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Reprinted from Tripadvisor review:

Amazing Fishing Destination
After arrival at the airport our driver picked us up for a 4 hour ride by minivan to Puerto Mutis. A small fishing port located near the north western coast. From there it was a 2 hour boat ride through a scenic mangrove estuarine system to the Journey Bay anchored in a sheltered cove at Cebaco Island. The Journey Bay is a converted Gulf Coast rig tender and featured a nice party deck with lounge chairs and fully air conditioned staterooms. A long trip you may be thinking but keep in mind that you will be traveling to and be based in a very remote location that is smack dab to some of the best unspoiled fishing locations in the region. 

The following four days were a blur as we caught more fish and species than we could have ever imagined. The extremely competent crew knew exactly what to do at all times – anticipating all our needs and dispositions. For example, they observed that all of us were right handed casters and always positioned the boat with the right bearing for proper casting. They also studied the individual casting skills of the anglers and kept the boat at the right distance from the hot zones. They also knew when to move and change to other techniques by observing how exhausted they were with popping by suggesting a move to a jigging venue.

Each evening was a blast as we joked and laughed about the days events over good food, company and endless Panama beer. Highlight of the trip was a 450 lb Blue Marlin that took over 2 hours in the chair to bring in, and my personal best Pacific Sailfish on a Popper. Total number of species caught? Eighteen – Blue Marlin, Pacific Sailfish, Wahoo, Snapper, Mullet Snapper, Bluefin Trevally, Roosterfish, Cubera Snapper, Rainbow Runner, African Pompano, Bonito, Albacore, White Tuna, Yellowfin Tuna, Parrot fish, Trigger fish, Black Grouper, Broom Tail Grouper. During our entire stay we did not encounter another fishing boat while fishing the area except for the one day at the ever popular Hannibal Bank location.

This report would not be complete without mentioning the incredible service aboard the mothership Journey Bay. Abner the chef was amazing and never failed to surprise us with the variety of dishes and how accommodating he was when one of our guys – an amazing chef in his own right wanted to whip up some dishes with the fresh fish we had caught. And Abdiel the Operations Manager and his team that made sure we had fresh towels, did our laundry and pretty much everything else to make us more than comfortable. By the end of the 3rd day our group had already unanimously decided that we will be back to Cebaco Bay. In fact we have already booked our trip for 2017 but I suspect that we may be back very much sooner!

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Isla Cebaco
After rounding Punta Mala we spent a few nights on the Peninsula de Azuero and bumped into friends we’d met back in Escudo de Veraguas. Barney and his family were traveling the same route and schedule as us and we spent a couple nights in a calm bay on the southwestern side of Isla Cebaco together.  Barney has sailed all over the world, his wife, Mel, is a fantastic cook, and their daughter, Faa, is a well-traveled and experienced dive instructor – way more mature and accomplished than I was at 18-years-old.

 Mel and I were lamenting the lack of fresh herbs in Panama; we’d both been trying to grow some on board, neither of us with much success. She’d bought a bunch of what she thought were jalapeños but what turned out to be teeny sweet peppers so I gave her half the bag of habaneros I’d bought in Panama City. The next day she shouted over to me as I passed in the dinghy. “I have your peppers!” I was a bit confused. I told her they were hers to keep, I hadn’t lent them to her for the night. But she waved me over and tossed me a small jar. Homemade hot sauce! And Mel is from Thailand, so her hot sauce is proper hot. During our time in Cebaco she also gave us a recipe for Matt’s favorite Thai dish, three-flavor fish (which I promptly forgot because I was busy eating her spicy chicken with pineapple) and a packet of spices for Laab, or meat salad (ie: the best kind of salad). She also makes a mean fish cake, which I’ve since been trying to recreate on Tamata.

