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Author: Frank Ross
Staring out the window at deep drifts of snow, it hardly seems possible but somewhere in deep blue waters there is an angler fighting a sailfish right now. Arms are aching from the strain, while a hot sun and exertion are creating beads of sweat that trickle down the back of a short sleeved shirt. Glancing at the thermometer outside, I make a note of the paltry 19 degrees and call Ed Beattie.
Ed is an angler of international renown who has caught fish all over the world and has several in the record books. I set up an interview and arrived on time to find Ed leaning back in his Outdoor Adventures office chair, talking hunting with a client. While eavesdropping on his conversation, I found the prospect of big mule deer and pheasants tantalizing, but I could always hunt the spot in South Dakota he was discussing. Winter is prime-time sailfish season in the Southern Hemisphere, and a tight line was fueling my fantasy.
Closing out the conversation, Ed smiled and hung up as he asked, "What can I do for you today?" My premise was simple. I blurted out my thoughts like they were hot coals I didn't want to hold: "Suppose I wanted to catch sailfish, and lots of them. Where would be the best place to go, what could I expect in the way of action, and when is the best time to go?"
"Now is the best time. You can fish for them pretty much all year in the Pacific, but prime time is November to April. But, first thing we need to do is narrow the target. There are two basic species the Atlantic and Pacific. The major difference is their average size. Atlantic sailfish average between 30 to 50 pounds, and Pacific fish fall into the 90- to 110-pound bracket, on the average. When it comes to big fish, let's look at the record book," he said, reaching across his desk.
Grabbing his copy of IGFA world records, he quickly produced the right page from its well-worn pages. "The largest Atlantic sailfish caught on this planet was 135 pounds 5 ounces, landed off Lagos, Nigeria, on Nov. 10, 1991." With a quick flip of the page, he produced the numbers for the Pacific species. The difference was significant. Off the coast of Santa Cruiz Island, Equador, a whopping 221- pound monster was caught in 1947, and it has held the record ever since.
"The Pacific species is far more popular for the anglers that I book trips for, by far. There are lots of them, they're more aggressive and there are a lot of places to fish for them. This species seems to have far more success with reproduction than the other members of the billfish family. With marlin, it's a hunt. Sometimes you'll spend two or three days trolling and never hook up a fish. With sailfish, there's always plenty of action. As far as locations, the Atlantic side is far more limited. On the Pacific side, you can fish lots of places, but Guatemala is our No. 1 location. It's by far the best sailfish water in the world," he said.
"The No. 2 location would be Costa Rica. There's not as much action, but it's still good. Costa Rica is a great place for anglers that want to take their wife or family along and make it a combination fishing/vacation trip. Costa Rica is safe, secure and scenic with lots of nonangler activities for the entire family. You can rent a car in Costa Rica and go just about anywhere you want to.
"In Guatemala," he continued, "you fly in and go from the airport to your accommodations, spend your time fishing and go directly back to the airport. It's still safe to go there, you just don't want to wander around without a guide. Guided trips are available, but I book mostly 'guy trips' to Guatemala. The usual trip consists of a bunch of buddies that really want to catch a lot of fish, and that's all they want to do. They fly in, pound fish and fly out.
"The captain we book the most trips with is Ron Hamlin, who has been named the Pacific Billfish Captain of the Year at least twice. He's fished all over the world and currently holds the world record for the most sailfish releases in one day. By the way, the record he broke was his own. In December of 1999, his party released 75 sailfish in one day to raise the bar several notches. They were into the fish at 8:30 a.m., and the bite finally paid out at 3 p.m. The crew actually reeled in the last eight or nine fish after the charter anglers were whipped and turned to celebrating with a cold beer. Ron knew he had a chance to set a record that would stand for a long time, so his deckhands fell into the fray and added to the tally until the action stopped.
"I recently booked a client into Guatemala who went with a fishing buddy. In three days of fishing, the two of them had 145 strikes and released 97 fish. That was some trip. Keep in mind that they also were heavy into dorado and several other species. After catching a dozen big dorado, they pulled off the school and went after sailfish. There's a lot of action in the Pacific," he said smiling.
"One of the great things about sailfish is they're easy to catch on a fly rod. After a couple of dozen fish, a lot of anglers want a change of pace. Ron always has a fly rod onboard, and even a novice can catch one. Sailfish on a fly isn't about finesse casts. I took a guy down there who had never even caught a bluegill on a fly and he landed several. You simply troll with teasers and no hooks. When the fish are lured to about 20 to 30 feet from the boat, the teaser is pulled, the captain puts the boat in neutral and you toss the streamer into the water, hopefully near the fish. Most of the time, the fish are so aggressive they swallow it immediately," he added, knowing that he'd already set the hook in me.
So what's a day on the water in Guatemala like?
"Ron's new boat is a 43-foot Carolina Custom. For large parties of six to eight anglers, he works with a native captain who pilots his former boat, which is a 32-foot blackfin. Juan is an excellent captain also. I've fished with him several times. You would stay in a private luxury residence with a private pool and exceptional accommodations for up to eight anglers. You're right on the water, with the boat docked at the home. The dock is only a little more than a mile from the inlet, so everything is very convenient. There's also a new resort-class hotel that was built by Raddisson two years ago. It's top quality with all the amenities. Breakfast is served at 6, and the boats are fired up at 6:45. By 7 a.m., you're on the water and headed out to some of the bluest water and hottest billfish action in the world. By 5 p.m., on most trips, anglers are happy to head back to the dock," he added.
OK, what's the tab?
"It depends on the number of anglers that are going. With two anglers onboard it's $2,300 per person. With three the cost drops to $1,900, and with four it's only $1,550. That's for four nights and three days of fishing, lodging, meals, license, transport to and from Guatemala City airport, and an open bar that never runs dry. You can do longer trips, where we just add on days, but you can't do a trip for anything less than three days," he said.
As he talked, my eyes wandered to the window. Outside, the snow wasn't melting and more was promised in three days. I closed my notebook and asked myself the obvious question. What in the world am I waiting for? Guatemala, sailfish, sunshine. Sign me up!For more information on sailfishing in Guatemala, or anywhere else in the world, contact Ed Beattie at (800) 346-8747 or go to www.cabelas.com.
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