I arrived in Panama City at around 1PM on the 17th, and took a cab to the hotel (Veneto). The hotel was very nice, no complaints there at all. The cab ride seemed to be a bit of a scam from the airport ($25) – but that’s ok, I got there with all my luggage so it wasn’t a big deal.
Hung out that night with Dan once he arrived later. John came by and we went out with him for a bit. Fun times!
The next day, we got picked up by the bus at the hotel and met everyone else. The bus was very big and comfortable. Given how much [censored] everyone brought, I was surprised it all fit! We made the 5 or 6 hour drive to the lodge and saw a lot of the countryside along the way. The country is very beautiful. I believe it’s the end of the dry season now, so near Panama City things were somewhat arid which was surprising, but it became much more lush as we got closer to the lodge. We arrived to the lodge which was exceptionally clean and well kept to a nice dinner . After dinner, we tied knots and got gear in order. I wish I tied knots beforehand. We didn’t end up going to sleep until 1 or so in the morning!
We headed out at around 6 or 615 in the morning. My boat had myself, Raza (Raza), Pete (Peterk814) and David (Masonboro). We had Macho as captain and Jose as the mate. We headed straight to Montussa to troll up some bait and then jigged a bit. Jigging was pretty slow, we got some triggerfish and a snapper. We then left for Hanibal Bank and began trolling the live bonito. I was first up on the troll and got the marlin Kil posted earlier. At the start of the fight, I felt the drag at strike was lighter than I wanted, so pushed it to full right away. Once I had the harness on, I began grabbing the spool to try and horse the fish in quick. We actually had it to the double line in around 7 minutes, but the fish got pissed and dove real deep. Eventually after 35 minutes or so, we had him in. nice black marlin. My first marlin, actually 
After trolling a bit more with no luck, we wanted to try some deep dropping. We were rewarded with the elusive Pargo Chino. This fish, while small, became the mascot for the entire trip. Pargo chino became the running joke on our boat. I’m not sure if Macho and Jose know Pete’s name, since they just referenced him as pargo chino from then on out, lol.
At any rate, we got word of some tuna on the other side of Montussa, so made our way over there, and got 8 or 9 yellowfin to about 50lbs. Raza had a hit on a surface tension lure, but it dropped the hook soon thereafter.
Headed back in….successful day 1.
We opted to go to La Drones on Monday. The fishing everywhere was very slow, unfortunately. We were marking tons of life, but nothing was working…jigs, topwater, bait, etc. There weren’t many fish caught that day, but at the end, Macho brought us into some inshore grouper spots and we saved the day in the last 2 hours with some nice mero grouper and pargo Amarillo (yellow snapper). I think we ended up with 16ish fish that day? This day proved to me how dedicated Macho was to getting us on fish. We were out quite late and he did not have to stop on the way in, but made the extra effort to help everyone out.
We first started trying some topwaters at Coiba island. This island is gorgeous, reminds me of the island in Jurassic Park. Every spot was a picturesque place. To start with I was throwing an OTI Wombat popper. Dave had one of his homemade poppers (really nice by the way), Raza had a Ranger and Pete had a Salas. Pretty quick and Pete hooks up into a horse eyed jack. Not too long thereafter, he got his nice cubera on the same lure. Almost all of us then switched to casting irons, as the wind was somewhat strong and larger lures that were light were tougher to throw. I think most of us were using the OTI 50lb Tuna Sniper rod. Pete had the Carpenter. The OTI rod casts awesome, even with very light lures. Both Dave and Pete got a blue trevally. Really pretty fish up close. We drifted along shore and Raza and I picked up crevalles. After jigging a bit farther out with only a couple snapper, we decided to head out to Hanibal bank.
We stopped and jigged some live bait, then started marking and seeing jumping tuna. Pete and I were rewarded with yellowfin. I hooked another, but had my leader line broken. I cut off 18” after the first fish since it was frayed, but I guess it was frayed farther up as well. I then jigged up the beeliner of the century. I don’t think I’ll ever see a beeliner like that in Texas . We got some other snapper as well. There were also bonito around so some of those were jigged for bait.
