Panama is the fourth largest country out of seven countries that make up Central America. This country might be small in size but due to its geographical structure Panama’s coastline runs along the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean on both sides. Its Caribbean coastline measures 1,160 km (721 miles), while over on the Pacific side the coast measures 1,690 km (1,050 miles). Stories are often told in Panama that the name of the country translates to a commonly found species of tree named the Panama tree. It is also said that the word Panama means “many butterflies” due to the first settlers’ arrival in August when butterflies are abundant. For fishing enthusiasts, it gets even more interesting as legend has it that there was a fishing village that carried the name Panamá, which is an old indigenous word meaning “abundance of fish.” Fishing is a common local pastime and source of income for Panamanian fishermen. Panama is also classified as a world class destination for professional and sport fishing.
Panama has hundreds of islands, this includes the fairly large Coiba Island to the very small Kuna islets. Islands like the ones that make up the Bocas del Toro archipelago are popular tourist destinations while other islands are isolated and uninhibited. Panama’s many offshore islands provide lots of biodiversity and gamefish species for those who like a good challenge. Lots of international fishing records are made and sometimes broken in Panama over the years. In Panama the weather is warm all year and the country’s fishing calendar can predict the different types of fish that can be caught on a month by month basis year round. To top it off, the country’s climate is great for saltwater and freshwater fishing.
In addition to its ideal geographic location for sportfishing, Panama has a thriving tourism industry with the necessary infrastructure to make it a travel destination. Panama City is also home to Tocumen International Airport which is the busiest airport in Central America, a major travel hub and the headquarters of Copa Airlines. Visitors can easily get direct flights from North America, Latin America, Europe and Asia in order to experience Panama City. there are also many reputable fishing clubs and tours companies that offer fishing
If you never got around to learning more than ‘hola’, no worries, many Panamaians speak English as well as Spanish. As for currency exchange one United States dollar equals one Panamanian Balboa. There’s no need to convert your U.S. currency because the US dollar is an official legal tender in Panama and you may never come across Panamanian currency that is greater than one Balboa.
That’s it for background information on Panama, we hope you learned something new about this amazing country. Now, let’s talk fishing!
Options for Fishing in Panama
Whether you prefer offshore over inshore or you’re a fan of freshwater fishing, Panama has it all. In Panama you will find some of the top fishing locations in the world for big game fishing and freshwater fish. A few of the most well known destinations for saltwater fishing include Isla Coiba, Piñas Bay, Pedasí and the Pearl Islands. As for freshwater fishing, the best spots are found at Gatún Lake. The Gatún Lake in Panama is a man-made lake that was designed and constructed to facilitate the Panama Canal. This lake is located to the south of Colón and has a length of 33 kilometers.
When it comes to options for fishing, fishing enthusiasts have three main areas to choose from for fishing in Panama. These options are:
- Offshore Fishing (also known as Blue Water/Open Water/Deep Sea Fishing)
- Inshore Fishing
- Freshwater Fishing
Offshore Fishing in Panama
Offshore fishing is most popular in Hannibal Bank and Piñas Bay thanks to several International Game Fish Association (IGFA) world records that happened at these spots. Offshore fishing expeditions in Panama can cost US$1,300 and more dependent on the vessel and distance being traveled. The Gulf of Chiriqui which comprises Islas Secas, Isla Montuosa and the Hannibal Bank is world renowned for some of the largest pelagic fishes in the world and out there in the depths of the ocean the thrill of the chase often ends in the catch of a lifetime. There are also many other Panama islands that bring fishermen into a one on one hunt with their prey in the immensely blue pristine ocean.
The real deep sea fishing experience demands that you rise at the crack of dawn and head out to your destination. It can take up to as little as 1 hour and 30 minutes to reach the Pearl Islands and up to 5 hours to reach the continental shelf where you can get camera-ready for the infamous Blue Marlin, Mahi, Yellowfin Tunas, and lots more game fish species. A fishing expedition like this is a full day experience lasting 12 hours or more out on the water with roughly 2-8 hours spent getting there. If you’ve ever caught a Marlin or Yellowfin Tuna or hope to catch one we’re sure you’ll agree it’s worth the trouble.
Hannibal Bank along with Islas Montuosa and Ladrones are well known for black marlin, sailfish and the infamous yellowfin tuna. During Panama’s summer season when it is typically dry, fishing is at its height and an abundance of species can be found. Even so, fishing in Panama takes place all year long with some species being more popular during specific months.
One most interesting fact about the underwater landscape of Panama in the Gulf of Chiriqui is there are numerous mountains on the floor of the sea that create depths ranging from thousands of feet to less than 50 feet from sea level. The area’s topography of underwater islands, valleys and mountains blocks the currents and leads to oxygen and other nutrients being propelled towards the surface.
