Sailfishing in Guatemala - Interview with Sailfish Captain Tom Boice
Guatemala, the land of eternal spring has long been known for having the worlds highest concentration of sailfish off it's Pacific coast. Anglers regularly have shots at 20+ sailfish per day. The sailfish are so plentiful in fact that on March 11, 2006, IGFA Hall of Fame Captain Ron Hamlin set the daily release record with an unbelievable 124 sailfish.
iFished spoke with Captain Tom Boice a 14 year veteran captain out of Marina Pez Vela on Guatemala's Pacific Coast about sailfish and taking a fishing charter in a third world country.
iFished: Why sailfish in Guatemala?
Tom: Guatemala is world renown for the best sailfishing in the world. It generally has calm waters and isn't so far from the US by plane. If you ever wanted to catch a billfish why not go to where you have the best chance!
iFished: Ok so I decide I want to sailfish in Guatemala and I get a plane and land in Guatemala. What happens next? Do I need to borrow my cousins kid's Spanish English dictionary and find a taxi?
Tom: As you exit the front doors of the airport I'll be there waiting and we'd jump in my Toyota Land Cruiser and I'll have some cold beers for ya. We will go through some city traffic and then drop down to the tropical coast between active volcanoes and sugarcane fields which is about an hour and a half away.
Your only Spanish needed at that point would be: "otra cervesa por favor" (Another beer please). For these trips Spanish isn't really a need since you'll be around me most of the time.
iFished: Lets go fishing. Tell me what I will experience.
Tom: In the morning after breakfast we leave the lodge at 6:45 and head a few minutes to the Marina Pez Vela. It is the only marina on the Pacific in Guatemala. We then jump into my 28ft center console boat. Victor, my mate, will already be there rigging bait.
Depending where the sailfish were seen the previous day we can go anywhere from five to thirty five miles out. We will troll with four lines of ballyhoo baits with two teasers (hookless lures used to attract fish) all on the surface. If a sail comes into the teaser then we tease the worked up sail to a rigged ballyhoo wham! you've got the classic bait and switch! The great aspect of sailfishing is that it all takes place on the surface. A sail will come up behind a bait or teaser and try hitting it with it's bill. With the rigged ballyhoo we drop it back freely where it can swallow the bait without feeling resistance from the reel. Then we put the reel to the strike position and casually reel in the line. Usually the circle hook which is in the sail's stomach slides out and engages right in the corner of the mouth. Then hold on as that thing explodes into some amazing aerial acrobatics! A lot of the time the sailfish will light up with brilliant electric blue and purples colors as you reel it in.
The charter boat captains here communicate very well as far as everyone letting everyone else know what or where they are seeing sailfish. On a good day we can catch a dozen sailfish. An average day would be around four. The Pacific sailfish we catch usually weigh between 90 and 120 lbs. and can be eight to ten feet long! Blue and black marlin roam these waters also and we have a large rod/reel setup in case one of those bad boys come into the spread. There are lots of Mahi-Mahi (dorado) out there and if we catch any of them we have a sashimi set up on board to partake in some fine culinary imbibing. In February thru March we usually see some whales on their migratory journey. Also we see a lot of porpoise and manta rays jumping out of the water and we are forever dodging turtles. The ocean is alive with wildlife.
iFished: My wife doesn't fish but wants to come to Guatemala. What is there for her to do while I fish?
Tom: A relaxing day at the pool getting a tan, sipping cocktails while reading is one favorite pastime. Another is a day trip to shopping heaven which is only an hour and twenty minute taxi drive to the old colonial town and ex capital of Guatemala, Antigua. It's cobblestone streets meander past handicraft shops, great restaurants, cafes, old churches, some in ruins from earthquakes back in the 17 and 1800's. Also, some folks like to go to Monte Rico a 40 minute drive. It is a beach resort where a lot of tourist will go to swing in a hammock under a thatch roof as the ocean waves break a few dozen meters away.
iFished: What does it cost to do a trip like this on average?
Tom: A four night, three days of fishing with three people will run about $1600 per person. That would include transportation to and from the airport and marina. Also the boat with me as captain, a mate and all the tackle (Shimano Tyrnos #30 reels) and bait. All accommodations, breakfast and lunches, and drinks (beers included) on the boat. Tips are not included as well as dinners and drinks at night. We can either eat at the lodge or I can take you out to try some of the local places that I like.
iFished: Tell us a bit about the sailfishing industry in Guatemala.
Tom: Guatemala is one of the more progressive countries that protect it's billfish nursery. In 1995 a law was passed that stated all billfish caught are to be released. We use a special hook called a circle hook which will engage in the corner of the mouth of the sailfish. This insures a safe release. On the contrary a j-shaped hook can sometimes engage the stomach of a fish injuring it and for this reason we use circle hooks which actually have a better hook up rate!
Some of the world's best captains fish out of the Marina Pez Vela here in Guatemala. The legend Ron Hamlin, for example, fishes out of here. He has caught over 25,000 sailfish, more than any other human! He was just last month inducted into the IGFA Hall of Fame. Also many people come to Guatemala to fish for sailfish with a fly rod. It's a bit more difficult and has a unique fishing technique as far as teasing the fish to the fly but it's a very exciting way to catch a big Pacific Sail. Since it is catch and release there are no limits as to how many you can catch in a day.
iFished: How did you end up in Guatemala?
