Fly Fishing for Sailfish
Part 2 of our interview with sailfish Captain Tom Boice. In the first half of our interview with Capt Tom we talked about sailfishing in Guatemala with conventional techniques as well as sailfishing in Guatemala in general. You can read part one here. In this part we talk to Capt Tom about a technique that is starting to gain popularity; fly fishing for billfish.
In the early 1960s, attempting to catch sailfish or marlin on a fly rod would have been thought virtually impossible, or viewed at best as a stunt.
By the mid 1960 fly fishing legends were attempting to catch billfish on fly. Lee Cuddy caught the first record billfish on a fly - an Atlantic sailfish weighing 47 pounds. This was quickly followed by Stu Apte with a Pacific sailfish and Lee Wulff with a striped marlin.
Since the late 1980s, catching large ocean fish on a saltwater fly rod has been an established niche game and sailfish and marlin are now being pursued by a growing legion of enthusiasts.
By the 1990s, Jack Samson had become the first to catch both Atlantic and Pacific sailfish, as well as all five species of marlin, on a fly rod, achieving the "super grand slam" of billfish.
If you are able to land your fish, you will know that you have earned it. Billfish that are commonly caught with flies are: sailfish, striped marlin, Blue marlin, Black marlin and White marlin. Only a hand full of anglers have caught all five species with flies. If you are looking for the ultimate quest with a fly rod, you need look no further.
iFished: How is fly fishing for a sailfish different from using traditional methods?
Tom: Fly fishing involves a lot more technique and coordination between the angler, mate and captain. It’s like a three way tango and you can’t be stepping on someone’s toes! With fly fishing you are pulling only hookless teasers behind the boat instead of circle hook rigged ballyhoo. It is more difficult to land a sail on the fly but when you do you’ve really accomplished something and you feel it.
iFished: How is the sailfish teased to the boat for fly fishing?
Tom:Ok, here is a common scenario as a sailfish comes into the spread. The mate will jump catlike to the rod where the sail has appeared behind the teaser. He must deftly lure (no pun intended) the sail to the side of the boat where stationed is the angler in waiting.
The art is to keep a surging, increasingly agitated sail from actually swallowing or touching the bait yet keeping it oh so close in front so he can see it and keep trying to smack it or engulf it. Too far in front and the sail loses sight of it and vanishes, too close and it gets it in it’s mouth and senses a taste of plastic and it’ll spit and run. So as the mate teases the sail closer, da da da... the fly-fisherman is standing by and has prepared himself for the timely cast to come. Some will coil their line on the floor of the boat and some will have the line in a bucket so that when the cast in made the line doesn’t tangle.
Ok, this is my favorite part and when no toe stomping is allowed. The mate brings the frenzied sail right behind the boat on the fly-caster’s side. At this second three things have to happen almost simultaneously. The mate clears the teaser out of range of the sail, the Captain takes the boat out of gear and the fly is cast just behind the sail so that when the sail no longer sees the teaser it turns to go and lo and behold there lands a sweet pink Cam Sigler fly in it’s sight and it’s Game On!
iFished: What can the fisherman expect to happen once the fish is hooked?
Tom: Generally euphoria, which is an understatement but really one’s wits and actions need to be sharp. All other lines are cleared and the Captain will position the boat to keep the line away from the boat and allow the angler a clean shot at bringing it in. The angler remembering to let the rod and reel do the work oh, and breath.
iFished: How much more difficult is the fly fishing method verse traditional techniques?
Tom: It is much more difficult to do because there are more variables in play. Weather can be a deterrence if the wind or chop is up that can hinder a cast. Sometimes the sailfish just aren’t hungry, aggressive or enough or in the mood to pursue a teaser for any length of time. It’s easy to lose a sail if the timing is off and a cast is late or misses. It helps a lot if the angler has had experience fly-casting before.
iFished: What sort of fly casting set up do you need?
Tom: The fly rod should be between a 12wt to 15wt with at least 300yds of backing. Beginners will use a 30lb class tippet and more experienced anglers use a 20lb class tippet.
iFished: Do boats usually provide fly fishing gear?
Tom: Most boats will provide a fly rod and reel but most folks bring their own equipment. We have a Thomas and Thomas 14wt flyrod with an Abel 4.6 reel setup available. We provide one fly to get ya going.
iFished: What flies and colors are the most effective?
Tom: Here in Guatemala we have had our best luck with a Cam Sigler Double Tube Pink Squid Fly. We’ve also had luck with the CS Chartreuse and White or Dorado double tube fly.
iFished: What type of fishing is banned in Guatemala and why?
Tom: Back around 1995 Guatemala banned the killing of any billfish caught off it’s shores. Guatemala at the time was quickly becoming one of the world’s hot spots for sailfishing and so it brought down many fisherman to try their luck. Which translates into big tourists dollars for the economy. Guatemala wanted to preserve and protect it’s sportfishing resource from the local long lining fishing community who normally targeted dorado but who’s lines would indiscriminately kill whatever billfish hooked itself on those dangling lines.
iFished: Tell us a fly fishing story.
