Fishpedition I


It all started, as many QSO’s begin, rather innocently. I was talking to a European on 20M and had just finished when I got a call from K9KEJ. I responded with the usual 5/9 report, and a thank you for the call. Orrin Brand is not a “small talk” type of person. Orrin is a columnist for a major Chicago newspaper, where he writes about fishing and related outdoor topics. Orrin also has an outdoor radio talk show on the Outdoor Sports Radio Talk Network, which broadcasts nationwide.

K9KEJ – Bigger than life!

Right out of the bag comes the question – “do you like to fish”? My response was “yea, but I don’t get to go very often”. Orrin retorts with “what kind of fishing do you like?” I responded that I liked fly-fishing. At this point I realize that I have unleashed a powerful force that was becoming unstoppable. Without any of the usual small talk that most QSO’s start with Orrin asks if I would like to go Tarpon fishing in Costa Rica with him in May. Without thinking (I had no idea what a “Tarpon” was) I said yes, and this set off a series of telephone calls and later “Skype” visits that has led to a growing friendship that promises great things in the future.

You might call it “sinking the hook” with the events that followed. Pictures and videos of previous fishing trips to Costa Rica by Orrin and his pals became a steady diet. I was hooked! I had never been to this part of the world, and of course I was totally intrigued by the prospect and adventures promised. In listening to Orrin as he related his many experiences in this part of the world was simply adding more “fuel to the fire”. Monstrous fish, fun companionship, jungle adventures of the first order (including crocodile watching), and good food were dangling in front of me. Wow! How could I not go along?

As we talked about the planned trip we begin to ask ourselves why not make it an amateur event, or Fishpedition as we named our forthcoming adventure. Orrin had made several contacts with a Costa Rican ham, Oscar Calvo – TI2GBY. We started an email dialogue with Oscar, and immediately he offered to help us with the authorities in Costa Rica. I had a letter drafted up following Oscar’s directly in Spanish from our office in Los Angeles, which was mailed along with copies of our licenses. Oscar hand-walked our applications through the telecommunication bureau and within two weeks we had our signed letters granting permission to operate as TI6/K0GKD and TI6/K9KEJ. All we needed was a good antenna and a portable rig, and we would be good to go! I found a SB1400 (Heathkit) listed on Ebay and was able to buy it for $200, including the power supply. Heathkit had the radio manufactured by Yaesu, a knockoff of their FT-747. The antenna needed to be simple, and work on 20M and 40M. I found a very good wire design in my antenna archives – an off center fed dipole with a 450 ohm matching section and a 4:1 balun. I tested it out at home and it worked great…especially on 20M!

Orrin made all of the arrangements with his contacts at Rio Parismina (translated into English as “paradise mine”). The “fishing camp” is located on the Caribbean East Coast, an often-overlooked area, remotely located at the mouth of the Parismina River. This amazing place is unscathed, with dense rainforest and incredible tropical flora. Although it can be accessed by road it is much easier to fly in by private plane.

Our first stop was San Jose, the Costa Rican capital. We were able to meet up with Oscar (TI2GBY) for dinner at our hotel. What a great friend Oscar will be for us.


Flying over to the camp the next day was exciting. While it is only about 150km from San Jose, Rio Parismina is not easily assessable by car.

Where is this place, anyway?

We arrived fairly early on Tuesday morning, and were greeted by the camp’s owner. Hey Guys and Gals! Fishing is not just a male sport. Rio Parismina is owned and operated by Judy Heidt who started the camp 22 years ago as a divorced mother of two. She now holds the world’s “female” record for bagging the biggest snook – 22.25 kilos.

Judy Heidt with record snook

Judy and her partner, Fernando Gonzales, have built a fisherman’s paradise on the edge of the jungle. Fernando transplanted amazing flowers throughout the camp, including wild orchids, hibiscus and many wonderful plants. The smells were incredible! The camp has a number of twin rooms with a lodge for eating (and a few adult beverages at night), with a swimming pool and hot tub to help with aching muscles after hours. The food is wonderful and the atmosphere for companionship perfect.

Picture this setting

The day’s start early with a wakeup calls at 5:00 am. Breakfast is served at 6:00am and you are off and running down the river to the Caribbean by seven. The first obstacle is to get past the groundbreakers at the mouth of the river, a somewhat dangerous transition due to the swells and breaking surf. With two people to a boat, and a very experienced guide, you feel very safe.

