Some 30 years after Tim Choate’s Fins ‘n’ Feathers operation made the world take notice of Guatemala’s billfish rich waters in the early 1990s, the fishery continues to thrive. This small Central American nation still stands among the top offshore fishing destinations and retains its title as the sailfish capital of the world.
The region’s underwater topography and strong currents set the stage for a replenishing offshore drama with sailfish, marlin, tuna, and dorado as the protagonists. Experienced crews aboard top boats here tally more than 2,500 sailfish and marlin (blue, black, and some striped) releases most years, also reporting 50-plus-fish days with some regularity.
Such incredible billfish numbers, Pacific sailfish especially, present an unusually action-packed situation for fly fishers. You’ll see plenty of shots at fish and abundant opportunities to hone your skills with hands-on training and tips from veteran captains and mates. It’s safe to say that in Guatemala, anglers who wish to up their billfishing game can go from novice to experienced after just a few days on the water.
Guatemala offers terrific year-round angling, and Casa Vieja’s boats raise an astounding average of 20 billfish per day. While October through June is considered peak season, the truth is that rainy season (usually mid-July through September) slows travel to the area, resulting in lesser release numbers, but the fish are still there for anglers willing to deal with sporadic showers. Captains can usually maneuver around the storm clouds fairly easily.
A little before 7:00 a.m. anglers head to Marina Pez Vela to board their boat. It’s less than a mile away via one of Casa Vieja’s air-conditioned vans, which will be waiting to take them back to the lodge when they return to port after a full day on the water at about 5:00 p.m.
The lodge uses a diverse fleet of top-shelf offshore boats, all superbly equipped and well maintained.
Pez Raton: This 35-foot Contender ST with Capt. Benji Baires at the helm is perfect for the single angler or small groups (two or three anglers), and offers a great combination of reliability, fishability, comfort, and speed (up to 35 knots powered by twin 300hp outboards). Plus, the walk-around layout lets anglers follow a hooked fish around the boat with ease.
Makaira: Now skippered by Capt. Jeffrey Garcia, this 37-foot Rybovich has a long, proven record that dates back to the days of Tim Choate’s Fins ‘n’ Feathers and it remains one of Guatemala’s top performers. Fully restored and repowered with new Cummins QSB6.7 engines in 2015, this “day boat” style sportfisher combines the classic lines of its traditional design and astounding fish-calling prowess. In fact, Makaira has held the record for most billfish caught in a single season the past two years. It comfortably fishes four or five anglers and reaches a top speed of 24 knots.
Release: This 37-foot Merritt was dubbed “the perfect fishing boat” by Buddy Merritt, the heralded boatbuilder who designed this classic day boat specifically to raise and catch fish. On March 11, 2006, it set the single-day record for sailfish caught on the fly with 57 releases. Fully renovated and repowered with brand new Cummins QSB6.7 engines in 2017, Release offers plenty of comfortable seating in the shade but still close to the action. Like Makaira, it fishes four anglers easily and reaches a maximum speed of 24 knots.
Spindrift: This Stolper 380 Tournament Express was custom built in 1998 and refurbished and repowered with Cummins 5.9L Engines in 2019. The 38-footer has been engineered to give off a low-frequency hull signature said to attract fish. It boasts an air-conditioned cabin down below and a raised bridge deck that provides an excellent unobstructed view of the teasers and any fish that comes up for a look. Spindrift is skippered by Capt. Franz Hoffman, accommodates four anglers, and has a top speed of 25 knots.
A-Fin-ity: Built for serious billfish tournament anglers, this 39-foot Billy Knowles has long been known in the industry as one of the premier gameboat models ever designed. It got a new teak deck and other enhancements in 2018 and is currently in the capable hands of Capt. Nico Melendez. A-Fin-ity is equipped with a surround-sound system for those who love to crank up some tunes while fishing. It fishes four anglers comfortably and runs up to 25 knots.
Rum Line: This 40-foot Gamefisherman arrived in Guatemala in 2008 and, after a complete renovation, it debuted as a member of Casa Vieja’s fleet in 2018. This lovely craft now sports new electronics and new Cummins QSC 500HP engines, along with its air-conditioned cabin and new mezzanine-deck seating. With Capt. Terry Brennan at the helm, Rum Line does 24 knots and can accommodate four or five anglers.
Finest Kind: One of Guatemala’s premier charter boats, this legendary 40-foot Whiticar—with its dual Cummins Diamond Series 450hp engines and climate-controlled cabin—offers a fast and comfortable ride. It’s run by Capt. Nicho Alvarenga and has a top speed of 24 knots with enough elbow room in the cockpit for four or five anglers.
Poco Loco: This 44-foot Kincheloe Nickerson became the flagship of Casa Vieja’s sportfishing fleet in 2018. With two staterooms and just as many heads, along with ample seating in the bridge, mezzanine, and salon, this luxurious boat offers lots of space, comfort, and convenience for four to five anglers. Poco Loco does 24 knots and is skippered by Capt. David Salazar, Casa Vieja’s owner and an accomplished big-game captain with more than 20 years of experience in Guatemalan waters.
Although visiting anglers are welcome to bring their own gear, Casa Vieja’s boats carry a selection of flies and fly outfits from top brands, rigged specifically for offshore big game.