Excitement surrounds any fishing trip, but this one was a bit more special than others. The excitement was from the “unknown” surrounding the fishery my good friend PJ and I were heading to experience. Little information and scarce pictures, we were going off the recommendation from one of my co-workers who is actually from the small Ecuadorian seaside town we were visiting, Puerto Lopez. Not much to go off right? Well, it was enough for me. I called up PJ knowing he couldn’t pass up an adventure and the plans were made. We met up at Ft. Lauderdale Airport when the time came and took an easy 4hr flight down to Guayaquil, Ecuador arriving late night. We spent the night in Guayaquil and in the morning we embarked on the 3.5 hour drive through the countryside mountains to the small seaside town of Puerto Lopez where we’d be fishing out of. Though it was raining most of the ride, you could still really see the beauty in nature that this country offers.
We arrived in Puerto Lopez just after noon. By this time is pouring down rain, but we didn’t come to sit in the hotel. Captain Blanco, who runs the charter operation Magic Fishing, was ready to send it. So we did what any sensible fisherman would do, we grabbed our gear and headed down to the dock. Once at the dock, you hop on a panga with 25hp tiller that essentially acts as a water taxi, to take you out to all the boats moored up in the bay. We were greeted with a big smile from Captain Blanco who was excited to have his new friends join him. But what he was even more excited about was the fact that were jig fisherman as he has been doing a ton of research about it and slowly getting into it himself. Once we got all of our gear situated, he pointed his 25ft center console panga NW and headed for Isla la Plata which was about an hour ride. Because we were in the middle of a storm, it was wet and it was windy. You add in the fast moving current they have there, staying vertical was tough. We were only in 100ft of water but we had to resort to around 250g-300g just to be able have some fishable vertical time. We started picking away at the fish. Spotted Rose Snapper came over the rail in numbers. Pacific Creole fish were plentiful as well. Then came the “thump” we were looking for. Needless to say, I wasn’t ready. I got dogged and rocked up with the quickness. At this point, though it sucked, I knew what it felt like now. I learned from it and knew I wasn’t going to let it happen again. The bite slowed down so we moved spots. We pulled up on a rock pile and dropped our jigs and immediately we both hooked up. PJ pulled up a Pacific Creole fish quite quickly but mine was digging. No way it could be the same as his. The fish finally surfaced after a nice fight and it was something I had never seen before. It was gray in color but it had a huge rooster like dorsal fin protruding from its back. Later we found out it was a Graery Threadfin Sea Bass. Not the prettiest fish I’ve ever seen, but definitely one of the most interesting fish I’ve had the pleasure of catching. As we were dealing with my fish, PJ drops back down and hooks up yet again. This time he experienced the same digging runs I did. His fish surfaced and what do you know, another Graery Threadfin Sea Bass. We were stoked! A few drops later I get another “thump,” but not the same type of thump as before. This fish didn’t dig, but rather made hard runs horizontal to the bottom. After a bit of back and forth I was able to get the fish to the surface and upon first sight, I let out a yelp of joy. A fish that’s been on my jig bucket list for quite some time, a Corvina! I had hopes of catching one while down there and for it to happen on the first day had already made the trip for me.
By this time the sun was starting to set so we pointed the bow towards Puerto Lopez and headed for home. This time going with the waves for a much nicer ride. We hopped off the boat and headed back to the hotel for some much need rest and a nice meal. Our Corvina was prepared for us Ecuadorian style. And boy how delicious it was! We headed to bed soon after as we knew we had a very long day ahead of us the next day.
