Sport Fishing Panama

Your friends or family will be exclusively our only guests during your stay, it’s all about you and what you all want during your fishing vacation.  This is your premium choice for trophy fishing Hannibal Bank & Isla Coiba area. 

Let Captain Tom show you around.Take it easy and catch more fish. This is the first choice for sportfishing in Panama.

This fishing destination is far away, one reason it remains the best fishing in the world for species, size and numbers of trophy gamefish. Guide Tom Yust has been doing  these trips twenty years and knows how to do all the little  things right.  That’s why  our guests exclusively fly a private charter plane directly to Coiba from Panama City.  No wasted time, no travel fatigue. You awake already here, inside the the Coiba National Park. It’s a twenty mile run to the Hannibal Bank aboard a proper offshore, inboard marlin fishing boat. The Roosters, Snook, Wahoo and Cubera Snapper fishing is right around the corner from your breakfast table.

Panama Fishing Blog

Lodging

Here is an overview of the camp where we stay. I call it the camp, its’ the former lodge, Club Pacifico. The only lodging in all the islands of Coiba national park and all thanks to one American adventurer in Panama forty years ago.

Fishing adventurer Bob Griffin from Florida, in the early seventies came to Panama and first built up a modest fishing camp on the mainland, up a mangrove estuary 30 miles north of Coiba. It was the first Club Pacifico and it was all about fishing from johnboats in a vast virgin estuary system for covina, jewfish, snook & snappers.

Somehow in this small sparsely populated country Bob got to be friends with the chief himself, General Omar Torrejos. Apparently the general liked to fish.

Bobs’ being the only sportfishing lodge in Panama got General Torrejos attention and they became friends. General Torrejos offered Bob the opportunity to move out of the mangroves out into the ocean, to the absolute best spot to build a fishing camp in Panama, no other exact spot could be better. Northeast tip of Coiba.

The cove General Torrejos gave Bob is the best location in all the islands, it has everything. An easy white beach, coconut trees, clear water, protection from waves, low flat land to build and access to year-round fresh water. The bay was called Bahia Cambute. Conch Bay. It’s still full of an impressive variety of marine creatures. It was a pearl divers camp back when the French were trying to build the canal.

The camp at that time was called Aguja it was one of twenty smaller outlying prison camps. This camp lies at the center of a small peninsula in a saddle between two prominent hills. There are long, wide beaches on both sides of the camp. Out front it’s deeper clear water, white beach and corals. Out back it’s shallow, with brown sand.

Out back are three pre-Columbian fish traps built by indigenous residents. Wide semi circle rings of rocks placed in the corners of the bay. This must have been the number one spot for the indians back when they inhabited the islands. Out front from the white beach, the bay is protected by Isla Rancharia and several smaller islands. It’s the best anchorage in the islands. Out in the canal between Rancharia & Coiba are several rocks. A good oceanic current runs through there. Fish clung in masses over these rocks. They still do to a lesser degree. Whales & porpoise pass through the canal, even killer whales pass here. The rocks hold snappers, sharks, wahoo & almaco jacks.

Anyhow, Bob Griffin raised some money, purchased pre-fab buildings in Florida, shipped them to Panama, trucked them to Puerto Mutis and shipped it all down to Coiba on the barge “Coiba” which was an old navy landing craft the police used for shipping prisoners to Coiba and cattle back to Puerto Mutis.

Bob was given prisoners to pour foundations, dig the septic tanks and construct the buildings. After construction, many of the lodge employees were prisoner trustees. If it were not for Bob Griffin, the national park headquarters would never have been built here. This would now just be another overgrown abandoned prison camp. It was a real feat of determination & bravery founding a fishing camp on Coiba, back then especially.

Bob never got to enjoy his full twenty year concession. He lost it after a series of misfortunes. His 19 year old son who loved being there working the camp, died from being impaled by a wood lodge pole while trying to save the roof of the rancho in a severe rain squall. That took the enthusiasm out of Bob. It requires a lot of determination to operate a sportfishing lodge out so far from civilization.

