By Kevin Gehm – February 2013
As those who fish the blue water are well aware, Guatemala is the mountain top when it comes to high volume sailfish action. So, when I recently had an opportunity to take a long weekend to head down to visit with several Trek anglers, I jumped at it. Trek member Charles McElheney, his friends, business associates and family members try to get together each year for a trip in late January to a warm weather environment and for the past few years, the Casa Vieja Lodge in Guatemala has been their destination of choice.
This was a group of 23, many of whom who have made trips together for a dozen or more years, so you can imagine that there are a few stories to be told there and I was fortunate enough to be exposed to several of them. From the history of the “Turbo” cricket to the story of the “Coconut Court” that was held for two group members on a trip to Costa Rica many years back, I was entertained for hours, great stuff.
Charles had his wife, daughter, son and 3 of his grandsons join him on the trip, like the song says, “this is the good stuff”. We enjoyed a lively evening and next morning before the group headed to the marina Pez Vela to board their respective boats for their first day of fishing. Although it is all in good fun, you could certainly see the spirit of competition was in play and a bit of gamesmanship was in the air.
After seeing this crew off, I took off to visit Niels Erichsen, owner of the nearby Pacific Fins Resort and Marina. For those of you who’ve visited Guatemala, or even heard the stories of the great fishing here, you have likely heard of the first lodge opened in Guatemala in the mid 90’s, the Fins n Feathers Inn. Well, Niels purchased this great lodge at it’s heyday and made it even better. Niels told me that my visit happened to be at the perfect time as that very morning there was to be a big meeting in Guatemala City and he (and I) were on our way there.
The governmental agency in Guatemala tasked with increasing tourism is call INGUAT and that morning there was a big pow-wow scheduled with INGUAT, the various lodge owners, government agencies, military big wigs and a reknown marine biologist from the University of Miami who specializes in the tendencies and migrations of sailfish. We even had the IGFA representative from Turkey who happened to be in country and attended the meeting with us.
Admittedly I was a little uncomfortable as I was attired in my “fishing” clothes while everyone else must have received the memo that it was business casual. Once I got past that and the fact that I really had to concentrate as the speakers all conversed solely in Spanish, I was able to gather quite a bit of information.
The marine biologist was trying to stress the economic impact of the sailfish on Guatemala and showing that the sailfish itself was worth about $4.50 USD per pound if you ate it but that the average angler pays into the local communities between $ 3,000.00- $ 4,000.00 to travel down to Guatemala just to catch one of these beauties (and then release it for the next guy to do the same !). As in many third world countries, this can be a daunting task to change the well entrenched mindset, but I saw first hand that the folks in Guatemala are now doing more than just giving lip service to conservation, good job guys, keep it up.
After our meeting, I travelled with Niels to the airport to meet another Trek group slated to fish for a week down here. Gary Reichart and his buddies Tony and Rick were down from Indiana for a week of sails and thawing out in the warm Guatemalan sunshine. On the way from Guatemala City to the lodge, we made a slight detour to the historic city of Antigua.
Beginning in 1543 Antigua served as the government seat for the Spanish Colony of Guatemala, which actually encompassed southern Mexico and most all of the rest of what we now refer to as Central America. Various eruptions and earthquakes over the next two centuries forced the 1776 movement of the capital to Guatemala City where it now resides. Very cool stuff, I am glad we took the time as often times we make a bee line from the airport to our fishing boats and never take the time to soak it all in. Heck I went to Costa Rica for nearly 20 years before ever seeing a butterfly farm, national park, or volcano ( coincidentally, that was also the first time my wife made the trip with me).
We continued on to the lodge and were treated to one of the best steaks I have ever eaten, great job Niels. The next morning after breakfast the 4 of us (thanks for the invite to join you guys on the boat, much appreciated) walked about 60 feet from our breakfast table to board our boat, pretty sweet set up those guys have at Pacific Fins.
As we headed out, lots were drawn to determine the fishing rotation. In hindsight, it really was not necessary to put the
guys in any particular order as it became difficult to keep up with as each time 1 fish was in the baits, 2 or 3 of it’s buddies stuck around to see what was happening and ended up with a circle hook in the side of their mouths as well.
In baseball terms, Gary and his crew “hit for the cycle” with single hook ups, double hook ups, triple hook ups and in one case even a quadruple hook up. To the captain and mates credit, in every occasion all fish were brought in, did not lose a single one. Now, I am not saying it was not bedlam with guys going around each other so not to foul lines, but it was controlled bedlam. Nestor, our captain and his mates had been down this road before and did a great job keeping everyone in the game, it was amazing to watch, you guys are awesome !
After another delicious meal at the lodge I headed back to Guatemala City to spend the night before heading home early the next morning. All in all, I travelled for a brief 4 day period, but in that small amount of time had a ton of new experiences, met the most diverse group of people I’ve ever met and had one of the best days on the water that I’ve ever experienced. You just cannot make this stuff up !