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Finding the Best Whole Fish in Costa Rica

Finding the Best Whole Fish in Costa Rica



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Browsing through Costa Rica’s restaurants in search of a fish served whole

Whole red snapper at restaurant The Malecon in Costa Rica.

I was only in Costa Rica for two and a half days — not including the travel. I’ve never really done this before, but I thought it might be fun to eat the same dish at a variety of different places. I love the idea of being served a whole fish. So when I found out that the whole red snapper is a dish that nearly every restaurant in the area serves I thought, "Why not?"

My experiment led me to four restaurants: The Malecon Bar, El Avión, Los Almendros in Playa Esterillos, and Pavilion Restaurant at Alma del Pacifico.

The only thing better than how the fish tasted was how it looked. Each restaurant had its own, unique way of presenting the red snapper. But nearly all of them were simply plated with white rice and grilled vegetables. It is a whole fish, head and all, so you don’t need to add much to create a dramatic plate.

They were all pan-fried and surprisingly easy to debone and eat. And, as you can tell from the before and after photos, I ate every last bite. The fish was light and moist and flavorful all around. I hate to play favorites, but since I know most will be curious, the best one was from Pavilion Restaurant at Alma del Pacifico.

I was staying there as well, but you’ll just have to trust that I’m not playing favorites. It doesn’t hurt that the open-air Pavilion is just steps from the water in a gorgeous eco resort. But the other three contenders were served in equally stellar settings. (In fact, El Avión is set in the trees of the rain forest, so you can watch the monkeys playing in the trees as you dine.) We are talking about Costa Rica here after all.

I will definitely do this experiment again. It was a fun way to test out the best of local fare and it certainly takes the pressure off when the server arrives to ask, "What can I get you?"


Whole fish: Everything but the innards

If you had a landlocked childhood, you may think of fish as a) a slab of white meat full of tiny bones, b) a pink slush that comes in a can, or c) a scaly fillet lying on a bed of ice, which is so insultingly overpriced that you wouldn’t dream of buying it, much less cooking it.

This is one of the great luxuries of a Costa Rican beach town: You can almost always order a whole fish. More often than not, the fish was caught that very morning, and you might even get to meet the angler who caught it. Local fishing is a proud tradition on both coasts, and if you’ve never had a grilled snapper – do it.

We ordered this gorgeous specimen at a restaurant in Puerto Viejo, where the seafood is pretty much always delectable. Dissecting such a meal can be awkward at first (where do you start?) but you’ll get the hang of it in no time. The fish are always cleaned, so you won’t find any unappetizing innards in there. Such platters are usually lightly seasoned, so use the lemons liberally.


Costa Rica Insights

With well over 750 miles of coastline to explore, anglers coming to Costa Rica have a multitude of options to try their luck for both inshore and offshore sport fishing in this marine rich part of the world. It’s a big ocean out there, and if you don’t know what you are doing you can spend a whole day driving around burning expensive gas and finding absolutely nothing to put a bite on a hook! The main key to a successful day of offshore or inshore fishing is frankly knowing where and how to find the fish!

Naturally, there is no substitute for local expertise when it comes to finding fish, they live and breath the sport and no one

wants you to have a good fishing day more than your Captain and First Mate, so count on them for the best results! Every good captain knows where to find the fish, but if you are out for a day on your own, or if you are practicing to become the next best fishing captain for your next lifetime, you may find the following information helpful while exploring some new (or old) fishing grounds.
The first and foremost important tip for finding the fish is watch for Variation. Variation can come in several forms, some of them very obvious and others more subtle, so here are some helpful hints for you in case you are headed out for a day of great fishing action!

Los Corrientes (The currents)
The most tried and true method to finding gamefish in Costa Rica is fishing in “los corrientes”. These currents can be

spotted by a subtle change in color and in the temperature of the water. Baitfish and predators tend to be more plentiful in these currents, so an experienced captain will generally work the edges of “los corrientes” to see how the action is going before moving on to other options. When fishing from the areas of Quepos, Jaco, or Herradura, charters will find “los corrientes” about twenty-five to thirty miles offshore during peak billfish season and will generally head that direction to start their day. For that reason, it is almost always recommended to plan at least a 3/4 to Full Day of fishing to allow enough time to get into the really thick action!

Ocean Floor Geography
Invisible to the naked eye, the underwater geopgraphic structures such as canyons, reefs and other natural formations can increase

the flow of ocean currents, increasing the chance of good angling or even extreme angling in particular areas. The rapidly moving currents can trap bait fish allowing the large game fish to move in seeking an easy feeding session on the trapped bait. Similar to the seasonal currents, these fish rich currents are often found by looking for subtle changes in the water color or surface ocean temperatures. Professional and experienced Sport Fishing Charter Captains for the Costa Rican shores will always have one eye on the bottom (think GPS) and one eye on the surface looking for those subtle changes that are going to lead them to their prize.

