New Marina Flamingo Hosts First Fishing Tournament

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Gentlemen and ladies, break out the rods and reels for the first international fishing tournament hosted by the new Marina Flamingo in Costa Rica — coming up in two weeks.

Construction at the Marina Flamingo is well underway, and soon there should be more boats inside the marina than outside.

The 81st International Light Tackle Tournament (ILTTA) takes place in Flamingo on June 20-25, hosted by the Marina Flamingo, a world-class marina under construction in the heart of Costa Rica’s Gold Coast. 

This tournament will be the marina’s inaugural event, and there are more to come soon.

“This is interesting because it puts Flamingo back on the sportfishing map,” said Grace Mora, executive director of the Costa Rican Amateur Fishing Club, the organizer of the tournament. “These kinds of events are very favorable to this region. And Flamingo will be greatly benefited as a point of reference for sportfishing with the creation of this marina.”

Grace said her club set a world record at a 1991 tournament in Flamingo when 1,800 sailfish were caught and released in four days of fishing.

This sailfish, having his worst day ever, is about to be unhooked and released.

The targets of the upcoming tournament are billfish — marlin and sailfish — which abound in Costa Rican waters. ILTTA anglers have caught and released over 20,000 billfish in the association’s 71 years and 78 tournaments. So they know that Costa Rica is one of the top places in the world to catch these fierce fighters.

Marlin, recognizable by a shorter dorsal fin than sailfish, are larger and more ferocious fighters.

But if you want a photo standing next to your 500-pound marlin — strung up by its tail on the dock — 1950 just called and wants its photo back. By law, all billfish today must be released alive, so they can live to fight another day. A living marlin is worth far more than a dead marlin, as any fishing captain can tell you.

I’m from Arkansas, where as a child I used to fish for largemouth bass, crappie, catfish and bream. As an adult, I am no experienced angler by any means. Yet I did catch a 200-pound blue marlin off the Osa Peninsula once, and I caught a 120-pound sailfish near Playas del Coco when I was actually fishing for something else.

The first mate prepares to release a 200-pound blue marlin caught by the author 40 miles south of the Osa Peninsula. (Photo courtesy of Michael Palazzo)

If I can do it, anybody can do it. If you’d like to try your luck, Special Places of Costa Rica would be happy to “hook you up” with a local fishing boat, captain and crew.

I didn’t really “catch” the fish, I just had to reel it in — and that was HARD. (Photo courtesy of Oscar Villalobos)

About the tournament

At first, I thought that expert anglers from all over the world would be motoring into Flamingo in their own fishing yachts for this tournament. But then I learned that the anglers fly in on airplanes and are matched up with local fishing boats, captains and crews.

Some 21 three-person teams have signed up, hailing from as far away as South Africa. Others come from Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Guatemala, Texas and of course Costa Rica.

But what’s interesting about this tournament is that the teams can’t fish in the same boat. The three anglers from each team are separated into three different boats, keeping everyone honest on how many fish they actually caught. And as soon as one fisherman hooks a fish, the others have to reel in their lines to avoid entanglement. 

The cost to enter the tournament is $4,350 per fisherman. This covers lodging, airport transfers, daily cocktails, three meals hosted by the organizers, plus everything provided on the water: boats, captains, crews, lunchboxes, drinks, ice, bait and tackle. 

Trophies are awarded for the top three individual anglers, as well as the top teams, for each of four fishing days and for the overall competition. Because this is an amateur tournament, there are no cash prizes.

The schedule for the five-day tournament is as follows: 

Monday, June 20: ILTTA Board of Directors meeting; anglers check into Bahía del Sol hotel in Potrero; captains and crews meet at marina; anglers meet at hotel; opening dinner at Bahía del Sol.
Tuesday, June 21: First day of fishing: Breakfast at 5; fishing from 8 to 3:30; cocktails and snacks at the marina at 5.
Wednesday, June 22: Second day of fishing; same schedule.
Thursday, June 23: Day off; Board of Directors meeting; visit to Las Catalinas for lunch, relaxation and sunset. 
Friday, June 24: Third day of fishing.
Saturday, June 25: Fourth day of fishing; closing and awards dinner at 7 at Bahía del Sol.
Sunday, June 26: Departure to airport.By the way, Flamingo will also be hosting the Presidential Flamingo Fishing Rodeo on Aug. 5-7, and registration is still open.

About the marina

The Marina Flamingo remains under construction, but it’s expected to be welcoming boats within months.

An early photo of construction at the Marina Flamingo, where most of the infrastructure is now in place.

Three phases of construction are planned. Phase I involves infrastructure, land development, and the opening of the marina proper to boats. Phases II and III will bring residential and retail development, condominiums and a hotel.

Flamingo had an earlier marina 20 years ago, in operation from 1989 to 2003. But it was shut down by authorities for reasons that remain a bit mysterious, though the official reason cited was environmental contamination.

The first Marina Flamingo, which lasted from 1989 to 2003. (Photo courtesy of James McKee)

After many years of proposals to build a new marina, a group led by a doctor from Michigan named Sam Shaheen finally obtained approval. The bulldozers and gravel trucks descended on sleepy little Flamingo en masse, and today the broad outlines of the marina are firmly in place. 

The sheltered bay in Flamingo is a nearly ideal location for a new marina in Costa Rica. Its nearest competitors are the Papapayo Marina and Los Sueños in Herradura, near Jacó. But while Papagayo has exclusive resorts like the Four Seasons, there is no town there, no “cabinas” to house a crew and few reasonably priced conveniences.

Flamingo is an ideal location for a marina, sheltered from the sea in front of a gorgeous town.

Los Sueños has all of that, but it’s 100 miles away. Flamingo fills a sweet spot on Costa Rica’s northern Pacific coast because there actually is a town here, with accommodations, dining and stores in all price ranges. 

The Marina Flamingo is expected to cause a major economic revitalization of this already high-end community. Grace cited a 2019 study saying that sportfishing in Costa Rica generates over $500 million in annual revenue.

Flamingo’s North Ridge, just beyond the marina, has long been a world-class destination.

They say a rising tide lifts all boats. The new marina, and fishing tournaments like those coming up, are expected to prove that.

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