This is a post by James Drummondo of FINTASTIC ADVENTURES de ECUADOR Fishing Excursions. Learn more about James in the author bio at the end of the post.
How’s the Fishing in Ecuador?
So, just what is fishing like in Ecuador? The country of Ecuador is divided into four geographical regions:
- The Andes
- Amazon (or Oriente)
- Coastal Zone
- Galapagos Islands
The angling (aka fishing) possibilities to some extent can also be categorized according to these regions. For the purpose of grouping, I’ll include ‘Inshore Saltwater’ with Coastal and ‘Off Shore’ Deep-Sea Big Game with the Galapagos Islands.
As a native Californian, relocating to Ecuador in 2009 and experiencing the great variety of landscape and climates reminded me much of back home.
California has the Sierra Nevada mountain range which alone holds thousands of natural lakes and streams, a 840-mile long coastline, the 8 Channel Islands off the Southern Coast, the Farallon Islands off the Central Coast, the magnificent coastal redwood forests, vast deserts, and everything in between.
Along with these different regions came a great variety of angling possibilities which I did my best to take advantage of during my life there. Now it’s time to explore and fish Ecuador.
I think the overall picture of fishing in Ecuador is good but you’re going to have to explore and pay your dues or better yet, just go fishing with someone who already has.
The following is a brief overview of what I have learned and experienced regarding fishing in Ecuador.
My Fishing Experience in Ecuador
For all the variety of angling possibilities there really isn’t much reliable (which is the magic word here) information available on the internet or in travel books compared to most other countries where fishing is a popular recreational pastime.
Most avid anglers just don’t spend thousands of dollars to come to the center of the world to fish as they would Brazil, Argentina or Chile.
You’ll find the generic information about the existence of trout fishing in the Andes and the great marlin and tuna catches off Salinas and of course the piranha fishing with bamboo poles at the jungle resorts. There are numerous YouTube videos if you can bare to get through them, most are in Spanish and there’s not much in terms of information anyway.
There are a handful of websites of very expensive coastal charter services in Salinas and Manta, which many are outdated and there are the Amazon outfitters who may or may not still be in business. Getting bare fact reliable information to just go and fish is not easy.
Being new to a foreign country makes it quite intimidating just to set out on your own and find fish, and not having your own vehicle makes it even more difficult.
Ecuador I think for the most part is still an uncharted map in terms of fishing possibilities, mainly due to the fact the recreational fishing as we know it (with the exception of the saltwater big game charters) is still in it’s development stages.
In order to develop and/or maintain a sustainable fishery in any country and for any species there must be management, education, regulations, and enforcement, and unfortunately, all of these are lacking or just nonexistent. The concept of catch and release isn’t even a thought by most nationals who fish.
Most local fishermen want to eat what they catch and possibly make a few dollars selling their catch, which I fully understand, but there is a need for some change in order to preserve their fishery. The good news is that Ecuador has lots of water, and fish like to live in water.
Fishing in the Oriente (Amazon Jungle)
The prized game fish of the Oriente (Amazon) is the tough and colorful Tucunare or Peacock Bass and it’s close relatives, which actually are not bass at all, they’re members of the Cichlid family and can reach up to 20 lbs.
Other sought-after exotics are various species of large catfish, pacu, paiches (arapaima gigas), aruama, payara and many more.
Many an angler has forked out thousands of dollars and banked countless travel hours in pursuit of these magnificent peacocks just to experience the violet strikes and airborne leaps. Brazil and Venezuela have long been the prime destinations for trophy peacocks and other Amazon exotics and these countries host some very high dollar fishing operations. Ecuador does have a few Amazon fishing operations and they also are not catered towards the frugal angler.
The dry season (fishing season) is very short in the Oriente so the outfitters need to make their money in a very short window, plus the fact that most excursions require a lot of logistics, travel time by land and water, gas and man-hours which all add up.
On the positive side, the overall experience of an Oriente fishing excursion is much more than just a fishing trip, with the diverse wildlife and culture it’s an adventure right out of the pages of National Geographic.
Many of the easier accessible rivers in the Oriente that look ‘fishy’ just aren’t due to continuous harvesting with nets, long lines, poisons and dynamite. My buddies were fishing a good looking stretch of river down by Sucua but without a bite. They met a local guy and inquired what method of fishing he used and his reply was, “dynamite”.
I have been in contact with a new fishing operation in the northeast region of Ecuador but have not had the chance to make it up there yet. Kingfisher Fishing Tours caters to eco-tourism, sport fishing and scientific research.
