Guatemala Fishing at Sailfish Bay Lodge

The News & Observer - North Carolina


Sailfish trip quite a tale
Mike Zlotnicki, Staff Writer

If there's one phrase no self-respecting angler wants to hear, it's "You should have been here last week [or yesterday]." We've all heard it, and we know lucky is the person who gets to say it.

Jay Gilleece III of Cary can.

Gilleece and his party -- son Jimmy, a UNC-Wilmington junior; buddy Randy Ward of Raleigh; and son-in-law Richard Denzler of Apex -- ventured to Guatemala in March for a sailfish expedition. They had a whale of a trip.

How good? The quartet caught and released 220 Pacific sailfish -- 55 each -- during a five-day trip to Sailfish Bay Lodge ( ) in Puerto Iztapa. "Anybody who fishes needs to experience ... [the trip]," said Gilleece, 60, who owns an engineering consulting business. "It's one of the finest experiences, as far as fishing is concerned, I've ever had."

Pretty heady praise. Gilleece has been billfishing (for marlin and sailfish) since the early 1990s and has traveled to Panama, Hawaii, Mexico and St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, in pursuit of these fish. But the March trip always will be one for the memory banks.

"You cannot write a scenario any more beautiful than what happened on that trip," he said. "At 6:30 a.m., you had breakfast; you're on the water at 7; and lines in the water at 7:30. Fish until 4 p.m., and you're having a cocktail back at the lodge at 5."

One price of $3,400 per angler covered everything for the week.

Gilleece, who also fishes regularly out of Morehead City, said the Pacific sails averaged 120 to 135 pounds, much larger than their Atlantic cousins. The preferred technique was to troll teasers (groups of lures with no hooks) behind the boat until a fish would rise, then the angler would free-spool a small ballyhoo rigged on a circle hook to the fish. The crew used light tackle -- 25- or 30-pound test on Shimano TLD 25 reels -- to fight the fish, which quickly were released. Circle hooks are required by law, and it's illegal to kill a sailfish in Guatemala. Strict regulation makes for good fisheries.

"Doubles [hookups] happened about 50 percent of the time, about 15 percent of the time we had triples, and maybe three times we had quadruple hookups," said Gilleece, who plans to fish the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament out of Morehead City next month and then travel to Hawaii with Ward in July to fish the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament out of Kona.

Why spend so much time (and money) chasing a fish only to release it?

"When those reels go off and you see the billfish jump up and tailwalk across that water, it's an incredible experience," Gilleece said.

It must be pretty incredible to experience it 55 times in one trip. A fraction of that in the June 12-17 Big Rock could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars for some lucky angler. It'll be interesting to see how Gilleece's billfish karma holds out.

Staff writer Mike Zlotnicki can be reached at 829-4518 or

Sailfish Bay Lodge
955 Pavilion St. | Cincinnati, OH 45202
Tel: 513-984-8611 or 800-638-7405 | Fax: 513-984-0831
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