Waterman's Journal

Mar 17, 2022

Fishing Giant Roosterfish in Costa Rica


Watch as Captain Ron and Team PELAGIC journey to Costa Rica in search of one of the most unique and iconic game fish in the world - the Roosterfish. With its rocky coastline and nutrient rich inshore waters, Central Pacific Costa Rica is one of the best fishing spots on the planet to target roosterfish. Offering both healthy roosterfish populations and large fish to over 60-lbs., it’s no wonder why many experienced anglers travel to Costa Rica from all over the world to catch their bucket list roosterfish.

So you want to catch Roosterfish.

Roosterfish are quickly rising to the top of the must-catch fish list for many anglers - and with good reason. Roosters are charismatic warm water predators that can grow to over 100 pounds (although the fish you’ll encounter are more likely to be in the 20-60 pound range). They’re accessible in shallow waters from the beach or from boats fishing inshore, but catching one is no easy task - making them a worthy challenge for any angler.

A roosterfish is easily distinguished by its "comb", seven very long spines of the dorsal fin.

What is a Roosterfish?

The Roosterfish (Nematistius pectoralis) is a game fish found in the warmer waters of the East Pacific from Baja California to Peru. This predatory inshore species is iconic not only for its look but also for its strength and aggressive feeding characteristics.

How do you identify a Roosterfish?

The roosterfish has an elongated yet slightly compressed body and their dorsal profile is quite convex. It is distinguished by its "rooster comb" consisting of seven very long spines of the dorsal fin. This trait is unique among all marine species making them very unique and attractive to anglers. Not only beautiful, but their dorsal comb is also used while the fish is corralling baitfish, or to increase their size scaring off aggressors when in danger.

The roosterfish also has unique coloration.  They have a bluish-gray hue in most of their bodies, interspersed with silver tones and spots on the head. On their sides, you can see 2 surrounding dark stripes while the dorsal spines are black with pronounced yellow and gray lines.

A roosterfish comes boat side before being released near Quepos, Costa Rica.

What is the best place to target roosterfish?

Costa Rica has long been known for its healthy inshore ecosystem which is nourished by its rainforest and rivers that spill food, nutrients, & cover like branches and trees into nearshore waters. This in turn attracts a wide array of baitfish as the base of the aquatic food chain. Adding to the limitless supply of baitfish, the inshore waters where white-sand beaches meet pristine coral reefs provide plentiful habitat that roosterfish call home.

Where are the best inshore fishing grounds in Costa Rica?

The stretch of beach between Playa Herradura & Dominical is well known as the best zone to target roosterfish, snook, and Dogtooth Snapper. Club Pelagic & Marina Pez Vela are located at the midpoint of this great fishery and are only a 20-minute hopper flight from the capital San Jose, Costa Rica.

ROCKSTAR a 32-foot Regulator Center Console is custom rigged for fishing in Costa Rica.

Tips and Tricks to finding the right boat and lodging.

Finding the right charter boat that offers inshore fishing trips can be difficult and takes time, as not all charter boats and crews were created equal. Make sure you are going with an experienced crew that is up to date on all current regulations and safety measures. For our most recent trip, we went on board ROCKSTAR, a 32' regulator center console. As one of the pelagic fleet, she was well equipped with state of the art electronics, top quality tackle, and Shimano reels which is very rare in Costa Rica.

CLUB PELAGIC is an ultra-private gated 2 acre compound with amazing ocean views.

For lodging, we stayed at Club Pelagic, an ultra-private gated 2 acre compound with amazing ocean views and a truly unique blend of nature and luxury just minutes from the marina.

Another option is to rent a V.R.B.O. (vacation rental by owner) that will have basic amenities or stay in a hotel at one of the seaside towns but these “hotels” are definitely not going to be five-star, and the charter boats are nothing more than a basic open panga in most cases.

Angler Barry with an average roosterfish caught just outside the marina.

When is the best time of year to target Roosterfish?

The fishing season here is generally year-round with only slight changes in weather through the year so there is little need to worry about timing your trip. Some veteran anglers prefer going in the summer months to avoid crowds and the fishing pressure of the vacation season.

