Guatemala Fishing at Sailfish Bay Lodge

Sailfish On The Fly! - Guatemala - Sailfish Bay Lodge


Sailfish On The Fly!
Sailfish Bay Lodge
Written by Bill Battles

I’ve always thought of billfishing as a rich man’s sport. After all, you need a million dollar boat (or the pocketbook to charter on), oodles of specialized gear, and the financial depth to travel to exotic destinations in pursuit of fish. Stupid me.

The Place To Go
This past spring we discovered Sailfish Bay Lodge, an American owned operation in Guatemala that makes fly fishing for trophy sailfish truly affordable. Guatemala has been called “the sailfish capital of the world,” and for good reason. Fisheries scientists studying sailfish populations off the coast of Guatemala have concluded that this is likely the largest breeding ground for Pacific sailfish anywhere in the world. The coast of Guatemala forms a giant bay, where strong currents flowing east from Mexico bounce off the coast of El Salvador, reversing direction and creating an enormous eddy that corrals bait and holds copious numbers of sailfish, marlin, tuna, dorado, roosterfish, and other pelagic and sport fish species attracted to it.

The Sailfish Bay Lodge on-site manager, Robert Fallon, is a Californian who fell in love with Guatemala and its conservation minded approach to this incredibly rich fishery---Guatemalan law mandates the use of circle hooks, and requires that all billfish be released. Robert runs the lodge as if he owns it, which, in fact he does. From the waiters to the chambermaids, and the boat captains to the mates, he personally trains and supervises the entire staff to a level of competence and service rarely encountered in Central America.

After three years in its former facility, Sailfish Bay Lodge just opened a brand new, beach-front complex on a barrier island separating Chiquimulia Canal from the Pacific Ocean. Accommodations include eight beautiful ocean-front suites with central air-conditioning and private baths, a large open-air dining room, and a beach-front bar with freshwater pool and Jacuzzi. And you’ll sleep well at night knowing that two guys in blue uniforms with slung shotguns patrol the Sailfish Bay Lodge property 24 hours a day.

Sailfish On The Fly
We flew into Guatemala City on a non-stop, dirt cheap ($300 round trip) U.S. Airways flight from Boston, and were met at the airport by Anthony Salas, a Sailfish Bay employee who’s English was better than mine. On the two-hour drive down to the lodge we stopped in Antigua---the Guatemalan equivalent of Jackson Hole---for lunch and a little shopping, arriving at the lodge just in time for a couple of drinks and a Cuban cigar (an open bar is included; the cigars cost extra) before sitting down to a gourmet dinner of steak and lobster tails. A post-dinner swim, accompanied by another gin and tonic (or two), brought a pleasant end to a long but interesting day. Things were starting off well, indeed.

The next morning we were up at 6:00 AM for breakfast (another culinary extravaganza), then headed off to the marina in Puerto Iztapa where Gypsy and Maverick---the lodge’s 32-foot Blackfin sportfishermen---spend their nights. Both boats are powered by twin CAT 3208 diesels (real thrummers that bring the sails up) and look like they were just delivered by the manufacturer. Depending upon the time of year, the vagaries of El Nino. And other natural phenomena I don’t pretend to understand, the fish can be hanging out from anywhere eight to 50 miles offshore. As luck would have it, we drew the 50-mile card, and got to enjoy a two-hour boat ride out to the fishing grounds each morning, and another one returning in the afternoon. But the boat rides were really a lot of fun…for about the first hour.

Did I mention that it’s hot in Guatemala? Well, it is. In fact, it’s REALLY hot, especially out on the “Big P” standing in a white fiberglass cockpit with neither a cloud in the sky nor the hint of breeze. But this is a small price to pay for fishing in the place that holds both the fly- and conventional-tackle world records for the greatest number of sailfish boated and released: 22 for the fly guys in a single day, and a mind boggling 134 for the gearheads over a three-day period. And both of these records were last year!

Hooking Up
Upon our arrival at the fishing grounds, Capt. Tito and his two mates sprung into action. The big CAT 3208’s were throttled back to a resonant 800 RPM, and four live bait (actually dead bait) teaser rigs went over the side---three of the stern and one from the starboard outrigger. Robert Fallon joined our party of three on the first day out to provide English language instruction on what to do, and after just a few minutes of practice our designated caster got to test his new-found skills on the first sail of the trip.

