Sunrise over Bluefields Lagoon
In the weeks before my departure to the East coast of Nicaragua
in February 2008 for a wind power conference, the comments from
friends, family, and fellow flyfishermen were mostly of disbelief.
"Isn't there a war going on there? What do you fish for, pirahna
and crocodiles? You'll never make it back alive, it's a violent
country with lots of crime and they all carry machetes! You'll
get kidnapped for ransom! You'll get sick from the food and water
and spend the whole trip doubled over with cramps and the runs!
Didn't you read the US government travel advisories, you're not
supposed to go anywhere near the East coast of Nicaragua!"
And so on...
The truth of the matter is that much of the world doesn't
know that Nicaragua even HAS an East coast on the Caribbean
sea. The war ended in 1990 when the ruling party was voted
out of power in free elections by a nation tired of war.
Crime in Nicaragua is the lowest in Central America, far
less than in the "tourist fishing paradises" of Costa Rica
and Belize--those countries simply do a better job of
promoting themselves to the world for eco-tourism. True,
you'll see any number of people walking down the street
in Nicaragua each morning carrying machetes--but they are
simply headed for their landscaping jobs in town. Yep, they
mow the lawns with machetes there! I never got the slightest
bit sick, though one member of our crew of four was down for
24 hours. The most dangerous thing you'll do in Nica is ride
in a car or taxi--no street signs, no street names, no addresses,
traffic laws and speed limits rarely if ever enforced, pedal
to the metal, and always use the horn button at least as often
as the gas pedal or brakes.
And the fish. Ah, yes, the fish! Snook, Tarpon, Jack, Mackerel,
Dorado, Pompano, Red Snapper, Barracuda, Guapote...all in waters
that rarely see a gringo sport fisherman. The commercial fishing
industry here focuses mostly on shrimp and lobster. Saltwater fish
out in the bluewater and freshwater monsters in the jungle rivers
can all be had in a single day's panga (small boat) trip.
The East coast of Nicaragua is a very laid-back place, far
removed from the frenzied hustle of Managua and most other
large Central American cities. I stayed for 13 days in
Bluefields, which hums and spins to a Caribbean drummer
much more than a latin one. The population of 50,000 is
a melting pot of latino, black and indian residents--and
very proud of it. The language in town is a mix of Spanish
and creole English (think rasta man), and you are just as
likely to hear reggae and country music blaring from the
houses, bars and taxis as latino music. The name "Bluefields"
comes from the Dutch pirate Abraham Blauvelt, who used the
lagoon as a safe shelter from storms and a resupply point
in the early 1600s.
The town of Bluefields, Nicaragua
Bluefields is NOT a tourist mecca, much to the chagrin of
local folks trying to encourage visitors to go there. For
example, on my visit to one of the fanciest and most scenic
restaurants in town (La Loma in barrio San Pedro), there was
no seat for the toilet and the light "switch" in the baño was
simply you reaching up to screw in the bulb. That's going to
be changing rapidly over the next few years as the tourism
industry gears up, though. Bluefields has the distinct feel
of a frontier town now, but I think it won't be that way
After day two in Bluefields, I felt completely safe walking
the streets alone to buy soda pop, bottled water, rum, and
beer at the pulperías and bars on every street corner. The
local residents tolerated my pathetic Spanish with a smile,
and showed me the calculator as they converted US Dollars to
Córdobas for my purchases. No need to change your money in
Nicaragua, USA greenbacks work fine as long as they are not
torn, taped, or marked up. Bring cash--it's rare to find
anyplace in Nicaragua that will take credit cards or
travellers checks. A working knowledge of Spanish is very
handy, but not essential in Bluefields--you'll meet many
folks that speak creole English.
Many parts of the town are stricken with poverty and littered
with trash, while dogs, chickens and pigs wander the streets--not
exactly encouraging to tourism. The per-capita income in all of
Nicaragua is about $910 per year, and it's even less on the
Atlantic coast. But the people themselves are always clean
and dress snappy, even if they have to wash their clothes
by hand on a scrub board (and most families do just that).
I felt distinctly underdressed in my T-shirt at the local
barrio fiesta during the last night of our wind power
conference, and went back to my room to change to nicer clothes.
My original plan was to find a local panga driver to take
me out fishing for cheap, but that turned out to be a BAD
idea after local inquiries. Besides the chance of an unknown
driver leaving you out in the jungle minus all your fancy
fishing gear and cash, the fact is--the locals don't do much
big game fishing. They are mostly after shrimp and sardines
with hand nets, and other small fish with hand lines. They
won't know anything about where to take you, what's biting,
and what fly to use at what depth. You'll likely be in a very
sketchy boat, with a tiny outboard motor that dies every 10
minutes. No radio contact with anyone if the boat starts to sink
("¡Bail faster, señor, and keep paddling!"), and your question
about life jackets will be answered with a puzzled "¿What is
that?" The photo below shows some locals in a typical Bluefields
fishing panga. You gets what you pays for, as they say...
