Running from the Nicaraguan border to the Gulf of Nicoya, Costa Rica’s Guanacaste province is sometimes overlooked by sportfishing travelers. The region is less developed than spots farther south, with luxury marinas giving way to moorings and beach launches. If anything, this has made Guanacaste fishing even better. You’ll find less fishing pressure here, with all the monsters that put the country on the map.
Guanacaste has one of the best mixes of gamefish on the planet. Big words, but well-deserved. The bluewater bite features 3 Marlins, ferocious Pacific Sailfish, and much, much more. In the shallows, you can find world-record Snook and more Roosterfish than you’ll know how to handle. You can also pull in an amazing mix of food fish, from Snappers and Groupers to Mackerel and Rainbow Runner. They’re all here, and they’re all huge.
Guanacaste only has one full sportfishing marina, the Marina Papagayo, which is tucked into the Papagayo Bay in the north. Despite this, most tourists visiting Guanacaste head to central spots like Playa Flamingo and Tamarindo. These sun-and-fun fishing towns are well set up sportfishing and are home to some of the most high-class fishing charters in Guanacaste.
Southern Guanacaste has some beautifully undeveloped coastline. Towns here are smaller and harder to get to, and many charters run aboard pangas and center consoles rather than large sportfishing boats. Don’t think for a second that this makes the fishing anything short of spectacular, though. Wherever you go, the fishing is amazing.
Types of Fishing
What you target on your trip to Guanacaste will depend on both when and where you visit. Even in low fishing season, you won’t be short of hookups. Time your trip right, though, and things get taken to a whole new level. Here’s a rundown of what the area has to offer and when to visit to enjoy it at its best.
Deep Sea Fishing
The deep sea fishing Guanacaste is blessed with has to be seen to be believed. Blue, Black, and Striped Marlin can be caught all year round, as can Sailfish, Mahi Mahi, Wahoo, Yellowfin Tuna - in fact, all the area’s big game legends are permanent residents. Getting to them can sometimes be the problem.
Strong winter winds make offshore adventures hit-and-miss in northern towns like Playa Flamingo and Playa Hermosa, so the best time for Billfishing is the summer. Farther south, towns like Nosara and Samara are sheltered by the Nicoya Peninsula and are at their best in the dry winter months. If you’re fishing out of Tamarindo, the journey will be a lot longer in the winter, but you can still enjoy epic Sailfish and Marlin fishing on full-day trips.
Costa Rica is best-known for its offshore action, but Guanacaste’s shallows also have serious world record potential. The most iconic inshore angling is in the region’s river mouths, where monster Snook and Roosterfish will put any angler’s skills to the test. Snook and Roosters are both at their best in the winter, but you can find them all year round, alongside swarms of big Jack Crevalle.
Inshore trips aren’t limited to the river mouths. Fish the bays, especially Papagayo and Murcielago (Bat) Bay, and you can find Sierra Mackerel and Goliath Grouper. Pacific Goliaths are every bit as big as their American cousins, and Sierra Mackerel are as fun to fight as they are good to eat.
If it’s good eating you’re after, you can never go wrong with a bottom fishing trip. Guanacaste has plenty of reefs and rocky structure where you can find Cubera and Red Snappers, Broomtail Grouper, Amberjack, African Pompano, Barracuda, and more. Guanacaste’s reefs hit their peak from July through the end of the year, but as with all of Costa Rica’s fisheries, they can be productive all year round.
When people think of Costa Rica, Bass fishing isn’t often what comes to mind. Guanacaste’s freshwater scene is still in its infancy, for sure, but that could well change. Lake Arenal, in the east of the region, has been building a reputation as a world-class spot for Rainbow Bass and Machaca, often nicknamed “mini Tarpon”. Only a few specialists operate here right now, but it’s definitely one to watch.
Guanacaste Marlin fishing focuses on trolling a spread of lures and teasers, with the occasional kite thrown into the mix. There are also fly fishing fanatics offering the ultimate battle of Sailfish or Marlin on the fly. May through October, heavy rains wash a ton of debris downriver and into the sea. This makes for awesome FAD fishing for Bull Mahi.
Inshore guides use light spinning gear and poppers to take Roosterfish around the river mouths. You can also try for a Rooster on the fly if you really want a workout. Most fly fishers will be busy chasing trophy Snook, though – this is one of the best places in the world to do it.
Need to Know
Ready to take on that fish of a lifetime? You’ll need a fishing license before you can get your lines in the water. Don’t worry, you can get them on the INCOPESCA website for just $15 for a week. If you’re bringing your own equipment, you should be aware that you can only target Roosterfish and Billfish with circle hooks – fly fishers, that applies to you too, so you may need to re-tie your favorite flies.
Guanacaste fishing has all the action Costa Rica is famous for without the big crowds or 5-star prices you can expect in the south. Charter captains are generally locals and boats are mostly owner-operated. If lower fishing pressure and untouched nature are more important to you than huge marinas and luxury yachts, this is the place for you.