About 5 days after a great first trip to Panama I returned for more. This time I came with an old friend Chris, who I had spent a few years diving the Bahamas with. Chris had lots of pole spear experience but almost zero time in the water with a gun. He had always wanted a tuna and I don’t think there’s anywhere better than Panama in May to make that happen.
We arrived on the 7:30 am flight from Panama City and planned on heading right offshore. We dropped our bags at the resort and headed for the bank. The run is about 50 miles to the bank but usually we stop somewhere before that and find the tuna. The game here is to use a combination of the sounder, the birds, and the dolphins to locate and then dive in front of the tuna. Easier said than done. Anyone who has chased tuna schools knows how frustrating they can be. They seem to pop up everywhere and disappear just as quick. We try to predict the direction they are moving then get in front of them before they disappear or change direction. We also try not to go too fast to scare the fish or interfere with the commercial long liners or the recreational fisherman. This dance is only made possible by a great captain. The method that seems to work best is to just dive down in front of the school and shoot one as they pass by.
On our first trip we were doing it a bit differently by chumming in front of the school and hoping a few of them stop to eat. This method is fairly frustrating as well because they seem to stop and take a few chunks then continue. Every now and then though they will continue feeding right up to our fins. This method provides fewer opportunities throughout the day but when one commits its super easy to land a great shot nearly from the surface.
On Day 1 we had a lot of sightings and a lot come through the chum. Chris was getting used to diving with the new gun and navigating the float line. Eventually he took a shot and didn’t connect. We called it a day and headed in.
Day 2 we got out early and had tons of action. We saw a giant pacific sail cruising and had great tuna/dolphin/bird action on the surface. Chris was able to get a solid shot on a nice fish and land his first tuna. We were all pretty stoked. He stuck one more much bigger fish that submerged the float and then tore off.
Day 3 was amazing and super frustrating at the same time. I really wanted to find some of the big mahi I knew frequented the area. Conditions were great and prime for sighting floating debris. About halfway to the tuna I spotted the dream FAD. A professionally built tuna fad with hundreds of feet of netting hanging off. We approached slowly and tossed some sardines and were amazed to see the amount of life under it. I counted 3 - 4 30+ lb mahi from the boat. We suited up and got in to more mahi than I had ever seen. We were surrounded but waited patiently for a big one. I told Chris to wait, they wouldn’t go anywhere. This may have been bad advice as they seemed to only get more shy of us. They wouldn’t really eat our sardines the whole thing was a bit weird. The water was a tad dirty and they were surrounding us constantly but the big ones didn’t want to present a shot. Eventually Chris clipped one of the big boys but didn’t connect all the way. We took a few small ones and moved on. We tried the bank afterwards and had a few sightings in the chum. We even saw a massive school at depth but couldn’t quite connect. We ended the day by picking up one of the fisherman off the long line boats. He was feeling really sick and needed a ride to shore. Our captain grew up in the area and has a great relationship with the local fisherman, something that can seriously help us out as we search for the tuna schools.
It’s a pretty unbelievable fishery when a relatively novice diver can show up and land a dream fish with only 3 days in the water. I have some openings later in the month. If you're interested in getting your own tuna drop me an email.