On occasion I get asked for recommendations for a “bucket list” or honeymoon destination. There are numerous amazing destinations around the world but my first answer is always Sport Fish Panama Island Lodge. If you’re looking for the total package: incredible fishing, exceptional service and breathtaking views, it checks all the boxes.
Located 12-miles off of the Pacific coast on the undeveloped jungle island of Isla Parida, inside Panama’s Chiriquí National Marine Park, in the heart of the Gulf of Chiriqui, the lodge is truly off the grid. Most importantly the location puts you in the middle of exceptional inshore fishing and significantly shortens the run to the world famous Hannibal Bank. The lodge is operated by owner Capt. Shane Jarvis who has been fishing the area for 20 years.
We visited the lodge last April for filming and product testing and were blown away by the experience. It was a relatively short flight from South Florida to Panama City, where we caught a quick connecting flight to David. The ride to the lodge through the river and out into the bay provided incredible scenery, the type that makes you instantly forget about the daily hostile and bustle you left behind. The boat dropped us off on a beach in a protected cove where we were met by staff who took us up the path through the jungle to the lodge. The lodge is perfect for fishermen, simple, laid back and comfortable. As you walk up you are greeted by a full bar and appetizers under the tiki hut followed by an amazing dinner. The food is all locally farmed or harvested from the ocean, some of the best Tuna, Dorado, Lobster and Conch you’ve ever had. Stepping out of your room in the morning you are greeted with majestic sunrises that words can’t do justice.
The first morning we jumped one of their two 33ft World Cats, yea no pangas with this operation. April is in the prime season for big Yellowfin Tuna and that was our main focus of the trip. It’s roughly a 40 minute run through calm seas to the start of the Tuna grounds. It’s not difficult to know when you find the schools with the insane abundance of frigate birds and spinner dolphin. Once you find the schools the goal is to get in front of the dolphin and get your baits out before the school changes direction. It can be tricky to judge which direction the dolphin are pushing the bait schools and to present your baits correctly but when you do double and triple hook ups of quality Yellowfin are common. On this day a lack of cloud cover made the tuna stay down and it took us a while to get our first bite. When we did it was worth wait, as a 115lb class Yellowfin hit the deck after a short fight. Not long after that a 100lb Yellowfin joined it.
Capt. Shane Jarvis is an expert in positioning the boat to help work the fish up as quick as possible and eliminate the need to move around the boat to follow the fish. Max heat is the name of the game and with the harness and top line equipment we were consistently putting triple digit fish in the boat in under 20 minutes. One of the things I love about this fishery is you don’t have to worry about sharks like you do in a lot of other areas of the world. After hitting the deck Shane’s highly skilled and friendly mate Johnny makes quick work of bleeding and cleaning the fish for that night’s dinner or for your return home. They can to vacuum seal your catch at the lodge and arrange for it to be packed with your luggage.
On the second day we were greeted with overcast skies which resulted in a wide open bite. The birds and dolphin were in tighter packs making it easier to get in the right position. The action on 60-150lb class Yellowfin was non-stop from the first bait until we were too beat to strap into another one. One of the unique experiences of the trip was pitching live baits to Yellowfins off the back of commercial boats. The commercial boats tie floating debris to the side of their boats and become slowly moving FADS. It provides them with a constant supply of live bait and combined with steady chumming they bring Tuna up behind their boat which they catch on hand lines.
When a school of Yellowfin started blowing up behind one next to us we pitched a live blue runners almost under their boat resulting in an instant hook up. The cooperation between the commercial boats and charters working the same school sometimes in tight quarters was something I had never experienced. I thought we might have an issue when one of my fish burned off a commercial line but after giving them a 100+ pound Yellowfin everything was smoothed over.
Sport Fish Panama Island Lodge uses the best equipment on the market for their offshore trips with top end rods and reels, Yo-Zuri SuperBraid, Yo-Zuri Fluorocarbon and Yo-Zuri hard baits, Mustad hooks and Grudens gear. The typical set-up for Yellowfin is a 30 class reel loaded with 65lb Yo-Zuri SuperBraid and a wind on leader of 80, 100 or 130lb Yo-Zuri Fluorocarbon to a Mustad circle hook. This set-up is used for live baiting blue runners or chunking sardines. For live baiting bonita’s for Blue and Black Marlin they upgrade to 50 class reels loaded with 80lb Yo-Zuri SuperBraid and 130, 150 or 200lb TopKnot Fluorocarbon to a Mustad circle hook.
For those that want to cast poppers, stick baits or swimming plugs to the Tuna or Dorado they have 18000 size spinning reels loaded with 65lb Yo-Zuri SuperBraid to 80lb Yo-Zuri TopKnot Fluorocarbon. Some of the top baits they use for casting are the Yo-Zuri Bull Popper, High Speed Vibe, Diving Slider and Mag Darter. The front of the World Cat is equipped with a platform and a waist high railing that makes it very comfortable to cast offshore or around the islands even with a chop on the water.
Sport Fish Panama Island Lodge also offers outstanding inshore fishing opportunities for Roosterfish, Blue Trevally and a variety of Snapper including Mullet and Cubera. Both days we spend a couple hours fishing inshore on our way back to the lodge. The typical set up for inshore is slow trolling blue runners along the drop offs near the small islands, while an angler or two cast plugs along the shoreline and rock formations from the bow. The jungle back drops in these areas offer mesmerizing scenery. The contour of the bottom is dramatic, in many cases you are casting up against land and bringing the plug back into 80ft of water or more. The key is having a plug that casts long distances and has sturdy terminal tackle that won’t bend out with the extreme heat needed to keep fish out of the rocks. On this trip we did very well on Blue Trevally, African Pompano, Roosterfish and epic size Hound fish on Yo-Zuri Mag Darters, Hydro Minnow Long Cast and Hydro Poppers.
When you combine the fishing, accommodations, views, food, service and overall experience Sport Fish Panama Island Lodge is a first class operation. If you are looking for more information on the trip of a lifetime visit https://fishpanamatoday.com/.