I just got back from my spearfishing trip to Panama. My dive partner Dave and I had heard so much about the fishing off the Pacific coast of the Azuero Peninsula that we decided long ago to make this our next vacation destination. We packed up our wives and gear, and what a fabulous trip it was! Everything was perfect, but the most exciting part was definitely the “tuna coast” spearfishing. I’d call it a once in a lifetime experience, but when I go again next year, I expect more of the same.
We dove at a site called Los Frailes, near the formerly sleepy fishing town of Pedasi, which is now receiving quite a bit of attention from spearos, deep sea fishermen and free divers. Los Frailes is formed by two large rock pinnacles that form a sort-of protected cove where all types of big game fish aggregate, it also attracts schools of large predator fish and some sharks as well.
I was carrying my trusty Rob Allen 140 cm tuna speargun, which has served me well in Mexico and off the Florida Keys. I've always called it my lucky gun, and it came through once again.
The deep sea fisherman were having no problem hauling in the big tuna from the deep water around Los Frailes. They were too deep for Dave and me to reach, however, but we weren’t expecting to catch tuna. We were fishing for some fat amberjacks and snappers. After diving down to around 40 feet, we realized this was how great this spot was. Our local captain knew his stuff. There were so many fish that we couldn’t believe it. We saw grouper, roosterfish, snapper, wahoo, and even some tuna.
After spearing numerous 8 to 12 pound amberjacks at around 30 - 40 feet, I saw a rock formation that looked promising. I slipped over to it and waited. I wasn’t waiting for long. I saw a nice dog tooth snapper (pargo rojo as they say in Panama), slide past the rock within a few meters of me. I don’t even think he saw me. I snuck around the rock and there he was, still just about 3 meters away. My heart was pounding. I took aim and let it fly. Bullseye! He weighed in at 35 pounds and was the main course for our shoreside seafood feast that night.
After taking several more large amberjacks we heading back to the boat to go home and show off our catch to our wives. As we were swimming toward the boat, I heard Dave calling my name from about 15 meters ahead of me. He pointed down emphatically, and then he dipped under the water. I looked down but saw nothing. Then suddenly I realized what Dave was talking about. I couldn’t believe what we saw below us. There were hundreds, maybe thousands, of sting rays slowly, gracefully passing by a mere five meters beneath us. They were everywhere, filling the ocean as far as we could see and beyond. They were a giant, undulating, underwater cloud of sting rays. It was ghostly, mesmerizing and definitely the highlight of the trip.
Like I said, we’ll be back next year. I don’t know if we’ll be lucky enough to see another school of sting rays, but next time I'm bringing a GoPro camera, just in case. I recommend Los Frailes and the Azuero Peninsula in Panama highly. If you go there for a little spearfishing, I’m sure you’ll see what I mean.
Hope to see you down here one day, get in touch.