Dragging hookless teasers through the endless ocean in hopes of raising an eager billfish to switch to a fly can sometimes be a colorless affair, with the hum of diesels and monotonous horizon creating a surefire recipe for a siesta.
Luckily, we are in Iztapa, Guatemala, the self-proclaimed sailfish capital of the world, where hot bites on these speedy fish can leave crews scrambling as they raise up to 100 or more girthy Pacific sails in a day.
Chaos is an understatement when sail after sail keeps materializing on the teasers almost immediately after the props start to turn, making double and even triple headers doable on the fly.
That was the report when we jumped on the boat to hear from many of the other vessels who had been fishing in the days leading up to our trip. However in all things fishing one is usually just a day or an hour late to the party.
So instead of non-stop action we are motoring some 40 miles offshore with nothing more than a Turtlebox speaker at top volume to keep our spirits high.
Catching a billfish on fly isn’t as straightforward as going down to the local trout stream for a few casts at dusk, and one needs several things to accomplish this quest.
Whether you are trolling teasers or throwing at free-swimming fish, the gear is pretty standard. 12-16 weight rods, high capacity reels with large arbor being preferable so that each crank has maximum line pickup and lots of backing.
Large poppers are often used to trick the teased-up billfish into eating a fly, and as the saying goes “all colors work as long as they are pink.” For sails, we use an intermediate line slightly over-lined for the rod. The heavy lines allow for quick loading of the rod as well as a slightly deeper POP of the fly in the sometimes-choppy seas.
Since the cast isn’t typically more than about 50 feet, we also cut some 30 feet out of the back of the line so that we can avoid unnecessary drag or tangles when fighting fish as well as pack on more backing. The same shortened line theory applies to rigging for larger and more powerful marlin, but here one can really only use a heavy, thin diameter sink-tip. Anything more and the 20 lb. class tippet we incorporate into our leaders would pop from water drag alone as the enraged fish zigzag and leap away from the boat at lightning speed.
Why incorporate 20 lb. at all you ask? Besides complying with IGFA rules, when one is fighting fish in the 80-300+ lb. class having an optional “out” can be the only way to avoid breaking rods, fly lines, FINGERS, or worse, putting the fish’s life in danger, and it’s amazing how much pressure one can actually put on 20 lb. when done in the right way.
The last component, and probably the most important, is a great captain, crew, and vessel to take you off the map to the deep wild waters where these awesome fish live. To our good fortune, we are riding high aboard the record-chasing Costa Rican sportfish, Kamila.
All fish have a song, and in order to keep things fair and fun we decide to give each angler enough time to release one fish on fly before switching to the next at-bat. In order to keep tabs, we let each angler choose his genre of music on our trusty Turtlebox Speaker.
Since I had released the last fish the day before, my shot would be after all my boat mates had their fun. I spent the morning listening to what others decide would be the music to which they’d enter the arena to battle it out with the fastest fish in the world.
It is as much a lesson in what fly fishers often do wrong in the face of pandemonium as it is one of how fish, sport and music can sometimes perfectly synchronize. The “indi” fish was difficult to feed the fly and jumped a lot, which I deduced to his picky millennial nature and perhaps a sharp pain in his otoliths as he heard the lyrical rant of what was chasing him down.
The reggae fish attacked the fly with an insatiable case of the munchies, and upon being hooked was pretty docile – no surprise there.
And then came the country fish, for which all I can say is that was one mean mother f%^&er.
Finally, it was my turn to play. But what song to choose? Thinking back on years of fishing sails with great friends off south-east FL (you know who you are) only one thing comes to mind, and I choose the deep bass and mellow vibes of the Easy Dub All-Stars, Dub Side of the Moon. As the beats start blasting, I hope their rhythmic cadence would penetrate deep into the blue water and bring up a billfish. Of course, my turn is met with a lull in the frenzy, and this would be a multiple-song experience.
I gently daze off, staring at the horizon and the small pelagic birds picking at the water’s surface. Suddenly my zenful daydream is broken by Captain Bobby’s customary fish call – “HOOOOOP” – and here we go. As my eyes focus on what is frothing behind the short right teaser, I realize the broad shoulders and neon blue beast isn’t a sailfish at all. The owner of the dark bill that is slashing at the hookless bait being ripped back towards the transom is a pissed-off blue marlin.
Since our target is mainly sailfish I am holding the rod rigged with an intermediate line, but the fish is raging at us with such incredible speed that there is no time to grab the marlin rod (rigged with a sink-tip) even though it is only about 10 feet from where I am standing.
With a flip of the rod the hookless rigged ballyhoo comes flying out as I launch my popper in and hope for the best. Sailfish will sometimes swat at and play with a fly, but this isn’t usually the case with marlin. I’ve often thought the fly eat of a marlin is the most incredible (and scary) thing one can see in the fly fishing world, and true to their nature this ~250 lb. marlin lights up on the fly in the blink of an eye and annihilates the popper.
I open the drag and let the fish dump the reel, and because he decides to greyhound in a straight line, we seem to be in reasonably good shape at first. This vein of illusion is blown away as the marlin does what marlin always do and takes a hard left. Even with the reel practically in free spool, the speed at which the belly of the fly line is being ripped through the saltwater snaps the class-tippet in seconds. A more than expected result, but still heartbreaking.
Oh, well. These things happen. The next guy is up. And what’s coming on next on the Turtlebox? Rap. Old school vulgar gangsta rap. The nasty stuff. Let’s see what this new music choice will do. Before we have time to grab a drink, BOOM, six sails explode into the spread. With one guy upstairs snapping photos and another guy hooked up, I happen to be standing next to one of the spare rods ready to go. I grab it, and just like a jetty fishing in the New England the angler with the hooked fish moves to the left as I come through and get ready to present.
At this point, one of the remaining sails is not more then 10 feet from the back of the boat, so I literally lob the pink-hackled creation into its face, and he comes up and smashes it – we’re doubled up. We release them both as our top-notch team hoots and hollers in unison. What song will bring in the next billfish we ask? Who knows, and honestly, who f%&*$&g cares? The fishing is starting to get electric. Today, we are the ones making the reports!
Thank you to Turtlebox Audio for helping to make this adventure possible. To check out the best in outdoor audio for your epic adventures, head over to their website HERE.
Article by Tom Enderlin, from @flyfishingcostarica. Tom is also a professional photographer and writer specializing in adventure, nature, and conservation subjects. If you want to see more by Tom, check out on Instagram.
Photos from Jesse Packwood (@jessepackwood).
Additional photos from Fede Hampl (@timingtides).