Monday, March 21, 2011

Guest Article: "Sails On The Fly" by Tom Gorman

Editor's note: Recently we were fortunate to make the acquaintance of editor, writer, and world traveling fly fisherman, Tom Gorman. Tom graciously agreed to give our readers an inside look at one of his recent trips.

Tom Gorman is a long-term Hong Kong resident who hails from the U.S. Midwest. A business editor by trade , he is an avid fly fisherman and fly tier who has fished many parts of the world in salt as well as fresh waters . He recently made a trip to Guatemala to pursue his first sailfish on the fly.

Tom Gorman on Mongolia’s Delger Moron River

There’s something about sailfish that has made me want to catch and release one on a fly for some time . I’m not sure exactly what it is , although there are few creatures in the sea which can compare with the sailfish in terms of sheer beauty and grace , and obviously they’re a very challenging target on the fly.

So , awhile back – longer than I’d really care to admit – I acquired a 12 wt. outfit , suitable lines , and began to accumulate knowledge on the pursuit of sailfish on the fly . I also began tying flies for that purpose. My approach for the next couple of years when planning fishing trips to waters where sails are present was to bring the sailfish gear in hopes the opportunity would arise . I made a number of trips to promising waters in Mexico , but found a lot of the local skippers , or pangeros , don’t think of fly rods as serious tools for catching their big fish , nor are they really interested in fly fishing . Also , apart from the pangeros , not all of my fishing buddies are dedicated fly fishos ; so there are inevitable trade-offs when deciding on conventional versus fly.

So , you often begin the trip fishing with conventional tackle , and – guess what – you stick with it . Welcome back to "the dark side. " If there were a mileage plus program for 12 wts. , my rod would be flying in the front of the bus . It’s been all over the globe . To be sure , I’ve caught lots of other species with it , including snapper (pargo) , roosterfish , jacks , etc. – but in my heart of hearts it has remained an unrequited sailfish outfit.

What I know for certain now is that , if you really want to catch a sail (or a marlin) on the fly , you have to have a skipper and crew experienced in doing that (and enthusiastic about it ) , plus fishing grounds with abundant sails on or near the surface , and you’re better off committing in advance to the fly , rather than a mixed fly and conventional approach , because the two approaches are not really complementary.

I chose Guatemala as my dedicated sail-on-the-fly destination , and Sailfish Bay Lodge in Iztapa looked like a good combination of abundant sails located within a fairly short run from the marina , fly-savvy skippers and crew , and a professionally run operation which had received good written reviews from numerous folks . It proved to be an excellent choice .
Sailfish Bay Lodge ( is American-owned and managed , and located on an island just a 5-minute boat ride from shore . It’s less than a 2-hour drive from Guatemala City on good , paved highways . It can accommodate up to about 20 guests in air-conditioned comfort , with a pool and Jacuzzi by the side of a black sand beach . From the open-air restaurant , which serves excellent food , the view over the lagoon take in three volcanic peaks in the distance , two of which are active .

I fished from Sailfish Bay’s 34 foot Blackfin , Maverick , skippered by Captain Rolando , with Noe and Ronald as crew and deckie . We left the marina at 7:30 a.m. , and had teaser lines in the water by 8:00 . Even at this hour , the tropical heat was rising fast . This is SPF 75-plus country , with long sleeve fishing shirts recommended . The lobsters here are plentiful and delicious , as long as you’re not one of them .

Seas that morning , as is common in the area , were nearly flat calm. We headed due south , in the general direction of El Salvador . The spread consisted of three hookless teasers on the starboard side , with two deployed off the outrigger and controlled from reels mounted next to the skipper on the bridge , and a longer line straight back from a rod in the gunnel rod holder . An additional hookless teaser was run from the port side , also from the gunnel rod holder. A couple of heavy-duty spinning rods were rigged and ready with hookless pitch baits on ice in the cooler . Teasers were a mix of ballyhoo , mullet , and belly strips from dorado or bonito ; some behind hookless jet-type trolling lures and some not .

The casting corner of the boat for me as a right-handed fly caster (ie I crank with my left hand and cast with my right) was the port stern . To avoid snagging the backcast , the port outrigger is not deployed.

Port stern corner with bucket holding about 20 feet of fly line , fly rod resting on the deck at the ready , and fly resting on the gunnel ready for the angler to begin the casting sequence.

The fly which caught my first sail : a 10-inch Flashy Profile Fly in green , gold and black , with a pink and purple Cam Sigler offshore popper head , fished on an S.A. Bluewater Express line , on a Sage Xi2 12 wt. rod with an Abel Super 12 reel.

Barely an hour from the marina , Rolando shouted "Vela ! Vela !" – "sail" in Spanish . The skipper and crew sprung into action , retrieving teasers to bring the fish into fly casting range , while preparing to cast a fresh pitch bait to add to the appeal if needs be . But this first fish swooped in and out of the spread very quickly , offering no casting opportunities . A window shopper .

At this point , I regretted not speaking Spanish . The crew spoke enough English for us to communicate about the basics of the fishing routine , but it’s always interesting to talk in more depth wherever your fishing travels take you . My Chinese language skills were a bit out of place here . Seconds later , the sail was back in the spread . This time my eyes were better attuned – good polarized shades are absolutely essential – and I got an earlier look at the fish as he followed the teaser in .

And then , the moment of truth . With the sail about 15-20 feet back from the stern and eagerly focused on the teaser , the crew yanks the teaser out of the water , and the fly caster gets that all-important one shot at dropping the fly to the outside of and behind the sailfish , and then giving it one or two vigorous "pops" to get the now-excited sail’s attention .

Dropping the fly in this way increases the odds of a hookset opportunity with the fishing swimming away from the boat rather than towards it – offering a much better chance of a hook-up .

The sail inhaled my flashy green omelette-sized offering , and I set the hook with a slow , deliberate lean in the opposite direction from the one the fish was swimming in .
He was on ! I know many saltwater fly fishing purists poo-poo anti-reverse reels , but I like my knuckles in one piece ; and I was glad for the protection the Abel Super 12 offered them .
Fortunately as his blazing initial run continued , I recalled one piece of advice from Billy Pate in his fly fishing for sailfish video , which is to try to avoid letting the fish get too deep , keeping your rod nearly parallel with the water’s surface during the fight . This enhances your leverage , better enabling you to turn the fish’s head in your direction , and lessening the duration of the battle and the negative impact on the fish’s health . Pate calls it "doin’ the down and dirty on him." Whatever . It works .

About 20 minutes later , my first sailfish on the fly was on board for a quick photo opp before being released to the deep blue Pacific .

Crew , angler and first sail on the fly.


Alex Landeen said...

Yessir! That's sweet.

Pete McDonald said...

We do not wish to catch sails on the fly because we are in principle against fun.

Murdock said...

Principle is over rated. Just saying...