We woke up early morning to be at the dock for a 4:30am departure as we wanted to be to the grounds for the sunrise bite. Today’s conditions were perfect. We really couldn’t have asked for any better. The storm had passed and it was glass calm. We took the nice easy ride back out to the grounds surrounding Isla la Plata and setup for the first light bite. We instantly were in the fish. Snapper after snapper came into the boat. The current was much slower this day so we were able to scale down a bit on jig size. I opted for the JygPro Wyld in 220g. We moved spots as the bite slowed, and I finally felt that “thump” again. This time it was the one. Though it was digging hard, I could tell it wasn’t big. But nonetheless, it was the fish that we traveled down there for, the Broomtail Grouper, the baddest fish on the Ecuadorian reef! What a beautiful fish. With its ray’d dorsal and anal fins, the contrast of the black blotches against its brown body, and then that big ol’ broom shaped tail that sets it apart and gives it its name. Definitely a must target for the grouper lovers out there. A few drops later PJ pulls up a nice Dog Snapper. We made a few more moves and then PJ gets his “thump.” After some aggressive runs back to the bottom, PJ was able to convince this fish to surface, his own Broomtail Grouper and a nice one at that. Now we were happy. We both got the fish we traveled down there for, but we weren’t fully satisfied. We wanted more and we wanted bigger!
It was coming up on lunch time and it was perfect timing because we were quite hungry. While we had been in the stern dropping our jigs, Captain Blanco’s deckhand was up in the bow freshly preparing what is probably the best ceviche I’ve had to date out of the smaller Broomtail Grouper. While we ate we got a visit from one of locals of Isla la Plata, a huge sea lion. It swam around our boat while we drifted along enjoying our lunch. After lunch we wanted to switch it up a bit. We had been fishing the shallows, but we were ready to try and explore some deeper water. Chatting with Captain Blanco on Instagram before our trip I found that he hadn’t really explored much past 150ft of water. Well, after a bit of convincing, he agreed to take us out to some deeper water, but he wasn’t too confident. Now, I say we convinced him, but there was actually a huge language barrier as Blanco doesn’t speak English and me and PJ only know very few words in Spanish. So it was more of pointing at a bunch of depths on the sounder, but you get the idea. Luckily fishing is a universal language so we made it work. So we make about an hour run to the west side of the island and finally pull up in about 400ft. There was a bit of current out there so we both put on 360g. On the very first drift we made, we each made four drops and each caught four fish. PJ’s first fish was a Snowy Grouper and mine was a Southern Rock Bass, another new species! Then came the Damsel Bass, yet another new species for us. Very similar to the Longtail Bass we get at home as they are in the same family. These guys were plentiful. We pretty much caught them every drop out in the deeper water.
Once we got tired of catching the Damsel Bass, we decided to push in close to the island to make some casts for a hopeful Cubera Snapper. I was throwing a Black 80g popper hoping to call one up from the depths. The closer we got to the island, the rougher it got making it a huge challenge to keep balance up on the casting deck. We worked our way around the island for about 45min without a sniff on the popper or stickbaits, so we decided to make some drops in the shallows of the wind protected side of the island with the jig. After a few drops, I get absolutely smoked! I didn’t even stand a chance. Was it that Cubera I was looking for? We’ll never know. While I’m re-rigging, I see some good size tuna busting in the distance. PJ grabs a popping rod and makes a perfect cast in the direction of the fish. The tuna were still about 50yds away from the popper as he started to work it. What a sight it was as you could see the exact moment the fish finally picked up on the popper spitting water. One of the fish instantly changed direction and made a beeline for the lure and soon enough the fish breached the surface again, full body out of the water as it inhaled the popper. The fight was on. Blazing drag screaming runs ensued. It was a tug-o-war battle for a good ten minutes until the fish was suddenly gone. Knot failure. That one hurt the whole boat. It was a good fish. By this time it was late in the afternoon so we started to make our way back towards Puerto Lopez as we had a long journey back being all the way on the farthest side of the island. Along the way we decided to make one last stop for the sunset bite. And boy am I glad we did. What would ensue over the next hour was the greatest jig bite I’ve ever had the pleasure of being apart of.
