The Mission caught up with film makers and guides Thomas Enderlin and Federico Hampl to chat about their film, Machaca – A Botanical Tale, (currently on the Fly Fishing Film Tour lineup) the species itself, and what else fly fishing Costa Rica has to offer from rainbow bass (guapote), tarpon, trout and more. For more on the machaca, check out The Mission Issue 20 Wish List Fish here.
Machaca in Costa Rica

Machaca in Costa Rica

So, are you guys both from Costa Rica? If not, how did you get familiar with the country?

We both live in Costa Rica full time, but only Federico is native. Tom is now naturalized due to his Costa Rican wife, but he is originally from NYC.

Has the machaca sport fishing scene been around for a while or is it something relatively new?

Machaca on fly from rafts is fairly new, but local people have been catching macacha for a long time for the table. They have lots of small bones and are usually finely chopped and stewed in soup, so its much better to release them and obviously nothing beats the topwater popper eat!

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Can you describe the first time you discovered the potential of this species on fly?

Machaca are one of those fish that never get old. Smash the popper under some tree branches as you race down the river in a whitewater raft, and wait for the explosion! So the excitement every time is like the first.


What does a typical day out look like?

We float a variety of rivers, so each day can be different, but to beat the Costa Rican tropical heat we prefer getting out early. One floats downriver fishing and having a blast doing it, and maybe takes a few breaks in the shade for some coffee, a sandwich, or a cold drink. Overall it’s a pretty exciting and enjoyable day of fly fishing.

Do you do multi-day trips for Machaca? What else can anglers expect to catch?

We have some longer rivers that allow multi-day expeditions, but most can be fished in one day. Some of our rivers have other species like Pacific snook and guapote, or rainbow bass, but the main target is the machaca.

How rare are guapote/rainbow bass?

Rainbow bass are an incredible fish native to this part of the world. Unfortunately they taste really good, so they have been historically kept to eat, but Costa Rica has seen an insurgence of catch and release culture and one can usually find a few. This is especiallu true for certain rivers we fish that are more remote or have conditions more favorable for these beautiful cichlids.

How big do machaca get? Which of you guys has caught the biggest?

Machaca grow to be about 8-9 pounds, but that’s pretty rare. A really large fish on a given day of fishing is usually in the 5-7 pound class. They still pull hard and dog you in the current, so they use every ounce of that weight against you! Regarding who has caught the biggest, it depends on who you ask, but it’s probably Tom!

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Why do you think these fish are so aggressive considering they are vegan and they don’t have to actually kill their food?

The rivers are super fast and turbulent, so the machaca is an opportunistic feeder. They race to the surface to grab fruit, flowers, leaves, and occasional insects, so their eating style being fast and furious is an adaptation of how they come to capture their food.


How long do your fruit and flower flies last?

This depends on the materials. We use composite foam, wine corks, dog toys, old flip flops, etc., and each has its own lifespan. And we do go through a lot of flies, but with a generous glob of superglue and some fresh paint they can be fishing again the next time on the water. We are still looking for the perfect material to make flies with. It’s all about the “kerplunk” or “plook”…

In terms of wildlife, what will people see on these rivers?

Monkeys are usually seen or heard, and some other smaller mammals are sometimes seen. The birdlife can be pretty good, with wading birds and raptors being the main attraction. There are also crocodiles in these rivers, and we run into more and more each season.

What beer are we most likely to be drinking when we go on the river with you?

Costa Rica has a national brewery that makes two main beers – Imperial and Pilsen. Some people like one, and some like the other, and they are equally opposed to drinking the other team’s beer. We both prefer Imperial.

If Argentina has asado, what is Costa Rica famous for on the food front?

Gallo pinto, or rice and beans. It’s flavorful and filling, and will have you out fishing hard for hours.

If you are coming to Costa Rica for machaca, what else should you be looking to do both in terms of other fly fishing and general stuff?

Costa Rica has a variety of fisheries. Tarpon in the Caribbean, lots of species in the Pacific, including sailfish, roosters, snook, snapper, and more. There are also amazing trout streams in the high elevation cloud forest. So this really depends on time of year and budget.

What would a fly fishing Costa Rica Grand Slam look like?

The classic slam is a billfish in the Pacific, a rainbow trout in the mountains, and a tarpon in the Caribbean. Its not easily pulled off in a day (unless you have a large wallet and access to a helicopter), but it’s a great way to see a lot of the country and fish a variety of scenarios. We offer these trips via @flyfishingcostarica if interested

How long did it take you to make the film?

This film was a labor of love, and we worked for many weeks to get some of the nature documentary type footage. Sitting in front of a pool for hours watching a school of machaca feed on a fruiting tree definitely gave some interesting insights into their world!

Did you have different roles or did you share most of the jobs?

In Costa Rica there is a saying… “Soy la”… or “I am her (or he)”. To use this in context, if you ask either of us “who did this or who did that?” the answer would be the same… “Soy la”. It was a team effort and a blast of a project.

What was the process like? Difficult, easy, tortuous?

It was challenging at times, but as the saying goes if it’s too easy it’s not worth pursuing, right? Definitely a labor of love, but a super fun one.

What’s your next film?

We have a few in progress, including a film about snook and a film about billfish, but we are currently working on a film about recovering from cancer and finding inspiration in the present.