by Capt Gene Kelly

Rene's first Pacific sailfish. For the last dozen or so years my wife and I have gone on our annual winter vacation for a couple of weeks, always with a couple of days fishing included, but I have never been on "guys trip" until this past year. My son was born in Guatemala, and has been back there a couple of times with his mother and I, but he never fished there, so in late ?04 I decided to set up a trip with him, his father-in-law Bob and brother-in-law, Wes and me, just the guys.

I told him to pick the dates, as long as it was sometime in late January early February, and being in the plastic generation, he based his choice on when he could get a free flight for himself using his credit card miles, heading down on a Thursday, fishing three days and returning on a Monday. He picked the next to last weekend in January, and everybody agreed. Of course, after everything was set

up Wes almost had a heart attack when he realized that would miss some NFL playoff games, but he survived.

The day of our departure arrived and there we were at JFK, checking into a 6:00 am flight on American, to connect in Miami, a flight that would get us there around 1:30, plenty of time to show everybody around the city and check out the marketplace for some souvenirs. Most anglers that head to Guatemala get right on the road to the coast once they land, but that?s not the way that I like to do it. Unfortunately, the air travel demons had something else in mind, namely delaying our connecting flight for a couple of hours due to something called snow in Boston. Then, there was airport construction that delayed our landing even more, finally getting us on the ground something like three hours late, but there was still time to get the rental car, check into the Panamerican Hotel (something else I wanted them to see) and get to the marketplace before all the gates got pulled down. A lot of the enjoyment I get out of the market is the haggling that one goes through before actually laying down the cash, but with very little time available, that part of the show was skipped.

The next morning, around 5:00 am, we got the wake up call and prepared to head off. The center of Guatemala City is virtually deserted at that time of day, but as we got to the outskirts, it seemed like everyone waiting for a bus was dressed up for a snowstorm. The week or so before we left I started monitoring the weather forecasts, and hadn?t been too happy with what I was seeing. In the days before we arrived there had been a strong cold front. Typically the weather is great at that time of year, but an occasional front will break across the mountains, and that doesn?t bode well for the fishing. From the sight of the local shivering population, it was obvious that the weather was a little chillier than normal. Coming form New York in January, it didn?t seem bad to us, but I started worrying about the fishing prospects.

It?s about an hour and a quarter ride from Guatemala City to the coast, so it was still pretty dark when we were crossing the mountain halfway down the road. I was driving along when a shouting erupted from the back seat. Someone had noticed a glowing mountain peak, also known as a volcano. It had never occurred to me that this would be the equivalent to someone spotting Elvis, but then again I have been seeing sights like that for half my life. Thoughts of getting to the marina as fast as we could were replaced with deciding on the exact best spot to stop the car in order to video tape the glow, which in reality was a waste of time and tape, but who pays any attention to me. (I was right.)

Finally we got to the Pez Vela Marina. While everybody else waited on our breakfast order, I took a walk down the dock to find the TRANQUILITY, a 31? Bertram, which by some coincidence was the first boat that I had ever fished on in Guatemala. I dropped down my gear to Julio, one of the mates, and asked how the fishing had been. The cold front had screwed it up a bit, as I had feared. In fact two days before we arrived the boats were unable to even get out to fish. But there was only a slight breeze, so the worst of the front was gone, and maybe things would start getting back to normal.

A half hour later, after knocking down our huevos, jamon, tortillas, jugo y cafe con leche, we were heading out of the ship basin. The coast runs east and west, so we were running due south, with a slight breeze on our tail, no whitecaps, just a gentle Pacific swell. The weather was cooperating, now all we need is fish. The run out was spent by the two mates rigging ballyhoo, and after about an hour the throttles were pulled back and we were there.

I bring my own tackle, a fly rod and a baitcasting type rod with fifteen pound test, and I always fish the same way. The port flat rod is mine, usually as a drop back on a bait and switch. The other rods, thirty pound sticks with Shimano lever drag reels, two from the riggers and one flat line belong to everyone else. Once the lines were set we were going over the procedure with the three neophytes when Juan, the captain, yelled "tisar derecho", right teaser in gringo. I dropped back my bait, and was on, as simple as that. Most charter boat captains want that first fish badly, and those in Guatemala are no different, so as soon as I was hooked up, a lot of boat backing and spinning started, and in a couple of minutes I had a sailfish across my chest, and pictures were being snapped. Later fish would be played in a more leisurely fashion, with more emphasis on trying to raise additional fish and enjoying the fight.

