Guatemala Gone Wild

Off-Season Opportunities Abound Amid Vivid Mayan History

Ippy May 15, 2017

Distinguished by its active volcanoes providing the highest elevation in all of Central America, vast rainforests, ancient Mayan ruins, Spanish Colonial heritage and what is unquestionably the world’s largest concentration of Pacific sailfish, Guatemala is a traveling angler’s paradise. However, don’t be under the assumption that you need to time your trip during peak season, because the fishing is on fire year-round as I recently experienced first-hand on a trip to Pacific Fins Resort and Marina in the sleepy town of Iztapa.

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Photo: Doughertyphotos.com

As the editor of Florida Sport Fishing I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to visit some of the top game fishing locales across tropical seas worldwide, yet few come close to providing the action anglers encounter in Guatemala. While I’ve visited Guatemala during high season and still reminisce releasing 30 sailfish before lunch, our most recent adventure occurred in early September and the billfish action certainly didn’t disappoint.

In fact, throughout my travels some of the best experiences have occurred during the off-season when most don’t expect the fishing to explode. It’s the surprise of the unknown that keeps my travel bug alive and it’s something that will never burn out.

Game boats from neighboring lodges were in dry dock for maintenance and repairs while Pacific Fins’ 31 Blackfins Maverick and Gypsy were rigged and ready, and awaiting our arrival. Prior to departing from Miami some of my close friends questioned my intention of visiting during the off-season, but I wasn’t worried one bit. In fact, throughout my travels some of the best experiences have occurred during the off-season when most don’t expect the fishing to explode. It’s the surprise of the unknown that keeps my travel bug alive and it’s something that will never burn out.

While I’m always excited to add a stamp to my passport, I was particularly thrilled for this trip with an all-star cast coordinated by Ozzy Delgado and the Guatemala Tourist Board. Our crew for the weeklong excursion included the world-famous Chef Terry French and Captain “Wild” Bill Wichrowski of Discovery Channel’s hit show Deadliest Catch. Mat Jackson and Erik Tiejte of Grundens, who were testing their new line of warm weather, blue water fishing apparel under Guatemala’s tropical sun, also joined in on the fun.

Unique to the World
Sharing a border with Mexico, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador, Guatemala’s unique location, weather patterns, hydrogeological and offshore bathymetric features aren’t found anywhere else in the world.

Just offshore of Puerto Quetzal an underwater canyon stretches more than 30 miles, with the North Equatorial Counter Current and predominant west-to-east currents skirting the Mexican coastline and meeting head-on with east-to-west currents from El Salvador. The two powerful bodies of water collide and create an environment that is rich with baitfish, bringing hordes of aggressive game fish in tow. In fact, ballyhoo are incredibly prevalent in the area and commercially harvested by the locals, which is a great thing since crews can burn through hundreds of baits in a day when the bite is at its peak.

Although sailfish and marlin are the main draw, at times dorado are so thick it can be nearly impossible to keep a bait in the water and crews resort to pulling a full spread of hookless teasers. While most of the blue water fishing takes place within 10- to 20-miles of the coast, on some days crews travel up to 40 miles offshore in search of the bite. No matter what the prevailing conditions or distance required to travel, it is an undeniable fact that the local captains of Pacific Fins will find the fish, no matter the season or species.

Lamenting this fact, Pacific Fins recently implemented a Marlin Guarantee promotion during the so-called off-season, where guests visiting during August through October are guaranteed to experience at least three marlin bites in three days of fishing. In the rare event you only see 1- to 2-marlin bites in three days, 50% of the value of your trip will be put toward a future trip at Pacific Fins. And if you don’t get any marlin bites your party comes back for a free 3 days fishing, 4 night trip of your choosing. Talk about confidence in their captains and an epic fishery!

Heading offshore from Puerto Quetzal aboard the Maverick, we were eagerly anticipating the first bite, and it wasn’t long before the action commenced with a red-hot sailfish slashing at the Mold Craft squid chain. A perfect bait and switch by Chef Terry French resulted in an airborne sailfish trying to shake the circle-hook. The resulting scene unfolded many times over the course of the next two days, where the lodge’s game boats were the only sport fishing boats offshore—yet another benefit of visiting in the off-season.

