Where roosters swim


I love the Vineyard. There is nowhere I’d rather live. That said, I do love to travel. And most of my travel involves fishing. Fortunately, I have friends who share, or at the very least understand, my passion for traveling to locations that will offer the opportunity to fish for species we cannot catch in Vineyard waters. 

For a number of years, I’ve headed to the Florida Keys in late April, after the shelter closes for the season. I’m blessed to have Island friends who travel to the Keys at the same time, so we fish together some, take in the sunsets, dine together, and usually stay in the same complex, close to one another. 

As much as I enjoy the togetherness with friends, there is nothing better to do on vacation in the Keys than to stand on a flat boat in three to six feet of water in the middle of the ocean, and cast for hours. No trolling, no bottom-fishing, no guide baiting a hook for me. Just me, my rod, a few favorite lures or live crabs, and my friend Griff on his small, surfboard-shaped “boat.”

I have caught many fish in the Keys, including the majestic tarpon and my personal favorite, the permit. I have shared this experience with a few friends, always with the caution that the “boat” has no seats, no sides, can barely accommodate three people, and if you want or need to sit, there is only a small cooler for cold water to rest your butt. 

Last November, while we were side by side on treadmills at the YMCA, Ron Domurat, one of my favorite people to fish with, asked if I’d booked my condo yet for the Keys. I shared that I was toying with the idea of chasing my dream to catch a rooster. Ron suggested Costa Rica. 

While still on the treadmill, I texted my friend Maddie, “Want to hike in Costa Rica for a week?” Maddie’s immediate reply was yes.

We all have great travel partners, and Maddie is surely one of the best. We have hiked in Oregon, played at Disney, enjoyed opera at the Met, and stood in awe in Giverny as we took in the beauty of Monet’s gardens. Maddie eats fish, but has no desire to catch one. She does, however, humor my need to fish as much as humanly possible, and understands that hiking in Costa Rica will also include fishing.

I researched rooster charters and have wanted to catch a rooster for the last seven or eight years, ever since Ursula Kreskey and Karen Kukolich shared stories of their numerous trips to the Baja. Ursula shares one tale of landing a beautiful rooster on her fly rod that will make any breathing fisherman want to catch a rooster. She got me dreaming!

I found two charters with great reviews. Both of their websites showed roosters being in-season in April and May, and I enthusiastically followed them on Instagram, and imagined the thrill of catching a rooster like the ones posted on their accounts. 

I booked one half-day charter out of Quepos on our first full day in C.R., and the other out of Jaco on our second day. Roosters are inshore fish — no need for a full-day charter, as you don’t have to travel far to reach their feeding locations.

On the morning of my first charter, I tiptoed out of our cottage and made my way to the marina. I met Alex, the captain and guide, and boarded the 28-foot Mucho Fisho. Alex explained that our first task of the day was to catch our bait fish. Sounded good to me. Catching fish to catch bigger fish is a great way to start any day. 

We motored around for about 45 minutes until we found a school of sardines. Alex handed me a rod with a sabiki rig, and I soon felt that first tug. OK, tug might be an exaggeration, but the little rod bent, and there was a fish on it. In fact, I reeled up three fish. 

We spent an hour catching sardines, bobitos, gallinitas, blue runners, and lookdowns. Many of the fish were too small, and immediately released. When I reeled in a lookdown, Alex exclaimed, “Roosters love lookdowns. This is lucky. I’d love to catch a few more.”

We spent about an hour filling the well with decent-size live bait. Alex hit the throttle and headed toward a rocky area. We were in 20 to 40 feet of water, with plenty of structure. I could hear the voice of Peter Johnson, a great fisherman and owner of Roberts Lures before his passing, saying to me one morning as we walked and fished the north shore, “Rocks and rips, Lisa, rocks and rips. Look for structure and current.” 

Alex had brought me to a location with plenty of rocks and rips. He passed me a rod with a circle hook. My lookdown went on the hook first. Alex carefully explained how I was going to live line for a rooster: “Leave the bail open, and keep your finger on the line. You’ll feel the lookdown. Be patient. When the rooster hits, let him run, and count, one, two, three, four, five, and then close the bail. Do not set the hook. The circle hooks don’t need to be set. Just reel.”

I opened my bail, lowered my lookdown into the water, and felt the line moving across my index finger as the lookdown swam away from the boat. I’m certain my excitement ran through my veins, out my fingertips, down the line, and into the Pacific Ocean. 

I waited. And hoped.

And waited. And wished. 

And waited even longer, looking at the water for any signs of roosters. 

Four hours later, floating around our fourth location, having changed bait multiple times, seen a few schools of smaller fish feeding among the rocks, put a snapper in the cooler, and my finger still on the line with a gallinita swimming strong, Alex said it was time to reel in. 

Not so much as a glimpse of a rooster. No worries — Maddie and I were off to Manuel Antonio Park for the afternoon and sunset, and then driving to Jaco. I’d have a great day, and another chance to catch a rooster the next day in a different location. Plus, I’d spent the morning fishing.

The next day, Maddie came with me. She loves to take pictures, and she loves being on the water. Maddie wasn’t going to spend one second fishing, but we were chasing the rooster dream. We boarded the Fish Hunter with our captain Juan and first mate Ricco. They already had a well full of blue runners, so we motored out to the first rocky area. 

Unlike the day before, I was not live-lining. Ricco put three lines in the water, and we trolled. I’ll confess right now, I’m not much for trolling. The anticipation of a line going off doesn’t last long if there’s no action. 

When a boat is trolling, I’m not fishing. I’m sitting. Maddie had been out on boats with me on past vacations, but I’d always been holding a rod — casting, jigging for bottom fish, or live-lining. Never sitting across from her doing nothing. 

With a need to do anything proactive, I got on my knees, faced the water, and searched like an osprey, without their vision or vantage point, for any sign of fish. About half an hour in, a torpedo zoomed past the boat. My heart raced. 

We’d found the roosters!

Juan looped and zigged and zagged, and circled that rocky outcrop for a good 45 minutes. We never saw another fish — other than our three blue runners swimming without a threat of being eaten. Ricco reeled in, and we move to a new location. Still nothing.

Over the next two-plus hours, Juan called around on the radio to all the boats in the area. Not one fish had been caught. 

Maddie had taken plenty of pictures, and was on her phone. I was bored. I walked over to Juan and asked him to reel in the lines and bring us back to the dock. Yes, we had an hour left, but the chance of finding a fish was next to none. I hadn’t cast all morning. I was tired of sitting. 

I didn’t catch a rooster. I did spend seven days hiking through the mountains of Costa Rica with one of my best friends, singing loudly off-key, birdwatching, driving on the bumpiest, narrowest, steepest dirt roads that had us praying out loud, eating delicious food, tasting chocolates and discovering that guava and chocolate are a fabulous combination, and laughing every day. It was a wonderful vacation in the country where roosters swim. 

I saw Ursula less than 24 hours after my return. I mentioned a trip to the Baja next year. She said yes. Dreams of roosters will play like a movie preview in my mind until next May. Until then, I’ll be out on the beach tomorrow, casting for a keeper bass. 

The schoolies are abundant, a few friends have caught migrating keeper bass, the tautog are here, and there’s confirmed reports that bluefish are being caught from New Jersey into Connecticut. It’s a great time to be fishing on Martha’s Vineyard. 

I hope to see you on the beach, and I hope we both have tight lines.