If you have spent any time on social media in the last few years, you have likely stumbled across some insane fly-fishing content from Mag Bay. Chances are that clip involved a marlin slashing through a bait ball or chasing down a fly. Magdalena Bay has built quite the reputation in recent years as a world-class angling destination home to incredible numbers of striped marlin for portions of the year. Knowing this, Costa initiated the Marlin Fly Project to learn more about this incredible fishery to protect these fish and local communities for the long term.
Late in 2022, dozens of Costa Pros and scientists traveled to Los Locos, Mag Bay to deploy 15 satellite tags into fly-caught marlin. Well, the Costa crew successfully deployed all the tags in just two days (no small feat, as fish oftentimes fail to cooperate when science is on the line) and made history with the first recorded billfish research campaign using exclusively fly fishing tackle.
“The epic fishing tales coming out of Magdalena “Mag” Bay alone attracted us to the region in 2021, but what we found there was an authentic community, rich with culture, built alongside an untamed ecosystem,” said Jed Larkin, Brand Director for Costa Sunglasses. “That trip sparked a trailblazing idea – what if we brought our global community of scientists, partners and pros together with the local community of San Carlos to research and protect this special resource? And that’s how Marlin Fly was born. Rooted in both community and conservation, this project is everything we stand for as a brand.”
We recently sat down with Costa’s Conservation and Community Manager, Joe Gugino, to learn more about this awesome project–follow along for more on the Marlin Fly Project and some great stories!
Flylords: Before we get into the genesis and impact of this project…I’ve got to ask you first what everyone is thinking: “Marlin on the fly?! How epic and borderline insane is this idea?”
Joe: Yeah. Marlin on the fly. It is as insane as it sounds. You see all the epic photos and videos and you know it is going to be awesome, but I promise, it is even better than you think. I’ve heard stories of people doing this sort of thing around Mag Bay, but it seems like the boys of Los Locos have really put it on the map. It’s something everyone should experience in person.
The fishery itself is incredible, and one that’s appreciated by so many, from divers and sportfishers to those crazy enough, like us, to pursue it on the fly…and from a panga! The visuals are amazing, but it’s the full experience. You run miles and miles (hours) on a panga out of Mag Bay and into the open ocean looking for the swirling vortex of frigates. Once you find them, you’ll start seeing the marlin slash through the water. Throw your fly in, get tight, and watch the acrobatics while line is just peeling off your reel…the whole thing is insane. And it doesn’t feel any more real once you get the marlin boatside. Your adrenaline is pumping and you’re just there reviving it and admiring its beauty before safely releasing it back…yeah, you gotta do it.
Flylords: Now that we’ve got that out of the way, tell us a little bit about how the Marlin Fly Project came to be.
Joe: If you’re a fly angler who’s spent any amount of time on social media, chances are you have seen the awesome photos and ridiculous videos of the scene in Mag Bay. Naturally, we were drawn to it and wanted to experience it for ourselves. We didn’t want to exploit the resource or use the opportunity to just create epic content. We wanted to do something bigger, but we weren’t quite sure what that looked like. So our initial goal was to go down and see what might even be possible, because at Costa we’re always looking for ways to involve community and conservation in everything we do.
Our first thought was maybe we could put on a Costa Marlin Fly Tournament to help call attention to the area, and have the proceeds benefit a conservation partner. Capt. Cody Rubner and I worked on the idea and brought Costa Pros Capt. Brandon Cyr and Capt. Nick Labadie, who are familiar with fishing tournaments, down with us. And thanks to the recommendation from the Los Locos team, we also brought photographer Nick Price to document the experience and help us promote our plan that would come out of this mission.
