/ SAIL­FISH SA­FARI — FROM KAYAKS

A GU­ATEMALA RE­SORT NOW OF­FERS EN­THU­SI­ASTS THE OP­TION TO CATCH AND RE­LEASE PA­CIFIC SAILS FROM KAYAKS

Sport Fishing - - FRONT PAGE - BY DOUG OLANDER PHOTOS BY JA­SON ARNOLD / JASONARNOLDPHOTO.COM

Caught up in the mo­ment, I pretty much for­got I had a bait in the wa­ter. In fact, I mo­men­tar­ily for­got ev­ery­thing as I sat in a kayak in the low, rolling swells of the Pa­cific, 40 miles off the Gu­atemala coast, mes­mer­ized at the scene un­fold­ing about 100 feet away. There, a dude in a green kayak was hold­ing on to a rod and reel with what looked like a two-handed death grip as an an­gry Pa­cific sail­fish came fly­ing out of the ocean right be­tween our two kayaks. I re­call be­ing im­pressed — while also hop­ing the fish’s next launch wouldn’t be in my di­rec­tion. But it took off, pulling the ex­cited an­gler away.

And about that time, I felt the light con­ven­tional rod in my hands be­ing pulled to­ward the stern of my kayak. That brought me back to planet earth in a hurry. Sud­denly tense, I let line slip away with min­i­mal pres­sure as I con­tin­ued to pedal the Old Town Preda­tor PDL kayak gen­tly for­ward. Then, as the spool be­gan whirring in earnest, I pushed the lever to strike and held my breath as the line came tight.

The cir­cle hook found its mark, and sud­denly, I saw an­other an­gry sail­fish leap­ing, off to my right — this one on my line. Quickly, I turned the rud­der to star­board and be­gan ped­al­ing hard to po­si­tion the kayak so the fish was roughly off the bow. Deal­ing with a big fish near the kayak when it’s off to the side or astern is ask­ing for trou­ble.

The next sound I heard was my own voice, in a spon­ta­neous whoop as the sail came rock­et­ing straight up no more than 20 feet from the kayak, hit­ting the wa­ter only to do it again.

By then, Capt. Chris Sheeder had moved our moth­er­ship away, with all eyes on the an­gler who’d first hooked up — David Had­den — and who was close to re­leas­ing his fish, so no one but me saw, let alone pho­tographed, the mo­ment. But no mat­ter. The ex­hil­a­rat­ing bat­tle was what I’d been dream­ing of. As al­ways, I ex­pe­ri­enced the par­tic­u­lar buzz kayak an­glers de­rive from fight­ing a large fish com­pletely on their own and at wa­ter level.

Vet­eran Skipper Scores a First

That was the first day of three ex­plor­ing the po­ten­tial of kayak-fish­ing for Gu­atemala’s abun­dant sail­fish with Sheeder, on his 40-foot Game­fish­er­man,

Rum Line. Sheeder, one of the skip­pers at the coun­try’s famed fish­ing re­sort, Casa Vieja, has re­leased nearly 30,000 bill­fish in his ca­reer. But this day’s re­leases would mark a first for him — the first sails to which he’d guided kayak an­glers.

I was joined on this ad­ven­ture by Had­den, with Old Town, and Rob Sher­man, a kayakero from Los An­ge­les (who re­leased his share of sails dur­ing this ad­ven­ture). Had­den had sent a fleet of Preda­tor kayaks down to the lodge, giv­ing us the chance to fish the new PDL pedal-drive units on the wide, sta­ble fish­ing kayaks.

Sheeder had ex­pressed real in­ter­est in the whole project from the get-go. The skipper who’d guided fish­er­men to tens of thou­sands of sail­fish and mar­lin liked the idea of a new an­gle — which would hope­fully prove a new op­tion for some an­glers.

Live Baits on Down­sized Tackle

While Rum Line, like all Casa Vieja sport-fish­ers, is ad­mirably equipped with fly and con­ven­tional tackle per­fect for fish­ing from those boats, we wanted some­thing a bit lighter for the kayaks. We had brought Ac­cu­rate’s lit­tle Valiant 400 reels filled with 40-pound braided line and a mono top shot, and these proved ideal for our needs.

Sheeder also ac­com­mo­dated us with a baitwell full of small live blue run­ners, a de­par­ture from stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dure here, where rigged bal­ly­hoo are the norm for teasers, as well as trolled and pitch baits. Al­though Sheeder said he sus­pected the 3- to 4-knot trolling speeds we could main­tain in the kayaks would be enough to catch the at­ten­tion of sails, he ac­ceded to our pref­er­ence for liveys, which the crew bri­dled with cir­cle hooks.

Also a de­par­ture from the usual, on these days, Rum Line worked in tan­dem with one of its Con­tender 35 ST cen­ter con­soles, which shad­owed us. The Con­tender car­ried the kayaks to the grounds and of­fered a sec­ond chase boat, pri­mar­ily for safety. (In ret­ro­spect, I would say Rum Line could eas­ily carry the kayaks out in its cock­pit and, with an­glers stay­ing rea­son­ably close to­gether, would suf­fice as a sin­gle moth­er­ship for the yakkers.)

I’ve noted a few kayak en­thu­si­asts who haunt on­line fo­rums are quick to main­tain that “real” kayak an­glers should launch from shore and ac­cept no help from that point. To that, I say more power to you, boys, if you’re up for the pedal or pad­dle out 40 miles and back. But I’ll gladly hop a ride off­shore (which even un­der power can take a cou­ple of hours) to get my butt out to the fish­ing grounds and get hooked up.

