Coffee and Billfish
For my last day in Guatemala I headed to the Pacific coast, a couple hour drive south of Antigua where the coffee farm is located. I was heading offshore to go fishing for Sailfish or Marlin. Guatemala may not come to mind for a fishing destination for someone out of the Midwest. A friend told me about his experience fishing in Guatemala and I had to look more into this.
I enjoy several outdoor hobbies, even just relaxing but, fishing is my favorite. I still get excited to get out on or by the water and am easily distracted by fishing magazines and articles. To me it has everything you need in experiencing being outside. Now this would be a good place to insert one of many corny one liners about fishing but I’ll let you imagine one, haha.
When learning about this from my friend I started researching it and was blown away by the rabbit hole I was going down. Not only learning about fishing experiences in Guatemala but Central America as a region. What really adds to this, is there is a ton of conservation work and research that is going into billfish. (When mentioning billfish, I’m talking about sailfish, marlin and swordfish.)
Guatemala became the first country to protect sailfish. In 1997, a Guatemala law was passed which banned commercial fishing and exportation of these fish. Allowing sailfish to be only be targeted for sport. Like how we have the department of natural resources here in America, Guatemala also has a specific task force to ensure these laws are being followed. Other countries have used the framework established by Guatemala.
One organization, the Billfish Foundation (https://billfish.org/), works worldwide to advance the conservation of billfish and health of oceans and economies. One of their biggest projects is the tag and release program. Once caught, billfish are tagged with a small coded marker then released. This information goes into the worlds largest privately owned database and is used for conservation and advocacy efforts. The database has over 220,000 tag and release reports from captains and anglers around the globe. Fish that are recaptured, provide valuable scientific data further understand growth rates, migratory patterns, habitat utilization, and post-release survival rates.
Many researchers and universities have programs studying billfish as part of much larger ocean projects. A quick google search will offer up many articles for you to read.
When arriving to the coast the night before fishing, the most noticeable difference is the climate. You step out of the air-conditioned van and are hit with beach weather, mid/upper 80’s and humidity (Great feeling since you know the ocean is close by, haha). Up in the mountains where the coffee is grown, it is a more temperate climate. During the day it would be 70’s with a nice breeze and during the night, it could drop down into the 50’s. After spending no time adjusting to the beach like weather it was time for dinner, a couple beers and get to bed for the day out on the water. One thing to mention, Chris the owner of Blue Bayou Lodge, is from Michigan. Crazy how you can travel places and run into people from your home area!
Not sure why I woke up before my alarm, either the excitement of going out fishing for sailfish or the smell of breakfast. Got myself together headed down for breakfast before driving over to the port. We pull up and the view down the dock is postcard material. (I hope I didn’t make myself seem too old right there) The morning glow is lighting up the view of boats lined up down the dock. The low hum of the engines, the smell of saltwater and sound of the birds flying over just complete the experience before even stepping onto the boat. Head down to the boat, greet everyone and we’re off! We have a far drive this morning on flat seas to get out to where the fish have been. Captain throttles down and on our way out.
As the view of land becomes smaller and smaller, we start to encounter the wildlife of the ocean. We drive past sea turtles, birds hanging out on a floating chunk of wood and pods of dolphins easily keeping up with the boat. Seeing this helps pass the time out to our starting point. The boat slows down, and the excitement builds as its game time. The mates start by setting out lines at various lengths and a mix dead bait and teasers. A teaser is a lure without a hook for getting the fish’s attention and a dead bait is a frozen baitfish rigged with a hook. Lines are set and now it’s a waiting game to come across a fish. Grabbed a cold drink and sat back waiting for the alarm to go off.
It didn’t take too long for the excitement to start as we had a sailfish come into the spread to check out a bait. It disappeared as quick as it arrived, must not have liked something. Some time passes before our next encounter and right away I could tell it was something different (from my limited Spanish and level of excitement). The mood on the boat was very different from the previous fish, a marlin came into the spread to check out a teaser. One mate grabs a pitch bait and the other mans the rod with the teaser. The mate with the teaser rod, is trying to keep the fish’s attention and stay interested as the pitch bait is dropped back to the fish. This is all happening very fast, but the fish quickly goes from a dark shadow under the water line to something realistic as it comes to the surface to swipe at the teaser. I get a good view of it and it is far from small. However, as soon as the pitch bait is in the right area, the marlin disappeared. All of us have a short quiet moment as we’re all disappointed the fish decided to swim off. We readjust and keep trolling along.
Sometimes it seems like the fish know when you aren’t paying attention or doing something else because that’s when things seem to happen. I had just grabbed something to drink and the captain yelled down from the bridge that another fish was in the spread. A sailfish was back, and this fish knew what it wanted as it grabbed a dead bait right away and took off. As soon as the fish felt it was hooked it acrobatically leaped out of the water giving us a nice view, then it was off. Sailfish are said to be the fastest fish in the ocean and got a quick taste of this as the fish instantly took off. As the fish is taking off from the boat, you get a good taste of how much teamwork goes into landing one of these. The captain starts the boat in reverse chasing down the fish while the mates are doing anything to make your life easy to reel the fish in. After what felt like a couple minutes but was probably ten seconds, the fish decided to go down. Now it was a tug of war battle to get this fish back to the surface. The fish started to tire out as it came to the surface but wasn’t done yet. One last show by jumping right at the back of the boat before the mate grabbed the leader and the fish was off to do be on its way. Count it! A sailfish on the board.
Got one! Whatever happened the rest of the day would just be a bonus as we were able to land a sailfish. I appreciated it all and added this experience to my list of fish I've caught. I’m looking forward to my shot at a marlin!