TACA Airlines In-Flight Mag (EXPLORE) - Features Sailfish Bay
By Ken Rivadeneira
I'm not a fisherman. A "fly" is a bothersome insect as far as I'm concerned, I didn't "get" Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, and the thought of battling sea creatures that are bigger than me is terrifying.
A total novice to sportfishing, I decided to give it a shot and see why more than 13 million Americans engage in saltwater recreational fishing annually, according to the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service. After all, I don't like being left behind when it comes to trends. Businesses all over the world are conducting corporate excursions on fishing trips, and families are also taking advantage of this sport to spend quality time together.
But forget the United States. While researching the best places to fish, I was tipped off on two locations in Central America that harbor some of the best sportfishing in the world: Guatemala and Costa Rica.
Guatemala's Pacific coast is a bounty for recreational fishing. In fact, the area's strong currents have long been known to attract an abundance of billfish, but it is still the tourism industry's biggest secret. Quiet and devoid of massive resorts, Puerto Iztapa was the first stop on my odyssey, as I headed to Sailfish Bay Lodge.
As one of the premier fishing destinations in Guatemala, Sailfish Bay Lodge expertly caters to both serious fishing enthusiasts and those just looking for an off-the-beaten-path vacation. The deluxe resort has its own fleet of five vessels manned by captains and mates who have known the waters off the coast for more than 15 years. Sailfish Bay Lodge also arranges tours for those wanting to take a break from fishing. The ancient Mayan capital of Tikal and the uniquely preserved Antigua, Guatemala are two destinations guests shouldn't miss to complete their Guatemalan adventure. The lodge's expert staff takes care of everything - from the moment you set foot in Guatemala to the second you catch your flight home. What more could you ask for?
I was met by a staff member at the airport and transported an hour-and-a-half away to Puerto Iztapa, where I boarded a small motorboat--the only way to reach the lodge, which sits on a barrier island between the Pacific Ocean and the Chiquimulia Canal. The spacious eight - room lodge comfortably houses 16 to 18 guests, creating an authentic spot for a serious fishing getaway, but with all the amenities of a deluxe hotel, with swimming pool, beach, laundry services, gourmet dining and an enviably stocked bar. Upon arrival, the hotel staff greeted me with tropical drinks, food and stories of the amazing fishing I'd experience the next day.
As with most sportfishing worldwide, Sailfish Bay Lodge strictly adheres to catch-and-release laws for sustainable fishing, using circle hooks that not only improve hookup rates, but don't cause internal damage to the fish. On a trip, one may "raise," or draw to the surface, a fish with a lure, after which it may be hooked, lifted onto the boat for less than a minute for a photo op and released. Although I was new to all this, I couldn't help being a little incredulous when I was told guests regularly raise more than 50, sometimes 100, sailfish in one day, and release about half that amount. I had very little hopes for myself, not only because I was a neophyte to the sport, but also because I was visiting during the off-season.
The following day I boarded Gypsy, a 32-foot cruiser that took me about 30 miles out to sea. Not even five minutes after we got to our spot, the captain yelled, "Pez vela, pez vela!" (Sailfish! Sailfish!). Reeling in my first catch was a struggle, but I had plenty of practice that day: We raised 40 sailfish and actually caught and released 20 of them. In addition, I caught two dorado, which made for a delicious sashimi lunch on the boat.
The next day was not as productive, with three raised sailfish, one released and two dorado caught. Although I was offered the opportunity to do fly-fishing, I thought that was too advanced for me, and opted to continue doing it the "conventional" way. But in only two days, I had far exceeded my expectations, and I walked away convinced that if there's a perfect sailfishing spot, it's off Guatemala's Pacific coast. Imagine what the fishing's like in-season!