Today , I'm featuring an interview with Captain Tom Boice of Panamax Sailfishing. Captain Tom has been fishing the waters of Guatemala for close to 25 years and is one of the best Captains out there. Be sure to check out his website HERE and follow him on Twitter for the latest in big game fishing reports and breathtaking pictures of some truly amazing fish. A big Something's Fishy THANK YOU goes out to the good Captain for putting up with this surf fishermen's questions. On to the interview!
JM : Captain Tom , can you tell us a little bit about what it's like to live and work in one of the top fishing destinations in the world?
TB : Living and working in Guatemala for 24 years has been a hoot! The culture and geographically diversity is amazing. The fishing is stellar.
It is quite the head trip walking dock the dock in the morning saying “morning” and talking about the previous days fishing with the likes of Ronnie Hamlin, Brad Phillips, Chip Schaefer some of the top billfish captains in the world. Geez, between Ronnie and Brad there is over 50,000 ( no typo there) billfish caught between them. It speaks volumes about the Guatemala’s fishing that guys like these make this place their home. While fishing out in the generally calm seas, we see a lot of action so it doesn’t take long to hone your skills.
JM : Why is Guatemala so special when it comes to sailfishing?
TB : There is a unique configuration of ocean dynamics that happen off the coast here. Recent studies show that there is very little oxygen infused in the water below 300 feet. There hasn’t been a consensus on why , but it is part of the reason Guatemala is renown for it’s amazing numbers. The fish all stay kinda trapped in that upper layer, that includes bait fish. So it really narrows down your field so to speak on fish being concentrated. Also, there aren’t a lot of boats that fish out of there so there is great communication within the fleet as to what is happening and precisely where. This is important because there is no standard location where the fish are, they move around quite a bit. It is etiquette to radio your coordinates immediately after every catch. If you don’t you will feel the wrath at the dock. Also, there is a working ethic as far as what kind of fishing is acceptable amongst the fleet. We use circle hooks to minimize injury to a sailfish. Ronnie Hamlin who I mentioned previously is generally regarded as the captain who brought circle hooks to the forefront of bluewater fishing technique. Another example is that nobody fishes with a dredge because of the theory that a fish nursery can be trained to go after certain bait configurations. One reason why the fly fishing is so exceptional here is because everyone pulls baits and teasers on the surface and not below as with a dredge. That makes a fly cast on the surface that much more alluring. ( yes pun intended).
JM : Can you tell us about the Que Vela! and some of the key features that make her a great fishing vessel?
TB : The Que Vela! is a 34 foot center console with an 8 foot beam boat with twin Suzuki 140’s. She has a tower in order to get a better visual advantage spotting sails. She has all the amenities such as a large cockpit area, three sounders, and two radios (this is great because I can listen to the Spanish speaking captains channel and their action as well as the Gringo’s channel simultaneously). She was built here in Guatemala and was put together and owned for a couple of years by Mike Day and Tiffany Sisolak out of Oregon Islet. Those two have extensive fishing history and skills and they created a masterful fishing machine that is in the prime of it’s life.
JM : What kind of fishing trips do you offer aboard the Que Vela! ?
TB : The standard trip is a three day fishing, four night accommodations with food and transport. We predominantly fish for sailfish but we do encounter a lot of dorado (dolphin fish in your parts), and we do get both blue and black and an occasional striped marlin that come into the spread more than one may think. I cater my trips to the client. For example, I’ll get a lot of captains and mates come down to fish with me because I’m less expensive than the large crafts and they can get their hands a bit dirtier when it comes to all around fishing. They really can hone their billfish skills such as teasing a billfish to the pitch bait, or wiring a billfish or the subtle technique of the drop back circle hook method of hooking a fish. On the other end of the spectrum with clients who don’t have much offshore fishing experience, I can demonstrate and teach the techniques if desired or one can sit back and relax and we’ll have Victor, my mate, hook the beast and hand off the rod to you. I again cater to whatever one wants on their fishing adventure here.
