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July 09, 2007

Sensational Sight Casting

Our editors share their favorite fisheries for the ultimate thrill of seeing each strike in this series.

Fantastic on the Fly: Guatemala Sailfish

Images of pelagic big-game fish rarely spring to mind when people mention sight-fishing, but you have to make visual contact with a sailfish before you can chuck a fly at one. And with that visual contact comes an adrenaline rush like no other!

An absurd abundance of sailfish converges with highly qualified crews and typically calm seas to make Guatemala's Pacific coast the ideal location for successful sail-on-fly forays. Leaving the docks in Iztapa, boats may run anywhere from 5 to 50 miles to find a hot bite. Once in the zone, crews deploy two or three teasers - Mold Craft Wide Range lures are a favorite - and begin trolling.

Don't expect to lie back with a cool drink while the humming diesels lull you to sleep. You gotta stay alert, ready to spring into action. Before long, a sailfish charges one of the teasers. The mates quickly crank the hookless lure closer to the boat and draw the stoked-up fish into casting range. At the same time, you pick up the 14-weight rod and step toward one (usually the right-hand) corner of the cockpit.

Now drop the fly over the transom and let the premeasured amount of line, about 20 feet, stretch out in the wake to provide the necessary tension for your backcast. The skipper calmly issues the order to cast as he takes the boat out of gear. Keeping your hands off the line, make a strong, two-handed backcast (the raised outrigger stays out of harm's way), then power the fly straight ahead.

Tug sharply on the line to make the popper splash noisily. Tug it again, then let go of the line so you can grip the rod with both hands. Now comes the hard part. This style of sight-fishing involves one peculiar detail that often gives anglers problems: Don't look at the fish! Keep your eye on the fly at all times. Do not sneak glances in an attempt to locate the sailfish and see what it's doing. The captain and crew will advise you of the fish's whereabouts. Focus on the fly. Get ready for the bite.

Suddenly the popper disappears in an angry explosion of neon blue and purple. Hold the rod parallel to the water and smoothly sweep it - don't jerk - opposite the fish's direction of travel, remembering to keep your hand off the line. The double-action reel has a reliable drag that applies enough pressure to drive home the hook. Now you can take a look at your sailfish as it begins the battle with a shuddering tail walk.

On a typical day here, you can expect to raise 10 or more fish for the tease-and-cast drill. The record for sails caught on fly by one angler in a single day stands at an incredible 54, set in March 2006 by Jim Turner while fishing off Guatemala with Capt. Chris Sheeder aboard Release.

- Andy Hahn, Senior Editor


Buena Vista Sport Fishing Lodge,

Guatemalan Billfishing Adventures,

South Fishing,