Fly Fishing Guatemala
It was close to midnight when I arrived at the lodge after a 2 hour drive from Guatemala City to San José at the south coast of Guatemala. Tony and Andrej were happy to see me again, and after a cold drink the long journey was soon forgotten.
I got to know the both in summer San Sebastian on the Canaries island La Gomera where I tried to catch my first marlin on the fly. La Gomera is their summer domicile. There they bring anglers from all over the world to the close marlin hunting grounds. However, I soon had to recognise that the blue marlins around La Gomera were massively bigger than I expected them to be. Though today's high end fly rods are able to fight and control fish up to 500 lbs, but if the fish are some hundred pound heavier, the fun stops immediatly.
In Guatemala the cards were anew mixed, because besides Hervey Bay in Queensland Guatemala is probably the only destinations where marlins with an acceptable fighting weight appear regularly in casting distance of fly fishermen. The low oxygen level of the depth water based on the geothermal activity at the sea bottom in front of Guatemala’s coast forces fighting fish to stay in the upper layers instead of diving deep which would require to bring them back up in long and exhausting battles which would take several hours. Guatemala is the indisputable paradise for billfish anglers among other things also on account of the fact that though the fish may be caught there, however, no fish with sword is allowed to be taken. Catch and release only for all billfih. A real Billfish Paradise!
Marina Pez Vela
Everywhere else in the world five landed sailfish per day and boat an unusual if not to say a phenomenal catch. An unbelievable average of 20 fish per boat are landed every day by the boats operating from Marina Pez Vela at Guatemala’s south coast. On the best day there were more than 120 sails caught with standard tackle and also with the fly a record of 57 landed fish per day and boat stands in the books. Inconceivable figures! The destination is consistently productive for 15 years meanwhile. Three US-American companies operate there at the moment. In spite of the enormous richness of the fishing grounds in front of Guatemals’s coast which also contain big numbers of huge common dolphinfish, yellow fin tunas, cero mackerels but also roosterfish and snook (Inshore) as well as several marlin species these US companies have only one aim: They want to come close or surpass the unbelievable number of 3000 (!) sailfish caught per boat and season during max. 130-150 fishing days. Therefore a diversified fishing for different species is not the main target but is offered on demand, too.
The next morning right after the breakfast we went with fullspeed in the direction of the potential fishing grounds. These lie in a horseshoe-shaped area which reaches from 15 to 40 km offshore. The 38-43 ft. boats operating there are perfectly equipped for bluewater fishing with a high tuna tower, navigation and communication high tech, a kitchen with sanitary area and of course rods and lures. The boats are laid out for the fishing with four clients. This is standard in Guatemala, because it is absolutely neccessary to rest between the fights of the powerful fish. Because of the fact that billfish cannot be caught by blind casting they are lured to the boat with so-called teasers. These attractor baits consist of usually four 30 cm long fish or their belly parts (usually from the Ballyhoo) or imitations of cuttlefishes, all without any hooks. They are trolled in the surface between the the first and the third wave behind the boat. (approx. 15-40 m).
They are brought out after the hot spots are reached. All the time the crew and especially the captain in his tower is looking for any bird activities that point to predators. They listen carefully to the radiotraffic if someone of the fleet has spotted active fish or has found the jumping dolphins who sometimes group up to thousand animals. In quite good speed they follow the tuna who are swimming below them and who chase other small fish like sardines, bonitos or other bait fish tot he surface. Among these sometimes high jumping spinners billfish can be found, too. Even whales can turn up inbetween them from time to time. This indicates a richly covered feeding table for all predators. When I saw this fort he first time, this huge amount of wildlife was really impressive for me, because I knew such scenes only from cinema and TV.
„Now it is only a matter of time, until the first sailfish or marlin will attack a teaser“, explained my friend Tony, one of the worldwide best known marlin anglers and captains. That day Tony was supposed to fish too after a long period he was only stearing boats but finding not the time to fish himselve at all. Our two mates carefully scanned the water surface trying to find the perfidious sword. Then it went all very fast. „Sailfish!“, shouted the captain from the bridge, "Two of them!". Both mates hurried to bring back in the teasers which were followed and attacked by the sails. I waited mith my rod and fly ready for the deciding cast. "Cast, cast!" the captain shouted in meddlesome tone when he put the motor out of gear. My gigantic popper landed perfectly and the sailfish took him straight away in a rotation. ‚Keep down the rod and strike him sideways!‘ I thought when I felt the resistance. ‚No Strip strike. It’s not tarpon fishing, keep your line hand off the line!‘, I thought within parts of a second. ‚You still want to keep your fingers! My fish was well hooked and the speed of the run made the hook penetrate even deeper.
