Over the last decade, I have spent the majority of my travel fishing in the one spot I fell in love with, Puerto Vallarta. It’s close proximity, easy access and incredible fishery have always left me wanting more.
With the launch of our new TV show, Local Knowledge I have been determined to see how the rest of the world fishes, to learn it and share it with others. This built-in adventure is probably the single most exciting element of hosting a fishing show for me. While Mexico has been good to me, it’s time to sample some of the other popular fishing destinations.
Enter David and Kristen Salazar. About four years ago they purchased Casa Vieja Lodge in Guatemala from another friend of mine. Our new Local Knowledge TV fishing show gave me the excuse to finally visit this billfish mecca. To make things a bit more interesting, my co-host Rush has known David since they were in their early twenties and it gave us a great reason to do a show down there.
Upon reaching out to David and Kristen, we were almost immediately greeted with a “get down here ASAP!” invite. So far this season in Guatemala, specifically the billfish-rich Puerto Quetzal area has been experiencing an epic season even by their incredible standards. After a quick conference call; tickets were booked and we were ready to roll.
Travel to Guatemala City was incredibly easy.
In fact, it was very similar to the South Florida trips I take regularly. From San Diego, I took a 3-hour United flight to Houston and then another United flight from Houston to Guatemala City. Getting through customs was a breeze, especially considering we were dragging tackle, camera gear, drones and our regular luggage. Within 20 minutes of landing we were greeted by a brand new Casa Vieja Mercedes Sprinter van equipped with plenty of frosty cold beverages for the hour and a half ride.
The scenery on the ride down was similar to other Latin American countries I have visited. Several small towns dotted the highway in between farm fields, in this case mostly sugar cane. The lodge is nestled on a three-acre oasis in the middle of a small port town. I rendezvoused with Rush and our Florida film crew and settled into our rooms.
The lodge grounds feature a giant palapa bar and dining area, huge TV’s with satellite to watch the NFL playoffs and a sweet pool deck area. The rooms are just as beautiful as the lodge grounds. The rooms were clean and comfortable and furnished with local products and fishing related art.
The food was five-star level with plentiful portions and of course plenty of cold cocktails to drink. The whole lodge is just fishy and a couple of notches above your standard fishing resort.
Casa Vieja has a fleet of seven classic Florida-built diesel sportfishers and two brand new 35’ Contender center consoles. For boat geeks like me, checking out these beautifully restored classics was worth the trip itself. Casa Vieja has its own boat yard where all the boats have been restored from the bones up and they are in amazing shape. The tackle is all top-of-the-line Shimano gear in great shape to boot.
Upon arriving we found out that our camera boat had somehow hit a rock while out exploring and blew a lower unit. I’m not going to point fingers **cough** David **cough**. This meant filming the fishing action would have to wait another day.
This actually worked out fine as we had all of our underwater gear with us and we wanted to try and raise some sails and maybe a marlin to capture hooked and free swimming fish on stills and video. Unbelievably, within 10 minutes we had two fish in the spread and we pitched back a couple of the hundred or so pre-rigged ballyhoo on conventional gear. We quickly went one for two. This theme would play itself out over and over for the next couple hours as we fine-tuned our bait and switch technique.
Dropping a bait back to a fired up billfish right behind the boat makes for some unforgettable bites and we had a blast doing it.
The action was nothing short of incredible, with hot and hungry sails showing up in the spread every few minutes. You hear the stories and the incredible numbers of fish raised in this area, but until you see it for yourself you just can’t appreciate it.
After releasing almost fifteen fish between us, we decided to go into media mode. This consisted of luring the fish to the boat with the trolling teasers and hook-less ballyhoos while the still and video cameramen slid into the water to catch the action. Sailfish would come in fired up and take swings at everything we presented them. It was hard at times to keep them from pouncing on the baits and making off with them.
We played this game of bait, switch and film for hours, with some encounters yielding epic footage and others, not so much.
It really was a team effort and a lot of fun for all of us. We could all hardly wait to see the fruits of our labor back at the lodge and as you can see below we got some pretty awesome stuff.
The next three days would consist of a gentlemen’s start to the fishing day, absolutely WIDE OPEN sail fishing with a few cracks at dorado and blue marlin mixed in. We raised about 35 sails per day on average and we were busy making a TV show. Other boats were raising 50+ fish a day and the fishing got even hotter after we left with boats raising 100+ sails per day.
On day three I was fortunate enough to present a rigged, dead skipjack to a hungry 350-pound class blue marlin. The fish inhaled the bait about 20-feet behind the boat and the bite was something I will never forget.
On our last day we ventured offshore looking for dolphin schools holding yellowfin tuna. After about a 40-mile run we found what we were looking for, but unfortunately after working several pods we only were able to connect with one 40-pound class tuna on the troll. David tells us there is usually a very solid 40-120-pound tuna bite on the dolphin. The only problem is, there is zero boat pressure and not much intel so you really have to hunt for the mammals. In our case we just didn’t find the right pod.
Another thing that makes Casa Vieja Lodge special is the fact the fish are here year round.
There is a cyclical current just off the coast that traps bait fish and keeps them in the area. This baitfish is closely followed by gamefish. David told us even during the hot summer when the lodge is closed, the fish are out there waiting.
If you’re looking to do and see something different, I can’t recommend Casa Vieja Lodge enough. They make the whole experience easy and offer you a top notch fishing vacation in the true billfish capital of the world.
Click Here to watch the entire Local Knowledge episode from Casa Vieja Lodge in Guatemala.
Photo Credit – Chris Ross