Positioned right between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, Panama is a fishing paradise that offers a diverse range of angling experiences. With its extensive coastline, abundant marine life, freshwater rivers and lakes, Panama has earned a reputation as a world-class fishing destination.
Panama’s Pacific coast is famous for its prolific saltwater fishing opportunities. One of the most sought-after species is the majestic Marlin, including the Black Marlin and the powerful Blue Marlin. These massive fish can reach lengths of up to 14 feet and weigh over a thousand pounds, providing a thrilling challenge for even the most experienced anglers.
Roosterfish, another prized catch in Panama’s waters, are known for their distinctive dorsal fins and acrobatic fighting style. They are a favorite among anglers looking for a hard-fighting and visually striking species. For those who prefer light tackle and a bit of variety, Panama’s coastal waters are teeming with Snapper, Grouper, Dorado (Mahi-Mahi), and Tuna. These species are not only fun to catch but also delicious when prepared as part of a fresh seafood feast.
On Panama’s Caribbean side, Bocas del Toro offers a tropical and laid-back atmosphere that attracts anglers and eco-adventurers alike. The clear waters around Bocas del Toro are home to Bonefish, Permit, and Tarpon, making it a prime location for fly fishing enthusiasts.
Inland, Panama boasts an abundance of rivers and lakes, ideal for freshwater fishing. One of the most renowned destinations is Lake Gatun, situated in the Panama Canal Zone. This man-made lake is home to several species, including Peacock Bass and Snook. Fishing in Lake Gatun also provides a unique opportunity to observe the Panama Canal’s operation up close.
The Chiriquí Highlands, located in western Panama, offer trout fishing in a cool, mountainous setting. Rainbow and Brown Trout can be found in the streams and rivers here, making it a refreshing change of scenery from the coastal regions.
The best time for fishing in Panama varies by species and location. Generally, the dry season, which runs from December to April, is the most popular time for saltwater fishing. However, some species can be targeted year-round. Freshwater fishing is generally good throughout the year, with variations in species activity depending on the season.
Best fishing spots in Panama
Coiba Island: Coiba Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the Gulf of Chiriquí on the Pacific side of Panama. It is famous for its abundant marine life and excellent sportfishing opportunities, including marlin, sailfish, tuna, and roosterfish.
Hannibal Bank: Situated near Coiba Island, Hannibal Bank is renowned for its big-game fishing. This underwater mountain rises from the depths of the Pacific Ocean, attracting a variety of pelagic species, such as black marlin, blue marlin, and yellowfin tuna.
Piñas Bay: Located on the Pacific coast of Panama, Piñas Bay is world-famous for its black marlin fishing. It’s often referred to as the “Marlin Mecca.” You can also find sailfish, dorado, and other game fish in this area.
Tropic Star Lodge: This renowned fishing lodge is situated in Piñas Bay and offers anglers access to some of the best big-game fishing in Panama. The lodge is famous for its sportfishing charters targeting marlin, sailfish, and more.
Bocas del Toro: On the Caribbean side of Panama, Bocas del Toro is known for its diverse fishing opportunities, including snook, tarpon, and various reef fish. The area is also popular for its picturesque islands and beautiful scenery.
Gulf of Panama: The Gulf of Panama, located on the Pacific side, offers a variety of fishing experiences, from inshore fishing for roosterfish, snapper, and jacks to offshore trips targeting billfish, tuna, and mahi-mahi.
Darien Province: The remote and wild Darien Province in eastern Panama offers opportunities for adventurous anglers to explore pristine rivers and mangrove estuaries in search of tarpon, snook, and other freshwater and saltwater species.
Pedasi: Located on the Azuero Peninsula, Pedasi is a fishing town that provides access to some excellent inshore and offshore fishing. You can target roosterfish, cubera snapper, and offshore species like marlin and sailfish.
Chiriquí Highlands: In the western highlands of Panama, you’ll find rivers and streams with excellent trout and freshwater fishing opportunities. It’s a different experience compared to the coastal fishing areas.
Pearl Islands: The Pearl Islands archipelago in the Pacific Ocean is known for its rich marine life. It offers a mix of inshore and offshore fishing, with species like snapper, grouper, and tuna available close to the islands.
Local permits, rules and regulations
In Panama, you typically need a fishing license to engage in recreational or sport fishing. These licenses can be obtained from the Panamanian Fisheries Authority (ARAP – Autoridad de los Recursos Acuáticos de Panamá) or through authorized agents.
There are often bag limits (the maximum number of fish you can catch in a day) and size restrictions (minimum and maximum size of fish) for various species. These limits can vary widely depending on the specific species and location, so it’s crucial to know the rules for the area you plan to fish in.
Some species are protected or have seasonal closures to prevent overfishing. For example, billfish (such as marlin and sailfish) are often subject to catch and release regulations.
Certain types of fishing gear and methods may be restricted in specific areas. For instance, the use of gillnets or dynamite fishing is illegal in Panama. Encouraging catch and release practices is common in Panama, especially for large or vulnerable species. Many sportfishing operators promote catch and release to conserve fish populations.
Panama has established marine protected areas to conserve marine ecosystems. Fishing within these areas may be restricted or prohibited. It’s important to be aware of the boundaries of these MPAs.
If you’re planning to go sportfishing with a charter company, they should be well-informed about the local regulations and will usually provide guidance to ensure you’re in compliance.