How poor water visibility can affect your fun

Poor visibility due to Red Tide disrupts some fishing and diving in Las Perlas

This post is also available in: Spanish

On-the-Water by Ilene Little

Thick as pea soup

“I’ve never seen the water visibility this bad,” said adventure spear fisherman Adam Ledford.” I’ve dived every corner of this country and, outside of some freshwater lakes, this is the worst visibility I’ve ever seen in my life.”

He was talking about his recent spearfishing trip to Saboga in late February. I believe water clarity affects your fun – especially if your trip is planned around fishing, snorkeling, or diving. I polled the experts who answered questions about what is happening and why, how long it will last, or where and how to work around it.

Poor visibility due to Red Tide disrupts some fishing and diving in Las Perlas

Poor visibility due to Red Tide disrupts some fishing and diving in Las Perlas.

Red tide, green tide

Limited water visibility is mostly caused by algae blooms or plankton, and sometimes both at the same time.

“The water is black and cold due to high plankton count brought about by the incursion of the Humboldt Current from the Arctic for three to four weeks every year. That means lots of plankton and lots of jellyfish,” explained John Musson, owner of the Contadora Welcome Center. “It’s good for the ecosystem but not good for diving, snorkeling or fishing. It clears up after about a month.”

Some fishermen are calling it red tide, and others green tide. A captain on the Sea Las Perlas Ferry route recently identified seeing red tide in a few places en route between Panama City and into Panama Bay and around Isla Pedro Gonzalez.

“Usually the fish are gone when the red tide is there – as far as 5 -10 miles away from red tide there is no action for top-water fish,” said Captain Kerry Leggett of Come Fish Panama.

Captain Carlos Henriquez of Blue Adventures Panama told me: “What’s happening is that the water is so cold it kills a lot of the algae. It starts floating up to the surface and so the visibility becomes very challenging. It could also be a combination of algae and plankton.”

How are fishermen working around the problem?

“Out in Las Perlas they’re deep trolling for snapper and hopefully sierra on the surface,” said Musson, “It’s not all bad; it’s just not that good for top-water fishing.”

According to Captain Tony Herndon, “The cold water brings in all kinds of deep-water slope species of fish like big grouper, snapper and rockfish from where the continental shelf drops off into the relatively shallow island waters of the Perlas.”

My advice is to check with a local water sports enthusiast or a professional fisherman about the presence of red or green tide before planning a trip to any coastal destination.


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One Comment;

  1. Panama Yacht and Fishing Charters said:

    Every march we are visited by millions of jellyfish that come with the cooler currents of that month. The last two years the jellyfish have been little globular ones, like bobbing oranges, with short tentacles. These you could touch once and then their tentacles would extend a little, a second touch would result in a sting. Some young guys in the surf line up were picking them up and throwing them, not directly at people but just for a laugh. This was easily possible by rolling them over so that that their round back was in the palm of your hand. This year is a different species. They’re larger and like a big translucent jelly. I went surfing the other day but after getting stung several times on the way out and I just gave up and returned to the beach. Others were enduring it but it was too much for me this year. These soft jellyfish gets broken up by the waves and their are pieces of their tentacles all over the place which you can feel when getting tumbled by a wave.
    I was talking to someone who had been diving a couple of weeks ago at the Coiba National Park a couple of weeks ago. He described there being a lot of plankton at the moment, so visibility is poor, but also described a large Shark Whale swimming right up to him and then he ran his hand along its side as it swam past. He also described schools a large Trevally and gave a gesture indicating size with his hands – his indication looked over 3ft and nearly 4 ft to me.
    This month is bad for fishing and for surf in the Pacific, but the upside is that it’ll clear soon and it might have attracted whales and larger fish from the depths in larger numbers, so a good period ahead for fishing and whale-spotting.
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