Best in Class from Ladies Only Guatemala

Fishing skills and friendships forged in an incredible experience

A woman and boat crewmate pull a large sailfish boatside.
Hands-on instruction leads to a successful sailfish release off Guatemala. Courtesy Casa Vieja Lodge / Rum Line

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With mounting excitement and expectations of fun, education and relaxation, I was finally packing my bag to embark on my first Marlin University adventure. The months leading up to this bucket-list trip were filled with the hectic pace of day-to-day to-do lists, and I was looking forward to finally arriving at LAX for the flight that would whisk me off to a week away from it all—unplugged—to enjoy the serenity of being out on the deep-blue sea and hoping to catch a few billfish with others who enjoy the same passion.

My spot at the Ladies-Only Marlin University in Guatemala set the stage for an adventure to meet a group of ladies from all ages and walks of life who’ve embraced the opportunity to learn the art of the catch, as well as the satisfaction of a release. I knew the trip would be fun, but I had no idea that it would be as inspiring and life-changing as it was.

Watch: Take a ride on Wall Hanger, a waterjet-powered beauty from Spencer Yachts.

Bienvenido a Guatemala

From the moment of arrival, I was impressed by the organization, efficiency and friendliness of those entrusted with the MU guests. Arriving much later than everyone else, I was met at the airport by two friendly and courteous Casa Vieja Lodge drivers who were tasked with ensuring my safe transport after dark. The property manager greeted me with a smile the moment I stepped out of the van, as did the rest of the staff, and I was immediately served a heathy dinner with a smile, even though it was well past dinnertime.

With very little sleep, my first morning started off with an early but gentle wake-up by the staff, followed by a tasty breakfast as I met all of the ladies who had flown in to participate. You could tell by the energy that this was going to be fun. Some had known each other from years gone by, and others (like me) were new, trying to remember names and faces. Almost immediately, the ­newcomers were embraced as friends.

Our angling adventure began as we headed to the marina, where we were divided up into teams of three. The Casa Vieja boats welcomed us with champagne and fresh flowers; the captains, crew and instructors were introduced; and we quickly headed out to sea in search of billfish, every one of us filled with high hopes of honing our angling skills.

Building Blocks

The next three days were filled with successful hookups, along with the inevitable but necessary birds’ nests and burned thumbs. The enthusiastic and expert instructors kept their eyes on us, coaching us through each hookup and encouraging the correct angling techniques, harmonizing the intricate deck dance with the captains and crews to ensure that we came to a successful release. You could tell each one of the instructors were not only competent, but also had a genuine love for fishing, and were friends and fishing companions themselves. They do an exceptional job: meeting each angler at their own comfort level, understanding the ladies’ personal goals for the trip, then helping to build on those specific skillsets.

By Day Four, we were ready to put our education to the test with a friendly but serious tournament. The teams were scrambled, adding another level of adaptation because we were required to fish with ladies we hadn’t been fishing with—an undeniable exercise in team building. This day would require the utmost of attention to the spread as we put our best skills forward, all hoping for the team win—not only focused on the fun of it, but also the camaraderie and our individual goal to achieve a personal best.

Our Ladies Marlin University week raised a total of 263 sailfish, had 211 bites, and released 125, plus five dorado, much to the credit of our three amazing ­instructors, Capt. Jen Copeland, Debbi David and Chessy Ricca, and the captains and crews from Rum Line, A-Fin-ity and Release. Each day was met by friendly smiles, cold ­towels, fresh and tasty lunches, and as many pictures of you and your sailfish as you wanted, thanks to the boats’ onboard GoPros.

Marlin University’s lead instructor, Capt. Jen Copeland, compliments angler Mary Freitas (on left) for a job well done after another ­successful sailfish release on Rum Line. Courtesy Casa Vieja Lodge / Rum Line

The CVL Experience

Guatemala’s Casa Vieja Lodge is an angler’s sanctuary, where everyone really does know your name. From the once-in-a-lifetime experiences at sea to the service teams who tidied up our rooms, to the bar and restaurant staff, who provided service with a smile throughout our stay and knew our names and food and drink preferences by the end of the first day. I’m a seasoned traveler, but this really was one of the best trips I have ever made alone, and I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.

It takes a village to create a truly ­memorable experience. For my first Marlin University, my expectations were not only met, but were exceeded a ­hundredfold. I arrived looking forward to a fun and relaxing week of fishing, and left with new skills and friendships, all inspired by the goodness and genuineness of everyone I encountered. All the wonderful women who participated were inspiring and enthusiastic about fishing, life and more. The Marlin University staff—organized by director Jennifer Dudas, who coordinated the trip with great efficiency and had timely responses to last-minute questions—was nothing short of spectacular: always encouraging, helpful and inspiring.

Read Next: Learn more about the past, present and future of the Offshore World Championship.

The owners of Casa Vieja Lodge, Kristen and David Salazar, and their staff exemplified extraordinary ­quality in people, products, and service each and every day. What’s not to love about a week starting with roses and champagne and ending with a lively pig roast, music, and martinis? All of us were fretting our departure and begged for time to stand still so that we could have one more day. We shared fish stories, laughter and many heartfelt hugs goodbye that night, but it was a night to remember. I unequivocally rank this experience “best in class” from start to finish, and I’m already anxiously anticipating ­meeting these ladies again soon.

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