Trust the Process: A Transformative Ladies-Only Fishing Expedition

Ladies-only session delivers exactly what it says it will, and then some.
Eight women wearing coordinated outfits while standing outside the entry way to Casa Vieja Lodge, which is lit up brightly in the night-time scape.
The Ladies-Only attendees were graciously outfitted in the Port & Starboard clothing line, courtesy of classmate Amy Spencer Parker (third from left). Marlin Expeditions

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Fish. Learn. Connect. Succeed. Repeat. That’s the tagline on the homepage of the Marlin Expeditions website, and that is exactly what happened during the 2024 Ladies-Only Marlin Expeditions trip this past April. I was flying to Central America to learn from two of the best female fishing instructors in the world. This trip seemed so far out of reach just a few months ago, but the next thing I knew, I was arriving at La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City and meeting for the first time an incredible group of ladies I would spend the next six days with. It felt like a dream.

The Marlin Expeditions staff was hard at work before we even got into the van to be transported to Casa Vieja Lodge in Puerto San Jose, as if their mission was to make this the trip of a lifetime for us all. Two hours later we were pulling up to the gates. As they slowly opened, I could see the little paradise hidden inside, but I was unprepared for how awesome this experience would be.

Once settled in our rooms, we all met at the pool for snacks and cocktails, then nestled in for a brief but comprehensive fishing orientation. As our instructors—Capt. Jen Copeland and Debbi David—went over the fishing positions, the tackle, the spread and some likely scenarios, we all listened intently, not sure what questions to ask first. We then started to open up, realizing that they were genuinely there to teach us everything they could in the four days ahead, and no questions were ever dismissed as silly or elementary. Most of us had been fishing before, so it wasn’t all completely new, but hooking the fish ourselves mostly was, and that’s why we were there. We wanted to learn it all.

The next four days were filled with the fishing successes I had always dreamed of. We were split into two teams of four, and while the tournament wasn’t until the last day, I could already see the competitive nature in everyone. The boat captains and mates were on point and personable, and made sure we were ­comfortable. But Jen and Deb were somehow on a whole different level. They were able to read each one of us, to know how to speak to us, and then reach us in some oddly in-tune personal way. It felt as if someone had given them my personal instruction manual.

When I think about the first fish I hooked on the first day, it was exhilarating to feel the fish take the bait. Deb stood next to me and coached me through the process with a calmness that set my nerves and excitement at ease. When the mate grabbed the leader and gaffed the dorado, I thought: “I did it! I hooked that fish myself!”

A crewmate helps an angler by pulling a large marlin boatside to pose for a photo before release.
Ashley Davis lands her first-ever blue marlin on Makaira under the watchful eye of instructor Debbi David on Day One in Guatemala. Courtesy Makaira / Casa Vieja Lodge

There were many triumphs that week, and lots of misses and backlashes, but we quickly realized that was just part of learning. Every bite is an educational opportunity, Jen said, and you have to embrace it as such. Both instructors were there with us every step of the way, constantly giving us tips and encouraging words when we missed—telling us what we did right, and what we might do to make it happen next time. But whatever the circumstances were, Jen and Deb exhibited a demeanor that makes it easy to gain the confidence to do this—that you can hook and land this fish on your own. “Trust the process,” and, “You can’t catch every single one, no matter how good you are,” are two phrases that we heard many times, and they stuck.

By the time Day Four came around, I realized that confidence and humility were a huge part of this trip being successful. The hands-on skills I had been spoon-fed for the past three days were unlike anything I would have ever experienced fishing at home. Multiple bites combined with lots of support and constructive criticism manifested into the confidence we needed to prevail—and I’ve always believed that if you’re not confident that you can learn to do something, you’ll never succeed.

The last day confirmed we had all reached the end of our training, at least for this trip. On tournament day, they mixed us up so that we weren’t fishing with our original teams. We weren’t total strangers because we had spent the past few days getting to know each other and enjoying amazing meals and drinks by the pool. But we were strangers to one another in the cockpit.

The true test was underway. We’d been educated, but had we gained enough confidence to intermingle and still have a successful day? Yes! Even though my team lost the tournament, we worked great together. We helped one another, we laughed, we joked, and we supported and encouraged one another. Most importantly, in the end, we were a team, and the high-fives, attagirls, pats on the back and hugs proved it.

Read Next: Into the Deep of Guatemala’s Game Fishery

The camaraderie found in the fishing community is fabulously special and unique, and our trip to Guatemala was a true example of this. The service at Casa Vieja is beyond top-notch, the kind of service that all other resort staff and boat crews will forever be compared with. Thoughtful, considerate and accommodating, the staff there knew our names and used them always. It was like I had known them my whole life. It felt like home.

In four days, our group of eight raised 257 sailfish, had 250 bites and released 167, along with one blue marlin and 31 dorados. And I’d do it all over again, twice. Mission accomplished.

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