by Capt Gene Kelly

    After you’ve fished a while and caught plenty of whatever species you normally pursue, inevitably, if you’ve been successful, you start to look for new ways to increase the enjoyment. Here in Montauk, you start to think about abandoning the wire line for stripers and maybe switch over to diamond jigs, live bait or maybe casting bucktails. In the tropics where billfish reign supreme, sailfish on fifteen pound gear or twelve, and even the fly rod are the natural choice.

    Of course you still want to have some action, and trolling around all day for one or two shots at a fish doesn’t really cut it. The solution to this dilemma is Guatemala. From December into May, there is no better spot for giant Pacific sailfish than the southern coast of Guatemala. On conventional tackle, ten fish days are considered on the slow side, and releases of twenty sails per day don't even rate an exclamation point. Action like this makes Guatemala THE best choice for the light tackle or fly rod fanatic. Blessed with great weather and an abundance of sailfish during our winter months, it is the ideal place to go for the angler who doesn’t want to just reel in fish. And, as a bonus, for some reason the sailfish in Guatemala are more ravenous than just about any other place where they are caught regularly. Hooking 75% of the fish that show up in the spread is common, and I’ve had trips where every sail that followed a bait was caught and released. (bringing billfish back to shore in Guatemala is illegal).

    Many of the boats carry spinning gear in addition to the standard tackle, but their tackle is not light enough for me. I prefer fifteen or even twelve pound gear in either spinning or bait casting type outfit, so I bring my own. I have two Penn three piece travel rods that work great and are easy to transport, with a Penn 5500SS spinning reel and a Shimano 2000 charter special that I use on the bait casting rod. I load both reels up with as much thirty pound Power Pro as I can fit on them with a top shot of about two hundred feet of mono. You wouldn’t really need that much line for sailfish, but boats in Guatemala like to hook up multiples, and when one fish is hooked will continue circling hoping for it’s companions, and, often carrying this out to the extreme. It isn’t unusual to hook a fish to your east and not start fighting it until it is to your west. I once had a fish on my casting tackle when my wife hooked up on the boat rod. Because she had the heavier gear, it was decided to go after her fish first, but it was a bit on the stubborn side and all the time it was fighting, my fish was leaving the area.  Eventually it got deep into the wiggley line near the bottom of the spool, and when I finally started to regain line, I stuck a piece of paper under the line in order to see how much was out when I got home. It was over four hundred yards.

    The standard method of fishing with the light gear is the classic “bait & switch”, trolling hookless baits and teasers and dropping back a rigged bait when the sailfish appears. And, sailfish are very willing to go along with this. They rarely just come into the pattern and grab a bait, preferring to follow behind it for a couple of seconds before making up their mind as to whether they want to eat or not, giving the angler plenty of time to drop back his offering. Hold it just to the side and forward of the teaser and wait until you see the sail’s nose stick up out of the water, a sure sign that it’s mouth is open, and drop back your bait. Wait five seconds and put it in gear. By then the circle hook will have done it’s job and your fish will be jumping away.

    Fly fishing is not just about catching the fish on light tackle. The bite is what is most memorable, somewhat like sight casting for tarpon on the flats. The boat trolls teasers, consisting of rigged baits without hooks. When a sail raises to the bait, the mate retrieves the bait to the boat, just a smidgen ahead of the hungry fish. When it is close enough for a cast, maybe thirty feet back, the boat is taken out of gear and the mate snaps the bait out of the water. Sailfish have no brakes, so as soon as the wake clears you will see it cruising around looking for it’s dinner, often right at the transom. If you haven’t let the adrenaline overcome you, you will have made the perfect cast, which will leave your popper in back of the fish. One pop to alert him, and he will inhale the feathered offering heading away from the boat and all you have to do his hang on long enough for the hook to set and then it is off to the races, with a long run accompanied by lots of tailwalking,  greyhounding and yelling. 

    You would be surprised at how much pressure you can put on a fish with a flyrod. A nine foot 12/13 weight rod will flex for about half it’s length, effectively leaving about a four and a half foot rod, so unless the fish decides to dog it down deep, you can get the fish to the boat, with the help of a talented captain, in ten to fifteen minutes. However, if the fish stays down, you could be in store for a forty-five minute isometric exercise that will leave you sweating, and if you try to overdo it, possibly with a broken rod. It’s for that reason that you don’t want to use much more than a fifteen pound tippet until you get proficient with the long rod. It’s also why many boats don’t like to supply flyrods to neophytes, unless the rods are 15/16 weights that are as about as supple as pool cues.

Getting to Guatemala is simple. TACA, the airline that services all of Central America, flies out of JFK, at times with non-stop flights, at other times with a connection in El Salvador, but don’t let the thought of a connecting flight bother you. If you have flown anywhere with connections in the states, you will appreciate the ease of connecting in El Salvador. You will only have to walk a hundred yards at most to the next gate, and because you don’t have to go through immigration or customs, the wait between flights is usually only about a half hour, both coming and going.

    Marina Pez Vela at Puerto Quetzal is about seventy miles from Guatemala City and takes about an hour and a quarter over a divided highway. Flying on TACA, you will arrive in the city around mid morning and leave in the afternoon, which means you will be going against the traffic both ways, which is an absolute horror at rush hours. 

    There are a number of American style fishing lodges in Guatemala, most in a couple of gated communities about ten minutes away from the marina, and meals and ground transfers are all included in their packages. There is also a very nice hotel, Soleil del Pacifico, on the ocean about twenty minutes away from the marina that mainly caters to upscale Guatemalan families along with some visiting Gringo anglers. There are a number of restaurants in nearby Puerto San Jose, but none that have any better food than at the hotel, and most Gringos unaccustomed to travel in the non-tourist areas of Central America would find them uncomfortable. For that reason, the fishing package will usually include all meals and transfers, the same as at the lodges.

    There are a wide range of boats fishing out of the marina, ranging from 31’ up to over 40’, with boats at the lodges run by English speaking captains with local mates, while most of the other boats are run by locals with limited, but enough knowledge of English so that communicating is not a problem. The boats are all capable of twenty knots or better, so that the fishing grounds, ranging from eight to thirty miles out, don’t require long boat rides.

It’s a great choice if all you want is lots of sailfish action, although the area is not what you would call touristy, with sailfish, cattle and sugarcane fields the only attractions.












(mostly true)



One for me on casting gear

One on the flyrod

THE PATCHMEN                                          by Capt Gene Kelly

GUATEMALA LIGHT                                     by Capt Gene Kelly

PARADISE ON EARTH                                   by Capt Bob Koliner

GUATEMALA GUY'S TRIP                             by Capt Gene Kelly

FOUR DAYS IN PANAMA                                by Capt Gene Kelly

ONE MAGIC NIGHT                                         by Capt Bob Koliner

THE GREAT WHITE SHARK ROBBERY          by Capt Gene Kelly

THE RAGING QUEEN                                       by Capt Gene Kelly


COSTA RICA TARPON - CIRCA 1972                 by Capt Gene Kelly

JUST ANOTHER FISH STORY                            by Capt Gene Kelly

RETURN TO COSTA RICA                                 by Capt Gene Kelly

MONTAUK                         Artcle in Marlin magazine September 2011

COSTA RICA - IT’S NOT JUST FISHING           by Capt Gene Kelly

Check out these great fishing locations;


Capt Gene Kelly

Tropical Fishing Adventures

PO Box 2104, Montauk, NY, 11954

631 668 2019


Meet Capt Gene Kelly