Panama's Primal Spirit

In the realm of adventure, Panama reigns supreme, a true wild frontier. Jungles and the mighty Pacific create a region filled with significant biodiversity and wilderness. Add kayak fishing into the mix and you know you are in for an adventure of a lifetime.

The journey to our destination was quite the adventure in itself, involving a mix of transportation methods. It was a mix of small planes, pangas, ATVs, and a bit of hiking, which absolutely kept things interesting.

All and all, after a total of 58 hours from the moment I stepped out of my front door, I found myself on a kayak in the Pacific, feeling the thrill of the open water.

But let me tell you, that was just the tip of the iceberg logistically compared to what it took to get those kayaks onto that beach.

A whopping 39 days – that's how long it took from the production line in our factory in western North Carolina to the sandy shores of Panama. We meticulously rigged up the freshly molded Bonafide PWRs with motors and stuffed them full of Shimano fishing gear before loading them onto an 18-wheeler bound for Miami. From Miami, it was a journey which pushed through the iconic Panama Canal, a passage that added a nice touch of historical allure to their adventure. Then, on to Panama City, where the kayaks were transferred onto a supply boat headed for the small border town of Jaque, nestled just a stone's throw from Colombia.

All said and done, it was almost 40 days of anticipation, logistics, and a fair bit of elbow grease before we could drop a line into the waters of Panama from the comfort of our PWRs.

Touching down on that rugged dirt runway in Jaque, the thrill of adventure coursed through our veins like electricity. In the cabin of a 10-passenger plane, we knew we were about to dive headfirst into the heart of it all. We bounced down the runway on the slightly bald and deflated airplane tires and began to unload everything on a Kawaski MULE. We had a mix of Yeti Pangas, backpacks, fishing gear all to load up.

With our bags and fishing gear piled into the back of a trusty UTV, we ventured forth, walking down the town's dirt sidewalks. Amongst the small border town, the laughter of barefoot children echoed in the air, while curious gazes followed our every step.It was a mile-long trek from the airport to our house, but in that small Panamanian town, Jaque, became our own personal "Everest Base Camp" – a sanctuary to prepare for the exhilarating journey ahead.

Nestled along the ocean's edge, the house in Jaque was a haven like no other. With its hand-carved wooden beams and open-air living room, it exuded a rustic charm that whispered of tales untold. Yet, with its quaint exterior were modern comforts - running water and air conditioning in the bedrooms, a welcome respite from the tropical heat and punishing humidity.

But it was the backyard that stole the show. Just beyond the edge of the property, the mighty Pacific stretched out before us, its waves crashing against the shore with a rhythmic intensity. As the sun dipped low on the horizon, painting the sky in hues of gold and crimson, the beach transformed into a canvas of breathtaking beauty.

We gathered to hammer out the final details of our expedition. With the wild awaiting beyond the horizon, the house in Jaque served as the perfect backdrop for our preparations, a sanctuary of tranquility before the storm of adventure.

Hours of planning and rigging ensued from the back porch overlooking the beach. Motor batteries hummed with life as they charged and all the remaining gear was spread out in piles. Complete and utterly organized chaos. With maps spread out before us, we confirmed the tides, charting the perfect window for launching our pangas from the mouth of the Jaque River and into the waiting embrace of the Pacific.

Our game plan was tight, and we knew it had to be. After all the rods were rigged and ready for paddle we crashed out for the evening.

Before the sun had even begun to paint the sky, 5 AM had arrived quickly. It was go time, the moment we had been waiting for months to take place. Our true expedition was about to be underway.

With gear strapped tight to the UTV, we set out into the predawn darkness, following a winding trail from the house to the waiting pangas. Through the veil of night, the path unfolded before us. As the minutes ticked by, the trail wound its way through the town, the quiet streets giving way to the “port.” There, on the sandy shores, a couple of pangas stood ready and waiting, like steadfast steeds awaiting their riders.

We made trip after trip from the UTV to the waiting pangas, ferrying our gear across the sandy river beach until every last piece was accounted for. And then, with a sense of anticipation hanging heavy in the air, we begin to set our course for a secluded beach nestled along the coast of the Darien Jungle.

If you have ever been in a fully loaded panga in the river mouth pushing into the surf, you know that timing is everything. Carlitos, our panga driver, tested the engine before patiently waiting for the right moment. To get through the river mouth and into the surf. He waited and waited and waited, then all the sudden… he gunned it! We were now out of the river mouth and dodging breakers mid way through the surf. Break after break, driving the panga up and over then down a swell, circling while waiting for the perfect time to bust through the back line of breakers. We circled in the surf for 10 minutes waiting for that moment… Carlitos floored it and then we were off!

