Fishing Seasons

 

DRY SEASON

December to April is typically the dry season in Panama. Winter winds from the north bring stronger currents and these bring nutrient rich cooler waters to the surface around seamounts, reefs and shorelines. The cooler water temperatures trigger the huge sardine runs that rely on these upwellings. This in turn stimulates gorging by all the accompanying predators like Yellowfin Tuna, Bonito and Black and Blue Marlin, Sailfish and Wahoo. Fishing can be exceptional this time of year with windy days being more of the norm. Surface action is often furious and can be insane at times. It is prime for popping to large surface boils of tuna. The tuna in these situations are not particularly fussy and will hit pretty much anything. Marlin fishing can be really good this time of the year. Much of the fishing this time of year may be done inshore on the protected leeward side of the islands because of the wind.

Jigging and popping is very productive for inshore species when the wind abates or when along protected shorelines. In a nutshell, the dry season in Panama can be said to be typified as having sunny dry days, windy conditions and good quantities of fish hooked.

 

WET SEASON

The rainy season for Panama starts in May and usually ends by December. That being said this region is also one of the driest in the country, so don't be discouraged if you're in the city and are experiencing monsoon conditions. It's unlikely to be the same at Cebaco Bay. At this time of year we often see bands of rain in this region with generally flat seas. When offshore, it's easy enough to skirt these localized rain events unless we're visited by a tropical depression that may bring a few days of uninterrupted rains. These rain events increase in frequency until around Sept/Oct. Even then it is often that we see 1 sunny day out of 2 days or so of rain. Upside is that seas are mostly calm and skies are cloudy or overcast when not raining so you'll be mostly fishing in the shade! Calm seas also offer fishing further offshore.

Fishing can be very excellent this time of year, with Tuna growing bigger and in greater numbers. They also seem to forage further inshore. This offers a fantastic opportunity for fishermen to land their personal best tuna on light tackle. Tuna season really peaks during the months of July - September with impressive increases in size and quantity. This season is also typified by a greater variety of species caught and the trophy sized specimens of Roosterfish, Cubera Snapper and Yellowfin Tuna that can be caught on poppers and jigs.

 

FISHING TECHNIQUES

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POPPING

On of the most popular and fun styles of fishing that we do here at Cebaco Bay, Panama. There's nothing more exciting than see a huge fish blow up on a hard chugged surface lure. It's exhaustingly hard work but ridiculously rewarding. We always have popping rods rigged up on the standby as we never know when we'll come across a surface boil of tuna or see a sailfish come up behind a jigged up tuna or snapper. Another very popular activity is to cruise the rocky coastline, throw poppers and stickbaits as close to the rocks as possible for Roosterfish and Cubera Snappers. We only use high quality 7'8" - 8' PE 6-8 (70-80#)class popping rods from Blackhole and Prohunter that are mated to Daiwa Saltiga 6500H or Shimano Stella reels with 80# Fins or Jerry Brown braid. These are light and powerful rigs that can handle almost anything in these waters. Some popular poppers we use are Halco Roostas, Yozuri Bull Pops and Prohunter GT Monsters. Sub-surface stick baits that have proven very effective are Prohunter Béitos and Nomad Madscads. We often throw one of these out and troll them when moving from one jigging drift to another. If you bring your own gear, keep in mind that the gear we use are a good reference, but you may also want to bring a mid weight PE 4-6 (50-60#) class popping rod for inshore popping.

No where are you going to find better jigging than with us. We have been entertaining guests that have been Slow Pitch, Slow Fall and Fast Jigging long before any other charter operator in Panama. Our groups regularly get 20+ species each trip. This is one of the most rewarding forms of lure fishing. Over a span of 28 years, we have marked literally dozens of locations in our area of Panama that are exceptional for this style of fishing. Many of them are within sight of the mothership. They often say a charter operator or captain is only as good as his 'secret' spots. Pelagics are roaming fish so it's more like hunting but bottom species are generally resident so our bottom structures are a closely guarded secret because they produce fish consistently. Whether it's traditional fast jigging, long stroking or slow pitch style, Cebaco Bay is the place to proof and and demonstrate their effectiveness. If you have never done it, our crew can show you how and get you consistently hooked up to fish. This is why some tackle companies choose our location to test their lures. The sheer variety, quantities and size of fish that can be caught is impressive to say the least. That being said most of our jigging is done on reefs that range from as shallow as 80' to 160'. Species include 4 main types of Snapper, Roosterfish, Almaco Jacks, Jack Crevalle, Bonito, Yellowfin Tuna, African Pompano, Albacore Tuna, Green Barred Pargo, Groupers, Trigger Fish, Sierra Mackerel and Cubera Snappers. One of our locations also consistently produces large Roosterfish on jigs. Which is pretty uncommon. Here at Cebaco Bay because of the shallower depths we fish, we favor slow fall / slow pitch jigging with jigs between 80 to 160 grams. Occasionally we do use heavier jigs when the current is stronger. Some lures we have found to be extremely effective are Zcraft Cyclops, Prohunter Du Souel and Rankaru jigs. 