Tom: Twenty three years ago myself and two other good friends came down and we began exporting handicrafts to the US. It grew so fast that soon we bought a warehouse in Boulder, CO and started partaking in trade shows across the US selling to hundreds of ethnic boutique shops generally located near college campuses. That was back in the "friendship bracelet daze"
I have always fished and being in a country where the sailfish were incredibly bountiful it wasn't long before I bought a boat and started fishing offshore here. That was about 14 years ago. It's been an addiction and profession since.
iFished: I was looking at your website I need to ask what is the deal with you and the actor Kevin Bacon?
Tom: I had been mountain bicycle touring around the world for a couple of years. Six months in Europe, one year across Africa, and six months in Asia. I met a girl, Arlene Burns, in Nepal where we kayaked a bunch of class IV and V rivers in the Himalayas helping a friend who was writing a guide for kayaking Nepalese Rivers. After she returned to the States she was hired as Meryl Streep's stunt double for "The River Wild". I had also just returned to the US and Arlene called me saying she had recommended me for the Kevin Bacon double because of my whitewater experience and my similarity to Kevin in face and physique.
Well it wasn't long after I sent in my photo to Universal Studios and they called telling me to catch a flight to Montana. I was on set there for four months. We filmed hundreds of hours of film for the 11 minute whitewater scene at the end. If you didn't see Kevin's face in the movie, it was probably me. Lots of stories of that experience. After hanging out with Kevin for four months he asked me to be his stunt double in his next movie "Murder in the First" where Gary Oldman threw me down some cement stairs filmed in Alcatraz Prison off San Francisco. Also, some good stories of that experience.
iFished: What is your most memorable trip as a captain?
Tom: A few years ago had a father (74yrs old) and son (who is actually a boat captain in Georgia) charter me for the third year in a row. (It's up to six years now) It was a little rough that day but since they were seasoned offshore fishermen we went out. We didn't go far offshore maybe 7 miles and let out the lines after seeing some birds working the water pretty hard. I had to keep the boat quartered into the waves to keep the splash down a bit. Then suddenly there were three sailfish attacking the baits. I dropped back a bait and hooked one and handed the rod off to the father, Brandt. Allen, the son, was able to hook another and I ran back and hooked the third. I ran back to the wheel to keep us from rocking too much with one hand still holding the rod over my head. I looked back and we all witnessed all three sailfish suddenly jumped skyward simultaneously as thought it was a dolphin water ballet show at Sea World! The volcanoes were in the background. We all looked at each other and realized that it was one of those once in a life time moments. We did land all three.
iFished: Is there anything else I should know about going to Guatemala or sailfishing in Guatemala?
Tom: Guatemala gets bad reviews as far as crime is concerned. It is generally situated in and around Guatemala City and is drug gang vs. drug gang related. It is very rare tourist are accosted. Of hundreds of clients coming down to fish nothing has ever happened other than one person losing his passport and the occasional Montezuma's revenge. Also, Guatemala can boast of a few world class and renown tourist attractions. Lake Atitlan, Antigua, Tikal, the living Maya culture, and yes the best sailfishing in the world!
iFished: Looks like this would be an amazing adventure. Thanks Tom! 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
Read part two of our interview with Capt. Tom Boice Sailfish on the Fly.
If You Go:
Sailfish: December through May is normal prime sailfish season. Guatemala's Pacific sailfish average 80 to 100 pounds with giant sailfish over 100 pounds being caught regularly.
Dorado: Also known as dolphin or Mahi Mahi are caught in the Guatemalan waters nearly year round. As the water warms, large schools of dorado will get close to shore and are often within just a couple miles of the marina. When a school is located it is literally possible to catch them until your arms ache. Dorado weighing over fifty pounds are caught every season in Guatemala.
Marlin: The fishery is largely undeveloped for Marlin, as the fleet has always focused attention and tactics that target Sailfish – but even with the smaller baits and slower trolling speeds we have seen a consistent trend of improving raises for Blues that average 350-400lbs.
Wahoo: Wahoo usually roam Guatemala's offshore waters in solitaire or small wolf packs and they often attack the baits with a charge from the deep straight up to the surface sending them 10 feet or more into the air. The average size wahoo is 25 to 30 pounds but monster wahoo over 120 pounds have been caught by lucky anglers.
Tuna: Tuna are often traveling in large schools in the Guatemalan offshore waters. Since tuna run in schools, often multiple hook ups are common. The average yellowfin tuna is around 30 pounds with massive "allisons" over 100 pounds a possibility.
US citizens can get a visa at the airport upon arrival in Guatemala at immigration. It is usually good for 90 days.
The following nationalities do not need a visa to visit Guatemala: Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Chile, Denmark, El Salvador, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Honduras, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Portugal, Spain, San Marino, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United States, United Kingdom, Vatican City, Venezuela.
Valid passports are required of everyone except citizens of Central American countries.
Arriving in Guatemala by Air
The only major airport in Guatemala is located in Guatemala City (GUA) and is only an hour and a half from the Pacific coast on a major highway.
Houston, TX (HOU) to Guatemala City (GUA) Shortest Flight Duration: 2 hours 52 mins
Miami, FL (MIA) to Guatemala City (GUA) Shortest Flight Duration: 2 hours 30 mins
New York, NY (NYC) to Guatemala City (GUA) Shortest Flight Duration 5 hours 8 mins
Los Angeles, CA (LAX) to Guatemala City (GUA) Shortest Flight Duration 5 hours 5 mins
Read part two of our interview with Capt. Tom Boice Sailfish on the Fly.
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