Fish Guatemala 

Parlama Sportfishing

A quick history of my relation with Guatemala's Pacific Coast Sport Fishing
I started writing this in 2010 when I began and hope to extend this into the present day.
The results of an early morning trip off the beach at "Hawalli"  With Mario Cerecer and Antonio "Che" Kocina

The first time I saw the Pacific Ocean in Guatemala was the Fourth of July weekend of 1978.  At that time I was in country as  Peace Corp Volunteer working with the Guatemalan Forestry Department on a reforestation project.  I was stationed in a small village, "Santa Apolonia" about two hours from the capital and  the others in my group were scattered thruout the country, many much farther out in the "campo".  As I recall we had met in the capital, Guatemala City, for a group meeting and to start off a long Fourth of July Holiday. 

 After the business was over came the "holiday" part and somehow we came up with the fact that a beach resort in Istapa just outside of Puerto San Jose had small bungalows on the beach which were reasonably priced.  Now on out Peace Corp living allowance we couldn't have afforded to stay in the hotel and eat at the restaurants, but we got a discount price on a rental cargo van, jammed in the gear and flopped on top then headed down the mountain to the coast. By overloading the bungalows, cooking our own food and carrying in our own libations we lived like kings for about three days. 


Those of you who have been to Guatemala recently and made the trip from "La Aurora" airport in Guatemala City down the four lane highways to the new facilities would have a hard time imagining the winding two lane road that was mainly used to move trucks from the port and the costal farms and cane fields up to the city.  I have to admit that the new road has scenery just as beautiful and the tropical atmosphere is just as intoxicating, but it I don't miss the the old road's white knuckle grip on whatever you can hang on to as you are passed by overloaded busses and trucks on curves that overlook deep ravines without any guardrail.


Just when I was catching my breath from the excitement of the ride, we broke thru the palm lined streets of Puerto San Jose and greeted the  Pacific Ocean.  Having been born and raised on the tidal waters of Absecon, NJ, there is something special about seeing salt water after almost a year gone.  Our short vacation involved swimming, relaxing and lots of drinking and passed much to quickly.  I never got to wet a line during that trip, but I did get to see some of the inshore fish carried by the local subsistence fishermen to market.  Sierra Mackerel, Crevalle Jacks, Skipjack Tuna and other oddities were hauled down the beach.  My interest in what else could swim beneath those curling waves was sparked forever.

    Fast forward a little over a year to September 1979.  I had since made another trip to the Pacific for a second Fourth of July debauchery, but much more important I had met a beautiful Guatemalan woman and for better or worse, made her my wife.  Luckily for over thirty years it has been for "better", but back to the story.  We were headed back to the United States and I had a new wife and an extended family.  Now I was permanently tied to Guatemala and embarking on life's journey that could take me anywhere...   


Coming back to the United States with a new wife and no real job was another adventure, but one that we tackled with determination and help from both families.  As my father had a family house on the water on the Mullica River i managed to keep my waterfront living status.  While looking for a regular job I got involved with some guiding for Greater Snow Geese for acquaintances and that got me hooked on showing outdoorsmen a good time.  Instead of going the government job route that my college education and Peace Corp experience  qualified me for.  I dove back into the bay, literally and went back to being a commercial clam digger which had paid my way thru high school and college. 

    Back in the early 80's plane tickets south were actually more than they are today and even communication via landlines cost a fortune in the pre internet days.  It was hard on my wife coming from metropolitan Guatemala City to live in the pine barrens of New Jersey.  Trips were few and far between and our next step even made life more confusing.  Imagine us buying and running a marina.  Well we did and she had faith in me to help keep things going with family and a major business with Absecon Bay Sportsman Center.  This July 1st it will be 25 years pushing minnows, clams, hauling boats, winterizing engines, chasing geese and over the last 10 years guiding clients to catch Striped Bass. 

    By the end of the 80's we managed a couple winter trips to Guatemala.  That's when the waterfowling bug in me got me hooked up with some similar minded International nimrods. Jose Maria Bonilla, Puro Guatemalateco,  Pedro Yang, Chinese Guatemalan and Mario Cerecer from Argentina, were my first outback companieros.  These enthusiastic outdoorsmen invited me to join them  on their forays to the Pacific Coast. 

 Behind the beach there is an extensive estuary system that is home to an amazing variety of water birds and waterfowl. The ducks live way back on the freshwater inland fringes where it took long hours of polling by local watermen to find the hot spots.  The ducks were there.  Fulovus Tree ducks, Blue Winged Teal, an occasional Shoveler, Widgeon and the coveted Wild Muscovy Duck, or "Pato Real" to the locals.  To make the 3 am starts we would "camp out" at the locals ranchos and the campasino wives would supply meals of the ducks we shot along with more exoctic fare such as iguana stew.  It all tasted good on the local tortillas and washed down with Gallo beer and "Venado" aguardiante.