JM : Describe a typical trip on the Que Vela!
|The Que Vela!|
TB : We’ll leave from the dock at 7am and head out to where the bite was best the previous day taking into consideration ocean current directions, etc. That can be anywhere from four to forty miles offshore. Once we get to “the spot” we’ll put out the outriggers where on the short riggers we’ll let out usually a squid chain on one side and a teaser on the other and then on the long riggers we’ll pull ballyhoo rigged with a circle hook. Sometimes we’ll have a chugger in front of the ballyhoo. On the flats we’ll put out naked ballyhoo again rigged with circle hooks. Then the constant focus of watching the baits begin. As a sailfish comes in there is quite, as I call it, “the dance” where everyone works together, rods are picked up quickly to start the drop back at the correct time or it comes in on a teaser we’ll keep the bait just in front and tease em into the flat line bait or pitch another into her agitated grasp. Once a sailfish is hooked then I’ll put the boat into a wide circle and try for a multiple hookup. Then if no other sails take or swipe at the other baits we’ll bring in the other lines and the fight begins! What is so cool about sailfishing here is that the sailfish are big. They are in the 90 to 110 lb range normally and all the action takes place on the surface. You’ll watch as a lit up sail will come into the spread and attack a bait or teaser. Once hooked she’ll usually sky out of the water dancing across the surface doing amazing acrobatic maneuverers trying to rid itself from the hook. We do get a lot of dorado so I’ll have a sweet sashimi set up on the boat so one can partake in some fresh nectar of the sea. Lunch, snacks and drinks, including beers are imbibed during the day to keep your energy up. We’ll get back to the dock at 4pm where we’ll head to the pool and sip some cool ones, munch on some appetizers and relive the fishing of that day.
At night one can choose to kick back and have dinner at the lodge or we can go out to visit some of the local restaurants and partake in some local flavor.
JM : Here on the East Coast , many Captains offer alternative trips (ie. crabbing , shrimping , sightseeing). Do you offer any type of alternative trip for those who may not be interested in big game fishing?
TB : We can cruise the coast and fish for roosterfish, wahoo, Spanish mackerel, jack crevalle. There also are some areas of structure where we will fish for grouper and red snapper. The view of the coastal shoreline is pretty interesting. Occasionally I’ll have a whale watching charter especially around Feb and March as the humpback whales migrate through.
JM : Tell us about the best day of fishing you've ever had aboard the Que Vela!
TB : It was March 11, 2006. The bait balls had been pretty prevalent the previous days so we thought it could be a good day. Well the ocean was calm and the color was an amazing deep deep blue purple color. We were out about twenty miles and the sailfish just started coming into the spread. One after another, doubles, triples! You would look down in the water and see groups of twenty sailfish swimming underneath! There were dorados swimming underneath in huge schools and smashing into the baits often. It was almost like Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “The Birds” except it was fish coming at ya and all around.
I had some seasoned clients on the boat, one being the editor of a large NC outdoorsmen magazine. So they were having quite the work out. Well we were catching so many sailfish that day that by the end of the afternoon folks were so tired of reeling in sailfish that it was hard to get someone to step up to reel them in once they were hooked!
On the radio you could hear Ronnie Hamlin’s numbers coming across and it was clear he was about to break the world record. He was fishing a few hundred yards away when he did break the record at 124 sailfish caught on his boat in one day! We watched it happen!
JM : What's the most memorable charter trip you've ever taken clients on?
TB : I had some crazy Dutch clients fly over from Holland to fish on my previous boat. It was October and the fishing for sails was a bit slow. We did run into some spinner dolphins and caught some nice yellowfin tunas around them. Well, it was a long afternoon and we were 30 miles offshore and the boyz had come back a few days earlier from touring the Guatemalan highlands where they bought some souvenirs. Of which one was a rainbow colored Peruvian style hat that Mikel was wearing. It was nerve rackingly slow so I came up with an idea that Mikel agreed to just for fun. We got out the video camera and put together a little comedy skit. I started the video explaining what kind of teasers we use here in Guatemala to raise fish and also that I use a Mayan God icon, called Maximon for luck. At the predetermined time we panned back to behind the boat with the video camera and there was Mikel wearing his funky hat holding onto a rope being pulled thirty feet behind us. Yes, a Dutch Rainbow Warrior teaser! Well we pretended that he was getting attacked by a fish and pulled him into the boat. Then we had him lie down in the boat and we placed a previously caught dolphin fish in a strategic spot and gaffed it off of him. Those guys have come back and fished again the next year for a total of about ten days where we’ve caught sails and marlin. But to this day we all have tears in our eyes laughing over that video and it is easily one of the most memorable parts of their trip. You can watch it HERE ! though I do have to warn you there is some foul language used by Mikel.