A typical Bluefields fishing vessel.
Fortunately, I had hooked up with Randy and Rosa at Rumble
in the Jungle sportfishing (http://www.rumbleinthejungle.net/ ,
email@example.com, 011-505-832-4269) before leaving the USA.
Ahh...Casa Rosa! Just hearing the name still gives me a soothing
feeling. Located in a clean, quiet and upscale neighborhood in
Bluefields. No trash on the grounds or in the water. Spotlessly
clean rooms, baños and restaurant/bar. "Gringo ice" in unlimited
quantities, fully stocked bar and kitchen, friendly all-in-the-family
staff who speak English. Wireless internet in every room. And when
owner Randy chats with you or answers the phone, a slow southern
drawl. Ahh...Casa Rosa! It's snowing here at home in Colorado
this evening, and I wish I was back in Nicaragua now...WAKE UP,
DANBOB! Sorry folks, on to the rest of the story.
How To Get There
Many airlines can take you to Managua, it's an inexpensive 3
hour flight from Houston. But Bluefields has another distinct
disadvantage for tourism--access. There are no roads from Managua
to Bluefields, so you have two choices: Fly there directly in
a puddle jumper, or take a long, grueling and sweaty bus ride
to El Rama, then book a fast panga ride down the Río Escondido
river. I took the plane, and the small terminal for the small
aircraft of La Costeña and Atlantic airlines is right next to
the main terminal at the international airport. If you have to
spend the night in Managua before your Bluefields flight, be
sure to get a gringo hotel for the night, like the Holiday Inn
or Best Western. Managua is a crazy place, and you DON'T want
to rent a car and try to drive around there! The hotel staff
will meet you at the airport for a ride to your room, then back
to the terminal for the short, bumpy and scenic one-hour hop to
Bluefields in the morning.
There are very few private vehicles in Bluefields, as there
are no roads to get them there. But taxis are everywhere--there
will be a swarm of taxis at the Bluefields airport waiting for
you. Just hop in and say "Casa Rosa, por favor." Everyone knows
exactly where it is. The ride will cost you 10 Cordobas (50 cents)
per person, but a fresh clean dollar bill will be much appreciated.
Just DON'T say "Pronto, I'm in a hurry." In that case, you'll be
in for the ride of your life!
Nothing usually happens in a hurry in Nicaragua, except
driving--their pace of life is called "la hora Nica" or
"tiempo Nica." The traditional Nica saying about that is
"Hay más tiempo que vida"--"There is more time than life."
For your entire stay in Bluefields: relax, don't worry,
throw both your wristwatch and calendar in the ocean to
drown, listen to the reggae music, and have a long visit
with your best friends Toni, Vicki, and Flo (Toña and
Victoria beer, plus Flor de Caña rum) while you wait
for things to happen and chat with the locals. Twenty
minutes to an hour late is "on time" for Nica. And the
local residents will be intensely curious about life
in the USA and how we think and feel about Nicaragua.
No hard feelings about the Contras and Sandinistas and
Ronald Reagan and the old war these days--getting back
to "life as usual" is just as important in Nica as here
in the USA.
Sunrise from the panga dock at Casa Rosa
I saw only one exception to "tiempo Nica" during my two
weeks there...and that was my day fishing at Casa Rosa.
We left the dock at dawn (photo above) and returned at
last light, with a break for lunch at the lodge. Not a
minute of my fee wasted. Prices were cheap compared to
anything I've ever experienced in the USA...for example
only $35 for an extra night at the lodge plus breakfast
in the morning. Talk to Randy via email or phone for an
exact quote, since the cost varies depending on how many
days and nights you'll be there, how many people, how many
meals you want to eat there, how many days you need a boat
and guide for fishing, etc. But you'll be pleasantly
surprised at the low cost.
All rods, reels, flies and tackle are included with the
day fishing rate, and the gear was excellent. Rumble in
the Jungle will cater to whatever kind of fishing you
want--easy trolling with spinning gear and big lures, or
flyfishing giant streamers on big fly rods. During my stay,
it was big flies and lures mostly fished deep on sinking
line...one of the rivers we hit was 30 feet wide and 30
feet deep. The lodge supplies everything you need, but
of course you can bring your own gear. Just leave the
3-weight at home, you'll need at least 9 weight gear
to be safe. You'll see big fly rods by Orvis, Redington,
and TFO at the lodge for you to use, along with fly reels
by Orvis, Redington, and Tibor. All the local flies are
tied on-premise by expert guide Marco. He lives and breathes
fishing, boating and fly tying, and speaks pretty good
(and very polite) English for your days on the water.
a pair of Casa Rosa's fleet of fine fishing pangas.