Andrej hooked the second sail with standard tackle. In a few seconds my sailfisch took 100 m of line and was jumping continually high in the air to get rid of my owner beak hook. Andrej had a satisfied grin in his face when his sail started a jumping competition with mine. These are the moments all billfish anglers are waiting for: To feel the prodigious strength of the fish! The #14 bluewater fly rod together with my bending movements countered the jumps perfectly and after a fight of approx. 20 force-robbing minutes a 100 lbs sailfish was aside the boat. The chief mate dehooked the fish and after a short picture the beautiful sail majestically faded away in the depth. Almost at the same time Andrej landed his sailfish of similar size.
We did not even have time to celebrate our first catch when the captain pointed at a palm floating in the water. A perfect hiding place for common dolphinfish! The captain made a big circle around it in order to check whether a marlin was hanging around it. As this was not the case I grabbed the #12 fly rod and waited patiently until the palm was in casting distance. I set a good 25 m cast close tot he palm. Already on the first plopping of the popper a vehement attack followed. A huge Dorado – as they call the common dolphinfish there – jumped high into the air. The hook was properly set and after a series of jumps the Dorado went down. This meant to start pumping him up again. This up and down followed several times until he finally gave in. A delightfully luminous Dorado cut the water surface after a 15 minutes fight.
The mate took him on board. „A fish for the kitchen!“, Andrej explained. 20 kg and certainly not the biggest one which seeked shelter in the shadow of the palm. For me this was it for that moment, because I needed a break. As Andrej and Tony fighted two other good fish simultaneously, I decided to get a little refreshment by underwater filming the fights with the GoPro. I did not know afterwards what was more marvellous - to fight a Dorado or to film it during the fight and to see him gliding aside in close distance gleeming in bright yellow and blue. ‚It’s amazing what these small cameras perform today‘, I thought after coming back on board again. While my friends landed some more Dorados in quite impressive size, I enjoyed a cold long drink and the company of the captain on the bridge. ‚Simply fantastic here!‘, I thought. While elsewhere the waves can often become a big problem especially for those whose stomachs are not suited for turbulent sea, nothing is here to be felt of it. The surface was almost like glass. Only one light breeze could be felt. This is Guatemala, mostly quiet and without strong winds disturbing the presentation of the flies.
We decided to change and to proceed to the point of the dolphin shoal without pushing them down in the depth. Thus the Yellowfins swam directly in our direction. It did not take long until my 10th rod bended hard. No jumps, only uncanny power down. These are the powerhouses which are gathered here to big numbers. It lasted nearly 10 minutes until my delightfully coloured yellowfin tuna was landed. What a fighter! Just some minutes later all three of us were fighting at the same time. And no tuna boats or swimming fish factories by view! Its fantastic that such places still exist in our time.
The next days spinned away. The diverse fishing which even the captain did not not know, because also he is usually also running only after the sailfish, gave us real pleasure and in spite of dorado and tuna action we had even stopped to count the sailfish long time ago.
The most spectacular run
Only the marlin was left on my agenda. Unfortunately only one of them showed up but turned away before getting into my casting range. Depending on the time oft he year the abundance of the marlins is different. On average a blue, striped or black marlin shows up behind the boat every three days. I had already concluded with catching one and on account of the sensational fishing the marlin had already almost vanished out of my head when all of a sudden "Marlin, marlin!" resounded from the bridge. In lightning-speed I tried to grab the right rod. 600 m of 80 lbs backing were packed on my LOOP Opti Big together with a 600 grains Rio Levanthian Bluewater line.
Now everything had to be perfect. Like the savages the mates reeled the teaser rods back in. Then I could see the bow wave of the marlin for the first time. „Fly in the water!“, the command from the captain let me know that I had to be prepared. Then he put the motor out of gear and the loud "Cast, cast!" that shouted from the bridge now appeared to me almost like a threat but than a command only. ‚Don’t make a mistake, now!‘, I thought. The fish shone brightly behind the boat. After two false casts I presented my fly despite of the given instructions a body length aside of the fish at the height of its tail. A loud plopp of my popper made with the rod hand only drew the attention of the marlin to my fly. He had got this immediately and headed directly for it. The open mouth ploughed the water surface and the fly was attacked in a just perfect angle. I held the rod down in order to block the run a little bit. The hook penetrated well. I stroke again sideways shortly after and what happened then, was probably of the most spectacular scene I had ever seen in my whole fishing life.