SLOW/FAST JIGGING

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The preferred method for all species of billfish found in the region. Marlin will often hit plastics, but are suckers for a trolled live bonito bridle rigged with a 20-25/0 Mustad circle hook. A good day would be 5 knock downs in 5 hours. Black Marlin frequent our inshore hotspots regularly and often swim up to inspect our jigged up yellowfins. Our Aguja Reef is considered one of the top marlin hotspots in Panama. We utilize Shimano Tiagra 50 and 80W LRS big game reels coupled with custom built big game rods. Our crew are very experienced in helping you bring these majestic fish in quickly so that they can be released safely. We endeavor to always revive when necessary and release every single billfish hooked.

Trolling divers like Rapala Magnums, Nomad DTX Minnows, Williamson Lures, Ilanders and Moldcraft Softheads are a very productive way to find non boiling Yellowfin as well as the wahoo that roam the inshore drop offs. 

TROLLING

At Cebaco Bay we almost never ever use bait. When we do, it is usually with a live Bonito or Cojinoa (often called green jack) caught off our mothership at night with Sabikis. In fact catching Cojinoa under the lights is a much enjoyed evening past time among our guests. Live trolled Bonitos are extremely effective when trolling for Marlin; and Cojinoa for Cubera Snapper and Roosterfish inshore. Another exception is when tuna are skittish with excessive boat traffic such as when at Hannibal Bank. In those situations, an effective method is to quietly drift over holding schools and chunk sardines down to them. This method is deadly for big tuna at Hannibal Bank where at times it can get pretty crowded. If you prefer to bottom fish with bait, please inform our staff to ensure that we have sufficient bait of your choice. Keep in mind that we also don't use sinkers very often so you might want to bring some of your own or arrange with us to provide them. We also prefer that if you fish with bait, to only use non-offset circle hooks to ensure that all fish hooked have a less likely chance of being gut hooked.

BAIT FISHING

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CONCLUSION

All the methods outlined above are by no means mutually exclusive. That's the beauty of our location you don't have to run but a few minutes/miles to go from jigging to popping to trolling. Less running, more fishing. Our skippers and deckhands are well versed in all of them. Just tell them what you would like to do before you cast off and they will make sure that all the required equipment is available for the tasks at hand. They are very intuitive and know what to do based on your skill level and experience. By all means mix up all the methods. Do a little trolling when you're tired of popping, jig after a bit of trolling etc. The crew are at your service. Keep in mind that they know these waters best and know what has been producing the week before. Fishing is not an exact science but we strongly encourage you to trust their recommendations.

 

SPECIES ENCOUNTERED

BILLFISH


 

Although there are over 10 members of the Istiophoridae family, three main species of Marlin inhabit Panama waters. Makaira nigricans or Blue Marlin, Istiopax indica or Black Marlin and Kajikia audax or Striped Marlin. Istiophorus platypterus or Pacific Sailfish are also a regular occurrence in our waters and average about 90-120+lbs. Yes they run big here! They are a fun quarry to pursue on light tackle and poppers. Blues are mainly caught over deep and open waters. Black Marlin can be found closer inshore and frequent shallower waters up to 100'. Black Marlin are very often caught around Cebaco Bay, Panama at our famed Aguja Reef. Most are caught trolling either plastics or with live bridled rigged bonito. Marlin here average about 400 - 450lbs but specimens up to 700lbs have been caught on occasion. Best months for Marlin are Dec - Mar, with bigger fish during Aug - Sept.

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Nematistius pectoralis or Roosterfish is a very beautiful fish characterized by a 'rooster comb' with seven spines on its dorsal. It is the only member in its family. Roosterfish have a unique adaptation where their swim bladder is connected to their brain and makes contact with their inner ear to amplify sounds. Roosterfish are plentiful in our area can be found all along the shorelines of Cebaco bay and are caught regularly on poppers and stick baits. They can be seen at times cruising around the mothership but are hard to hook and land there. On occasion when they are shy, we may troll live Cojinoa for them. The average size is about 50lbs with many juvenile fish being caught as well as the occasional larger fish up to 70+ lbs. There's nothing more beautiful than a lit up Roosterfish with comb fully extended chasing down a topwater lure. We always release all Roosterfish caught at Cebaco Bay.