We pull up on rock pile and start dropping. I was fishing an Orange 220g JygPro Wyld to start. We picked away at a few more snapper. Now at this point I was fishing the Wyld the traditional way, by connecting to the “top” side of the jig. It was fishing a bit too slow for my liking in that particular situation so I decided to switch it up. I knew I wanted to keep the same profile though, so I switched from the Orange Wyld to the Pink Wyld 220g and instead of attaching to the “top” of the jig, I decided to flip it upside down and attach to the “bottom” of the jig. This now put the center of gravity of the jig more towards the bottom allowing me to fish it with a faster cadence. This must have been what the fish wanted because it resulted in an instant hook up on the first drop. That “thump” again. And this time it was a real one. 45lbs of pure Ecuadorian Broomtail! A stud to say the least! The whole boat was ecstatic. These fish really do dog you with everything they have. You have to be quick upon hook up. That was my mistake the first day, I stalled. This time I was on it from the moment of hookup. I tried to break its spirit quick, and I did. Very next drop, “thump” again. Another stud Broomtail! While handling this fish, PJ finally joined in on the action with his own “thump” and a stud of his own. This went on every drop over the next half hour. We pulled 10 Broomtails up along with a bunch of bycatch. But there was one that trumped them all. We’ll never forget it. A team effort if you will. Captain Blanco was also jigging by this point. While we were pulling up fish, he was steady on the stern jigging away until he got that “thump.” And it wasn’t just any “thump” either. This fish made a blistering run back to structure. I’m talking at least 25-30yds. It was a long run. Im instantly thinking Amberjack but Blanco swore it was a grouper. It’s his backyard, so though I had my doubts, I went with his word. The fish finally stopped right in a rock. Now I’m more convinced it’s a grouper. He hands the rod to PJ and backs the boat up over the fish so that the line was vertical and now we play the waiting game. And boy did we wait. About 10 minutes go by and the fish finally comes out of the hole. The fight was far from over. It was still a back and forth battle as PJ willed this fish up on a lefty reel(PJ fishes righty) and it finally surfaced. A true monster class Broomtail Grouper! 65lbs of it! It was epic to see a fish of that size come up on the gear that we use. Yea sure, a little bit of luck helped us, but sometimes it’s needed. It was a great note to end the day on so we secured our gear and headed back to the dock to prepare for the next day.
Again, we were up early to make a 4:30am departure as today was our final day in Ecuador and we needed to make the 3.5hr drive back to Guayaquil to catch our flight home. So we were heading out for a quick 6hr trip. We get to the spot at first light and make our drop. “Thump,” another instant hook up on the Pink 220g Wyld. This jig put in work for me on this trip. Another nice Broomtail surfaced. A few drops later, PJ gets a huge “thump.” After some very hard digs, a stud 50lb Broomtail comes aboard. The current picked up a bit so I switched to a slimmer profile jig and made a few more drops before I got another “thump” and yet another Broomtail. We weeded through some more snapper before we decided to head back out to the deeper grounds to do some more exploring. Captain Blanco was so excited about the success we had out deep the day before that he went home and conversed with some other local captains that night and came back with a whole page of deep drop numbers. So we hit number after number scanning the bottom and dropping jigs, pulling up Damsel Bass and even a Tilefish. But then, PJ got a big “thump” in about 450ft. right on bottom. He’s convinced it’s a grouper, it has to be a grouper. It was fighting just like one. Well, we were in for a real treat. Remember that Southern Rock Bass I mentioned earlier? Yea, that thing surfaced, but about 10 times the size! A true monster for the species and possibly the biggest one anyone has ever seen. Just wow! We messed around out deep for a little while longer until was time to head back and get packed up to fly home. During the 3.5hr ride back to Guayaquil we reminisced about the fishing and culture we just experienced. It’s definitely a must trip for anyone into destination fishing. Between the culture, the food, the hospitality, and ofcourse the fishing, you won’t be disappointed!
By: Tristan Terorotua