Grand Slam in Guatemala

Great fishing and the trip of a lifetime

Two men standing in the mezzanine of a sport-fishing boat holding up marlin flags.
JT Coley and Capt. David Salazar celebrate Coley’s IGFA-legal grand slam in Guatemala. Courtesy John Coley

Special delivery: Sign up for the free Marlin email newsletter. Subscribe to Marlin magazine for $29 for 1 year and receive 2 bonus digital issues.

Sometimes, especially when it comes to fishing, it’s best to take full advantage of the opportunities that present themselves. When my son, JT Coley, a freshman at North Carolina State University, asked about going on a fishing trip for spring break, it was music to my ears. We both immediately said, “Let’s go back to Casa Vieja Lodge”; we had been in 2018 and loved it. We checked the dates for his break, and as luck would have it, there had been a cancellation for that same week in March. I fired off an email saying we were interested and had been there before. The next morning, I was in a business ­meeting when my phone rang. I saw it was a call from the lodge’s booking office in Miami, so I stepped out of the room and took the call. On the other end was Kirsten Thomas, who said I was her first call for the cancellation because we were repeat customers. She said that Capt. David Salazar’s usual boat, Poco Loco, was in the yard for maintenance but asked if we would be OK fishing with him aboard The Hooker. I said of course, and could barely contain my excitement. A couple of nights later, JT and I had a chance to Google the amazing history of this boat, all of her world records, and that a book had been written about her travels around the world. And to fish with David, a very well-respected captain who is also the owner of the lodge, would surely be an amazing experience.

The main reason for our trip was to give JT the chance to gain some experience hooking and leadering billfish because his goal for the summer is to be a second mate on some different boats. Once we arrived and started fishing, David instructed the mates that JT would be the only one hooking the fish and explained how he wanted the bait placed with regard to the teasers whenever a billfish came into the spread.

Our first opportunity was a sailfish, which JT quickly caught that morning. Our second fish was a striped marlin, and it put on quite a display. We caught several more sailfish, knowing that we needed just a blue marlin for an IGFA grand slam. That afternoon, David saw a blue in the spread, so JT quickly pitched a mackerel on a 30-wide—the fight was on. That fish put on a real show, running and jumping and forcing us to back down hard during the fight. Then bad luck—the marlin landed on the double line during one of its wild jumps and snapped it. We were all pretty heartbroken to have come so close to what we figured was a once-in-a-lifetime event. That’s when David came down to the cockpit and looked us both in the eyes. He held up two fingers, saying that we still had two more days to fish. He was positive and upbeat, and so we were as well. Two more days.

The next morning, we ran about 60 miles, which is farther than usual for Guatemala. Right away, JT released a sailfish. The next fish up was another striped marlin, the rarest and hardest to catch there, especially in the spring. Once again, we had two of the three billfish species we needed for a grand slam. JT released the fish, and I looked at my watch—it was 10:13 a.m. The number 13 is my wife’s lucky number, so I said out loud, “I’ve got a good feeling about this.”

Read Next: Get to know Casa Vieja Lodge owner Capt. David Salazar in our exclusive interview.

David asked if we wanted to spend the rest of the day trying to catch a blue, and of course, we said yes, so we swapped out the teasers for bigger single lures in hopes of raising one. Amazingly, within 15 minutes, we had raised one, a fat fish of about 450 pounds and bigger than the usual blues found there. JT once again hooked it on a mackerel on a 30-wide. The mates were careful getting him into the stand-up harness so that they didn’t touch the rod, reel or line during the fight. After an amazing display of jumps and screaming runs, we had the leader on the rod and were able to successfully release the fish. David rushed down off the bridge, and we all whooped and yelled in the cockpit. We had been so close the day before, but we had pulled it off the very next day: an IGFA-legal grand slam.

With one more day left to fish, we spent the third day fly-fishing and had some close calls, but then the sailfish bite turned back on strong, so we went back to using conventional tackle that afternoon and released 28 sails in three hours. Pretty incredible to ­average almost 10 billfish an hour for that short period of time, but that’s what makes this such an incredible place. That brought our total to 40 billfish releases and a grand slam in three days. It was the most amazing trip I could have ever imagined—having my son spend his spring break with me and Capt. David Salazar in Guatemala.

More Travel