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November 10, 2009

Holiday Sailfish

December kicks off Guatemala's peak time for the hottest sailfish action

'Twas the week before Christmas, when all through the sea,
The sails were stirring; we hooked twenty-three!

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With apologies to Clement Clarke Moore, that version of the first couple of lines of his traditional poem really does reflect with remarkable accuracy my experience last December.

In fact, what better gift to give any angler than a holiday getaway fishing for sailfish off Guatemala? Forget lords and ladies leaping; partridges in pear trees; or snow, ice and cold, dark days.

If you find visions of a calm, blue Pacific with sailfish free-jumping under a tropical sun a bit more tempting than sugar-plum fairies, consider a trip to Iztapa in December.

When Slow Is Fast
"December is really the start of our best sailfish season," Capt. Chris Sheeder told me on the phone last fall. While he confirmed that sailfishing is good and often fabulous throughout the year, anglers seeking action or those out to rack up numbers of fish generally find December through April the peak period.

That sounded good to me, and before long, I'd booked travel to Iztapa for a few days just before Christmas. Joining me were Mike Nussman, president of the American Sportfishing Association, and Ray Douglas, who owns King Sailfish Mounts, headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

We arrived at Casa Vieja Lodge on a warm December afternoon (Guatemala is just 2 1/2 hours from Miami). The oft-heard refrain, "You should have been here yesterday," wasn't on the hit list. In fact, we shouldn't have been there yesterday: The bite had been off lately.

Yes, Virginia, even off Guatemala there are no guarantees. For various reasons, sailfishing may be tough at times. For example, Sheeder says, if your visit coincides with a prevailing east current, you'll find the action sub-par.

Of course, everything's relative, and Sheeder advised us that, "Even when sailfishing is really slow here, you'll see six to nine sails in a day, and the boat will likely catch three or four. That's still considered a pretty good day in most places around the world. Just not here."

With that in mind, we headed off the next morning for the short van ride from the resort to the docks in Iztapa's harbor. However, our luck went with the fish; the conditions were looking pretty good as we climbed aboard Sheeder's 40-foot Gamefisherman, Rumline. In fact, for our three days, we enjoyed calm, sunny weather and double-digit sailfish action.