Diego Monteros is a licensed naturalist and fishing guide with substantial experience working in the Cuyabeno Wildlife reserve and throughout Ecuador. Their operation seems very professional and I am very much looking forward to my first visit. I highly recommend checking out their website.
Saltwater Fishing in Ecuador: Offshore Big Game & Galapagos Islands
Having success fishing the coastal waters greatly depends on the prevailing currents. The Humboldt Current flows up the South American coast and brings it’s nutrient-filled cold water.
This current runs into the El Nino current, which comes down from the north bringing in warmer water.
This collision of currents changes the water temp on a daily basis, which in turn affects the fishing conditions. Success is all about finding that right water temperature. Where this current lays on any given day will greatly affect your boat travel time.
The granddaddy fish of them all is the great blue marlin which average 300 to 400 pounds but can reach a 1000 pounds. Black marlin and huge sailfish are also possible catches. Many world records have been set off Manta and Salinas. Striped marlin run smaller but are much more plentiful. Big wahoo and tuna are right up there with the marlin for great fighting fish and there can be plenty of dorado at times for great sport and table fare as well.
A charter boat for up to 6 passengers (6 pack) can range from $600 to $2000 a day depending on your taste and budget. Smaller boats can run from $30 to $50 an hour. The fishing gear on the higher end boats are usually good quality but you’re taking your chances with the gear on the smaller boats. It’s heartbreaking to lose a nice fish to faulty gear or old line.
Pangas (smaller fiberglass fishing boats w/ a skipper) can be rented right off the beach for a few hours to a full day, and depending on how far the current is off the coast that particular day, you could hit some great fishing.
One of the best locations for doing this would be Puerto Lopez or Salinas. Isla de la Plata (Poor Man’s Galapagos) sits about 20 miles off the coast and these are great fishing waters.
Sportfishing in the waters off of the Galapagos Islands is world-class but mucho mucho plata (Big $) and very regulated and seasonal.
Fishing Inshore in Ecuador: Surf fishing, Reef and Shallow Waters
Quality surf fishing can be found along a good section of the Ecuadorian coastline, one just needs the means and time to explore, or again, just go with someone who already knows the area.
Many of the beaches near coastal towns are fished fairly heavy by independent commercial fisherman in their pangas so finding the less fished areas is necessary. Having a 4×4 vehicle is sometimes a must to access the more remote areas. Corvina and Robalo (Snook) are the prize catches from the beach.
Many anglers prefer night fishing for the Robalo. The Salinas area with its long stretches of sandy beach can produce some outstanding catches of Robalo during the peak months. Fishing off of rocky points gives you a shot at many reef fish, such as snappers, pargo and various other species.
Hiring a small fishing panga for the day from one of the local fishing towns can produce quality catches of reef fish, corvina, robalo, dorado (mahi mahi), smaller tuna, jacks, even possibly wahoo if the right current is not too far off shore.
Rates can range from $15 to $40 an hour and the quality of fishing tackle and safety gear (life vests, fire extinguishers and radios) varies as well. I was in Salinas in September and wahoo averaging 70 lbs. were being caught within a half hour’s boat ride.
Inland Coastal: Along the coast there are a few locations which hold inland saltwater mangrove estuaries. Over the years many of these have been modified or used in some way for shrimp farming. The largest area is in Guayas, the other two are in Esmaraldas and Manabi.
Fishing in inland bays and estuaries can be quite productive for a variety of species such as corvina, robalo (snook) snapper, pargo, catfish and others. Knowing where and having the means to fish these areas is difficult.
Having a experienced guide or fishing buddy is a must. I have never fished these areas but they’re on my list.
Fishing in Ecuador’s Andes
I haven’t fished for rainbows anywhere in Ecuador where the scenery hasn’t been anything less than stunning. It is cold at times, but the scenic value is worth the numb fingertips.
The Andes mountain range in Ecuador is loaded with rivers and lakes with most holding rainbow trout, with a few brown trout in the mix. Knowing which lakes and rivers to fish and getting there can be challenging. I have only fished the areas around Cuenca, mostly the El Cajas and a few locations east of Paute.
El Cajas National Park alone has approximately 300 lakes and streams with many more outside the boundaries of the park in the Saldados region. I have heard stories and seen photos of trout the size of a man’s arm. These lakes are natural and many are stream fed, very deep and there is no reason why a trout would not thrive in these waters.
