I recently received a spur of the moment invitation to accompany a charter client on a fishing trip to the Casa Vieja Lodge on Guatemala.s Pacific coast. My friend who was bringing his just out of college sons for their first taste of billfishing had booked Oct 28, 29 and 30. With a couple of previous visits to the Lodge under his belt, my friend confirmed that while late October was still considered off season; it being the end of the rainy season during which excessive freshwater runoff tends to degrade the offshore water quality, his previous experiences this time of year yielded fishing that was in his words .plenty good enough.. He described 10-15 bites a day from Sails and an occasional Blue Marlin bite for good measure.
The Ixtapa region of Guatemala where we would be fishing has gained a reputation over the last dozen years or so of offering, when it.s on, the very hottest action for Pacific Sails anywhere in Central America. Prodigious catch totals have been recorded including over 50 sails caught in a single day on fly tackle and over 100 in a day on conventional tackle. I had no commitments in Key West over those dates, and with my friend.s assurance that all I had to do was show up; it was easy to make the decision to go.
A two hour flight out of Miami brought us to the International airport in Guatemala City. Landing through low cloud cover we could see glimpses of a sprawling urban area occupying undulating ground between higher hills and peaks. The airport terminal was antiseptically modern, but when the automatic doors opened and we were discharged outside, it was immediately apparent- to paraphrase the Wizard of Oz- we weren.t in Kansas anymore. An inundation of humanity and a cacophony of competing voices surrounded us. In the under story and even at ground level a group of severely disabled individuals. maneuvered themselves throughout the crowd and aggressively peddled various goods. We were soon met by a driver from Casa Vieja Lodge and then ensconced in a large van which the driver skillfully piloted over a morass of city streets. I noticed that at virtually every intersection small groups of young adults costumed like circus clowns were performing juggling acts and slapstick comedy in exchange for a coin or two proffered from the briefly halted vehicles. Soon enough we were on a divided highway which took us down out of the mountains onto the coastal plain and from there more gradually downhill through fields of sugar cane to the coast.
An hour and a half after we left the airport, our van pulled through the gate at Casa Vieja Lodge which is a walled compound, the successor to the popular Fin N. Feathers, now located on the coastal road just half a mile from a break watered commercial harbor where a modest marina provides dockage for the sportfishing fleet. The entire staff of the lodge which consists of about 20 rooms, several dining and common areas and a swimming pool was there to greet us. We were their only guests and I quickly calculated that the ratio of staff to guests was about 3 to 1. An old friend, Guatemalan fishing pioneer and legendary Capt. Ron Hamlin showed up and we spent an enjoyable hour catching up on fishing gossip.
By 7:15 am the next morning after a hearty sit down breakfast, we boarded the van for a 10 minute drive to the boat. Out on the street a group of sullen faced men who were evidently waiting for their ride to work observed our departure. Inside the van, the obvious resentment in these men.s faces triggered that not unfamiliar uneasiness common to Americans when they encounter the daily hardship of third world lives. Women were cooking tortillas over open fires in front of several small homes while others, some dressed in the bright fabrics of Mayan culture walked along the roadside balancing baskets on their heads. Security was reasonably tight at the harbor, a gate staffed with military personnel at the entrance, and then more security at the head of the dock.
We were fishing aboard the 37. Gamefisher called .Intensity.. Our all Guatemalan crew consisted of Capt. .Nico. and 2nd mate/ chef .tony.. Our first mate.s name, I.m embarrassed to say escaped me. Once clear of the breakwater, Nico throttled the engines up and we headed offshore into a gentle pacific swell. The coastline of Guatemala runs east west where we were located, so to get offshore boats head in a generally southerly direction. As we cleared the coast, looking back inland we could see several perfectly cone shaped peaks, so called stratovolcanoes of which one was certainly the long dormant Agua and one with a menacing ash cloud above it was the very active Pacaya.
We ran for slightly over an hour which put us somewhere on the order of 25-30 miles offshore, passing several current lines and color changes, but the water we shut down in was no better than .clean green.. A few Shearwaters and boobies were working the area, along with a few local Panga boats, ubiquitous throughout Latin America, whose occupants seemed to be tending longline gear. Our trolling spread consisted of circle hook rigged Ballyhoo in the long riggers, bridge teasers, offering either squid chains with a lure head on the end or just an individual teaser, and a third teaser fished down the middle of the spread from the cockpit. A rod in each flat line rod holder was baited with a ballyhoo ready to pitch. Cleverly these ballyhoo were immersed in seawater holding containers with wide flanges which had been designed to fit down into the hawse pipes. All the hook baits were fished on Shimano Tyrnos 20.s.
The trolling speed was fast, just under what I would consider lure speed. After setting out, we went a good while without raising a Sail, and then raised a looker who wouldn.t bite and shortly after that missed our first bite. Finally we raised and caught a triple header. Our action for the rest of the day consisted of just a pick, every 30-40 minutes or so another bite. With virtually no other sport boats out, there was a consequent lack of fishing reports and VHF chatter. I sympathized with Capt. Nico, it was obviously hard to know what area to be fishing in. We finished the day having caught 7 out of 12, certainly no one was complaining. 3 members of our group had caught their first Sailfish and the action was just about as advertised.
On day two we returned to the same area and experienced similar fishing. We did catch a gaffer Dolphin, part of whom became an afternoon sushi snack. There were a few bonito bites as well, and a 30lb class Yellowfin Tuna which unfortunately got backlashed. During lulls, our second mate Tony would disappear into the galley and return with plates of cold sliced fruit, or fish dip and crackers. Lunch consisted of a choice of fresh grilled chicken or beef sandwiches. My friend remarked that Lodge policy seemed to be that clients get fed every hour on the hour. In between eating we picked away at the Sails and by the conclusion of day two we had tallied 9 Sails out of 15 bites, another pleasant day.
On our final day of fishing I immediately noticed that we were running almost exactly due South, some 25 to 30 degrees east of the SSW course we had run the previous two days. The weather remained identical to the previous two days, light south wind and clear skies. An hour out, we shut down on a free jumper. The action began immediately; singles, doubles, multiple bites, endless circles with big chocolate colored Sails jumping in the middle. We had barely gotten started and we already had 10. This was a great morning flurry but would it last and had we brought enough bait to handle this much action? In the mid day hours the bite backed off from the morning flurry but remained steady, we approached and then passed 20 releases for the day. The mates. revealed a stash of extra bait and rigged them steadily. Two other sportfishermen joined us in the area although we noticed it was our boat that was doing most of the catching while the other boats seemed to be relegated to spectating. By 3:00 the afternoon bite was on and we were again flurrying. We debated the chances of catching 30 and then blew by that number as the Sails kept biting and we caught one double after another. We worked with real cohesion, all of us, crew and customer alike caught up in the rare magic of a great day. There were high 5.s and good natured teasing all while performing the complicated choreography of a hot bite. As the 5 o.clock hour approached the bite slowed and soon after our time was up. We had caught 38 Sails out of 52 bites including 2 triple headers and 8 doubleheaders. The mates. had worked tirelessly and good naturedly to keep up, rigging over 100 ballyhoo during the course of the day. Nico our captain had not only found the fish but kept us on them all day long. It was truly a day to remember, pretty good I thought to myself for being off season in Guatemala.