When it comes to world-class angling destinations, it seems that every year an exotic and uncharted locale pops up on the radar in an effort to knockout the reigning champ. For years the sleepy fishing town of Puerto San Jose has been comfortably wearing the crown as the titleholder, and with fertile sailfish breeding grounds and the reputation as the billfishing capital of the world, Guatemala is in no danger of losing the title.
While Guatemala has undoubtedly seen a rapid growth in tourism since the signing of the peace treaty in 1996 ending the 36-year guerrilla war, this amazing destination remains relatively untraveled. The Casa Vieja Lodge, located in the fishing and farming town of Puerto San Jose, is a first class operation all the way. With a beautiful backdrop of active volcanoes and tropical jungles, the views are simply breathtaking. The moment you step foot on the grounds of the lodge you are greeted by a smiling staff ready to make your adventure in Guatemala the experience of a lifetime. Casa Vieja is recognized as a four-star resort, and I cannot think of any aspect of our recent visit to the lodge that could have made the experience more enjoyable.
From Puerto Quetzal, most of the exctitng angling action takes place in an area known as “The Pocket.”
Situated a mere five-minutes from the lodge is Puerto Quetzal. A major thoroughfare for commercial fishermen, cruise liners, cargo traffic and the superbly outfitted Casa Vieja fishing fleet. From Puerto Quetzal, most of the exciting angling action takes place in an area known as “The Pocket.” This fertile stretch of blue-water is an underwater canyon the spans approximately 15-miles. The reason The Pocket attracts such a large population of billfish is due to the prevailing currents and contours of the coastline. West-to-east currents skirt the Mexican coastline and meet head-on with east-to-west currents from El Salvador. The two powerful streams collide and create an eddy that is rich with baitfish, bringing hordes of aggressive game fish in tow.
While most of the blue-water fishing takes place within 10 to 20-miles of the port, some days it can be difficult to find large concentrations of baitfish, forcing the fleet to travel up to 50-miles in search of a hot-bite. No matter what the prevailing conditions, it is an undeniable fact that the world-class captains at Casa Vieja know how to find fish!
The Bite Explodes!
On our first day, Florida Sport Fishing’s Boone Oughterson and I had the privilege to fish with the colonel of the Casa Vieja fleet, Captain Chris Sheeder. Captain Chris runs Buddy Boy, a 37-foot Gamefisherman outfitted with a full arsenal of Avets, Tiagras and a wide array of fly-tackle. The water was a bit cooler than Captain Chris would have liked, and with the less than ideal conditions we managed to release five sailfish and boat countless gaffer dolphin well over 20-pounds. While we didn’t see the sailfish numbers Guatemala is famous for we had a great day on the water and even better yet, we still had two full days of fishing to look forward to!
On day two we were back on Buddy Boy, fishing with Captain Chris and a group of anglers from Charlotte, North Carolina. Davis “Dink” Mitchell was the groups coordinator and first visited Casa Vieja 10-years ago. Dink was well aware of the amazing action that awaits adventurous anglers and had to return with his buddies, so they, too, could experience the world’s greatest sailfishing venue. On this day, Captain Chris was on the fish and we managed to lead the fleet with 20-releases by mid-day and once again, numerous dolphin over 20-pounds. Dolphin are a staple in South Florida’s fishery, but in Guatemala these brightly colored eating machines are considered a nuisance! Because it can be difficult to keep a rigged bait in the water without it being engulfed by a slammer dolphin, the crews fish teasers and bait and switch for the sails. After a quick rundown from mates Ricardo and Jeffrey, everyone was well versed in the technique and effortlessly dropping-back and hooking their own fish.
On our last day we fished with Chris’s younger brother, Captain Mike Sheeder, aboard Intensity. Because of the unusually strong surface currents, Captain Mike and the entire Casa Vieja fleet knew it was going to be a tough day with the sails. After searching for most of the morning with no luck, we stumbled upon a huge tree floating on the surface. A group of large tripletail hung close to the structure and an acre of baitfish shimmered below the surface. On a seemingly endless hunt, a ravenous school of dolphin gorged on the smorgasbord below. A short distance away, likely feeding on the same school of bait, an enormous pod of spinner dolphin erupted on the surface as they played in the frenzy and satisfied their appetites. The view from high up in the tuna tower was something straight from Discovery Channel’s Blue Planet. It was truly an amazing sight and an experience I will never forget.
Perched up in the tower, I caught a glimpse of a blue marlin swimming through and investigating our spread. With no marlin baits in the water the fish turned off and headed in the opposite direction. We quickly deployed several tuna feathers in hopes of connecting with a bonito or skipjack, and after culling through several monster dolphin, we managed to hook our intended quarry. The mates quickly bridled the bait on a circle-hook and deployed the frisky tuna on a large Penn International. After slow-trolling the area for approximately 45-minutes – it finally happened. A blue marlin erupted on the surface and left a cavernous hole in the ocean where it engulfed the busty bonito. Since Boone had never caught a marlin and I wanted to capture the moment on my SLR, he dawned a fighting belt and geared up for battle. The fight was on, and after a 20-minute struggle on stand-up tackle, the leader hit the tip for an official release. We continued to fish the same area, raising two more blues and landing a horde of hefty ‘phins. When we returned to the lodge we were excited to hear that a few other boats also released and raised several marlin.
As I mentioned earlier, we had the opportunity to fish with a group of anglers from Charlotte, North Carolina. Dink had visited Casa Vieja Lodge before, and every time he returns to Guatemala he brings a load of soccer balls to distribute to the local kids. After our last day of fishing, Dink invited me along for the handout. We took a 10-minute drive to the interior of Puerto San Jose, and traversed the dirt roads in an effort to find a group of local children. We stopped on a street corner near the local arcade and began passing out the balls. The moment the first soccer ball left the van, we were surrounded by a mob of screaming children. Even though there was a severe language barrier, the locals were clearly very grateful and welcoming. At no time did we feel threatened, and this heartwarming event was a great way to end a wonderful trip.
The conservation of Guatemala’s game fish is extremely important, and Guatemala was the first country to require the use of circle-hooks while billfishing. This not only results in excellent hookup ratios, but also the preservation and healthy release of these great game fish. Guatemala is undoubtedly the leader in billfish protection, as it is illegal for anyone to possess a dead sailfish. Because of these stringent regulations and the conservation minded philosophies of the captains and crews, the future of this amazing fishery remains quite secure.
Getting To Guatemala
International flights to Guatemala City can be arranged from most major cities in the United States. It’s only a two-hour flight from Miami, and approximately two-hours and thirty-minutes from Houston. U.S. Citizens do not need a visa to enter Guatemala, but a valid passport is required.
Casa Vieja Lodge