As we rode along the coastline, the vast expanse of blue water and lush jungle stretched out before us, a panorama of untamed beauty that seemed to go on forever. With each passing mile, the gravity of our journey began to sink in, the culmination of weeks of meticulous planning finally coming into focus.

Pulling into camp, the air crackled with anticipation, the realization of what lay ahead settling upon us like a heavy blanket… or maybe that was just the humidity. As we entered the bay and saw the beach where we would be camping, we knew this would be a moment etched into our memories for all time.

The beach sprawled out before us, a pristine strip of sand bordered by the dense foliage of the jungle behind it. Two canvas tops of tents were on the southern portion of the shoreline, beckoning us to our temporary home amidst the wilderness. Above, howler monkeys added their voices to the chorus of nature, while parrots soared overhead and hermit crabs scuttled across the sand at our feet.

With a sense of purpose, we set to work unloading our gear and preparing our kayaks for the adventure that awaited us. By now, the excitement was intense, each of us itching to hit the water and cast our lines in search of a monster. We pulled the kayaks down to the surf and loaded them with gear. It was time. The PWRs were built for this and so were we.

Let’s go!

It was a surreal moment. There we were, busting through the rolling surf as we launched our kayaks from one of the most remote jungles in the world. We were a hundred miles from the nearest road, and a mere thirty feet from the endless possibilities that awaited us in the vast expanse of the Pacific.

As we left the dense jungle canopy behind us and emerged into the open waters, a sense of exhilaration washed over us. Massive rock formations rose from the bay, their rugged silhouettes a testament to the untamed beauty of our surroundings. Everywhere we looked, the water seemed to teem with life, beckoning us further into its depths. We were locked in and fully immersed in the moment.

The Bonafide PWR129, with its foot-controlled motor steering, immediately proved to be a critical asset in this environment. With currents and waves breaking around us, the PWR allowed us to keep our hands off paddles and focus on fishing. It was our first afternoon on the water and we ended up covering five miles of open water. Yet, despite our best efforts, the fishing proved to be a challenge. Hour after hour slipped by, the sun climbing high in the sky as we cast our lines again and again, only to come up empty-handed. We watched tuna leaping from the water and rays busting through the surface, but nothing was hitting. With each passing moment, we remained locked in the pursuit, driven by the promise of the next cast and the hope of landing that one elusive catch that would make it all worth it.

After a long afternoon on the water, we began to motor back to camp. We were all pretty exhausted and a bit disappointed with the fishing, but brimming with anticipation of what the first night of jungle camping would be like. We rode the surf and there we were…

Our guides cooked up a solid dinner which hit the spot after a long few days. After dinner, we were beat and ready for bed.

Darkness here hits differently. There is no light pollution. And when I say no light pollution, I mean none, zilch, nada, nothing. It really feels like it is just you and the universe when you look up. It is truly three dimensional. You can see the layers and layers of stars. It’s something you can’t really describe unless you are there, on the beach hearing the waves and sounds of the vast array of insects, against the jungle and gazing up.

As we sat on hand carved wooden benches under the canvas tent the next morning for breakfast, there was an undeniable buzz of excitement in the air. The anticipation of another day filled with adventure was palpable, and it seemed to infect each and every one of us. We quickly devoured our breakfast and coffee. The caffeine was a nice jolt to get the day going. We were ready to hit the water, to dive headfirst into the unknown once more.

As we made our way through the surf, our eyes lingered on the dense jungle behind us. The morning mist hung heavy in the air, but there was a sense that it was slowly receding, making way for the day ahead. Despite the overcast sky, the bay was calm and looked really fishy.

With a sense of purpose and anticipation, we hammed down on the kayak motor throttle, guiding our PWRs towards a reef that we had heard held fish in the past. The kayaks were running fast and smooth across the calm water. There was a quiet confidence among us as we approached the reef, a feeling that we were on the brink of something special. With each passing moment, the anticipation built, our hearts pounding like we were getting ready for battle. We approached the reef…

In the blink of an eye, our patience was rewarded. Just two casts, and Justin was locked in battle with a feisty Yellowfin Tuna, the promise of a delicious dinner hanging in the balance. If you've ever tangled with a tuna before, you know the intensity of the fight – fast, furious, and utterly exhilarating. From the vantage point of a kayak, the battle takes on a whole new dimension. There is a sense of pure exhilaration, a thrill that can only come from facing nature's raw power head-on. In a kayak, you really get the opportunity to get face-to-face with that raw power. Justin finally emerged victorious, hauling his prize catch (and dinner) aboard the PWR.

