Fishing for Marlin in Panama

I am having a grand time here at Tropic Star Lodge in Panama. The setting here is incredible, and the fishing is fantastic. It's a fishing resort deep in the heart of the Darien Jungle in Panama, 100 miles from the nearest paved road- or maybe any road for that matter.

I wrote an article about this place for Sport Fishing Magazine after my first visit here, which you can read here Fishing and Travel Articles by Jon Schwartz
I came here to witness 'His Majesty the Black Marlin' jump within meters of the boat. They get huge here, and they hit big trolled baits about 10 minutes offshore, depending on the season. When I say big baits, I mean BIG. Here's a mate holding a live bonito bait just before he bridles it to a huge circle hook and tosses it overboard to entice a bite from a monster:

The marlin are pretty thick here right now- good numbers of them. The bite usually happens first thing. First baits in the water get bit. As soon as the reel starts screaming they back the boat down at warp speed and the fish launch themselves all over the place. The fights are full-on adrenalin rushes. It's hard to get good photos because the boat is backing down so hard to catch up with the fish and there is water coming over the transom.

Although the fish get huge, the Humboldt current here, according to several staff, make for an oxygen-poor environment at deeper depths. Instead of heading for the deep like they do in many other locations, the fish tend to stay near the surface. For that reason, they are able to use much lighter tackle- 50 pound rods and reels versus 80 and 130 pound gear that is used in many other big marlin locations- so the interaction with the fish is much more intimate. Smaller boats lower to the water with lighter tackle like they have here make for front row seats to big fish mayhem!
Last year, the first day on my first visit to Tropic Star Lodge, I lucked out with a photo that made it onto the cover of Marlin Magazine.
I kind of had a feeling that after having such luck on my last trip, I would have to do some dues-paying this trip, and my feelings were right. Although the fishing here turned out to be much hotter than last year, I did a lot of zigging when I should have been zagging. I accompanied one couple who caught 8 marlin here in six days ( I think 5 blacks averaging 400 pounds and 3 blues averaging 300), but their best luck occurred on days when I was on other boats.
This all started to mess with my head; I started to think I was bad luck, and went looking for all sorts of things that may have resulted in the hex. Could it be my white socks? I tried wearing the same shirt for 4 days, stuff like that.
Catching fish is hard, but catching a photo of a jumping fish is many times harder. Not only do I have to be on the right boat that is experiencing the action, but the fish has to jump, the lighting has to be right, I have to maintain my balance in the midst of a lot of action, my camera settings have to be spot on, and my gear has to be functioning perfectly. The below shot is one of me posing. In the heat of the battle it's all I can do to stand up straight, and you'd never find me sitting down.

Anyway, as soon as we got here, they had some children from the small village across the bay come and do some folk dancing. It was awesome! It made me realize I should have brought my kids ( I have three girls). My kids are bilingual, and my wife is from a similar-sized town in Mexico; they would have become best buddies with these kids right off the bat.

I took some neat pictures of them, with them, and then made a CD for their parents so they can get them printed the next time they travel to Panama City. For most, if not all, of the parents and children, these are the first photos that have ever been taken of them!  You should have seen the look on their faces when I downloaded the shots and showed them to them on my laptop. They are such dolls. Que bonita!

I was super stoked to hang out with them too, but don't show my wife these pics of my new Panamanian beauties!

I talked with their teacher, and it turns out that that her husband is the head of the school at the village. I want to go visit the village tomorrow and hang out with the kids and their parents. Many of them work here at the resort. It's a special feeling, you meet the kids, and then go out on boats manned by their fathers. The personal aspect of it makes it just that much more exciting to me, because I am also a 3rd grade school teacher.

I am already thinking that the coolest thing to do would be to maintain contact with these kids and the teachers and their parents, and have them be pen pals with my own students in San Diego. They are all about the same age. I'll be able to speak with them as I can get by in Spanish, and my wife and daughters can help out with anything I can't handle. It would be terrific if I was able to combine teaching with my sportfishing photography and travel writing and involve my students as well as my own family!!!

I was fishing with Richard and Edie Kearley for several days as well. They were very fun to hang out with. Here is a photo I took of Edie on the way out to the fishing grounds.

And here's a photo of Richard 'going great guns' on a 60 pound tuna:

Below is a shot of Richard with a tasty dorado.There's so many dorado here, they are like pests. Pretty funny considering that these same fish would make for trophy fish on many other fishing excursions.
They ended up landing 8 marlin in 6 days of fishing, but almost all of them were landed on days that I wasn't with them. One day they had 4 black marlin! Of course I wasn't with them that day. Arrgh!!
I also accompanied famous fly fishing angler and multiple world record holder Margo Vincent and her grandson Kyle Vincent.

