“Fish don’t live in ugly places” is Captain Ron Saunders’ motto. And that’s certainly true of his home of seven years, Lake Arenal, in the highlands three hours west of Costa Rica’s capital, San José.
The 50-year-old former custom cabinet-maker from Las Vegas is living his dream here. A lifelong ﬁsherman, he turned his passion into a business—charter ﬁshing—that allows him to do what he loves each and every day.
He’s based out of his home, which he bought for $45,000 several years ago. It’s just outside the town of Nuevo Arenal. “I have an 18-foot Boston Whaler called Capy’s Dream, which I bought in Playa Flamingo. I can meet clients whatever side of the 33-square-mile lake they’re on.”
The catch of the day is the guapote, known as the rainbow bass for its vibrant color. A cousin to the peacock bass, it’s actually a cichlid, which means it’s quite a ﬁghter. “They are a very tough, strong ﬁsh,” explains Ron. “They like structure, like tree trunks and stumps.”
The other main species is the piranha-like machaca. Both are native species, in residence since Arenal was created by damming up the east end, right next to the Arenal volcano, and ﬁlling the valley behind it with water in the mid-1970s.
Around 80% of his clients are serious ﬁshermen. There’s even some ﬂy-ﬁshing going on, and Saunders has practiced and perfected the technique on the lake. The rest are a mix of average or novice ﬁshermen, as well as people who just want to cruise the lake and check out the volcano from the water, and even some birdwatchers.
They come from all over the world. Ron’s had clients from Thailand, Australia, the U.S., Canada…Costa Ricans, too. Some days he even makes it out to an island in the lake, which has pottery remains of an ancient indigenous civilization. And when lake levels are low, it’s not uncommon to ﬁnd pottery shards on the lake shore.
“I just love being on the water. It is total tranquility,” says Ron. “You’re in front of a volcano. There are toucans ﬂying around… Usually the ﬁrst thing people say when I take them out is ‘Oh my God, it’s so beautiful.’
“Most lakes in the U.S. are full of boats and jet skis and there are houses all over, but Arenal is quiet and pristine. In fact, people often ask me if there’s something wrong with the lake—there are so few people on it,” says Ron.
There are three other guides in the area, local guys. But they all get along and send each other clients when they’re overbooked.
Ron ﬁrst came to Arenal on vacation about eight-and-a-half years ago. The view as he drove along the shore ﬂoored him. “A lot of people have made that drive and fallen in love,” says Ron.
And of course Ron couldn’t leave without stopping to ﬁsh. Being out on this unspoiled gem of a lake—nothing like the crowded and noisy waterways back in the States—inspired his next move: to make a living from his favorite hobby.
After making arrangements back home, he arrived ready to start his new business: Captain Ron’s Lake Arenal Fishing Tours. “I had charters within 30 days,” he says.
Fishing keeps him busy, but Ron has an entrepreneurial spirit. “I’m driven, and I’m a perfectionist. I like doing things my own way,” he explains.
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