Here’s how it’s done.
Standing in the aft port corner of the cockpit holding a 12- to 14-weight rod rigged with a 65-foot Cortland 444 Tropic Plus Billfish line and a Cam Sigler Pink Squid tube fly (a big pink and white popper), the caster flips out 20 to 50 feet of line, letting the fly trail in the wake off the port corner. When a sailfish rise into the wake, the mate lets him get a good chomp or two on one of the real-fish teasers, then jerks it out of his mouth and works him in towards the transom. When the mate yells “Ahora!” (“Now”) the caster lifts the fly, takes a single backcast, and shoots for the teaser. The instant the fly hits the water, the mate snatched the teaser away, leaving the sailfish staring right at the pig pink and white popper. And about 99 times out of 100, he whacks it.

Thanks to Robert’s instruction, the hook set was a piece of cake: whichever way the fish turned, the angler dipped his rod to the opposite side. Using this simple technique, the hook-up rate was surprising high, on the order of 90% in our experience. And that’s when the real fun begins. The second that fish feels the side pressure, he’s out of there like a greased pig at a redneck barbeque. A dozen or more spectacular leaps, several trip to the bitter end of your backing, and an exhausting 20+ minute fight---where both fish and angler give everything they’ve got---is the typical drill.

In one memorable duel, I hooked the biggest fish we encountered on the trip---estimated by Capt. Tito to be in the 125-pound range----and every time I got him to the boat he reached down deep and came up with another reserve of unimaginable strength, burning off 200 to 300 yards of backing (36-pound Cortland Teflon) in the blink of an eye. Forty minutes after I started, I got him to the transom for the fourth time, and when the mate grabbed for his bill he dove under the boat, cutting off the fly line and the tip of my 12-weight Diamondback fly rod on the starboard prop.

In three days of fishing, we boated over 20 sails---I actually lost count after about 15---with the average fish running 90 to 100 pounds. We lost another half-dozen or so to various causes, running the gamut from equipment failures to pure stupidity on our part.
The biggest fish landed was one of mine, tipping the scales at just under 120 pounds. We even had several doubles, and despite the resulting Chinese fire drill in the cockpit, we were somehow able to boat both fish in very case.

We also caught quite a few tuna and dorado, usually on the way out or the way back, and we got one shot at a marlin of about 250pounds, but he wasn’t interested in what we had to offer.

What’s The Deal?
High season at Sailfish Bay Lodge runs from November 1 through May 31, and the per person rate for 4-night/3 fishing-day plan we opted for is $2,675. The low season (June 1 through October 31) rate for the same deal is $2,274. This is a year ‘round fishery, just as productive in July as it is in February (and its no hotter in Guatemala in the summer than it is in the winter), so it makes a lot of sense to save $400 and go during low season. The lodge also offers 2-, 4-, 5- and 6-fishing –day packages with two to four anglers per boat. All rates include aforementioned open bar, three sumptuous meals per day, transportation to and from the airport, and last night accommodations at the Hotel Real Inter-Continental, a true 5-star hotel locates in the heart of Guatemala City’s most popular restaurant and nightlife district.

While Fallon is deservedly proud of the fish –number records cited above, the record he’s most proud of is this one: Not a single Sailfish Bay fly-fishing guest has ever failed to catch and release a sailfish. And if you don’t own and don’t want to purchase specialized billfish gear, you can rent all the fly-fishing equipment you’ll need---Diamondback rods, Abel reels, Cortland lines, flies and leaders---from the lodge for $30 a day. For more information, contact Sailfish Bay Lodge at (800) 638-7405; Web:

Looking Back
As it turned out, three 10-hour days of battling 100-pound fish was about all any of us could handle. And three anglers on the same boat was just right---only an idiot would want to fight those monsters all day long in 95 degree heat without a break.

Every afternoon on the cruise back to Puerto Iztapa we flaked out on the foredeck in the longed-for breeze created by our 20-knot speed of advance, sipped ice cold cerveza, and thought how nice it was going to feel when we finally hit the pool (with gin and tonic in hand, of course) for an evening of war stories, reminiscing about the most magnificent fish any of us had ever taken on flu.

Bill Battles is Fly Fish America’s Executive Publisher

More Info

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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