Tom: A friend, JR Waits, who has been featured in many cable fishing TV shows and has a long time charter business, Fish Call, for redfish/tarpon out of Charlotte, NC . had always wanted to catch a Pacific Sail on the fly. Being a seasoned fly fisherman, JR, had all the right stuff. We found a classic calm blue water day about 16 miles offshore a few years ago. We had a sail teased up and somehow the line got tangled and we lost part of the fly line. Well we did get all aspects of the dance down and JR hooked into the biggest sail of the day, somewhere in the 110lb range. That fish put up a long fight and JR the whole time was so excited and animated that the energy was contagious with the rest of us! After a noble battle we finally grabbed the leader and JR had his first Pacific Sail under his belt!
Well it had been a pretty hot day so JR goes and takes a spontaneous running plunge off the side of the boat. Before we knew what was happening he was laughing and with his head tilted back letting out some primal sighs out in the deep Pacific Blue. Unfortunately, he had forgotten about his Costas (expensive sunglasses) and they had flown off his head, sunk and were donated to the gods.
iFished: Anything else I should know about fly fishing in Guatemala or fly fishing for sailfish?
Tom: One reason Guatemala is renown for it’s fly fishing is because there is a great working fishing ethic among the captains of the fleet. The fleet is fairly small but has some of the world’s most recognized billfish Captains. sailfish sightings and releases are announced on the radio for all to hear. The general consensus is that there are plenty of sailfish for everyone. The tit for tat method works very well here.
Also, none of the captains fish dredges or live baits for sailfish. The theory is that sailfish can learn or be taught to target certain types of fishing methods. If a sailfish starts to prefer dredges being pulled below the surface it would make it less likely for it to be so aggressive or be enticed towards a surface teaser and thus a cast fly. Visiting boats and captains are kindly asked to refrain from using those techniques. Because of the abundance of sailfish, the generally calm sea conditions, and the fleet comradely, Guatemala is still considered the best place on the planet to catch a Pacific Sail on the fly!
iFished: What an amazing experieance this would be. Thanks Tom! You can read part one of our interview with Tom here. To learn more about Guatemalan sailfishing or to book your own adventure of a lifetime you can contact Tom at:
Capt. Tom Boice
Panamax Sailfishing Vacation Charters
Marina Pez Vela, Guatemala
Phone (011 502) 5797-6826
Fly Fishing Tackle for Billfish
Sailfish and marlin require a different set of tools than do other fish sought with fly casting tackle: strong fiberglass and graphite rods in the 12- to 16-weight class, reels capable of carrying 400 to 600 yards of line and backing, and sinking shooting-head lines in 12- to 16-weight categories. Maximum tippet strength allowed is 20 pound test.
These fish also demand strong leader material and a set of knots that will not part under enormous strain; these are knots that most fly anglers have never had occasion to use. Common knots used for saltwater fly fishing include: Nail Knots, Loop-to-Loop, Double Surgeon Knots, Bimini Twist Knots, Spider Hitches and the Improved Clinch Knot. Most of these knots are difficult to learn and harder to tie, but they are absolutely necessary to hold fish in the 100 to 300 pound category when traveling at great speeds.
Tying a Billfish Fly
Of coarse you will need a fly. World record holder and avid billfisherman Jeff McFadden shows a way to build and rig a no-nonsense billfish tube fly that is extremely effective.
HOOK: 2 6/0 Owner all-purpose bait hooks or equivalent
THREAD: 3/0 flat-waxed nylon
BODY: Pink and white schlappen
FLASH: Silver and pink Saltwater Flashabou
HEAD: Rainy's popper head (optional)
TUBE: 2 inches of 1¼8-inch plastic fly tubing
WEIGHT: Lead wire (optional)
GLUE: Super glue and epoxy
Complete tying instructions can be found here.
Location, Location, Location
Even though the tackle you are using is heavy by freshwater standards, it is still a fly rod and reel and has limitations to the size of fish which can be caught. For the specialized game of fly fishing for billfish, knowing only where billfish will be at any time of the year is not sufficient. You also must know where the right size billfish will be. Thus, for practical reasons, anglers hoping to land billfish on a fly must seek billfish in sizes that average from under 100 pounds up to 350 pounds.
|Billfish||Size||Location||Time of Year|
|Black Marlin||50 to 100 pounds||Townsville, Australia||August or September|
|Black Marlin||300 to 500 pounds||Pinas Bay, Panama||January to March||White Marlin||up to 100 pounds||Venezuela||October and November||White Marlin||up to 100 pounds||Brazil||December||Atlantic Blue Marlin||various weights||Jamaica||Febuary to March||Atlantic Blue Marlin||various weights||Venezuela||October and November||Atlantic Blue Marlin||various weights||Cancun, Mexico||February to May||Pacific Blue Marlin||200 to 400 pounds||Cabo San Lucas, Mexico||Late spring to November||Atlantic Sailfish||up to 125 pounds||Florida’s East Coast, USA||Winter||Atlantic Sailfish||up to 125 pounds||Cozumel, Mexico||March||Pacific Sailfish||up to 220 pounds||Pinas Bay, Panama||April to May||Pacific Sailfish||up to 220 pounds||Guatemala||December to April||Pacific Sailfish||up to 220 pounds||Mazatlan, Mexico||May to October||Pacific Striped Marlin||up to 150 pounds||East Cape of Baja, Mexico||May to October||Pacific Striped Marlin||up to 150 pounds||Mazatlán, Mexico||February to April|
Fly Fishing for Sailfish
Northern Pike Fishing