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Home / Fishing / Articles

Fly Fishing for Pacific Sailfish

 — by The Great Sailfishing Company

More and more anglers are hearing and reading stories about fly fishing for billfish, Dorado (dolphin) and tuna. Some of them get curious and decide to try it out. After a trip to Guatemala it's easy to catch the "this is the only way of fishing for billfish" bug. In fact anglers like the challenge and intensity of saltwater fly fishing so much that it has become one of the fastest growing segments of the recreational bill fishing industry, gaining in popularity by leaps and bounds every season. Manufacturers of rods, reels, line, flies, etc., have been keeping pace with anglers needs so, finally, there is an ample variety of good quality, heavy duty products to choose from.

Up to three years ago if someone showed up in Guatemala with fly fishing gear and asked to be taken Pacific bill fishing most everybody would have asked, "Say WHAT?" Now days fly fishermen are a common sight on Guatemalan docks and our boat crews are just as

good at fishing either with conventional or with fly fishing tackle. Catching a billfish on a fly rod is different than fly fishing for Spanish mackerel, redfish, jack crevalle or snook. The adrenaline rush when fighting a sailfish is similar to catching a 70 to 140 pound tarpon and it goes off the chart if a marlin or giant tuna is hooked. Be ready for a fight!

The day before a group goes bill fishing the sport fishing boat is fueled and stocked. If our fly rods and flies are going to be used, they are taken out of storage for cleaning and assembling and Ballyhoo are prepared. Tying Ballyhoo for fly fishing "teasing" and trolling is a time-consuming art, the Ballyhoo have to be securely tied all over (chicken wire pattern), hookless. For more information on the equipment available on the boats please look at our The Fleet page.

The next day, on the way to the fishing area, our mates will assemble your saltwater fly fishing equipment and attach your flies to shock tippets and leaders. A five-gallon bucket is provided so your line will not snag or get entangled on the floor, whether there is water inside the bucket or not is up to the anglers' preference. When the fishing area is reached the sport fishing boat slows down and gets ready to troll. Anglers will notice that the crew sets up the boat differently for fly fishing than for conventional fishing. Depending on the ambidexterity of the angler, only one side of the boat drags teasers and lures so there is plenty of room to cast. A single outrigger usually drags plastic squid shapes while two poles drag Ballyhoo, sans circle hooks. All non-necessary rods and miscellaneous equipment are stored. The sports fishing boat moves slowly through the water, trolling, waiting for a sailfish to rise.

In front of the Pacific coast of Guatemala it usually doesn't take long to get a sailfish to rise and during the peak fishing season an angler might have several sailfish interested in the teasers and lures at the same time. Once a sailfish has been raised the captain slows down the boat and reels in the squid shapes on the outrigger while the two mates reel in the Ballyhoo, as quickly as possible. To keep the fish interested one of the mates, after reeling in a Ballyhoo, quickly grabs a spinning reel to whose line another hookless Ballyhoo has been tied and casts to "tease" the sailfish. By keeping the Ballyhoo just out of reach makes the sailfish want to eat it all the more and it's easier to bring him into casting distance.

As soon as the billfish is close to the boat (20 to 60 feet, depending on the anglers preference) the captain puts the throttles in neutral, the mate reels in his Ballyhoo and the angler casts his fly. The idea is to use the "bait and switch" technique on the billfish so the fly has to be cast in front or slightly to the side of the billfish. If the billfish does not take the fly the captain repositions the boat, the mate with the spinning reel casts again, the angler gets ready and the whole process starts over. It is a team effort to catch a billfish with a fly.

When a sailfish takes the fly…the angler better have at least a rod for 12 weight line, a reel with a good drag and plenty of backing. Sailfish sometimes go absolutely berserk when they are hooked, they jump, dive, swim side-to-side, skip on the surface, try to jump into the boat and then do it all over again…you imagine a maneuver and some sailfish is bound to attempt it. Now if a marlin shows up…better have a rod for 15 or 16 weight line with matching reel and hope it's not a 600-pound or larger monster. Marlins can take off like a rocket, jump, dive and while the angler is reeling in line figuring out where the fish went, what looks like another marlin jumping off in the distance is actually your fish! Unlike sailfish, marlins often get so excited while being "teased" and caught that they change colors along their flanks, "lighting up" as the crews call it. It's a sight many an angler will treasure forever. While all this is going on, if you bring a camera, one of the mat! es or the captain is clicking away. Guatemala is "catch and release for all billfish" so any billfish you catch will be returned to the sea, photographs will assure anyone the billfish was: "THIS BIG!", and that you caught these many fish.

All during the fishing day the mates offer fresh fruit, cookies, snacks, drinks, etc. If a Dorado (dolphin) is caught a part or all

of it is used to make ceviche, a local specialty. The Dorado is filleted, cut up in cubes, cooked in limejuice and then finely chopped tomatoes, onions, cilantro, pepper, salt, sweet tomato sauce and Worcestershire sauce are added. Chopped hot peppers or hot sauce are optional. Delicious! Depending on whether the boat chartered has a galley and Dorado, tuna, etc., is caught; sandwiches or cooked fish is served for lunch.

On the way back to the dock, your fly fishing equipment is put away and you get to relax. The mates will fillet any edible non-billfish caught and pack it in plastic bags so the chef at the hotel or villa can cook for you the fresh catch of the day.

The current world's fly fishing record is ¨23 sailfish caught and released in one day¨. This record was set in February 2003 in Guatemala. In world record cases the sailfish is not brought on board for a photograph, as soon as the mate has the leader in his hand and everyone witnesses that, the line is cut and its off to find another sailfish. Our boats fish in these same Pacific waters and use the same type of equipment and methods that set this current worlds record, except we try to get those expensive flies back! Fly fishermen need to bring their own equipment and flies or for an extra charge, our company can rent the fly fishing equipment and the right saltwater flies.

For more information or to book a trip, contact The Great Sailfishing Company at or visit their Web site.


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