Tropic Star Lodge History
The incredible fishing in Piñas Bay was discovered by adventurous fishermen based in Panama City in the 1930’s and ’40s. When word about the abundant fishing opportunities in the area spread, angling pioneers like S. Kip Farrington and the Schmidt brothers visited the region in search of the famed Black Marlin.
They noticed a specific spot that held an unbelievable amount of marine life, and a military survey conducted after World War II identified the spot as a prominent section of natural reef just offshore of Piñas, over which currents from all across the Pacific Ocean converged. This natural wonder would later come to be known as the Zane Grey Reef.
In 1961, Ray Smith, a Texas oil tycoon, built the Lodge as his “home away from home.”
In 1963, it was opened as a fishing lodge, named Club de Pesca – his luxurious private fishing club. Soon after, Ray Smith was able to live his dream. He caught one of the first IGFA World Record marlin on 12-pound line. “There are going to be all kinds of records set here now that the place is being fished a little harder”, he was quoted as saying at the time.
His prophecy has come true. In the ensuing years, more than 300 World Records and numerous Junior Angler World Records have been set at Panama’s internationally known Tropic Star Lodge® – more than any place in the world!
Ray Smith built his villa up on the hill, to allow for a panoramic view of the magnificent bay. This villa is still known today as El Palacio, or The Palace, and is even available as a lodging option for our guests wanting to live the original Tropic Star Lodge experience. It is reached by cable car, or for those looking to drum up some endorphins, there are 122 steps up the mountainside! Imagine the work that went into construction bringing materials by hand up those steps. The river rock faced walls in themselves must have meant many workers, with heavy sacks on their backs, trudging up there.
The areas notoriety grew rapidly — Sports Illustrated did a feature on the lodge in 1963, showcasing the tremendous fishing opportunities to an entirely new international audience. In the mid-1960s, a Hollywood film producer shot a short documentary on the lodge and its fishing, attracting the attention of even more people. Over the years, numerous articles and TV shows have been written and filmed about the lodge and the incredible fishing found in the water of Piñas Bay.
In 1969, shortly after Ray Smith’s death, the Club was sold to Edwin Kennedy who renamed it Tropic Star Lodge to correspond with a “sister Lodge” in Canada known as the Arctic Star Lodge.
Then in 1976, the Lodge was purchased by Conway D. Kittredge of Orlando, Florida, and was operated by the Kittredge family. One of his daughters, Terri Kittredge Andrews, and her husband, Mike Andrews, ran the business for many years up to 2016 in the role of Chief Executive Officers and Operators. “We’ve kept intact the real spirit of Tropic Star, which was one man’s dream to find the best location in the world for big game fishing.” Said Raleigh Werking and this stands true to today.
In 2016, the De Obaldia Family officially took over the lodge. Terri Andrews who called the lodge home for over forty years remains our Ambassador and she will more than likely keep you well entertained over dinner relating many marvelous stories of the good old days.
Our current CEO, Ursula Marais, presently runs and operates the business for the family.
“The area remains wild and remote, much the same as it was those many years ago. Conservation efforts to keep the rainforest in tact is a huge focus point and responsibility. It is thanks to the Darien Gap with no roads that so little has changed, now it is our job to continue with the protection and conservation of this rainforest and the waters around it”, says Carlos De Obaldia.