish noted for its distinctive coloring. White scales are found on the belly, while thick black bands run vertically along the body. Accents of silver or gray are also common, giving this fish an iridescent appearance. The Black Drum’s arched shape typically measures between 8 and 19 inches. It can weigh up to 90 pounds.
Description: The Black Marlin is a saltwater fish that features a stout bill and elongated fins. Bold black and blue markings cover the upper-body, while the belly remains silver. This fish can achieve lengths of up to 15 feet and will weigh between 900 and 1000 pounds, making it the largest of the Marlin family.
Location: The Black Marlin is difficult to find, due to its speed. It tends to appear along the Guanacaste coast, however, during the summer months (June through August).
Black Sea Bass
Description: The Black Sea Bass is a high-backed fish, with rounded pectorals and spiny dorsal fins. It features a flat head and large mouth. This, along with black and brown scales, gives it a unique appearance. As a member of the Grouper family, this saltwater fish commonly measures between 7 and 17 inches and weighs up to 6 pounds.
Location: The Black Sea Bass favors shallow waters, like sounds or inlets. It is often found with central or southern Costa Rica.
Description: The Bluefish is a saltwater creature with a wide tail and spiny dorsal fins. Its flat head houses a single row of triangular teeth, and its coloring is pale (scales are blue, green and silver). The Bluefish can achieve lengths of 40 inches and may weigh up to 15 pounds. Location: The Bluefish follows seasonal patterns, heading toward Costa Rica between the months of June and October. It may be found in the Pacific or in shallow waters surrounding Los Suenos and similar areas. Blue Marlin
Description: The Blue Marlin, with its long bill and spiny fins, is the most recognized of the Marlin family. This fish boasts a well-proportioned body, with grooved fins allowing it to propel quickly through the water. A white under-belly contrasts with dark blue striping along the top, and thick scales reflect the light. This fish can grow up to 14 feet and may weigh 2000 pounds.
Location: The Blue Marlin is the most common of its family. It can be found throughout the year from Quepos to Drake Bay.
Description: The Dorado–commonly called a ‘dolphin-fish’ but in no way related to dolphin mammals–is a slender creature, with a compact face and curved fins. Its scales are brilliantly colored (golden along the sides, blue and green across the top and silver on the belly), and its tail is forked. Its size varies greatly, but the average Dorado weighs between 5 to 15 pounds.
Location: The Dorado is found throughout the year in Costa Rica, dwelling near the surface. During winter months, however, its numbers tend to swell. It’s often seen off the coast of Golfo Dulce.
Description: The Flounder is a flat-bodied fish, recognized by its large eyes and round mouth. Its dark scales (blotched with brown, black and gray) offer it camouflage from predators, while its dorsal fin is arched. It typically reaches a length of 12 to 25 inches and can weigh up to 10 pounds.
Location: The Flounder favors the sea bottom and muddy inlets. It reaches peak numbers during the summer months and is often spotted around the Manuelita coastline.
Description: The Grouper is among the most common fish seen in Costa Rica, with the Nassau, Giant, Warsaw and Black varieties all found there. This is a large breed, with a round body and prominent mouth. Its coloring ranges from blue to brown, with hard scales emphasizing its muscular frame. Groupers can reach up to 10 feet and may weigh over 1000 pounds.
Location: Groupers can be found throughout the Pacific coast, especially along reefs or sea grass beds. They appear during the late summer to mate.
Horse Eye Trevally
Description: The Horse Eye Trevally is a thin-boned fish, with a curved back and rounded face. Its name is derived from its bulging eyes, while its scales are silver-colored. The yellow caudal fin is forked. The Trevally typically reaches 30 inches in length and may weigh up to 30 pounds.
Location: The Horse Eye Trevally prefers coastal waters and shallow inlets. Off shore rigs may also attract them. They are found throughout the year in Costa Rica.
Description: The Jack Crevalle is a powerfully built fish, with a long body and protruding head. Its bony scales and canine teeth offer protection from predators, while its dark coloring (silver and gray on the front, with a patch of yellow along the back fin) allows it to blend with most surroundings. The Cervalle can often reach 40 inches in length and may weigh up to 55 pounds.
Location: The Jack Cervalle tends to hide within estuaries, bays and lagoons. It will, however, retreat to continental shelf waters from March through September. It can be found throughout Costa Rica.
Description: The Mackerel is noted for its thin fins and pointed head. Its tail tapers and its eyes are deeply-set. This creature features a dark green body, which is then punctuated by vertical stripes and iridescent streaks. It is usually between 14 to 18 inches long and may weigh up to 5 pounds.
Location: Mackerels swim in schools, making them easier to spot. They are found near the surface and throughout the Pacific.
Description: The Permit boasts a unique shape, with a long body but short fins. Its forked tail and compressed head are highlighted by the metallic sheen of its scales. Hooded eyes and spiny dorsals complete the effect. Permits are often between 40 and 50 inches long. They can also reach 70 pounds.
Location: The Permit fish prefers brackish water and muddy shores. They are often found in surfing zones, like Playa Dominical, throughout the summer seasons.