The rich, natural diversity found in the Gulf of Chiriqui’s fishery is noteworthy for its unique bathymetry being driven by underwater structure and currents. These banks and pinnacles around the numerous island groups, such as the fishing grounds at the renowned Hannibal Bank and the surrounding of Isla Montuosa, are fed by the nutrient-rich waters of the Humboldt Current. This powerful underwater current flows north, along the west side of South America, into the Gulf of Chiriqui. It carries cold, nutrient-rich water from the floor of the ocean to its surface. Such nutrients support the ever plentiful microscopic life, which in effect underpins a chain of growing baitfish that eventually brings the game sized fishes here to hunt. It is typical to see enormous schools of Yellowfin Tuna and Black Marlin crashing through the surface as they get their fill of ocean goodness from the offshore banks. It is the ideal setting for more than 20 species of trophy winning, Pelagic that lurk beneath the ocean’s surface.
Another popular place for fishing is Isla Montuosa. Isla Montuosa is about 77 kilometers from the mainland and holds the rank of being the furthest island from the Panamanian coast. There is a very steep and deep drop from this island that measures 10,000 feet. Additionally, there are lots of rock pinnacles about the island where catching a black marlin, sailfish, snapper or all three is almost a surety.
Of all the top fishing spots, Isla Ladrones is the closest to the mainland and proximity is perhaps the reason for its popularity. On the west of the island there is a deep drop which descends 3000 feet into the dark depths of the Pacific Ocean.
The most highly recommended spot in Panama for inexperienced fishermen is off Taboga Island. The waters surrounding this island offer mid sea fishing 20 km from Panama City which equals a boat ride of only 30 minutes. If you’d like to go fishing without spending the entire day at sea this is the choice for you. Because Taboga Island is 30 minutes from Panama City you can head there at different times during the day. An early start is preferred for those looking to make a catch from the bounty of early morning biters. Unlike uninhibited islands like Coiba Island, Taboga Island is not just for fishing. After fishing, you can enjoy a few local beers while exploring the beach and town on the main side of the island where there are restaurants to have a relaxed lunch with your crew. The most popular fish to be found at Taboga Island is the red snapper.
Inshore Fishing in Panama
The amazing Gulf of Chiriqui is known for having many islands on the pacific coast compared to almost every other country in Central America. These islands provide a wide selection of inshore game fish such as snapper and mackerel, as well as pelagic species. Some areas of Hannibal Bank are also great for inshore fishing, however the Gulf of Chiriqui is the popular choice. The spectacular inshore fishery often offers almost limitless opportunities to catch from it’s bounty. Here you will find mile after mile of rugged coastline encompassing Isla Paridas and the other island groups that border the Gulf of Chiriqui. Such spots are the ideal habitat for large predators to grow and are only a quick boat ride from the mainland. Full day charters with local tour companies can cost between US$200 or more.
Inshore fishing in Panama by the Chiriqui area is highly recommended for those looking to stay closer to the coast. Chiriqui is situated only five minutes from David which is Panama’s second largest city. For centuries, the Chiriqui River has always emptied into the extensive mangrove estuary where fishermen can participate in light tackle and fly angler to catch some amazing inshore sport. Massive Snooks, Pompano, and a variety of animated Jacks and Snappers live in these waters along with many other species that will put up quite the fight and give you the challenge you seek.
The islands closest to the Chiriqui area also have an abundance of Cubera Snappers weighing as much as 70 pounds, Roosterfish weighing up to 80 pounds, and massive Amberjack fishes. Shark fishing is also a possibility. You can choose to use long, light-tackle rods or you can throw poppers that have some weight to them close to the rocks. On an eventful day you can also find Wahoo and Mahi Mahi close to the shore.
It’s also helpful to note that Isla Ladrones, Isla Secas and Isla Parida are ideal for inshore fishing of snapper, roosterfish, wahoo, jack, kingfish, and mackerel.
Freshwater Fishing in Panama
Majority of the action from fishing in Panama happens in salt water, nonetheless Panama is a country of fishing abundance. For those who would like to avoid the salt, the one and only place to engage in freshwater fishing is in Lake Gatún. This artificial lake is heavily populated with Peacock Bass.
As mentioned earlier, the Gatun Lake is a man made body of water that serves as a constant supply of water that aids the operation of the Panama Canal. To go fishing at the Gatun Lake it is most likely you will depart from the small town of Gamboa situated practically in the center of the canal between Pacific Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea. The most readily available means of transportation is a small benched motorboat known locally as a panga. These boats may or may not have a covering over the top of the vessel.
This lake is overpopulated with Sargento popularly called Peacock Bass and you can easily catch more than you need. In order to avoid letting these fishes go to waste you can practice the catch and release method or give the fishes to the locals.
The town of Gamboa is a 30 minutes drive from the downtown area of Panama City and if there is no traffic it’s an easy ride to the dock where the boats are located and before you know it you’re out on the lake. Expect to pay around US$100 per person which is not bad for a charter into the lush green jungle for a day of fishing. Although you’ll be there for the fishes, expect to see one or two hanging out on the shores or listen to the sounds of the howler monkeys in the trees above.