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From the outside, it seemed like the pangas were a cool set-up to possibly have teams of two anglers, competing in a multi-day format. We thought it would be awesome to pair up Costa pros with unique connections (either similar fisheries or regions) to come down and compete and help bring awareness to the area, while connecting it all to a cause. It wasn’t completely formulated in our heads, but that’s why we went…
As expected, we fell in love with the fishery. But even more so, we fell in love with the town and the community surrounding Mag Bay. In the days and weeks that followed, we all sort of knew that a tournament wasn’t the answer here…it was going to be some sort of conservation mission, and the community piece fit right in line with that.
Not sure where to start, we began to have conversations with our partners at the Billfish Foundation and the International Game Fish Association to see if having data on this striped marlin population would be valuable. We were happy to learn at that point that any science we could get would be crucial, as little to none is really known about this species in this area of the world.
And that’s when it clicked for us – what if we helped ensure the health and future of this Mag Bay fishery? We would go down and catch these fish, just like the Los Locos team, and deploy satellite tags to help fill some crucial data gaps. Given the Los Locos operation, it was important for us to catch fish on the fly, just like they do, as part of the study to help them prove they aren’t putting any more stress on the fish than the sportfish boats do.
Flylords: Let’s talk science. You guys went down to Mag Bay to study this population of striped marlin. What are you hoping to learn, how did you embark on this mission, and how can you leverage this science to protect this incredible resource?
Joe: We wanted to find the best opportunity to learn as much as we could about them. We wanted to get satellite tags to have the most information possible, but satellite tags aren’t cheap.
Costa was able to purchase eight tags from IGFA & TBF, which we thought would be at least a solid number to start with. Next thing we know Peter from the Billfish Foundation, who has truly believed in the project from the get go, offers to donate an additional seven tags to bring us to a total of 15 satellite tags for the expedition!
The first goal was to deploy all 15 tags, and after that an additional amount of spaghetti tags as well. The satellite tags, if successfully deployed and working for the duration of their battery life, will give us valuable information on post-release survivability, where the striped marlin swim, what depth, and what the water temperatures are. With a variety of tags from three months to almost a year, we will be able to get a large set of data to analyze and start to get a picture of the movements of this striped marlin population.
We aren’t entirely sure what will come out of this science, but the ultimate goal is to start to get a baseline on this fish, to be able to set up and protect these species down the road. Similar to Costa’s Project Permit with Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, the goal of this project is to be multi-year to continue to add to the science achieved from this first mission.
Flylords: This project was no small feat, can you tell us more about the partnerships/team that made this possible?
Joe: This project was a big lift from start to finish and required the utmost amount of coordination and planning from a year out, to during the trip, and bringing the story to life after the trip.
In addition to all seven science and community partners we brought along the trip, plus the whole team at Los Locos and the San Carlos Community, we had over 40 people as part of the mission and even more supporting that. The core Marlin Fly Project team consisted of Cody Rubner, Hannah Trotter and myself.
Before we went down, and after successfully securing the tags, we had to figure out a way to transport all the tags and tagging equipment into Mexico. That was all in addition to coordinating 20 people’s flights, from around the country into Baja, transporting everyone 5+ hours north from Cabo to San Carlos, lodging, fishing gear, and scheduling.
Cody was the main force behind all the logistics and communication between the scientists. He was instrumental in making sure this project came to life and that every little thing was taken care of, to make sure that we had what we needed on site and that everyone was set up for success.
As probably suspected, we had an insane two days of travel for the entire team. But once everyone was actually in San Carlos, the next big task was to find the fish, catch the fish, and get the tags in the fish. The amount of coordination it took to make sure every boat was set up with the right combination of anglers, scientists and our content team to be set up for success while scattered across the ocean on pangas was no easy feat. The main goal was to get the tags in, but we also knew we had to capture as much of it on film as possible if this thing actually worked out and we were going to share the story.
Good news: We got all fifteen satellite tags deployed in just TWO days of fishing!
Before leaving San Carlos, we celebrated the mission with our whole team and more people from the town at Mar Y Arena, the lodge we were all staying at. The Travel Creel team put out an awesome spread, and we all ate and danced together.