Description: The Rainbow Bass is an arched-body fish. Its rounded dorsal fin gives it a wide appearance. Its coloring, however, marks it as extraordinary. The Rainbow Bass features multiple patterns (squares along its sides, stripes down its back and splotches on its tail). Its irises are red, and there are streaks of yellow and green throughout its scales. It can achieve lengths of 14 inches and may weigh 5 pounds.
Location: The Rainbow Bass dwells in lakes and streams. It’s often seen in areas like Cano Negro throughout the year.
Description: The Roosterfish is aptly named. Its dorsal fin rises up in seven spines, giving it the appearence of a rooster comb, and its face protrudes like a beak. Its base color is blue, with bold striping details running vertically across its body. The Roosterfish has a forked tail and white belly. It often reaches over 5 feet in length and may exceed 100 pounds.
Location: A Roosterfish can be found close to the shoreline in areas like Dulce Bay or Crocodile Bay. Its population remains steady throughout the year.
Description: A Sailfish is easy to identify. Its body is sleek, composed of a fanned dorsal fin and an elongated bill. Rich blue coloring defines the tail, while a silver belly provides contrast. Mild speckling patterns catch the light. The Sailfish generally reaches 9 to 10 feet and weighs up to 200 pounds.
Location: Sailfish dominate the Costa Rican shoreline, spanning through the Pacific. Their numbers peak from January to June
Description: The Sea Trout is a sturdily built fish, with a compact body and wide fins. Its mouth houses large teeth, and its tail fans slightly. A white belly counters the green and black scales above, while dots are scattered along the spine. It often measures between 30 to 40 inches and weighs up to 17 pounds.<
Location: The Sea Trout resides in shallow waters, especially those with sandy bottoms and tall grasses. They tend to remain close to their spawning points and will not migrate for great lengths. They can usually be found along the San Gerardo de Dota coastline or at Cartago.
Description: The Snapper is a familiar fish along the Costa Rican shore. There are many to find, such as the Spotted Rose, Mullet, Dog, Cubera and others. Each of these boasts a compressed body, emphasized by a spiked dorsal fin and fanned tail. Large scales offer a variety of colors, with red being the most common, and the teeth are needle-thin. The Snapper reaches between 20 and 40 inches. It may weigh up to 75 pounds.
Location: Snappers are found throughout Costa Rica but are most often located directly off the beaches. They usually live in shallow water (like rock pools or mangroves).
Description: The Snook is a slim fish, with a streamlined body and small fins. Its head is flat, emphasizing the jetted jaw, and its eyes are set deeply along the sides of its face. Silver scales define the belly, but the spine is splotched with black. There are steaks of yellow in the caudal fins, and a single stripe detail runs from end to end. The Snook is usually between 3 and 4 feet long and can weigh up to 50 pounds.
Location: Snooks are found on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. They can be seen in rivers or the ocean, migrating between fresh and saltwater throughout the year.
Description: The Striped Marlin features a distinctive look, with a long bill and a tall dorsal fin. Its body is muscular and its pectorals are pointed. This fish boasts vertical blue markings, which contrast its gray belly. Lavender veining is also not uncommon. The Striped Marlin measures between 8 and 11 feet. It often reaches weights of 200 pounds.
Location: The Striped Marlin can be found throughout the year. They swim close to the surface and are often seen in areas like Quepos and Golfito.
Description: The Tarpon is a massive fish. Its body is well-proportioned, with a wide tail and thick fins. The broad mouth houses tightly-packed teeth, with the Tarpon relying more on its powerful jaw to crush food. Its scales are gray, with darker discoloration along the fins. It usually measures between 5 and 8 feet and may weigh up to 300 pounds.<
Location: The Tarpon is found exclusively on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, with most of the breed clustered around Tortuguero. Its numbers peak between May and October.
Description: The Tilapia is a freshwater fish. Its body is compressed, with a fanned tail and ridged dorsal fin. Its mouth has a swollen appearance due to a heavily muscled jaw-line, and its eyes are wide. The Tilapia is traditionally gray, with streaks of pink and white found throughout. It usually reaches 15 inches in length and weighs 8 pounds.
Location: The Tilapia is common throughout Costa Rica. It is often found in areas like Arenal and Cano Negro, where the water is shallow.
Description: The Wahoo features an elongated body, with a pointed mouth and fanned tail. Its dorsal fin is ridged and its eyes are small. Its coloring is distinctive, with a blue body highlighted by striping details and iridescent scales. The Wahoo often reaches 6 to 8 feet. It may weigh up to 180 pounds.
Location: The Wahoo fish is often difficult to find in Costa Rica, due to its migratory patterns. It favors the shores and seamounts, moving in small schools, and arrives during the summer.
Description: The Yellowfin Tuna is among the largest of its class. Its powerful body features a flat face and elongated dorsal fins, which have a sickled-appearance. It is multi-colored, with a white belly, blue spine and yellow accents. This fish can grow up to 90 inches and it may weigh 300 pounds.
The Yellowfin is found during the entire year in Costa Rica. It prefers to stay in water columns but will sometimes approach the surface. It’s most often seen in Quepos and Los Suenos.