Fighting Character Makes Them a Challenge

Tarpon and snook, a couple of salt water game fish more familiar to Florida fishermen than to Southern Californians, are the prime attractions for U.S. and European fishermen who visit three lodges on a Costa Rican jungle river near the country’s Caribbean coast.

The tarpon is a big, silver-sided shallow-water fish found near river mouths and several miles up fresh-water rivers. Its dorsal side is usually dark blue or green-black. Other distinguishable characteristics include its great size--the all-tackle world record is 283 pounds--and its large, half-dollar-size scales. It is a spectacular leaper when hooked, often throwing its entire body out of the water.

Snook are found on both the Atlantic and Pacific sides of Mexico, Central and South America, in Florida waters and occasionally off Texas. Snook have a lime-gold coloration when taken from the water, but their most recognizable coloration is a dark, almost black lateral line extending from head to tail. The all-tackle snook world record is 53-pounds, 10-ounces.

Both tarpon and snook are considered good fighters by sport fishermen, but the tarpon is surely the most spectacular. On one trip to Rio Colorado in Costa Rica, Santa Monica fisherman Bill Beebe had an experience with a tarpon that sounds more like a heavyweight championship fight.


“Last May, I hooked a tarpon on a Rio Colorado Lodge boat, about a quarter-mile from the lodge. It was a big one, about 90 pounds, and it jumped high out of the water, higher than my head, and came down on my shoulder. It knocked me in the rear of the boat, and landed roughly where I’d been standing.

“Gilbert, my guide, jumped back onto the outboard, to avoid getting knocked out of the boat. I’m still on the floor, and this big tarpon, about a 90-pounder, is flailing around, knocking the inside of the boat to pieces.

“Then, when I suddenly remembered I had three Nikon cameras on top of the ice chest, I looked up to see one flying through the air. I caught that one, and held the other two to my chest.

“Then the tarpon jumps over the stern, and back into the river. Then I see the guy I’m fishing with, Ned Caster, dive out of the boat and disappear under the water. Now, it was deep and there was a strong current where we were, and I thought he’d abandoned ship, been scared to death by the tarpon.


“He’s down for a minute or so, then comes up. He says to me: ‘I’m sorry, I couldn’t get them, it’s too deep.’ When I asked what he was talking about, he told me the fish had knocked two of my rods and reels overboard, and they’d sunk, about $350 worth of gear.

“We tried dragging for them later, but we couldn’t get them.”