A high mountain lake is a high mountain lake and a trout is a trout no matter what country they’re in.
There are the many private ‘Pesca Deportivas’ which translates to ‘sport fishing’ and these are basically small private ponds, some just being small concrete pools filled with trout ‘la trucha’ or tilapia in the warmer Oriente regions.
You pay for what you catch and your fishing rod is a broom stick with an eye screw at the tip at best. Still great for the locals and kids but really doesn’t fulfill the ‘pursuit of the elusive’ calling of angling which most fisherman desire and continues to haunt me.
I do visit certain Pesca Deportivas when fishing with a novice client or just need to bend the rod with a few friends. I compare it to a golf driving range, just keeping up the skills. I’ve found a few private lakes (some man-made which are stocked but very natural looking with great fishing, but they also can be a little challenging at times.
These fish tend to look, behave, fight and taste more like wild fish due to their more natural environment. I really enjoy fishing these lakes because of their quick and easy access, plus the chances of catching a larger fish is very good.
They are also are excellent locations to learn to fly fish and test out new fly patterns. One can practice casting in the park all day but that’s only part of the picture.
Ecuador Fly Fishing
Traditional fly fishing is becoming more popular throughout Ecuador. Most trout fishing in Ecuador is done with bait or casting spinner lures. Fishing with a plastic casting bobber with a fly trailer is also popular. Now be careful, because this is what some locals (including some tour outfitters) regard as ‘fly fishing’.
A Quick Story: When I first arrived in Cuenca, Ecuador I hired a fishing guide through a very reputable tour service. My fishing equipment hadn’t arrived yet and I was dying to test the waters in El Cajas. I did have my 8 wt. fly rod which I was using in Manta prior to moving to Cuenca but that was definitely too heavy for trout. I was very specific with the office manager that I wanted to go fly fishing.
We discussed fly fishing for a bit and how there are more and more gringos coming here who enjoy fly fishing. I asked if the guide had good fly fishing gear and much experience and the reply was, “Of course, he’s our main guy”. I paid $120 for the day. During the drive I was asking the standard questions trying to get to know the guide and his experience.
He was a very nice guy and very knowledgeable about El Cajas. I asked him what type of rods he uses (as far as a manufacture) which is a typical question a fly fishing client would ask, but did not get an immediate response. I inquired again and he said, ”Well, in Ecuador we fly fish a little different”, I asked, ”How different?” he then proceeded to tell me about his plastic casting bobbers.
I politely asked him to pull over and open his trunk. The rod he had for me was a telescopic spinning rod with a broken tip and the reel was taped to the rod seat. There wasn’t a fly rod within 50 miles. He did have some flies and the plastic bobbers to go with them.
I immediately called (and woke up) the manager and asked why I was mislead and he gave me the same answer, “Well, That’s how we fly fish in Ecuador. “Not for a $120” I replied. He asked if I wanted to turn around and cancel the trip. I felt like a little kid having his candy taken away.
We were already in Cajas, it was my first time and I really wanted to experience what I’ve heard so much about this beautiful region. We agreed that paying half would be fair so we continued on our way. I was paying basically for the transportation and a hiking guide.
So traditional fly fishing was out of the question. Once at the lake the guide and myself both broke out our lures and flies and discussed what may work best. I passed a few flies and lures his way to keep as his supply looked a bit sparse. I hooked up a nice little trout on my first cast so the day looked promising and it was for the most part.
It wasn’t fly fishing but at least I finally made it up to Cajas. I took a few videos that day and my last video was of my guide fishing by himself on the other side of the lake. That’s when I saw the need for a quality guide service. I have since started Fintastic Adventures De Ecuador Fishing Excursions.
So I am on a quest, a journey which I’m sure will take many of my remaining years to map out quality angling destinations throughout this diverse little country on the equator.
About the Author
James Drummondo is the Operator/Guide of FINTASTIC ADVENTURES de ECUADOR Fishing Excursions, located in Cuenca, Azuay, Ecuador.
- Fly Fishing / Spinning / Bait Casting / Conventional
- Trout / Light Tackle & Fly Saltwater / Deep Sea Big Game
- 46 yrs. Angling Experience
- C0-Founder/President of Cuenca Fly Fisher’s Club cuencaflyfishersclub.com
- Retired Fire Chief / Safety Specialist
- Volunteer Firefighter with Cuenca Fire Department
- Certified Instructor in Advanced First Aid & CPR
- Wilderness Survival Enthusiast
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