We get fishing trip requests every day, but they are for tarpon and snook on the Caribbean, billfish, tuna, dorado and inshore species on the Pacific and often for rainbow bass at Lake Arenal or bobo, mojara, tepemechín and others in our low-elevation rivers.
But trout in the tropics? Not the usual request, but it did bring back memories. Yes, we do have rainbow trout in some of our rivers, and I first fished them here on the Savegre in 1984, the year after I moved to Costa Rica from California.
The late Archie Fields, who pioneered tarpon and snook fishing at the Rio Colorado Lodge on the northern Caribbean coast, called on a Friday afternoon.
"Jerry, how would you like to go trout fishing tomorrow," he asked.
Tut he wasn't kidding. By 6 a.m. we were headed west on the pot-holed Pan American Highway out of the central valley, climbing into the mountains toward San Isidro General; the road that eventually gets you to Golfito. Nearly three hours later, we turned north at the San Gerardo sign onto a dirt road that drops into a deep valley cloud forest of the Talamanca Mountain Corridor, enclosed by towering pine trees and with fast-running streams and semi-tropical trees and vegetation I had never seen before.
We forded streams, slipping and sliding along what might better be called a trail than a road, for nine kilometers on that first trip, but finally came to the headwaters of the Savegre River and Cabinas Chacón. We were greeted by Efrain Chacón who with his brother Federico homesteaded the region more than 40 years ago, living in a cave while they cleared forest to pasture cattle and plant apple and peach trees and erect a home where they raised large families
Archie and I saw three Resplendent Quetzales, on the way in, and this region, with an altitude of over 7,000 feet, is still known to have the highest population in the world of this rarest of birds along with others that make this region a Mecca for serious bird-watchers. They have a bird list of resident and migratory species found on the 865 acre property that numbers in the hundreds.
There were only three one-room cabins at the time Archie and I first visited, and they gave the word "humble" a whole new dimension. We spent the night, and yes, we were fed well and did get a few rainbow from the river.
I was long overdue for a return visit and in late August, and prompted by a pending trip from a possible South Carolina trout fisherman, headed up the mountain, with photographer Greg Widdowson and his friend Fabiola Alfaro.
The highway is in much better condition now than it was in 1983, about two hours drive from San Jose to the turnoff at kilometer 80. You turn north at the sign marking San Gerardo, and continue nine kilometers on the road that drops into the valley. It is partially paved now, but still not a drive for the faint-of-heart and I recommend you keep it in low gear and drive a 4X4. We passed at least a half-dozen or more modern resorts, hotels and restaurants along the way to what is now known as Savegre Hotel de Montaña.
Efrain, now 77 years old and very active, was there to meet us. His brother Federico passed away two years ago at age 72. But Efrain doesn't have to look far for help. He sired five sons and six daughters; Federico, five daughters and six sons. They and there children are actively involved in the project.
The family now has 30 magnificent rooms, most with a fireplace. There is an immense restaurant and lounge, with an all-you-can eat buffet, riding stable, guides for fishing and for nature and birding tours, waterfall visits and horseback rides. Room rates are moderate, even with all meals included. Daily shuttle bus service between San Jose and the Hotel Savegre is also available at moderate cost for feint-hearted drivers.
Cattle graze in the pastures, and acres of apple and peach trees bloom along the softly flowing hillsides.
With little time to spare on our one-day fact-finding and photography mission, we headed for the Savegre on arrival. It appeared unchanged from my previous visit 20 years ago, a beautiful natural river that reminded me a lot of some narrow sections of the Kern River that I fished many decades ago in California, with fast water and small rainbow trout in the pools. But with a bum leg, this old man is no longer up to the hiking needed to get to the best spots in the few hours we had there, so had to be satisfied with a few reluctant strikes by seven- to nine-inchers.
The Chacón family introduced rainbow fingerlings into the river system in 1960 and began raising them commercially 12 years ago. They are now the major commercial producer of trout in Costa Rica with acres of ponds for commercial production supplying this nation's markets and restaurants with the fresh fish. They also have a dozen or more small lakes, alive with rainbows to three and four kilos and loan tackle to visitors who want to catch their own, charging 1800 colones per kilo (about $1.85 per pound).
But how did trout get to Costa Rica in the first place?
We have heard a number of conflicting reports, but the most consistent is that they were originally introduced as fingerlings imported from Mexico about 1959 and planted in the Rio Coto Bruz and Rio Cotón, not far from the town of San Vito south of Golfito.
They became more firmly established here more than a decade later when eggs from a hatchery in Oregon were introduced into the headwaters of the Savegre River and are now wild in a number of other Costa Rica rivers as well, including the Rios Macho and Humo in this same area, and the Rio Orósi, closer to the central valley. We've heard, however, that much of that lower elevation population was lost in heavy flooding about a year ago. There is a government trout hatchery not far from San Gerardo de Dota at Ojo de Agua, so it appears they may one day become a staple on local dinner tables.
For assistance in planning a trip to Costa Rica, whether for fishing, white water rafting, diving, canopy ascent, jungle river and rainforest visit, hot springs, volcanoes, archaeological exploration or any combination of the above and anything else you want to see and do here: Go to the Costa Rica Outdoors website at www.costaricaoutdoors.com, or call Jerry toll free at the Costa Rica office: 1-800 308-3394.
Text by Jerry Ruhlow and pictures by Savegre Lodge. The team of 1-CostaRicaLink wishes you the best of times in our little paradise called Costa Rica.
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