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The Global Ambassadors – Sport Fishing in Panama

5 Sport Fishing Panama: February 2019

A late but compelling update to our overall bucket list was the inclusion of a deep-sea fishing trip; with any luck, marlin fishing to be more precise. But not just any marlin fishing opportunity would suffice. As with the rest of our completed and proposed events, there was a catch: this event carried with it the need to identify the best overall combination of fishing, location and, most importantly, the best overarching global experience of its kind.

After considerable research and appreciating that there were indeed many extravagant and extraordinary options, particularly including Portugal and Costa Rica, we selected a remote location in Panama.

The Sport Fishing Panama Island Lodge (SFPIL) appeared to offer a top shelf experience as evidenced by its location on a private Island twelve miles off the coast of David, as well as a restriction on the number of anglers allowed at the lodge at any one time. The SFPIL is located on the undeveloped jungle island of Isla Parida, inside Panama’s Chiriquí National Marine Park, in the heart of the Gulf of Chiriqui.

Predictably, we opted for the VIP, all-inclusive travel package which, among other amenities, included our own private guest house, personal chef, and dedicated captain. Unpredictably, and for the first time on any of our trips, we extended invitations to close friends we believed would similarly marvel at this experience. We hooked two: Mike and Ricky.

These guys had never met and were certainly as different as they come – one a retired fighter pilot now flying commercially with whom I roomed at USC, and the other a former MBA student with a penchant for traveling the globe whenever he could conspire to break away from his various gigs peddling CPG’s. Mike regaled us with stories both substantive and mundane, but always entertaining on all counts, while Ricky ultimately gave as good as he got, routinely defending himself far better than his pigment-lacking cronies.

George and I took a red eye to Panama City, where we proceeded to drop our bags at the Waldorf and then connect with Mike and Ricky for an afternoon of roof top bar hopping in Panama City’s historic city district. Once enough of the city’s views were enjoyed and local spirits consumed at the five watering holes visited, we found ourselves gorging on rib eyes at the Sortis Steak House, a prelude of great meals to come.

The following morning we flew 35 minutes to David where our host and captain, Shane Jarvis, was waiting to take us, first by van to a small marina and then by boat, which took an hour to traverse the twelve miles, to the lodge.

From the time we booked the trip George had been remarking how it seemed as if the island lodge was where ‘Survivor’ met the ‘Ritz Carlton.’ Upon seeing the lodge for the first time as we approached its shore his assessment was spot on – the place was beyond secluded and truly spectacular.

In addition to Shane, and his unbelievably talented spotter/mate, Johnny, the fishing crew and lodge staff consisted of about a dozen more who supported our every need and request. During our stay the four of us were the only ones at the lodge the first night, with only a pair of anglers joining us for the other two days.

Following breakfast the next three mornings, we boarded the 33’ Sea Toy around 6:40 for points beyond. Each morning brought with it a daily sunrise unlike those we had ever seen, followed by ten hours of navigating and fishing the Pacific Ocean in search of whatever compelled Shane given the anemic conditions at hand.

Each morning also began with two more necessities: a nearly two-hour initial excursion routinely covering fifty miles, and a playlist providing cringe worthy music to at least of a couple of us at any given time. As we crisscrossed tens of miles of the Pacific, one could not escape the oft-blaring sounds of county music, classic rock, reggae and, of course, generous helpings of Snoop Dogg for no particular reason.

Each day also brought with it a sense that any successful fishing trip would be equal parts art, science, and luck, the last of which proved most elusive.

Day one of fishing found us as far as seventy miles off the cost, zigging and zagging near, along, and beyond the Hannibal Banks, which rise sharply from the ocean floor from several thousand feet to just over a hundred feet deep. Eventually finding ourselves seventy miles offshore, we perused the region for hours in search of anything but a sunburn; after all, each day the high temperature was a very sunny 86 degrees, with the low being a balmy 81 overnight. While each of us caught both tuna and Jack Crevale, the day’s highlight was the group effort required to land a sixty-five-pound yellowfin tuna.

Initially hooked by the enfeebled George mere weeks after comprehensive shoulder surgery, he was unable to reel it in. Watching in vain while barely containing myself, it became evident he could not land it alone. So I pitched in, bracing the rod against my hip while he attempted to reel without dislocating his shoulder.

But by bracing both of us on my bad leg while the boat continued to bounce on the open ocean, there could have been no worse form to behold.  This fact was immediately confirmed by Captain Shane when he made the blanket, yet searing, statement, “Bad form always leads to bad results.”  Within mere moments the rod snapped in two leaving us both a bit unsettled and unable to continue. With the day’s catch still literally on the line, Ricky took over the furious reeling before finally relenting, with the hope that Mike could bring it aboard.  He eventually prevailed, despite the decimated rod, the tip of which I kept as a souvenir.

Day two began innocently enough with the morning’s playlist starting with “Here Comes the Sun” as it rose in front of us and as we began our daily trek to the Hannibal Banks. But the Beatles classic was followed by, “Shit, We Just Spun a Prop,”

which was not a song from the Jimmy Buffet playlist, but rather a loud pronouncement from Shane. Sidelined nearly three hours while the new propeller and related parts were delivered to us offshore, we fished. We didn’t catch anything but we fished. Something we became quite good at.

By the end of the day, the ever-so-rare bursts of excitement that were always interrupted by very long periods of nothingness, resulted in us all eventually catching more Jack Crevale but, admittedly, it felt a lot more like we just caught jack shit. On the upside, however, it gave us hours throughout each day to discuss important topics such as our favorite scenes from Forrest Gump, the impact of rap music on America’s youth, the abysmal state of USC athletics and, without fail, all things Trump (Make Panama Great Again!).

The sesame crusted seared tuna appetizers offered upon our return to the lodge were the best sushi any of us had ever had; after all, we had caught the tuna we were inhaling.  As was the case each afternoon, Happy Hour awaited us at the lodge, usually about two hours before dinner. Each brought with it the freshest of fish, along with incredible entrees featuring beef, chicken, and pork – and plenty of adult beverages. Importantly, there were full bars in front of both our guest houses and the dining room, which were available at all times.

Before we knew it, we were embarking on our final day of fishing.

The previous two evenings Mike had done his part by smoking the high-end cigars he brought but, by day three and following too much morning coffee, some of his ‘stogies’ ended up unceremoniously soaked in what could only be described as Noriega Salute to the fish refusing to bite. Of related significance is that the Sea Toy did not have a head.

Fortunately for us, soon after we witnessed a full-fledged feeding frenzy, highlighted by a 15-foot manta ray, and an incredibly rare albino dolphin among several hundred others, as well as tuna and bonita also by the hundreds devouring a massive bait pool of red sardines. We didn’t catch anything but we fished.

By day’s end though we all caught at least one consolation fish – Blue Trevalle to be exact. At least we weren’t totally skunked.

The next morning we bid adieu to our crew and flew back to Panama City where we decided to see the Panama Canal. It takes about as long to see the Canal as Niagara Falls but doing so carries with it fanfare reserved only for the select few with nothing else to do.

A final recap and bull session over cocktails at the Hard Rock Hotel’s 65th floor roof top bar boasting panoramic (Panamaramic?) views of the city sealed a trip that had taken us to amazing heights and depths.

Aloha Panama and aloha Hawaii – let the island hopping continue, bring on The Big Island!

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