Bucket List Species: The Roosterfish in Costa Rica

The roosterfish. His scientific name is Nematistius pectoralis. He is also known as The King and Pez Gallo. (Pez Guy-yo.)

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Be ready for one heck of a battle when you hook up a roosterfish! Even the small ones aren’t gonna be easy! (Photo Courtesy of Bahia Rica Kayak Lodge)

He is found lurking all along the west coast of Costa Rica. Easily identified by his “rooster comb”, the seven long spines that make up his dorsal fin.  The dorsal will often stand straight up when he is fired up and chasing whatever he thinks is going to be his next meal. He is all muscle, very strong and will test your stamina and destroy your tackle.  Always good for a drag burning third, fourth, even fifth and sixth run, Mr. Pez Gallo is the most sought after inshore gamefish in Costa Rica.

Anglers from all over the world come to Costa Rica to do battle with this majestic brute. Generally caught within a few hundred feet of shore along small rocky islands, points and river mouths, this incredible sportfish should be on every angler’s bucket list. While they are caught all year round, the peak season for roosterfish in Costa Rica is December thru April. The top three spots to get one of these monsters are around Herradura, Quepos and the Osa Peninsula.

Down in Puerto Jimenez, on the Osa Peninsula, Capt. Todd Staley at the Crocodile Bay Resort (http://www.crocodilebay.com) has spent more than two decades fishing for these monsters.  Todd said, “We are lucky here at Crocodile Bay Resort as we have so much geography to fish. Roosters roam the entire Golfo Dulce as well as the coastal waters outside the gulf. We find them over reefs in the middle of the gulf and in the surf lines. Live bait is most generally a sure bet, popper fishing is a little more exciting, as well as jig fishing. Trolling also produces fish”.

In Quepos, Capt. John Schuchert from Quepos Fish Adventures (http://www.queposfishadventure.com) says, “The

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Lookdowns (moonfish) are one of the best baits for catching roosterfish.

best bait for roosterfish are lookdowns (moonfish), sardines and blue runners. Once the bait is secured, location is everything. When using lookdowns or blue runners, he will most often fish around rock structures. When using sardines, the roosterfish are generally already following the sardine schools and there is no need to go elsewhere. He has had some success fly fishing for roosters utilizing a classic bait and switch technique. Slow trolling bridled live bait to tease the fish within range of a green or blue deceiver. John said, “It’s pretty incredible to see a roosterfish hit a fly right next to the boat”!

In Herradura, Capt. Michael Alligood (www.EpicFishingCostaRIca.com) said, “Trophy rooster fish are one of my favorite species to pursue and they are common year round along our coastline”. Capt. Mike’s favorite approach is to use a bridled 3 to 5 pound bonito around rocky points surrounded by deep water with lots of current. This is prime habitat for big roosters with big appetites. Using this approach is a quality over quantity approach and the fish you catch this way will be at least forty pounds and are often well over eighty. Cubera snappers are found in the same area and also love to bite a live bonito. Mike said, “Fortunately big roosters usually swim out in deeper water once hooked, otherwise you just would not be able to stop them”.

Most rooster fishing is typically done with 30 pound tackle and a 50 to 80 pound fluorocarbon leader. Circle hooks are always used, sized anywhere from a 5/0 to 10/0 depending on the bait size. The heavy tackle might seem like overkill to someone new to the sport, but you never know when a big rooster or snapper will take your bait. Getting spooled by one of these monsters is a strong possibility if you’re outgunned.

While I enjoy almost all types of fishing, I have to say that inshore fishing here in Costa Rica is quickly becoming a favorite. There is a wide variety of large gamefish that inhabit the nearshore areas, most are toothy, mean and aggressive. The roosterfish, snook and snappers are all worthy additions to your Costa Rica bucket list.

Tom Hauer