Day 3: Trout Fishing in the Savegre River
I think it was my bumper sticker that caught their eyes. It reads "Yo quiero la pesca" (I love fishing) and has inspired numerous trips across the country for both freshwater and deep-sea adventures. The small group of Ticos tossing back Imperials at the ripe hour of 10 am had waved me over to their truck. Clad in oversized cowboy hats, they looked to be tailgating on the river's edge and stopped me en route to a nearby waterfall.
They had driven down from Cartago to fly fish the river, and their cooler revealed the spoils of a triumphant morning -- eight fat rainbow trout. I wished I had joined up with them earlier, as I always wanted to learn the graceful art of fly fishing. Besides Wyoming or perhaps Montana, I couldn't imagine a better place to do it.
After leaving the group of fishermen, I was surprised to see that MINAE (the Costa Rican Ministry of Environment) had posted "no fishing" signs along the river, as the trout are so prolific.
Catch and release is permitted, but the reality is that most anglers are largely ignored by authorities. Visitors are encouraged to try the area's stocked trout ponds, many of which are fed from the Savegre.
Savegre Hotel de Montana rents out fishing gear, but didn't have any fly fishing guides available, as there isn't much of a demand these days. So instead, I pulled out a couple of medium trout from one of the ponds, using a conventional rod and fish eggs as bait. Guests are asked to pay for what they "catch" and the hotel restaurant will gladly cook the fish with advance notice.
Nearly the whole village of San Gerardo de Dota raises trout in artificial ponds. In addition to supplementing the family dinner table, the fish are sold to hotels and restaurants throughout Costa Rica, bringing in a steady income. The delicious meat is pink and flavorful, and tastes more like salmon or an arctic char than your typical freshwater trout.
I later met up with a group of birders that had befriended me earlier, and joined them for a walk along one of the lodge's trails. Savegre Hotel de Montana sits on a private reserve of more than 400 hectares of forest, 80% of which is virgin. The reserve is home to 170 species of birds, including the magnificent quetzal, several of which the birders had already spotted that morning.
Someone pointed out a few known quetzal nesting trees, so I parked myself under the shade of an aguacatillo (wild avocado) and waited for the mating pair to return. Forty minutes went by without incident, and my patience was wearing thin. I had to give it to this crowd -- they were an uncomplaining, tolerant lot. Most had been up since 5 a.m., patiently trailing the melodious calls of trogons, woodpeckers, finches and other highland species.
The group ambled on in search of a volcano hummingbird as I waited for my quetzal. I decided to hike another trail and returned late that afternoon just in time to view the male quetzal revisiting his nest. Still amazed by their shimmering jade and crimson colors, I watched him and his mate take turns feeding their young.
A newly arrived group of birders happened by the trail, completely unaware of their good timing. We greeted each other with smiles and I motioned them over, by now feeling like a bit of a quetzal expert, to share the ultimate birders' prize.