Bob’s guests flew to Coiba same as ours do. We use an airstrip at the central prison camp. The landing strip was built by Americans during WWII, we had two bases on Coiba then.

General Omar Torrejos died in an aircraft accident when the lodge was about eight years old, later General Noriega took over and ruled the country differently. After a time, the new regime did not want tourists seeing or having contact with the Coiba prisoners, some of whom might have then been political prisoners. The police told Bob he could not use the airstrip any longer.

Guests book fishing trips months in advance, air arrival & departure is critical, way out here. Overland and water to the island took days of arduous travel. It was a blow to the already tough logistics of being on Coiba. Next, Noriega declares war on the United States. Somebody in the government got the idea of seizing Bobs seven or so 24’ Makos, since the law says at times of war the government can take and use your vessel.

Having received a tip about the coming boat seizure, Bob moved the boats 150 miles to Golfito Costa Rica. That caused whoever wanted to seize the boats, to precipitate the annulment of his 20 year concession to operate his fishing lodge. He had to leave Coiba after more than a dozen or so years. Those Makos, then became Ron Coleman’s Golfito Sailfish Rancho boats.

I met Bob Griffin on Isla Rancharia over a couple days in about 1998 That was his story as I now remember it.

The camp slowly slipped into ruin, nothing got fixed. Prisoners were kept there again. I fist visited the camp in 1991 a couple years after the closure. I was captain of a yacht for Paul & Judy Sanderson, Americans who had expatriated themselves in Golfito Costa Rica. We made week long fishing charters to Coiba from Golfito. I always put in at least one night anchored out in front of the camp. The prisoners kept at this camp were all safe & friendly types. They had pearls for sale. One was named Mali Mali, he’s still here. Now he’s a park ranger.

The cook then was named Castillo, he was a big guy with a very pleasant personality serving most of his twenty year sentence on Coiba. Castillo the cook tied a juvenile saltwater crocodile to a mangrove branch behind the kitchen and started feeding it, telling it it’s name, Tito.

Every day Castillo brought his pet crocodile food and told it it’s name. After a month or so, he let his crocodile free. Today, you can walk out to where he used to be tied up nearly twenty years ago and calling his name, he will come to you. Tito is a fat toad of a crocodile, he’ll expect you to feed him.

In around 1994 Spanish government received a five year concession to the property. The Spanish had exclusive use of the lodge facility in return for renovating the buildings and fixtures. They sent biologists, botanists and such out to catalog life, study whales, dolphins, bats, plants.

The Spanish left the place in good shape around 2000. It became the official Coiba National Park Headquarters. The former lodge cabins, well maintained by the Spanish in their time became public use facilities. Anyone who could get here could rent a cabin.
But not many visitors showed up for a long time.

The prison was still in operation, prisoners escaped often. Most Panamanians dreaded the very thought of Coiba. The first travel guides for Panama warned travelers and sailboaters away. It was difficult to arrive and stay here anyhow. Basically no one but park rangers, police and prisoners.

This is when I started keeping my guests in the camp, just as soon as the Spanish moved out. I slept with a handgun under my pillow, thinking of desperate escapees. I’ve always flown my guests in and out of the central prison camp and became familiar with dozens of prisoners. I never met a threatening prisoner, they were all pretty nice guys, the police treated them very well. I’d say this prison was more over, a happy environment to do time in.

I used to keep my guests the year before over on Rancharia, before that a couple years on a barge I named the Coiba Explorer and before that five years on the Phoenix, the yacht Paul & Judy owned along with a 30’ Rybo Runner & 22’ Aquasport. All things considered staying here at the camp is best spot to be when on Coiba, not on Rancharia and not on a mothership. This camp surroundings are beautiful beyond description and alive with diverse & interesting creatures.