After coming back from the trip, the hard work continued. Cody, Hannah and I worked closely with Perrin and Wiley to put the film together to accurately share the fish-stoke as well as tell the story. Hannah helped take the lead with all of our internal and partner comms to make sure we were aligned with a launch strategy, and eventually executed all external comms.
This trip was a full team effort, but would not have happened or been brought to life the way it was without Cody and Hannah!
Flylords: Costa is definitely one of the industry’s leading voices for conservation–where does that come from and how does conservation fold into business plans and principles for a large company in this industry, like Costa?
Joe: Costa lives and breathes our ethos to Explore, Perform, and Protect. We seek adventure on and off the water, create products that perform in those environments, and protect those watery worlds we experience and love. It has been something at the forefront of the brand for a long time, and something our team has continued to be proud to build upon and champion forward.
Community and conservation go hand in hand for us here at Costa and are woven throughout everything we do. It is internalized by our Costa teammates, and brought to life in our community by our pros and at events, messaging, and in-store activations.
We’re stoked to debut our second edition Protect Report in the next few weeks, which highlights those commitments as a brand, and specifically how Community X Conservation come to life in all that we do; with the Marlin Fly Project being the ultimate culmination of it all coming together.
Flylords: Joe, While we’ve got you, any good stories you just have to get out there from this trip?
Joe: As expected with the unbelievable crew we had, the week was full of unforgettable stories and memories. The vibes were amazing the entire trip and everyone has been incredibly proud of and passionate about our mission.
The piece of the trip that stands out to me is the moment between day-1 and day-2 of fishing. That first day we had done everything we could to gather the best fly anglers we knew, multiple boats, and a plan to get the tags in and capture that content.
We all started off with high hopes and the excitement to find our first bait balls and come tight to marlin and get our tags in. We knew the whole time, we had the pressure of deploying 15 tags; so our goal on the first day was to get at least a couple out. But after spending the entire first day looking for fish…we saw no birds, no bait balls, no slashing marlin, and our hopes were dwindling.
In the last hour of the day, we got word from local divers coming off the water that they had been on a bait ball. Two of our boats were nearby and rushed to the scene. As the bait balls go down, the fish get less and less active on them, especially when there had been divers in the water which had made them cautious before we got there. We took tons of casts, came tight only twice, and landed only one fish.
We were pumped to get our first tag in, but the fact that we only had two more days to get 14 more tags in was definitely on everyone’s mind.
That evening the Los Locos team was on the phone talking to as many of their contacts as possible to come up with the game plan. Typically the Los Locos team can head 5-10 miles out of the Bay and be on the fish, but we weren’t even finding them 30-40 miles south of the Bay. From the reports coming in, we would have to run even further south. To be honest, the reports weren’t great, and it was a huge risk, but the team was encouraged by the life we found late in the day, and the hope was that even though we would have to run longer, we could potentially get right on the fish and maximize our chances.
Not gonna lie, that second morning, nerves were a little tighter. We were still hopeful, but the long run was on all our minds…would it be worth it?
The water was a little choppy, and a little chill in the air as all the boats motored out of the ramp and we caravaned down Bay to where we hoped the fish would be.
And thank god, it was worth it! We were on fish immediately. Hungry, willing fish that were actively eating flies and staying up on bait balls. Every single boat was on their own active bait ball, or more than one baitball, and in that second day we were able to deploy the rest of our 14 satellite tags in a span of 4 hours!
It was incredible. And everyone got to witness those fish and how they eat first hand, just as we had hoped. It allowed the third day of fishing to be a little more lax and let everyone on the team get their shot at fish, which resulted in deploying some additional spaghetti tags as well.
There ya have it: the backstory of Costa’s Marlin Fly Project. Thanks for sitting down with us Joe, and keep up the awesome work! If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the full video. Also, if you are interested about chasing marlin (or a bunch of awesome species), check out Los Locos.
photos courtesy of Costa and Nick Price