Floating Debris
The rainy season in Costa Rica may not be the favored months for hooking the larger Gamefish (though they are prevelent year round,

so don’t let the rainy season scare you away!), but it is the hottest time of year for Dorado, including Bull Dorado which can often times come in weighing over fifty pounds! Since the heavy rains in the mountains of Costa Rica run out the local rivers located in the Quepos, Jaco and

Herradura areas, the experienced fisherman knows that fish love structure and obstacles, even temporary formations resulting from debris washing out to sea from the rain swollen rivers, so its always a good idea to head that way. Fishing deep around areas such as weed lines, floating pallets, or logs can yield a great Dorado hit, meaning a possible great dinner will be on the table that night! Other game fish can be found beneath the debris as well, so this is an area that is especially worth an anglers undivided attention!!

Underwater Structure
Wrecks and reefs provide structure or should we say a vacation home getaway for large bottom fish including Cubera Snapper and Grouper. This so called structure is also home to plankton and other small organisms that serve to attract baitfish which in turn attract the bigger game fish on the prowl for an easy meal. Keep in mind…..the main structure area may be overfished, while potential surrounding “satellite” sites around the structure can often be teaming with life as well, so keep your eyes and your fishing lines open. Larger Gamefish often hang out at these quieter satellite sites, so work that whole area for best results.

Its a big ocean out there, but sometimes you can see obvious “slicks” on the surface, so keep your eye out for any and all oily slicks on the water’s surface since these can often be a good sign for hungry for action anglers. Big game fish such as Dorado, Tuna, Marlin and Sailfish when feeding are chasing bait fish to the surface which releases fish oils, resulting in the “slicks” that you may witness. If you are lucky, this very slick could hold the trophy catch you have been seeking!

Offshore birds are always fishing in Costa Rica, so it is always a good idea to keep an eye on the sky as well! Searching for bait pods, tuna feeding, or trolling Billfish, pay particular attention to the many Frigate Birds who are great spotters, especially those that are circling in one particular location. The experienced fishing guide knows that even a lone Frigate Bird can lead you to a trophy Tuna, Marlin or Sailfish.

With prices high and time limited during a Costa Rica visit, when fishing offshore in our gamefish rich waters of Costa Rica, the

importance of local expertise cannot be overstated. Natural underwater geographic structures are consistent and well know and local Costa Rica Fishing Guides now have the ability to record the best fishing spots to GPS, giving them the edge when fishing for big game fish in these open waters…..something someone who does not live in the area is never going to know about. In addition, an experienced captain and mate will have developed keen eyes and experience, with some experienced Captains and First Mates able to spot schooling Tuna miles away just by looking for disturbed water and many of the other hints listed above.

So on your next Sportfish outing while fishing in Costa Rica (or wherever!), keep the above hints in mind for best results, and

be sure to find out more about Pacific fish species, fishing seasons, fishing reports, and the local weather conditions beforehand by checking out our link on fishing in the Quepos, Costa Rica area via your local Costa Rica Vacation House Rental or Costa Rica Hotel, where they are happy to steer you in the right direction for an unforgettable day of Game fishing in an area that still boasts some 17 IGFA World Records! You could be the next World Record Holder!! FISH ON.

Author:
Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and owns and operates her own Costa Rica Vacation Rental Home business at Manuel Antonio Rental Homes!


Famous Dishes

El Casado

The word casado means married (or caught) in Costa Rica. Casado is what a family meal is expected to appear on any table or kitchen counter for lunch. There is no eternal commitment to the plate because it varies according to the tastes of each household. Some even prefer to add some snacks like tortilla chips to their lunch. It is made mostly of rice and beans, one or two slices of fried sweet plantains, vegetables, coleslaw and an omelet. Usually it is complemented by steak, chicken, fish or pork. There are also vegetarian variations with some fresh avocado, eggplant or white cheese.

The casado is a fundamental meal in the tico diet. Casados are relatively easy to make, cheap and filling. It became popular in the past because larger families without a lot of money could feed everyone with ingredients they usually already had in their houses. The traditional casado also energized the people who built Costa Rica. You’ll never leave the table hungry after eating a casado. They are full of proteins, vegetables and carbohydrates that will keep you going all day!