Then I put my rod in the rocket launcher, figuring that it was now everybody else?s turn before I would try again. The day worked out perfectly for first timers, nothing wild, and by the end of the day everyone had caught a couple of fish, and more important, they had learned the right way to do things. We ended up with eight for eight. As Julio said with a smile, "no sancochos". We never lost a bait to a fish.

Most of the anglers who fish Guatemala take their meals at the same place they stay, which in most cases is the Villas del Pacifico Hotel, a very nice place on the ocean about five miles from the marina. However, I don?t. We went to eat at the El Capitan, the marina where sportfishing in Guatemala began. It used to be a very happening place, but when the estuary shoaled up and the Pez Vela Marina was built all the boats left. Now it is just a nice place to eat, with palm frond roof, sand floor, our table ten feet from the water and a parrot walking around.

The next morning after a hearty all you can eat breakfast buffet at the hotel we were on our way once again. The weather was perfect, very slight breeze, and fifteen minutes out we spotted a floating log, and we started catching dinner, about a dozen small dorado, or mahi, or dolphin, depending on where you live. Nothing exciting as far as sportfishing, but dinner just the same, and some very nice belly strip teasers, which would come in handy when I took out the fly rod.

The rest of the run was about the same as the day before, and by the time we slowed down the dorados were fillets, bagged and on ice, the baits were ready and we were fishing once again. We picked away throughout the morning until around mid day, when everything had slicked off, and the action started to come more rapidly. Time for the fly rod.

The port rigger was lifted, hookless teasers set out and I told my son to keep the video camera ready because I wanted him to shoot the strike, to me, probably the most exciting part of the trip. Yeah, right! We were barely set up when there was a tail followed by a slashing bill behind the left rigger bait. Lots of yelling. Mate working the fish back to the boat. Out of gear. Teaser yanked out of the water. Cast. Sailfish have no brakes, and a thirty foot cast will usually land in back of him. Pop it a couple of times, and he?ll turn around, grab it and all you have to do to hook him is hang on. Not this guy. He must have known what was going on, because he engulfed the popper as soon as it hit the water. I cast, reached to pick up the fly line and he was there. Line spun off the reel, the fish started jumping. I yelled back to my son, "Did you get it".

"Oh wow, did you see that?" he said, camera at his side.

You may think that it is especially hard to land a sailfish on a fly rod, but it?s not. As long as they stay on top that is. This one did for a while, but then changed his mind and stayed deep. When a fish is on top the boat can be maneuvered to assist the angler, but it can?t back down under the water. All the angler can do is put a bend in the rod and hang on, inching the fish up - or not.

We were in a pack of a half dozen boats, and it was obvious that the bite was hot. All around us boats were hooking up, backing down, releasing their fish and starting over. And here I was, seemingly hooked to the bottom. The fish was staying down and moving away very slowly. I would gain an inch, then lose it again. We would back up, turn right, change the angle. Nothing worked, and after about a half hour or so I was getting beat. Plus, we were missing out on a lot of fish. Finally I decided, "enough is enough". I tightened up as hard as I could, and it was over. The twenty pound tippet broke.

I put the rod away, and tried to drink a bottle of water, but my hands were trembling so much that I couldn?t get it to my lips. I was done for a while. By the time I worked my way up to the bridge to relax a bit we had hooked up again.

We wound up with a dozen fish that day, I think, out of about eighteen or twenty that we raised. When I?m not sure exactly how many fish I raised or caught, I figure it?s been a pretty good day. It?s easy to count two fish.

The last day was a repeat of the second, a very slow pick in the morning with a couple of hours of hot action starting around noon. I left the fly rod in it?s tube, and pretty much stayed out of the way. Everybody had their act down, dropping back baits, hooking all their own fish. I even got a chance to be a mate, leadering a fish to the boat. The highlight of the day was with the last fish, when Capitan Juan, my son Rene and Wes all jumped in to swim with the fish. We wound up with another dozen or so, about average for Guatemala, although on the slow side for that time of year.

The rush hour traffic in Guatemala City will make you wish you were on the LIE, and we had an early flight out the next morning, so we were driving back to the city that afternoon. The cruise ship dock is right along side the marina, and there was one there, so since all the souvenir shops were open, we made a pass through, cold Gallo cervezas in hand, before heading out. The ride back was uneventful, unless you count the neck straining trying to see the volcanoes, which were unspectacular in the daylight.

All things considered it was a pretty good trip. Thirty-two sailfish in three days is nothing to sneeze at, but in a place where boats have released as many as a hundred sails in a day, it was pretty tame. But for some guys who have never caught a billfish before, it was a dream trip.