In addition to the red-hot sailfish action, on our second day offshore the captains located a gigantic school of spinner dolphin. Captain “Wild” Bill Wichrowski is a seasoned offshore angler as well as a world-class crab fisherman and immediately knew there were tuna in the area. “You guys have wasabi and soy on this boat?” he questioned the English-speaking locals before the first rigger popped.

Moments later a chunky yellowfin tuna hit the deck and Bill was quick to bleed the ahi with his trusty Buck knife. We continued to work the area and landed a few more tuna before trailing off in search of more billfish. While it’s an experience I’ve enjoyed before, I’ll never get over eating fresh yellowfin sashimi that’s mere minutes fresh.

The Future Is Now
The offshore fishing in Guatemala is some of the world’s best, and fortunately it looks like it will hold this title for many years to come. In 2002, a law was passed that outlawed the commercial take of sailfish. Additionally, Niels Erichsen of Pacific Fins was instrumental in the protection of sailfish and largely influenced the Comision Nacional Para La Proteccion del Pez Vela—National Commission for the Protection of Sailfish. Established in 2012, the commission partnered with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Biodiversity Finance Initiative (BIOFIN) to develop strategic plans and projects with the goal of identifying and resolving fishery conservation issues due to illegal fishing. Raising awareness of the importance of billfish and developing protection programs also comprise the panel’s mission as is coordinating with local and international authorities. In doing so, the promotion of sustainable fishing practices becomes aligned with Guatemalan tourism and great fishing for years to come.

While it appears that sailfish in Guatemala’s waters are safe, pelagic game fish know no boundaries and hopefully the commission will be the catalyst for game fish conservation efforts through-out Central America and beyond.

History
While most Americans visit strictly for the exceptional fishing, a trip to Guatemala isn’t complete without a visit to Antigua. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was the Spanish Colonial capital of Central America and overlooks the Volcan de Agua and Volcan de Fuego stratavolcanoes resting in the central highlands between the coast and the capital Guatemala City. While the city was founded in 1543 and severely damaged by a major earthquake in 1773, it remains one of the most well-preserved colonial cities in all of Latin America. Antigua’s top sites include the ruins of Santa Clara, San Agustin, the churches of La Merced and San Francisco, the Saint Catalina Arch and La Casa del Ron.

Where to Toss the Bags
International flights to Guatemala City can be arranged from most major cities in the United States. It’s only a two-and-a half hour flight from Miami, and U.S. citizens do not need a visa to enter Guatemala, but a valid passport is required. 

For those interested in red-hot angling action and incredible accommodations look no further than Pacific Fins Resort & Marina. Located two hours from Guatemala City, Pacific Fins offers visitors an all-inclusive itinerary with first-class service.

From freshly caught and prepared fish or hot chicken sandwiches prepared on the boats for lunch, to filet mignon, tuna, chicken and shrimp for dinner, our trip was a mouth-watering culinary experience. Assisting with the preparation was Chef Terry French, who can cook anything, anytime, anywhere, as displayed in 2012 as the winner of Food Network’s World Extreme Chef.

While Guatemala has seen exponential growth in tourism since the signing of the peace treaty in 1996 ending a 36-year civil war, this amazing destination remains relatively untraveled yet is incredibly safe and secure. The lodge is so sheltered that guests aren’t required to lock their rooms. In fact, on our recent trip we weren’t even given a room key!

Pacific Fins Resort & Marina
800.700.3467
pacificfins.com.gt

Notes of Interest About Guatemala
Capital: Guatemala City
Area: 42,042 sq. mi.
Population: 15,807,000
Government: Representative democracy Languages: Spanish and Amerindian
Time Zone: Standard Time Zone with Daylight Savings not observed
Currency: Quetzal (7.69 Quetzales = US$1)
– Guatemala is the original homeland of the Maya people, one of the largest groups of indigenous societies in the Americas
– There are 23 recognized Amerindian languages including Jarifunas, Kekchi, Mam, Xinca, Cakchiquel and Quiche
– Volcan Tajamulco is the highest point in Central America, with an altitude of 13,845 feet above sea level

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