Arroz Con Pollo

Arroz con Pollo is a favorite dish throughout Central America. In Costa Rica, it is popular as a birthday party meal that can feed the masses. It is made of chicken rice – a mixture of yellow rice, peas, carrots, corn and chicken strips. The rice is colored with Achiote (Bixa Orellana) and is best served with mashed black beans, french fries or chips.

Gallo Pinto y Café

Gallo Pinto – meaning spotted rooster – is by far the favorite food of Costa Rica. It is so good that is served everywhere after 10:00 am with a cup of coffee. What makes it so good if it’s just mixed rice and beans? Each Costa Rican has its own way to prepare Gallo Pinto. It can include bananas, eggs, tortillas and fresh sour cream. Some use copious amounts of cilantro (coriander) while preparing Gallo Pinto, others use onions and garlic. But what makes it so unique is the special sauce: Lizano.

Salsa Lizano

Salsa Lizano is Costa Rica’s favorite condiment, thanks to the Lizano company. This brown sauce goes well with anything: White rice, eggs, toast, meat, beans and anything you could add salt to. Salsa means sauce and Lizano’s the family name this sauce is named after. Salsa Lizano is so delicious and widely used in Costa Rica that it has become patrimonial to the country’s identity. Some cooks will not consider a dish as Costa Rican cuisine unless Salsa Lizano® is added to it.

Tamales

Ever wondered what the traditional Christmas dish is for Costa Rica? The authentic Costa Rican tamales include rice, beans and potatoes served on banana leaf . They can also include meat like beef, chicken of pork.


What to Catch In Costa Rica (Types Of Fish)?

Now comes the million dollar question. After going through all this trouble of flying to Costa Rica, booking a hotel, getting into a cab and heading to the hotspot of your choice. After all of this, are you going to find some great fish or is it just the regular types that you find at home?

To answer this question we need to list some of the most prominent fish species that inhabit the Costa Rican water either permanently or come to visit at times. We listed the Latin name next to each fish to make it easier for you to find out more information about it if you like.

Sailfish (Istiophorus)

This is by far one of the biggest fish attractions in the whole of Costa Rica. It’s one of the largest fish you’ll find in these waters as well. The adult sailfish can reach 120 pounds although it’s unlikely you’ll come across such big monsters swimming near the surface.

Sailfish are around all year round. Although the first half of the year between January and July is usually where you’ll see a lot of them. As leapers, it’s a delight just to watch their shimmering bodies under the sun when they breach the surface. But as a spearo, a good sailfish is one at the end of my spear.

Blue Marlin (Makaira nigricans)

Another giant that loves the warm waters of Costa Rica. the blue marlin reaches 300 pounds on a good day. As such, you need to have a lot of experience with big fish to go after this monster. Also these fish are notoriously aggressive. This is not the kind of fish to run away when it sees you coming with a spear. Most likely it will attack.

While they make Costa Rica their home all year round the best hotspots for spearfishing blue marlins are Los Suenos, and Golfito. The best months to find blue marlins are the last three months of the year between October and December.

Yellowfin Tuna (Thunnus albacares)

Another giant of the sea that reaches 300 pounds on average. You can find lots of yellowfin tuna between the months of July and September around Quepos and Los Suenos. This is another fish that needs all the experience and skills as a spearo that you can muster.

Yellowfin tuna are not an easy target. They are fast and always on the move. Most spearos prefer to hunt yellowfin tuna on board a fast boat since you can’t keep up with this fast swimmer.

Snapper (Lutjanidae)

You’ll find many species of snapper in Costa Rica. Their size varies from 3 to 100 pounds. But just because they’re small doesn’t mean they’re easy to catch. They dwell in shallow as well as deep water and are the most common fish to go after here.


26 FT boat

Deep-sea sport fishing Playa Herradura,

Sportfishing offshore in Costa Rica, the dream of most fishermen is, in my opinion, one of the most exciting things to do in Costa Rica. The incredible deep sea or deep-sea fishing offers a variety of fish on the high seas that can usually be caught 15 to 30 miles from the coast is truly amazing and that is why Costa Rica is considered to have some of the best places Fishing Bill in the World.

If you always wanted to catch a massive Blue, Black or striped marlin, then Costa Rica is a good place for your next vacation. The fish bill numbers in the waters of Costa Rica are the reason that most trips here, and it is undoubtedly what keeps the majority of fishermen who go back to fishing Costa Rica.

Species found in deep-sea sport fishing

Sportfishing offshore Costa Rica we are lucky to have all the following species of fish that can try their luck when fishing offshore.