Heading out

Once over the breakers we head for the spot where the ocean meets the muddy river water. There we fished for sardines with small tackle. They are plentiful and it does not take long to bag ten or 12 for our bait box. Loaded with our lure we are off looking for the mighty Tarpon (Magalops Atlanticus). These boys and girls can grow to 250 lbs. and mature at seven to 13 years of age. There is no way to describe their strength when you hook into them, regardless of size. It is a contest between man and fish, with the likely winner the latter in many instances. We were using 20lb. test line, which made it all the more difficult. One of my boys went 100 plus pounds, and for a moment I thought I was going to run out of line. Just about the time you think you have your catch ready to gaff, off this great warrior goes at warp speed with the reel screaming. All of our catches were released, as Tarpon are not particularly good eating. The natives say that when soaked in limewater and then fried in coconut oil they make a good meal. There are many other edible species in the area including tuna, snook, snapper etc.

K0GKD guide and Tarpon

The "PRO" K9KEJ with a big one!

After dinner on our first night in the jungle several of us were asked if we wanted to go crocodile hunting up the river. My first response was no way but Orrin (K9KEJ), having been on a previous trip with his XYL, insisted that I make the trek. With four of our hardy group loaded in a riverboat, and a very competent guide (Carlos), we started up the river in pitch-black conditions. Carlos had a lantern mounted so that we could point his head to either bank as we sped up river. After about two miles we started seeing little beady red eyes near the banks partially submerged – alligators by the dozens. After looking over different prospects Carlos settled on one rather mid-sized dude and we headed for the bank. Fortunately I was setting in the back of the boat, as the front-runner, Dr. Stu Dessner, one of Chicago’s most famous oral surgeons, became the “holder”. Carlos jumped in the water and quickly snared his prey. He proceeded to take duct tape and wrap it around to secure the rather formidable “choppers”. Handing the crocodile to Stu was especially funny to those of us that were the “observers”. I am sure that he did not give much thought to the possibilities of plying his trade on such an interesting mouth! The real challenge was who and how the duct tape would be removed, and our new friend returned to his habitat. Carlos took care of this problem and we were very relieved to head back to the Rio Parismina camp

Hey Doc! Don’t take the duct tape off!

.After our return we set out to get our antenna up to a decent height, and hooked up our Heathkit transceiver. The camp was supplied with 110V power with US type receptacles so it did not take us long to get going. We started out on 20M, and one of our first contacts was NY4PD and N1FM in West Palm Beach, Florida. We got a 5/8 and a 5/9 from both Brian and Tom, and we knew we were up and running. I asked Brian if he would phone my XYL since I had not been able to contact her on the camp phone, which was not working. He did much better and worked out a phone patch. She told me later that she almost cried, as she had been very worried since I had not called. Thank you Brian and Tom!

Off center-fed dipole on a 25’bamboo pole

Using our TI6 prefix we worked (SSB) all over the Sates, and a number of foreign countries including Mexico, Chile, Honduras, Japan, Germany, Canada, the Dominican Republic and Cuba. Both Orrin and I believed that if we had been able to get the antenna higher we would have had many more contacts. For the true DX-Pedition types our meager results would seem like a joke. Understandably, we were dead tired from the days fishing, and could not keep our eyes open much past 10:00pm. Also we did not have a set of earphones, and the speaker noise carried around the camp resulted in one of our fellow fisherman asking us to QRT. One other problem was the confusion our TI6/K9KEJ and TI6/K0GKD call signs caused. It took a lot of explaining that we were operating from Costa Rican jungle, and not the US. We were often asked to repeat our calls multiple times using Tango India Six “Stroke” K0GKD or K9KEJ. One ham in Rhode Island was never convinced we were transmitting from Costa Rica.

K9KEJ doing his thing with camp owner Judy assisting

Orrin is an early riser and was able to work most of the different countries. He is also very adept and a professional radio personality. His great voice drew a lot of response from most of our contacts. Despite the relatively small numbers we felt that we had a marvelous DX-FISHPEDTION. Further we made a new friend for life in TI2GBY – Oscar Cravo. Thanks Oscar for all of your wonderful help! We found all of the Costa Rican’s we met to be extremely friendly, and pro-US. Just about everyone asked us if we were enjoying their country. Are you kidding me…this may be the best place on the planet for fishing, hamming and just hanging out in paradise! Orrin and I are ready to go back. Do you like to fish?

The “Chicago Boys” (They call me “Kansas”)