Twenty years ago, in 1993, Guatemala hosted the International Light Tackle Tournament Association (ILTTA) tournament, and I got to travel down and cover the event as my first-ever assignment for Marlin magazine. I’d worked there a year, and they were finally letting me out of the building.
I met two guys on that trip that I’ve grown to know quite well in the years since, Tim Choate and Capt. John Lagrone ‹ a pair of living legends in the sport-fishing world. Choate pretty much opened up Guatemala to sport fishing, and Lagrone was one of the early pioneers.
That first trip down predated all of the fancy lodges that cater to world travelers in Guatemala these days. My new wife and I stayed in the still-under-construction Hotel Martita, and the air-conditioning unit in our room, even though it was brand new, sounded like it was made by Harley Davidson. But who could sleep anyway, knowing you were going to see dozens of sailfish bites the next day?
Although the luxurious accommodations that you’ll find at places like the Casa Vieja Lodge, Guatemalan Billfish Adventures and Pacific Fins have far surpassed those of the old days, there’s one thing that hasn’t changed a bit: the bite.
There’s no place I know of with a more consistent billfish bite in all the world. The sheer numbers of sailfish here during certain times of the year is mind-blowing. This past December, while fishing with Capt. Brad Philipps, Dave Workman Jr. and his wife, Angela, caught 182 sails in three days, with Workman catching 91 in one day all by himself!
If you’re a longtime Marlin reader, you¹ve seen these numbers before. Our news section, Blue Water Currents, is filled with announcements for captains like Chris Sheeder, releasing his 20,000th billfish, the vast majority of which he caught in Guatemala.
And that’s why we always do at least one session of Marlin University in Guatemala every year. Although no great fishing spot is hot all the time, Guatemala probably comes as close as you can get. This past April we hosted a Marlin U. at Casa Vieja Lodge and came during what would be considered a down time. The boats weren’t catching much of anything, just three or four bites per day, and they had to run 40 miles to get those. But I wasn’t worried. I’d much rather hear that the bite’s been slow for some time than that it¹s been red-hot for weeks. It¹s always going to change, and I want to be there when it starts to change for the better!
We hit our four-day window just right and caught them up pretty good. We only had seven anglers on this trip, so our two boats had to work a little harder to find the fish. (The more boats that are out, the easier it is for someone to get on them and call the rest into the fray.) But find them we did. On our first day on Rum Line, we caught nine sails out of at least 20 bites and one 300-pound blue! Our other boat caught 17 sails out of another 30 bites. The fishing stayed hot for us for the next two days, with both boats catching 17 or 18 sails a day out of gobs of bites, yes, there is a bit of a learning curve, but that¹s what these students need, plenty of shots and chances to mess up. The more they see, the better they get.
Fishing slowed down a bit on our final tournament day, but the fish were still biting enough to keep the boys on their toes. We were also joined by a tourism official, Sergio Roberto Galvez, who actually ended up catching a sail for our team. We ended up losing the mini-tournament 9 to 4; however, just like on most all of our trips to Guatemala, everyone came out a winner!