There is no cap­tain or deck­hand to help you. You’re the one to hook the fish, fight it and re­sus­ci­tate and re­lease it. It’s all on you.

From Calm to Sloppy

While the Pa­cific off Gu­atemala is often pretty calm, “pretty calm” is rel­a­tive, and kayak an­glers here would need to pick their days. Our first day was the most kayak-friendly. Since all three of us are ex­pe­ri­enced kayak guys, load­ing up boat­side that day was a piece of cake. The other days, a bit chop­pier, made load­ing a bit more of a chal­lenge, though very doable. That would likely not be the case for a new­bie to kayak-an­gling, how­ever.

The same is true of fish­ing in the chop. By the third day, the seas — par­tic­u­larly in our 13-foot no-free­board ves­sels — proved pretty sloppy. While, again, this could be a recipe for trou­ble with a be­gin­ner, none of us felt that fish­ing in those con­di­tions was iffy. How­ever, the sea state did re­quire a de­gree of vig­i­lance we hadn’t needed the first day. All that added to the chal­lenge we faced, though we rose to it, par­tic­u­larly Had­den, who, well into the af­ter­noon when his was the last kayak still out, fought and re­leased two sails back to back.

Mixed Feel­ings for Mar­lin

Given those con­di­tions, Sheeder found a way to of­fer an as­sist. Trolling its usual spread of teasers nearby, Rum Line raised a pair of sails and quickly changed course to cross just in back of Had­den’s kayak. Sure enough, one of the lit-up sails caught sight of his live bait, and that was all she wrote.

With some blue mar­lin in the area, we were all hold­ing our breath, par­tic­u­larly at ev­ery live­bait take­down, si­mul­ta­ne­ously hop­ing to hook one while be­ing wor­ried about get­ting what we wished for. It wasn’t to hap­pen this trip, but if it had, some­one would have been in for an ex­cur­sion a few notches wilder than the rides we en­joyed while towed be­hind sail­fish.

Once launched, we made sure we had gloves, wa­ter, snacks, a work­ing VHF ra­dio, a quick­re­lease knife and any other

es­sen­tials, the idea be­ing that each of us would need to fish self-suf­fi­ciently.

That, of course, is in many re­spects the whole point for those who love the chal­lenge of kayak­fish­ing: There is no cap­tain or deck­hand to help you. You’re the one to hook the fish, fight it and re­sus­ci­tate and re­lease it. It’s all on you.

Bucket-List Ex­pe­ri­ence

“I haven’t had a chance to fish for bill­fish yet from these kayaks,” Sheeder told me later, “but I could see that it’s a huge rush.”

His as­sess­ment is that kayak­fish­ing for sails here has its pros and cons, in­clud­ing the fact that you can cover only so much ground while look­ing for fish. “But ev­ery­thing you hook seems so much big­ger, given your close prox­im­ity,” he said, “with a man-ver­sus-an­i­mal fac­tor, with each bat­tle brought to its es­sen­tials.”

“The fish­ing wasn’t ex­actly Gu­atemala-great dur­ing this ad­ven­ture, but we still hooked fish ev­ery day,” he added. “Watch­ing [from the bridge] those sail­fish sleigh rides was re­ally im­pres­sive. I saw kayaks be­ing towed at least 5 knots be­hind sails.”

But best of all for this vet­eran skipper was what he calls “the joy fac­tor,” see­ing an­glers who hooked sails “to­tally stoked.”

That said, Sheeder of­fers a crit­i­cal caveat. Al­though the lodge’s Old Town Preda­tor PDL kayaks are on hand and avail­able, he notes, “This sort of ad­ven­tur­ous fish­ing should be at­tempted only by ex­pe­ri­enced kayak­ers. This should be a kayak-an­gling en­thu­si­ast’s bucket-list ex­pe­ri­ence, and not the place for a be­gin­ner to try his hand at kayak-fish­ing.”

But for en­thu­si­asts of yak-fish­ing (and there seem to be more and more of them all the time), a day or two here when weather per­mits hook­ing, fight­ing and re­leas­ing sail­fish in this man­ner is worth con­sid­er­ing.

“I’m al­ways on the look­out for dif­fer­ent, in­no­va­tive ways to catch these fish, and Gu­atemala, with our tremen­dous fish­ery, is a per­fect place to try out such tech­niques. Kayak-fish­ing takes the an­gler off the boat,” says Sheeder, “and puts him ba­si­cally as close as one can get to the fish in his en­vi­ron­ment, and that’s pretty cool.”

Casa Vieja opted to use one of its Con­tender cen­ter con­soles to ferry four kayaks off­shore and to act as a sec­ond sup­port boat if needed.

Upon reach­ing the grounds, kayaks are launched from the cen­ter con­sole as an­glers get ready. Then, the sport-fisher Rum Line pulls up (to the green kayak in this photo) for an an­gler to climb in and get a bait in the wa­ter.

An an­gler heads down the docks where the crews of the sport­fish­ing fleet busy them­selves pre­par­ing for an­other day off­shore pur­su­ing sails and mar­lin.

David Had­den, with Old Town Kayaks, holds a lively sail mo­men­tar­ily for a pre-re­lease shot. This trip marked Had­den’s blue­wa­ter fish­ing trial with the new pedal-pow­ered Preda­tor PGL.

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