The boats at Casa Rosa are excellent, bearing no resemblance
to the sketchy pangas used by the locals. Three nice boats,
all equipped with quiet and meticulously maintained 4-stroke
motors with center consoles, GPS, fishfinder, and a 2-way
radio for instant contact with Casa Rosa. The boats also
sport anchors, life jackets, first aid kits, fire extinguishers,
and coolers full of ice--all those things that gringos demand
but which are very scarce aboard most Bluefields pangas. Oh,
and you can leave your waders at home! The rivers are deep
and wide, and host both crocodiles and caiman.
Early morning bluewater fishing
There's not really any BAD month to go fishing the Atlantic
coast of Nicaragua--SOMETHING is biting every month of the
year. My late February trip was ideal for weather, it was
the height of the dry season. Autumn brings the possibility
of hurricanes, and the rainy season is during summer. Late
January through early May gives you the best chance at good
weather. Make reservations in advance.
The fishing report was not good for my trip. A total eclipse
of the moon happened 6 days before, and not many fish had
been caught recently. At first light, we took a pounding
panga ride out of Bluefields Lagoon and a few miles out
in the bluewater. I'd already taken a scary open-ocean
panga trip a few days earlier, and was a bit nervous. But
Marco knows how to drive the boat, and how to drive smoothly.
By the time we reached the rock formation (name withheld)
out in the ocean, the seas were over 4 feet, and I discovered
to my (and Marco's) delight that I'm NOT prone to seasickness.
But an hour of trolling big jigs deep produced no bites, even
with Marco changing out lures frequently. He finally asked
"Sor, if fishing was good here today we already catch a bunch
of fish. Want to go to more ocean rocks, or go to the rivers?"
I told him "You're the boss, since you know where they are.
Take me to the fish!" That he did, but even with his expert
driving the 3 miles on the big open ocean swells back to
Bluefields Lagoon and the jungle rivers put a hurting on my butt.
From Bluefields Lagoon, we headed up the Río Escondido.
Numerous rusty shipwrecks dating back to hurricane Joan
in 1988 dot this huge river, and each one provides cover
for big schools of rising baitfish. Seagulls and brown
pelicans were diving into the water after these little
treats. Marco steered for the risers and put the boat
into slow troll. The fishfinder chirped each time a big
fish was nearby, and the GPS chirped a different note
where previous customers had hooked a good fish. Still
no luck. We went another couple miles up the Rio Escondido
with still no bites, then back down to the shipwrecks.
Marco had already switched our lures a few times, and
now went to a topwater diving streamer. That was the key.
Pow! Suddenly my rod was nearly yanked out of my hands
and the reel screamed. I almost (but not quite) dropped
my Toña. It was a 7 pound Jack, a real fighter that dove
deep with each insult to its freedom. Since we'd agreed
ahead of time that I wanted to keep most of my fish both
for dinner that night and then the next day's lunch at
the conference I was attending, Marco gaffed it and posed
for this picture below. The next fish was a mackerel, very
good eating, and we kept it too.
Expert guide Marco with big Jack
It was noon by now, so we buzzed back to the lodge for a
big but quick lunch of shrimp, plantains and rice, with
Rosa's homemade salsa. I'll never look a bland American
french fry in the eye again after eating delicious fried
plantains at every meal in Nicaragua instead. And Rosa's
salsa is to die for--it doesn't even resemble the red or
green goop you buy here in the USA. Instead, it's pickled
fiery hot peppers, onions and carrots in a clear vinegar
The dining room at Casa Rosa
After lunch we headed out to fish some jungle rivers (which
shall remain unnamed) for Snook. No Tarpon had been seen for
a while, so we focused specifically on Snook for the afternoon.
Again, it started slow with a couple bites, and only one fish
hooked but lost. I heard Marco behind me, muttering under his
breath "¿Que pasa con pescado?" We worked the river back down
to the Lagoon, still with not much action. But the scenery was
incredible--dense jungle, exotic birds and monkeys chattering
in the trees, and turtles in the river.
Come here Mr. Snook! Jungle river near Bluefields, Nicaragua
Off to another river. Marco is a safe driver, but does not
waste any time getting to a new spot if the fish are not biting.
Now the fishing started to get better, he knew just where to go.
I immediately caught a 9 pound Snook at the mouth of the river.