Besides the food and story swapping, there were two other constants during our time in Cebaco Bay: a steady northeasterly wind racing through the gap between hills, and a big, black barge moored in the southeast corner. The barge was seemingly there permanently, but surrounding it on smaller mooring balls was a pod of baby-blue-hulled, black-tinted-window motor boats that were kept immaculately clean when they weren’t buzzing in and out of the bay. I sort of just assumed it was a drug-running operation until I remembered that we were only 35 miles from Hannibal Bank, a legendary Central American fishing spot where the Pacific rises sharply from 1300 meters to just 17, attracting tuna, sailfish, marlin, wahoo and other pelagic fish.

 This was Cebaco Bay Fishing Club, an understated fishing “lodge” where guests could fish all day and return to drink cold Balboas and grill their catch on a big barbecue on the barge’s deck in solitude, accompanied only by the roars of howler monkeys and the slapping of baitfish on the surface of the bay’s prairie flat water. No gourmet restaurant. No infinity pool. No masseuse. Just fishing and beer. (Which I realize is about as redundant as saying “just skiing and snow!”) Anyway, we learned that you could buy ice and diesel and that the hose leading from the nearby rocks on shore was transporting fresh water from the island’s natural spring for drinking, laundry, showers, and washing down the boat.

Jose, the manager, was a quiet guy with a shy smile. There were no guests at the time, so he showed us around the boat. He also loaded us up with ice and scheduled a time for us to come alongside and fill up with very expensive diesel. The covered deck was inviting and offered a few minutes of refuge from the wind. Apparently the Panamanian Aeronaval thought so, too. Eight of them arrived on their black speedboat in full camo the next day and spent the afternoon listening to music, napping in the hammock and playing dominos in the shade. Josh and Kim arrived on Kuhela that day, too, and the four of us enjoyed fresh fish for dinner each of our remaining nights there.

I know I keep talking about how great the places we visit are, but really, we had it pretty good in Cebaco Bay. If the surf hadn’t picked up at Santa Catalina over on the mainland, we likely would have stayed put. But it did. So we didn’t.

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Cebaco Bay, Panama, January 2014

Decided to take a trip over New Years to fish in Panama with my friend Gary. Kind of early in the season but I have to go when I can go. Anyway, we decided to go with Cebaco Bay Sportfishing Club, which has a great mothership operation based near Cebaco Island. We made it out there with no problems and started fishing as soon as we could. Bait was scarce, but we were planning to do mostly popping and jigging anyway. We popped the shoreline like crazy with little to show for it and started to get a lot more action when we switched over to surface iron. I caught 10 different species on my mint/white surface jig before I broke it on a rock. 

Big Jack Crevalle were thick both on the high spots and on the shoreline and provided quite a workout most days. If you ever feel like you need to kill some time, foul hook a 25lb Jack near the bottom like I did. Quite a workout on light gear. Bluefin Trevally were thick off most rocky points on the shoreline and eagerly took poppers and jigs. The world record was caught in this area and the average size was pretty large. Huge Needlefish were also aggressively hitting everything near shore. Usually I have a hard time keeping those things hooked but this trip no matter how I tried to shake them off they stayed on. They are actually pretty fun to catch they way the leap all over the place. Pargo of various kinds occasionally hit the surface iron. Roosterfish were spotted here and there and we hooked and lost three on poppers and landed one on bait. The water was kind of cool and jigging was very tough most days except for the Jack Crevalle. Fishing along the shoreline provided a lot more action.

On the second to last day I was throwing a big popper late in the day at a rock near the mothership and was rewarded with a giant explosion. A huge Pargo came completely out of the water but missed the popper. One more pop and it came back and demolished the popper and headed back to its cave. I had a very heavy popping rod and a locked down drag and he almost pulled me off my semi-precarious perch on the bow. Luckily I was able to wrestle him out. He went around 45lbs and got released in good shape. That was the highlight of the trip for me, along with a nice roosterfish and a 20lb Bluefin Trevally; the biggest I have caught. Gary got a very nice Broomtail Grouper jigging the first day.

