SPORTFISHING

IN A UNIQUE TOUR­NA­MENT IN GU­ATEMALA, FAIL­URE IS ITS OWN RE­WARD.

Power & Motor Yacht - - IN THIS ISSUE - By John Brown­lee

At this tour­na­ment, miss­ing a fish is a good thing.

Bill­fish tour­na­ments around the world vary greatly due to a va­ri­ety of fac­tors rang­ing from tar­geted species to fo­cus on re­lease or kill, money prizes or tro­phies. But it would be fair to say that al­most all of them place a high value on ef­fi­ciency and suc­cess­fully hook­ing as many fish as pos­si­ble.

Ex­cept that’s not en­tirely true of the No San­co­cho Sail­fish Shootout tour­na­ment, run by the folks at Casa Vieja Lodge on the Pa­cific coast of Gu­atemala ( casavie­jalodge .com). This light­hearted (and very fun) event takes a some­what dif­fer­ent ap­proach to fish­ing for sail­fish and mar­lin, which abound in the wa­ters off this coun­try.

San­co­cho Ety­mol­ogy

First, a lit­tle back­ground: The term san­co­cho comes from a com­mon soup pop­u­lar in Latin Amer­ica, which is made from fish heads. Fish­ing teams adopted the term to de­scribe the mo­ment an an­gler drops back a rigged bal­ly­hoo to an ap­proach­ing sail­fish or mar­lin, only to miss the bite en­tirely, leav­ing the hap­less an­gler with a con­sid­er­able chunk miss­ing from his bait—i.e. just the head re­mains.

All of a sud­den, a missed fish soon be­came known ubiq­ui­tously as a san­co­cho, a good-na­tured term used to rib fel­low an­glers when they’d screw up.

Casa Vieja own­ers David and Kris­ten Salazar came up with the in­no­va­tive idea of turn­ing the fail­ure of the san­co­cho into an op­por­tu­nity to do some good for a lo­cal school. Many of the lo­cal em­ploy­ees of the lodge have chil­dren who at­tend the Santa Cecilia Pri­mary School in the nearby town of Puerto San Jose.

The Salazars’ con­cept trans­forms the san­co­cho into a rev­enue source, be­cause each time an an­gler en­ters into the tour­na­ment and misses a fish, he or she must put $20 into a kitty to ben­e­fit the school. And like many Latin Amer­i­can schools, Santa Cecilia desperately needs all the funds it can get.

Team A-Fin-Ity

My wife Poppy and I fished aboard the 37-foot Knowles A-Fin-Ity, skip­pered by Capt. Chico Al­varenga, with fel­low an­glers Wylie Na­gler, pres­i­dent of Yel­lowfin Yachts, noted marine artist Carey Chen, an­gler Sara Brooker, and our son, Capt. Ben Brown­lee.

Casa Vieja is unique among fish­ing lodges in that it op­er­ates a di­verse fleet of older cus­tom boats. In fact, the only pro­duc­tion boats they run are two Con­tender cen­ter con­soles. The rest of the fleet comes from pres­ti­gious cus­tom builders in­clud­ing Bill Knowles, Mer­ritt, Ry­bovich, Whiticar, and Game­fish­er­man.

Team A-Fin-Ity started off strong, with a solid sail­fish bite and a firm hand among the an­glers as we re­leased five fish with­out a sin­gle san­co­cho. But as of­ten hap­pens, the bite slowed some­what in the af­ter­noon, as fish would rise but half­heart­edly swipe at a bait be­fore sink­ing out of the wake. These lazy fish be­gan to run up our san­co­cho count. On day one we tal­lied 15 re­leases, not red hot by Gu­atemalan stan­dards, but a great day in any­one’s book none­the­less.

This Means War

On the way in, the mates pro­duced an odd-look­ing bucket filled with col­or­ful round ob­jects, and it took me a minute to re­mem­ber what those were. Water bal­loons, of course! One hall­mark of the No San­co­cho event in­volves the cus­tom­ary af­ter­noon (and some­times morn­ing) water-bal­loon bat­tles be­tween ri­val crews.

As the boats file back to the Puerto Quet­zal ma­rina late in the day, cap­tains jockey for po­si­tion, ma­neu­ver­ing the boats close to­gether to gain ad­van­ta­geous po­si­tion over com­peti­tors and get close enough to at­tack with the short-range weaponry in the bucket.

It’s quite a sight to see grown men and women hurl­ing water bal­loons at one an­other as they de­volve into junior high school kids again. You quickly learn that if you use too much force when throw­ing your bal­loon, it bursts in your hand, soak­ing you in­stead of your in­tended tar­get and thereby de­feat­ing the whole pur­pose.

Solid Re­sults

Over the course of three days, the 10-boat fleet caught and re­leased 378 Pa­cific sail­fish and six blue mar­lin. We also com­mit­ted 224 sail­fish san­co­chos and six on the mar­lin, for a to­tal of 230, which gen­er­ated $4,600 for the Santa Cecilia school.

But then the team from Cum­mins Marine, in­clud­ing Mar­ket­ing Di­rec­tor Andy Kelly, and Cum­mins’ Di­rec­tor of En­gi­neer­ing Scott Malindzak, matched the $4,600 on top of their own san­co­cho tally, for a to­tal do­na­tion of $4,980.

In ad­di­tion, an­gler Bob Smith, fish­ing on team In­ten­sity with Capt. Mike Sheeder, matched the do­na­tions for the 78 san­co­chos aboard In­ten­sity, Makaira (Capt. Ja­son Bryce), and Rum Line (Capt. Chris Sheeder), do­nat­ing an ad­di­tional $1,580. Jorge Sin­a­baldi, fish­ing aboard Tran­quil­ity, do­nated an­other $2,000, and Carey Chen from our team painted a beau­ti­ful orig­i­nal mar­lin paint­ing on-site and we auc­tioned it off.

At the end, the Santa Cecilia school got quite a gen­er­ous in­fu­sion of needed cap­i­tal, and we all had a won­der­ful time. The team aboard In­ten­sity won the tour­na­ment, re­leas­ing a to­tal of 63 sail­fish and two blue mar­lin. An­gler Tracey Kealy of Mi­ami com­mit­ted the most san­co­chos with 17, and ac­cepted her prize as “San­co­cho Queen” with grace and hu­mor. Poppy won the top lady an­gler award for the sec­ond year in a row with 15 re­leases.

No other event com­bines bill­fish ac­tion with top-shelf ser­vice and wraps it to­gether with a mean­ing­ful, al­tru­is­tic goal. We’re look­ing for­ward to at­tend­ing this one-of-a-kind tour­na­ment next year—after we bone up a lit­tle on our water-bal­loon war­fare, of course. John Brown­lee is the ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of our sis­ter pro­duc­tion, An­glers Jour­nal TV. Catch JB and this in­trepid new show at way­pointtv.com

When it comes to catch­ing giants, it’s all about the bait prep.

Capt. Ben Brown­lee hoists a yel­lowfin. He’s also handy with a water bal­loon.

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