We fished the reef a bit longer and then aimed to cover a lot more water next to the rocky shoreline. We had live bait we caught from sabiki rigs in tow on all kayaks while we trolled big divers. Once to the shoreline, Trevor started throwing soft plastics against the rocks. It wasn’t much longer before he was hooked up! Trevor was on a nice rock snapper. The fight was fierce, the snapper putting up a valiant struggle as Trevor battled to bring it aboard.. Dinner was going to be absolutely killer tonight!

We pressed on. Mile after mile covered in the PWRs. We ended up covering nearly twelve water miles throughout the day. Unfortunately after the rock snapper, the bite really shut off. The upside was that the scenery was absolutely spectacular...

But we were not here for just the scenery. We were here for the species as well. As we were losing light we entered the bay where our camp was located then all of the sudden…

BAM! Fish on! Trevor was hooked up! The drag was screaming. After a few suspenseful moments, there it was – the iconic roosterfish, a true trophy of the inshore Pacific. Trevor landed it a mere 100 yards from our camp, a reminder that sometimes the best fishing spots are sometimes right at the “ramp.” The fight was ferocious and eventually he got it landed. The rooster had vibrant colors that shimmering in the sunlight from her dorsal fins.It was a moment we hoped would come during our expedition and here it was…

After Trevor released the rooster, we motored back the short ride to camp after a long day on the water.

We pulled the kayaks out of the water and walked up the beach to our camp. We were all thinking about the dinner of fresh tuna and snapper that lay ahead. Immediately Diego, our trip leader and incredible chef along with Darrett, our fishing guide, went to work. They prepared an absolute feast.

And when I say feast, I mean a culinary experience like no other – some of the freshest tuna imaginable, caught mere hours before, and prepared with the utmost care. Freshly sliced for sushi and some set aside and grilled to perfection over an open flame, it was a meal that transcended the ordinary, a symphony of flavors with each bite. It was the kind of meal that lingers in your memory, haunting your taste buds long after the last morsel has been savored. It's the kind of meal that spoils you for anything less, forever changing your perspective on eating fish. No local restaurant close to home could hope to replicate the perfection of that moment, leaving you forever chasing the ghost of that unforgettable meal. Yet, for all its splendor, it's a curse that you gladly carry.

We were exhausted and that incredible meal put us over the edge. We rigged our rods in preparation for our last day of fishing by headlamp. We were ready for the morning and it was time to rest up to prepare for the last day of kayak fishing from camp.

As the dawn of day three broke over the horizon, a renewed sense of determination surged within us. We hungered for more fish. Anticipation crackled in the air like electricity, charging the atmosphere with an unparalleled energy. With hearts pounding and adrenaline coursing through our veins, we were ready to dive headfirst into the fray… and dive we did…

We started by motoring out to a point we could see about two miles in the distance fishing a bit on the way. As we ventured further from shore, the seas grew rougher, the swells rising and falling becoming more unpredictable.. It was a wild and untamed landscape, where the line between confidence and recklessness blurred with each passing moment. The seas became so rough that kayaks were disappearing between the swells. But we were determined.

The waves were pounding the shoreline but everyone was feeling really comfortable in their kayaks after three days of mastering their foot controlled steering. It was a fine balance of staying back from the rocks, but getting close enough to make those cast over the fish. At times, the sheer walls of water and rock loomed ominously around us, a reminder of the raw power of the Pacific. We teetered on the edge of danger, ever mindful of the risks right in front of us. You had to be ready to back out quickly. The overwhelming allure of making that perfect cast along with the current would draw you in close. You really needed to be completely aware or else the consequences would be dire.

We arrived at the point and it was spectacular.

Justin had been throwing top water the whole trip. He probably made over a thousand casts in the three days. With just a handful of casts, he was rewarded with a pounding strike, the water exploding in a flurry of foam and spray as a mighty predator surged from the depths. The reel was screaming as the fish dove deep. The line taut with tension as the battle of wills commenced. The drag continued to pull as the fish continued diving.

