Guest post by Phil James
The Caribbean sea has long held an allure as a place of mystery and adventure. It draws all kinds of souls to its shores – thrill seekers, sailors, nature lovers. But along its miles and miles of coastline, nowhere does this promise of adventure seem as guaranteed as in the gently curved edge at the bottom of the Nicaraguan coast, where the sea meets the pristine rainforest of the Indio Maiz Biological Reserve.
Where Sport Fishing and Ecotourism Meet
The Indio Maiz Reserve, covering an area of approximately 4000 square kilometers (1544 sq. miles), is the second largest rainforest reserve in Nicaragua, a country that is quickly becoming a favorite destination for ecotourism and sports fishing. When you look at it on a map, as I did for many weeks leading up to our trip, it is a vast, untouched expanse of green that ends only when it hits the carved out bowl of the coast.
This lush and vast natural landscape located in the southeast corner of Nicaragua has been often referred to as the “gem of the Central American nature reserves.” Spectacular tropical rainforest views aside, the reserve is also home to over 1100 species of birds, reptiles, mammals, and fish.
The lack of details, roads, towns, cities, was overwhelming, the unbroken field of green like a magic spell. We chose, after some research of several Nicaragua fishing lodges, to stay at the Rama Garden Fishing Lodge primarily because a friend back home in North Carolina had recommended them. He promised us we would experience things we would never forget, and he wasn’t wrong!
Recently, Nicaraguans have really adapted their mentality to prioritize environmentalism and preservation of the amazing natural beauty of their country, which signals a welcome future for eco-tourism in the country as well as for the nation as a whole.
Because the Indio Maiz Reserve is a wholly undeveloped forest, much of it is completely off-limits to citizens and tourists. Offering a variety of eco-tours and sportfishing year-round, the Rama Garden Fishing Lodge is located right at the bottom southeast corner of the reserve, where the Rio Indio meets the Caribbean. For serious sport fishermen, this place is home to the magnificent Silver King – the Atlantic Tarpon.
Tapam, Nicaragua’s Giant Jungle Tarpon
The Atlantic Tarpon, called “Tapam” by the Miskito people of the northern Caribbean coast of Nicaragua, can be found all along the eastern shores of the continents, but they grow best in the sparkling warm waters of the Caribbean. Tarpon can grow up to 300 pounds here, with a male living up to fifty years, and a female up to eighty.
They are the ultimate fighting fish, known for their amazing jumps and spectacular acrobatics, and reeling in one of these chrome-silver giants is the experience of a lifetime. Spinning as well as conventional medium to medium-heavy tackle using live bait will get the job done, but those interested in Tarpon fly fishing will not be disappointed either.
Many of the fishing guides we met at the lodge had dedicated their careers to understanding this massive fish, in a way I think must be similar to how a safari guide understands elephants or giraffes. Like any professional in any other field, they were networked with other guides in other hotels and charter services, brought together in their love for the Silver King, and knew all the latest information and news about local populations and spots.
I was impressed particularly with the respect they had for the fish. They were careful to instruct us on best-practices and techniques not just for our own enjoyment, but because the less the fish struggles or becomes exhausted, the better chance it has of survival – to go right back into the water healthy and happy. After a few photos of course.
The Tarpon is strictly a “catch and release” fish here, and the fishing lodge carefully limits the number of fishermen it books every year, because preservation of the local fish populations is key to the ecosystem and community here.
Feeding the Soul
Though the ocean Tarpon is migratory, there are also year-round populations of Tarpon (Tapam) in the river – because the huge fish can breathe air, it can survive and thrive just as well in the less oxygenated waters of the river. You’ll also find an abundance of other fish that live in these muddy jungle waters such as the Rainbow Bass, Tiger Bass, Snook (really big ones!), Snapper, and Machaca.
With the lodge location right at the mouth of the river and near the ocean, guests can arrange to fish from a boat or off the beach, in the Rio Indio and its jungle tributaries/lagoons as well as in the Caribbean Sea itself and the Rio San Juan (San Juan River) because of their proximity.
We stayed at the Rama Garden Lodge for three days in the middle of February, and nearly tried them all including a scenic jungle tour and a San Juan River fishing trip for trophy Tarpon, but my most memorable experience was easily the morning we woke up at dawn and headed to the beach.
The light was shades of pearl and fire on the tops of the trees. The whiteness of the beach and the blue of the waves were perfect. And you could see hundreds of fish, all over the water, their tails slapping the bright morning water. It was an incredible morning of sights and fishing, and as our friend promised us, not something we’d ever forget. There’s something about seeing that much natural, happy abundance that feeds your soul.
About the Author
Phil James is a passionate angler, traveler, and eco-tourist who also enjoys writing and photography. He has traveled extensively throughout Central America and the Caribbean, while always trying his best to stay on the road less traveled.