I have nothing but good things to say about Cebaco Bay Sportfishing Club. Everything ran very smoothly, the boat was comfortable if not luxurious (even had AC), captains were good, boats were good, food was good, location was good, etc. The captain and mate saw that we came to fish hard and stayed out until dark every day which I really appreciated. The fishing was a little off for Panama but we put in the time and the captain found fish that were biting every day. 

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“Variety is the Spice”
My group got a late start upon arrival at Panama’s Tocumen Airport due to a wait of 40 minutes on the tarmac for a gate to open on the last of three flights, however the VIP arrival service expedited all clearances and provided a comfortable waiting lounge. Checking in at the new Panama Hilton, it was convenient to find a Ruth’s Chris steak house off the lobby for a late meal. This was a first time trip to Panama for Dave Norberg, Jim McKissack and Scott Smith who have fished from Brazil to Canada (it was my 58th trip). After a day of “warm-up” fishing for peacock bass on Gatun Lake we were driven the four hours to Puerto Mutis by Mel Sanchez (; 6747-6567). A Cebaco Bertram met us at the dock and began the last leg of 1 1/2 hours to Cebaco Bay stopping to pick up some large lively lobsters from a panga near Isla Leones that I had arranged for in advance. As we got closer to Cebaco Bay the water got bluer and the scenery was dominated by jungle greenery and rocky shorelines. The 110’ mothership “Journey Bay” was moored in a corner of the Bay sheltered from any bad weather. It’s stable steel hull, fully air conditioned interiors and broad surface decks would be our “home” for the week. It was good to see all the captains, crew and chef who have worked for owner Capt. Jim Wiese for years. The guys didn’t bring any tackle as I said it was unnecessary. I had two large duffle bags full of the latest poppers, jigs and jerk baits to try out. The rest of the day was spent watching the crew and I assemble the gear and re-spool with fresh 50/65/80 lb. Power Pro. The plan was to use two 31’ Bertrams with a different angler fishing with me each day on Capt Ariel Medinas “Extreme” with mate Martin Santos.

The first day or two was going to be a challenge as 18’ neap tides were running and creating all sorts of current affecting mostly the inshore bite. As soon as we turned the corner from the Bay we saw birds working and pods of dolphin over yellowfin tuna. The tuna were a very reliable catch for the week from close-in to Jicarita and Hannibal Bank. We caught 15 tuna (schoolies to 35 lbs.) along with ten other species including wahoo, African pompano, jack crevalle, yellow snapper and greenbar (rock) snapper. The sea was flat calm and 82 degrees. We came across a Panamanian Naval Patrol vessel and gave them two bags full of tuna steaks which they really appreciated since there were 30 guys onboard. NOTE: The popping (except for tuna) was unusually slow but a jerk bait, the Hybrida Tropical, I had just received from Germany was very productive and was about to be proven repeatedly.

The third day we decided to venture offshore to the Cebaco Bank where I have had a high percentage of marlin encounters. It’s about 26 miles southwest of the Bay. Within a two-hour period, we raised four blue marlin, hooked two and lost both on jigs. Five sailfish were also raised. We made our way back to Ariel Rock (near the Bay) and jigged for tuna, jack crevalle, rainbow runner, dorado, “albacore” (white bonito), sierra mackerel, skipjack and triggerfish.

The final two days were spent fishing the Tuna Coast to Hannibal Bank recording 26 yellowfin tuna as well as more wahoo, bluefin trevally mullet snapper, jack crevalle, and skipjack. The Hybrida lure outfished live bait and hooked a large roosterfish but the hooks pulled after a fifteen-minute fight. A total of nineteen species of fish were caught out of 173 total. Generally, the fishing was below standard for Panama but still good by most standards. Missing in our catch (although several were hooked and lost) were huge cubera snapper and roosterfish that make trophy memories. The mothership was very comfortable as usual and the food prepared by Chef Abner was special. He even catered to a gluten-free diet for one guest without mishap. Lots of exotic gamefish, comfortable mothership and game boats, experienced crews with a good attitude, calm seas and beautiful surroundings make for a fun and memorable experience. (; 011-507-6679-8083).

Tony Pena
“The Roving Angler”
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