    One of my good friends Mario Cerecer  had a real beach house on the far away Hawaii Beach.  On several occasions this was our base of operations.  Along with the hunting in the back I got a chance to learn about the fishing.  Mario's beach side neighbor, Antonio (Che) Kozina also had a Zodiac rubber boat that we launched thru the surf and trolled Rapalas for an amazing variety of inshore fish.  The staples were Sierra Mackeral which were excellent eating, Jack Crevalle were hard fighters, but here as everywhere else I've found them, Not much on the table.  Skipjack Tuna at times would swarm the lures.  The prizes were Roosterfish and Snappers, Particularly the Cubera Snappers which grow to huge sizes and are aggressive feeders.  I remember that many times I believed that I could have just hung my hat on the palm covered rancho and stayed forever.  

Che Kozina also was one of the pioneers of sailfishing offshore in Guatemala.  He had an I/O boat that he would navigate thru the dangerous inlet on occasion and head offshore.  I was impressed with the "Mop" lures that they used  to entangle the bills of the sailfish.  The "Mop" is simply a 18" length of soft nylon rope that is completely unwound and combed smooth.  This is trolled on a fishing line and when a sailfish swats the "Mop" with it's bill to stun it , the fish is instantly "Velcroed" to the lure and unless the line breaks it is almost impossible to loose the billfish.  This method of fishing is not allowed by the IGFA and is extremely frowned upon by all Guatemalan anglers today, but you have to remember that this was the very beginning. 

 In fact Antonio has followed his love of fishing and is one of the National leaders in all types of offshore fishing.  He brought one of the first "Real" Sportfishermen, the "Checito" to Guatemala and has won tournaments the world over. 

As my circle of  friends expanded I finally got my first look at the blue water.  This was a Panga trip with Jose Maria Bonilla and a new friend Ricardo Maza.  It was somewhat of a greenhorn trip for most involved, but one Sailfish was captured and released and even though it didn't hit my rod I was hooked on the calm water and the big fish from small boats.  

Ricardo's family had a Rancho style Beach House across the canal from the small town Vista Bella, part of Iztapa.  We got to be good friends there and he told me how he and his father had already begun to bring groups of anglers down from the states to experience the laid back lifestyle and excellent fishing from the Pangas thru the old Iztapa Inlet.  This was a very narrow and shallow inlet with no protection so it would change at almost every tide.  But there was hope for something even better because the Guatemalan Government had started building a jetty protected inlet that would allow larger sportfishing boats to access the Pacific from the protected canal.

The next year brought another trip south and this one really started my Guatemala Fishing Career.  I managed to get more time in the duck marshes and in the process got acquainted with more of the local sport fishermen.  The one person I was happiest to meet was Ricardo Maza's brother, Francisco (Paco) Maza.  The Maza family had bought a small marina "Ël Capitan" on the canal  in Buena Vista.  At the onset this was a small seafood restaurant and a parking lot and ferry service for the Guatemalan families that had beach houses on the Island of Likin, but Paco was a person with vision of the possibilities of the fishing in Guatemala and the energy to make things happen.   The inlet had been finished and now it was a relatively easy ride to get into the ocean on the Pangas and there was talk of bigger boats on the way.


The Club Nautico of Guatemala was also becoming stronger and have a club house in the Puerto Quetzal alongside the Naval base and access for trailer boats to use the calm waters for launching and easy access to the blue waters of the Pacific.  This was the year , 1991, that they also began attracting worldwide attention and ran the 1st International International light Tackle Association (ICTA) in Guatemala.  At this point in time I had never even put the hook into a sailfish, much less compete in an international level, but I talked a good game and had good friends that managed to get me registered as a local and I soon found myself going head to head with some of the worlds best light tackle fishermen.

Update March 11, 2010

During this 1991 tournament I was getting to know "Paco" Maza as he was building his Marina and Restaurant and I gave him a hand putting lots of effort into the  International Light Tackle Tournament and I got to see some of the behind the scenes and was very impressed with everyone involved.  As I said before at this point I had never even had a sailfish bite but I left the dock and at 8 am. we had lines in with our mixed team ICTA format.  Under these rules the three anglers on each boat are actually fishing against each other and will fish either the starboard or port outriggers or the flat line.  My memory won't allow me to know which boat I was on, but I do remember I had a swimming mullet on the Port Outrigger  and got the first bite on the boat.  After the drop back I engaged the reel, but the line never came tight.  That was my first Guatemalan "Zancocho", that is the amazing way that a sailfish can actually strip the meat right of the bones of a bait and spit it out without hanging the hook. 

I quickly re-rigged and  got another bait into the spread.  It was almost in disbelief that my line was snapped from the outrigger a second time.  This time I kept my cool and dropped back just like I would for a South Jersey Flounder. When I locked up  something much bigger was pulling on the other end of my line.  Over six feet of brilliant iridescent blue body sail and bill was launched into the air.  I had measured my drag exactly so I let it do the work and with some great boat handling I soon had the leader into the tip of the rod and had my first official sailfish release of my life.  As we reported the release on the radio It was confirmed that it was the first official release of the tournament which at least in a sense put me in the record books for Guatemala's International Sailfish Tournaments.


I got separated from this project as things changed, but I'm back and I expect to continue on a regular basis and have plenty of stories to tell.