After trolling a bit, the rod goes off and its Dave’s turn on the rod. After a nice fight, the fish turns out to be a 140lb yellowfin. Real nice fish! It was a fun time wrestling with it for the picture. Trying to keep its tail still for a picture makes you realize how strong they are .
A little while later we see birds working and go chase them down. We cast towards a floating plastic drum to see tons of bait, tuna, mahi and a shark swimming around. I think 3 of us hooked up, but the only person to land the fish was Dave. He got a nice 50-60lb yellowfin. Raza ended up with a couple good sized skipjack. We headed in for another nice dinner and drinks .
Dave stayed at the lodge to hang out with his wife, so it was only Pete, Raza and myself on the boat that day. We went straight to Montussa for bait, but could only get very small bonito. Afterwards we went out to Hannibal to jig some more bait, a tilefish and some snapper. Trolling the larger bonito yielded Raza a bull shark in the 150-200lb range and Pete a 120lb class yellowfin. The bank was heating up however, as Kil’s boat got a marlin and hooked a big yellowfin. From there we trolled a bit more then decided to come in for some cubera and grouper. Jigging yielded more snapper, while the bonito gave Raza and I a couple nice cuberas. Apparently most of the cuberas are all in the same size range, since all 3 of ours were almost identical in size.
We moved a bit farther out and jigged more snapper and a mero grouper or two. We then decided to opt for glorified bait fishing (tipping jigs with bonito) and got more grouper, including a 30lb gag.
It might have been a better move to stick with the bank since it was clearly heating up, but no complaints on getting the cuberas and grouper .
That night we went into David to a Chinese restaurant for some freshly caught/cooked snapper, grouper and tons of other food. We then went to a local club and had a lot of fun .
We had still been searching for the rooster, so we headed to some of Machos spots inshore and started casting/jigging for blue runners. Pete, Raza and Dave caught countless snapper, while I was casting the whole time. I was using a ranger lure this time, and ended up with a couple crevalles, a needlefish and a big bonito. There were a couple other crevalles caught off rocks that we drifted past. Unfortunately the roosters evaded us once again.
Heading out in the rain, we were met with overcast skies and very calm water. When we got to the bank, we had birds working and a lot of bait in the water. Macho put us on a spot where we got about 8 bonito and one big beeliner in about 15 minutes. We did the ‘run and gun’ for tuna, and Raza got another skipjack
I cast to what I thought was skipjack, and ended up hooking up. For the first 20 seconds, we were laughing because I figured it was a skipjack and we didn’t even stop trolling the bonito. However then the fish got angry and started making some runs so the troll stopped. Once we stopped, I had the fish within about 40m and then it made a big run, taking 100m of line off without stopping. The drag was at 22lbs to start, so this was a nice fish. Given how much line it took, I’d say 100lbs+. I started cranking the drag down and trying to grab the spool to stop the fish, but it wasn’t working too well! The spool was very hot at this point, so I knew it was a nice fish. Again after getting the fish to within 30m, it made another big run and ended up breaking my 130lb leader line. I was not happy about that, but hey, its part of the game. The line was very frayed when I brought it in, so I think it was hooked deep and rubbed on the teeth and gill plates. The tuna sniper did extremely well. For being rated to 20lbs of drag, it has a ton of strength and can handle big fish.
I was pleasantly surprised that the ranger held up at least for this fight. My worry was that the components of the lure wouldn’t be strong enough, but they seem to be OK. I plan on using this lure more in the gulf for yellowfin to see how it holds on more fish.
We started trolling and very quickly hooked a marlin. Raza’s turn. For this being his first time on a large fish, he did extremely well. Pete and I didn’t make it any easier, either, lol. He used great technique on the harness, even after we made him up the drag into full. After a quick 30 minute fight, we got the 450-500lb black in. The fish was dead when we got it to the boat, so we brought it in. Gorgeous fish. We got some awesome pictures.
At the same time we saw Kil’s boat landed that nice yellowfin, and could see how big it was from our boat.
We kept trolling, and then Dave hooked into a marlin and was rewarded with a 300lb black! 
We kept casting towards busting tuna but couldn’t seem to hook up. The fish were definitely there but just wouldn’t bite.