The blue marlin jumped approx. 15 m behind the boat and started tailwalking in a big circle and on enourmous speed until he finally landed like a bomb in 60-80 m of distance. It was as if a small car had just fallen down from a bridge. Even the boomerang shaped white water the marlin created with his tail had no time to resolve before he landed. The fish had approx. 500-600lbs. For a fly rod that was surely hard on the limit, however, I was absolutely sure to land „my“ fish the sooner or later. My nervousness had disappeared with the setting of the hook. I was „back in the game“, a game I had played thousands of times, althoug not with fish of that size.
I quickly began loosening the brake. This is absolutely necessary, as the break would have got stronger with every single meter of line that was pulled from the reel and the water preasure would make it possible to run into a line break. Everything was perfect! No mistake for my part. However, after approx. 2 minutes of unbelievable action the disillusionment followed. The fish got away.
How could this happen? I caught up the line and then it was clear what had happened. The 1,2 mm monofilament came off the 130 lbs braided line loop. That was something which should simply not have happened, because the class tippet was substantially weaker. „This had never happened before!“, the first mate assured and he obviously would have liked to sink quite dear into the ground in that moment. „All boats use these leaders.“, he tried to excuse. Incessantly the nice guy apologised for the material defect. I already had my doubts about the connection when I saw it the first time but I trusted the pros at site. I should have probably trusted my intuition and should have at least chosen another leader. It was already too late and not to be changed any more. A handling mistake from my side would have annoyed me substantially more.
Although I use to say that a specimen you loose during the fight is simply not entitled to you I did not want to be reminded of my quotation in that moment. I sat down quietly, closed my eyes and let the pictures show up again in my inner cinema. What brilliant pictures! After five minutes of the meditation, the loss was already forgotten. No matter if it is a release after dehooking or a „long line release“ like in this case, it really makes no difference on account of the spectacular pictures in my head. Despite that you might have to or want to release a fish, you never release the pictures and emotions that come a long with it. These pictures of the fighting marlin are yet as vividly in my head like at that time. They belong to me – for good. They are mine, forever! And they are the perfect motivation to return to these sensational fishing grounds to give it another try to land a big blue marlin with the fly.
Yellowfin Thuna, Roosterfish, Snook: #12 bluewater rod, 8-9 ft., sinking Line, min. 300 m of strong backing, squid flies ca. 7-10 cm(for yellowfins), baitfish flies 10-15 cm(Roosterfish, Snook),
Sailfish: #12-14er bluewater rute, 8-9 ft, LOOP Evotec HD 9-13, min. 300 m of 80 lbs backing, Rio Levanthian Sinking Line, Cam Sigler flies (Quatros Ochos), popper oder streamers in natural colours (Ballyhoo colour)
Marlin: #14-18 bluewater rod, 8 ft., big antireverse reel or LOOP Opti Big packed with 600m of 80lbs nacking, Rio Levanthian Sinking Line, 20-30cm marlin flies
Staying in the back and aside the boat the fly fisher has to present a big fly by casting it two handed(no use of line hand – danger!!!) in a good angle to the fish. Sight casting – you see the fish and decide where to place your fly. Casting the big flies with heavy tackle and two handed on only 10 m of distance is anything but easy. The fly can catch the side rigger wires or any other parts of the boat in the back with ease during false casting. Everything happens within 10-15 seconds and needs perfect concentration as you usually have one attempt only. Please do never try to make a double haul as the take and run are so strong and fast that your line might tangle up around your fingers or the reel. What that means with fish that can speed up to 100 km/h within a few seconds needs no explanation. It would be really dangerous. At least your rod would probably be pulled over board.
- Casting wit wobblers or soft plastic lures.
- Bait ans Switch fishing (bait ballyhoo on a circle hook): The live or dead ballyhoo is cast in front of the sailfish. The angler lets the fish swallow the fish and after approximately 8 seconds the break is tightened. The hook is pulled up from the stomach and sets perfectly in the edge of the mouth without harming any inner organs or other parts of the fish mouth. Guatemala regulations only allow circle hooks tob e used with bait fish.