Editors note : The above video in no way indicates that Captain Tom is not a serious fishermen. The exact opposite is true , it shows a Captain entertaining his fares on a slow day. Check it out! No Dutchmen were harmed in the filming of this video.
JM : When is the best time of year to book a trip on the Que Vela! ?
TB : The best time to “book” is between Sept. til Dec. as this is when the calendar starts to takes shape to “fish” the most popular season of Dec. til April. There are sailfish all year round but this is generally considered the high season.
JM : Tell us about your favorite fishing memory.
TB : A few years ago I had a father (74yrs old) and his son (who is actually a boat captain in Georgia) charter me for the third year in a row. (It's up to six years now) It was a little rough that day but since they were seasoned offshore fishermen we went out. We didn't go far offshore maybe 7 miles and let out the lines after seeing some birds working the water pretty hard. They wanted to hone their fishing skills so we didn’t have a mate that day so there is only the three of us. I had to keep the boat quartered into the waves to keep the splash down a bit. Then suddenly there were three sailfish attacking the baits. I dropped back a bait and hooked one and handed the rod off to the father, Brandt. Allen, the son, was able to hook another and I ran back and hooked the third. I ran back to the wheel to keep us from rocking too much with one hand still holding the rod over my head. I looked back and we all witnessed all three sailfish suddenly jump skyward simultaneously as thought it was a dolphin water ballet show at Sea World! The volcanoes were in the background. We all looked at each other and realized that it was one of those once in a life time moments. We did land all three.
JM : What do you do to prepare for a days fishing and what types of equipment do you use?
TB : I take offshore fishing very seriously. I realize a lot of money and time has been spent to come fishing in an exotic place like Guatemala and do everything I can to make it a quality, safe yet fun trip.
Some of the things I’ll do is I’ll look at satellite maps from previous days to get a sense of what the ocean variables are like and how that could affect the fishing. I’ll have my mate, Victor, (who has fished these waters for over thirty years) go down to the local dock where the shark fishermen come in with their catches, and he’ll ask them what they saw coming back from being way offshore the previous day. I will also talk with other captains as to what they saw. I think the more info one can gather will lead to a better idea of where to fish especially since here in Guatemala the sailfish are very random on where they will show up.
I’ll have the best ballyhoo baits I can get and they’ll be pre-rigged and ready to go as we go out. Sometimes the ballyhoo can be scarce to buy but I always have enough in the freezer. I believe in good equipment and keeping it in great condition. That goes for the boat and fishing equipment. I like the Shimano Tyrnos #30’s and we use Suffix 30lb line on them. I do have a nice 14wt Thomas and Thomas fly rod and an Abel reel available if someone wants to partake in some fly-fishing.
JM : Is there anything you want to close with?
TB : I realize Guatemala gets bad reviews as far as crime is concerned. It is generally situated in and around Guatemala City and is drug gang vs. drug gang related. It is very rare tourist are accosted. Of hundreds of clients coming down to fish nothing has ever happened other than one person losing his passport and the occasional Montezuma's revenge. Also, Guatemala can boast of a few world class and renown tourist attractions. Lake Atitlan, Antigua, Tikal, the living Maya culture, and yes the best sailfishing in the world!
Panamax Sailfishing for doing this interview with us! There's also a contest going on over at SoCalSalty and iFished where you can enter to win a once in a lifetime trip to fish the waters of Guatemala with Captain Tom. Great interview Captain!
Have a great weekend !