It’s no secret that American President Theodore Roosevelt was an avid outdoorsman and proponent of “masculine vigor,” so one almost wonders if he knew that the completion of the Panama Canal would create a number of fantastic fishing spots in Central America.
Of course, we’ll never know if Teddy was thinking about fishing while sitting on that steam shovel in 1906, but we certainly know that the construction efforts resulted in what was at the time the largest man-made lake in the world and is today one of the best spots in the world for Peacock bass fishing.
Gatun Lake, known to the locals simply as Lago Gatún, is an area of over 164 square miles and is dotted with small islands, the tops of hills that were flooded when the construction of the Gatun Dam created the lake.
The area around Lake Gatun is surrounded by thick rainforest, natural protection for its various species of wildlife, and is one of the few places on earth where species native to Central America can be seen in their natural, undisturbed state.
The lake, which is roughly 164 sq miles in size (425 km), now serves as a major component of the Panama Canal crossing and is host to large amounts of shipping traffic. Even so, the primary recreational activity in the Gatun Lake area is fishing, with anglers from around the world flocking to the site for a chance to hook a few of the lake’s abundant Peacock bass (called “Sargento” locally).
Gatun Lake Peacock Bass History
While the Peacock bass is the dominant game fish in the lake, it’s not native to the Panama waters nor is it a true bass fish.
The fish actually a member of the cichlid family and originates from South American waters including the Amazon River – where Peacock bass fishing is wildly popular. It was introduced to Gatun Lake around 1967 by a local businessman (accidentally, some say) and in less than 10 years became the lake’s dominant species.
As it is this turned out very well for everyone, as the Peacock bass has become synonymous with the lake area, are incredibly exciting to catch and make for great eating as well.
They have been compared to the North American largemouth bass but are much more visually striking and, as a gamefish, a more aggressive and tenacious species. Some might call them downright menacing. The males certainly look the part during the spawning season with their pronounced head hump.
Tie on a bright lure or, if you can spot some live minnows or other natural baits, it won’t be long before you are battling one of these spectacular tackle-busting fish.
Lake Tips for the Best Peacock Bass Fishing Experience
Gatun Lake can be easily accessed from Panama City, and since you’ll probably be flying into the city’s Tocumen International Airport, this makes traveling to the spot fairly simple. Car rentals are inexpensive in Panama City and there are plenty of hotels to choose from.
Once you’ve reached the lake, you’ll be able to buy live bait and rent fishing poles and live vests right on the landing; locals will even filet your catch for about 20 cents per fish.
Of course, if you want to just enjoy and let someone else worry about the details, then booking one of the many local fishing guides or Gatun Lake fishing charters are the smart way to go. These guys are local, most speak enough English in case your Espanol isn’t up to snuff and, more importantly, they know precisely where to take you to catch these fun and aggressive fish.
And since, this is their livelihood, they are going to see to it that you come back with fish, after all their reputation and business depend on it. Rates can range from $80 to $400/day depending on the boat and size of the fishing party.
Remember to bring sunblock and a hat, because the sun will be unforgiving so close to the equator. You’ll also want to bring food and drink provisions to the lake as there is nowhere to buy snacks near the landing. We probably don’t have to tell you that bass lures will be your prime choice if you’re bringing your own gear.
Maybe it’s time to check out Lago Gatun for a once-in-a-lifetime fishing experience!
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