The departure date finally arrived, and with it came many different emotions: nervousness, anxiety, uncertainty, but the strongest of all was excitement.
At last, we can travel again,’ I thought to myself on the way to the airport, ‘and I am finally able to get back to what I love doing the most: fishing some of the world’s best destinations and helping anglers to catch their bucket list fish.’
In 2022, I decided to do just two destinations – Guatemala and Costa Rica – and to travel without the family for reasons both financial and COVID-related.
‘Damn, I am going to miss them!’ I thought as I said goodbye. We had just about always made these trips together as a family.
The first stop this year was Guatemala’s Pacific coast, where we planned five days of fishing plus a rest day to explore inland and check out a bit of the culture and scenery this great country has to offer.
The flights via Los Angeles were seamless and reassured us that the world was returning to normal. After the drive from Guatemala City down to the Pacific coast, it was a great feeling getting out of the shuttle and being greeted with big smiles and cocktails by the friendly, familiar staff from the ‘Sailfish Oasis’. The lodge looked as fantastic as ever, and it was not long before we were soaking in the pool and discussing the fishing plans for the week ahead.
June/July is off-season in Guatemala, but it’s a wonderful time of the year to fish for the sailfish that the area is famed for, along with good-sized yellowfin, mahimahi, and even blue marlin.
The next few days were not red-hot fishing but steady, with all the group getting into multiple sailfish and ‘mahi. One of the stand-out catches across those two days was Hayden landing a chunky ‘mahi destined for fish tacos and bites. We had a ‘lay day’ planned for day three, so most of the crew and I drove up to Antiqua to check out this colourful town, rich and full of history, local crafts, and great food. One of our anglers, Pete, opted to stay behind and charter the boat for the day, solo. He had a goal of catching a sailfish on fly, and this was going to be his chance – he would have more room on the boat to cast a fly, and it would be expressly set up for teasing-up billfish.
Mahimahi are often in the mix, and on light tackle they put up a spectacular fight.
It was damned exciting to get back to the lodge late that afternoon, see his huge smile, and hear all about his day on the big blue. Pete caught and released three sails on the fly that day (and another two on conventional tackle), making the decision to take his saltwater fly gear halfway around the world worthwhile.
It was time to get stuck into our last three days on the water. The team was now entirely in tune with how the boat and tease-and-switch system worked. One thing I love about the boats and crews in Guatemala is that they get you involved in the process, and they are some of the happiest and hardest-working crews in the world. The tackle and rigging are immaculate, and they go out of their way to teach you how to pitch skipping baits to anything that comes up into the teasers, and the art of hooking fish on circle hooks.
Guatemala is world famous for its sailfish fishery.
Two out of the three days would be like day one and two, with a bunch of sailfish and ‘mahi each day. But on fishing day four, we found a bunch of spinner dolphins. When we got close to the action, it was clear that some good-sized yellowfin were working with the dolphins. The crew went about their work quickly, changing out the 30lb sailfish tackle to heavier setups for tuna: long fluorocarbon leaders rigged with J hooks in the belly of ballyhoo and Ilander lures over the front of the bait providing extra colour and action. The crew also pulled out a topwater rod just in case the opportunity arose.
During the first pass of the feeding melee of dolphins and tuna, we got a massive hit from an XXL yellowfin that left a gigantic hole in the water. The line was screaming off at an alarming rate, and while this was happening, we were also getting bites from yellowfin on the other lures. With the line on the spool thinning quickly on the hooked-up fish and everyone a little distracted by the other bites, the tension increased too much on the line, and sadly the backing parted, leaving us gutted and fishless. We know you usually only get one shot at a very big yellowfin in these situations – the boat noise will often make the big fish sound.
The crew re-rigged, and Hayden hooked another big fish on the very next pass! After a long and tiring fight, Hayden managed to boat his first big yellowfin: measured and calculated to be around 70kgs. For the next few hours, we had a great bite on the tuna, with all the crew getting multiple fish in the 15-45kg range.
Yellowfin are built for speed.
As the day ended, we lined up for one more pass, but we quickly got covered up by small fish. With one small fish hooked up and a bunch of smaller fish chasing the teasers and lures, Pete picked up the topwater rod and cast it out, hoping to hook one. What happened next was insane. The lure was only six metres away from the boat when a massive tuna exploded on the popper; the fish just sat there for a moment, shaking its head, trying to free the hook; it was so clear and in-your-face – we could all see it vividly. Once the fish realised it was hooked up, it turned and peeled line off the Shimano Stella reel at an alarming rate. The fish never went down but did several huge, blistering runs just under the surface. Chris (our skipper) chased the fish hard many times until about an hour into the fight it finally started to settle down, making tighter turns, so we knew it was tiring. Pete had to dig in for the last 15 minutes and use his last bit of energy to get the fish boat-side. Once the fish surfaced, we knew it was the fish of a lifetime. To catch a yellowfin over the magic 200lb mark is the holy grail of yellowfin fishing, but to get one at 105kgs (232lbs) on topwater is more than a dream come true! This fish, for me, was the fish of the Guatemala trip, and I was super stoked that a long-time client that has fished all over the world with me was the one to catch it.
Nothing like fresh seared yellowfin tuna for lunch.
The trip was a great way to re-start our overseas guiding, made even better by the familiar faces at the Sailfish Oasis, the great boat, the friendly and skilled crew, and the small group of committed anglers who wouldn’t let COVID get in the way of an international fishing adventure. It was sad saying goodbye to the team, but the reassuring thing was that we’ll be back in 2023 to do it all again!
After our final goodbyes and the team splitting up to go different ways, Pete and I headed to the airport to continue to our next destination: Costa Rica. We met our new crew and devised a plan to catch roosterfish and blue marlin there.
This next leg of the journey starts with several disasters that put our plans in a tailspin. You’ll hear all about it in Part Two – Costa Rica!
September 2022 - Tony Orton
New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
Copyright: NZ Fishing Media Ltd.
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