It was a quarter past 5 am as when we met our driver, Roque outside the hotel lobby. Panama City had begun to come alive, as cabbies and morning commute traffic began to fill the streets. We were loaded with gear, luckily, a small storage trailer was in tow behind the van, offering just enough space to accommodate our gear for the week. We lashed our rod tubes down to the van roof and began our five and a half hour journey south, towards the Wild Coast of Panama.
It was close to 2 pm as we began ascending the coastal mountains close to our pickup point of Cambutal. We drifted in and out of cell service range, lurching closer to our escape from our day to day life. The van frequently dropped into first gear on the mountain inclines, our tires skirting the edges of sheer cliff drop offs. The hill valleys harbored clear fast-moving freshwater streams, and we’d often speculate what species inhabited them and how we’d try to catch them.
At 3:30 pm we reached our second pickup point, the small village of Cambutal, nestled below the mountains right along a long sandy stretch of shoreline. Some of us had been here before and welcomed the sight of old friends, a quick meal, and cold beverages. The vibe was tranquil, slow and easy. A far departure from our everyday hustle meeting deadlines in the office.
At 4:30 pm we met our guide and owner of Kayak Adventure Panama, Pascal Artieda. Pascal has been a long time fishing guide, operating around the world, settling in Panama and has since established the Kayak Panama Fishing Camp.
We were met with a huge breaking surf, some of the largest they’ve seen in over five years. Big curling breakers slammed into the sand as we hauled our gear towards the twenty-six-foot panga nestled on the beach.
With the experience of our Captain and guides, we were successful loading our gear into the panga and navigated the first two sets breaking on the nearshore reefs. We headed north to into the Parque Nacional Cerro Hoya. After an hour and a half, we arrived at Pascal’s camp nestled in the mountainside jungle along a volcanic sand beach.
Fishing Day One
I awoke as the sun was breaking the horizon. We had spent the night in rough milled cabins, lulled by the crashing surf just outside our doorsteps. Morgan and I worked late into the night, tying fresh leaders and re-sorting our lures for the third time.
After a fresh breakfast and some time for pre-fishing interviews, we were on the water just before 9 am. The swells were still huge, but without any wind on them, they looked to be fishable…. barely.
Seven of us were loaded into the big panga, the 75hp Yamaha tiller motor pushed us along comfortably 15 miles up the coast. We arrived at the first spot, a rock pinnacle in two hundred feet of water and offloaded the Hobie Mirage Outbacks. After two full days of travel, it was time to fish!
Morgan was first to hook up with a nice amberjack jumping on his vertical jig worked mid water column. It was his first amberjack and our first species of the trip. We all worked the area for another thirty minutes, but the action was slow. I decided to troll a magnum Rapala X-Rap toward the shore and cover some ground. It didn’t take long to hook into my first fish of the trip, a bull-dogging Pacific jack. Line peeled from the Shimano Tranx and I shifted the rudder seaward and lowered my rod into the water, trying to gain leverage to pull the jack away from the breaking shoreline.
Hours passed and we moved northwest with the 2-knot current. Tossing poppers and Rapala Sub-Walks on the journey resulted in a mix of big eye jacks, needlefish, African pompano, yellow snapper, rainbow runner and a yellowfin tuna on a vertical jig. It was time to rest for lunch, but I wasn’t ready to rest yet. While the day had been fairly fish-filled, I was looking to score a trophy. I grabbed a quick sandwich and pedaled away towards the point. I focused on the outward depth breaks, as the water dropped from thirty feet, to seventy-five, before it dropped to one hundred eighty. It was in that seventy-five-foot range I saw my first signs of yellowfin tuna breaking the surface. Small baits skipped along the surface. I could see the black footballs tracking them.
I fired my six-inch popper full distance toward the breaking fish, some sixty yards ahead. I chugged the rod tip, driving the popper down, throwing a heavy spray foreword. Chug. Chug. Chug. Swashh. The popper disappeared into a bluewater boil and I was hooked up into my first yellowfin tuna on a popper. The fish lurched forward and did its best to dig deep, peeling drag from the Shimano TwinPower Reel. After a short 5 minute battle, the chunky 12-pound tuna was boatside. I knew sashimi wasn’t far behind!
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