Jungle Quest - Tarpon & Machaca Combo

The Ultimate Costa Rican Rainforest Adventure

Anglers travel around the world to experience “jungle fishing”. Towering rainforest trees, rugged landscapes and wildlife, and of course exotic fishing. Some anglers treat these jungle experiences as once-in-a-lifetime adventures, while others get a taste and start searching out even more remote expeditions. We consider Costa Rica the perfect fit for both categories, and with this in mind we’ve designed a combination trip which brings together two of our wildest fisheries into a week-long action-packed adventure. We present to you the Jungle Quest – Tarpon & Machaca Combo.

PART 1 – Jungle Tarpon

The week starts on the Rio Colorado, where anglers target truly giant tarpon. This mighty river on the northern Caribbean coast has long been celebrated as one of the world’s greatest tarpon aggregation points. The coastline consists of sparsely settled rainforest and lagoon systems, where dark volcanic beaches host massive annual sea turtle nesting events and serpentine rivers slowly wind their way through the verdant jungle towards the sea. The bocas, or mouths, of these rivers form rich ecosystems for many predatory fish, including snapper, jacks, and of course legendary numbers of prehistoric tarpon. 

There is a reason that generations of fishermen have flocked to this legendary tarpon destination. The sheer numbers of giant tarpon on the Rio Colorado on the northern Caribbean coast are simply remarkable. At key times of the year huge schools of adult tarpon congregate in various river mouths like the Colorado, where they engage in mass feeding and migratory behavior. There are days where tarpon are rolling and blasting bait as far as the eye can see. On such standout days, anglers have the opportunity to hook and jump incredibly high numbers of large adult tarpon from 80 to 200+ lbs. This river in particular is world famous for incredible numbers of tarpon, and while new tarpon destinations in Cuba and Nicaragua have gained notable reputations in recent decades the fishing around the Rio Colorado and several other rivers in close proximity has remained some of the best for adult tarpon. 

PART 2 – Machaca Float

After a few days of fighting giant tarpon, the trip transitions to a machaca river deep in the rainforest. This welcome change from ocean tarpon allows anglers to settle into a more relaxed rhythm as they target a truly incredible fish native to Costa Rica’s lowland rivers – the machaca.

A distant relative to the Amazon’s piranha, Brycon costaricensis or the machaca, is an interesting and highly enjoyable fish to pursue on fly. The fish inhabit lakes and fast moving rivers in lowland drainages of Costa Rica. At first glance, the row of ferocious teeth lining the machaca’s grin speaks of a savage predator of smaller fish, and yet this is not entirely true. Juvenile machaca do eat aquatic and terrestrial insects, but as the fish grow to adulthood their diets turn largely vegetarian, consuming any fruit,  flowers, and leaves that fall into the waters they patrol.

Slapping poppers and fruit flies onto the surface of the river to mimic the falling edibles entices aggressive topwater takes, and on some windy days when the trees crowning the river are ripe sudden gusts shower down fruit or flower pedals much to the joy of many surface feeding machaca. Its not often that one can speak of the fantastic flower hatch that happened throughout the course of a fly fishing day while floating down a remote jungle river!


What’s Fishing Like on the Jungle Quest – Tarpon & Machaca Combo

Coupling an iconic ocean tarpon destination like the Rio Colorado, where giant tarpon will test one’s strength and fish fighting abilities, with a machaca river float trip experience, where anglers will cast topwater flies at aggressive and exotic fish, is a combination that gives anglers a true jungle experience. And what’s even better, this amazing adventure is all packed within a week!

Part 1 – Tarpon

Anglers start by fishing the historic boca (mouth) of the Rio Colorado and Rio Tortuguero on Costa Rica’s northeastern border with Nicaragua, where massive schools of tarpon congregate like nowhere else on the planet. Double and triple hookups are very common, requiring anglers to duck and weave around the boat as silver scales fly. Follow in the footsteps of some of fly fishings pioneers like Lefty Kreh, Flip Pallot, Billy Pate, Mark Sosin, Stu Apte, and many others as you battle it out with huge tarpon for 4 days in the ocean. You’ll likely never see more tarpon in your life!

To offset the ocean fishing (or to just give arms, backs, and legs a break from battling massive tarpon), anglers are also encouraged to spend a day exploring some of the incredible lagoons fishing close by. Trade in the heavy rods for lighter 5-8 weight rods and chase a variety of exotic tropical species, including snook, snapper, jacks, machaca, and colorful cichlids like the rainbow bass (guapote), jaguar guapote, and black belt. 

Part 2 – Machaca

Machaca are extremely aggressive, and throwing poppers behind overhanging branches along the bank often triggers several fish to attack from below. Once hooked, the fish are as aerial as mini tarpon and as strong as any other river fish, doggedly pulling into roots and snags in an effort to break free. Its great sport, and in our opinion one of the most underestimated fish for fly out there. If South America’s pacu is the “river permit” then its only appropriate that the machaca is the “river bonefish”.

The fishing is from a whitewater rafts operated driftboat style and suitable for 2 anglers. We recommend 6-8 weight rods to help reduce arm fatigue from throwing large poppers throughout the day. Most machaca weigh around 2-6 lbs, but there are many larger fish in the river and you’ll be happy to have a little extra rod if you connect with one of these powerful 7+ lbers. Leaders can be fished to 20 lbs. with a small piece of 40 lb. fluorocarbon acting as a bite tippet. Flies generally match whats in season, and we recommend panfish and largemouth poppers in green, yellow, orange, and red for the various types of fruiting and flowering trees with a few extras in black and white to mimic the machaca’s favorite treat – bird poop. We will also have plenty of large wooden or cork fruit flies to get the fish really eager to eat.


What’s the Season for the Jungle Quest – Tarpon & Machaca Combo


What’s Lodging & Food Like on the Jungle Quest – Tarpon & Machaca Combo

On the coast, anglers stay at a private, family-run lodge right on the water and surrounded by a beautiful garden and lots of wildlife. While the accommodations are simple, the proximity to the fishing grounds means anglers don’t miss a beat. The run is only about 10 minutes. Anglers share clean 2 and 3 bed cabinas complete with AC and fan. The on-site restaurant serves some of the Caribbean’s most delicious Afro-caribe meals. The desserts are to die for!

The lodging on the machaca river is a simple but comfortable jungle ecolodge. Wake to the sound of howler monkeys and toucans just outside your door, and enjoy the simple yet delicious Costa Rican cuisine prepared on-site each day. If anglers have extra energy after all the fishing, the area abounds with many ecotour options, including a chocolate tour, rainforest night hike, and more!

Rough Itinerary Breakdown – Jungle Quest – Tarpon & Machaca Combo


  • Day 1 – Arrival in San Jose, Costa Rica (SJO). Lodging in San Jose for 1 night. 
  • Day 2 – Early morning transfer to the Rio Colorado. 1/2 day fishing the Rio Colorado and Rio Tortuguero. Lodging Rio Colorado Tarpon Club.
  • Day 3/4 – Full days fishing the Rio Colorado and Rio Tortuguero. Lodging Rio Colorado Tarpon Club.
  • Day 5 – 1/2 day fishing the Rio Colorado and Rio Tortuguero. Early afternoon transfer to machaca river. Lodging ecolodge near river.
  • Day 6 – Machaca float trip. Lodging ecolodge near river.
  • Day 7 – Machaca float trip. Afternoon transfer to San Jose. Lodging in San Jose for 1 night.
  • Day 8 – Departure from Costa Rica (SJO).