Gamboa Rainforest Resort stands at the juncture of the historic Chagres River and the vast Panama Canal. This places it in the midst of a lush jungle habitat with an enticing array of gamefish. Though the area is home to huge numbers of peacock bass — locally called "sargento" — my first mission was the pursuit of the saltwater species that traverse these fresh waters just like the big ships that pass through the rainforest on their way from one ocean to another. The marine gamesters I pursued were the nobility of inshore fighters: snook (robalo), tarpon (sabalo), and cubera snapper (pargo). Mission No. 2 was to enjoy the abundant sargentos.
My nonstop flight from Miami to Tocumen International Airport took less than three hours. I quickly identified the resort driver for the transfer drive by the well-marked sign he carried and his crisp attire. He quickly loaded the luggage and my rod tube into the Gamboa van and we were off!
I was delighted that our one-hour ride from the airport to the resort took us through Panama City. I was impressed by the modern skyscrapers, tree-lined streets, and rows of cafes that passed by through the windows of our van — some particularly upscale streets and section of the city reminded me of Paris.
After a quick check-in, I was escorted to my room, which was well appointed and decorated with the vibrant colors and textures of the local Hispanic and native Embera cultures. But the best feature of my room was the view from the balcony, which afforded a striking vista of the pools, fountains and manicured gardens that abutted the banks of the Chagres River and was topped off by a rising horizon of misty-topped and deeply forested hills.
I took advantage of my free afternoon to explore the pools, multi-tiered lobby, spa and fitness center, meeting rooms, tennis courts and grand ballroom. As dusk descended on the region, I choose the Chagres Riverview Restaurant amongst the three eateries for dinner and lingered over a gourmet-quality meal of sauteed scallops, fresh shrimp, spinach and goat cheese salad, and filet mignon
Next Day: Fishing
Dawn came in seemingly no time at all. I hurried to the lobby and greeted my guide Benjy, who spoke very fine English. It took only 10 minutes to get downhill to the marina, load up our vessel and get underway.
On the way to our first spot — about a 15-minute ride — our captain oriented me to the odds of our quest. Since he'd have only a day and a half to fish with me, he felt that any snook or tarpon caught during that time would be a victory. He explained that trolling these vast waters with plugs presented a far greater challenge than cherry picking the big schools of inlet snook with live bait in my home waters of south Florida; as I gazed across these seemingly endless jungle habitat, I heartily agreed.
Our "cruising for a bruising" with a linesider or silver king began with testing the tracking of each swimming plug alongside the boat. When we saw each lure dance the rumba that seemed to pulse throughout this friendly country, we'd let the lures back about 100 feet behind us.
The fishing on day one was a bright stoic affair that resulted in three hard jolting strikes, but no hookups. Benjy opined that the strikes were not the engulfing hits that a cloudier day with less cautious fish would afford. We agreed to begin the next day an hour earlier, as so Benjy could be at our first spot in the lowest light conditions possible.
Day two began as the misty morning he was looking for. Within the first 10 minutes I had a massive strike and jumped a tarpon over 80 pounds. After trolling 100 yards more down the jungle shore, Benjy turned the boat around. As my lure completed its arc and resumed a straight track on the troll, I heard a solid strike and struck hard. Since the drag whizzed out with no accompanying jump, we quickly assumed we hooked a snook. Within two more minutes, our hunch was confirmed as a nice 9-pound fish was swung aboard and released. Ten minutes later, I had another strike, which yielded a slightly larger snook. The action slowed as the day heated up, but Benjy's broad smile only confirmed we'd achieved our goal not once but twice in a new exotic and wonderful destination.
Now, we were ready to have a go at all those prolific sargento. Benjy ran his vessel for about an hour into a vast side bay loaded with trees. He proceed to navigate carefully through their midst until he found a relatively open area. After letting out the anchor, he took out ultralight spinners rigged with either small hooks and split shot or small bucktails.
When the smoke cleared in two hours, we had released over 40 plump sargento!
- While Panama is one of the most developed central/south American counties, it also features some of the finest pristine jungle and coastal habitat in the western hemisphere. In addition, this country's politics are stable and its peoples are extremely friendly.
- Spanish is Panama's official language, although English is widely spoken.
- Panama's year-round temperatures range from 75 to 90 degrees. The dry season runs from late November to April. The wet or green season runs from May to early November.
- While Panama's official national currency is the Balboa (which is equivalent to the U.S. dollar), the de facto currency in circulation IS the U.S. dollar and there is no need for change of currencies.
- Air transportation to Panama is simple. There are more than 10 daily flights from hubs in the U.S. and daily flights to almost every Latin American city.
Gamboa Rainforest Resort