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November 10, 2009

Holiday Sailfish

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

On the way out, I asked the skipper - who has been at the helm of sailfish charters full time for just over eight years - if three or four sails is a really slow day for Guatemala, what's a good one?

How does 68 sound? Yeah, that's as in 68 released on his boat in one day - his best so far. But arguably even more impressive: 57 on fly in one day, with one angler responsible for 54 of those. (And typically, these Pacific sails run to 65 to 100-plus pounds - hardly lightweights.)

There's no doubt that Guatemala is the spot for anyone hoping to rack up numbers. And doing that remains a viable goal, particularly in the winter months.

But for Sheeder it's become more about the quality of the experience than sheer numbers. He cites that as a reason he so much enjoys putting fly-rodders on sails. "The gratitude that a fly angler gets out of just one fish is so rewarding!" he says.

Crazy Sails; Singing the Blues
But, of course, many such rewards can be expected in the course of a day, generally. Why are sails so numerous off the coast of Guatemala?

Sheeder cites what he believes is a "wind-tunnel" effect with prevailing currents pushing water in a way that concentrates sails off Iztapa, plus a deep submarine "pocket" in the bottom that comes in relatively close to shore here.

Sails may range from more than 40 miles off the inlet to just a couple of miles out - sometimes around big (bait-attracting) ships sitting at anchor outside the harbor.

"In truth, this place has some of the craziest fishing I've seen," says Sheeder, whose experience as a fishing skipper includes Midway Island and other areas in the central Pacific. "Usually, you can locate sails around bait, but here often you'll find birds diving on bait and things just going off - and not a single sailfish. Yet I can move five miles and find tons of sails - where I'm seeing no bait or birds."

And then there are the blue marlin.

Just four or five years ago, you'd have been in good company had you responded, "Marlin? You don't catch blue marlin off Guatemala."

And you didn't. At least not often.

That was then. Over the past three or so seasons, blue marlin have suddenly and inexplicably come on like gangbusters in this sailfish capital, with Sheeder releasing as many as five in a day. "And we raised 35 in one five-day interval," he recalls. Two seasons back, Capt. Brad Philipps totaled nearly 100 blues here, winning the title of top marlin-release skipper for the Pacific.

So far, skippers have been able to discern no particular season for blues. "They come and go as they please," says Sheeder, "but when they're here, you have a pretty good chance of hooking one."

Certainly, other pelagics like mahi can and do end up on anglers' lines with some regularity. Interest a year or two back in yellowfin tuna produced some trips much farther offshore than any Iztapa boat would normally fish. A couple of trips did enjoy some mother-lode action, says Sheeder, but they were countered with a couple of pretty poor trips. "It [yellowfin fishing] remains something of an unknown for us."