For ten minutes the fight continued until the fish finally surfaced next to the kayak. Justin was now face to face with the coveted BlueFin Trevally. The brilliant blues radiated from the fish as he pulled it out of the water. It was a fish of a lifetime.

With the adrenaline still pumping from Justin's epic battle, Marshall wasted no time in moving down the coastline. As he skillfully maneuvered around the rocky outcroppings, his line suddenly went taut, the unmistakable sound of the drag screaming filling the air.

Marshall had been trolling a deep diver, and whatever had taken the bait was putting up a fight to remember. The fish dove deep, its powerful strokes threatening to drag Marshall into the depths along with it. But Marshall was undeterred, using every trick in the book to keep the beast at bay.

With skill and determination, Marshall reversed the motor, pulling the fish away from the treacherous rocks and into clearer waters. Yet, despite his efforts, the battle raged on, the fish refusing to yield to its fate.

After what felt like an eternity of back-and-forth, the water suddenly erupted in a flurry of activity. A solid form emerged from the depths, its colors shimmering in the sunlight. It was a big Broomtail Grouper!

Right after the grouper was released, all eyes moved to Trevor. Trevor was fishing hard and the bite seemed to be on so we had a feeling it would not take long. And then, as if on cue, it happened – a sudden, violent strike. The soft plastic never made it to the bottom before getting absolutely smashed. Trevor was hooked up! The fish kept trying to find its way back into the rocks, time and time again. The Shimano setup was the weapon in hand and it was going to win the endurance battle. After a few more minutes of fighting, an absolute giant of a rock snapper emerged. The battle was over.

As if the thrill of the catch couldn't get any better, the action continued to unfold before our eyes, each moment brimming with excitement and anticipation. It was a veritable parade of species, as we added one fish after another to our list of conquests.

From the sleek and silvery African Pompano to the lightning-fast Spanish Mackerel, every catch brought with it a surge of adrenaline and a sense of triumph. The waters were teeming with life.

With each new species added to our tally – the ominous Houndfish, the powerful Almaco Jack, Big Eye Jacks, the ferocious Jack Crevalle – our spirits soared higher, fueled by the thrill of the chase.

It was a whirlwind of excitement, a testament to the boundless wonders that awaited us beneath the surface.

As the sun began its slow descent towards the horizon, casting a golden glow over the now tranquil waters, we couldn't help but reflect on the incredible journey we had embarked upon. It had been a whirlwind of adventure, a rollercoaster of highs and lows, but above all, it had been an experience we would never forget.

There is just something refreshing in the spirit of an expedition like this that puts you right in the thick of the wild. It leaves you changed forever, even as you have so many moments where time stands still. It's a primal spirit within each of us, a spirit that makes you hungry for more, a spirit that can't wait. You just have to get out there and experience it for yourself... So what are you waiting for?

Tyler Brown
COO, BIG Adventures

With an expedition like this it requires a solid team. Here is everyone who made this possible…

  • Hennie Marias: Owner Paddle Panama and Host
  • Diego Marquez: Trip Lead, Master Chef and Manager at Paddle Panama
  • Tropic Star Lodge: Critical Logistics Support
  • Marlon: Fishing Guide
  • Darrett Cortes: Fishing Guide
  • Carlitos: Panga Driver / Guide
  • Jacobo: Panga Driver / Guide
  • Justin Floyd: Angler and Kayak Rigging Master, Creator, Fishing Director at BIG Adventures
  • Trevor Soety: Angler, Creator
  • Marshall Stamps: Angler, Creator
  • Cam Easler: Photographer, Creator
  • Tyler Domingue: Videographer
  • Christine Stahr: Executive Producer
  • Tyler Brown: On Site Producer and COO at BIG Adventures

Our gear…

  • Bonafide PWR129 Fishing Kayaks
  • Shimano Saragosa 6000XG
  • Shimano Trevala 66
  • Shimano Terez 72
  • Shimano Speedmaster Reels
  • Shimano Orca Lures
  • PowerPro Braid 60LB and 80LB
  • Dakota Lithium Power Station 2400
  • Torqeedo 1103AC Stern Motors
  • Bonafide Sideline Fishing Backpacks
  • Rapala Fish Grippers
  • NRS Chinook Offshore PFDs
  • Garmin inReach Explorer +
  • Bending Branches Angler Classic Paddles
  • TurtleBox BlueTooth Speaker
  • No Live Bait Needed Soft Plastics