Once again, a vicious fighter that did NOT want to be my dinner
that night. Unlike the deep-diving Jack earlier that day, the
Snook gave me a nice aerial show before Marco netted him for me.
I'm still nursing an infected 1/4 inch deep fish bite from that
one, it chomped me while I tried to get a grip on it for the photo.
DanBob with his 9 pound Snook from a Nicaraguan jungle river.
We spent the rest of the afternoon hitting all the deep channels,
ledges and structure in that river. Marco knew where all the good
spots were, the pattern to use, and the right boat speed to control
depth. Snook are difficult to hook securely, it takes a good yank
to penetrate that thick lip. We both hooked quite a few more Snook,
and I taught Marco that the proper gringo terminology for "I lost
the fish!" was actually "I humanely performed a remote release."
The sun was dropping fast, and we made one more 2-mile pass down
through the good structure back to Bluefields Lagoon with a few
more fish on the line. Marco secured the rods and tackle, told me
to "Hold on, Sor" and hit the throttle for home at top speed. A
thrilling and fast ride, as the water is quite smooth within the
Lagoon. Marco got on the 2-way radio to tell Casa Rosa we were
headed back, and asked me "¿Sor, Rosa wants to know how you want
the fish cooked tonite?" He cleaned all the fish upon our arrival
at the Casa, and made fillets. One was my dinner that night, and
the rest he froze for me to take back and feed the 20 plus folks
at our wind power conference.
Fish Nicaragua while it's still unknown!
NOW is the time to head to Nicaragua for the fishing adventure
of your life. In a few years, the world will have already
discovered it, even the remote frontier of Bluefields and
the Caribbean coast. The cultural adventure is just as intense,
and again still unspoiled by the hordes of tourists in other
Central American fishing hot spots. For frontier-style adventure,
get acquainted with the local scene in Bluefields and party,
gamble and dance your butt off...then when you get overwhelmed
by it all, for gringo comfort just pull out 20 Cordobas and tell
the taxi driver "Casa Rosa, por favor."
If you want to go out on the town, Randy and Rosa will be happy
to recommend where you should go for a good time dancing or
gambling, and where to avoid after dark at all costs. After
you dance the Bluefields "grind" with the local ladies at a
fiesta or bar, you'll never be the same! Randy and Rosa
bemoan the lack of tourist knowledge of the Atlantic coast
in general and Bluefields in particular, and the very scanty
promotional help they get from Nicaragua's languid national
"tourism" agency, INTUR.
Rumble in the Jungle is really the only operation of its kind
on the entire Atlantic coast of Nicaragua, and I recommend it
highly. But there are a couple of other fishing options to
check out if your stay is for more than a few days. Casa Iguana
on Little Corn Island (http://www.casaiguana.net/) also offers
gringo comfort and reasonable prices, plus flats fishing from
the beach. It's a quick and cheap hop on a plane from Bluefields
to Big Corn Island, then a short panga ride to the smaller and
more laid-back island. No cars, no hustle, and "no problem mon!"
on Little Corn. Inquire with the lodge via email (no phone service
there) for fishing info and prices--I did not have time to make
it over there to check it out.
The Pearl Cays are also worth checking out for snorkeling,
partying and fishing the coral reefs for Red Snapper and
Barracuda--but be sure to get a reliable reference for a
reliable panga and reliable driver from a reliable source.
Pay your driver the full fee AFTER he brings you back to
town, NOT when he drops you off on Gilligan's Island! I'd
recommend visiting Miss Ingrid (famous hospedaje, and famous
restaurant with shrimp and coconut milk bread) in Pearl Lagoon,
a friendly creole English-speaking town that's just a gorgeous
and cheap 2-hour panga ride up the rivers from Bluefields.
Enjoy the food, and ask her who to hire for a panga trip
to the Cays.
Sunset on Lime Cay
We spent an incredible night on Lime Cay (http://lime-cay.com/),
watching the sun go down during a picnic on the dock. The
entire island (with luxury accomodations, including a staff
of three-- cook, caretaker and panga driver) rents for $6000
a week, but if it's not booked you can rent just the primitive
but clean guest house out back with kitchen and baño for only
$15 a night per person. Then haggle a price with the staff for
a fishing trip early the next morning. That is, if you don't
just forget about fishing and go snorkeling instead! Be sure
to learn how to open a coconut on a pointed stick--though the
locals do it more deftly and much faster with a machete. Chop
a hole in the top of the coconut, pour in good rum, a squirt
of lime, and drink your "Coco Loco" as the sun goes down (or
comes up) and a Caribbean breeze blows the sand flies away.
Voy a viajar de regreso a Nicaragua cada año! ~ DANBOB