Deep Sea vs Fresh Water Fishing in Panama City, Panama
Whether your interest is sport fishing for big game like Marlin or recreational fishing, Panama has it all. Some of the best fishing in the world is here in Panama, with record breaking sport fishing resorts like Tropic Star Lodge situated in Piñas Bay where they hold more than 250 international records, the majority of them being for the capture of Black, Blue, Striped Marlin, and Pacific Sailfish. In Chiriqui the famous Hannibal Bank, actually a huge undersea mountain, quickly rises from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean from a depth of more than 3,000 feet to just under 124' where schools of Black Marlin and giant Yellow-fin Tuna gather. Freshwater anglers can catch Peacock (Sargento) Bass and Tarpon in Gatun Lake. In short, the Republic of Panama is a fisherman's paradise. Every year visitors spend thousands of dollars to travel here specifically to fish.
This article is more about those in Panama City and wishing to get on the water for a day, to explain what your options are, be it deep sea fishing, or freshwater fishing on Gatun Lake. So let’s dive in…
Deep Sea Fishing in the Gulf of Panama
When it comes to open water fishing in the Pacific you have the option for mid sea fishing off the back side of the nearby island of Taboga which is situated about 30 minutes from Panama City. This is the usual go to for non-experienced “deep sea” fishers who just want to try their luck, drink some beers, hang out with the guys, and enjoy the trip. Given that it is 30 minutes from the city, you can leave throughout the day, though usually recommended to do an early morning and hit the water to catch them while they’re biting. Most often you’ll encounter Red Snapper off the backside of Taboga Island.
If you’re looking for the genuine deep sea fishing experience then you’ll need to rise and shine at the crack of dawn to hit the water. Depart by 7am, 8am at the latest to head towards the Pearl Islands. Depending on the size of your vessel it could take anywhere from 1.5 hours up to 4 hours to reach the islands where you can trawl for small game inbetween the islands or continue onwards toward the continental shelf adding at least another hour to the journey. Out at the continental shelf you’ll encounter the famed Blue Marlin, Dorados (Mahi), Yellowfin Tunas, and more. So for this, you’re looking at a long day of 12+ hours on the water factoring in anywhere from 2-8 hours just in transit. But if you ask anyone who has caught a Marlin, they’ll tell you that it was WORTH IT!
Final point to bring up here; boats and costs for deep sea fishing. If you want a cabined yacht with full galley (kitchen) then you’re looking at approximately $1450 + for groups up to about 14pax and then from 15-25pax you’re talking about $2200- 2600 for mid sea fishing off of Taboga Island. For the deep sea fishing experience you’re looking at spending quite a bit more given the amount of fuel that is required, the increased strain on the boat and crew. So you’re looking at starting costs of $2250 and up to $4200 for the larger 25pax vessels. Comparatively, the prices per person are fairly similar to fishing excursions in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida.
Bass Fishing on Gatun Lake
Your other option for fishing is freshwater fishing in the largest man made lake in Panama, Gatun Lake. Gatun was made in order to maintain a constant supply of freshwater for the functioning of the Panama Canal locks system. Departing from the small town of Gamboa located almost exactly in the middle of the canal between Pacific and Caribbean, your primary rental option are small benched motorboats, either with cover or uncovered.
This lake is overloaded with Sargento aka Peacock Bass and you’ll probably end up catching more than you can hold. Catch and release or give them to the captain who will take them home to his family for dinner.
Gamboa is located about 30 minutes from downtown Panama City with no traffic so it’s just a quick drive up to the boat ramp and then you’re on the lake. At $99 per person this is a very reasonable fishing experience set in a tranquil jungle environment. Apart from the fish, you’ll probably see some crocodiles sunbathing along the shores or hear the howler monkeys in the trees.