I finally accomplished something I’ve always wanted to do…and that’s catch the awe-inspiring sailfish (Vela to the locals) on the fly. It was so much fun, we did it several more times, but only after being tested by the strains of travel and weather. This report runs a bit long as it includes a discussion of the techniques…just in case someone may be interested.
The story starts with arrival in Guatemala City via a direct flight from Houston. Guatemala City is a sprawling, urban area complete with terrible poverty and everything that goes with it and has perhaps some of the worst air quality, at least when I was there, of anywhere. A combination of smog and perhaps volcanic ash from nearby active volcanoes contributes to the extremely poor air quality.
Our driver got us out of the big city as quickly as we could…the traffic there makes Houston traffic seem easy by comparison, and we headed to Antigua to meet up with our Outfitter for lunch and a brief overview of the city which is a world heritage site. Antigua is a stunning little city with cobblestone streets lined with local shops selling all kinds of wares, all in the shadow of three volcanoes, one of which is active putting out ash every day we were in Country. If time had permitted, Antigua would have been a great destination point itself…but the Vela’s called.
Just past Antigua, you can’t miss seeing the three imposing volcanoes, Volcan de Fuego (currently active), its twin Acatenango and Mesta with near 12,000 ft peaks which you can clearly see (and we did) from far out in the Pacific. Proceeding out of Antigua and the shadows of the volcanoes towards the Pacific we arrived at our lodge near Izatapa in a largely week end community of very nice dwellings.
The next morning, we headed out to blue water in a 35 ft Bertram…and the blue water was only about 5 miles out which was fortunate since the seas were running 6 to 8 ft with a nasty chop on top. It was just too rough for us to be willing to take the long ride out some 20 to 30 miles to the sail fishing prime waters. That was the bad news…but the good news was that some big blue marlin were working in the 300 ft depths just offshore so we decided to give that a go. Within an hour, we had a blue marlin on the conventional tackle and the fight was on!
Now, I’ve been fortunate to deal with some large fish in my days including 200-pound class Tarpon, but the Marlin is in a class by itself for shear fighting power. We got the fish to the leader within about 20 minutes for an official catch…but the deck hand could not hold onto the mighty beast and she sounded…straight to the bottom. From then on, it was simply torture for all of us. I have never, ever turned over a hooked fish to anyone to finish off, but I had to in this case. I turned it over to the first mate who then after about 30 minutes turned it over to the deck hand who then turned it over to friend George, who then finally turned it over to the Captain to finish off this mighty fish. All five of us present on the boat took turns battling this great fish after I had “leadered it”…and by the way although friend George and I have over 150 years on this planet between us, the others onboard were relatively young and fit and none of them could whip this fish until it finally just wore down.
It wasn’t a giant by Marlin standards and certainly not “Old man and the Sea” class but it did remind us of that great story. The captain and experienced first mate estimated the fish at 350 pounds….my first and probably last Marlin…just too much work, LOL.
The next day we were met with even stronger winds and higher waves and reluctantly decided to forgo chasing the elusive sailfish on the fly. No one was braving the conditions…but reports were that the next day would be better….so we toured the local area including a very large plantation which was growing sugar cane, cattle, and plantain, the vegetable-banana which is delicious fried, baked, grilled, etc.
With our last day facing us and the prospect at failing in our main purpose of catching a sailfish on the fly, we awoke to the third day with great apprehension followed by great expectation as we observed the winds had lessened. We headed out to the sailfish grounds on a much friendlier sea and ran into many signs of feeding fish including birds, floating structure, schools of spinning porpoises, whales, and yellow fin tuna. It looked like just a matter of time until the sails would show…and show they did.
To catch a sailfish on the fly requires a total focused team effort…the Captain working the boat from the flying bridge, the first mate and the deck hand working the spread and the angler who has only to cast the fly into a small imaginary one foot circle within about 2 seconds of sighting the first sail crashing the teasers.
Here’s how it worked:
1)First you put out the teasers. We had a close in teaser on the starboard outrigger with several hookless squid lures, another teaser farther back on that same outrigger with a hookless bally hoo and a third in a starboard rod holder on hookless ballyhoo behind multicolored plastic lure. Then on the port side we had one hookless teaser saving that right-hand port stern corner for the right handed fly caster. Last, the captain had a heavy spinning rod with a ballyhoo on a hook that he judiciously used only when multiple sails might be present.
2)The fly set-up was a 12 wt TFO reel with 400 grain teeny head on a TFO 12 wt rod with a large bright pink popper.
3)The “game” then goes like this…. the captain, from his flying bridge perch will likely first see the sail (s) approaching the spread and he then calls out for the first mate and deck hand to rapidly bring in all the teasers except the in close starboard squids teaser. When he calls for this, it’s a scramble for everyone to get to their positions and take actions…. bring in the teasers and the fly angler gets ready for a 2 second window to open with a sail on that remaining starboard squid.
The “cast” is behind and to the side of the fish and the fly must be immediately stripped rapidly away from the teaser where the sail will see it and crash on it. The first mate, just in case, has ready a big mullet which he can use to splash the water to get the sail into a frenzy if needed…but of course he must remove it quickly so the sail will search for the fly…and this is where you, the fly person has about 2 seconds of shear panic and terror to get that sail to eat your fly…. nothing like it that I have ever experienced. Nothing. The cast isn’t long (about 30 ft), but must be placed perfectly behind and to the side of the fish on the starboard teaser so as not to tangle with any other teasers being removed, while being careful not to line the fish, and not to snag any of the many rods hanging in the rod holders.
There are usually no second chances. It all happens in split seconds…and if you mess up, you not only lose your shot at the fish, but you absolutely let down everyone else who is working so hard to get you the shot. It is a team effort and an extreme Chinese fire drill. You succeed or fail as a team. Nothing like it.
When it all works perfectly, it is truly a thing of beauty and a dancing sail fish on the line is a great reward. Landing the fish is anticlimactic. It is all in the take, a concentrated few seconds of extreme action.
That third day, we were rewarded with 6 beautiful Pacific sails, four of which were caught on the fly, one which was lost at the boat on the fly and another one which was caught as part of an incredible double in which the Captain deployed that fore mentioned spinning real while I was battling a big sail on the fly rod. There were three sails simultaneously working our spread and I got one on the fly and George took the one on the spinning rod and the third sail was just left disappointed, LOL, with nothing but teasers to chase.
Sailfish on the fly is everything I had imagined it would be and much more. Thrilling, exciting and bonding with your team. It is special.