Costa Rica – Kayak Fishing For Crevalle Jack in the Pacific

Kayak Fishing

Kayak Fishing Fun and Challenging

A couple of years ago I went fishing in Costa Rica’s Gulf of Nicoya with Leonardo Rios, the angling expert at Jaco Kayak. He wanted to show me the Pacific’s other fishery. Pacific Costa Rica is famous for its offshore big game fishing for marlin, tuna and sailfish, as well as dorado and wahoo. But there is also great Kayak fishing close to shore.

kayak fishing

On my last trip kayak fishing we chased schools of jumping amberjack for a couple of hours. I saw a huge sea bass cruise past the rocky shore of La Punta, and I hooked a two foot needlefish, but the jack fish had eluded me. This time we had some new lures in our arsenal as well as some familiar fishing gear. Leonardo was brimming with optimism.

It was mid-January and the morning sun was just gaining strength in a clear blue sky. The waters of the gulf were calm, and small waves broke on shore as we launched our kayaks from the beach. Playo Agujas is Jaco Kayak fishing base 10 kilometres north of Jaco.

Kayak Fishing

Leonardo had rigged my heavy duty spinning rod with a big diving plug in a bluish green finish and I let the line out to begin trolling.

Within 15 minutes I was onto a powerful fish. From the head shaking and the line pealing dives Leonardo guessed it was a crevalle jack, a different species near shore at that time. The drag on my reel sang the familiar song as the gears resisted the tug of the fish. Ten minutes of give and take ended abruptly. The fish got off. Maybe the hook was not set properly, or maybe the fish tore it out.

Kayak Fishing

Leonardo consoled me by admitting that over the years he’s lost his fair share of crevalle jacks. “That was a big, powerful fish. He wasn’t ready to give up,” he said.

On that note we paddled out again, trolling to the south, towards La Punta, a sharp rocky reef jutting into the gulf. After almost an hour with no action, Leonardo suggested we land on the reef and try casting lures. A ripping tidal current ran along the reef’s northern edge. Leonardo said this brought in lots of bait fish and that crevalle jack often waited for a meal along the inside of the reef.

La Punta is jagged rock, punctuated by sharp barnacles. It had just been exposed by the receding tide and was very slippery. We landed the kayaks on the lee of some outcroppings and made our way cautiously towards the opposite shore; it’s a place only accessible by kayak.

Leonardo switched my bait to a Costa Rican favorite, called Pepe or the Empanado. This is a light two inch silver and red spoon meant to be skipped across the surface on a fast retrieve to aggravate a lurking grouper or jack into striking. It was fun working this lure over the top of the fast water, but after 10 minutes there was not result so I switched to another stand-by lure, a red feathered and plastic dress jig head. This lure worked the opposite of the Pepe, it sank fast and straight down through the tidal rapids.

The weight of the jig kept the line tight so it was easy to feel the fish when it struck. Just like the one I had lost from the kayak, this fish began its fight with a deep powerful dive, accompanied by frantic head shakes. I managed to turn it back towards the surface and regained a bit of the line. It began to run out, using the fast current to resist the tension of the line, and again head shaking as it tried to spit the hook.

Kayak Fishing

From the way it struggled Leonardo was certain this fish was a jack. He encouraged me to keep my rod tip up to let it do the work, and to always face the fish to prevent any kinks in the line. Keeping my balance on the slippery reef was a challenge.

After 15 minutes of give and take we finally got a look. It had beautiful: greenish blue skin with a flattened face, a flat deep body with a large sickle shaped tail. It was no wonder it had put up such a fierce fight, its thick body offered maximum resistance against the water.

The exhausted fish eyed me defiantly from the shallows. Leonardo reached down and with one hand supporting its belly and the other around the tail, handed the fish to me. We had agreed earlier that we’d release whatever we caught, and this crevalle jack was in great shape and would certainly survive the experience.

I held the fish out as Leonardo took the picture. It shook its body as I lowered it towards the water and with a flip of the tail it was gone.

We got back in our kayaks and trolled our way back to our starting point. By the time we could see our beach, half a kilometer away, the sun was beginning to beat down with force. I had caught and released the crevalle jack that I had wanted and was ready to call it a perfect Costa Rican morning on the water.


Crevalle jack swim in loosely affiliated schools, gathering to feed around tide lines, eddies and currents. They can grow to over 60 pounds and are strong fighters. They can be caught anywhere from the surface to the bottom in up to 100 foot depths.

Snook is a long silver species with rasped teeth and a protruding lower jaw. Their weight runs 30 pounds, with 5 pounds being average. They are often caught near the bottom on jigs or shrimp pattern flies.

The rooster fish, named after the seven protruding spines on its dorsal fin, have a blue striped body. They can reach 100 pounds, but average in the teens. They feed on small baitfish, often just past the surf line. They’re caught on streamer flies and imitation lures.

Red snapper are a bottom fish that can reach 30 pounds. They are usually in deep water and will take rubber tail jigs or bait.

Bonito are akin to tuna and grow to 25 pounds. They usually move in schools of hundreds and feed in the mid-depths on fish and squid.

Cabrilla, sometimes called the spotted sand bass, or flag grouper, can reach huge sizes (90 pounds), and are lively fighters. They will take attractor flies and jigs.

Gallo have vertically flattened bodies, though their eyes remain on either side of their heads. They range up to about 40 pounds and are the predators of the mid-depths.

Kayak Fishing in Costa Rica

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