After coming in, weighing the fish and eating dinner, I packed and John and I headed to Panama City ahead of the group since I had an earlier flight than everyone else. John was gracious enough to let me stay at one of his apartments, which was great.
I think the guys this week should have a great trip, the fishing definitely got better for us as the week went on.
On Friday I woke up, and John picked me up and we went to his house in the city. Gorgeous place . His son then took me to the airport, and unfortunately my trip was over.
In summation, tips, observations, etc…..
• Hammered diamond jigs. Easily the best jig on this trip (and most others IMO). I think 99% of all jigged fish we had were on this jig. I don’t think I used any other jig the whole time. Caught everything from tuna to grouper to snapper on it. 8-10oz was the perfect weight.
• We did not have great luck with poppers. I am not sure why, but the fish seemed to respond better this trip to smaller shiny lures like the ranger. I’d still recommend bringing poppers, however. You just never know sometimes.
• I am re-evaluating soft Japanese leader lines. I had a couple break when they should not have. They are soft and supple and easy to tie knots with, but I do not think there is a lot of abrasion resistance. If you are fishing for fish where that isn’t an issue it should be fine, but the fact that I had a couple bust from abrasion on tuna was not a good sign in my mind, especially since it was 130lb. the 80lb seaguar I had held up much better.
• A lot of the time we were using short leaders (3’ or so) and there didn’t seem to be any change in bite, but the casting distance greatly improved.
• Do not bring 400lbs of gear. Its just overkill. When I do it over again, I’ll probably bring 15 hammered diamond jigs, about 5-10 poppers and 5-10 casting irons/ranger lures/swimbaits. That’s it. Having a ton of gear just takes up room on the boat and you likely won’t use it all.
• I would also recommend not bringing more than 4 rods, and not bringing more than 3 on the boat. Again, it just takes up room and you normally don’t use that many rods in one day.
• Bring your own bucket harness and make sure it is set for you before you get there. On every one of our trolled fish, we had harness issues with it not fitting the person properly.
• Small jigging belts are fine for fish under 150lbs, but are not suited for large fish on standup gear. I fought my tuna that I lost with the Jigging Master belt and it worked very well with the popping rod and the tuna that I jigged but it is not suited for a 50-wide and trolling rod. This isn’t their intended purpose, so this shouldn’t really be a surprise, but I just wanted to point it out.
• Bring strong sun block, and apply it often especially if you have lighter skin. I had SPF 70 spray for my legs, but used 85 on my face and neck. It worked great. While I’m not a mahogany brown, I’m not burnt either. The sun is extremely intense and you don’t want to be burnt.
• Get lightweight shirts to wear. I had the Columbia shirts with SPF 40 or 30 in them and was really glad I had them. They dry quick, and I didn’t get burnt.
The lodge, accommodations, captains, etc….
• Macho and Jose were excellent. They worked hard from the time the boat left until way after it got in. They consistently put us on fish, and I can’t remember having as much fun and laughs on a boat. I heard similar stories from those who fished other boats, but will let them post that up.
• The lodge was clean, pretty and the staff was top notch. It seemed as though they were more friends than staff, as we all talked, ate and drank together. They always went above and beyond, definitely made the trip that much better.
• The rooms were spacious, clean and comfortable. Again, excellent.
• John consistently went above and beyond to try and accommodate everyone’s individual needs in addition to being a great guy to be around. This is what you really hope for in an owner/operator.
• If you don’t stay in PTY at all, I’d bring about $500….if you do, bring about $1000 . The bars, casinos, etc will get you.
• Bring as little gear as possible. There is really no need for tons of stuff. I know I said this before but its important.
• Bring one pair of pants, a decent shirt and some shoes. We went out to David one night and those were needed.
All in all, awesome trip. I had a ton of fun. Many thanks to Kil for setting it up, and John for being an incredible host. When I go back to Panama, it will be with John . The capt and crews were fantastic.
As much as those who love jigging and popping hate to admit it, live bait was the ticket for big fish on this trip. Perhaps it is not always the case, but on our trip, it was.
I probably left some things out so please post questions if you think I missed something. I really came away from this trip with all positive things to say.