Today the camp is administered by the government agency ANAM. Park employees maintain the grounds quite well. The cabins get renovated each five years or so. These cabins never were luxury units, but they are clean, air-conditioned and sufficient for sleeping and bathing. The camp electricity runs on a generator of course. The water comes down a pipe three miles from a spring pouring out of mountain behind the camp. The water passes through a chlorine filter before reaching the cabins.

Most of the year, very few visitors overnight here, but January through April it can get busy, especially over the weekends. Other visitors are mostly students or scuba divers.
It’s a great place to stay, it’s the only place to stay. Mostly. I just want people to know we are lucky this facility is in operation and we ultimately have Bob Griffin to thank for it.
Because if not.... you would have to make a very long run from a mainland port to fish here. Those lodges offering fishing in the Coiba region, don’t make it this far. They can only reach Montousa or Hannibal Bank, after 60 mile runs.

I try to make the cabins a bit more comfortable for you by bringing in our own queen size beds, end tables, lamps, quality bedding, rugs, curtains, card tables & chairs. Otherwise rooms are sort of empty except for a bunch of single beds.

This year 2013 the camp will have a big brand new generator. This is good news. The last one worked very well for at least six years, but went down last February and only solar power has been working the electricity.

Coiba Adventure Sportfishing, Panama
This is the first of our 3 day overnight on board trips. May 13, 14 & 15, 2012

We departed Puerto Mutis at 8:00 am the first day. Arriving to Isla Coiba before noon, we caught three bonito's & one rainbow runner for bait, put them in the tubes and headed out to the Hannibal Bank. Two baits died en-route. We fished one, had a bite from what must have been a tuna under 100 lb. The next bait, the rainbow runner we trolled around for some time, but no more bites. No apparent bait.

While trolling bait lures on the Bank for Bonito, Mark caught a good 50 lb. Yellowfin, which became several servings of sashimi. We left the Bank around 4:00. Fished the Coiba coast and caught several snappers, jacks & bluefin trevally.

We anchored up for the night off Coiba. It rained all night. I got dripped on, steadily, but felt happy to be there each of the ten times I woke up. It is indescribably beautiful in this spot. The anchorage was calm.

We got up and got going at dawn. We caught 2 bonitos and carried them to the Hannibal Bank. We pulled the two baits off the outriggers and within minutes, around 7:15 am, got a screaming good bite, set the hook, line came tight then broke. ( 100lb Suffix Hi Vis. Brand New, loaded just two days prior to this trip)

The other bait got bit within 10 minutes, this one, did not get the hook, it got away too. That was it for bait. Lures don't work here over specific structure like bait does. We caught a skipjack four miles off the bank, carried it to the high spot, dragged it around for an hour but no bites till it died. There was a few big sportfishers out there with us. No one could catch any bait. No bait on the Bank is a very good condition when you bring your own.

We left the Bank around 11:00 and fished the Coiba coast. Within 5 minutes of putting the lures in at a special spot, We got the Tarpon on. It jumped at least six times. Mark fought the estimated 160 lb. Tarpon an hour & forty minutes.

We continued fishing till 4:00 and caught a total of fourteen species that day. No rain. A beautiful day. Then we traveled around the east side of the island to spend the night in the cabins on the north end of Coiba. We had fried snapper, rice ,whisky and slept before 9:00 p.m..

Next morning went out with Wahoo on the agenda. It's early in the season for wahoo. They are here most years June - December, with Sept - November being the best most abundant months.

We fished three spots with no wahoo bites. The fourth spot got us a big one. Soon and nearby we got two more good sized wahoo. We dropped a bonito down for Cubera, but, got shark bit. The shark followed the bait up so we could see it, six feet long.

We trolled around a few other spots but caught no more wahoo. We made it back to Puerto Mutis before 4:00 p.m.. Nice trip. ~ Captain Tom

Video from Coiba Adventure Sport Fishing Panama - Deep Sea Fishing - Marlin Boat View!

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