We caught up with Capt. Brad Philipps recently. If you don’t know who Brad is, you should. He’s caught and released more billfish over the past decade than anyone on the planet. Brad’s released an astounding 23,000 billfish during the last 11 years in Guatemala, averaging roughly 15 billfish releases per trip. In the process, he’s won numerous accolades, including The Billfish Foundations’ Release Captain of the Year Award 10 years running.
Brad calls Guatemala home these days, running his 40-foot Gamefisherman, Decisive, in the billfish-rich waters of the Pacific and operating his excellent lodge, Guatemalan Billfishing Adventures, alongside his wife Cindy. But before that, Brad fished all over the world, from his South African homeland to legendary billfish destinations such as Australia, New Zealand and Madeira._ _
The best thing about Brad is that he’s exceedingly intelligent and enthusiastic. There’s no better interview on the subject of offshore fishing in all the sport. And so, we got to talking briefly on the subject of trolling.
SF****:__ Brad, you’re one of the best trollers in the business. What is it about trolling that gets your juices going?_ _
BP: Trolling gives one the opportunity to cover ground and look, Mike. It adds the element of the hunt to the game. You are not just waiting for things to happen, you make things happen.
SF****:__ When did you first start fishing offshore?_ _
BP: Probably 25 years ago, or more.
SF****:__ What’s more fun, in your mind — trolling lures or baits for billfish? And which is more productive? I imagine it depends on the situation._ _
BP: _Yeah, it all depends on the situation, the target species, species’ size, the angler’s choice and ability, the crew’s experience, boat set-up, etc. But my favorite is a mix of either lures and teasers — which you’ll replace with a pitch bait — or baits and teasers. It brings the best of all worlds together. _
SF****:__ I know a lot of captains talk about positioning lures or baits in certain areas on the boat wake. Do you do that? And, if so, why?_ _
BP: Yes, very much so. First off, I like larger lures closer to the boat, and smaller lures farther back. Position them in clearer boat-wake channels. I also like to run larger teasers short, with smaller hooked lures further back. Or teasers short and hooked baits further back. If the fish does not tease, there is something with a hook to fall back onto.
SF****:__ Do you generally start off your fishing with a basic structured spread then tweak as needed to fit the conditions?_ _
BP: _Yes, but it’s less the conditions and more the fish that tell you the most each day — and it’s the info gained from them on which you base your decisions on how to tweak your spread or style that day. _
SF****:__ How important is that? To fine-tune a spread, that is?_ _
BP: _Very important. It’s what separates the best from the average, and sometimes it’s small things, not rocket science but small changes that increase your odds. _
SF****:__ Are you a believer that most boats/engines have a “sweet spot” that brings billfish up?
BP: Absolutely. Good captains find this sweet spot on a boat. Most boats have a sweet spot, you just have to tweak things until you find it.
SF****:__ Who’s the best troller you know?_ _
BP: Tough one (laughs). I have fished alongside some very good trollers in various destinations, but they all have one thing in common — they really understand the basics and have had years of experience getting good at what they do. Seeing more fish and having some bait-trolling background makes you a better all-round troller, I believe.
SF****:__ And surely it’s important to have a great mate._ _
BP: _This can’t be underestimated. Especially if you want to start pulling teasers and pitch baits to your trolled spread. Great mates can make ordinary captains look good. _
SF****:__ Do you think to be a great captain, you must first start in the pit? _ _
BP: It definitely helps, as one needs to understand all aspects of the game to be good on the bridge. But being great in the pit does not mean you will be great on the bridge. Some of the best captains were not necessarily great in the pit, but they probably worked under some great captains in their time.
SF****:__ Any little trolling tips you’ve learned over the years that you feel set you apart?_ _
BP: There are not too many ‘secrets’ out there, just doing things a little better is what sets the best apart. Staying on the fish is a no-brainer — do not troll off them! It can be easy to do with a big spread out there and a fast-trolling speed. Catch the ones you should catch and don’t get too stressed about those you had little chance at.
SF****:__ What’s your most memorable day on the troll?_ _
BP: We raised well over 130 sails and released 80 of them on circle hooks and 20-pound-test in a single day. We also released five blues in a day, one of them being a grander that we pitched to off the bridge teaser! Another was trolling and teasing in more than 100 sailfish to release 51 in a single day for a single angler on a fly rod. These are all trolling highlights for us.
SF****:__ I’d say, Brad. Many thanks for the time.__
BP: Any time, Mike.