Kyle set a (pending) new world record for mullet snapper at 24 lbs! You can bet his grandma was super proud of him! Everyone kept telling him, "You realize you have the coolest grandma in the world, don't you?"

He also landed a 375 pound blue  marlin earlier in the same day. Here's him fighting the big blue as Margo looks on from the bridge:

Pretty amazing for a 12 year old, no?!
Both Richard and Kyle kept Dockmaster Albert Battoo busy recording their various achievements. With his first black marlin in day one, Richard his Royal Grand Slam: catching one of every type of billfish in the world!
The funny thing is that the most elusive billfish, the spearfish, was actually the first one that he landed like 30 years ago. I took particular interest in this because I wrote a 2500 word feature article about spearfish that will be featured in the February issue of Marlin Magazine, which should be on newsstands in about 3 weeks.
Here's Richard having his Royal Grand Slam recorded by Albert Battoo.

And here is Albert, one day later, making the sign for Kyle Vincent's pending world record 24 pound mullet snapper.

In addition to taking fishing related photos, I enjoy portrait, scenic, and architectural photography. I took a photo of the spa area and got this neat shot of Marisol the masseuse working with a client:
In addition to taking fishing related photos, I enjoy portrait, scenic, and architectural photography. I took a photo of the spa area and got this neat shot of Marisol the masseuse working with a client:

Finally I ended my week's stay with a visit to the nearby village of Pinas.
I wanted to check out the computer lab that is being set up and meet up with some of the folks I met last year there. 

Jose ( pictured on the right) works with Tropic Star and also lives in the village. He introduced me to the teacher of the school (on the left) and they showed me the lab. It'll be cool when it's up and running in the next couple of months so I can communicate with my friends down there!

On the way out of Pinas I met up with one of the mates of the boats that I had been on over my week's stay. His name is Alexi. He is Margo Vincent's favorite mate and is probably going to end up as a captain at some point.
He also happens to be super friendly and he introduced me to his children when I walked by the house. It's funny to see these guys chase around monster fish all day, every day, and then see them relaxing at home. What seems like extreme angling to many is for them another day on the water. They've undoubtedly wired and released thousands of huge marlin, perhaps as much or more than anyone in the world. (FYI "wired" means grabbed onto the leader, brought the fish to the boat, and removed the hook). Thrill seeking anglers from all over the world travel to Pinas Bay to take part in a ritual that these fellows perform as a matter of course. Here's marlin whisperer Alexi with children:

Last year, I took a lot of scenic and architectural shots when I was at the lodge. It turns out that some of my photographs will be included in the soon to be released book by Guy Harvey called  Panama Paradise: A Tribute to Tropic Star Lodge.

The book has 334 pages, and in it, Guy Chronicles the beginnings of the lodge in 1961 to the present day. Needless to say I am thrilled and flattered to have my work featured in Guy Harvey's book!

I am writing an article about Panama for the World Billfish Series Magazine. The editor of the publication Sam White suggested that I might like to get some scenic shots of Panama City, so I hired Panama's best guide, Luis Singh, to take me on a tour of the city. I went with him last year but needed to get more material. I desperately wanted to get good night shots taken from on high that showed the city's skyline, but after touring the city with Luis, I began to think I might strike out.
Most of the skyscrapers in the city- and there are a lot of them-are closed to the public. They are the homes of the ultra wealthy. Not sure if you know but Panama has a lot of new development and new buildings.

Trump Towers type of stuff, but even richer, and a new John's Hopkins Hospital branch, a bustling modern business sector, and tons of high-cotton shopping malls that feature stores like Rolex, Gucci, and all the rest.

After a series of unsuccessful attempts at getting a good vantage point for a shot, I decided to get crafty. Luis let me off in front of a popular tourist spot, and suggested I try to find the best spot I could on foot. I talked my way into the lobby of a posh 51 floor condo high rise, and the bellman let me onto the exercise room on the deck of the 15th floor. I was so excited! He left me there alone, though, and the room was so hot, I ventured out into the hallway to cool off.
A couple walked by and we started talking. The next thing I knew they were asking me if I wanted to go up and take pictures from the penthouse on the 51st floor!!! The bellman came back to keep an eye on me and sees me with my new friends, so I say, "These kind folks are gonna take me up to the penthouse!" All he could do was smile.

I had with me my Nikon D700's and several of my favorite lenses, and I got some AWESOME shots that I will post and include in that article for the Would Billfish Series magazine. I was so happy to be up there by myself, I was simply ecstatic! I completely lost track of time, and when I returned to Luis's car two hours later he said in a panic, "What happened to you??"

I proudly pointed to the tallest building in the sky and said, "You see that one? I was on the penthouse taking pics of the city!!!!" We had a laugh about that and his eyes bugged out when I showed him the shots. Yahoo!!!