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BILL FISHING IN GUATEMALA
By The Great Sailfishing Company

Recreational Pacific bill-fishing in Guatemala started in the late 1970´s. Before then, only local fishermen, owners of beach side property and boats and their lucky angler friends, knew the bill fishing was superb. Tourism was a new industry and the country had other things to worry about than promoting sportfishing.

In those days there was almost no infrastructure: it took nearly a full days drive from the airport in Guatemala City to Puerto Iztapa (imagine a narrow, two lane winding road full of pot holes, cows, trucks, and buses); hotel accommodations were Spartan (difficult to get an air-conditioned room, telephone or a clean pool), getting boats into the water was difficult (getting into them from docks was an adventure) and most fishermen had to bring their own equipment plus food, beverages, etc., and fish in tiburoneras (20 to 25 ft. outboard motor boats used by locals to fish for shark, shark in Spanish is tiburón).

Anglers put up with the difficulties and caught and kept as many fish (billfish, Dorado (dolphin), tuna, etc.) as stamina and cramped hands from reeling in allowed. Many anglers returned, season after season, bringing friends to try their hand at fishing for sailfish and marlin. Little by little adventurous anglers started showing up after hearing the tales of the incredible billfishing found here. They were not disappointed and by word of mouth Guatemala s reputation as a destination for bill fishing started to spread.

Now days a drive from Guatemala City s airport to a first class resort with air conditioned rooms, pools, restaurant, etc., takes about 90 minutes in an air-conditioned van, the marina where the sportfishing boats are docked has a restaurant plus a formal dock with a selection of fully equipped boats to choose from: classic tiburoneras to pangas (basic shape as a tiburonera but with plenty of creature comforts, similar to a Mexican Skiff) to sport fishing yachts. The hardship of getting cramped fingers from reeling in so many fish has yet to be overcome and Guatemala has adopted the use of circle hooks and catch and release for all billfish. More and more anglers arrive every season and keep spreading the word.

The day before a group goes bill fishing the sport fishing boat is fueled and stocked. The rods are taken out of storage for cleaning and the drag tension checked. Several dozen frozen Ballyhoo are prepared with circle hooks, tied to shock tippets and put into coolers to thaw out. For more information on the equipment available on the boats please look at The Fleet page.

The next day, on the way to the fishing area, Ballyhoo are attached to sailfish rod leaders and a Marlin pole is made ready with a mackerel. When the fishing area is reached the sport fishing boat slows down and gets ready to troll. Both outriggers are extended and drag hookless lures, usually plastic shapes resembling squids. Four sailfish rods are deployed, two with their lines attached to the outriggers and two placed in their holders at the back of the boat one at each corner, all dragging Ballyhoo. Additional rods, including the Marlin rod, are placed nearby in case they are needed. Through trial and error this has been found to be the most effective way of trolling for billfish off the coast of Guatemala. More rods with lines in the water have been found to obstruct rather than help catching bill fish. 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 or group of anglers might have several sailfish interested in the teasers and lures at the same time. It is not uncommon to have two (a
double) or even three (a triple) sailfish hooked at the same time. Alert mates and anxious anglers keep a close watch on the lines.

Once a sailfish has been raised and taken the bait, the captain slows down the boat and reels in the squid shapes on the outriggers always keeping an eye on the fish, one mate reels in the other lines as quickly as possible so they don t snag and the mate in charge of the rod with the fish runs to it and gets ready to set the hook . Depending on the anglers preference, he or the mate can set the hook. If a double or triple hookup should happen, then it gets really exciting with anglers and mates shouting and running all over the boat trying not to bump into each other and entangle the lines. If the angler asks, the boat will back up closing in on the area where the billfish is swimming to shorten the time the billfish is fought. For more information on setting the hook with circle hooks please look at the Circle Hooks and Billfishing in Guatemala page.

When a sailfish takes the bait the angler will be treated to quite a spectacle and better be prepared for a protracted fight. All right, you say you like to catch big fish? Local sailfish usually weight between 70 to 120 pounds and sometimes go absolutely berserk when they are hooked, they jump, dive, swim (side-to-side, towards the boat, away from the boat), 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 appears, one mate reels in all sailfish lines, the mate in charge of the marlin rod will cast the mackerel into the water while the captain maneuvers the boat closer to the fish and the angler straps into the fighting chair. Local marlins weight around 350 to 600 pounds and 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 riled up during the fight 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 mates or the captain is clicking away. Guatemala is catch and release for billfish so any sailfish and marlin you catch will be returned to the sea, photographs will assure anyone the billfish was THIS BIG! , and that you actually got one, a couple, a dozen or more . per day!

Throughout 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 the rods are cleaned and stored, equipment is put away and you get to relax. The mates will keep and fillet any tasty 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 for dinner.

The current record is "over 80 sailfish caught and released in one day". This record was set in February 2003 in Guatemala. To catch and release so many fish in one day the sailfish is not brought on board for a photograph, as soon as the mate has the leader in his hand and everyone sees 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 record. The boats come fully equipped so the only things you want to bring are comfortable clothes, plenty of sun block and an urge to have a good time.

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