ROCKSTAR targeting roosterfish along the rocks just outside of Marina Pez Vela.

What are the best fishing techniques to target Roosterfish in Costa Rica?

When roosterfish are stalking bait on the inshore boiler rocks, they are voracious feeders that will attack almost anything from live bait to poppers, and also trolled and cast diving lures. The number one preferred fishing method here that generally yields the best results is slow trolling live baits near structure.

Picture yourself watching as the comb dorsal fin of a rooster comes up behind your live bait giving way to an aggressive bite, a trademark of these inshore predators.

Pro-Tip: when targeting roosterfish, we like to use a mix of 2-3 different baitfish species, such as sardines, moonfish, and blue runners. 

If you don’t have access to live bait, you can also cast poppers to the white water around boiler rocks or troll a spread of diving lipped baits through color changes or over structure, but leave the ultra-light tackle at home, these are tough fish that understand how to use underwater terrain against you!

A large swell hits one of the many boiler rocks that line the coast.

What kind of fishing tackle and gear is needed to catch Roosterfish?

The goal is not only to get bites but to get those fish to the boat to be safely released to fight another day. To do this effectively here’s what I recommend…

  • 7-foot conventional boat rod or spinning rod with medium to heavy action and good casting capability
  • Strong compact conventional reel like the Shimano Talica 16 or 20 two speed reel or a Shimano Saragosa Spinning Reel.
  • 65-pound braid or spectra backing
  • 30 to 40-pound monofilament mainline
  • 40 to 60-pound fluorocarbon leader (drop down to 30 if the fish are being picky)
  • 5/0 or 6/0 Owner circle hooks

Just another sunny day at Manuel Antonio Beach, Costa Rica.

What is the weather like in Costa Rica?

Typically, it gets hot mid-day, with a small chance of patchy evening rain.  The best bet is to bring several pairs of Pelagic fishing shorts, Pelagic sun protection shirts, and a light rain jacket or windbreaker. With long days on the water, fishing from sun-up to sun-down, I definitely recommend bringing a bunch of sunscreens unless you want to get burned.  I prefer the Pelagic brand non-greasy, “reef safe” sunscreen with a 50+ SPF rating, in fact, that’s all I ever use when I’m on the water.

A happy angler with her bucket list roosterfish caught aboard ROCKSTAR.

Final thoughts on planning the ultimate “bucket list” trip to catch Roosterfish.

There is nothing as awe-inspiring as the comb of a Roosterfish zigzagging through the water after your bait or popper.  It seems that time itself slows down as you watch the predatory instinct of the rooster hit as the water explodes around it. The Roosterfish must be on everyone's bucket list. Catching one is an experience that you will never forget.

Ronald “Captain Ron” Kawaja: Captain Ron is the president and founder of Pelagic clothing company and a world-class angler who has traveled the globe for the past 20+ years in search of big fish, exotic fishing destinations, and pure ocean adventure. His voyages have included fishing & competing in the world’s largest and richest sport fishing tournaments; pursuing the elusive “grander” (1,000+ pound marlin or tuna) on rod and reel; and seeking out the world’s ultimate fishing destinations in places like Australia, Africa, Ascension Island, Bahamas, Belize, Brazil, Cabo, Cancun, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Madeira, Nicaragua, Panama, and Puerto Rico (to name a few). Over the years, Captain Ron has won and placed in numerous fishing tournaments around the world, including the prestigious White Marlin Open in Ocean City, MD where he was named “Grand Champion & Top Overall Angler” - to win this title, Kawaja competed against more than 2,000 anglers, and finished in first place. As recently as October 2021, Captain Ron led his team to a first place victory against 189 of the world’s top sport fishing teams at the world famous Bisbee’s Los Cabos Offshore Tournament in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.  As an angler, he has extensive experience in a diverse range of fishing situations, from fighting giant fish up to 1,000 pounds on stand-up tackle, to chasing light line world records, and he credits 100% of his success to all the pro captains and crews he has fished with and learned from over the years.