Blue marlin
Black marlin
Striped marlin
Pacific Sailfish
Gold (mahi-mahi)
Yellowfin tuna
Wahoo

Herradura Bay Coast Fishing

Fishing on the coast in Costa Rica is something that should not be overlooked on your next fishing vacation. Costa Rica has great fishing on the coast of people to enjoy all year, coastal fishing is usually not what most people think of when it comes to fishing in Costa Rica, but it is a great way to get a rod bend more and have a lifelong struggle. Some of these inshore fish will give you a fight that will make you think that you are offshore fighting a Marlin, some of our species of fish on the coast are pound for pound some of the toughest fighting fish in the ocean.
Coastal fishing sport fishing species in Costa Rica

Roosterfish
Bass
Snapper
Jack crevalle
Spanish mackerel
Barracuda
And many more

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We are Costa Rica Fishing Experts, helping people finding the right fishing adventure is our goal, Whatever the fish you are looking for: you can fish marlin, sailfish, tuna, Wahoo, Snook, roosterfish, snapper, tarpon, and other species.


Pacific Coast Fishing Spots

The Pacific Coast is rightly famous for record-breaking off shore Sailfish, Marlin, Dorado, Wahoo, and Yellowfin Tuna. In shore, Roosterfish, Snook, and Snapper are frequently reeled in. Each fishing destination has a peak season, but hidden freshwater fishing holes and deep-sea fishing are rewarding adventures that can be had year-round. Our Experts can pre-arrange fishing charters all along the Pacific coast with local fishing experts based on your preferences.

Los Suenos Marina, Central Pacific

The Los Suenos Marina is located right next door to Los Suenos Resort in the Jaco/Herradura area, offers unequaled luxury in vibrant tropical settings. It is currently the only government-sanctioned marina operating in Costa Rica, and is a full service port for a number of luxury sport fishing boats in the area. Marlin and Roosterfish are commonly found in the Jaco & Herradura area.

Crocodile Bay Sportfishing Resort, Osa Peninsula

Located on the remote Osa Peninsula, Crocodile Bay Sportfishing Resort is a deluxe ecolodge that caters to the sportfishing enthusiast. They offer inshore, offshore, kayak, and shore fishing. The resort practices catch and release fishing with the safer circle hooks. Crocodile Bay has an impressive fleet of over 40 private fishing boats. Pacific Sailfish are brought in year-round, with numbers as high as 10-15 per day in the winter. Inshore fishing inside the Gulfo Dulce brings up fish like Trevally, Grouper, Snapper, Bluefin, and Roosterfish. Outside the Gulfo Dulce, fisherman can bring up Black and Stripped Marlin, Sailfish Blue, and more.

Tamarindo Sportfishing, Guanacaste

Perfectly lip-hooked 35 pound Roosterfish caught & released on the Talking Fish by our return travelers with Tamarindo Sportfishing

Full and half day fishing charters are available year round from Tamarindo. Fishing in Tamarindo is great all year, but fishing conditions can still vary from month to month. Peak season for Billfish is mid April to August. Marlin and Sailfish are the highlights of the full day 9 hour fishing trip. The half day 5 hour trip is more inshore fishing for fish like Snapper, Amberjack, and Roosterfish. For those who prefer to fish offshore, there is also a 7 hour option.

Marina Papagayo, Papagayo Peninsula

The Marina Papagayo on the Papagayo Peninsula is the newest marina in the country, built with an environmentally-conscious blueprint. It is situated directly next to the Andaz Papagayo Resort in Culebra Bay. This marina is capable of holding even super-yachts up to 220’ in length. Marlin, Roosterfish, and Tuna can be found in the waters near Papagayo.

Quepos, Central Pacific

The port town of Quepos is a world famous sportfishing destination on the central Pacific coast. Quepos has been named The Sailfish Capital of the World, but it’s also excellent for Roosterfish, Snapper, Dorado, and Marlin just to name a few. Offshore and Inshore fishing is available for half and full day fishing trips.

Marina Pez Vela, Central Pacific

Marina Pez Vela was the home of the 2014 Offshore World Championship, and is located in the Quepos & Manuel Antonio area. While less luxurious, this marina hosts charter boats for a wide variety of activities including fishing, snorkeling, and diving. Marlin and Roosterfish are common in the Quepos & Manuel Antonio area.


Chifrijo Traditional Dish

Now you know a little bit more about the typical food in Costa Rica. But we didn’t end it yet. Let us introduce you a very delicious dish that can either be served as a snack or as full meal for lunch or dinner: our famous Chifrijo.

Before explaining details about it you need to know about its curious name. The word chifrijo is a portmanteau –a blend of two words or morphemes into one new word- for chicharrones (fried pork rinds/skin) and frijoles (black or red beans), two of its main ingredients.

