World Wide Fishing!

Fishing Nicaragua's Forgotten Coast

By Dan Fink (DanBob)

Sunrise over Bluefields Lagoon
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
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 for long.

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
A typical Bluefields fishing vessel.

Fortunately, I had hooked up with Randy and Rosa at Rumble in the Jungle sportfishing ( ,, 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
Sunrise from the panga dock at Casa Rosa

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.

Casa Rosa!
Casa Rosa!

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 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
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
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
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 sauce. Yum!

The dining room at Casa Rosa
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.

Jungle river near Bluefields, Nicaragua
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
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 ( 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
Sunset on Lime Cay

We spent an incredible night on Lime Cay (, 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. Nicaragua!

Voy a viajar de regreso a Nicaragua cada año! ~ DANBOB

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