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ROOSTERFISH

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Thunnus albacares or Yellowfin Tuna are an important and common species in our area. There are always large schools of them around Cebaco Bay. Sometimes as close as 5 mins from the mothership. We've even seen some specimens cruising around the aft deck of the mothership. From schools of 'footballs'(15-35lbs) to 'cow sized' fish up to 200+lbs, which can often be seen boiling under sardines over Aguja Reef, Hannibal Bank and Jicarita. On such occasions, they readily hit poppers and stickbaits. Yellowfin Tuna fishing is much akin to hunting, where you'll be looking for and chasing down birds and dolphin pods. The larger tuna will test your spinning gear and physical endurance to the limit. Making you almost afraid to throw your lure into that boiling melee of huge tuna. Smaller specimens are also caught on jigs regularly around some of our reefs. Fresh sashimi at dinner time everyday is not a bad thing!

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TUNA

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SNAPPER

Lutjanus or Snappers are a large family of fish found in almost all warm to temperate oceans. The species that are most common in the Cebaco Bay area are the Cubera Snapper, Mullet Snapper, Barred Snapper, Yellow Snapper and the Silk Snapper. All are great eating fish and can easily be caught on jigs and surface lures. Cubera or Dogtooth Snappers - Lutjanus cyanopterus grow to impressive sizes and are most often targeted with poppers along the rocky coastlines. It's not unusual to see specimens up to 50lbs landed regularly. All the other species generally inhabit reefs in large schools and very readily take jigs presented correctly. They seem to be partial to short stroked, fast erratic retrieves focused on the bottom 30' of the water column. Cebaco Bay's nearby Ariel's Reef supports a very healthy population of these fish. It is always a last stop for many of our clients to pick up some 'groceries' before heading in.

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JACKS

Siriola dumerili or Amberjack are part of the Carangidae family. Of which also belong the Almaco Jack or Siriola rivoliana. Although both are found in our waters, the Almaco is much more prevalent around our reefs. They are amazing sportfish and can readily be caught on jigs and fast sinking stickbaits that are allowed to sink to the shallower reefs. Their cousins the Jack Crevalle Caranx hippos exist in good numbers and can be counted on for some arm twisting action. Also abundant in our area are the Bluefin Trevally - Caranx melampygus. Also called 'Omilu' in Hawaii. These beautiful electric blue colored fish always show up when popping or trolling for Cuberas and Roosterfish. Alectis ciliaris - African Pompano with their long thread like fins have regularly been caught off the back deck of the mothership and Ariel's Reef. All of the jacks except the Crevalles are excellent table fare.

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GROUPER

Mycteroperca xenarcha - Broomtail or Mangrove Grouper and Epiephelus quinquefasciatus - Goliath Grouper are an excellent eating fish but are also slow growing and mostly resident so we try and release as many of them as possible. These gorgeous Broomtail Groupers can be found in good numbers on a few of our reefs near Sombrero Rock in 80-100' of water. They particularly like smaller 80g slow fall jigs presented slow pitch style. Some of our clients have even landed 20-50lb specimens here using tackle designed more for bass fishing. Goliath Groupers on the other hand are little more rare but can grow to epic sizes. You're in for a fun time if you manage to drag one off the bottom. They seem to like structure much more than the Broomtail and often go right into them when hooked.

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WAHOO

Acanthocybium solandri - Wahoo. Rated as one of the fastest species of fish in the ocean. Just behind the Black and Blue Marlin, and Sailfish. Attaining speeds up to 48 mph, these extremely aggressive predators are found nearshore where good blue water meets drop offs. If they want your bait or lure it is impossible to reel fast enough to get it away from them. Who would want to anyway? They are excellent table fare and will smoke your drag when hooked. We usually encounter them around Isla Jicarita and Aguja Reef. Although they are mostly caught trolling fast deep divers like Williamsons, Nomad DTX Minnows, Rapala Magnums and Ilanders, we have also hooked them while blind casting fast sinking Prohunter Béito Minnows for Yellowfin Tunas. On popping tackle these speedsters will make your line throw up a roostertail as it slices through the water. A rush indeed.

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MAHI MAHI

Coryphaena hippurus - Dolphinfish, Dorado or Mahi-Mahi, depending on where you're from. These brilliantly colored speedsters are like the gangsters of the ocean. They show up in groups when you least expect them and hangout near logs, planks or any floating structure. We rarely target them but they are mostly encountered May to December. They grow exceedingly fast so those little 'chicken' dophins in May might be bruisers by the end of the year. They are really fun on light tackle and make first class Ceviche. Leave the first one you hook in the water to keep the school around. We often slap  and stir the water with our rods tips to incite a shy Dorado to turn and attack the lure. Huge 100lb Bulls have also been caught while trolling for Billfish and Wahoo. Considered one of the most beautifully colored fish in the ocean, take a moment to really enjoy them before their electric colors fade.

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