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FLAMINGO, Costa Rica — The atmosphere was boisterous and a bit boozy at the new Marina Flamingo on Saturday afternoon as the 81st annual ILTTA billfish tournament wrapped up with drinks, snacks and the recognition of the most successful Costa Rican captains and crews of this six-day event.
But that was just for the local fishing crews. Two hours later, at a rowdy awards dinner at Bahía del Sol in Potrero, winners were recognized among the 60-something international anglers participating on 19 different teams from as far away as South Africa.
But a funny thing happened on the way to this event. Texas Tournament Anglers #2 had a member who couldn’t make it, so they called a friend in Guatemala named Rodrigo Guzmán to see if he could join the team.
Turns out, not only did Texas Tournament Anglers #2 (pictured at top) win the trophy for best team, but Rodrigo Guzmán won the prize for best angler overall!
Not bad for a late substitution.
What about second place?
Before I tell you that the second-place team caught exactly as many fish as the first-place team, let me explain the rules a bit.
There was a four-way tie in the total number of billfish (sail and marlin) caught and released by the top teams — exactly 14. So to adjudicate ties, the tournament awarded prizes based on who caught them first.
By this measure, the No. 2 team was Nomads Game Fishing Club from South Africa, No. 3 was ANPD #1 of Guatemala, and No. 4 was Ponce Yacht and Fishing Club of Puerto Rico — all of which caught 14 billfish.
There were also awards for top anglers overall, and Rodrigo Guzmán won that one by catching seven fish. But there were four other anglers who also caught seven fish — they just didn’t catch them as fast as Rodrigo.
The lesson? When you fish in this tournament, you need to fish fast.
Upshot for Flamingo
If this all sounds like a bunch of fishing stories that wouldn’t interest you, hear me out. This was the inaugural event of the Marina Flamingo — which is still under construction but is looking great, and seems to be totally finished in places.
I am convinced that this new marina will lead to a total revitalization of the Flamingo economy — which was already doing pretty good to begin with, last I checked.
This contest puts Flamingo on the map again for international fishing tournaments hosted by a marina in Costa Rica. It was sponsored by the International Light Tackle Tournament Association, one of the oldest players in the game. And it was organized by the Costa Rican Amateur Fishing Club, which appears to have done a hell of a job.
So this was not just a routine fishing tournament for Flamingo — it was more of a renaissance. And it will serve as a preview for many more to come.
Flamingo had an earlier marina between the mid-1980s and 2003, and it was a major draw for fishing tournaments, bringing anglers from all over the world.
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These tournaments were a huge cash cow for Flamingo at the time, pumping money into the local economy through boats, captains, crews, restaurants, bars, hotels, vacation rentals, stores and even, I’m told, a few ladies of the evening.
But much of that money dried up 20 years ago when the old marina was shut down for environmental reasons. Now, it would appear, that money is about to come back, and bigger than ever.
The new marina is unfinished but gorgeous, and when it is finished, it will be bristling with yachts, a major commercial center, a bunch of condos and a new hotel. And that’s just the marina project — not counting any commercial or residential properties developed by other entrepreneurs that happen to spring up nearby.
I’ve lived in Flamingo for three years, but I feel like I’ve never been to the real Flamingo until there’s a marina here again.
“I think this marina is very important to the community,” said Orlando Soto, chairman of the tournament. “I think the marina is beautiful, and I hope that they bring the service that this building and all the facilities deserve.”
Flamingo fishing tournament rules
One of the strange things about this contest is that when you show up with your three-person team, the three of you cannot fish together in the same boat. A random drawing assigns all anglers to different fishing partners and different boats for all four days of fishing.
Why so? For one thing, it keeps everyone honest on how many fish they caught. But also, it allows fishermen to spend every day with a different group of anglers on a different boat with a different crew. That way you get to meet a lot of people, and potentially have a lot more fun.
“So in the tournament series, every day you fish with different people on different boats,” said Brent Allison, 47, of Houston, captain of the winning team. “So it’s a really great format, great way to meet people from all different parts of the world — good fishermen, good teams.”
But were there any fisherwomen among these 57 anglers from 19 teams?
Yes, there was exactly one, and it so happens that she won the trophy for best female angler. Shocker!
Her name is Carolina Mederos, she hails from the Dominican Republic, and she was publicly honored at the ceremonies for catching an impressive total of five billfish. I happened to walk past her in the dining room, saw the “Top Female” trophy in her lap, and asked politely if I could take a photo.
Like any proper Dominicana, she asked who exactly I was and why I wanted to take her picture. I told her I was just a journalist trying to document the results of this tournament. So she relaxed, posed and smiled.
My best photo all night!
Who caught what when
The organizer of the tournament, the Costa Rican Amateur Fishing Club, kept meticulous track of the daily catch from June 21 to June 25 (four days of fishing, with a day off on June 23). This enabled them to tell which individual angler, which team of three separate anglers, and which boat caught the most fish.
The appropriately named boat “El Jefe” caught a total of 20 fish in four days, while the runner-up, “Incommunicado,” caught 14.
The only fish that count in this tournament are sailfish or marlin, both of which have to be released by law, so don’t be looking for pictures of giant fish hanging by their tails on a dock.
There were no cash prizes, this being an amateur tournament, but the trophies looked really nice, and even those who walked away empty-handed appeared to have had a great week.
As they say, the worst day fishing beats the best day working.