The Chifrijo is prepared with rice, beans, pork –preferably, but other kinds of meats will work too-, chopped tomato, tortilla chips, and avocado. The recipes may vary according to the place you go, but the foundation will always be the same.For locals, this is a perfect choice to accompany a beer or to enjoy it in parties and celebrations.

According to the popular versions of chifrijo’s history, the recipe has been around since the early nineties when it started being served in local bars and restaurants around the San Jose region. Nowadays, it is commonly found in the street venders, markets, fairs and carnivals and fast food locals.


Caribbean Cuisine in Costa Rica

The Caribbean coast of Costa Rica is a world apart from the rest of the country, in more ways than one. Originally settled by Jamaicans and other Caribbean islanders who came to work on railroad and agriculture projects on this coast a century or more ago, the habitants to this day speak an “island-inflected” English and have a distinct culture from the rest of Costa Rica.

The differences extend to food. Rice is cooked in coconut milk mixed with spices before being served with red beans. Patties filled with spicy meat are popular street food. And the famous rondon seafood soup is worth a trip to the Caribbean coast alone. The base is coconut milk, but spices are added, as well as fresh fish, breadfruit, cassava and other local vegetables. It’s sweet and spicy. The towns of Cahuita and Puerto Viejo de Talamanca are some of the best places to enjoy authentic Afro-Costa Rican cuisine.


The Perfect Costa Rica Ceviche Recipe

Costa Rican food writer Melissa Guzman, author of “Living Longer, Healthier, Happier – Recipes from Costa Rica“, has the perfect ceviche recipe for those hot days at the beach. Here, she shows you how to make ceviche Tico-style.

I’ve spoiled a lot of friends and family with some good food over the years, but one of my most requested dishes is my traditional Costa Rican ceviche.

While Peru claims to be the true origin and king of ceviche, it’s popular throughout Central America. And here in Costa Rica, it’s a typical dish, popular in the coastal areas.

While each Central American country will have slight differences in how they prepare their ceviche, Costa Rica features a simple version that many people love.

Ceviche is a dish comprising raw fish and seafood marinated in citrus juice, mostly lime or lemon juice.

The acid in the citrus juice break the amino acids in the proteins of the fish. This causes it to become opaque and produces a firm texture, like when cooked. In effect, the citrus juices “cook” the fish.

In Costa Rica, the ingredients for ceviche are usually fish, lime juice, salt, ground black pepper, onions, cilantro, and minced peppers.

Ticos often serve it in a cocktail glass with a lettuce leaf and crackers or chips on the side.

Now I think it’s wrong, but many Ticos use condiments like tomato ketchup, mayonnaise, and/or Tabasco sauce on their ceviche. For me, a good ceviche needs no condiments at all, but don’t think it’s strange if someone asks for the ketchup.

Ceviche and beers on the beach / Michael Ramirez Torrez / Facebook

Ceviche is best accompanied with an ice-cold Imperial beer on a beautiful Costa Rican beach, but we’re not all lucky enough to be on one of those.

The good news is now you can transport yourself in your imagination to the Costa Rican beach of your choosing when you whip up your own ceviche.

Before you start, you need some fish for your Costa Rica ceviche recipe.

You can use many types of fish for ceviche and the below options all work well.

Corvina
Corvina is a wild-caught fish in Costa Rica and other parts of Central America. Known for its firm white meat, Corvina has become popular over the years throughout this region. It is one of the most common fish used for ceviche.

Tilapia
Another very common fish for ceviche in Costa Rica, tilapia has a light, sweet, delicate flavor and semi-firm texture, comparable to catfish. Tilapia fillets are white with a mild taste. This fish can sometimes be more difficult to work with but is often used in many of the local restaurants.

Mahi-mahi
The firm-textured, dark meat of mahi-mahi turns white and opaque when cooked. It is a moderately fatty fish with a strong, pleasant flavor. The skin is tough and usually removed before cooking. Mahi is usually easy to find in Costa Rica and is a great option.

Marlin
This is my preference. The firmness is easy to work with and it holds its shape well. Marlin is another easy one to find throughout Costa Rica.

So once you have your fish, it’s time to make your ceviche! Ceviche is easy to make and healthy, so please try it.

My Costa Rica Ceviche Recipe

Serving size: 4

  • 430 g (1 pound) white fish (marlin or any of the suggestions mentioned above)
  • 1 cup of lime juice
  • 1/2 cup lime-lemon flavor soda
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped red pepper
  • 1/4 cup minced cilantro
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Ground pepper to taste

Chop the fish in 1/2-inch squares. In a medium glass bowl, combine the fish with the lime juice, make sure the lime juice cover the fish. Add the rest of the ingredients, mix well, cover and let set for one hour in the fridge.


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